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COVER STORY

24-12-1999

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Briefing

LESSONS FROM SEATTLE

C.P.CHANDRASEKHAR cover-story

The Third Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle once again revealed that in the world of trade it is power and politics and not altruism that determines the rules of the game.

LAST fortnight, confusion ruled Seattle, the site for the Third Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which began without a formal opening and ended without a formal declaration. Confusion prevailed both within and outside the con vention centre, the venue for the ministerial deliberations.

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Outside, on the streets and at the intersections, an odd combination of protesters, with widely varying and even contradictory motives, jostled with one another and the police, to demand an end to the process of liberalising trade overseen by the WTO. Do minating the demonstrations, which resulted in a cancellation of the opening ceremony, were U.S. trade unions and Western environmental groups. The unions are against freer trade because it ostensibly pits U.S. jobs against imports, which are believed to be cheap because of poor labour standards in the developing world. The 'greens' were concerned that freer trade would only benefit the big multinationals, which, in search of profits, were not merely threatening health by genetically modifying food prod ucts, but also relocating in countries with inadequate environmental safeguards, putting at risk everything from rainforests to dolphins, sea turtles and butterflies. At the fringes of the protest, however, were those who felt that WTO governance of trad e was diluting national sovereignty, worsening unemployment and adding to poverty in the Third World. Unlike many of their comrades in Seattle, they believed that an emphasis on labour standards and environmental protection could be turned by the "Quad" group (U.S., Canada, the E.U. and Japan) into protectionist levers that would further widen the North-South divide.

Confusion, both organisational and ideological, permeated the conference venue as well. Many developing country negotiators arrived unsure of why they were there. They had started on the long road to Seattle more than a year back, with the idea that the principal task of the ministerial meet was to implement the mandate of the Uruguay Round and to complete its unfinished liberalising agenda in the areas of trade in agriculture and services. Further, given the inequities arising from the experience of im plementing the decisions of that Round, they wanted the WTO to start a process of reviewing, reforming and, if necessary, partially rolling back some of the liberalisation already under way. Along the way, however, they were confronted by a suggestion fr om the European Union (E.U.), picked up and promoted by the U.S. and other developed countries, that Seattle should serve as the launch-pad for a new round of negotiations aimed at substantially advancing the "opening up" agenda, with talk of investment agreements, competition policy, coherence and labour and environmental standards. The power of this group is such that by the time the Seattle meeting began, The New York Times, for example, declared that the meeting "is intended to open a new rou nd of negotiations".

The E.U., in fact, was completely against review and reform in the contested agricultural trade arena, standing much to lose if it was forced to cut back on agricultural support and put an end to covert and overt subsidies. Japan and South Korea had also for long held that given its "multifunctional" character, touching even on lifestyles and cultures, agriculture cannot be treated on the same footing as manufacturing and services when trade liberalisation is discussed. They felt that focussing on a new round and new areas would get the heat off their back.

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E.U. Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy joined Clinton in using the protesters as backing for his cause, arguing that their demonstrations rendered it "even less possible" to give in to U.S. demands to wipe out E.U. agricultural subsides in order to help Ame rican farmers.

The E.U.'s intransigence was indeed reflective of what trade liberalisation has come to mean. It was willing to ignore the original in-built agenda of the Seattle meeting to start in year 2000 negotiations in the contested areas of agriculture and servic es, even though these negotiations were mandated by the Uruguay Round, since they were the two areas in which the least progress towards reducing trade barriers had been made at that time. Of the two, some progress was made in the services area in 1997. Despite this unfinished agenda and pressure from the U.S. to open up its agricultural product markets, the E.U. managed to hold out because of the implicit support from Japan and South Korea and differences within the developing country camp. While ther e were some developing-country members of the Cairns Group of agricultural exporters and some pro-market ideologues who were for agricultural trade liberalisation, there were other nations and sections that were worried, for valid reasons, about the impa ct such multilateral liberalisation can have on their farming community and their food security in the long run.

These developing countries, including India, were for greater attention to be given to the iniquitous market access benefits that have flowed from the Uruguay Round in the area of manufactures. In practice, not only have developing countries lifted non-t ariff barriers to trade and bound their tariffs at relatively low levels, but they have unilaterally reduced tariffs to levels way below the promised ceilings. However, the developed countries have failed to respond similarly in crucial areas such as tex tiles and leather, where liberalisation has been tardy and restricted to products where developing country competitive advantages were minimal. Further, they were joined by countries, such as Japan, in questioning the use of clauses relating to "dumping" of goods in export markets, which allowed the U.S., in particular, to impose high tariffs on not-so-substantial grounds of unfair competition. In response to this experience the developing countries wanted the summit to pay attention to what were cumber somely titled "implementation issues".

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With an eye to exploiting these divisions among the 135 members of the WTO to advance its own domestic political and international trading interests, the U.S., led by President Bill Clinton, chose to play the role of a bully in a chaotic school yard. It had a wide agenda for a new round, including concessions on agriculture from the E.U. and Japan, further cuts in tariffs on manufactures, an extension of the moratorium on taxes on e-commerce, and linkages between trade and labour and environmental stand ards. Its first tactic was to use the demands made by some of the protesters to advance this agenda, signalled by the President's gratuitous welcome to demonstrators pouring into Seattle. Later, while regretting the violence resorted to by a small group, Clinton said that it is important to heed (selectively) the voice of peaceful demonstrators and put the question of worker rights and environmental protection on the agenda. This was not only meant to appease powerful democratic constituencies that matt er in the run-up to the next presidential election, but also served U.S. trading interests.

Clinton then went on to advocate a working group on labour under the WTO, so as to start the process of making the lack of core labour standards in particular countries a basis for imposing protectionist tariffs and quotas on them. Outside the convention , in an interview to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he argued that the WTO should frame rules which allow for sanctions against countries violating core labour standards. Finally, in a symbolic gesture he signed in America's support for the treat y on child labour, which calls for a ban on what it treats as the worst forms of child abuse, including the use of child labour. The treaty, Clinton said, should serve as a model for enforcing other labour rights.

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Given the clout of the U.S., it was not surprising that WTO Director-General Mike Moore chose to follow Clinton's strategy and pick on divisions within the developing-country camp to make a case for freeing trade further. Progress on this front, in his v iew, expressed in different ways, was crucial for the poorest of the developing countries. What he failed to note was the fact that the poorer and smaller developing countries were not being heard on the matter. According to the South-North Develop-ment Monitor (SUNS), the 67-strong ACP (Africa, Pacific and Caribbean) group of countries complained that their joint views (formally adopted at a meeting in the Dominican Republic) presented at a working group were not reflected in the Chairman's summary. Ot hers were disappointed over the lack of transparency, and said that while the reports of the working group chairs claimed it was the result of consultations, it was not clear who had been consulted and where. As Victor Manuel, the trade representative of El Salvador, reportedly said: "They have continued with the old GATT way of doing business. They think they can meet in small gatherings and then announce that the two or three most important countries have already come to a consensus. It is very hard f or small countries to have any influence on this process."

The "big bully" attributes of the U.S. also came through in the way the convention was conducted by U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, who by virtue of being from the host country, shared the responsibility with Mike Moore. Choosing to go abo ve the heads of most member-country representatives, she worked through secret dialogues with negotiators from the most powerful and recalcitrant countries, the results of which, if any, she expected the rest to go along with. One such result was a commi ttee which was not authorised by the General Council of the WTO, to consider the possible linkage of trade and labour standards, which popped up midway through the meeting and received a hostile response from most developing countries.

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An assortment of protesters, with widely varying purposes and motives, staged demonstrations on the streets of Seattle, during the WTO event. Some of them, dressed in sea turtle costumes, wanted trade to be linked to environmental protection measures; others demanded that international trade should be ''clean, green and fair"; still others called for rather more radical action.

The tenor of the U.S. strategy appeared to be that in return for minor concessions on what were the original items up for negotiations in the current stage of the WTO's record, the developing countries could be steam-rollered into accepting a new round w ith a wide and damaging agenda.

In resorting to this strategy, the U.S. was clear that one fundamental "convention" adopted earlier in GATT and more recently in WTO proceedings would not be violated. This was that decisions would be based on consensus, allowing the developed countries to use their economic clout, stemming from their dominance over international trade and capital movements, to force some degree of compliance from the developing countries in trade negotiations. If that convention is dropped, and a vote taken based on th e one-nation-one-vote principle provided for in the WTO's constitution, the issues of links between trade and labour and environmental standards would have gone out of the window, given the fact that the majority was against them.

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Fortunately, partly because unity between the developed countries, especially on questions relating to agriculture and bio-engineered food products, could not be arrived at, and their combined pressure could not be wielded to try and enforce developing c ountry compliance for a one-sided declaration heralding new trade talks, the Seattle negotiations collapsed and ended with no result.

Every section involved may claim success or refuse to accept failure. The protesters would say that they have been able to stall a new round, though not having such a round which covers labour and environmental standards could actually be a setback for U .S. trade unions and some environmental groups which seek to advance the environmental cause at the expense of everything else. The developing countries would return home saying that they have stalled the inclusion of these issues in future negotiations, even though no progress has been made on the demand to review and reform the trading framework created by the Uruguay Round agreement. The E.U. would be glad that it has, as yet, not had to retract on the question of agricultural support. And finally th e U.S. would argue that it has put "implementation issues" on the back-burner and brought to the front its principal concerns, especially the new ones relating to labour and environment, making them an informal part of any agenda for all future trade tal ks.

In fact, Barshefsky even made the collapse of the meeting an American 'decision', when she declared to weary negotiators: "My judgment and in turn the judgment shared by the Director-General ... was that it would be best to take a time out, consult with one another and find a creative means to finish the job." U.S. officials were still holding that their unfinished agenda would be revived in Geneva in six months' time. Meanwhile, Barshefsky held, talks on agriculture and services mandated by the Uruguay agreement can begin in January. Clearly, the U.S. view is that even though it has not clinched a deal, it has set the direction which any future talks would take. In the long haul it expects that, as happened with the last round of trade talks, which to ok almost a decade to get going in 1986 and end in 1994, WTO members can be tired into arriving at some agreement along the lines it desires. There are important lessons here for developing countries such as India. First, the Seattle talks once again rev eal that in the world of trade it is power and politics and not altruism that determines the rules of the game.

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The belief, therefore, that a multilaterally brokered liberalisation of trade would result in fair trade is completely misplaced. Second, the view that there are no choices other than participation in the WTO needs to be rethought if such participation i s a sure route to turning the world trading system further against developing-country interests. Finally, if the most powerful in the world do not want to give up protection in traditional areas such as textiles and agriculture, and are seeking to win fo r themselves new instruments of protection in the form of labour standards and environmental conditions, going ahead with unilateral liberalisation of external economic policies at home would be mistaken, since the world trading system itself may foreclo se the export benefits such liberalisation is expected to offer. The Seattle protests are confirmation of the increase in worker insecurity everywhere (including in the U.S. and the E.U.), accentuated by the WTO and its dominance by the interests of mult inational corporations. It is time that developing countries recognise that this is true of their workers too.

Confrontation in Seattle

SEATTLE will remember the Third Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation for a long time to come. After the delegates and the journalists have headed home and the dust settles, the WTO meeting will come under intense scrutiny in this northw estern city of the United States, and for many wrong reasons.

The Mayor, city officials, the local police, the Federal and Washington State administrations, business houses and various protest groups will each have an assessment to make. No group can claim victory or state that its plan of action "worked". The bott omline is not who won or lost, but what went wrong.

The Mayor and the police viewed the disturbances not in terms of a "battle" but as an expression of "free speech"; but to the hundreds of delegates from over 130 countries and the nearly 3,000 mediapersons assembled for the largest ever trade event in th e U.S., it was nothing but a fiasco, a bungling of huge proportions.

However, the view of several delegates that the police did not have a firm grip on the situation and over the protesters may not hold good in the U.S., where the laws do not give sweeping powers to authorities to do whatever they want to do. In a develo ping country, even in democracies, the police would have taken thousands of people into preventive custody. But it has been pointed out that this is not possible in the U.S.

City officials admitted that they were caught napping. They had anticipated large protests, even handed out permits for demonstrations and were seemingly preparing for the worst. In the end all hell broke loose. The law enforcement authorities were taken aback by the orgy of violence unleashed by a very small group of self-styled militants and anarchists, who indulged in widespread intimidation, vandalism and looting.

Business houses in this beautiful and otherwise calm city are still picking up the smashed glass outside their establishments and trying to remove graffiti spray-painted on their walls. The losses are still being calculated. It will run into millions of dollars in not just damages but in lost business. The Christmas season is round the corner too.

Long-time residents of Seattle do not remember any other point in the city's history - except perhaps during the Second World War - when curfew had been imposed for consecutive days. This was done so that the law enforcement authorities could "get back" the city from the violent and well-organised protesters, who wanted their views to be heard loud and clear. In the information age, laptops, palmtops and cellular phones came in handy for the marchers to get reorganised quickly and challenge the police f rom vantage points.

By way of what was to become of the WTO, the writing was on the wall. That the Seattle talks would be a write-off was evident even before the formal deliberations and meetings got underway. On the eve of the meetings, thousands of demonstrators from all walks of life and representing a variety of causes - many of which had nothing to do with the WTO per se - had descended on the city and started clogging the streets. But city officials were perhaps under the impression that these "curious" onlook ers would make some noise and leave.

To say that most demonstrators who showed up in Seattle indulged in violence or were keen on provoking the authorities is wrong. It was a small group of people wearing black hoods and black masks that started it all. Something suddenly changed in the car nival-like atmosphere.

The gangs assaulted delegates, spat on them or sprayed ink on their clothes, and even targeted stores, banks and anything else they could lay their hands on. While local television stations were showing it live, the police were outnumbered and could conc entrate only on one or two areas. The police in full riot gear, the mounted police officers and even those in black armoured vehicles did not deter the arsonists.

And then came the red pepper gas, either sprayed or shot as small rubber projectiles. These rubber projectiles, called "stingers", were generally aimed below the knee; and according to one police official, "they really sting" to the point of momentarily incapacitating a person. This correspondent witnessed numerous instances of police spraying pepper gas, and finally dragging away small groups of people for arrest. The first day's tally of arrests was a "modest" 70 or so.

On the opening day, November 30, the ceremonies were scheduled at Paramount Theatre, where U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, WTO Director-General Michael Moore and U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky were to speak. None of them could make it out of their hotel rooms.

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The opening ceremony was cancelled, Albright headed back to Washington D.C. without giving her speech and only a handful of delegates could make it to the convention centre for the start of the sessions, or to read out their "speeches". As night fell, ca me the painful decision of the 12-hour curfew. President Bill Clinton checked into his hotel suite while the curfew was on.

The National Guards were summoned and hundreds of other police officers and troopers were requisitioned from neighbouring counties and States to help out the beleaguered Seattle Police. Day Two seemed to start off peacefully. The local police, with the r einforcements, appeared to have the situation under control. The curfew seemed to help matters in the sense that the Streets of Seattle were finally got "back", even though this had to be done inch by inch.

Determined not to be caught flatfooted or allow the town to be in the hands of the protesters once again, the police went into high gear. They used force, made mass arrests and basically let the anti-WTO elements know who was running the show. The number of arrests stood at over 500 on the second day.

Sweeping restrictions on movement helped matters momentarily, but the protesters were only waiting until dark. They arrived with cannisters of pepper and tear gas, stun grenades and the works. Hundreds of defiant protesters changed tactics. Instead of fo cussing on the "ills" of the WTO, they chanted slogans on the aggression and heavy-handedness of the law enforcement agencies.

The police wanted the city back; the protesters, citing among other things the right to free speech, wanted their streets back. This resulted in a different kind of pressure on the Mayor and City Hall. On hand were charges of excessive use of police forc e and even a few instances of brutality, projected on local television stations. The Human Rights Watch called on the Governor of Washington and the Mayor to appoint an independent commission to inquire into the police action. The frenzy may be over, but it certainly will leave an impact on the Mayor's political fortunes.

Uncertainties ahead

The fiasco at the WTO event was in some ways predictable, given the diverse agendas and the antagonisms that surfaced in the run-up to Seattle; but its ramifications could well prove incalculable.

WITH acrimony mounting and chances of a decisive outcome to the Seattle Ministerial Conference hitting a trough, WTO Director-General Michael Moore came up with a memorable formulation: "Condemned to succeed." In other words, the Ministers and officials cramming Seattle's convention centre could not continue arguing at cross-purposes. As the deadline for agreement neared, discord would simply have to give way, since the stakes involved were too high to condone failure.

By the time these words were uttered, the atmosphere in Seattle was already bristling with new antagonisms. U.S. President Bill Clinton had made his appearance with all the trappings of an imperial overlord come to visit his flock. As the chief host of t he conference, he was received with courtesy and heard with exceeding politeness. But the contents of what he said only deepened the sense of disquiet about the host's intentions, transforming the gathering into a quarrelsome multitude that could not pos sibly reach an adequate compromise.

Moore was altogether too complacent in assuming that there was an underlying harmony in the attitudes of the diverse nations assembled in Seattle. It was a presumption that flowed from a rather uncritical appreciation of the process of globalisation and the supposed benefits it conferred on all parts of the world.

The months leading up to Seattle had been marked by the kind of discord within the WTO that should have provided Moore with an adequate foretaste of the odds he faced. First, there was a months-long stalemate over choosing a person to head the organisati on, with the Asian bloc strongly pressing the claims of a Thai politician against the West's advocacy of Moore. An election would have ruptured the WTO convention of decisions through consensus, with incalculable consequences for its entire method of ope ration in the future. Finally, a tenuous compromise was worked out, under which the two candidates would split the six-year term evenly between themselves.

More ominously, an effort to hammer out an agreed agenda for Seattle broke down just a week prior to the meet. This was the culmination of a tortuous process at the WTO headquarters in Geneva, which saw the U.S., the European Union and Japan - the three powerhouses of the global economy - rapidly raising the pitch of mutual recriminations. An early draft reflected some of the concerns of the E.U. and Japan, in its emphasis upon investment rules, competition policy and anti-dumping regulations. A revised proposal submitted by the U.S. played down all these concerns, instead highlighting the liberalisation of trade in agriculture and services. The E.U. and Japan rejected the proposals on sight, accusing the U.S. of seeking to "rig the agenda" for a new r ound of global trade negotiations.

In the prelude to Seattle, the U.S. also sought to dilute the elements of a draft agenda that would provide the least developed countries a degree of flexibility in meeting WTO commitments. Going into the ministerial meet, the writing was already on the wall. With a shrewd appreciation of the odds, The Economist of London, as energetic a drumbeater for free trade as any, warned of the dangers ahead: "There is indeed a danger that Seattle will turn out to be a fiasco: no agreement on an agenda, or a half-hearted one that will obviously lead nowhere. If that happened, it would encourage anti-WTO groups to go on the offensive. America, the E.U. and Japan would increasingly be tempted by managed trade. The E.U. and America would redouble their effor ts to carve up markets through regional preferential trade agreements that can only undermine the multilateral approach to trade."

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President Clinton had been the most assiduous in urging that Seattle should mark the beginning of a new round of global trade negotiations. Since the U.S. has always been the driving force behind its predecessor - the General Agreement on Tariffs and Tra de - there seemed little amiss about its effort to steer the WTO in a particular direction. But there were serious hazards inherent in the temporal coincidence between the WTO meet and the start of the U.S. presidential election process. For Clinton, Sea ttle was little more than an occasion to establish how he was intent on exerting the leverage offered by the U.S' uniquely influential global profile to secure the interests of American labour unions. The WTO ministerial was, in this sense, a barely disg uised overture to the trade union vote bloc on behalf of Clinton's designated successor, Vice-President Al Gore.

TRADE union insecurities had been compounded by the mid-November deal between the U.S. and China, which effectively cleared the most serious obstacles to the admission of China into the WTO (Frontline, December 10). On November 19, John Sweeney, p resident of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organisation (AFL-CIO), the most influential trade union confederation in the U.S., spelt out his concerns at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Repeatedly invoking the thre at of a "confrontation" in Seattle, Sweeney warned: "The attempt to bring China into the WTO intensifies our determination, because we believe it is less likely to reform China, as its advocates claim, than it is to further deform the WTO. And it is more likely to detract from the WTO's already questionable legitimacy than to add to it."

Sweeney's worries were transparent. China's human resources would constitute a grave threat to the global dominance of U.S. industry and thereby endanger union interests. He was openly contemptuous of the arguments advanced on behalf of free trade: "Edit orials pose a choice between free trade and protectionism, between engaging China and isolating it. This is nonsense. The debate is not about free trade or protection, engagement or isolation. We all know we are part of a global economy. And we are so en gaged that we are already running a $60 billion deficit with China."

In other words, the trade deficit - virtually a chronic feature of U.S. economic performance over the last decade and more - is synonymous with an export of American jobs overseas. And if the WTO fails to inscribe into its charter uniform rules for labou r all over the world, it would represent an unfair disadvantage for American labour. "So every day," said Sweeney in moral outrage, "some 250 million children across the world go to work rather than to school, making goods that flow freely across nationa l borders. Every day, tens of thousands of workers are chained into forced labour and prison camps, slaving to make products that enrich global corporations and dictatorial governments."

It is an irony that these acute insecurities have cropped up at a time when the U.S. economy is celebrating its longest-ever phase of uninterrupted growth. There is perhaps an implicit comment in Sweeney's sentiments, as also in President Clinton's anxie ty to accommodate them, on the stability and sustainability of the current economic boom in the U.S.

The inside story remains to be told, but there is an effort to spin out an interpretation that the U.S. President's strong message, invoking the possibility of trade sanctions against countries that failed to meet agreed labour standards, was his own ini tiative. In this narration, in his effort to secure the trade union vote for his designated successor, Clinton went well beyond the more subtle bargaining position that his negotiating team had adopted.

FUTURE historians may find it enlightening to excavate the truth behind these stories. For immediate purposes, it is sufficient that the President's remarks provided an insight of startling clarity into his country's ultimate intentions with the proposed new round of negotiations. The remarks made by his top negotiator, U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, just two days earlier, suggested an effort to work the labour standards issue into the WTO negotiating agenda without immediately pre-empti ng its outcome. The occasion was her address to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, a body that has rendered immense service to the U.S. cause during the Cold War and today stands in the vanguard of the struggle for universal labour sta ndards.

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Interestingly, Moore had on November 28 firmly ruled the issue of labour standards out of court in his appearance at the same forum: "What is true for the advanced economies is true for developing economies as well. Imposing trade sanctions - making deve loping countries even poorer - will not stop children being put to work. Or lift the living standards of their families. Just the opposite. Poverty, not trade, is the main cause of unacceptable working conditions and environmental degradation. And the an swer to poverty is more trade and business, not less."

Moore suggested that rather than appropriate the mandate of the International Labour Organisation, the WTO should work in cooperation with it: "Most of the 135 members of the WTO are also members of the ILO. We represent the same taxpayers, the same gove rnments, the same constituents. All these governments have an interest in improving their social and labour standards... All WTO's membership signed up to the Singapore Declaration in 1996 committing them to core labour standards, opposing the use of lab our standards for protectionist purposes and agreeing that the comparative advantage of countries - particularly low-wage developing countries - must in no way be put into question."

On behalf of the U.S., Barshefsky stated her opposition to this posture very clearly the next day: "Today, in a formal sense, the WTO does not recognise that links between trade and labour exist. This is not a position which can endure: it is intellectua lly indefensible, and it will over time weaken public support for the trading system. Thus we are not only seeking closer collaboration between the WTO and the Inter-national Labour Organ-isation, but also creation of a Working Group on Trade and Labou r to examine seriously, in cooperations with institutions like the World Bank and the ILO, questions such as safety nets, the relationship between trade and internationally recognised core labour standards, and the best means of adjustment to heightened competition."

THESE subtleties of interpretation were, of course, decisively brushed aside when Clinton invoked trade sanctions as the appropriate antidote to member-countries' default on core labour standards. Far from being an occasion that elevated the meet to a hi gher level of purpose, the presidential appearance in Seattle only hastened its unravelling.

In the two remaining days, the U.S. tried every option to win an agreement. On agriculture, it remained insistent on a final elimination of farm subsidies, but seemingly conceded some ground on "multi-functionality" - recognising European and Japanese cl aims that agriculture represented a special category of activity, intimately connected to the environment, national cultures and ways of life, that could not be equated with industry and manufacturing. To win Japan's assent on the labour standards issue, it even offered to bring on board its specific grievances on the frequent American recourse to anti-dumping regulations. But against the background of dissent from the more important developing countries, none of these stratagems could quite salvage the Seattle talks.

In retrospect, to anybody who followed the tumultuous build-up to Seattle, it must seem rather outlandish that forecasts of a decisive outcome did for a while enjoy a certain credibility. The fiasco of the WTO ministerial does not in itself represent a f atal blow to the global trading system. It is not inappropriate to recall that the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations, which gave rise to the WTO, went into a seemingly irresolvable deadlock in 1990. It snapped out of the stupor only when Arthur Dunkel, Director-General of GATT (as it was then known), produced the fait accompli of an agreement that was known as the "Dunkel Draft" - providing the U.S. with the basis for individually working on all the recalcitrant elements and wearing down their resistance.

A similar effort may be unnecessary right now, since most of the issues that proved contentious in Seattle, such as agriculture and services, will be taken up in Geneva early next year, as part of the continuing mandate of the Uruguay Round. In this cont ext, it is worthwhile to probe into the recent conduct of the U.S. Government to uncover its true motivations in seeking to launch a new round of global negotiations. It is unlikely that the answer ultimately will need to go far beyond one factor. The cu rrent conjuncture is a rare moment of global hegemony for the U.S. - an ascendancy as seemingly absolute as it is multi-dimensional. Since ministerial meetings every two years have become standard procedure for the WTO, the U.S. obviously decided that th e moment was appropriate to exert the leverage afforded by its economic, military and cultural power, to force an outcome of its choice in global trade rules.

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The effort came a cropper for the simple reason that the moment of absolute U.S. power is also one of maximum global disharmony. Indeed, not in several decades has the global economy been as out of joint as it is now. Cycles of growth and stagnation, whi ch once were closely synchronised between the main global economies, are today completely desynchronised. The growth that the U.S. economy is today witnessing - with its attendant phenomenon of a massively bloated stock market and rampant speculative act ivity - strains credulity for the simple reason that it is seemingly isolated from the rest of the global economy.

Digging slightly under the surface, the infirmities in the American economic miracle begin to emerge. First, economic growth today is being underwritten as never before by massive consumer spending. The growth in consumer spending today is the highest si nce the mid-1980s. This, in turn, is premised upon the appreciation of share values. Household incomes alone can hardly sustain the kind of consumer spending that is seen today. What is evident, instead, is the "wealth effect" - of households incurring m assive debts in the belief that the appreciation of share market values will more than balance their books in the long term.

Optimistic projections of continuing economic growth assume that household expenditure will be in excess of income for the next five years, pointing to a faster accumulation of debt. Crucially again, much of this debt is incurred to overseas creditors, t hrough a burgeoning American trade deficit. Over the last few months, the U.S. trade deficit has been just over 3.2 per cent of GDP. This represents a substantial change over a decade ago, when it was just 1.5 per cent of GDP. A part of this is explained by higher investments by American industry, which could conceivably bring in returns in future. But a large part of the explanation lies in debt-financed expenditure by American households. This is indeed the true face of the "export of jobs through tra de" phenomenon that American trade unions have made much of.

To be able to sustain this situation, the dollar value must continue to remain high so that overseas creditors continue to put money into U.S. government guaranteed bonds. But the longer the dollar remains high, the greater will be the difficulty of brid ging the U.S. trade deficit. Further, Japanese financiers have of late been giving indications that they will be shifting their investments, as the Japanese Government gets ready with a massive revival package for the ailing economy. The U.S. economy tod ay is confronting what has appropriately enough been described as "an impossible balancing act". The Seattle meeting was perhaps an effort to impart a sense of stability to the U.S' precarious perch. And while the fiasco of the WTO ministerial was perhap s predictable, its many ramifications could well be incalculable.

Tussles over trade

WHEN news emerged late in the night of December 3 that talks at the World Trade Organisation conference had failed, the protesters on the streets of Seattle let out cheers and greeted one another with "high-five" handshakes. Even though the talks collaps ed primarily owing to serious differences between the United States and the European Union over the issue of agricultural subsidies, the protesters, who had faced rubber bullets and batons for four days, felt all the satisfaction of having won a hard-fou ght battle.

The clash between the WTO and its critics that exploded in Seattle had been brewing for almost a year. Activists and non-governmental organisations, emboldened by their success in scuttling the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) at the meeting of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1998, moved quickly when they heard of the WTO meeting in Seattle and of the possibility that the investment treaty could resurface there under new aegis.

In this age of "Internet activism", organisers across the U.S. set up Web sites, newsgroups and e-mail list-serves to connect activists and participants throughout the world. Web sites such as www.seattle99.org and www.wtoseattle.org have been operating for months, providing directions, background information, schedule of events, accommodation outlets and even safety guidelines to those planning to attend. Some mischievous e-activists set up fake Web sites such as www.gatt.org that look otherwise identi cal to the official WTO site, but whose links lead to articles that lambast the organisation.

While the Clinton administration tried to justify its agenda of introducing labour and environmental standards into the WTO saying that it was merely responding to public sentiment, the reality was more complex. At least 10 different organisations, repre senting a wide variety of concerns, came together in Seattle. They included trade unions, environmentalists such as the Rainforest Action Network, grassroots groups such as Direction Action Network, and even animal-rights groups such as the Humane Societ y.

THE common cause that unites many of these groups is not labour and environmental standards - something that India and the other developing countries sharply reject. Rather, it is a deep concern that the rules of the WTO permit multinational corporations to subvert the democratic will expressed by national electorates. The Rainforest Action Network, for example, is fighting the WTO because the latter puts trade provisions ahead of the laws of nations, so that power is shifted "away from local communitie s and given to corporations". People for Fair Trade, which organised many parallel events in Seattle, says that "the WTO speaks only for corporations and has become a global coup against democracy. It is the dismantling of democracy disguised as a trade pact." For example, the U.S. was forced by the WTO in 1996 to repeal sections of a 1990 pollution control law that were found to discriminate against imports from less-sophisticated Venezuelan refineries. Similarly, European regulations against the impor t of hormone-treated U.S. beef were ruled illegal despite the fact that European consumers are overwhelmingly in favour of tight restrictions on hormone-treated and genetically modified foods.

A number of NGOs have focussed on the fact that the benefits of free trade are often unequally distributed, and have damaging consequences for the most marginal segments of society. In a workshop presentation, veteran activist Walden Bello placed the WTO within a larger paradigm of economic development linked to the neo-liberal approach of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It is deeply flawed, he said, because it dogmatically imposes a single model of economic development on all countries and negates the economic and social consequences of growth and trade.

Bello, along with Miloon Kothari, a Delhi-based NGO activist with the Habitat International Coalition, is among those who advocate a fundamental restructuring or dismantling of the WTO. Kothari was in Seattle as part of an alliance of NGOs that are conce rned that the newly devised trade rules of the WTO will cause governments to compromise on or roll back earlier commitments on human rights, such as the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. "Trade has become an end in itself," he said. "We think trade should be a means by which people can achieve human rights objectives that countries have agreed to in the past."

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There was some disappointment over the last-minute cancellation of Cuban President Fidel Castro's visit to Seattle. Meanwhile, the debate between Jagdish Bhagwati and Vandana Shiva offered some moments of excitement. In a public debate between the propon ents and opponents of globalisation, U.S. consumer activist Ralph Nader joined Vandana Shiva to square off against David Aaron, the U.S. Under-Secretary of Trade, and Bhagwati, a Columbia University Professor and an expert on trade. The acrimonious two-h our debate was high on sound-bites but low on substance as the two sides argued past each other to occasional applause from the packed audience. Bhagwati, polite and professorial, appeared confused in the debate, and occasionally scored points for his op ponents by contradicting and disagreeing with Aaron. In the end, Ralph Nader and Vandana Shiva had outgunned their opponents with their rhetorical skills and thundering accusations that left Aaron looking hapless.

BUT the rancour and tension at the debate was nothing compared to what took place at the ministerial meeting itself. It is not clear if the fiery demonstrations on the first day shook the delegates' nerves, but the official deliberations remained without resolution after four days of tense and protracted negotiations. Delegates arrived in Seattle steeled for battle. Many, like those from India, came prepared with carefully worked out positions backed by strong political will and powerful domestic consti tuencies. But if much of the first day was lost in the protests, the proceedings on the second, third and fourth days were deadlocked in virtually every committee. The last two days saw non-stop negotiations as delegates struggled to make progress, and t he final day's session was even extended by a few hours.

Many of the smaller developing countries complained bitterly that they were sidelined at the talks. But the dynamics of the WTO are such that it is inevitably dominated by the U.S., the E.U. and Japan that together control three-quarters of world trade, and consequently wield considerable influence over it. These three found enough stumbling blocks among themselves, from anti-dumping laws to export subsidies, to cause the entire proceedings to crash.

With protests outside and failure inside, the Seattle ministerial will go down as a major ignominy both for Clinton and the WTO. Many negotiators felt the talks would be re-ignited within six months, but the failure to launch a new round of trade liberal isation talks will leave a psychological burden of frustration and weariness that will take some time to overcome.

A high-stakes agenda

The Seattle talks collapsed owing to a hardening of negotiating positions by governments following an attempt by President Bill Clinton to raise the stakes on implementing labour standards.

FOR President Bill Clinton, who had set great store by the Third Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle, the outcome is, in some senses, a setback. Administration officials may now try to convey the impression that all is not l ost, and that the pieces of the failed trade negotiations can be continued from where they were left off, but clearly this is not going to be easy.

United States Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky put a gloss on it and claimed that it was best to "take a time-out" and find "creative means" to finish the job. However, a senior delegate from Thailand seemed to sum it up a lot more realistically: "It started off on the wrong foot and we scrambled to get into gear. We couldn't get the big picture."

To say that the WTO fumbled because of the street protests would be stretching facts. The protests were certainly a factor, and the delegates were shocked by the level of violence, looting and intimidation witnessed during the first two days. But the tal ks failed because these act were compounded by a host of factors and issues. The negotiating positions of governments had become entrenched and the stakes had been raised at the last minute by none other than Clinton.

After having set artificial timelines and in some instances come to Seattle without getting a firm grip on the technicalities to be sorted out, a majority of the delegates from the 135 member-countries were appalled at the way the process was unfolding a t the convention centre. Miffed at being left out of the negotiating process and concerned that the U.S., Europe and Japan were trying to hammer out deals behind the backs of the developing nations, they only hardened their stance. The African delegates were particularly incensed that they were being marginalised.

When the talks collapsed, those who had been keen on results argued that the way the meetings were structured would have to be reviewed. The developed countries perhaps believed that the select meetings in the "green rooms" would deliver results and that the agreements fashioned thus could be presented as a fait accompli to the developing nations. However, it had precisely the opposite effect.

As he does in most crisis situations, Clinton worked the telephone lines, calling a number of world leaders, including Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. But many gaps remained and it became apparent in the last few hours that it would just not be pos sible to bury the differences and start a "millennium" round of trade negotiations.

It was not merely opposition from countries including India to the efforts by developed countries to link trade to the so-called core labour standards and environmental issues that torpedoed the talks. There was tough bargaining over various other issues - agricultural subsidies, anti-dumping measures, industrial tariffs, "multi-functionality" and the scope of a new three-year round that was to be launched in Seattle.

Some observers reasoned that it was owing to differences relating to agricultural subsidies that the meeting failed. The U.S. and the 15-member European Union were involved in a heated debate over agricultural subsidies; the E.U. was unwilling to concede ground to those who demanded a pruning of these subsidies. Japan and South Korea pushed for efforts to maintain import barriers for rice. The U.S. and the Cairns Group were opposed to the use of "multi-funtionality" in the final text: the term relates t o the concept that agriculture performs a variety of societal roles, including preserving rural culture and protecting the environment. Japan and the E.U. were keen to include this in the final statement.

The lack of transparency in the proceedings and persisting differences on agricultural issues were by no means the only hurdles. There was a widespread feeling among representatives of the developing nations that the industrialised world, particularly th e U.S. and the E.U., was trying to browbeat the Third World with tough talk on the farm trade and on the labour and environmental issues. Clinton's remark that the WTO should consider imposing sanctions on countries that did not comply with core labour s tandards strengthened suspicions about U.S. intentions, and that had a spillover effect in other areas.

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THE Indian delegation led by Commerce Minister Murasoli Maran made it clear right from the start that India would not compromise on its principled refusal to discuss issues that were not directly related to trade matters - such as labour standards and th e environment. In his statement to the conference, Maran said that India was firmly committed to environmental protection and sustainable development but that it would strongly oppose any attempt to change the structure of the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment or the mandate which then could be used to legitimise unilateral trade-restrictive measures.

On the subject of labour standards and workers' rights, Maran told the Ministerial Conference: "India resolutely rejects renewed attempts to introduce these in the WTO in one form or another. Any further move will cause deep divisions and distrust that c an only harm the formation of a consensus on our future work programme." A senior Commerce Ministry official who was part of the delegation repeatedly made the point that India would not yield on this aspect. "We believe it is a Trojan horse for protecti onism and our political mandate is to oppose it," the official added.

At the end of the conference, Maran told Indian mediapersons that when the delegation came to Seattle, it expected a more positive outcome that would advance the case for a multilateral, rule-based, non-discriminatory trading system. "Significant advance s have been made. But in some areas, particularly non-trade related issues, there were wide divergences that could not be bridged," the Minister remarked.

India, said Maran, opposed the efforts to link trade to core labour standards, environmental issues, coherent global architecture, investment issues, involvement of non-governmental organisations in WTO negotiations and competition policy. "We hope that in the ensuing consultations a more constructive outcome will emerge on all issues for a balanced and equitable package," he added.

Among the developing countries, India was a major player in Seattle, but not the only major one. A few other countries in the Asia-Pacific, Africa and Latin America also protested against the manner in which non-trade issues were being brought onto or li nked to the trade agenda. A top Malaysian official said: "Cheap labour does not necessarily mean exploitation... Is it too difficult to accept that countries have different levels of development? Some countries are just not as rich as other countries."

Clinton may have wanted to make gains from the conference and add it to his list of foreign policy "successes". It is not as though he had an ambitious agenda set out at Seattle and put little on the negotiating table. The problem was that Clinton had a political agenda and he raised the stakes at the very last minute. Prior to his arrival in Seattle, where curfew was in force, in an interview to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Clinton used the 'S' word - sanctions. Calling for the delegates to a dopt the U.S. position for a working group on labour that would develop core labour standards which would then be part of every trade agreement, Clinton said, "... ultimately, I would favour a system in which sanctions would come for violating any provis ion of the trade agreement." The President also said that Americans should not buy products from companies that exploit workers. Senior officials scrambled to say that the President's comments were only to be seen as a "goal" and not a negotiating plank for the WTO ministerial. But the damage had been done.

Labour and environmental groups are core supporters of the Democratic Party; Clinton perhaps wanted to play to this gallery and see if he could have it both ways. Clinton reckoned that if, by talking tough on issues of agriculture and farm trade and in s peaking up for labour rights and human rights, he had got the delegates to sign on to his agenda, he would have had the labour and the environment groups on his side.

In Clinton's calculation, even if the WTO ministerial ended without an agreement, he would have had these groups on his side: to them, "no deal is better than a bad deal". The conference collapsed not so much because it was held in Seattle under siege-li ke conditions, but because it was held in a country where politicians and special interest groups have set their sights on the presidential and congressional elections due in 2000.

Big business at work

V. SRIDHAR cover-story

Multinational corporations, the prime movers of globalisation, are becoming involved ever more actively and visibly in setting the agenda for international trade negotiations among governments, in which big business has tremendous stakes. The Se attle meet was no exception.

"The idea was simple: to identify those barriers to trade or opportunities for liberalisation on which both business communities (in Europe and in the United States) could agree as targets for government action. We should put the business 'horse' befo re the government 'cart'."

- Timothy J. Hauser, former acting Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, in a testimony before the House Committee on Ways and Means, Hearing on the New Transatlantic Agenda, July 23, 1997.

"We want neither to be the secret girlfriend of the WTO nor should the International Chamber of Commerce have to enter the WTO through the servants entrance."

- Helmut O. Maucher, chairman of Nestle and former president of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) , in the Financial Times, December 6, 1997.

IF the World Trade Organisation is all about free trade, and if giant business corporations are the principal agents of globalisation, what was big business' stake at Seattle?

Considering the immense clout of these corporations, the media at large covered surprisingly little about their role in the run-up to the Seattle conference. For instance, it is little known that the Seattle Host Organisation (SHO), the key organiser of the ministerial meet, was co-chaired by the heads of the two Seattle-based global leaders in their respective lines of business - Microsoft and Boeing. At Seattle, corporate sponsorship rose to new heights, epitomising the predominant role that multinati onal companies play in world trade.

During the run-up to Seattle, the SHO sought corporate sponsorship of the event. It said that "supporters will be welcome to participate in a series of private sector programmes organised by the SHO, and, where appropriate, the SHO will look first to spo nsoring firms for key speaking roles. During the WTO week, sector-specific conferences will take place, bringing together industry leaders, specialists and participants engaged in the key issues for the next round of trade talks... The attendance for the se sessions is limited, allowing for the greatest possible interaction between participants, officials and guest speakers." The SHO also said it would provide "special briefings to contributing firms prior to the WTO Ministerial to ensure that they recei ve constant updates on the status of the ministerial meetings."

"Supporters" were entitled to invitations to the ministerial dinner, opening and closing events and private sector conferences. The number of invitations issued to companies depended on their level of support. For instance, "Emerald level" sponsors, who contributed $250,000 each, were allowed five guests for the ministerial dinner; the companies who had committed support, apart from Boeing and Microsoft, included General Motors, Ford, Deloitte and Touche (a consultancy and accounting multinational), UPS and Honeywell. "Diamond level" sponsors, who paid between $150,000 and $249,999 each, included Hewlett Packard, Motorola, Lucent Technologies and the Port of Seattle. Companies at the "Platinum level" included IBM, Caterpillar, Lufthansa, each of which paid up to $149,000. There were other sponsors - at gold, silver and bronze levels. Signage and corporate material of the supporting companies were allowed at the conference, and the SHO's official Web site had links to the sponsoring companies' Web site s. Sponsors provided about $9 million to conduct the meet.

The Seattle meet was not the first major international event for which such corporate fund-raising had been undertaken. Earlier this year, the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was spons ored by U.S. corporations. About a dozen companies contributed a quarter of a million dollars each and their heads were directors of the host committee of the NATO summit.

CRITICS of the WTO recall the agenda-setting role of multinationals during the Uruguay Round process which laid the basis for the transition from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to the WTO between 1986 and 1993. The large business corpo rations played a key role in bringing new issues such as Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), trade in services and other issues on the agenda. These issues were traditionally outside the scope of the GATT process, which was mai nly concerned with tariffs on goods trade. Business interests in the Quad - the U.S., Canada, the European Union (E.U.) and Japan - were particularly active in bringing the Uruguay Round to a successful conclusion.

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In the U.S., the Coalition of Service Industries lobbied the Government to form a separate regime for international trade in services. Multinationals such as Federal Express, Citicorp and American Express, and Arthur Andersen, the accounting and consulta ncy multinational, are part of the Coalition. The Intellectual Property Committee, a forum for 13 major U.S. corporations, including Monsanto, DuPont, General Motors and others, worked to incorporate TRIPS in the Uruguay Round. The former chief executive officer of Pfizer remarked in 1996 that "our combined strength enabled us to establish a global private sector government network which laid the groundwork for what became TRIPS". Critics have also pointed out the "strikingly similar" positions put fort h by industrial lobbies and those presented by the official U.S. delegation during the talks on TRIPS during the Uruguay Round. Of the 111 members of the U.S. delegation, as many as 96 were from the corporate world.

In the U.S., the President's Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations (ACPTN) includes representatives from leading multinationals such as AT&T and associations such as the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. Representatives from mult inationals such as Eastman Kodak, Monsanto and IBM account for nearly half the strength of the 42-member Committee.

In Japan, the Japanese Federation of Economic Organisations, the Keidanren, liaises with the Japanese Government and Parliament. Representatives from Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, Nissan and Toyota chair major committees in the Keidanren. In Europe, w hile the members of the European Round Table (ERT) lobbied with national governments, the Union of Industrial and Employers Confederation of Europe (UNICE) worked closely with the E.U. leadership. In the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Developm ent (OECD), the Business and Industry Advisory Committee (BIAC), of which the ICC is an important part, plays an important role in shaping the industrialised countries' agenda at the WTO.

Lobbying by business played a key role in clinching the three international agreements that were signed at the WTO in 1997 - on Information Technology (IT) products, on telecommunications and, most significantly, on the liberalisation of financial servic es. All three, said former E.U. Trade Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan, were "jewels in the WTO crown."

The agreement on financial services, which came into force on March 1, 1999, is expected to liberalise 90 per cent of the world market in insurance, banking and brokerage services. The agreement marks a significant step in opening up markets in the count ries of the South to the multinational financial entities. Although the agreement allows countries to file specific reservations, it locks them in terms of liberalisation and market access, preventing the establishment of controls at a later date.

The E.U. and the U.S. governments lobbied extensively in Asian and Latin American capitals to clinch the agreement on financial services; the role played by corporate lobbying, however, received less attention. The Financial Leaders Group (FLG) played a key role in "identifying barriers to trade in other countries", according to the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs. The FLG included some of the world's biggest financial players - Barclays, Chase Manhattan, ING Group, Ford Financial Services Group, the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, Goldman Sachs and several other banking, investment and insurance companies. In a speech in Washington in September 1998, Brittan remarked that "the close links established between E.C. and U.S. industry... were an essential fa ctor in obtaining the final deal." Brittan also said that the "high-level momentum to the negotiations" was provided by the E.U.-U.S.-FLG involvement. Brittan also said that the relationship will serve as a "model" for the "next round of services liberal isation negotiations."

According to the WTO's critics, the E.U., emboldened by the success of its alliance with the FLG, initiated the formation of the Investment Network (IN). The IN, which brings together more than 50 giant companies, including Daimler-Benz (now merged with Chrysler), Fiat and British Petroleum, was established to articulate key issues to be brought on board the agenda for an international agreement on investment. The E.U. has also suggested the formation of a European association of service industries to " advise E.U. negotiators on the key barriers and countries on which they should focus on in these negotiations." A critic of the business-E.U. relationship observed that "by working closely together, the Commission presents the member-states with a negoti ating strategy pre-approved by European industry."

SINCE its formation in 1995, the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD), in which the biggest corporates from the E.U. and the U.S. participate, has focussed on the agenda that governments should take up at the WTO negotiations. Among the points raised b y the TABD is the expansion of the "in-built agenda" which includes services, agriculture and TRIPS. The E.U. position, which favoured an expansion of the agenda at Seattle, is seen as a reflection of business lobbying at the TABD. The TABD also called f or the conclusion of an Agreement on Forest Products and on electronic commerce.

At the TABD's fifth annual conference held recently in Berlin, over 100 CEOs from leading multinationals gathered to articulate their agenda for the Seattle meet. They focussed attention on non-tariff barriers to trade in the E.U. and the U.S. These rela ted to genetically modified agricultural products, eco-labelling and recycling schemes in the E.U. They also demanded that the U.S. administration review its public spending provisions which are aimed at supporting local communities.

A commentator points out that the TABD is not an organisation but a "framework drawing on the resources of existing companies and organisations, to deliver joint industry messages." This is perceived to result in more efficient interaction than the "trad itional structures for government-business consultation." The TABD is reckoned to be "arguably one of the most far-reaching and influential corporate-state alliances."

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The ICC, which represents the interests of some of the biggest multinationals, was a major player in the move to float the controversial Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). It also maintains close ties with the WTO Secretariat. An ICC official sa id that the ICC "has always been a vector for business input into WTO work... since the beginning of the multilateral trade negotiations." It also had "several informal contacts with the WTO on the new issues that the WTO is looking at," a senior ICC off icial said earlier this year. Its Seattle campaign started in May 1999 when an ICC delegation met German Chancellor Gerald Schroeder just before the G-8 summit. On the eve of the Seattle meet, ICC secretary-general Maria Livanos Cattaui, said: "Progress of multilateral trade liberalisation must not be allowed to falter... The rules-based multilateral trading system is one of the finest achievements of the twentieth century."

CRITICS of the WTO point to the increasing collaboration between business and some of the key figures involved in international trade negotiations since the Uruguay Round. For instance, Arthur Dunkel, who presided over much of the transition from GATT to the WTO, is on the board of Nestle, one of the world's biggest food companies. Dunkel also chairs the International Trade and Investment Commission of the ICC. Dunkel's participation in a WTO dispute settlement panel also raised questions of a conflict of interest.

Peter Sutherland, former Director-General of GATT-WTO between 1993 and 1995, now chairs the board of British Petroleum and is also an associate in Goldman Sachs International. According to the Friends of the Earth, Charlene Barshefsky, the United States Trade Representative (USTR), was earlier a lobbyist for the Canadian timber industry.

The dispute settlement mechanism in the WTO has come in for criticism on the ground that it is non-transparent; more seriously, the system is perceived to be iniquitous to resource-poor countries or to smaller companies operating from the developing coun tries. In the WTO, only member-states are allowed to raise disputes: when a company believes that it is affected by unfair trade practices in another country, it has first to convince its own government that the issue must be raised at the WTO. More impo rtant, governments must also act in defence of companies based in their countries which have been affected by unfair trade practices of entities in other countries. To protect themselves, companies must therefore have a good relationship with their gover nments if they want the authorities to pursue their case.

In many of the high-profile trade disputes that have arisen recently, corporates and their own governments have gone hand-in-hand to fight their case at the WTO. In the banana war between the E.U. and the U.S., Chiquita Brands International, which owns p lantations in Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, joined legal action against the E.U.. In fact, Chiquita, which controls a large part of the banana trade, helped the governments in these countries fight the case.

In the beef and milk war in 1997, Monsanto, the U.S. National Cattlemen's Association, the U.S. Dairy Export Council and other interest groups lobbied with the U.S. Government to initiate action against the E.U. for its ban on hormone-treated beef import s on health considerations. European animal health products companies, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Associations (EFPIA) and lobbied at the E.U. for a withdrawal of the ban because they claimed that it was affecting their interests as well.

The Japanese and European governments acted on behalf of companies such as Sony, Toshiba, Siemens and Philips Electronics against a Massachusetts law which penalises government purchases from companies that deal with entities in Myanmar which is under mi litary rule. They complained that the U.S. administration had also fought Kodak's case against Fuji for a share of the Japanese market for film and photographic paper. Incidentally, Kodak's CEO is a member of the ACPTN.

THE WTO framework has increasingly challenged national laws related to trade, environment, food, technical standards, labour, and biotechnology; in trade jargon, these are together called "non-tariff barriers to trade". More than any other entity in the world, multinational corporations are equipped to engage in the globalisation process. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that more than two-thirds of world trade involves at least one multinational company. Half of this is traded between companies belonging to the same multinational group. These corporations are truly global. Being the prime movers of globalisation, they have enormous stakes in managing the contradictions that arise between governments, which are answerable to people within their borders, and global business, which wants investment and trade to move freely in a seamless world.

Perhaps nothing epitomises the growing nexus between governments and big business as the spectacle of briefcase-toting Trade Ministers from across the world engaged in bargaining in Seattle. International trade bureaucrats and negotiators are another par t of this spectacle.

To ensure the survival of the weakest

cover-story
Interview with Dr. M.S. Swaminathan.

Dr. M.S. Swaminathan sometimes recalls the excitement and effervescence during that period in the decade of the 1960s when a major revolution was brewing in the laboratories and fields of India. The explosion in food production brought on by the i ntroduction of high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice in India (and later in other parts of the developing world) created agricultural history. With characteristic modesty, he deflects credit for his role in changing the face of agriculture in the dev eloping world, but instead draws attention to the many lessons of what came to be called the Green Revolution. Apart from its more obvious and recognised ones, he underlines the important political lesson drawn from that experience. The Green Revolution disproved Malthusian predictions of famine and mass starvation for India. It made India self-sufficient in food, a factor that played no small role in strengthening the country's political sovereignty and ability to withstand international pressures at a critical juncture.

Yet it is clear that at the heart of his quest for a better, more equitable and healthier world is the challenge posed by contradictions of a situation where there is food self-sufficiency for a nation on the one hand and hunger for a growing a number o f people on the other.

If there is one strand that runs through Swamina- than's distinguished five-decade public career as agricultural scientist, administrator, innovator and thinker, it is the concept of human welfare, a vision rooted in the ideals of socio-economic equity, women's equality, environmental conservation and ethics. For him, the food and livelihood security of nations, and of different groups and communities of persons within nations, perhaps constitute the foundation of human development. Hunger gives rise to economic and social discord and leads to violence. In a fundamental sense, therefore, Swaminathan's contributions to the theory and practice of human welfare have strengthened the movement for both equity and peace.

Recognition for Swaminathan's work and contributions to agricultural practice, environmental conservation, poverty eradication through the strengthening of opportunities for productive employment, women's empowerment, protection of indigenous conservatio n traditions and practices, and other pathsetting initiatives, have come from across the globe. He has held a series of front-ranking appointments - Director-General of the International Rice Research Institute, the Philippines (1982-1988); Independent C hairman, FAO Council (1981-85); Andrew D. While Professor-at-Large of Cornell University, United States (1989-95); Trustee of the Ford Foundation (1989-97); and President of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. He currently holds the UNESCO Chair in Ecotechnology at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai. He is the recipient of several Indian and international awards and prizes, most notably the Padma Vibhushan, the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership (1971), the Albert Einstein World Science Award in 1986; the first World Food Prize in 1987; the Honda Prize of the Honda Foundation in 1991; the UNESCO Gandhi Gold Medal in 1999, and the Volvo Environment Prize, 1999. He is the second Indian to be chosen for the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development for the year 1999.

In 1989, Swaminathan founded the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai. Here many of his ideas on a multi-pronged approach to poverty eradication are experimented upon through field projects. He leads a large and dedicated team of scientists an d social researchers and is personally involved in each area of the Foundation's functioning.

This interview was given to Parvathi Menon in Pondicherry where Swaminathan had gone to attend an evaluation of the Biovillage project of the Foundation, an action plan envisaging the sustainable development of the land and water resources for imp roving the livelihood security of those communities which live in the 19 villages that come under the project. Here Swaminathan responds to a range of questions on the World Trade Agreement and its likely implications for India's agricultural and informa l sectors; the sorts of initiatives that India and other developing countries can and must take in conferences such as the Seattle Round; the possible fall-out of the imposition of a regime of intellectual property rights for national and global diversit y; the concerns that surround the issue of genetically modified organisms; and other related matters.

Excerpts from the interview:

In your Nehru Memorial lecture, one of the points you made was as follows: "Globalisation is creating new threats to the livelihood security of men and women living in poverty." Today the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has become the global forum wher e many issues relating to food security and the economic sovereignty of nations are being negotiated. Could you comment on the Seattle round and its implications for India and other developing nations in respect of these issues ?

Globalisation, indicating the removal of economic policies which protect the vulnerable sections of society, has certainly led to growing inequity between nations and within nations. The available data from the United Nations and World Bank sources show that in the last 20 years the global domestic economic product has grown from about $10 trillion in 1980 to over $30 trillion now, an increase of almost three times. This money has largely gone to about 12 to 13 countries, mostly industrialised. And in t he poorer nations where some growth has taken place, most of the additional income has gone to the already well-to-do. Seven or eight years ago it was mentioned that one billion of the world's population was earning less than one dollar a day. Now this o ne billion has gone up to 1.3 billion. And according to the Asian Development Bank, one in three Asians is poor and lives below the poverty line, earning less than one dollar a day. Most of the poor, 900 million people, live in our part of the world, Sou th Asia and South-East Asia.

Why has this happened? Growth has not been even, and has been highly skewed in terms of countries and in terms of communities within the countries. There are other indications of the increasing marginalisation of the poor apart from their poverty status. Although the World Food Summit in 1996 called for the halving by 2015 of the numbers of men, women and children going to bed hungry, the Director-General of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) has said that the position has worsened in many coun tries since 1996.

As we approach a new century and millennium, we will have to think about how we can reverse the paradigm, to start with the poorest and make poverty elimination and hunger elimination the basic aim of all development. The other implication of globalisati on and economic competition is the fact that large companies are swallowing up smaller companies. Efficiency is being measured in the industrialised countries and in the large multinationals in terms of the level of downsizing of the workforce. This is w hat the late Mahbub-ul-Haq called jobless economic growth, and that has caused much greater hardship to the poor.

What about the specific impact of the WTO for India and other developing countries?

The WTO is five years old, and the Seattle Round is going to review what has happened. The World Trade Agreement (WTA) has a number of provisions, obviously to provide what is called a level playing field. For example, if the phasing out of subsidies has to be done by the industrialised countries in five years, developing countries can take ten years. But unfortunately, there is no level playing field in the world in terms of trade because one has to look at the enormous economic growth in the industria lised nations.

Take, for example, agriculture. You find even today in our country, paddy or rice drying is done on the roads in many parts of South India, Assam and so on. If you go to a North American or Australian farm, there is an enormous infrastructure investment that has been made through public funding in the last 50 years. I would say our investment in some of these areas like post-harvest technology is a minute fraction of what exists in these countries. National investment in rural development and rural infr astructure is generally going down, largely because of the debt servicing burden, the enormous cost of bureaucracy, the Pay Commission commitments and so on. There is hardly any money left for development. As a result, where is the level playing field?

What is the purpose of trade, the ultimate human purpose of trade? I would say the world trade negotiations in Seattle should come to a mission statement on what trade is all about, what is it that we want to accomplish. If we all agree that trade has to be a very powerful mechanism to provide an opportunity for creating a productive life for every human being, then it takes a new meaning in terms of new rules and regulations. At the moment the countries of the European Community want to ensure that the high subsidies they are giving to their farmers are retained under some garb or the other. If you see the provisions for exemptions from the Aggregate Measure of Support (AMS), you will find that many areas, research and technology for example, have bee n exempted because they make a massive investment in frontier technologies like biotechnology and so on.

The developing countries have by and large been reactive and not proactive. The richer nations create the agenda, they prepare the first draft. Then you change a comma here and there, you have small victories, get something deleted or added. This is beca use we have not ourselves gone with a very clear agenda. The rich countries and those who draft the agenda will always have a fall-back position. They take an extreme position and then say that they have given up so much. So I think the negotiations them selves have not been between equal partners.

Did India present an alternative agenda during the Uruguay round?

We should have had a clear alternative from the time of the Uruguay negotiations, but many papers were just classified as secret, confidential and so on. There was no public debate, or public awareness, until suddenly one day the WTO came into existence and then everybody started looking at it. I think that India has not been guided by a commitment to poverty alleviation. Otherwise we would not be in this kind of position, where we have as many people below the poverty line as the entire population of I ndia at the time of Independence.

Why do you think our government did not have the kind of commitment to use the WTO the way it should have?

As I said, the initial drafts were all prepared by people from industrialised nations, the so-called experts, many of whom may have been well-known names in their fields. They see trade as a method of putting into practice the Darwinian hypothesis of th e survival of the fittest. That is the very foundation of modern competitive trade. People who cannot compete will disappear. This is the problem. So the slate was their slate, it was a Western slate in which we dotted the i's.

Successive Indian governments have advanced the there-is-no-alternative argument as the reason for participation in the WTO on the terms set by the industrialised countries. Do you find this argument acceptable?

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If we did not become a member of the WTO we would have had to negotiate our terms of trade with each country separately and there we would always have been the loser; it is very difficult to negotiate with big powers. Therefore a multilateral mechanism w ith a dispute resolving mechanism is a much better one. Which is why China wants to enter the WTO; they know that being out of it is a disadvantage.

Somehow we did not develop a cogent public policy, develop a consensus among political parties, among different shades of opinion. Looking back I would say that if we had had an impact analysis on the poor as one of our policies, then we would have been in much better shape. Just as I am now saying that our Commerce Ministry's policy statement on import and export must have a livelihood impact statement. It has a sobering influence, because then you start looking at what is really going to happen. For e xample, if India begins importing so much of milk powder and puts milk powder on the OGL (open general licence) list, what is going to happen to the National Dairy Development Board's efforts which over a long period of time have led us to the first posi tion in milk production in the world? Because ours are very small producers. This also holds true in many sectors - whether it is in the broad area of textiles which generates over 60 million jobs in this country, or the dairy sector which gives eight cr ore or 10 crore people in the rural areas additional livelihoods through ownership of a cow or a buffalo. Our production process by and large still falls under the small-scale sector and today poverty alleviation depends upon offering credit to small-sca le industries.

Will the WTA consider micro-credit and micro-enterprise at all? In my view there must be a chapter, like TRIPS, in the Seattle Round on micro-entrerprises supported by micro-credit. That chapter should be prepared by us and given to them for their reacti on. This would be supported by all South Asian countries, including China which also has enormous problems of providing livelihoods for each Chinese. As I said, one in every third Asian is poor. We should develop the first draft and give it to the rich c ountries for them to dot the i's. In a preambular statement you can quote their own words from the G-7 and G-8 resolutions on poverty, or the Copenhagen Summit, which has what is called an agreed text, or the World Food Conference, or the United Nations poverty reduction goal of 2015, and then say that if you want to achieve all this, the trade policy should be geared to ensuring the survival, not of the fittest, but of the weakest because we are trying to make them strong.

So you do think that there is negotiation space in the WTO for countries such as India?

There is a lot of negotiation space, but that space has to be clearly defined, it has to be defined in ethical and human terms. You see, our large conglomerates of industries that dominate our economic policies are concerned with their own competitive ab ility - CII (Confederation of Indian Industry), FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) or ASSOCHAM (Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry). They look at their own self-interest, of course they have to be competitive. So they are the ones whom governments consult in such matters. They are concerned with trade and unfair competition in the automobile industry and so on. But how many are concerned with unfair competition that micro-enterprises supported by micro-credit fa ce? That would be very high on the agenda if I were to have anything to do with the WTO because you can quote the resolutions on poverty alleviation supported by governments of rich nations, and say that if you are really serious, then this is what is ne eded.

What has been the level of India's preparedness for the Seattle Round? Do you have any comments on that?

I think that the present Minister for Commerce, Mr. Murasoli Maran, has taken the right steps. He has tried to consult different people and political parties although the time available to him was very little.

In my view, we must define what are the four or five goals of trade. What is the principal mission statement of the WTO? Is it to produce a more equal opportunity world in which there will be a level playing field for the poor, and that trade should real ly become a means of promoting human security and happiness?

So your view is that India can swim against the tide in the WTO, we have negotiation space, we can protect our interests.

We should look at the total picture. If we do, there is enough space. For example, if all South Asian governments have the same aim of poverty alleviation and hunger elimination, then we have a space there. We can join together and say that one of the po tent tools of poverty alleviation is small-scale and decentralised enterprises that are environment-friendly and are supported by micro-credit. You may find that the richer nations may make some bargaining points but they will not be able to disagree unl ess they want to contradict the anti-poverty statements they made elsewhere.

One of the contemporary problems in terms of harmonising commitments made in different inter-governmental fora is the fact that different viewpoints are expressed in different U.N. fora. For example, member-governments of the FAO accept the concept of fa rmers' rights. Most governments, barring the U.S., have ratified the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) which places heavy emphasis on ethics and equity in the sharing of benefits from genetic resources. The same is true in many other global fora and summi ts such as the Copenhagen Poverty summit, or the Beijing Women's conference. There is an overall commitment in these to the eradication of poverty, to fair play, to justice, to fair, and not free, trade. But all this finally gets operationalised at the f orum of the WTO. So unless governments also take a similar stand in the WTO then whatever they have said in the other fora do not make sense, because the WTO forum is really the main pathway to which the other commitments can be operationalised.

How prepared do you think India is to protect its genetic reserves? How would you evaluate our sui generis legislation which has still not been passed in Parliament but which you have had some involvement in helping to draft?

The CBD is the first major international legally binding convention which has principles of ethics and equity incorporated in it - of both gender equity, social equity and ethical principles in relation to exploitation of bio-resources. Since we ratified it we have not yet had a legislation to convert the principles of CBD into an effective legislative position. There are now two major legislation that need to be passed - one dealing with Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) on plant varieties and farmer s' rights, the other the Biodiversity Act. This should also include geographic appellations, because after the basmati patent it has become clear that we should also have some legislation to safeguard our unique products of various kinds.

We hope the present Parliament will provide high priority to providing a legal framework that is effective. For this it would also have to be realistic. For example, we should have a community gene management system from the bottom up. You can have at th e State level a biodiversity board, then a national bio-diversity authority. The challenge in the Biodiversity Act is the question of management at three levels - conservation, sustainable use and equitable sharing of benefits. The last is the most impor tant. These are community contributions. We must have legal methods of recognising and rewarding communities. In the draft I prepared on the Plant Variety Protection Act , I called it a community gene fund. The community should decide in what way they wi ll use it.

Both these acts have undergone debate and discussion in the last five to six years. They should be such that they should not be used to harass legitimate researchers. We should not be of the view that it is only our material that is being exploited. If y ou take our major crops like wheat, maize, jowar, bajra, in fact all cereals except rice, everything came from outside. Take all our plantation crops - rubber, tea, coffee - nothing is our own. The world has benefited from an approach of give-and-take. T herefore, when we develop these legislation we should also not have the feeling that we are the only ones who are giving and not gaining. Unless we have strong South-South collaboration, we will find that many of our breeding projects like those for rice and wheat will be in difficulty. We should not have a siege mentality. Instead we should look upon our bio-resources from the angle of bio-prosperity, or rural prosperity.

Does our draft sui generis legislation reflect that?

Well, I have not seen the final drafts. They will probably be placed in Parliament soon. We have been pleading that plant varieties protection and farmers' rights should be linked. If we do this, we will be the first country in the world where breeders r ights and farmers' rights are linked as mutually reinforcing. I think that some provisions have not really been understood, like the Community Gene Fund. If we have national commitment, we must have a one per cent cess on agricultural commodities that s hould be credited to the Community Gene Fund. That should go towards revitalising and rewarding the conservation traditions and ethics of tribal and rural families, the large invisible unrecognised community conservation process. Look at the very poor pa rts of Orissa. We have got a database on their contributions towards conservation of plant species. It is very moving, as the very poor are not working for recognition or reward. But it is people such as these who have saved the food security system of t he world, and we must realise it.

So I think we should really use our sui generis system for achieving the triple purpose of promoting conservation, making it a people's movement; ensuring its sustainable use with participatory breeding programmes done with farming families; and e nsuring equity and ethics in benefit sharing. Those behind the large unrecognised community conservation efforts must be recognised, given social prestige and economic rewards.

What are your views on the ethics of patenting of life forms? Could a global consensus be built up against this?

As a rule patenting of life forms is unethical. But the distinction was made by the Supreme Court in the Diamond vs Chakravarti case by saying that where something is a completely novel creation by human ingenuity, it can be patented. For example, you should not patent the human genome sequences because all that you are doing is studying something with the help of sophisticated technologies. You can 'discover' a new plant species and name it after yourself, that is not an invention. Invention is the product of the human brain, where something never existed but because of your effort it happened. Well, I think inventive people must be rewarded because that is how the world progresses. There is nothing wrong in honouring invention. But we must see to it that there are some international ground rules in this whole rush for patents on all kinds of things. In all patent regulation there must be a provision for compulsory licensing of rights. Suppose I discover a new rice variety which is resistant t o a particular disease, it should be available to everybody, poor or rich, not only to those who can pay.

On TRIPS, in the Seattle Round, what do you think of India's position?

India had already taken a position on a number of issues. On trade liberalisation, access to markets. But on the fundamental issues of TRIPS, I think India's position should be that we should try to promote a sui generis system that contains recog nition and reward to farmers' rights. But we must develop a consensus among other countries also, because you must have a critical mass of countries which have the same viewpoint. So during this process we must have a national stand, a regional stand amo ng those countries which have a high degree of poverty, like Africa, India, Latin America. There is no use pretending that we are all well off. Thirdly, I think we must insist that there is some harmonisation in global negotiation, particularly in terms of ethics and equity. We should insist on benefit-sharing, access, prior informed consent, and so on. We must move to make UPOV, the Union for the Protection of Plant Varieties, a Union for the Protection of Breeders' and Farmers' Rights. So in this way you must set the ball rolling towards a more equitable world in the new century.

Without this pro-poor lobby in the WTO do you think its decisions will have an adverse impact on agriculture and livelihood security?

It will continue to have adverse implications. I have already said that importing pulses and oilseeds, as India is doing, is a measure of the neglect of dry-land farming. What are the crops of dry-land farmers? The most important are pulses and oilseeds.

In agriculture there have been two major questions. One is market access to other countries. The hope was that if the European Union and North America really reduce subsidies to their farmers, then we will have a comparative advantage. The other aspect i s the quantitative restrictions. So far we find that market access has not happened. Protectionism and subsidies are very high, and now they have introduced non-tariff barriers, forms of protections like environmental concerns, pesticidal residues or eve n social concerns like child labour. So how far we are going to have free market access is one question. Of course we are also not really geared to compete in a big way as our post-harvest technology is poor as are our sanitary and phyto-sanitary measure s. So we must make a major investment here if we are going to have a competitive advantage in terms of exports. At the same time, the industrialised countries should really improve market access and provide a level playing field by reducing subsidies.

The second aspect of quantitative restrictions is the one where we have to be very careful. If foods like pulses and oilseeds are imported indiscriminately it can kill incentives for the improvement of our dry-farming areas. So we should be careful in im porting commodities that will destroy livelihoods of the poor. There should be a consensus on this, and as I said, a separate chapter or section in the revised WTA should be put which deals with trade and poverty alleviation, trade as an instrument of po verty alleviation.

You have warned about the possibility of India's 'genetic enslavement'.

When I use the word genetic enslavement it means two things. One is to have very few options - large areas being covered by one particular strain, which ties the farmer to the company. The second include techniques like Terminator. The companies call thi s genetic-use restriction, which means the farmer will have to buy from them every year. That will certainly lead to the farmer's own control over his agricultural destiny being destroyed. We have over 106 million farm families in the country, the larges t free enterprise segment. It is important that they have choices, that they can keep their seeds, they can sell their seeds in the neighbourhood and so on. If all this is destroyed you can call it genetic enslavement.

What are your concerns on genetically modified organisms (GMOs)?

These concerns are now universal. There are those of an environmental nature; for example, the creation of super weeds, or the studies on the monarch butterfly, which suggest harmful effects from pollen containing the BT toxin. Also, in human beings, we do not know the kind of hay fever that may spread with new kinds of pollen. Similarly there is the food safety aspect, arising from the use of anti-biotic markers in genetic engineering; when you really need them you would have developed a resistance to them. Then there are ethical issues such as the one involving the Terminator. So we have food safety concerns, we have environmental concerns, we have the whole area of ethical concerns. All these come under the blanket cover of bio-safety. Under the CBD , there should be an internationally agreed protocol on bio-safety which addresses these issues. I have always felt that there should be a broad-based National Commission on Genetic Modification for Food and Health Security to look at bio-safety issues i n India.

Do you think there should be a moratorium on GMOs?

Moratorium not in terms of research but in terms of the commercialisation of GMOs. I would say that there is no harm in waiting for a few years until the clinical, nutritional, medical and environmental trials, the ethical guidelines, are complete.

A RUSH OF BILLS

The NDA Government rushes through with a slew of legislative measures.

WITH the preliminaries over in the previous session, the winter session of the 13th Lok Sabha began on November 29 intent on doing serious legislative business. Emboldened by the greater security of numbers it enjoys in the Lok Sabha, the National Democ ratic Alliance (NDA) Government was in a tearing hurry to push through laws that are likely to change the course of the country's economy as well as polity.

Eager to prove its reformist credentials to the international community in order to win its approval, the Government has speeded up the process of economic reforms, a sector which the Congress(I) has trodden with caution.

In the truncated first session, the Government had set the ambitious legislative agenda rolling with the introduction of three bills with major ramifications - the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) Bill, the Prevention of Money Launde ring Bill (PMLB) and the Securities Contracts (Regulation) Amendment Bill. The session ended without a debate on the legislative proposals. On the first day of the winter session, four more bills, all of economic importance, were tabled. They are: the IR DA Bill, the Foreign Exchange Management (FEMA) Bill, the Mines and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Amendment Bill and an amendment to the Securities Contracts Bill. The strategy of burdening the House within a short span with a slew of legislation , which require expert inputs for the conduct of any meaningful debate, appears to have paid off. The House passed four of the bills in the first week itself without any meaningful debate. In fact, the controversial FEMA Bill and the ineffectual PMLB we re taken up and adopted on December 3, at the fag end of the week when several MPs were leaving for their respective constituencies. In fact, the House barely had a quorum. What better moment to put the bills to vote and get them passed?

With more bills on the anvil, the floodgates would be opened for the introduction of a clutch of World Trade Organisation (WTO)-ordained bills, which are under various stages of preparation. The current Lok Sabha will perhaps be remembered as the fastest law-maker in Indian legislative history.

The Congress(I), the main Opposition party with a majority in the Upper House, had initially made a song and dance about the IRDA Bill and kept the Government on tenterhooks over whether the legislation would get its support. In fact, it hardly had any i deological differences with the Government on this issue, having authored the initial phase of the reforms in the first place. Not unexpectedly, it finally decided to play ball, but only after proving a point. It premised its support to the bills on cert ain changes that it wanted incorporated in the IRDA Bill. The Bill, which throws open the insurance sector to private and foreign investors, was passed after incorporating the amendments prescribed by the Congress(I), despite stiff opposition from the Le ft parties and the insurance employees. A smirking Congress(I) now sees itself as the patron critic of the reforms process.

The IRDA Bill was rushed through hastily even as Roopchand Pal of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), who is a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, demanded the setting up of a Petitions Committee to discuss a petition signed by 1.5 crore persons against the passage of the Bill in its current form. This merely indicated the Government's cavalier attitude to popular sentiment. Deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed did not consider it necessary to wait for the setting up of the Petitions Co mmittee before the Bill was taken up for discussion and adoption. Vayalar Ravi of the Congress(I) urged Sonia Gandhi not to allow the passage of the Bill, but the Congress(I) had other plans.

The amendments make it mandatory for all insurance companies to invest a portion of their funds in the social and infrastructural sectors. The Congress(I) had originally sought a commitment on 75 per cent of the insurers' investible funds in these sector s. But the Government has left it to the Regulatory Authority to specify the quantum. A clause suggested by the Congress(I) that failure to comply with specified provisions be made punishable with penalties of up to Rs.25 lakh and even cancellation of li cence granted to the insurer in case of persistent failures, has been included in the Bill. Another amendment provides for preferential registration of those companies which seek to provide health insurance cover to individuals and groups of individuals as part of their life and general insurance policies. The Government also conceded the Congress(I)'s demand that the private companies offer insurance cover to backward, rural and the unorganised sectors. This would include crop insurance policies.

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EMPLOYEES of the insurance sector staged a protest outside Parliament House. The All-India Insurance Employees' Association condemned "the haste with which the Government is proceeding towards the enactment of the IRDA Bill, 1999, despite allround opposi tion." Class II, III and IV employees of the Life Insurance Corporation of India and the General Insurance Corporation went on a day's strike on December 1 to protest against the adoption of the Bill. The Left parties, which believe that the passage of t he Bill amounts to the betrayal of the working class, will oppose its passage in the Rajya Sabha.

However, it is possible that the IRDA Bill will have to return to the Lok Sabha for consideration of certain embarrassing clauses that have crept into the document. The Bill allows insurance companies to invest 25 per cent of their funds in securities of the Government of the United Kingdom or those guaranteed by that Government. This fact came to light when the Bill was taken up for discussion in the Rajya Sabha.

THE PMLB and FEMA constitute a composite piece of legislation. If FEMA is passed by the Rajya Sabha, for the first time in independent India, violations relating to foreign exchange will be treated as civil offences. Despite Finance Minister Yashwant Sin ha's assurances that capital account convertibility will not be allowed, experts feel that the loopholes in the Bill will result in large-scale flight of capital. One glaring loophole in the Bill is the arithmetical definition of a resident Indian. Anyon e who has resided for more than 182 days in the course of the previous financial year alone will be reckoned as a resident Indian for purposes of liability under FEMA. Under its predecessor, the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA), no arithmetical for mula was applied to determine a person's resident status; FERA was more concerned with the nature of activities he or she was engaged in while abroad, and his or her intention determined liability. While FEMA may remove any discretion that the agency inv estigating the violations may have had in determining a person's culpability, it also makes it possible for anyone intending to violate FEMA to remain abroad for over 182 days during the course of a financial year in order to escape the provision of the law.

Sections 6(4) and 9(d) of FEMA, which define the circumstances under which a resident Indian can hold, own, transfer or invest in foreign currency, foreign security or immovable property abroad appear to have been designed specifically to shield certain persons currently being investigated for FERA violations. Section 15, which allows compounding offences, further weakens an already weak law. But the most controversial provision in the Bill is Section 40 which gives the Government the power to suspend o r relax the operation of any or all provisions of the Act. This is a blatant authorisation of governmental intervention in investigations and is unprecedented. Finally, Section 49 (3) sets a time-frame of two years from the commencement of the Act for th e completion of all ongoing investigations under FERA. Is this time-limit realistic for investigating transnational crimes involving protracted procedures, not to mention banking secrecy laws in many parts of the world?

THE Mines and Minerals (Regulation & Development) Amendment Bill, 1999, seeks to effect three changes. First, it proposes to delegate to the States certain powers hitherto exercised by the Centre. Based on the recommendations made by the B.B.Tandon Commi ttee in December 1996, the Bill proposes to authorise State governments to grant and renew prospecting licences and mining leases for those minerals listed in schedules A and B. The Bill seeks to confer full powers to the State governments for grant of m ineral concessions in respect of limestone. It seeks to review existing laws and procedures governing the regulation and development of minerals in order to make them more compatible with changed policies. It also seeks to check illegal mining. The Bill contains the new concept of "reconnaissance operations". Reconnaissance as a stage distinct from prospecting operations has been included in the Bill and a person or company can apply for a reconnaissance permit for a total area of 10,000 square kilometr es. The statement of objectives and reasons appended to the Bill states that this will facilitate investments through the deployment of state-of-the-art exploration technologies and accelerate exploration of mineral resources. The moot question is whethe r this is consistent with national security. The Bill generated some debate with Left party MPs opposing some of the provisions. It is yet to be passed.

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The Lok Sabha also passed the amendment to the Securities Bill seeking to allow derivatives trading. Two more amendments to the Securities Laws Bill were also tabled. The amendments seek to regulate the business of dealing in securities, to promote the d evelopment of the securities market and to provide for regulation of depositories in securities.

IN an important development, a BJP MP has introduced a private member's Bill to amend the Constitution to bar persons of foreign origin from holding the offices of President, Vice-president and Prime Minister. Introduced by Kirit Somiaya, after prolonged wrangles, it is widely seen as an attempt to target Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi. It drew protests from Congress(I) members, who argued that Parliament did not have the legislative competence to consider a Bill that amounts to altering the basic s tructure of the Constitution. They argued that the Bill sought to make a distinction between "natural born" citizens and those who acquired citizenship and therefore sought to tinker with the structure of the Constitution.

The Congress(I) members objected to the Bill also on the ground that it had not been cleared by the committee on private members' bills. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, for his part, said that the issue of "foreign origin" formed part of the NDA's manifest o and that every member had a right to introduce any legislation on any issue.

The NDA Government is not likely to be take up the Small States Bill, which would have enabled the formation of Vananchal, Uttarakand and Chattisgarh States. The introduction of this Bill is being resisted by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). The rumblings w ithin Andhra Pradesh for a separate Telengana State is behind the TDP's stand.

A large contingent

PRIME Minister A.B. Vajpayee's Council of Ministers is the largest ever for a Union Government. Yet, at 74 it falls short of the size recommended by the Administrative Reforms Commission in the 1960s - 11 per cent of the combined strength of the two Hous es of Parliament.

When a 70-member Ministry was sworn in on October 13, it was assumed that Vajpayee wanted to have as big a Council of Ministers as possible in order to avoid pressures for further expansion. But when he inducted three Cabinet Ministers and one Minister o f State with independent charge on November 22, apart from effecting a minor reshuffle, it was dictated by corrective as well as electoral factors.

The inclusion of Shukhdev Singh Dhindsa, the Akali Dal Rajya Sabha member, as Minister for Works and Estates, was dictated by the compulsions of coalition chemistry. The absence of representation to the Sikh community in the Ministry had irked the Akali Dal, a key ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Akali Dal had won two Lok Sabha seats. Its entry into the Ministry was out of question as it did not have the minimum of six seats needed to claim a berth. The party missed the "chemistry" quota too owin g to bickerings among its senior leaders about who should get a berth. Dhindsa's inclusion, which followed a process of reconciliation within the party leadership, was a corrective step, taken in order to assuage the feelings of the party and Sikhs in ge neral.

The inclusion of Rajnath Singh, Rajya Sabha member and Uttar Pradesh BJP president, as the Cabinet Minister in charge of Surface Transport, was a foregone conclusion. The BJP wanted to reward him for having accepted the high command's nominee, Ram Prakas h Gupta, as Chief Minister. Rajnath Singh had projected himself as the candidate for chief ministership in the place of Kalyan Singh. Another factor behind Rajnath Singh's entry into the Cabinet is the long-time grievance of the forward community of the State of neglect shown towards it during the tenure of Kalyan Singh. As part of a post-Kalyan Singh package, Rajnath Singh's induction was also a corrective measure. Nitish Kumar, who was earlier allotted the Surface Transport portfolio, has got Agricult ure.

The inclusion of C.P. Thakur, the BJP MP from Patna who is a Bhumihar, was also done with a view to correcting a perceived imbalance in the representation of various castes from Bihar. Bihar, which has the largest contingent in the Ministry, has been sho wered with favours in view of the coming Assembly elections. C.P. Thakur is the Cabinet Minister for Water Resources.

The BJP's Rajya Sabha MP, Arun Shourie, is now Minister of State for Planning, Statistics and Programme Implementation. He will also be in charge of the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances in the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grie vances and Pensions, which is headed by the Prime Minister. Shourie seems to have been deliberately kept out of Personnel, considering his past crusade against corruption. The Department of Personnel has under it the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) . The Home Ministry has a role only in the case of Indian Police Service (IPS) officers. Vasundhara Raje assists the Prime Minister in the Department of Personnel and Training. Shourie had a major role in drafting the party's manifesto, and his induction from the BJP's quota is a sign that the party wants to be seen as recognising talent.

In addition to the Parliamentary Affairs portfolio, Pramod Mahajan has been allotted the newly formed Ministry of Information Technology, the relevance of which is being widely debated in industry circles. Satyanarayan Jatia is the new Labour Minister.

Minor changes have been effected in the portfolios of six Ministers of State. Significant among them is the shifting of Bangaru Laxman from Planning and Implementation to Railways. Mamata Banerjee, the Railway Minister, now has two Ministers of State in her Ministry. This has caused her disappointment, although she denied that she had expressed unhappiness over the reshuffle.

The allocation of portfolios suggests a deliberate move to have at least one BJP Minister of State in the Ministries headed by the alliance parties.

Sympathy factors

Pro-LTTE groups use the issue of death penalty to step up propaganda in Tamil Nadu even as the clemency petitions of four persons sentenced to death in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case await a decision.

IN the guise of pleading against capital punishment, specifically the death sentence awarded by the Supreme Court to Nalini, Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, pro-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) groups in Ta mil Nadu have again become active. These assorted organisations had kept a low profile after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination by an LTTE member at Sriperumbudur, near Chennai, on May 21, 1991, as revulsion raged against the action. The Centre proscribed the LTTE the following year. The Supreme Court confirmed the death sentence against the four persons in May and October this year. Among the groups that have hitched on to the bandwagon of the campaign against capital punishment, none, barring the People's U nion for Civil Liberties (PUCL), had taken a stand against the death penalty in the past.

Those who suddenly found their voice against the death penalty included top Tamil writers, who demanded on November 27 that "an eye for an eye, murder for murder, cannot be accepted in today's civilised society". Under the banner of "Tamil Writers Agains t Capital Punishment", writers such as Sundara Ramaswamy, Indira Parthasarathy, Ki. Rajanarayanan, Rajam Krishnan, Mu. Metha, Ponneelan, Kovai Gnani, Sirpi Balasubramaniam, Inquilab, and Pa. Jeyaprakasam said that there was a worldwide campaign against c apital punishment and the time had come to abolish the death penalty in India. S.V. Rajadurai, a writer who belongs to PUCL, said that the campaign should cover not only Nalini, Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan but all those who had been sentenced to dea th.

A number of organisations came together under the banner "Abolition of death penalty - Rally for humaneness" and organised a rally in Chennai on November 30. The explicit purpose of the rally was to appeal to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi to r ecommend (to the Governor) the commutation of the death sentences on Nalini and three others. The organisations included splinter groups of the Dravidar Kazhagam (D.K.) such as the Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam and the Tamil Nadu Dravidar Kazhagam, the Tamil Scholars' Association, the Tamil Tamilar Movement, the Tamil Nadu Marxist-Leninist Party, the Association for Humaneness, the PUCL and the Tamil Eelam Supporting Organisation. The rally was led by P. Nedumaran, a pro-LTTE leader and president of the Tam il Nationalist Party, and Panrutti S. Ramachandran, founder of the People's Liberal Party.

Thousands of people including women, took part in the rally. Many men in the rally wore black shirts, which D.K. volunteers wear. Several youth had a black hood pulled over their faces to signify a prisoner about to be hanged. They carried pictures of th e condemned prisoners and raised slogans such as "They are our people, their lives are our lives", "They are Tamilians", "Let capital punishment die, let humaneness flower", and "Death penalty is legal murder by the government". The processionists praise d Karunanidhi's statement that he was generally against capital punishment.

At the conclusion of the rally, Nedumaran submitted a memorandum to Karunanidhi. He said that 57 countries had abolished capital punishment and in 15 countries it was used only in the case of war crimes. Although 26 countries still had it on their statut e books, they did not invoke the rule. This only proved that the death penalty was "inhuman", Nedumaran argued. He said that the campaign had gathered steam after the trial court had "in an unprecedented judgment" sentenced to death all the 26 accused in the Rajiv Gandhi case. (Nedumaran had sent a memorandum to the officials concerned against the death sentence awarded to Govindasamy, who is now in the Central Prison in Coimbatore, for murdering a family of five in Erode district. He urged Karunanidhi to initiate efforts to get the death penalty scrapped.

The rallyists directed their plea to Karunanidhi as the Madras High Court has ruled that as per the Constitution the Governor can act on commuting a death sentence only on the advice of the Council of Ministers. (The High Court set aside Governor Fathima Beevi's order rejecting the mercy petitions of the four prisoners. Justice K. Govindarajan ruled that the Governor's order cannot be sustained as "the procedure of getting advice from the Council of Ministers by the Governor" under Article 161 of the Co nstitution was "not followed". The judge maintained that "it is for the first respondent (the Governor) to pass a fresh order" on the clemency petitions of the four "after getting the advice of the Council of Ministers". )

On December 2, when reporters asked Karunanidhi whether a positive decision would be taken on the clemency petitions, he replied that it was the President who had to take a decision. On the High Court's decision that the Council of Ministers should tende r its advice, he said the Tamil Nadu Government was consulting legal opinion on the order.

EVEN as the State Government was caught in a cleft stick on this politically sensitive issue, Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi, in a private meeting with President K.R. Narayanan, conveyed her family's "feelings" that the life of Nalini should be spare d because she is the mother of a child. (Nalini married Murugan after the assassination, and a child was born to them in prison.) Sonia Gandhi said: "It is my personal feeling, keeping the need of a mother for a child."

Sonia Gandhi first spoke about her meeting with Narayanan to Mohini Giri, Chairperson of the Guild of Service, when Mohini Giri met her and pleaded Nalini's case. Mohini Giri had petitioned Narayanan for the commutation of the death sentences."Mrs. Gandh i told me that she had already conveyed to the President to commute the death sentence against Nalini and had no objection to our filing a mercy petition," Mohini Giri said.

Sonia Gandhi's position drew sharp remarks from some present and former leaders of the Congress(I). M.S. Bitta, former president of the Indian Youth Congress and chairman of the All-India Anti-Terrorism Front, is firmly against the commutation of the dea th sentence awarded to Nalini. Her punishment should "act as a deterrent for others", he said. If the sentence was commuted, it would encourage people pursuing the "politics of elimination" to use women as suicide bombers and target more leaders, Bitta s aid.

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G.K. Moopanar, president of the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), said that the pleas for the commutation of the death sentences were as horrendous as the murder of Rajiv Gandhi.

Vazhappadi K. Ramamurthi, president of the Tamilaga Rajiv Congress (TRC), said that Sonia Gandhi's stand showed her "immaturity" and that she had made the plea to gain "cheap publicity". Her stand hurt the feelings of Rajiv Gandhi loyalists, he said.

THE four condemned prisoners had sent separate clemency petitions to the Governor on October 17. The Governor rejected the petitions on October 27. They filed writ petitions in the High Court stating that the Governor had rejected the petitions in a "has ty manner", without seeking the advice of the Council of Ministers. This was "illegal, arbitrary and violative of the Constitution," they argued. (Frontline, November 26, 1999).

Senior advocate K. Chandru, who appeared for the petitioners, said that the Governor could exercise her power under Article 161 only after getting the advice of the Council of Ministers. Even then, the Governor was bound by the advice of the Council of M inisters, and so he/she had no discretionary powers. The power to grant clemency was a sovereign power, which lay with the people. In a republican system of government, the Governor was a figurehead and the real power lay with the elected Ministers. Ther efore, Article 161 could be exercised only by the Council of Ministers in the name of the Governor, Chandru argued.

Additional Advocate-General T.R. Rajagopalan, who appeared for the State, argued that clemency petitions (filed under Article 161) were not a subject matter in Schedule No.II of the Tamil Nadu Government Business Rules. Schedule No.II contemplates cases that could be brought up before the Council of Ministers. Rajagopalan said that on this basis and also referring to Rule 35(1)(a) and Rule 35(1)(b), the mercy petitions with all the materials had been forwarded by the Chief Minister, who was also in char ge of the Home Department, to the Governor. So the question of getting further advice from the Council of Ministers would not arise when the Business Rules did not contemplate such a procedure, he submitted.

Chandru said that if the Government had been forwarding clemency petitions since 1947 to the Governor without tendering the advice of the Council of Ministers, this was done contrary to the spirit of Article 161. Even if it was a practice adopted by the State as understood by it in terms of its Business Rules, such a practice was unconstitutional. Chandru referred to Rajagopalan's argument that the Council of Ministers had framed the Business Rules and it had willingly empowered the Governor to decide o n clemency petitions. According to Chandru, the Council of Ministers cannot surrender its authority or power of giving advice under Article 161 and the Business Rules cannot run contrary to the Constitution.

In his order, Justice Govindarajan referred to several Supreme Court verdicts that had held that the Governor had no discretionary powers under Article 161. He quoted the verdict in Kehar Singh v. Union of India, which stated: "...the President's power under Article 72 falls squarely within the judicial domain and can be examined by the court by way of judicial review."

He quoted from the order in Maru Ram v. the Union of India, which said: "The State Government, whether the Governor likes it or not, can advise and act under Article 161, the Governor being bound by that advice." The apex court said: "It is not op en either to the President or the Governor to take independent decisions or direct release or refuse release of any one of their own choice...The constitutional conclusion is that the Governor is but a shorthand expression for the State Government and th e President is an abbreviation for the Central Government." In State of Punjab v. Joginder Singh, the Supreme Court had insisted on the requirement of the President and the Governor getting the advice from the Council of Ministers while exercising powers under Articles 72 and 161. In U.P.P.S.C. v. Sureshchandra Tewari, the Supreme Court said: "Neither the President nor the Governor is to exercise the executive functions personally."

Merely forwarding the material to the Governor could not be construed as giving advice, the Judge said. He supported this view by quoting from S.R. Bommai v. Union of India, in which the apex court had said: "The material placed before the Preside nt by the Minister/Council of Ministers does not thereby become part of advice. Advice is what is based upon the said material. Material is not advice."

A contentious report

A Commission of Inquiry that went into incidents of caste-related violence of two districts in Tamil Nadu in 1995 and a police outrage in a Dalit village, justifies the police firing and makes controversial recommendations for the abolition of " concessions" to socially deprived sections.

ON November 23, at the fag end of a session of the Tamil Nadu Assembly, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Government headed by M. Karunanidhi tabled the report of a judicial inquiry commission that had been lying with the government for nearly four yea rs. The report of the Gomathinayagam Commission of Inquiry, which was appointed in September 1995 to go into incidents of caste-related violence in the two southern districts of Tirunelveli and Tuticorin in July and August 1995, was submitted to the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Government headed by Jayalalitha in March 1996.

The Commission held that the police firing in three places in the districts was "fully justified" and that there was "no excess" in the police action at the all-Dalit Kodiyankulam village in Tuticorin district on August 31, 1995.

The report drew flak from political parties representing Dalits, who were the victims of the police outrage at Kodiyankulam (Frontline, October 20, 1995), and from the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress and the Dravidar Kazhagam.

Two of the five terms of reference of the Commission were of a general nature: to report on the circumstances that led to the incidents and to recommend preventive measures. Others were more specific: "to inquire into and report whether in the police act ion in Kodiyankulam village of Ottapidaram taluk on August 31, 1995 there was any excess on the part of the police and the district administration and, if so, to give details of excesses and identify the errant police and other officials"; to find out wh ether the incidents of police firing at Sivagiri on July 30, 1995, Singathakurichi on August 25, 1995 and Kodiyankulam on August 31 were justified; and to make recommendations on payment of compensation to the victims.

The principal item therefore related to the brutal attack on the Dalits of Kodiyankulam on August 31 by a 600-strong police force, which gave a new dimension to the caste-related clashes that had rocked the two districts for over a month. The clashes, be tween sections of Dalits and of people belonging to the predominant Thevar caste, were triggered by an altercation between a bus driver and a student at a village in Tirunelveli district in July 1995. Following the disfigurement of a statue of U. Muthura malinga Thevar, a nationalist and a leader revered by Thevars, the clash spread to the neighbouring Tuticorin district.

Eighteen persons, from among Thevars and Dalits, were killed and property worth lakhs of rupees was lost in the violence. In Tirunelveli district, where Thevars are larger in number and financially more sound, Dalits were the worst hit; in Tuticorin dist rict, Thevars, being a minority in a number of villages, suffered the most in terms of human life and property. In both the districts, however, Dalits suffered the most at the hands of the police (Frontline, December 1, 1995).

The police action at Kodiyankulam was ostensibly aimed to arrest certain suspects in a murder case and seize explosive materials and lethal weapons believed to have been in the possession of Dalits. Observers, however, said that the police suspected that the people of this relatively affluent all-Dalit village (some of whose relatives were employed in the Gulf countries) provided moral and material support to miscreants in the surrounding area. The purpose of the four-hour-long police operation, accordi ng to observers, was to destroy the economic base of the village. Several villagers told visiting mediapersons that they had been brutally attacked by the policemen. Media reports, backed by photographic evidence, spoke of extensive damage to houses and a government-run fair price shop, destruction of household articles such as television sets, sewing machines and bicycles, besides tractors and lorries. There were also charges that the raid party poured diesel and pesticides into the public well in orde r to render it unusable. (The High Court had, in response to a petition, directed the district administration to ensure supply of drinking water to the village.)

That Dalits had lost faith in the police and the district administration was clear from a writ petition that had been filed in the Madras High Court by the Devendra Kula Vellalar Federation (which later became a political party named Puthiya Thamizhagam) led by Dr. K. Krishnasamy. It sought an enquiry into the incidents by a Central agency and prayed for legal proceedings under the Indian Penal Code and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against the District Collect or, the Superintendent of Police and others responsible for the attack on Dalits. (On the orders of the High Court, the Central Bureau of Investigation is inquiring into the incident. P. Sampath, member, State Secretariat, of the CPI(M) and one of the pe tititoners seeking a CBI inquiry, told Frontline on December 4 that he would move the court again to get the inquiry expedited. Sampath was among the first political leaders to visit the affected village, as secretary of the district unit of the p arty.)

The Jayalalitha Government denied that police excesses had been committed at Kodiyankulam. Director-General of Police V. Vaikunth visited the village on September 5, 1995 and, on the basis of what he saw, sent a report to Chief Minister Jayalalitha.

A three-member team of Ministers sent by Jayalalitha met with hostility at Kodiyankulam. The Government ordered payment of about Rs.17 lakhs as relief assistance to the victims and appointed P. Gomathinayagam, a retired District Judge, as the one-man Com mission of Inquiry.

THE Commission submitted its report to the Government on March 12, 1996. Dalits of Kodiyankulam and other villages boycotted the inquiry since the Devendra Kula Vellalar Federation had moved the High Court seeking a CBI inquiry.

The Commission examined 26 witnesses from the government, mostly police officials, including the Superintendent of Police, and 133 public witnesses. (Curiously, it did not summon Vaikunth to depose.) With Dalits boycotting the Commission, most of the pub lic witnesses belonged to the other caste involved in the incidents, Thevars.

On the Kodiyankulam incident, the Commission observed, "There is not an iota of evidence to conclude that there was police excess." It, however, said that the police action "did not happen in the manner as told by the police and other officials." The Com mission agreed with advocate P. Ganapathy Subramanian, who represented the Communist Party of India before it, that there were incongruities and discrepancies in the police version of the "combing operations". The Commission referred to the lack of any e xplanation from the police regarding two missing shells and said "this also throws some doubt" about the police operation. It took note of the failure of the police to produce the register showing the movement of police vehicles, which could have thrown light on the duration of the operation.

The Commission did not believe that the purpose of the combing operations was to break the economic base of the affluent Dalits of Kodiyankulam. It said: "Much was said about their affluence but there is no material to support this."

According to the Commission, the copy of the complaint lodged with the Maniyachi police station by a resident of Kodiyankulam on behalf of the residents, "the one important piece of evidence", speaks only of damage to houses, not to household articles. T he Commission said that during "local inspection" of Kodiyankulam some houses were found to be damaged. "There is practically no explanation for this and at the same time there is not a shred of evidence to conclude that the police were responsible for t he damage to some houses at Kodiyankulam," the Commission said.

The Commission visited the affected villages. At Kodiyankulam he could see only one house and the well and had to cut short his visit when the people told him that they were boycotting the Commission.

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The Commission concluded that the police firing at Kodiyankulam and in the other two places was "fully justified".

Stating that the genesis of the trouble (an incident at Veerasigamani village on July 15, 1995, when some students took a bus driver's scolding "for obstructing the free movement of the bus" as an insult) was "non-communal", the Commission observed that the incidents that followed could not be described as "communal clashes".

The Government took on record the Commission's finding that the term "communal clash" was a misnomer when used with reference to the incidents, and accepted the recommendations with regard to the other terms of reference. (Interestingly, the DMK had in 1 995 criticised the police action in Kodiyankulam and even used it as a campaign issue in the 1996 Assembly elections.)

In its report accompanying the findings, the Government said that it had decided to examine the specific recommendations made by the Commission to ensure public peace and prevent the recurrence of such incidents. The recommendations included a total ban on the erection of statues in public places and plans to eradicate illiteracy.

THE Puthiya Thamizhagam, the Viduthalai Siruthaigal, the two Communist parties and the Dravidar Kazhagam have taken strong objection to, among other things, the Commission's recommendation that "all concessions to any community, whatsoever, may be abolis hed forthwith". CPI(M) State secretary N. Sankariah said that any such move would do great harm to the people belonging to the Scheduled Castes and the Backward Classes. The Government should, in fact, implement the reservation policy with earnestness an d clear the backlog.

Both Sankariah and Krishnasamy felt that the Assembly ought to have been provided an opportunity to discuss the report. Krishnasamy said that Dalits could not be expected to give up their hard-won claims to the concessions guaranteed by the Constitution. Viduthalai Siruthaigal president R. Thirumavalavan said that such recommendations only betrayed a lack of understanding of the social dynamics and the history of the evolution of the concept of social justice.

CPI State secretary R. Nallakannu, who rejected the report outright, wondered why the Commission, which had held that the incidents were not caste-related, thought it necessary to suggest steps to avert caste-related clashes. Krishnasamy said that a gove rnment note accompanying the report contained the names of 126 persons belonging to Kodiyankulam and the amount of compensation paid to each on account of loss of property. If the police had not caused damage to their property, who else did it, he asked. "It is an all-Dalit village and people from no other caste lived there. So, the question remains," Krishnasamy said.

'An inhuman act by the police'

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Interview with V. Vaikunth, former Director-General of Police.

"Never in my career spanning over 30 years have I witnessed such a totally inhuman act on the part of my own police." This was how former Director-General of Police V. Vaikunth described the plight of the people of Kodiyankulam following a massive police rampage in the village on August 31, 1995. As the then police chief, he visited the affected village on September 5 and saw for himself the "mindless violence" of the policemen. Now retired, Vaikunth became a bit emotional when he recounted in an interview to S. Viswanathan what he saw in Kodiyankulam. "Even now, after four years, it makes me sad and anguished when I recall the wailing and weeping of the hapless Dalits," he said. Excerpts:

The report of the Gomathinayagam Commission has ruled out any police excesses in Kodiyankulam in 1995. It is a matter of public knowledge, and there were media reports at that time, that you, as the Director-General of Police (DGP), visited the villa ge and found to your shock that the police had indulged in "mindless violence" against Dalits of the village. There were also reports that you sent a note to Chief Minister Jayalalitha. A writ petition was filed before the High Court seeking a direction for the release of the report. Can you please enlighten the public on this sensitive issue?

It is true that as the DGP I had received a series of complaints that the police had allegedly gone on a rampage in the village against Dalits. There were even writ petitions in the High Court, besides representations to the National Human Rights Commiss ion, alleging police high-handedness. Political parties also raised a furore over the issue. The background to the alleged police violence at Kodiyankulam related to caste clashes which rocked Tirunelveli and Tuticorin districts during that period.

It is in this context that I visited the village on September 5, 1995 to find out the truth for myself. En route to Kodiyankulam, I also visited a number of villages which had witnessed caste clashes. There were attempts to dissuade me from going to Kodi yankulam. I could sense that the people of the village were very annoyed with the police in general, but when they came to know of my visit, the village elders came to the outskirts and received me. That was a reflection of the confidence I had created a mong the public about my impartiality and neutrality during my service as the Superintendent of Police in the composite Tirunelveli district (in the 1970s).

What I saw at Kodiyankulam that day was heart-rending. The police had gone berserk in the name of repulsing an imaginary attack on them by the villagers. The policemen had reportedly gone to the village to secure an accused involved in the murder of a pe rson belonging to a predominant caste in the region. They had indulged in mindless violence against hapless Dalits of the village - men, women and children. The police had ransacked their houses, damaged their television sets, ripped open the rice bags a nd thrown the rice on the streets. Worse and still more inhuman was their act of pouring diesel in the drinking water well. The police had also torn to pieces the university degree certificates of the boys and girls of the village. The villagers started wailing and weeping and what I witnessed shook me to the bones. Never in my career spanning over 30 years have I witnessed such a totally inhuman act on the part of my own police. I believed every one of the villagers when they explained what happened, because I saw for myself the bitter trail of police violence. But then I wanted to convince myself about the truth. So I called the S.P. who accompanied me, took him aside and asked him under the shade of a tree in the village to come out with the truth. In the presence of the Deputy Inspector-General of Police of the range, the S.P. admitted to all that had happened.

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I returned to Chennai and made arrangements to send relief at my level to the victims of the village. Later, after getting the details of the pending criminal cases connected with the various caste clashes, I sent a note to Chief Minister Jayalalitha on September 15 suggesting certain immediate steps to be initiated to restore the confidence of the victims of violence: (1) To sanction adequate compensation to the villagers for the suffering they had undergone; (2) To send a team of Ministers who did not belong to any of the predominant castes of the district, with a view to assuaging the feelings of the villagers; (3) To constitute a commission of inquiry, and (4) To order dropping of action in all the criminal cases relating to the caste clashes (exce pt cases involving violence and murder) in which I had found after my assessment that people belonging to either community had been implicated without basis.

Jayalalitha was so moved by my report that she sent for me on September 16 and told me that she had conceded all my suggestions. On September 17, the birth anniversary of Periyar (E.V. Ramasamy), Jayalalitha was to garland the Periyar statue at the Anna flyover in Chennai. At that function, the three Ministers who had been deputed by Chief Minister Jayalalitha to tour the affected areas showed me copies of my note to Jayalalitha and requested me to suggest the steps they should take. On the basis of the findings of the ministerial committee, Jayalalitha announced a relief assistance of Rs.17 lakhs, the constitution of a committee of inquiry and the withdrawal of the cases. To be fair to Jayalalitha, this is one instance where she got a bad name for no fault of hers, because of the police violence (at Kodiyankulam) which, in fact, cost her heavily in the 1996 elections in the area.

But the Gomathinayagam Commission has totally ruled out any police excess.

I have no comments to make because I do not know on what basis the Commission has come to that finding. But I can only say that what I found, which I have narrated now, is true, and what I wrote in my note to Chief Minister Jayalalitha based on what I sa w was again true.

A financial crunch

IF, in metaphorical terms, the road to peace in Jammu and Kashmir is riddled with potholes, an economic crisis has ensured that its highways are not in any better shape in the physical sense. All but the most token development activity, mostly in the for m of a few central government schemes, has come to a halt. And if something is not done to solve the problem soon, says Chief Secretary Ashok Jaitley, things will get worse. He said: "After February, we will be unable to repay debts, or give government e mployees their salaries."

The problem is straightforward. There is this year a gap of some Rs.1,200 crores between revenue and expenditure. Of this, Rs.550 crores is needed for pay hikes prescribed by the Fifth Pay Commission, and another Rs.675 crore is accounted for by losses f rom electricity supplies. The State has taken an overdraft of Rs.950 crores from the Jammu and Kashmir Bank, on which it is paying interest at rates ranging from 14 per cent to 17 per cent annually.

The State also has several additional liabilities imposed by its special security-related circumstances, which it wants the Union Government to meet. Since 1988, Rs.300 crore has been paid out in salaries to the Kashmir Pandit employees who left their jo bs in the Kashmir Valley and are living elsewhere. And another Rs.400 crore has had to be paid to employees of public sector units in the State which closed down amidst the violence.

State Government officials argue that the problem is not one of their making. The overdraft, for example, rose from Rs.80 crores in 1989-1990 to Rs.650 crores in October 1996, when the National Conference came to power. Then, State Government employees w ere granted salary parity with their Central counterparts in 1992, when Governor's Rule was in place. "I'm not saying that we haven't contributed to the problem," says Jaitley, "but when New Delhi says this is a crisis of our own creation, it's just not true."

The Chief Secretary points to losses on account of electricity supplies, for example. For ten years, when this government was not in power, people weren't made to pay their bills. Jammu and Kashmir has hiked power tariffs three times in three years, more than any other State in the Union. Consumers are reluctant to pay, in part driven by habit, but also because supplies remain unpredictable and voltage is erratic. Supplies cannot be improved until the State can buy more electricity, which it can do only if it receives aid.

UNION Finance Ministry officials, however, insist that the Jammu and Kashmir Government can do more than it has been doing in order to ensure efficiency and end corruption. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, presented in October 1999, is a depressing chronicle of just how endemic financial mismanagement and outright fraud are in the Jammu and Kashmir Government. The State Government did not help its own case by refusing to share, during earlier negotiations, accounts for securit y-related expenditure, a move which fuelled suspicion in New Delhi.

Incidents such as the recent crash of a State Government helicopter, which will cost some Rs.22 crores to replace, have not helped matters either. It turned out that the helicopter was flying without insurance cover, carrying private visitors to the Stat e on a pleasure trip. Even the pilot's professional credentials have come under question. And Farooq Abdullah's decision to spend some Rs.50 lakhs on improving the facilities of Srinagar Golf Club at a time of financial hardship has not won the Chief Mi nister many friends.

State Government officials believe that New Delhi will help Srinagar tide over the immediate Rs.1,200 crore-deficit, and claim to have Union Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha's support for this. But a short-term bailout will not solve the central problem o f poor revenues. Sharp increases in excise levies and taxes have already fuelled widespread protests, and further increases on this front seem improbable. Recommendations for a drastic downsizing of the bureaucracy and public sector units, made by an off icial committee headed by Madhav Godbole, do not appear politically workable either.

One solution being discussed is for a dramatic increase in Jammu and Kashmir's huge hydroelectric capacity, which would make it possible for the State to sell power. Officials in New Delhi had been reluctant to grant counter-guarantees for four proposed projects, pointing to the somewhat opaque credentials of the State Government's proposed overseas collaborators. Matters appear to be progressing on this front, with proposals having been put out for the projects to be jointly managed by the Jammu and Ka shmir Power Development Corporation and the National Hydro Power Corporation. Revenues from such projects, however, are obviously some distance away.

MEANWHILE, Jammu and Kashmir is demanding that its status as a Special Category state, as designated in 1990, be given retrospective effect. In the case of Special Category States, 90 per cent of their Central assistance is treated as grant, and the rema ining 10 per cent as loan. Until 1990, Jammu and Kashmir received just 30 per cent of its assistance as a grant. Special Category status was granted to other States in the mid-1970s, and the demand for Jammu and Kashmir to be given the status with retros pective effect was endorsed by the Assembly. It unanimously passed a private member's bill moved by CPI(M) leader Mohammed Yusuf Tarigami.

Whether any assistance will materialise at all, however, is unclear. The Bharatiya Janata Party MP for Udhampur, Chaman Lal Gupta, has been insisting that the National Democratic Alliance Government will not underwrite inefficiency, and Union Home Minist er L.K. Advani announced on November 31 that no special package had been framed for the State. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah's Government has been no model of economic competence, but it is also clear that its problems are neither unique to the State no r all of its own making. Should Jammu and Kashmir be made hostage to the BJP's factional compulsions, its consequences are certain to be more serious than those that any number of Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists can impose.

An uncertain game plan

Is the Union Government making overtures to the APHC in a bid to reach an understanding with it on the Kashmir issue? And will this involve merely provincial autonomy or a partition of the State on communal lines?

WHEN the sun goes down each evening, life throughout Kashmir retreats behind locked doors. After a gap of several years, an undeclared dusk-to-dawn curfew has been imposed in dozens of troubled rural areas in the State. In Srinagar itself, after sunset n o civilian movement is allowed past the Badami Bagh Cantonment, located on the National Highway to Anantnag and on to Jammu. Checking of traffic along highways and cordon-and-search operations in the countryside have once again become common. And the tou rists who had begun to holiday on the Dal Lake in the summer have all left.

In the aftermath of the Kargil War, the other war in Kashmir has been joined again in earnest. But the outcome of this war could well be shaped off the battlefield. The form and content of New Delhi's engagement with the All Parties Hurriyet Conference ( APHC), and its management of Jammu and Kashmir's deep financial crisis, could prove to have more long-term significance than the battles between Indian security personnel and insurgents that break out almost every evening.

Rumours of covert official contacts with the APHC began shortly after the organisation's top leadership was jailed in October. The National Conference (N.C.) leadership allowed the APHC to conduct a vigorous anti-election campaign, expecting that low vot er-turnouts would sabotage the prospects of former Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's People's Democratic Party (PDP), and other Opposition figures like N.C. rebel Saifuddin Soz and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Mohammad Yusuf Ta rigami. With the elections out of the way, the N.C. promptly despatched top APHC leaders to jail on charges of complicity with terrorist groups and seditious activities. They are now lodged in Jodhpur.

Under other circumstances, the N.C. could have been sitting pretty in the knowledge that it had eliminated all its principal sources of opposition in one ingenious manoeuvre. But a powerful coalition of interests appears to have ensured that the move did not quite work out as planned. In late October, stories began to appear in both State and national newspapers that a dialogue on Kashmir sponsored by the Union Government was under way. Such a dialogue, since it would undermine the N.C.'s claim to be th e sole legitimate representative of mass opinion in Jammu and Kashmir, was thought to be initiated by forces within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government that were hostile to the N.C.

Although the APHC has always formally rejected any possibility of a "dialogue with India", several events rendered credible the prospect of such a dialogue. During a visit to the United States in early October, APHC leader Abdul Ghani Lone had attacked P akistan's Kashmir policy. Lone's remarks came in the context of proposals from the Washington-based Kashmir Studies Group for the creation of an autonomous region spanning the Kashmir Valley, and the Muslim-majority areas of Rajouri, Poonch and Doda. Man y believed that Lone was responding to some kind of quasi-official U.S. proposal for a bilateral dialogue.

With APHC hardliners such as its Jamaat-e-Islami affiliated chairperson Syed Ali Shah Geelani in jail, events in November tended to lend legitimacy to this proposal. In a November 6 interview to The Indian Express, Lone ruled out bilateral negotia tions, but then made an intriguing statement. India, he said, "had to give up the bullet-for-bullet policy and volunteer for a dialogue with the Kashmiris as they are doing in the northeast". "Only this," he concluded, "will enable us to prevail upon out siders to keep off Kashmir." A fortnight later, the APHC's acting chairperson and an influential religious leader from Srinagar, Umar Farooq, came out even more explicity, suggesting an India-APHC dialogue with Pakistan "involved at a later stage".

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Furore followed in the APHC. At its November 22 General Council meeting in Srinagar, APHC figures committed to securing Jammu and Kashmir's accession to Pakistan accused Umar Farooq of treachery. He, in turn, flatly denied that any talks had begun. Geela ni, he said, had told him in Jodhpur on October 24 "swearing by the Holy Prophet that nobody from the Government of India had approached him until then". "My remarks need to be understood in the right context," Umar Farooq said. "India and Pakistan talk to each other, and we reject the talks at futile. But at the same time, the talks generate hopes of a settlement." In other words, Umar Farooq was clearly open to the prospect of bilateral discussions as a precursor to involving Pakistan, a stand remarka bly similar to that Lone had taken.

New Delhi stood by through most of the drama, perhaps to see where events would lead. It was only on November 26 that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee called a meeting to discuss events in Srinagar. What Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, Defence Minist er George Fernandes, Cabinet Secretary Prabhat Kumar, Home Secretary Kamal Pandey, the Intelligence Bureau Director Shyamal Dutta, and Research and Analysis Wing chief A.S. Dulat discussed with him has not been made public. No Jammu and Kashmir Governmen t officials were invited to the meeting, suggesting that informal contacts with the APHC could well have been discussed. Although Advani denies that any contact with the APHC has taken place, several observers believe that some kind of informal intellige nce community contact could well have occurred.

Whether an official dialogue with the APHC has already started or is only being considered, its initiation would serve several interests. For one, officials in New Delhi, as well as a spectrum of politicians, make no secret of their belief that Chief Min ister Farooq Abdullah's three-year reign has undermined the gains made in 1996. There is unanimity here about the poor administration and the corruption, but as an alternative, no viable Opposition is in sight. Starting a dialogue with elements within th e APHC would, at least, open the prospect of some secessionist leaders joining mainstream politics. This should enable the NDA Government to meet U.S. pressure by proclaiming that dialogue has been opened with representative leaders of Kashmir.

BUT it is far from clear whether a formal dialogue with the APHC could in fact come into being. Most APHC leaders have historically shown little inclination to seek confrontation with terrorist groups, who are certain to be incensed by any bilateral dial ogue. In September, Umar Farooq condemned Hizbul-Mujahideen demands for the termination of all cable television services in Srinagar, suggesting cautiously that educational and news broadcasts were not un-Islamic. The Hizbul-Mujahideen promptly issued pr ess releases virtually asking the religious leader to mind his own business. Subsequently, Umar Farooq failed to condemn the murders of at least four cable network operators in Srinagar city.

More important, it is near certain that major Pakistan-based terrorist organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami would in fact ignore calls by the APHC for an end to violence, an important component of any dialogue. Nor is it c lear whether Hindu chauvinists within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the party's rank and file in Jammu, would allow any kind of autonomy negotiations with the APHC to proceed. "There is this enormous optimism among communalists in Kashmir and Pak istan," said academic Balraj Puri, "that the BJP's Hindu credentials would enable it to sell some kind of deal on Kashmir." "In fact," he argued, "the BJP's core Hindu nationalist beliefs and its internal factional disputes make it near impossible for a deal on Kashmir to come about."

Alternative deals appear more probable. The State government's plans to partition Jammu and Kashmir into a series of provinces along communal lines, Puri suggested, could dovetail with its demands for greater State autonomy. "You might see," Puri said, " the Union Government granting autonomy to the Kashmir valley, Rajouri, Poonch, Doda and Kargil in return for a greater integration into the Union of the predominantly non-Muslim areas of Jammu, Leh and Udhampur. Such a deal could be packaged as meeting t he separate aspirations of religious communities throughout the State." Such an autonomy deal would not only meet U.S. demands for progress in the Kashmir Valley, it would also allow the BJP to keep Hindu hardliners quiet.

The proposition is not as bizarre as it seems. Politics in Jammu and Kashmir is built around three forces, each legitimising the existence of the other. Should a partition of the State come through, the BJP would secure its ranks in Jammu, the N.C. could proclaim victory for its core Kashmiri Muslim constituency, and the APHC could continue with its anti-India platform undisturbed. Leh has seen massive anti-autonomy protests through late November, and BJP Member of Parliament Chaman Lal Gupta has been l etting his Jammu region constituency know that the Union Government will under no circumstances allow the N.C. demands for Statewide autonomy to be put in place. Such protests could propel the case for partition.

THERE is little doubt that the security establishment within the State has recovered from its early post-Kargil reverses. Despite high losses of security force personnel, terrorist groups have also been hit hard by operational reverses and internal fissu res. Intelligence officials told Frontline that Pakistani insurgents bitterly accused their Kashmiri counterparts of collaboration with security force personnel, at a meeting held at Cheripora village near Chattergul in Anantnag on the night of No vember 10. One relative of local Hizbul-Mujahideen military adviser Nadeem Osmani was subsequently executed on charges of being an informer.

But the new political processes set in play inside or outside Jammu and Kashmir have ensured that despite these military gains no one is certain just where events might go from here. Sadly, most politicians appear fixated on this high-level political dia logue, ignoring the fact that ordinary people have lives to live in the meanwhile. "Politicians," said CPI(M) leader Tarigami, "spend their time talking about three-nation formulas and ten-nation formulas. Meanwhile, people do not have access to clean dr inking water, and their children aren't getting an education." If the Union Government is in fact serious about Jammu and Kashmir, it might to do well to address the problems of its people as well.

Cyberspace ravings

THE Lashkar-e-Taiba's jihad is not being fought just in Jammu and Kashmir; the battle is also being waged in cyberspace. The message of hate of the ultra right-wing organisation, and that of its parent religious body, the Markaz Dawa wal'Irshad, i s now just a few mouse clicks away - at www.dawacenter.com. With everything from theological articles to audio downloads of leaders' speeches, the Web site provides insights into the Lashkar's tactical objectives, and also the basis of its bloody ideolog y of hate.

Among the most important documents available on the site is Markaz founder Hafiz Muhammad Sayeed's speech to the group's congregation near Lahore on November 3. There, Sayeed clarified the Lashkar's viewpoint that "the jihad is not about Kashmir o nly". "About 15 years ago", the Markaz leader concluded, "people might have found it ridiculous if someone had told them about the disintegration of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republic). Today, I announce the break-up of India, insha-Allah. We w ill not rest until the whole (of) India is dissolved into Pakistan."

Sayeed promises a new war which will "encompass all of India including Junagarh, Mavadar (and) Hyderabad". The choice of the three has obvious significance, underlining as it does the distinctly sub-continental character of the Lashkar's Islam. An articl e on "Jihad in the Present Times" informs readers that in "India, if you recite aloud the Azan, the Hindus and Sikhs come to violence". "In India", the article asserts, "the Muslims are being slaughtered just because they profess Islam. Their prop erty is plundered, their women are disgraced and molested and their mosques are razed to the ground."

Even if Bal Thackeray's anti-Muslim campaign and the demolition of the Babri Masjid both figure on the Lashkar Web site, the content is not centred exclusively on India. "In China, Russia, Albania and Yugoslavia, "another article on jihad asserts, "millions of innocent Muslims were put to death." The article also refers to Muslims being butchered in Chechnya and Bosnia. Some of the Markaz less probable targets of hate include Spain, where "the Christians literally and practically wiped out the wh ole Muslim population". Here and elsewhere, "it is our duty to restore Muslim rule to this land of ours".

Several key tenets, in the Markaz view, make this duty binding on all Muslims. Jihad, an article asserts, is incumbent until the persecution of Muslims ends, and "the way of life prescribed by Allah dominates and overwhelms the whole of the world" . "Fighting is also obligatory," it continues, "until the disbelieving powers and states are subdued and they pay Jizya (capitation tax) with willing submission". The recovery of property once ruled by Muslims, avenging historical atrocities again st Muslims, and the defence of Muslims who are under attack are all projects which demand the participation of all believers.

Curiously, the United States, which had been for long a prime villain in Islamic chauvinist narratives, figures little on dawacenter.com. Sayeed's speech to the annual congregation mentions the country and President Bill Clinton just three times in the c ourse of three pages of single-spaced text. One reference is to the U.S. failure to apply the same standards it used in East Timor to Kashmir, while the other two condemn that country's denunciation of the jihad as terrorism. If the Web site is an ything to go by, the U.S. has little to fear from a terrorist organisation that emerged from its own Afghan policy.

Dawacenter.com is frankly dismissive of democracy. Discussing the military coup in Pakistan, Sayeed urges Gen. PervezMusharraf to impose martial law, with its basis of legitimacy a "divine constitution that nullifies all other constitutions". "Just like there can be no god but Allah," he asserts, "there can be no constitution other than the one given by (the) Quran. I challenge all the groups and organisations to prove (the) Quran not being the perfect constitution from Allah. Anyone who does so will be eliminated from the fold of Islam." It is easy to see why this authoritarian rhetoric, along with calls to end strikes and agitations, is attractive to some sections of Pakistani society.

Brutality is broadcast as a badge of honour by the Lashkar. One article on its Web site notes that the "Lashkar fighter will usually execute an (imprisoned) Indian soldier by slitting his throat". "However," the article continues, "beheading and disembow elling are also common methods, employed mostly for psychological reason(s). In at least one case, a Lashkar fighter, Abu Haibat, brought the head of an Indian soldier back with him to Pakistan." Such actions are legitimised, since Hindus are, in the Las hkar's world, invariably savages, rapists, or murderers, or all of these put together.

Hate propaganda is used to justify such tactics. "A Gorkha soldier received a message from home that his mother was seriously ill and might pass away," one fairly typical article records, "so he was asked to come soon. He went to his commanding officer a nd asked for leave, saying that he had to go to eat his mother's flesh. But he was not granted leave. On this, he gave his gun and pouch to Mujahideen and took some money in return and ran off. Brother Salamat Ullah told that they (Gorkhas) do not bury o r cremate their dead but eat their flesh."

That the Markaz rhetoric is not just words is evident. Sayeed's call for a war against India, for example, has been mirrored in the arrest of Lashkar operatives from Hyderabad, Bhiwandi and several locations in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. While dozens of Web sites peddle hatred on behalf of demented Hindu, Muslim and Christian sects, what is most disturbing about the Lashkar's cyberspace ravings is that they clearly have some official sanction from Pakistan. The annual congregation was carried out with G eneral Musharraf's express blessings, overturning efforts by deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to stop it.

It is easy to dismiss the Lashkar-e-Taiba's rantings, thin on fact and often founded on lurid fantasy, as beneath contempt: indeed, there is no great distance between its content and pamphlets about Muslims routinely put out by Hindu fundamentalist organ isations. But the fact remains that the organisation has grown rapidly in recent years with the patronage of the Pakistan state apparatus, and is now the largest terrorist group in Jammu and Kashmir. What dawacenter.com has done is to make the content of Lashkar struggle available on the Web, and underline the importance of this fascist crusade.

A paradox in Maharashtra

Affluence and extreme levels of poverty co-exist in Maharashtra, thanks to an obsession with industrialisation and the neglect of the agricultural sector. The State needs to evolve broad policy initiatives in order to address the problem.

FOR historical reasons, Maharashtra has emerged as India's most industrialised State. Its capital, Mumbai, is rightly considered the financial and commercial capital of the country. Naturally, other States strive to imitate the development model of Mahar ashtra. Thus it is that hundreds of thousands of people from the rest of the country arrive in Mumbai hoping to have access to some means of livelihood.

In this background, there ought to be a general perception that poverty is less pervasive in Maharashtra than in other States. In reality, however, that is not the case. The coexistence in the State of affluence and disproportionate poverty is particular ly distressing.

In 1997, the per capita income (PCI) of Maharashtra at current prices was as high as Rs.17,666, second only to Punjab's Rs.18,223. It was four and a half times that of Bihar, more than two and a half times that of Orissa, twice that of Kerala, and nearly one and a half times that of Gujarat and Karnataka. But what about poverty? According to an expert (Lakdawala) committee, 38 per cent of the population of the State was below poverty line (BPL) in 1993-94. On the other hand, the extent of rural poverty in Gujarat and Karnataka was 22 and 30 per cent respectively, and rural poverty in Kerala was less than that in Maharashtra by 12 percentage points. Significantly, the extent of rural poverty even in a State like Orissa was nine percentage points less th an that in Maharashtra. At the same time, the extent of rural poverty in Maharasthra was on a par with that in the country as a whole (in fact, it was one percentage point higher) despite the State's PCI being one and a half times higher than the nationa l average.

Maharashtra cannot derive consolation even from Bihar, because though the extent of rural poverty is higher by 20 percentage points in the case of the latter, its PCI was barely 22 per cent of that of Maharashtra.

The reality with respect to urban poverty was not radically different either. Urban poverty in Maharashtra was higher than in Gujarat and Kerala (by seven and 10 percentage points, respectively), while the State has the dubious distinction of being ranke d on a par with Bihar. Even the all-India level of urban poverty was three percentage points lower than Maharashtra's.

Again, in terms of Human Development Index (HDI), Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat, Orissa and Bihar rank second, fourth, seventh, eighth and 12th respectively, while Maharashtra ranks 14th. The female literacy rate in Kerala is 74 per cent compared to Maharas htra's abysmally low 34 per cent.

THESE facts lead one to three broad conclusions. First, in terms of economic growth (PCI), Maharashtra is very advanced and ranks next only to Punjab. Second, both rural poverty and urban poverty are comparatively more pervasive in Maharashtra and are di sproportionate to the State's profile of economic prosperity. Third, economic growth is only a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for the alleviation of poverty.

It is now imperative to explain the paradox of the coexistence of affluence and poverty in Maharashtra. First, owing to its obsession with industrialisation, Maharashtra neglected its agricultural sector. Although the agricultural sector ac counts for only one-fifth of the State Domestic Product (SDP), it provides sustenance to between 75 and 80 per cent of the population. In 1981-82, the extent of irrigated area was barely 12 per cent, and that increased to 15 per cent in 1993-94 - that is , by three percentage points in nearly one and a half decades. On the other hand, corresponding figures for Bihar and Orissa were thrice and twice respectively that of Maharashtra. Even Gujarat and Karnataka were way ahead of the State in this regard; so is the country as a whole.

Maharashtra is thus deficit in terms of foodgrain production. Sugarcane and cotton are the two main cash crops of the State. In the case of sugarcane production, the State ranks second, behind Uttar Pradesh. It has successfully built up a cooperative sug ar economy, mainly in the western Maharashtra region. In the case of cotton, the State has been uniquely employing the Monopoly Cotton Procurement Scheme. What is disappointing, however, is that the increase in the production of both sugarcane and cotton has been achieved not through any increase in productivity (yield per hectare) but by progressively enhancing the area under cultivation.

Punjab's productivity in the case of cotton is about two and a half times more than that of Maharashtra. The situation in Maharashtra in respect of sugarcane is more alarming. For instance, during the decade 1981-91, sugarcane productivity in the State d eclined by 1.5 per cent per annum. What is further shocking is the fact that sugarcane on barely 2.5 to 3 per cent of the land under the crop grabs nearly 60 per cent of the total irrigation water. This is socially offending inasmuch as 80 to 85 per cen t of the marginal, small and dry land medium farmers in the State are denied irrigation water even for a single crop. For them, farming has become a distress activity.

OF late, industrialisation has slowed down in the State. In 1980-81, the industrial (secondary) sector accounted for 35 per cent of the SDP, and this declined to 34 per cent in 1995-96. Industrial production grew at an annual rate of about 9 per cent dur ing the decade 1981-91, while during the next six years it decelerated to 6 per cent per annum. As a result, during 1993-1997, Maharashtra's share in the country's industrial production remained stagnant, between 16 and 17 per cent. The same was true of the State's share in the country's aggregate factory employment, which was around 14 per cent and which in all probability may have declined further. There has been a large-scale industrial sickness, which is growing. For instance, the number of sick lar ge units increased from 146 in 1985 to 312 in 1990, while that of small sick units from 8,500 to 20,000.

Industrial sickness must have further increased in the past eight years, worsening the problem of unemployment.

Deteriorating industrial relations and the faulty handling of industrial relations by the State Government are among the main reasons for the industrial deceleration. The State Government handled the 1982 textile mill strike with ineptitude and callousne ss. Even today, the Government is dilly-dallying with the millowners' demand to sell the mills' surplus land. On the other hand, the employment scene in the State is worsening. For instance, at the end of December 1998 there were 41 lakh names on the emp loyment exchange registers: 25 per cent of these persons had not passed the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examination, 52 per cent had SSC as their qualifications and the remaining 23 per cent were with higher education. Although immediately after c oming to power the Shiv Sena-BJP Government promised to create of 27 lakh jobs, it virtually did nothing in this regard.

In 1973, Maharashtra introduced the Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS) with a view to giving the guarantee of employment to all unskilled persons in the rural areas within a radius of 5 kilometres. In 1977, the State enacted the relevant legislation and m ade the EGS statutory. The EGS won appreciation not only in India but in the entire developing world as a unique and novel scheme. During the last 25 years or so, there have been a number of studies evaluating the EGS from all possible angles. What, howe ver, has emerged from these studies is that notwithstanding its limitations the EGS proved to be a major source of livelihood for lakhs of unskilled rural people, both men and women, particularly from the poverty-sticken Marathwada region and part of the Vidarbha region.

During the last few years, however, the EGS has been marginalised. For instance, in 1989-90 the Government spent about Rs. 288 crores on the EGS, but in 1991-92 the expenditure fell by about Rs. 100 crores to Rs. 194 crores. During the same period, expen diture on wages fell from Rs. 153 crores to Rs. 108 crores. In 1986-87, employment of about 19 crore person-days was created. In 1991-92, the figure declined to barely 6.5 crores. Although employment increased to about 9.7 crores in 1995-96, it was still half of its volume in 1986-87. Thus wide-scale rural poverty in Maharashtra may partly be attributed to the decline of the EGS.

NOR is the State serious about improving the Public Distribution System (PDS). It is obvious that being a deficit State its rural people depend very much on the PDS. It is, therefore, imperative that the State implements the PDS with commitment and since rity. But this is far from the reality. The gap between the Central Government's allotment of grains (rice and wheat) and the State's purchases is a clear testimony to this. For example, in 1990 the Centre allotted 17.35 lakh tonnes of grains, while the State (fair price shops) lifted 16.58 lakh tonnes. In 1994, however, out of the Central allotment of 18.18 lakh tonnes, barely 8.13 lakh tonnes was lifted (The position improved somewhat between 1994 and 1998). Secondly, nearly 30 per cent of the PDS gra in is offered to the city of Mumbai alone, while the rest of the State has to be content with the remaining 70 per cent. Lastly, unlike other States, Maharashtra does not add its own subsidy on PDS grain to that given by the Central Government, as a resu lt of which PDS prices in Maharashtra have been higher than those in Orissa, Bihar, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. This is despite the State Government's attempt to hold PDS prices for five years.

THE social sectors in the State too have been deteriorating. For instance, the number of public/government-aided hospitals and dispensaries declined from 830 and 1,702 in 1992 to 714 and 1,423 in 1997 and the number of primary health centres increased by a mere 23 in a period of five years - from 1,672 to 1,695 . It is therefore not surprising that the number of beds per lakh of population declined from 144 in 1992 to 141 in 1997. Again, 89 per cent of the rural households do not have sanitary facilitie s.

On the whole, the expenditure on social sectors such as health, education and drinking water and that on the weaker sections such as the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, as also women are grossly inadequate, particularly when compared to the St ate's level of economic development.

Again, the level of real agricultural wages (RAWs) in the State is far from satisfactory. This has made makes the conditions of agricultural workers deplorable. During 1991-92 and 1995-96 the RAWs in the State actually declined. Persistent demands from a gricultural labourers and their organisations for higher wages have been of no avail.

Lastly, the imbalance in regional development has been a formidable problem that the political economy of the State faces. Owing to a series of political agitations in the backward regions of Marathwada and Vidarbha, the State Government formed, a decade ago, the Statutory Development Councils (SDCs) and assigned to them the responsibility of overall economic development of these regions. But owing to several constraints, particularly the gross inadequacy of financial resources, the SDCs have done prett y little, compared to what was expected from them.

AS a way to address the issue of poverty amidst affluence in Maharashtra, one may suggest that the following broad policy initiatives:

(i) Irrigation potential should be developed to the maximum extent, with fair distribution of water among different regions and sections;

(ii) Rural industrialisation and diversification should be given top priority;

(iii) Social sectors such as health, education, provision of drinking water and sanitary facilities, need to be given due attention with emphasis on the development of women and other weaker sections, particularly in the rural areas;

(iv) The EGS should be restructured to make it more viable, with an upward revision of EGS as well as minimum agricultural wages;

(v) The PDS should be properly revamped and sincerely implemented with more attention to the rural poor; and

(vi) The imbalance in regional development should be effectively removed within a reasonable period of time.

If the political leadership of Maharashtra genuinely believes in making economic growth socially relevant, it would be rather obligatory for it to start working immediately on these policies and programmes. But that will require political will of a high order. Do the rulers in Maharashtra have such political will?

Dr. Bhalchandra Mungekar, Professor of Industrial Economics at the University of Mumbai, is a member of the Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices.

Down and out in Punjab

Punjab's Dalits get a raw deal; and this is deepening caste fissures in the State.

SAMEY SINGH desperately needed time off from his job at a brick kiln near Faridkot, southern Punjab. Back home, in Megha Kheri, the family's home village near Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, his son Rahul had fallen seriously ill. But Samey Singh had tak en a Rs.5,000 advance from the kiln owners at the start of the season, and they were only willing to let him go if he left behind his wife and daughter. Pali Singh and her daughter Pooja were forced to work without pay and on some days, without food. Bot h were often beaten, and six-year-old Pooja was threatened with sexual abuse. At sunset, mother and daughter were locked into a six foot by ten foot hovel.

There are supposed to be no slaves in Punjab, one of India's richest States. In a State known for its affluence and egalitarian traditions, its Dalits have for long been believed to be better off than oppressed castes elsewhere. In some senses, they stil l are. But Samey Singh's story is just one in a chain of brutalities directed at Punjab's Dalits in recent months. At a time of shrinking economic opportunities, caste fissures are deepening in the State.

POOJA would have spent her life as a slave if it had not been for chance. In September, Tarsem Jodhan, general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU)-affiliated Lal Jhanda Punjab Bhatta Mazdoor Union (Red Flag Punjab Brick-kiln Workers' Un ion) visited western Uttar Pradesh on an election tour. During a meeting in Megha Kheri, held to canvass Chamar caste migrant workers there, Samey Singh came up to Jodhan. His wife had been thrown out of the kiln that month because injuries caused by bea tings had left her unable to work. The couple had tried unsuccessfully to get their daughter back. "The kiln owner did not give me my job back," Samey Singh said, "so I didn't have any money. He just wouldn't give Pooja back to us."

Jodhan moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which sent an officer to rescue Pooja Singh. On October 14, six months after she was made a slave, Jodhan found Pooja locked in a cell, terrified, near-starving, and bruised from repeated beatings. "They us ed to tell me they would get me married," Pooja Singh told Frontline, "so that they could put my children to work as slaves too." Amazingly, police officials at Dharamkot, the Faridkot area where Pooja and Pali Singh were held captive, have taken no action. "When I was thrown out of the kiln, I went to the Dharamkot police station, but they threw me out. No one would even let me into the building, let alone register a complaint," Pali Singh said.

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Ghawaddi village, an hour's drive from Ludhiana, is the Samey Singh family's new home. Although most workers here say the kiln owner has a good reputation in the area, conditions are sub-human. Workers are paid about Rs.140 for every 1,000 bricks they tu rn out. If women and children work 16 hours a day along with the men, a family can make some 800 bricks. Each family puts in 12 days at a stretch, and then takes three days off to recover. During the monsoons, most of the estimated 2.5 lakh migrant brick -kiln workers return to their homes in Uttar Pradesh. What they save through the nine months in Punjab has to see them through the monsoon, for there is little work to be had in Muzaffarnagar or elsewhere.

If the wages seem relatively attractive, they do not guarantee basic human rights. Hours spent in the slush, exposed to the evening cold and searing kiln heat, mean that sickness is common. Workers in Ghawaddi told Frontline that each family spent upwards of Rs.1,200 a month to treat fevers and diarrhoea. Workers have to use the services of the plethora of quacks operating in rural Punjab, for there are no government-run health facilities nearby. Access to clean drinking water is minimal, and the re are no sanitation facilities at all. Most children appear severely malnourished. No families carry ration cards, and they must buy food in the market. Sugar sells at Rs.17 a kg, and flour at Rs.8. No family can afford vegetables or milk.

Perhaps worst of all, the migrant workers are denied even the few opportunities for progress that Dalits have elsewhere. Not a single child in Ghawaddi goes to school. Although a few families have tried to keep at least one son at school in Uttar Pradesh , girls do not get that chance. Work starts at an improbably young age, with three-year-olds scooping out slush for their parents to shape into bricks. Although service terms and working conditions at Punjab's brick kilns violate the Factories Act, Lal J handa Bhatta Mazdoor Union officials say that not one single unit has been prosecuted so far. Kiln accidents are common, but families never get the compensation they are legally entitled to.

MIGRANT workers do not have a vote, so the Punjab Government succeeds in pretending that they do not exist. But conditions are not enormously better for Punjab-based Dalits either. Most Dalits at Dhaliyan village belong to the Ramdasiya caste, and have f or generations worked on the fields of local landlords. During the Green Revolution, when demand for workers went up and wages rose, most Dalit families managed to procure some basic assets. Every family now has a few buffaloes and decent shelter. But wi th combine harvesters displacing agricultural labourers, and machines taking over jobs such as planting potatoes, making a living is becoming more difficult than it has been in decades.

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Raj Singh has seen the change. "Ten years ago," he said, "it was easy to find work 25 days a month, and I would be busy right through the harvest and sowing seasons. Now, there is barely work in the fields for three days a month." Wages, too, have dipped . "The landlords offer us Rs.60 a day. If we ask for more, they tell us there are thousands of migrants willing to work for half that amount." As a result, more and more Dalits have been pushed to do casual jobs, such as selling vegetables or scavenging plastic bags to be recycled. Others have ended up in the brick kilns. A decade ago, Ram Dayal, a resident of Burji Hakima, worked as a farmer. "I could buy 10 kg of gur (raw sugar) with a day's wage then," he said. "Now, it takes me two days of work at t he kiln to buy the same quantity."

The problem does not lie in combine harvesters, but in the failure of successive governments in the State to shape rural development policies that benefit the poor. The village infrastructure that could have improved the lives of the Dalits has fallen ap art. In Dhaliyan, as in many other neighbouring villages, only Dalits send their children to government schools. This strange apartheid has come about because most people who can afford it, send their children to private schools which have better facilit ies and also teachers who actually show up for work, unlike state-run schools. Dhaliyan does have a ration shop, but despite recent price hikes, only poor-quality sugar and rice are available here, and kerosene never is. By way of contrast, the Punjab Go vernment has the budget to waive electricity charges for big landlords who own tubewells.

IF the economic problems of Dalits have been sharpening in Punjab, the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance has added to their woes by unleashing the state apparatus against them. On September 17, police and administration officials in Jee van Nagar, Faridkot, demolished 40 houses built by Dalits on government land. About 175 people, including 50 children, were thrown out with due notice and lost an estimated Rs.15 lakh in the demolition. The Dalits had been allowed to move on to the land in the build-up to the recent Lok Sabha elections, and some had even secured electricity connections. Their failure to return the favour by voting for the SAD-BJP combine, residents say, led to the retaliation.

A similar demolition took place in Sangrur after the Lok Sabha elections. Hansa Singh's family, which lives in Buttar village near Moga, chose to vote for the Communist Party of India(Marxist) candidate, Principal Ajit Singh. Despite the fact that their home on shamlat (village) land had been up for six years, Hansa Singh's son Baldev Singh said, a local SAD worker and panchayat member ensured its demolition. Dalit houses were brought down also in another Sangrur village, Lasoolpur. The Faridkot Unit of the Association for Democratic Rights did intervene in the demolition there, but no official action has been taken. Minor village-level demolition generally passes unreported and unnoticed.

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When the state does step in, it is generally to crush Dalit protests. Gurketan Singh and Beera Singh were infuriated when the upper caste sarpanch of Burji Kalan village in Bhatinda district decided to lease out a pond, which the entire village used, to a contractor. A fight broke out, and Sarpanch Sukhjit Singh was stabbed. The next day, June 7, mobs burned down the houses of Gurketan Singh and Beera Singh, and threw into a nearby canal whatever belongings they could find. The local unit of the Communi st Party of India (CPI) intervened to secure peace, and arranged for both the young men to surrender. Nonetheless, both were alleged to have been tortured in custody. No action was taken against the mob which destroyed the Dalit families' houses.

In January, four members of the village panchayat of Bhungar Khera village in Abohar paraded a handicapped Dalit woman naked through the village. No action was taken by the police, despite local Dalit protests. It was only on July 20 that the four pancha yat members were arrested, after the State Home Department was compelled to order an inquiry into the incident. But the State police is prompt in redressing complaints against Dalits. When 65-year old Nand Lal failed to pay back an advance of Rs.6,000 to the owner of the brick kiln where he works, personnel from the Jalaldiwal police post of Raikot police station stepped in. "The police made him put his thumb impression on papers written in English," said his son Balbir Singh, "and said they would beat him if he did not return the money soon."

CHIEF MINISTER Prakash Singh Badal has been putting out a series of curious ideas on how these problems ought to be solved. At a function in Jalandhar on October 24, he promised to set up "Dalit specific schools" in the State so that Scheduled Caste chil dren could "get quality education to compete for the IAS (Indian Administrative Service), IPS (Indian Police Service) and other services." This proclamation that a de facto caste segregation of education would receive official sanction sadly went unchallenged. Interestingly, the Ambedkar Academy, set up in Mohali to train Dalit students for the civil services, has not had much success. The number of Dalit students who have made it to the allied services can be counted on one's fingertips; and fin gers are not needed to count the number of central services entrants the academy has produced.

Programmes such as the State Government's pet Shagun Scheme pass for Dalit welfare commitments. Some Rs.45 crore has been given out since the scheme was put in place after the SAD-BJP came to power, in the form of Rs.5,100-grants to Dalit girls at the ti me of their marriage. Misappropriation of funds has been one common complaint. Just three Dalit families in Dhaliyan received the handouts, for example, although 20 girls here had got married over the last two years. But, more disturbingly, the scheme pr ovides incentives to poor Dalit families to marry their daughters off early rather than keep them in school. Worst of all, the Shagun Scheme provides state subsidies for dowry, and promotes wasteful expenditure.

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PUNJAB'S society has had little place for the kinds of violent caste confrontation seen elsewhere in the country. But signs of trouble simmer under the surface. Ten years ago, the State Government provided grants of Rs.60,000 to Mahila Mandals to purchas e marquees and cooking utensils. The idea was to allow the Mahila Mandals to generate revenue by renting out these assets for weddings and religious ceremonies. In practice, Dalits found themselves pushed out of the Mahila Mandals in order to ensure that they did not gain access to the utensils. A survey carried out by Chandigarh's Institute for Development and Communication (IDC) found, for example, that Dalits made up just 10 per cent of Mahila Mandal members in Jalandhar, and that there was not a sin gle member in Patiala.

The figures do not make pretty reading on other counts either. A study carried out for the IDC by Bhupendra Yadav and A.M. Sharma points to just a few of the stark indexes of deprivation of Dalits in Punjab. Although Punjab has the highest proportion of Scheduled Castes to its population as a whole - at 28.3 per cent - Dalits own just 2.54 per cent of the agricultural land. While the percentage of literates in the State is higher than the national average, its Dalits are less likely to be educated than their counterparts nationwide. School enrolment rates are dismal, and drop-out rates appalling. Amazingly, about 40 per cent of Dalit children in Punjab are likely to be malnourished. Between 1981 and 1991, the percentage of Dalits in Punjab living below the poverty line barely declined, while the numbers of both Dalit and non-Dalit poor actually grew.

Despite their numerical strength, Punjab's traditionally pro-Congress(I) Dalits have had little political power in effect. The rise of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the early 1990s appears to have ended. But the SAD-BJP's marked upper-caste biases, an d the growing deprivation among Dalits, could soon force a new search for political representation. Recent proposals to remove reservations for Scheduled Castes in the Shiromani Gurudwara Praban-dhak Committee (SGPC) provoked bitter debates. A recent Sup reme Court order limiting reservations in promotions among government employees sparked vigorous Dalit mobilisation, as well as threats from some employee organisations of upper caste counter-mobilisations.

The four gurdwaras and two temples in Pakhowal village map Punjab's caste terrain. Two gurdwaras are run by upper-caste Sikhs, and two by Dalit communities; both temples, too, are divided on caste lines. It is not as if either temples or gurdwaras would deny entry to members of other castes, but the fact remains they are segregated spaces. If caste tensions have never exploded in Punjab, it was perhaps because prosperity subsumed social tensions. With opportunity narrowing, this peace could soon be ques tioned.

The Harry Potter magic

SUSAN RAM other

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997, pages 224, 4.99, paperback); Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998, pages 251, 4,99, paperback); Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999, pages 317, 10.99, hardback); by J.K.Rowling; published by Bloomsbury, London.

IT has had more than a touch of magic about it. The summer of 1999, for the British publishing industry, was to be the season of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the fictional serial murderer with a proclivity for cannibalism and fine wines, who was brought to inter national stardom through the novels of his creator, Thomas Harris, and the movie, The Silence of the Lambs. Harris, a slow-paced wordsmith who prides himself on the thoroughness of his research, had at last completed a new Lecter saga. Heinemann, his publishers, came up with the title Hannibal and entered into battle mode, preparing a promotional blitzkrieg that would propel the book beyond the status of a mere bestseller: Hannibal was to be the fastest, biggest selling book of all time.

In June, all seemed to be going to plan. In its first week, Hannibal notched up close to 60,000 copies in sales in the British general retail market, entering the record book as the fastest selling hardback fiction title in recent history. Demand through out the United Kingdom threatened to outstrip supply; customers at one London bookshop queued up for extra copies shipped in by taxi. Random House, the owners of Heinemann, began projecting hardback sales of half a million.

Then, with the whoosh of a broomstick and a shout of 'Quidditch!', there arrived if not nemesis then a rival from entirely unexpected quarters. A small, on the face of it unremarkable rival: a bespectacled, undersized, unkempt boy on the threshold of his thirteenth birthday, distinguished from the run of boys only by the thin, lightning-shaped scar across his forehead. Even his name, Harry Potter, breathed ordinariness. Yet little Harry, or rather his creator Joanne ('J.K.') Rowling, was about to effect a feat of magic totally belied by his youth and apparent meekness. In a manner expected by thousands of children, in Britain and beyond, who were already familiar with his extraordinary gifts, Harry Potter in July took hold of the publishing industry, s hook it and turned it upside down. For week after week thereafter, it would be Harry Potter, not the blood-curdling Hannibal Lecter, who would lord it over the bestseller lists.

THE origins of the Harry Potter phenomenon lie with Rowling's decision, in the mid-1990s, to try her hand at writing children's fiction. There is a magical quality to her own story, a rags-to-riches rise out of unemployment and financial insecurity. She found a publisher, and her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, appeared in 1997 with a print run of just 7,000 copies. Just what happened next is not entirely clear, but it seems that, by word of mouth, from child to child and sc hool to school, the phenomenon began to take shape and grow. The message was simple: against the temptations of television, computer games and the other diversions available to modern children above a certain level of affluence, here was a book that simp ly had to be read, that children could not put down.

By the appearance of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in 1998, Rowling's publisher, Bloomsbury, was aware of the golden goose it had unwittingly nurtured. So much so that careful planning was set in motion for the launch of the third Harry Potter title in July 1999. A print run of 75,000 hardback copies for the British trade alone was decided and, to justify this level of risk, the eight weeks prior to publication were marshalled into a strategic campaign. Extracts from the book were publi shed in major national newspapers, reviews were arranged to appear in adult book review sections, and Rowling was interviewed in the magazine section of The Daily Telegraph. Publication day itself was observed with the ritual normally associated w ith public examinations: copies of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban arrived at booksellers' doorsteps, wrapped and sealed, on the morning of July 8, but sales were embargoed until 3-45 p.m. - the end of the school day.

Presented thus, Harry Potter's ascendancy looks a little less than innocent, not quite the story of fresh-faced simplicity triumphing over the smug assumptions of publishing house boardrooms. Further doubts are raised when one confronts the actual conten t of the books. Even Rowling enthusiasts among her adult readers and reviewers concede that her fiction is essentially formulaic, conforming to conventions of plot, character and setting that other writers for children have sought to move beyond. Yet for all the hype, for all the inherent literary limitations, children love Harry Potter, are excited by his feats, cannot wait for his next adventure. In classrooms throughout Britain (now, too, in the United States, where the phenomenon has taken hold with similar force) teachers report that Harry Potter has the quite supernatural ability to quieten the unruly, engage the disruptive - and get children reading.

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DECONSTRUCTING the Harry Potter phenomenon is easily done. To start things off, take a hero who is both male and vulnerable: with his weedy physique, the orphaned Harry is the quintessential target of bullies, whether in the shape of his unspeakable rela tives (uncle, aunt and over-indulged cousin Dudley) or in the form of classroom nasties. Children everywhere instinctively identify with the picked-upon - the more so when the 'victim' proves capable of striking back in all manner of resourceful and unpr edictable ways. And this Harry achieves through his access to magic. For he is no run-of-the-mill hero. On the contrary, he is perhaps the most astonishing boy who has ever lived: the son of practising wizards, Harry, when just a baby, managed to confoun d the evil machinations of the darkest of dark forces. What child reader could fail to be gripped?

With utmost confidence and literary sure-footedness, Rowling places her hero in the setting that has proved a mainstay of children's fiction in the Anglo-Saxon tradition: the British public school. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which Harry enters at the age of 11 (and from which he will graduate at 18, thereby guaranteeing a sequence of seven Harry Potter sagas), roots its hocus-pocus and extraordinary goings-on in a familiar framework of prefects, examinations, detentions and competitive sport. Pupils are organised into Houses (named with suitable outlandishness), and there is the well-worn cast of eccentric teachers: the stuttering professor; the strict female teacher with glasses and her hair in a bun; the sinister master darting malev olence with every glance. As generations of writers for children have discovered afresh, the boarding school offers a world in which children, detached from their families, can build new sets of relationships with their peers, but still within a context of adult authority and implicit safety and security.

Rowling's achievement - whether serendipitous or calculated one does not know - lies in combining the boarding school genre of children's fiction with the much more free-ranging, expansive tradition of fantasy and magic. What lifts the Harry Potter books above the status of contemporary Billy Bunter-style larks and wheezes is an engagement with the supernatural that shows imaginative range, narrative skill and the ability to zero in on children's hopes, fears and ways of thinking.

Magic, in the world of Harry Potter as conveyed to his young readers, is fun and also deeply menacing. At one level, it offers and sustains a parallel universe from which non-wizarding adults are excluded, enabling children to unfold their inherent capac ities and, where necessary, give insensitive or oppressive adults their come-uppance. Here, there are clear affinities with the children's fiction of Roald Dahl, one of a number of writers whose influence can be discerned in Rowling's work.

But at another level, magic opens a window into a darker world shaped by myths that reach back deep into the history of humankind. In this universe lurk monsters beyond the reach of reason, ready to pursue their prey along limitless nightmare ways. In th is universe, too, lie treachery, double-dealing, revelations that stun by their ability to stand old assumptions on their head, the remorselessness and finality of death. In the 20th century, no writer has explored this realm more thoroughly and with mor e literary effect than J.R.R. Tolkien. Rowling's ventures into it are altogether more modest, but the response to her work underlines its continuing potency. Contemporary children, it seems, crave as much as their forebears did for the terror zone.

Such imperatives may be all too easily forgotten once children cross the threshold of adulthood. This, at least, seems to be the message from South Carolina, where the Board of Education, under pressure from a group of agitated parents, is currently revi ewing the use of the Harry Potter books in the state's schools. The suspicion in some Bible Belt quarters is that little Harry Potter is luring his enthralled followers into satanic rites and devil worship; in the view of one horrified mother, the books possess "a serious tone of death, hate, lack of respect and sheer evil".

Any of Harry's readers could have told you what happens next. Harry and his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, aided perhaps by Rubeus Hagrid, the avuncular school gamekeeper and by Hedwig, Harry's ever useful and obliging owl, will concoct a spel l that brings upon the ludicrous South Carolina parents not mayhem but ridicule. And, around the world, thousands of children will raise a cheer.

Demystifying U.S. foreign policy

The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo by Noam Chomsky; Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1999; $15.95.

IN 1959, Noam Chomsky made a landmark attack on B. F. Skinner's behaviourism. Skinner argued that human behaviour, like animal behaviour, was fairly predictable and that it could be controlled. Concerned with the absence of human creativity in this model , Chomsky denounced Skinner's science and also the political implications of his work. Finding behaviourism to be scientifically banal, Chomsky argued that it tells "any concentration camp guard that he can do what his instincts tell him to do, but prete nd to be a scientist at the same time. So that makes it good, because science is good, or neutral, and so on." Anti-social tendencies, Skinner believed, could be muted by state action, something abhorrent to the anarchist in Chomsky.

Chomsky's sustained critique of U.S. foreign policy for over three decades comes from his belief in human creativity and his suspicion of the behaviourist assumptions of U.S. imperial pronouncements. The U.S. never claims to attack an adversary in the in terest of economic gain, but it has, since its founding in the 18th century, justified its interventions in the name of some higher, frequently moral (and pedagogical), power. James Madison justified U.S. power over the Americas with the concept of Manif est Destiny, and now Bill Clinton adopts the posture of human rights as the design for his overseas adventures. To herald the U.S. bombardment of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), Clinton quoted President Theodore Roosevelt who said that "unless you're willing to fight for great ideals, those ideals will vanish" (page 91). Roosevelt referred to the fight that thwarted the legitimate ambitions of Filipinos, Cubans and Puerto Ricans - all in the name of justice (what Rudyard Kipling called, withou t irony, the "white man's burden"). If the precedent for the U.S. intervention in Yugoslavia was from the Spanish-American War (1898), then the dictionary may have to be re-written to define anew words such as 'justice,' 'ideals' and 'human rights'.

If one counters the bad faith of the U.S. trumpet of good intentions, one frequently meets a Skinnerist submission to malevolence. This is the way things are, one is told, for Evil is a tragic inheritance of human nature. "The obviousness of disaster," t he philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote in the late 1940s, "becomes an asset to its apologists - what everyone knows no-one need say - and under cover of silence is allowed to proceed unopposed."

Neo-Skinnerism in the guise of Charles Murray and some persons within the Human Genome Project puzzle over those parts of our chemistry and biology that produce evil actions. The idea of Hitler's evilness exculpates processes within Germany from interrog ation and de-Nazification. Much the same attitude is taken today with Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic. These men are seen as the spawn of Evil, ruling autocratically over rogue states. If they are dislodged, through massive violence, then the natur al (and neoliberal) goodness of people will be allowed to flourish. The recent biography (Milosevic: Portrait of a Tyrant) by Dusko Doder and Louise Branson paints such a simple-minded portrait of the conflict in the Balkans. The processes that le d to the crisis in the Yugoslavia or else in West Asia become irrelevant to this sort of blase cynicism.

The leader is Evil. He is the cause of the problem. To remove him is to solve the problem. In broad strokes, this has been the U.S. position on 'rogue states'. Chomsky's new book, The New Military Humanism, savages this simplicity to reveal the ba d faith with which the machinery of U.S. domination operates. Like his earlier studies, it takes the U.S. statements at face value and then demolishes their truth claims by reference to a mass of data. U.S. National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, for ins tance, argues that the bombardment of Yugoslavia offers an example of the "saintly glow" of U.S. policy, since the state acted without any special interest for itself beyond its humanitarianism (page 14). "We had to act in the face of Evil: how could we have sat by and watched genocide proceed?" Such sentiments did not emerge during the Rwanda emergency, nor do they come when the US-International Monetary Fund routinely render people economic refugees in far greater numbers than the Kosovo crisis did. I nternational amnesia allowed the Tony Blair-Clinton project to don robes of moral glory, despite the shabbiness of those very garments.

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Within the U.S. and in most of western Europe, there is a tussle going on between state-sanctioned xenophobia (mainly through draconian immigration controls) and liberal multiculturalism. Some people want to see states constituted around ethnic purity, w hereas others want diversity to be the cultural logic of states. But when it comes to most of the world, the logic of ethnic purity rules the day. The tacit U.S. support for a 'Free Tibet' comes alongside Washington's support for the Croatian ethnocide i n Krajina, for the Serb assault on Srebrenica - what U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher called "simplifying matters" (page 32). The Dayton Accord and the Wye Rivers Agreement continue the logic of partition of states on monocultural lines, a sure way to perpetuate conflict. Ethnocide and partition produce refugees. Once chaos is produced, has North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the European Community or the U.S. come forward as the champion of the ejected people? The 1997 Italian military intervention in Albania was undertaken in order to prevent a flood of Albanian refugees into Italy. The European Union (E.U.) was worried about the exodus of Kosovars into the rest of Europe, but what it failed to see was that the bombardment will certa inly lead to intensified migration of Kosovars into Europe, in search of a region that has not been bombed out of modernity. The strong anti-immigration rules in western Europe suggest the lack of humanism in NATO policy.

As the population of refugees increases with each new conflict, one would expect the United Nations to spend more money on the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). However, owing to the budgetary crisis in the U.N. (generated, mainly, by the refusa l of the U.S. to pay its dues), the UNHCR eliminated a fifth of its staff in January 1999 (page 37). By the good graces of humankind, the refugees of so many conflicts find the means to survive.

One cannot even offer an approximate figure for the number of the refugees, since the UNHCR recognises the definitional problems involved and the institutional scale at which one would have to work (the UNHCR hired its first professional statistician in 1993 and began its numbers project only in 1994). The UNHCR counts about 11.5 million refugees, a number that cannot be taken seriously if one adds those economic refugees who produce the 'footloose labour' catalogued by Jan Breman and other scholars.

The U.S. slash-and-burn of the U.N. comes as the U.S. puts itself forward as the champion of human rights. If the Rambouillet negotiations are any indication, the U.S. failed grossly on the human rights front. Chomsky, with great pains, goes over the U.S . assassination of the negotiations. Appendix B of the Agreement said that NATO should enjoy "free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY including associated airspace and territorial waters" (page 107). No sovereign state can a llow that. The Serbian National Assembly resolution passed on March 23 (the day before the attack) spelt out the language for 'political autonomy' that could have been the basis of discussion, but this was summarily rejected by the U.S. (page 112). Inste ad, there came the bombardment, which did not so much as alleviate real problems in Yugoslavia, as it intensified the ejection of Kosovo Albanians (page 21, page 81) and destroyed much of the extant civil society (page 133). The Kosovo Liberation Army (K LA) is now the sole authority in Kosovo, along with NATO, and it has driven other forces into the ground. The Serbs, further, are "unified from heaven - but by the bombs, not by God" (noted Alexsa Djilas, page 133). Furthermore, Chomsky notes the wilful destruction of Yugoslavia's infrastructure, notably Vojvodina, a province far from the conflict that was, until its devastation, a centre of democratic dissent (page 34). The New Humanism of NATO can be explained with the following analogy: "Suppose you see a crime in the streets, and feel that you can't just stand by silently, so you pick up an assault rifle and kill everyone involved: criminal, victim, bystanders" (page 156). This is the Blair-Clinton logic for humanitarian intervention.

Chomsky is not averse to humanitarian intervention: indeed he mentions as two credible examples the Indian assistance in East Pakistan in 1971 and the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia to end the Pol Pot terror in 1978 (page 75). The NATO intervention, how ever, comes not for humanitarian reasons, he argues, but to sustain the credibility of NATO (page 134 and page 145). Arms producers and dealers, construction companies (who will now 'rebuild' Yugoslavia) and NATO itself gain from the conflict (pages 138- 139). Chomsky lays out the bad faith of NATO, but he does not offer political and economic explanations of why the U.S. is so eager to expand NATO at this time. There is no discussion, for instance, on U.S. anxiety over the creation of the euro (a challe nge to the dollar), or on the attempt by the European Community to manage its defence itself. Without NATO, the U.S. will lose its leverage over Europe, and it will be not be able to exert itself to the edges of the Russian Federation. Chomsky's overall argument is not affected by these omissions, since he offers a clear and reasoned analysis of the rhetoric and action of NATO, much of it along the grain of Skinnerite behaviourism. One hopes for an Indian edition, not just for this book but for most of Chomsky's political oeuvre, in order to understand better the architecture of the new imperium.

Vijay Prashad is Assistant Professor, International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut.

Red tape in the time of IT

The idea behind the creation of a Ministry of Information Technology appears to be conceptually flawed: a bureaucratic behemoth may not be the agency best suited to facilitate the growth of this sector.

SEVENTEEN months after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee gave a call to make India an "Information Technology Superpower" and one of the largest generators and exporters of software in the world within 10 years, the Government created a Ministry of Inf ormation Technology (MIT) in October 1999.

However, is the new Ministry, with all its bureaucratic trappings, the agency best suited to provide the much-needed push for IT and facilitate the growth of this sector, as envisaged by a high-power National Task Force on IT and Software Development tha t was constituted the very day Vajpayee gave the call. The impression has gained ground that the Ministry was created in order to kill two birds with one stone: to handle the pressure from the Indian Administrative Service lobby to overcome stagnanation in its upper rungs, and to pander to post-election forces and exigencies.

The 20-member Task Force was constituted on May 22, 1998. Among its tasks was to recommend, within a month, steps that the government must take to remove bottlenecks in the growth of IT, and to formulate a draft national policy on informatics. The Task F orce was chaired by Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Jaswant Singh, and co-chaired by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu and former Union Minister for Science and Technology Prof M.G.K. Menon. National Informatics Centre Director-Gener al Dr. N. Seshagiri, the chief architect of the initiative, was its convenor.

On July 4, 1998, the Task Force came out with its first basic document, IT Action Plan I (ITAP-I). This document identified both impediments in and promotional measures for the growth of IT and made 108 recommendations to make India an IT superpower. Thi s was followed by two other documents. The first, ITAP-II, which was submitted on October 26, 1998, focussed on IT hardware. And ITAP-III, released on April 16, 1999, focussed on a long-term national IT policy. The recommendations were notified in the ga zette on July 25, 1998. This seemed to signal a governmental commitment to developing the IT sector.

Significantly, these initiatives notwithstanding, a recent report of the United States Department of Commerce's Office of Technology Policy titled "Information Technologies in the Development Strategies of Asia" did not include India among the Asian coun tries that it studied. The report looked at the Newly Industrialised Economies (NIEs) - Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan and Korea - and China. India figured here only in connection with Singapore's participation in the setting up of an IT Park in B angalore in 1995, which was expanded in 1997 "specifically to take advantage of India's 140,000 low-cost computer programmers". The objective of the report was to assess the evolution of the new global competitive paradigm and to enable the U.S. to formu late its economic and technological policy and strategies for global cooperation and competition accordingly. Although the report's focus was largely on hardware, its approach would suggest that India, notwithstanding its claimed competitive software cap ability, was not of strategic importance in the U.S. perspective.

The simple reason for this could be that while India does contribute substantially to meeting the U.S' "new big deficit" in software professionals through manpower export, IT policy instruments that are in place in the country leave much to be desired. T he Task Force has completed its tasks, but the political momentum that was evident initially seems to have died down. In fact, there has been no political action on ITAP-II and ITAP-III, which were accepted by the government in principle.

THE presidential notification of October 15 on the creation of the Ministry, the allocations of business of the MIT on October 20 and the likelihood of turf battles among the Ministries on which the MIT will have a bearing (evident from the pronouncement s by Ministers) have only served to cause confusion and uncertainty.

In effect, the Ministry is nothing but a "renamed" Department of Electronics (DoE) with "an expanded role". The October 15 notification said that the MIT's resposibility would include "promotion of knowledge-based enterprises, ... promotion of the Intern et, ... promotion of e-commerce, ... promotion of IT education and IT-based education," the "National Informatics Centre" and the "Electronics and Computer Software Export Promotion Council". The notification is poorly phrased, for the last two are indep endent institutions, the former under the Planning Commission and the latter under the Commerce Ministry, and not activities like the others, which the Ministry can help promote.

The phrasing of the 'allocations of business', in the notification of October 20, is even worse. It states: "The nomenclature of the Department of Electronics (DoE) stands substituted by the Ministry of Information Technology with immediate effect." The list of items of business of the MIT in the notification retains some items of business of the erstwhile DoE that are meaningless today, given the paradigm changes that have occurred. It incorporates illogical combinations of functions, such as "coordina tion of requirements relating to electronics processing equipment (computers)", "all matters pertaining to silicon facility", "all matters concerning computer-based information, technology and processing including hardware and software, standardisation o f procedures and matters relevant to international bodies such as IFIP, IBI and ICC." In point of fact, the expression "electronics processing equipment" would cover much more than just computers, the phrase "silicon facility" is meaningless, and the las t entry makes no sense; in addition, two of the three international bodies mentioned do not exist any more.

It is clear that someone who knows little about electronics or IT has done a cut-and-paste job after the first notification of October 15 was issued. The entire exercise is indicative of things to come, complete with the bureaucratic baggage that accompa nies the creation of a full-fledged Ministry. On DoE stationery the expression "Department of Electronics" has been replaced by "Ministry of Information Technology", and the DoE Web site is now the MIT Web site. These are only indications that the reorga nised structure is at work. The officials and scientists are unclear what their new functions are.

The new Secretary, P.V. Jayakrishnan, IAS, who replaced Ravindra Gupta, is still familiarising himself with the Department's activities. There is uncertainty about what the MIT can or cannot do, particularly in the light of the fact that Communications M inister Ram Vilas Paswan and Commerce Minister Murasoli Maran are unwilling to give up their control over policy matters relating to the Internet (which are currently in the domain of the Department of Telecommunications) and e-commerce and software expo rts.

It is likely that service bureaucrats will play an active role in the Ministry. The DoE was one of the first scientific departments in which an IAS officer replaced a technical person as its Secretary. Bureaucrats will now be waiting to take up positions in the new Ministry. According to observers, the key position of NIC Director-General may become a casualty. Dr. Seshagiri has thus far kept the NIC away from bureaucratic control and for this reason has not endeared himself to some bureaucratic pressur e groups. But he is due to retire in seven months.

Informed sources in the DoE say that Dr. Seshagiri, who has the rank of Special Secretary, may have initially favoured the creation of a Ministry in the hope of becoming its Secretary. In the event, however, the bureaucrats got the better of him. Dr.Sesh agiri was apparently slighted at the first meeting held after the erstwhile DoE Secretary Ravindra Gupta, IAS, took over as Secretary in the MIT (consequent on the creation of the Ministry). Every officer present introduced himself or herself: Dr.Seshagi ri introduced himself as NIC Director-General and Special Secretary to the Government. To this, one officer is reported to have said that there was now only one Secretary to the Ministry and no Special Secretaries. Indeed, the NIC's status has been reduc ed to that of an "attached office" of the MIT: Dr. Seshagiri has to report to the Secretary, and administrative matters regarding the NIC are being handled by a Joint Secretary of the MIT. Such dilution of the NIC's autonomy could prove counterproductive to the development of the IT sector, feel observers.

THE appointment of Pramod Mahajan as Minister for Information Technology is seen as a move to assuage the Bharatiya Janata Party leader who had to give up the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. Mahajan heads another high-profile Ministry - Parliament ary Affairs. Indeed, during his first meeting with MIT officials, he is reported to have said that he was still to familiarise himself with the various aspects of IT and so could not immediately clarify the functions of the Ministry. More significantly, he is reported to have said that many important pieces of legislation were to be come up during the winter session of Parliament, and his responsibilities as Parliamentary Affairs Minister would preclude him from devoting time to his new portfolio for a couple of months.

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Mahajan's remark in Mumbai subsequently that the MIT would only be a facilitator and not a regulator has been welcomed guardedly by Dr. Seshagiri, because this aspect is in tune with the Task Force recommendations. However, some of Mahajan's other uttera nces have confused matters. Just what he meant when he said that the MIT is a "no-budget Ministry" and that IT could have been part of other Ministries such as I&B or Communications is not clear. Since the organisational structure - for example, the rela tionship and role of the NIC (which has more technical staff than the DoE) vis-a-vis the rest of the Ministry - is vague and both the Minister and the Secretary are still "familiarising themselves", even routine business, such as licensing or leasing of bandwidth capacity to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), might come to a halt, feel insiders. Will new applicant s have to route their applications through the MIT? Similarly, once the proposed "cyber law", which is to be introduced during the winter session, is passed, which will be the implementing agency - the MIT or the Commerce Ministry (since many of the prov isions of the the proposed bill relate to e-commerce) or the Communications Ministry (since the law has also to do with data security, encryption and so on)?

Apart from these issues, the fundamental question of whether there is any need for an administrative structure of a full-fledged Ministry has not been answered. Technologies in respect of computers, communication and broadcasting are converging at a rapi d pace. With digital technologies being the cornerstone of virtually every conceivable activity, the component of software, namely, processing of digital information, in equipment is increasing and plain hardware is becoming less functional.

With the increasing penetration of computers in every area, the day-to-day functioning of organisations, public or private, has become IT-oriented. Because of this, the interaction of the public with the government too has become IT-based, be it in banki ng and other financial transactions, public transport or bill payments. E-governance is the buzzword today (Frontline, December 10). The need for an administrative body within the government that coordinates the IT-component in all sectors and pro motes increased use of IT, which translates into greater efficiency of operations, is being increasingly felt. But is a Ministry the best administrative structure that can achieve this?

INFORMED sources in the industry concede that there is a need for a catalytic agent or an enabling body to promote IT growth, but feel that a Ministry would only add another bureaucratic layer to the already cumbersome process of securing approvals. They claim that the DoE was more a hindrance than a favourable agent for the growth of electronics. If anything, they say, it was restrictive policies that killed the computer hardware industry. They are not entirely convinced by Mahajan's remark that the MI T would not "regulate" the industry; in their view, a bureaucratic hierarchy will imply greater regulation and more paperwork. If IT is to grow, the government should keep out of it, they feel.

In the perspective of people engaged in electronics R&D and industry, the field involves much more than R&D. The mere fact that there is embedded software in every piece of electronic equipment does not make it IT, they say. For example, how can one just ify calling High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC), a major field under the DoE that uses power electronic devices called thyristors, constitute IT and come under MIT? Or for that matter, how can the entire field of radar development or strategic electronics or microwave research under SAMEER, an important activity of DoE, be regarded as IT? Or Standards, Testing and Quality Control (STQC) activity of DoE? In fact, there is a whole range of conventional electronics hardware in the country that is under thre at of being wiped out in the wake of impending duty reductions consequent on the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) arrived at under the World Trade Organisation regime. The consequence, they fear, would be a marginalisation and eventual closure of t hese important activities.

SCIENTISTS at the National Centre for Software Technology (NCST), an R&D centre under the DoE (now under the MIT) in Mumbai, feel that some facilitating body that would support IT R&D was certainly necessary, because IT was not considered part of the Dep artment of Science and Technology (DST) and the DoE had never actively supported R&D in IT. For India to be a dominant player, research and IT education should have been given importance.

The reports of the Task Force too have taken a very narrow vision of IT growth in the country. They have looked at an unrealistic linear model, chiefly from the perspective of growth in earnings from IT services and body shopping, a euphemism for softwar e capability, whereas the ultimate strength in software would come from software packages and application software where there is a dearth of expertise. So, the scientists say, it would be good if some agency - whether it is a Ministry or some other stru cture - facilitated funding of research and education in IT. But if it is supposed to be a "no-budget Ministry" or a merely renamed structure, it will get nowhere, they say.

The members of the Task Force did not in fact recommend a ministerial structure. The original notification from the Prime Minister's Office that constituted the Task Force said: "The task force will recommend an appropriate empowered institutional mechan ism to implement the national informatics policy as a national mission with the participation of the Central and State governments, industry, academic institutions, and the society at large." Accordingly, given the convergence of technologies and informa tion based functionalities, ITAP-III recommended an organisational structure in order to facilitate the coherence in planning and implementation of IT-related activities.

THE organisational structure envisaged by the Task Force included a key adviser on IT in the PMO in order to give proper emphasis and focus to this area and a separate division in the Planning Commission with an IT adviser. At the level of each departmen t and Ministry, it recommended that there be a Chief Informatics Officer with the responsibility to design, develop and implement information processing and retrieval systems. These were to be supported by a High Level Apex Committee on IT comprising nat ional and international IT experts and "enablers" who would assist in the process of defining and implementing the IT vision. "This structure," the Task Force said, "will be insulated from changes at the political level and also will have the credibility and authority to see the process of planning and implementation to its logical conclusion." Clearly, the Task Force did not have a Ministry on its mind.

A senior scientist at the NIC said: "One hopes that this is a temporary phase. You cannot expect entrenched structures to give results. New nucleating centres that emerge have to be separated from these. The Government should have no role besides focussi ng on convergence and facilitation."

According to the scientists, instead of creating a Ministry, one of three options could have been considered: 1. establishing an empowered development council; 2. establishing a Commission such as the Commissions on electronics, telecommunication or spac e but without a department; and 3. a notification that IT industry be decontrolled, deregulated and open-ended. He also felt that the DST should be responsible for R&D in IT and that in order to minimise R&D investment in the government sector it should ensure that R&D efforts are not duplicated. "It should only serve to create an R&D platform of national factor advantage, from which industry can take off," he said.

Prof. M.G.K. Menon said that IT was "all-pervasive, and a colonial structure like a Ministry is hardly suited" to facilitate IT growth. ''Merely renaming the DoE a Ministry with a few appendages "cannot work and this is not what we recommended," he added . "A suitable enabling structure has to be evolved. Our experience with Commissions suggests that even a Commission may not be the correct structure. We have to look at new forms of structures that bring together the IT component in all sectors, includin g education, health and agriculture. But the government has shown little interest in our reports after the first one was submitted. The other reports have not seen the light of day."

In the opinion of Dr. Ashok Parthsarathi, who was among the first to bring to the government's attention the need for an IT policy, the Planning Commission "has all the necessary structure and authority to fund, focus and implement IT-related strategies which cut across Ministries and regions." He had advocated a structure for India along the lines of the Chinese model which, he feels, is eminently workable for India.

As it stands, the MIT is quite different from what people at various levels feel is the most appropriate administrative structure; the new Ministry has created a climate of uncertainty in respect of IT growth in the country as the world enters a new mill ennium which will be knowledge- and information-driven. The creation of the Ministry seems to be conceptually flawed. Under these circumstances, will the dream of India as an IT superpower ever become real?

A high-stakes agenda

The Seattle talks collapsed owing to a hardening of negotiating positions by governments following an attempt by President Bill Clinton to raise the stakes on implementing labour standards.

FOR President Bill Clinton, who had set great store by the Third Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle, the outcome is, in some senses, a setback. Administration officials may now try to convey the impression that all is not l ost, and that the pieces of the failed trade negotiations can be continued from where they were left off, but clearly this is not going to be easy.

United States Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky put a gloss on it and claimed that it was best to "take a time-out" and find "creative means" to finish the job. However, a senior delegate from Thailand seemed to sum it up a lot more realistically: "It started off on the wrong foot and we scrambled to get into gear. We couldn't get the big picture."

To say that the WTO fumbled because of the street protests would be stretching facts. The protests were certainly a factor, and the delegates were shocked by the level of violence, looting and intimidation witnessed during the first two days. But the tal ks failed because these act were compounded by a host of factors and issues. The negotiating positions of governments had become entrenched and the stakes had been raised at the last minute by none other than Clinton.

After having set artificial timelines and in some instances come to Seattle without getting a firm grip on the technicalities to be sorted out, a majority of the delegates from the 135 member-countries were appalled at the way the process was unfolding a t the convention centre. Miffed at being left out of the negotiating process and concerned that the U.S., Europe and Japan were trying to hammer out deals behind the backs of the developing nations, they only hardened their stance. The African delegates were particularly incensed that they were being marginalised.

When the talks collapsed, those who had been keen on results argued that the way the meetings were structured would have to be reviewed. The developed countries perhaps believed that the select meetings in the "green rooms" would deliver results and that the agreements fashioned thus could be presented as a fait accompli to the developing nations. However, it had precisely the opposite effect.

As he does in most crisis situations, Clinton worked the telephone lines, calling a number of world leaders, including Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. But many gaps remained and it became apparent in the last few hours that it would just not be pos sible to bury the differences and start a "millennium" round of trade negotiations.

It was not merely opposition from countries including India to the efforts by developed countries to link trade to the so-called core labour standards and environmental issues that torpedoed the talks. There was tough bargaining over various other issues - agricultural subsidies, anti-dumping measures, industrial tariffs, "multi-functionality" and the scope of a new three-year round that was to be launched in Seattle.

Some observers reasoned that it was owing to differences relating to agricultural subsidies that the meeting failed. The U.S. and the 15-member European Union were involved in a heated debate over agricultural subsidies; the E.U. was unwilling to concede ground to those who demanded a pruning of these subsidies. Japan and South Korea pushed for efforts to maintain import barriers for rice. The U.S. and the Cairns Group were opposed to the use of "multi-funtionality" in the final text: the term relates t o the concept that agriculture performs a variety of societal roles, including preserving rural culture and protecting the environment. Japan and the E.U. were keen to include this in the final statement.

The lack of transparency in the proceedings and persisting differences on agricultural issues were by no means the only hurdles. There was a widespread feeling among representatives of the developing nations that the industrialised world, particularly th e U.S. and the E.U., was trying to browbeat the Third World with tough talk on the farm trade and on the labour and environmental issues. Clinton's remark that the WTO should consider imposing sanctions on countries that did not comply with core labour s tandards strengthened suspicions about U.S. intentions, and that had a spillover effect in other areas.

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THE Indian delegation led by Commerce Minister Murasoli Maran made it clear right from the start that India would not compromise on its principled refusal to discuss issues that were not directly related to trade matters - such as labour standards and th e environment. In his statement to the conference, Maran said that India was firmly committed to environmental protection and sustainable development but that it would strongly oppose any attempt to change the structure of the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment or the mandate which then could be used to legitimise unilateral trade-restrictive measures.

On the subject of labour standards and workers' rights, Maran told the Ministerial Conference: "India resolutely rejects renewed attempts to introduce these in the WTO in one form or another. Any further move will cause deep divisions and distrust that c an only harm the formation of a consensus on our future work programme." A senior Commerce Ministry official who was part of the delegation repeatedly made the point that India would not yield on this aspect. "We believe it is a Trojan horse for protecti onism and our political mandate is to oppose it," the official added.

At the end of the conference, Maran told Indian mediapersons that when the delegation came to Seattle, it expected a more positive outcome that would advance the case for a multilateral, rule-based, non-discriminatory trading system. "Significant advance s have been made. But in some areas, particularly non-trade related issues, there were wide divergences that could not be bridged," the Minister remarked.

India, said Maran, opposed the efforts to link trade to core labour standards, environmental issues, coherent global architecture, investment issues, involvement of non-governmental organisations in WTO negotiations and competition policy. "We hope that in the ensuing consultations a more constructive outcome will emerge on all issues for a balanced and equitable package," he added.

Among the developing countries, India was a major player in Seattle, but not the only major one. A few other countries in the Asia-Pacific, Africa and Latin America also protested against the manner in which non-trade issues were being brought onto or li nked to the trade agenda. A top Malaysian official said: "Cheap labour does not necessarily mean exploitation... Is it too difficult to accept that countries have different levels of development? Some countries are just not as rich as other countries."

Clinton may have wanted to make gains from the conference and add it to his list of foreign policy "successes". It is not as though he had an ambitious agenda set out at Seattle and put little on the negotiating table. The problem was that Clinton had a political agenda and he raised the stakes at the very last minute. Prior to his arrival in Seattle, where curfew was in force, in an interview to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Clinton used the 'S' word - sanctions. Calling for the delegates to a dopt the U.S. position for a working group on labour that would develop core labour standards which would then be part of every trade agreement, Clinton said, "... ultimately, I would favour a system in which sanctions would come for violating any provis ion of the trade agreement." The President also said that Americans should not buy products from companies that exploit workers. Senior officials scrambled to say that the President's comments were only to be seen as a "goal" and not a negotiating plank for the WTO ministerial. But the damage had been done.

Labour and environmental groups are core supporters of the Democratic Party; Clinton perhaps wanted to play to this gallery and see if he could have it both ways. Clinton reckoned that if, by talking tough on issues of agriculture and farm trade and in s peaking up for labour rights and human rights, he had got the delegates to sign on to his agenda, he would have had the labour and the environment groups on his side.

In Clinton's calculation, even if the WTO ministerial ended without an agreement, he would have had these groups on his side: to them, "no deal is better than a bad deal". The conference collapsed not so much because it was held in Seattle under siege-li ke conditions, but because it was held in a country where politicians and special interest groups have set their sights on the presidential and congressional elections due in 2000.

Big business at work

V. SRIDHAR cover-story

Multinational corporations, the prime movers of globalisation, are becoming involved ever more actively and visibly in setting the agenda for international trade negotiations among governments, in which big business has tremendous stakes. The Se attle meet was no exception.

"The idea was simple: to identify those barriers to trade or opportunities for liberalisation on which both business communities (in Europe and in the United States) could agree as targets for government action. We should put the business 'horse' befo re the government 'cart'."

- Timothy J. Hauser, former acting Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, in a testimony before the House Committee on Ways and Means, Hearing on the New Transatlantic Agenda, July 23, 1997.

"We want neither to be the secret girlfriend of the WTO nor should the International Chamber of Commerce have to enter the WTO through the servants entrance."

- Helmut O. Maucher, chairman of Nestle and former president of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) , in the Financial Times, December 6, 1997.

IF the World Trade Organisation is all about free trade, and if giant business corporations are the principal agents of globalisation, what was big business' stake at Seattle?

Considering the immense clout of these corporations, the media at large covered surprisingly little about their role in the run-up to the Seattle conference. For instance, it is little known that the Seattle Host Organisation (SHO), the key organiser of the ministerial meet, was co-chaired by the heads of the two Seattle-based global leaders in their respective lines of business - Microsoft and Boeing. At Seattle, corporate sponsorship rose to new heights, epitomising the predominant role that multinati onal companies play in world trade.

During the run-up to Seattle, the SHO sought corporate sponsorship of the event. It said that "supporters will be welcome to participate in a series of private sector programmes organised by the SHO, and, where appropriate, the SHO will look first to spo nsoring firms for key speaking roles. During the WTO week, sector-specific conferences will take place, bringing together industry leaders, specialists and participants engaged in the key issues for the next round of trade talks... The attendance for the se sessions is limited, allowing for the greatest possible interaction between participants, officials and guest speakers." The SHO also said it would provide "special briefings to contributing firms prior to the WTO Ministerial to ensure that they recei ve constant updates on the status of the ministerial meetings."

"Supporters" were entitled to invitations to the ministerial dinner, opening and closing events and private sector conferences. The number of invitations issued to companies depended on their level of support. For instance, "Emerald level" sponsors, who contributed $250,000 each, were allowed five guests for the ministerial dinner; the companies who had committed support, apart from Boeing and Microsoft, included General Motors, Ford, Deloitte and Touche (a consultancy and accounting multinational), UPS and Honeywell. "Diamond level" sponsors, who paid between $150,000 and $249,999 each, included Hewlett Packard, Motorola, Lucent Technologies and the Port of Seattle. Companies at the "Platinum level" included IBM, Caterpillar, Lufthansa, each of which paid up to $149,000. There were other sponsors - at gold, silver and bronze levels. Signage and corporate material of the supporting companies were allowed at the conference, and the SHO's official Web site had links to the sponsoring companies' Web site s. Sponsors provided about $9 million to conduct the meet.

The Seattle meet was not the first major international event for which such corporate fund-raising had been undertaken. Earlier this year, the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was spons ored by U.S. corporations. About a dozen companies contributed a quarter of a million dollars each and their heads were directors of the host committee of the NATO summit.

CRITICS of the WTO recall the agenda-setting role of multinationals during the Uruguay Round process which laid the basis for the transition from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to the WTO between 1986 and 1993. The large business corpo rations played a key role in bringing new issues such as Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), trade in services and other issues on the agenda. These issues were traditionally outside the scope of the GATT process, which was mai nly concerned with tariffs on goods trade. Business interests in the Quad - the U.S., Canada, the European Union (E.U.) and Japan - were particularly active in bringing the Uruguay Round to a successful conclusion.

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In the U.S., the Coalition of Service Industries lobbied the Government to form a separate regime for international trade in services. Multinationals such as Federal Express, Citicorp and American Express, and Arthur Andersen, the accounting and consulta ncy multinational, are part of the Coalition. The Intellectual Property Committee, a forum for 13 major U.S. corporations, including Monsanto, DuPont, General Motors and others, worked to incorporate TRIPS in the Uruguay Round. The former chief executive officer of Pfizer remarked in 1996 that "our combined strength enabled us to establish a global private sector government network which laid the groundwork for what became TRIPS". Critics have also pointed out the "strikingly similar" positions put fort h by industrial lobbies and those presented by the official U.S. delegation during the talks on TRIPS during the Uruguay Round. Of the 111 members of the U.S. delegation, as many as 96 were from the corporate world.

In the U.S., the President's Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations (ACPTN) includes representatives from leading multinationals such as AT&T and associations such as the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. Representatives from mult inationals such as Eastman Kodak, Monsanto and IBM account for nearly half the strength of the 42-member Committee.

In Japan, the Japanese Federation of Economic Organisations, the Keidanren, liaises with the Japanese Government and Parliament. Representatives from Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, Nissan and Toyota chair major committees in the Keidanren. In Europe, w hile the members of the European Round Table (ERT) lobbied with national governments, the Union of Industrial and Employers Confederation of Europe (UNICE) worked closely with the E.U. leadership. In the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Developm ent (OECD), the Business and Industry Advisory Committee (BIAC), of which the ICC is an important part, plays an important role in shaping the industrialised countries' agenda at the WTO.

Lobbying by business played a key role in clinching the three international agreements that were signed at the WTO in 1997 - on Information Technology (IT) products, on telecommunications and, most significantly, on the liberalisation of financial servic es. All three, said former E.U. Trade Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan, were "jewels in the WTO crown."

The agreement on financial services, which came into force on March 1, 1999, is expected to liberalise 90 per cent of the world market in insurance, banking and brokerage services. The agreement marks a significant step in opening up markets in the count ries of the South to the multinational financial entities. Although the agreement allows countries to file specific reservations, it locks them in terms of liberalisation and market access, preventing the establishment of controls at a later date.

The E.U. and the U.S. governments lobbied extensively in Asian and Latin American capitals to clinch the agreement on financial services; the role played by corporate lobbying, however, received less attention. The Financial Leaders Group (FLG) played a key role in "identifying barriers to trade in other countries", according to the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs. The FLG included some of the world's biggest financial players - Barclays, Chase Manhattan, ING Group, Ford Financial Services Group, the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, Goldman Sachs and several other banking, investment and insurance companies. In a speech in Washington in September 1998, Brittan remarked that "the close links established between E.C. and U.S. industry... were an essential fa ctor in obtaining the final deal." Brittan also said that the "high-level momentum to the negotiations" was provided by the E.U.-U.S.-FLG involvement. Brittan also said that the relationship will serve as a "model" for the "next round of services liberal isation negotiations."

According to the WTO's critics, the E.U., emboldened by the success of its alliance with the FLG, initiated the formation of the Investment Network (IN). The IN, which brings together more than 50 giant companies, including Daimler-Benz (now merged with Chrysler), Fiat and British Petroleum, was established to articulate key issues to be brought on board the agenda for an international agreement on investment. The E.U. has also suggested the formation of a European association of service industries to " advise E.U. negotiators on the key barriers and countries on which they should focus on in these negotiations." A critic of the business-E.U. relationship observed that "by working closely together, the Commission presents the member-states with a negoti ating strategy pre-approved by European industry."

SINCE its formation in 1995, the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD), in which the biggest corporates from the E.U. and the U.S. participate, has focussed on the agenda that governments should take up at the WTO negotiations. Among the points raised b y the TABD is the expansion of the "in-built agenda" which includes services, agriculture and TRIPS. The E.U. position, which favoured an expansion of the agenda at Seattle, is seen as a reflection of business lobbying at the TABD. The TABD also called f or the conclusion of an Agreement on Forest Products and on electronic commerce.

At the TABD's fifth annual conference held recently in Berlin, over 100 CEOs from leading multinationals gathered to articulate their agenda for the Seattle meet. They focussed attention on non-tariff barriers to trade in the E.U. and the U.S. These rela ted to genetically modified agricultural products, eco-labelling and recycling schemes in the E.U. They also demanded that the U.S. administration review its public spending provisions which are aimed at supporting local communities.

A commentator points out that the TABD is not an organisation but a "framework drawing on the resources of existing companies and organisations, to deliver joint industry messages." This is perceived to result in more efficient interaction than the "trad itional structures for government-business consultation." The TABD is reckoned to be "arguably one of the most far-reaching and influential corporate-state alliances."

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The ICC, which represents the interests of some of the biggest multinationals, was a major player in the move to float the controversial Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). It also maintains close ties with the WTO Secretariat. An ICC official sa id that the ICC "has always been a vector for business input into WTO work... since the beginning of the multilateral trade negotiations." It also had "several informal contacts with the WTO on the new issues that the WTO is looking at," a senior ICC off icial said earlier this year. Its Seattle campaign started in May 1999 when an ICC delegation met German Chancellor Gerald Schroeder just before the G-8 summit. On the eve of the Seattle meet, ICC secretary-general Maria Livanos Cattaui, said: "Progress of multilateral trade liberalisation must not be allowed to falter... The rules-based multilateral trading system is one of the finest achievements of the twentieth century."

CRITICS of the WTO point to the increasing collaboration between business and some of the key figures involved in international trade negotiations since the Uruguay Round. For instance, Arthur Dunkel, who presided over much of the transition from GATT to the WTO, is on the board of Nestle, one of the world's biggest food companies. Dunkel also chairs the International Trade and Investment Commission of the ICC. Dunkel's participation in a WTO dispute settlement panel also raised questions of a conflict of interest.

Peter Sutherland, former Director-General of GATT-WTO between 1993 and 1995, now chairs the board of British Petroleum and is also an associate in Goldman Sachs International. According to the Friends of the Earth, Charlene Barshefsky, the United States Trade Representative (USTR), was earlier a lobbyist for the Canadian timber industry.

The dispute settlement mechanism in the WTO has come in for criticism on the ground that it is non-transparent; more seriously, the system is perceived to be iniquitous to resource-poor countries or to smaller companies operating from the developing coun tries. In the WTO, only member-states are allowed to raise disputes: when a company believes that it is affected by unfair trade practices in another country, it has first to convince its own government that the issue must be raised at the WTO. More impo rtant, governments must also act in defence of companies based in their countries which have been affected by unfair trade practices of entities in other countries. To protect themselves, companies must therefore have a good relationship with their gover nments if they want the authorities to pursue their case.

In many of the high-profile trade disputes that have arisen recently, corporates and their own governments have gone hand-in-hand to fight their case at the WTO. In the banana war between the E.U. and the U.S., Chiquita Brands International, which owns p lantations in Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, joined legal action against the E.U.. In fact, Chiquita, which controls a large part of the banana trade, helped the governments in these countries fight the case.

In the beef and milk war in 1997, Monsanto, the U.S. National Cattlemen's Association, the U.S. Dairy Export Council and other interest groups lobbied with the U.S. Government to initiate action against the E.U. for its ban on hormone-treated beef import s on health considerations. European animal health products companies, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Associations (EFPIA) and lobbied at the E.U. for a withdrawal of the ban because they claimed that it was affecting their interests as well.

The Japanese and European governments acted on behalf of companies such as Sony, Toshiba, Siemens and Philips Electronics against a Massachusetts law which penalises government purchases from companies that deal with entities in Myanmar which is under mi litary rule. They complained that the U.S. administration had also fought Kodak's case against Fuji for a share of the Japanese market for film and photographic paper. Incidentally, Kodak's CEO is a member of the ACPTN.

THE WTO framework has increasingly challenged national laws related to trade, environment, food, technical standards, labour, and biotechnology; in trade jargon, these are together called "non-tariff barriers to trade". More than any other entity in the world, multinational corporations are equipped to engage in the globalisation process. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that more than two-thirds of world trade involves at least one multinational company. Half of this is traded between companies belonging to the same multinational group. These corporations are truly global. Being the prime movers of globalisation, they have enormous stakes in managing the contradictions that arise between governments, which are answerable to people within their borders, and global business, which wants investment and trade to move freely in a seamless world.

Perhaps nothing epitomises the growing nexus between governments and big business as the spectacle of briefcase-toting Trade Ministers from across the world engaged in bargaining in Seattle. International trade bureaucrats and negotiators are another par t of this spectacle.

To ensure the survival of the weakest

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Interview with Dr. M.S. Swaminathan.

Dr. M.S. Swaminathan sometimes recalls the excitement and effervescence during that period in the decade of the 1960s when a major revolution was brewing in the laboratories and fields of India. The explosion in food production brought on by the i ntroduction of high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice in India (and later in other parts of the developing world) created agricultural history. With characteristic modesty, he deflects credit for his role in changing the face of agriculture in the dev eloping world, but instead draws attention to the many lessons of what came to be called the Green Revolution. Apart from its more obvious and recognised ones, he underlines the important political lesson drawn from that experience. The Green Revolution disproved Malthusian predictions of famine and mass starvation for India. It made India self-sufficient in food, a factor that played no small role in strengthening the country's political sovereignty and ability to withstand international pressures at a critical juncture.

Yet it is clear that at the heart of his quest for a better, more equitable and healthier world is the challenge posed by contradictions of a situation where there is food self-sufficiency for a nation on the one hand and hunger for a growing a number o f people on the other.

If there is one strand that runs through Swamina- than's distinguished five-decade public career as agricultural scientist, administrator, innovator and thinker, it is the concept of human welfare, a vision rooted in the ideals of socio-economic equity, women's equality, environmental conservation and ethics. For him, the food and livelihood security of nations, and of different groups and communities of persons within nations, perhaps constitute the foundation of human development. Hunger gives rise to economic and social discord and leads to violence. In a fundamental sense, therefore, Swaminathan's contributions to the theory and practice of human welfare have strengthened the movement for both equity and peace.

Recognition for Swaminathan's work and contributions to agricultural practice, environmental conservation, poverty eradication through the strengthening of opportunities for productive employment, women's empowerment, protection of indigenous conservatio n traditions and practices, and other pathsetting initiatives, have come from across the globe. He has held a series of front-ranking appointments - Director-General of the International Rice Research Institute, the Philippines (1982-1988); Independent C hairman, FAO Council (1981-85); Andrew D. While Professor-at-Large of Cornell University, United States (1989-95); Trustee of the Ford Foundation (1989-97); and President of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. He currently holds the UNESCO Chair in Ecotechnology at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai. He is the recipient of several Indian and international awards and prizes, most notably the Padma Vibhushan, the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership (1971), the Albert Einstein World Science Award in 1986; the first World Food Prize in 1987; the Honda Prize of the Honda Foundation in 1991; the UNESCO Gandhi Gold Medal in 1999, and the Volvo Environment Prize, 1999. He is the second Indian to be chosen for the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development for the year 1999.

In 1989, Swaminathan founded the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai. Here many of his ideas on a multi-pronged approach to poverty eradication are experimented upon through field projects. He leads a large and dedicated team of scientists an d social researchers and is personally involved in each area of the Foundation's functioning.

This interview was given to Parvathi Menon in Pondicherry where Swaminathan had gone to attend an evaluation of the Biovillage project of the Foundation, an action plan envisaging the sustainable development of the land and water resources for imp roving the livelihood security of those communities which live in the 19 villages that come under the project. Here Swaminathan responds to a range of questions on the World Trade Agreement and its likely implications for India's agricultural and informa l sectors; the sorts of initiatives that India and other developing countries can and must take in conferences such as the Seattle Round; the possible fall-out of the imposition of a regime of intellectual property rights for national and global diversit y; the concerns that surround the issue of genetically modified organisms; and other related matters.

Excerpts from the interview:

In your Nehru Memorial lecture, one of the points you made was as follows: "Globalisation is creating new threats to the livelihood security of men and women living in poverty." Today the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has become the global forum wher e many issues relating to food security and the economic sovereignty of nations are being negotiated. Could you comment on the Seattle round and its implications for India and other developing nations in respect of these issues ?

Globalisation, indicating the removal of economic policies which protect the vulnerable sections of society, has certainly led to growing inequity between nations and within nations. The available data from the United Nations and World Bank sources show that in the last 20 years the global domestic economic product has grown from about $10 trillion in 1980 to over $30 trillion now, an increase of almost three times. This money has largely gone to about 12 to 13 countries, mostly industrialised. And in t he poorer nations where some growth has taken place, most of the additional income has gone to the already well-to-do. Seven or eight years ago it was mentioned that one billion of the world's population was earning less than one dollar a day. Now this o ne billion has gone up to 1.3 billion. And according to the Asian Development Bank, one in three Asians is poor and lives below the poverty line, earning less than one dollar a day. Most of the poor, 900 million people, live in our part of the world, Sou th Asia and South-East Asia.

Why has this happened? Growth has not been even, and has been highly skewed in terms of countries and in terms of communities within the countries. There are other indications of the increasing marginalisation of the poor apart from their poverty status. Although the World Food Summit in 1996 called for the halving by 2015 of the numbers of men, women and children going to bed hungry, the Director-General of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) has said that the position has worsened in many coun tries since 1996.

As we approach a new century and millennium, we will have to think about how we can reverse the paradigm, to start with the poorest and make poverty elimination and hunger elimination the basic aim of all development. The other implication of globalisati on and economic competition is the fact that large companies are swallowing up smaller companies. Efficiency is being measured in the industrialised countries and in the large multinationals in terms of the level of downsizing of the workforce. This is w hat the late Mahbub-ul-Haq called jobless economic growth, and that has caused much greater hardship to the poor.

What about the specific impact of the WTO for India and other developing countries?

The WTO is five years old, and the Seattle Round is going to review what has happened. The World Trade Agreement (WTA) has a number of provisions, obviously to provide what is called a level playing field. For example, if the phasing out of subsidies has to be done by the industrialised countries in five years, developing countries can take ten years. But unfortunately, there is no level playing field in the world in terms of trade because one has to look at the enormous economic growth in the industria lised nations.

Take, for example, agriculture. You find even today in our country, paddy or rice drying is done on the roads in many parts of South India, Assam and so on. If you go to a North American or Australian farm, there is an enormous infrastructure investment that has been made through public funding in the last 50 years. I would say our investment in some of these areas like post-harvest technology is a minute fraction of what exists in these countries. National investment in rural development and rural infr astructure is generally going down, largely because of the debt servicing burden, the enormous cost of bureaucracy, the Pay Commission commitments and so on. There is hardly any money left for development. As a result, where is the level playing field?

What is the purpose of trade, the ultimate human purpose of trade? I would say the world trade negotiations in Seattle should come to a mission statement on what trade is all about, what is it that we want to accomplish. If we all agree that trade has to be a very powerful mechanism to provide an opportunity for creating a productive life for every human being, then it takes a new meaning in terms of new rules and regulations. At the moment the countries of the European Community want to ensure that the high subsidies they are giving to their farmers are retained under some garb or the other. If you see the provisions for exemptions from the Aggregate Measure of Support (AMS), you will find that many areas, research and technology for example, have bee n exempted because they make a massive investment in frontier technologies like biotechnology and so on.

The developing countries have by and large been reactive and not proactive. The richer nations create the agenda, they prepare the first draft. Then you change a comma here and there, you have small victories, get something deleted or added. This is beca use we have not ourselves gone with a very clear agenda. The rich countries and those who draft the agenda will always have a fall-back position. They take an extreme position and then say that they have given up so much. So I think the negotiations them selves have not been between equal partners.

Did India present an alternative agenda during the Uruguay round?

We should have had a clear alternative from the time of the Uruguay negotiations, but many papers were just classified as secret, confidential and so on. There was no public debate, or public awareness, until suddenly one day the WTO came into existence and then everybody started looking at it. I think that India has not been guided by a commitment to poverty alleviation. Otherwise we would not be in this kind of position, where we have as many people below the poverty line as the entire population of I ndia at the time of Independence.

Why do you think our government did not have the kind of commitment to use the WTO the way it should have?

As I said, the initial drafts were all prepared by people from industrialised nations, the so-called experts, many of whom may have been well-known names in their fields. They see trade as a method of putting into practice the Darwinian hypothesis of th e survival of the fittest. That is the very foundation of modern competitive trade. People who cannot compete will disappear. This is the problem. So the slate was their slate, it was a Western slate in which we dotted the i's.

Successive Indian governments have advanced the there-is-no-alternative argument as the reason for participation in the WTO on the terms set by the industrialised countries. Do you find this argument acceptable?

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If we did not become a member of the WTO we would have had to negotiate our terms of trade with each country separately and there we would always have been the loser; it is very difficult to negotiate with big powers. Therefore a multilateral mechanism w ith a dispute resolving mechanism is a much better one. Which is why China wants to enter the WTO; they know that being out of it is a disadvantage.

Somehow we did not develop a cogent public policy, develop a consensus among political parties, among different shades of opinion. Looking back I would say that if we had had an impact analysis on the poor as one of our policies, then we would have been in much better shape. Just as I am now saying that our Commerce Ministry's policy statement on import and export must have a livelihood impact statement. It has a sobering influence, because then you start looking at what is really going to happen. For e xample, if India begins importing so much of milk powder and puts milk powder on the OGL (open general licence) list, what is going to happen to the National Dairy Development Board's efforts which over a long period of time have led us to the first posi tion in milk production in the world? Because ours are very small producers. This also holds true in many sectors - whether it is in the broad area of textiles which generates over 60 million jobs in this country, or the dairy sector which gives eight cr ore or 10 crore people in the rural areas additional livelihoods through ownership of a cow or a buffalo. Our production process by and large still falls under the small-scale sector and today poverty alleviation depends upon offering credit to small-sca le industries.

Will the WTA consider micro-credit and micro-enterprise at all? In my view there must be a chapter, like TRIPS, in the Seattle Round on micro-entrerprises supported by micro-credit. That chapter should be prepared by us and given to them for their reacti on. This would be supported by all South Asian countries, including China which also has enormous problems of providing livelihoods for each Chinese. As I said, one in every third Asian is poor. We should develop the first draft and give it to the rich c ountries for them to dot the i's. In a preambular statement you can quote their own words from the G-7 and G-8 resolutions on poverty, or the Copenhagen Summit, which has what is called an agreed text, or the World Food Conference, or the United Nations poverty reduction goal of 2015, and then say that if you want to achieve all this, the trade policy should be geared to ensuring the survival, not of the fittest, but of the weakest because we are trying to make them strong.

So you do think that there is negotiation space in the WTO for countries such as India?

There is a lot of negotiation space, but that space has to be clearly defined, it has to be defined in ethical and human terms. You see, our large conglomerates of industries that dominate our economic policies are concerned with their own competitive ab ility - CII (Confederation of Indian Industry), FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) or ASSOCHAM (Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry). They look at their own self-interest, of course they have to be competitive. So they are the ones whom governments consult in such matters. They are concerned with trade and unfair competition in the automobile industry and so on. But how many are concerned with unfair competition that micro-enterprises supported by micro-credit fa ce? That would be very high on the agenda if I were to have anything to do with the WTO because you can quote the resolutions on poverty alleviation supported by governments of rich nations, and say that if you are really serious, then this is what is ne eded.

What has been the level of India's preparedness for the Seattle Round? Do you have any comments on that?

I think that the present Minister for Commerce, Mr. Murasoli Maran, has taken the right steps. He has tried to consult different people and political parties although the time available to him was very little.

In my view, we must define what are the four or five goals of trade. What is the principal mission statement of the WTO? Is it to produce a more equal opportunity world in which there will be a level playing field for the poor, and that trade should real ly become a means of promoting human security and happiness?

So your view is that India can swim against the tide in the WTO, we have negotiation space, we can protect our interests.

We should look at the total picture. If we do, there is enough space. For example, if all South Asian governments have the same aim of poverty alleviation and hunger elimination, then we have a space there. We can join together and say that one of the po tent tools of poverty alleviation is small-scale and decentralised enterprises that are environment-friendly and are supported by micro-credit. You may find that the richer nations may make some bargaining points but they will not be able to disagree unl ess they want to contradict the anti-poverty statements they made elsewhere.

One of the contemporary problems in terms of harmonising commitments made in different inter-governmental fora is the fact that different viewpoints are expressed in different U.N. fora. For example, member-governments of the FAO accept the concept of fa rmers' rights. Most governments, barring the U.S., have ratified the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) which places heavy emphasis on ethics and equity in the sharing of benefits from genetic resources. The same is true in many other global fora and summi ts such as the Copenhagen Poverty summit, or the Beijing Women's conference. There is an overall commitment in these to the eradication of poverty, to fair play, to justice, to fair, and not free, trade. But all this finally gets operationalised at the f orum of the WTO. So unless governments also take a similar stand in the WTO then whatever they have said in the other fora do not make sense, because the WTO forum is really the main pathway to which the other commitments can be operationalised.

How prepared do you think India is to protect its genetic reserves? How would you evaluate our sui generis legislation which has still not been passed in Parliament but which you have had some involvement in helping to draft?

The CBD is the first major international legally binding convention which has principles of ethics and equity incorporated in it - of both gender equity, social equity and ethical principles in relation to exploitation of bio-resources. Since we ratified it we have not yet had a legislation to convert the principles of CBD into an effective legislative position. There are now two major legislation that need to be passed - one dealing with Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) on plant varieties and farmer s' rights, the other the Biodiversity Act. This should also include geographic appellations, because after the basmati patent it has become clear that we should also have some legislation to safeguard our unique products of various kinds.

We hope the present Parliament will provide high priority to providing a legal framework that is effective. For this it would also have to be realistic. For example, we should have a community gene management system from the bottom up. You can have at th e State level a biodiversity board, then a national bio-diversity authority. The challenge in the Biodiversity Act is the question of management at three levels - conservation, sustainable use and equitable sharing of benefits. The last is the most impor tant. These are community contributions. We must have legal methods of recognising and rewarding communities. In the draft I prepared on the Plant Variety Protection Act , I called it a community gene fund. The community should decide in what way they wi ll use it.

Both these acts have undergone debate and discussion in the last five to six years. They should be such that they should not be used to harass legitimate researchers. We should not be of the view that it is only our material that is being exploited. If y ou take our major crops like wheat, maize, jowar, bajra, in fact all cereals except rice, everything came from outside. Take all our plantation crops - rubber, tea, coffee - nothing is our own. The world has benefited from an approach of give-and-take. T herefore, when we develop these legislation we should also not have the feeling that we are the only ones who are giving and not gaining. Unless we have strong South-South collaboration, we will find that many of our breeding projects like those for rice and wheat will be in difficulty. We should not have a siege mentality. Instead we should look upon our bio-resources from the angle of bio-prosperity, or rural prosperity.

Does our draft sui generis legislation reflect that?

Well, I have not seen the final drafts. They will probably be placed in Parliament soon. We have been pleading that plant varieties protection and farmers' rights should be linked. If we do this, we will be the first country in the world where breeders r ights and farmers' rights are linked as mutually reinforcing. I think that some provisions have not really been understood, like the Community Gene Fund. If we have national commitment, we must have a one per cent cess on agricultural commodities that s hould be credited to the Community Gene Fund. That should go towards revitalising and rewarding the conservation traditions and ethics of tribal and rural families, the large invisible unrecognised community conservation process. Look at the very poor pa rts of Orissa. We have got a database on their contributions towards conservation of plant species. It is very moving, as the very poor are not working for recognition or reward. But it is people such as these who have saved the food security system of t he world, and we must realise it.

So I think we should really use our sui generis system for achieving the triple purpose of promoting conservation, making it a people's movement; ensuring its sustainable use with participatory breeding programmes done with farming families; and e nsuring equity and ethics in benefit sharing. Those behind the large unrecognised community conservation efforts must be recognised, given social prestige and economic rewards.

What are your views on the ethics of patenting of life forms? Could a global consensus be built up against this?

As a rule patenting of life forms is unethical. But the distinction was made by the Supreme Court in the Diamond vs Chakravarti case by saying that where something is a completely novel creation by human ingenuity, it can be patented. For example, you should not patent the human genome sequences because all that you are doing is studying something with the help of sophisticated technologies. You can 'discover' a new plant species and name it after yourself, that is not an invention. Invention is the product of the human brain, where something never existed but because of your effort it happened. Well, I think inventive people must be rewarded because that is how the world progresses. There is nothing wrong in honouring invention. But we must see to it that there are some international ground rules in this whole rush for patents on all kinds of things. In all patent regulation there must be a provision for compulsory licensing of rights. Suppose I discover a new rice variety which is resistant t o a particular disease, it should be available to everybody, poor or rich, not only to those who can pay.

On TRIPS, in the Seattle Round, what do you think of India's position?

India had already taken a position on a number of issues. On trade liberalisation, access to markets. But on the fundamental issues of TRIPS, I think India's position should be that we should try to promote a sui generis system that contains recog nition and reward to farmers' rights. But we must develop a consensus among other countries also, because you must have a critical mass of countries which have the same viewpoint. So during this process we must have a national stand, a regional stand amo ng those countries which have a high degree of poverty, like Africa, India, Latin America. There is no use pretending that we are all well off. Thirdly, I think we must insist that there is some harmonisation in global negotiation, particularly in terms of ethics and equity. We should insist on benefit-sharing, access, prior informed consent, and so on. We must move to make UPOV, the Union for the Protection of Plant Varieties, a Union for the Protection of Breeders' and Farmers' Rights. So in this way you must set the ball rolling towards a more equitable world in the new century.

Without this pro-poor lobby in the WTO do you think its decisions will have an adverse impact on agriculture and livelihood security?

It will continue to have adverse implications. I have already said that importing pulses and oilseeds, as India is doing, is a measure of the neglect of dry-land farming. What are the crops of dry-land farmers? The most important are pulses and oilseeds.

In agriculture there have been two major questions. One is market access to other countries. The hope was that if the European Union and North America really reduce subsidies to their farmers, then we will have a comparative advantage. The other aspect i s the quantitative restrictions. So far we find that market access has not happened. Protectionism and subsidies are very high, and now they have introduced non-tariff barriers, forms of protections like environmental concerns, pesticidal residues or eve n social concerns like child labour. So how far we are going to have free market access is one question. Of course we are also not really geared to compete in a big way as our post-harvest technology is poor as are our sanitary and phyto-sanitary measure s. So we must make a major investment here if we are going to have a competitive advantage in terms of exports. At the same time, the industrialised countries should really improve market access and provide a level playing field by reducing subsidies.

The second aspect of quantitative restrictions is the one where we have to be very careful. If foods like pulses and oilseeds are imported indiscriminately it can kill incentives for the improvement of our dry-farming areas. So we should be careful in im porting commodities that will destroy livelihoods of the poor. There should be a consensus on this, and as I said, a separate chapter or section in the revised WTA should be put which deals with trade and poverty alleviation, trade as an instrument of po verty alleviation.

You have warned about the possibility of India's 'genetic enslavement'.

When I use the word genetic enslavement it means two things. One is to have very few options - large areas being covered by one particular strain, which ties the farmer to the company. The second include techniques like Terminator. The companies call thi s genetic-use restriction, which means the farmer will have to buy from them every year. That will certainly lead to the farmer's own control over his agricultural destiny being destroyed. We have over 106 million farm families in the country, the larges t free enterprise segment. It is important that they have choices, that they can keep their seeds, they can sell their seeds in the neighbourhood and so on. If all this is destroyed you can call it genetic enslavement.

What are your concerns on genetically modified organisms (GMOs)?

These concerns are now universal. There are those of an environmental nature; for example, the creation of super weeds, or the studies on the monarch butterfly, which suggest harmful effects from pollen containing the BT toxin. Also, in human beings, we do not know the kind of hay fever that may spread with new kinds of pollen. Similarly there is the food safety aspect, arising from the use of anti-biotic markers in genetic engineering; when you really need them you would have developed a resistance to them. Then there are ethical issues such as the one involving the Terminator. So we have food safety concerns, we have environmental concerns, we have the whole area of ethical concerns. All these come under the blanket cover of bio-safety. Under the CBD , there should be an internationally agreed protocol on bio-safety which addresses these issues. I have always felt that there should be a broad-based National Commission on Genetic Modification for Food and Health Security to look at bio-safety issues i n India.

Do you think there should be a moratorium on GMOs?

Moratorium not in terms of research but in terms of the commercialisation of GMOs. I would say that there is no harm in waiting for a few years until the clinical, nutritional, medical and environmental trials, the ethical guidelines, are complete.

'An inhuman act by the police'

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Interview with V. Vaikunth, former Director-General of Police.

"Never in my career spanning over 30 years have I witnessed such a totally inhuman act on the part of my own police." This was how former Director-General of Police V. Vaikunth described the plight of the people of Kodiyankulam following a massive police rampage in the village on August 31, 1995. As the then police chief, he visited the affected village on September 5 and saw for himself the "mindless violence" of the policemen. Now retired, Vaikunth became a bit emotional when he recounted in an interview to S. Viswanathan what he saw in Kodiyankulam. "Even now, after four years, it makes me sad and anguished when I recall the wailing and weeping of the hapless Dalits," he said. Excerpts:

The report of the Gomathinayagam Commission has ruled out any police excesses in Kodiyankulam in 1995. It is a matter of public knowledge, and there were media reports at that time, that you, as the Director-General of Police (DGP), visited the villa ge and found to your shock that the police had indulged in "mindless violence" against Dalits of the village. There were also reports that you sent a note to Chief Minister Jayalalitha. A writ petition was filed before the High Court seeking a direction for the release of the report. Can you please enlighten the public on this sensitive issue?

It is true that as the DGP I had received a series of complaints that the police had allegedly gone on a rampage in the village against Dalits. There were even writ petitions in the High Court, besides representations to the National Human Rights Commiss ion, alleging police high-handedness. Political parties also raised a furore over the issue. The background to the alleged police violence at Kodiyankulam related to caste clashes which rocked Tirunelveli and Tuticorin districts during that period.

It is in this context that I visited the village on September 5, 1995 to find out the truth for myself. En route to Kodiyankulam, I also visited a number of villages which had witnessed caste clashes. There were attempts to dissuade me from going to Kodi yankulam. I could sense that the people of the village were very annoyed with the police in general, but when they came to know of my visit, the village elders came to the outskirts and received me. That was a reflection of the confidence I had created a mong the public about my impartiality and neutrality during my service as the Superintendent of Police in the composite Tirunelveli district (in the 1970s).

What I saw at Kodiyankulam that day was heart-rending. The police had gone berserk in the name of repulsing an imaginary attack on them by the villagers. The policemen had reportedly gone to the village to secure an accused involved in the murder of a pe rson belonging to a predominant caste in the region. They had indulged in mindless violence against hapless Dalits of the village - men, women and children. The police had ransacked their houses, damaged their television sets, ripped open the rice bags a nd thrown the rice on the streets. Worse and still more inhuman was their act of pouring diesel in the drinking water well. The police had also torn to pieces the university degree certificates of the boys and girls of the village. The villagers started wailing and weeping and what I witnessed shook me to the bones. Never in my career spanning over 30 years have I witnessed such a totally inhuman act on the part of my own police. I believed every one of the villagers when they explained what happened, because I saw for myself the bitter trail of police violence. But then I wanted to convince myself about the truth. So I called the S.P. who accompanied me, took him aside and asked him under the shade of a tree in the village to come out with the truth. In the presence of the Deputy Inspector-General of Police of the range, the S.P. admitted to all that had happened.

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I returned to Chennai and made arrangements to send relief at my level to the victims of the village. Later, after getting the details of the pending criminal cases connected with the various caste clashes, I sent a note to Chief Minister Jayalalitha on September 15 suggesting certain immediate steps to be initiated to restore the confidence of the victims of violence: (1) To sanction adequate compensation to the villagers for the suffering they had undergone; (2) To send a team of Ministers who did not belong to any of the predominant castes of the district, with a view to assuaging the feelings of the villagers; (3) To constitute a commission of inquiry, and (4) To order dropping of action in all the criminal cases relating to the caste clashes (exce pt cases involving violence and murder) in which I had found after my assessment that people belonging to either community had been implicated without basis.

Jayalalitha was so moved by my report that she sent for me on September 16 and told me that she had conceded all my suggestions. On September 17, the birth anniversary of Periyar (E.V. Ramasamy), Jayalalitha was to garland the Periyar statue at the Anna flyover in Chennai. At that function, the three Ministers who had been deputed by Chief Minister Jayalalitha to tour the affected areas showed me copies of my note to Jayalalitha and requested me to suggest the steps they should take. On the basis of the findings of the ministerial committee, Jayalalitha announced a relief assistance of Rs.17 lakhs, the constitution of a committee of inquiry and the withdrawal of the cases. To be fair to Jayalalitha, this is one instance where she got a bad name for no fault of hers, because of the police violence (at Kodiyankulam) which, in fact, cost her heavily in the 1996 elections in the area.

But the Gomathinayagam Commission has totally ruled out any police excess.

I have no comments to make because I do not know on what basis the Commission has come to that finding. But I can only say that what I found, which I have narrated now, is true, and what I wrote in my note to Chief Minister Jayalalitha based on what I sa w was again true.

A financial crunch

IF, in metaphorical terms, the road to peace in Jammu and Kashmir is riddled with potholes, an economic crisis has ensured that its highways are not in any better shape in the physical sense. All but the most token development activity, mostly in the for m of a few central government schemes, has come to a halt. And if something is not done to solve the problem soon, says Chief Secretary Ashok Jaitley, things will get worse. He said: "After February, we will be unable to repay debts, or give government e mployees their salaries."

The problem is straightforward. There is this year a gap of some Rs.1,200 crores between revenue and expenditure. Of this, Rs.550 crores is needed for pay hikes prescribed by the Fifth Pay Commission, and another Rs.675 crore is accounted for by losses f rom electricity supplies. The State has taken an overdraft of Rs.950 crores from the Jammu and Kashmir Bank, on which it is paying interest at rates ranging from 14 per cent to 17 per cent annually.

The State also has several additional liabilities imposed by its special security-related circumstances, which it wants the Union Government to meet. Since 1988, Rs.300 crore has been paid out in salaries to the Kashmir Pandit employees who left their jo bs in the Kashmir Valley and are living elsewhere. And another Rs.400 crore has had to be paid to employees of public sector units in the State which closed down amidst the violence.

State Government officials argue that the problem is not one of their making. The overdraft, for example, rose from Rs.80 crores in 1989-1990 to Rs.650 crores in October 1996, when the National Conference came to power. Then, State Government employees w ere granted salary parity with their Central counterparts in 1992, when Governor's Rule was in place. "I'm not saying that we haven't contributed to the problem," says Jaitley, "but when New Delhi says this is a crisis of our own creation, it's just not true."

The Chief Secretary points to losses on account of electricity supplies, for example. For ten years, when this government was not in power, people weren't made to pay their bills. Jammu and Kashmir has hiked power tariffs three times in three years, more than any other State in the Union. Consumers are reluctant to pay, in part driven by habit, but also because supplies remain unpredictable and voltage is erratic. Supplies cannot be improved until the State can buy more electricity, which it can do only if it receives aid.

UNION Finance Ministry officials, however, insist that the Jammu and Kashmir Government can do more than it has been doing in order to ensure efficiency and end corruption. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, presented in October 1999, is a depressing chronicle of just how endemic financial mismanagement and outright fraud are in the Jammu and Kashmir Government. The State Government did not help its own case by refusing to share, during earlier negotiations, accounts for securit y-related expenditure, a move which fuelled suspicion in New Delhi.

Incidents such as the recent crash of a State Government helicopter, which will cost some Rs.22 crores to replace, have not helped matters either. It turned out that the helicopter was flying without insurance cover, carrying private visitors to the Stat e on a pleasure trip. Even the pilot's professional credentials have come under question. And Farooq Abdullah's decision to spend some Rs.50 lakhs on improving the facilities of Srinagar Golf Club at a time of financial hardship has not won the Chief Mi nister many friends.

State Government officials believe that New Delhi will help Srinagar tide over the immediate Rs.1,200 crore-deficit, and claim to have Union Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha's support for this. But a short-term bailout will not solve the central problem o f poor revenues. Sharp increases in excise levies and taxes have already fuelled widespread protests, and further increases on this front seem improbable. Recommendations for a drastic downsizing of the bureaucracy and public sector units, made by an off icial committee headed by Madhav Godbole, do not appear politically workable either.

One solution being discussed is for a dramatic increase in Jammu and Kashmir's huge hydroelectric capacity, which would make it possible for the State to sell power. Officials in New Delhi had been reluctant to grant counter-guarantees for four proposed projects, pointing to the somewhat opaque credentials of the State Government's proposed overseas collaborators. Matters appear to be progressing on this front, with proposals having been put out for the projects to be jointly managed by the Jammu and Ka shmir Power Development Corporation and the National Hydro Power Corporation. Revenues from such projects, however, are obviously some distance away.

MEANWHILE, Jammu and Kashmir is demanding that its status as a Special Category state, as designated in 1990, be given retrospective effect. In the case of Special Category States, 90 per cent of their Central assistance is treated as grant, and the rema ining 10 per cent as loan. Until 1990, Jammu and Kashmir received just 30 per cent of its assistance as a grant. Special Category status was granted to other States in the mid-1970s, and the demand for Jammu and Kashmir to be given the status with retros pective effect was endorsed by the Assembly. It unanimously passed a private member's bill moved by CPI(M) leader Mohammed Yusuf Tarigami.

Whether any assistance will materialise at all, however, is unclear. The Bharatiya Janata Party MP for Udhampur, Chaman Lal Gupta, has been insisting that the National Democratic Alliance Government will not underwrite inefficiency, and Union Home Minist er L.K. Advani announced on November 31 that no special package had been framed for the State. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah's Government has been no model of economic competence, but it is also clear that its problems are neither unique to the State no r all of its own making. Should Jammu and Kashmir be made hostage to the BJP's factional compulsions, its consequences are certain to be more serious than those that any number of Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists can impose.

An uncertain game plan

Is the Union Government making overtures to the APHC in a bid to reach an understanding with it on the Kashmir issue? And will this involve merely provincial autonomy or a partition of the State on communal lines?

WHEN the sun goes down each evening, life throughout Kashmir retreats behind locked doors. After a gap of several years, an undeclared dusk-to-dawn curfew has been imposed in dozens of troubled rural areas in the State. In Srinagar itself, after sunset n o civilian movement is allowed past the Badami Bagh Cantonment, located on the National Highway to Anantnag and on to Jammu. Checking of traffic along highways and cordon-and-search operations in the countryside have once again become common. And the tou rists who had begun to holiday on the Dal Lake in the summer have all left.

In the aftermath of the Kargil War, the other war in Kashmir has been joined again in earnest. But the outcome of this war could well be shaped off the battlefield. The form and content of New Delhi's engagement with the All Parties Hurriyet Conference ( APHC), and its management of Jammu and Kashmir's deep financial crisis, could prove to have more long-term significance than the battles between Indian security personnel and insurgents that break out almost every evening.

Rumours of covert official contacts with the APHC began shortly after the organisation's top leadership was jailed in October. The National Conference (N.C.) leadership allowed the APHC to conduct a vigorous anti-election campaign, expecting that low vot er-turnouts would sabotage the prospects of former Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's People's Democratic Party (PDP), and other Opposition figures like N.C. rebel Saifuddin Soz and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Mohammad Yusuf Ta rigami. With the elections out of the way, the N.C. promptly despatched top APHC leaders to jail on charges of complicity with terrorist groups and seditious activities. They are now lodged in Jodhpur.

Under other circumstances, the N.C. could have been sitting pretty in the knowledge that it had eliminated all its principal sources of opposition in one ingenious manoeuvre. But a powerful coalition of interests appears to have ensured that the move did not quite work out as planned. In late October, stories began to appear in both State and national newspapers that a dialogue on Kashmir sponsored by the Union Government was under way. Such a dialogue, since it would undermine the N.C.'s claim to be th e sole legitimate representative of mass opinion in Jammu and Kashmir, was thought to be initiated by forces within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government that were hostile to the N.C.

Although the APHC has always formally rejected any possibility of a "dialogue with India", several events rendered credible the prospect of such a dialogue. During a visit to the United States in early October, APHC leader Abdul Ghani Lone had attacked P akistan's Kashmir policy. Lone's remarks came in the context of proposals from the Washington-based Kashmir Studies Group for the creation of an autonomous region spanning the Kashmir Valley, and the Muslim-majority areas of Rajouri, Poonch and Doda. Man y believed that Lone was responding to some kind of quasi-official U.S. proposal for a bilateral dialogue.

With APHC hardliners such as its Jamaat-e-Islami affiliated chairperson Syed Ali Shah Geelani in jail, events in November tended to lend legitimacy to this proposal. In a November 6 interview to The Indian Express, Lone ruled out bilateral negotia tions, but then made an intriguing statement. India, he said, "had to give up the bullet-for-bullet policy and volunteer for a dialogue with the Kashmiris as they are doing in the northeast". "Only this," he concluded, "will enable us to prevail upon out siders to keep off Kashmir." A fortnight later, the APHC's acting chairperson and an influential religious leader from Srinagar, Umar Farooq, came out even more explicity, suggesting an India-APHC dialogue with Pakistan "involved at a later stage".

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Furore followed in the APHC. At its November 22 General Council meeting in Srinagar, APHC figures committed to securing Jammu and Kashmir's accession to Pakistan accused Umar Farooq of treachery. He, in turn, flatly denied that any talks had begun. Geela ni, he said, had told him in Jodhpur on October 24 "swearing by the Holy Prophet that nobody from the Government of India had approached him until then". "My remarks need to be understood in the right context," Umar Farooq said. "India and Pakistan talk to each other, and we reject the talks at futile. But at the same time, the talks generate hopes of a settlement." In other words, Umar Farooq was clearly open to the prospect of bilateral discussions as a precursor to involving Pakistan, a stand remarka bly similar to that Lone had taken.

New Delhi stood by through most of the drama, perhaps to see where events would lead. It was only on November 26 that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee called a meeting to discuss events in Srinagar. What Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, Defence Minist er George Fernandes, Cabinet Secretary Prabhat Kumar, Home Secretary Kamal Pandey, the Intelligence Bureau Director Shyamal Dutta, and Research and Analysis Wing chief A.S. Dulat discussed with him has not been made public. No Jammu and Kashmir Governmen t officials were invited to the meeting, suggesting that informal contacts with the APHC could well have been discussed. Although Advani denies that any contact with the APHC has taken place, several observers believe that some kind of informal intellige nce community contact could well have occurred.

Whether an official dialogue with the APHC has already started or is only being considered, its initiation would serve several interests. For one, officials in New Delhi, as well as a spectrum of politicians, make no secret of their belief that Chief Min ister Farooq Abdullah's three-year reign has undermined the gains made in 1996. There is unanimity here about the poor administration and the corruption, but as an alternative, no viable Opposition is in sight. Starting a dialogue with elements within th e APHC would, at least, open the prospect of some secessionist leaders joining mainstream politics. This should enable the NDA Government to meet U.S. pressure by proclaiming that dialogue has been opened with representative leaders of Kashmir.

BUT it is far from clear whether a formal dialogue with the APHC could in fact come into being. Most APHC leaders have historically shown little inclination to seek confrontation with terrorist groups, who are certain to be incensed by any bilateral dial ogue. In September, Umar Farooq condemned Hizbul-Mujahideen demands for the termination of all cable television services in Srinagar, suggesting cautiously that educational and news broadcasts were not un-Islamic. The Hizbul-Mujahideen promptly issued pr ess releases virtually asking the religious leader to mind his own business. Subsequently, Umar Farooq failed to condemn the murders of at least four cable network operators in Srinagar city.

More important, it is near certain that major Pakistan-based terrorist organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami would in fact ignore calls by the APHC for an end to violence, an important component of any dialogue. Nor is it c lear whether Hindu chauvinists within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the party's rank and file in Jammu, would allow any kind of autonomy negotiations with the APHC to proceed. "There is this enormous optimism among communalists in Kashmir and Pak istan," said academic Balraj Puri, "that the BJP's Hindu credentials would enable it to sell some kind of deal on Kashmir." "In fact," he argued, "the BJP's core Hindu nationalist beliefs and its internal factional disputes make it near impossible for a deal on Kashmir to come about."

Alternative deals appear more probable. The State government's plans to partition Jammu and Kashmir into a series of provinces along communal lines, Puri suggested, could dovetail with its demands for greater State autonomy. "You might see," Puri said, " the Union Government granting autonomy to the Kashmir valley, Rajouri, Poonch, Doda and Kargil in return for a greater integration into the Union of the predominantly non-Muslim areas of Jammu, Leh and Udhampur. Such a deal could be packaged as meeting t he separate aspirations of religious communities throughout the State." Such an autonomy deal would not only meet U.S. demands for progress in the Kashmir Valley, it would also allow the BJP to keep Hindu hardliners quiet.

The proposition is not as bizarre as it seems. Politics in Jammu and Kashmir is built around three forces, each legitimising the existence of the other. Should a partition of the State come through, the BJP would secure its ranks in Jammu, the N.C. could proclaim victory for its core Kashmiri Muslim constituency, and the APHC could continue with its anti-India platform undisturbed. Leh has seen massive anti-autonomy protests through late November, and BJP Member of Parliament Chaman Lal Gupta has been l etting his Jammu region constituency know that the Union Government will under no circumstances allow the N.C. demands for Statewide autonomy to be put in place. Such protests could propel the case for partition.

THERE is little doubt that the security establishment within the State has recovered from its early post-Kargil reverses. Despite high losses of security force personnel, terrorist groups have also been hit hard by operational reverses and internal fissu res. Intelligence officials told Frontline that Pakistani insurgents bitterly accused their Kashmiri counterparts of collaboration with security force personnel, at a meeting held at Cheripora village near Chattergul in Anantnag on the night of No vember 10. One relative of local Hizbul-Mujahideen military adviser Nadeem Osmani was subsequently executed on charges of being an informer.

But the new political processes set in play inside or outside Jammu and Kashmir have ensured that despite these military gains no one is certain just where events might go from here. Sadly, most politicians appear fixated on this high-level political dia logue, ignoring the fact that ordinary people have lives to live in the meanwhile. "Politicians," said CPI(M) leader Tarigami, "spend their time talking about three-nation formulas and ten-nation formulas. Meanwhile, people do not have access to clean dr inking water, and their children aren't getting an education." If the Union Government is in fact serious about Jammu and Kashmir, it might to do well to address the problems of its people as well.

Cyberspace ravings

THE Lashkar-e-Taiba's jihad is not being fought just in Jammu and Kashmir; the battle is also being waged in cyberspace. The message of hate of the ultra right-wing organisation, and that of its parent religious body, the Markaz Dawa wal'Irshad, i s now just a few mouse clicks away - at www.dawacenter.com. With everything from theological articles to audio downloads of leaders' speeches, the Web site provides insights into the Lashkar's tactical objectives, and also the basis of its bloody ideolog y of hate.

Among the most important documents available on the site is Markaz founder Hafiz Muhammad Sayeed's speech to the group's congregation near Lahore on November 3. There, Sayeed clarified the Lashkar's viewpoint that "the jihad is not about Kashmir o nly". "About 15 years ago", the Markaz leader concluded, "people might have found it ridiculous if someone had told them about the disintegration of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republic). Today, I announce the break-up of India, insha-Allah. We w ill not rest until the whole (of) India is dissolved into Pakistan."

Sayeed promises a new war which will "encompass all of India including Junagarh, Mavadar (and) Hyderabad". The choice of the three has obvious significance, underlining as it does the distinctly sub-continental character of the Lashkar's Islam. An articl e on "Jihad in the Present Times" informs readers that in "India, if you recite aloud the Azan, the Hindus and Sikhs come to violence". "In India", the article asserts, "the Muslims are being slaughtered just because they profess Islam. Their prop erty is plundered, their women are disgraced and molested and their mosques are razed to the ground."

Even if Bal Thackeray's anti-Muslim campaign and the demolition of the Babri Masjid both figure on the Lashkar Web site, the content is not centred exclusively on India. "In China, Russia, Albania and Yugoslavia, "another article on jihad asserts, "millions of innocent Muslims were put to death." The article also refers to Muslims being butchered in Chechnya and Bosnia. Some of the Markaz less probable targets of hate include Spain, where "the Christians literally and practically wiped out the wh ole Muslim population". Here and elsewhere, "it is our duty to restore Muslim rule to this land of ours".

Several key tenets, in the Markaz view, make this duty binding on all Muslims. Jihad, an article asserts, is incumbent until the persecution of Muslims ends, and "the way of life prescribed by Allah dominates and overwhelms the whole of the world" . "Fighting is also obligatory," it continues, "until the disbelieving powers and states are subdued and they pay Jizya (capitation tax) with willing submission". The recovery of property once ruled by Muslims, avenging historical atrocities again st Muslims, and the defence of Muslims who are under attack are all projects which demand the participation of all believers.

Curiously, the United States, which had been for long a prime villain in Islamic chauvinist narratives, figures little on dawacenter.com. Sayeed's speech to the annual congregation mentions the country and President Bill Clinton just three times in the c ourse of three pages of single-spaced text. One reference is to the U.S. failure to apply the same standards it used in East Timor to Kashmir, while the other two condemn that country's denunciation of the jihad as terrorism. If the Web site is an ything to go by, the U.S. has little to fear from a terrorist organisation that emerged from its own Afghan policy.

Dawacenter.com is frankly dismissive of democracy. Discussing the military coup in Pakistan, Sayeed urges Gen. PervezMusharraf to impose martial law, with its basis of legitimacy a "divine constitution that nullifies all other constitutions". "Just like there can be no god but Allah," he asserts, "there can be no constitution other than the one given by (the) Quran. I challenge all the groups and organisations to prove (the) Quran not being the perfect constitution from Allah. Anyone who does so will be eliminated from the fold of Islam." It is easy to see why this authoritarian rhetoric, along with calls to end strikes and agitations, is attractive to some sections of Pakistani society.

Brutality is broadcast as a badge of honour by the Lashkar. One article on its Web site notes that the "Lashkar fighter will usually execute an (imprisoned) Indian soldier by slitting his throat". "However," the article continues, "beheading and disembow elling are also common methods, employed mostly for psychological reason(s). In at least one case, a Lashkar fighter, Abu Haibat, brought the head of an Indian soldier back with him to Pakistan." Such actions are legitimised, since Hindus are, in the Las hkar's world, invariably savages, rapists, or murderers, or all of these put together.

Hate propaganda is used to justify such tactics. "A Gorkha soldier received a message from home that his mother was seriously ill and might pass away," one fairly typical article records, "so he was asked to come soon. He went to his commanding officer a nd asked for leave, saying that he had to go to eat his mother's flesh. But he was not granted leave. On this, he gave his gun and pouch to Mujahideen and took some money in return and ran off. Brother Salamat Ullah told that they (Gorkhas) do not bury o r cremate their dead but eat their flesh."

That the Markaz rhetoric is not just words is evident. Sayeed's call for a war against India, for example, has been mirrored in the arrest of Lashkar operatives from Hyderabad, Bhiwandi and several locations in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. While dozens of Web sites peddle hatred on behalf of demented Hindu, Muslim and Christian sects, what is most disturbing about the Lashkar's cyberspace ravings is that they clearly have some official sanction from Pakistan. The annual congregation was carried out with G eneral Musharraf's express blessings, overturning efforts by deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to stop it.

It is easy to dismiss the Lashkar-e-Taiba's rantings, thin on fact and often founded on lurid fantasy, as beneath contempt: indeed, there is no great distance between its content and pamphlets about Muslims routinely put out by Hindu fundamentalist organ isations. But the fact remains that the organisation has grown rapidly in recent years with the patronage of the Pakistan state apparatus, and is now the largest terrorist group in Jammu and Kashmir. What dawacenter.com has done is to make the content of Lashkar struggle available on the Web, and underline the importance of this fascist crusade.

A paradox in Maharashtra

Affluence and extreme levels of poverty co-exist in Maharashtra, thanks to an obsession with industrialisation and the neglect of the agricultural sector. The State needs to evolve broad policy initiatives in order to address the problem.

FOR historical reasons, Maharashtra has emerged as India's most industrialised State. Its capital, Mumbai, is rightly considered the financial and commercial capital of the country. Naturally, other States strive to imitate the development model of Mahar ashtra. Thus it is that hundreds of thousands of people from the rest of the country arrive in Mumbai hoping to have access to some means of livelihood.

In this background, there ought to be a general perception that poverty is less pervasive in Maharashtra than in other States. In reality, however, that is not the case. The coexistence in the State of affluence and disproportionate poverty is particular ly distressing.

In 1997, the per capita income (PCI) of Maharashtra at current prices was as high as Rs.17,666, second only to Punjab's Rs.18,223. It was four and a half times that of Bihar, more than two and a half times that of Orissa, twice that of Kerala, and nearly one and a half times that of Gujarat and Karnataka. But what about poverty? According to an expert (Lakdawala) committee, 38 per cent of the population of the State was below poverty line (BPL) in 1993-94. On the other hand, the extent of rural poverty in Gujarat and Karnataka was 22 and 30 per cent respectively, and rural poverty in Kerala was less than that in Maharashtra by 12 percentage points. Significantly, the extent of rural poverty even in a State like Orissa was nine percentage points less th an that in Maharashtra. At the same time, the extent of rural poverty in Maharasthra was on a par with that in the country as a whole (in fact, it was one percentage point higher) despite the State's PCI being one and a half times higher than the nationa l average.

Maharashtra cannot derive consolation even from Bihar, because though the extent of rural poverty is higher by 20 percentage points in the case of the latter, its PCI was barely 22 per cent of that of Maharashtra.

The reality with respect to urban poverty was not radically different either. Urban poverty in Maharashtra was higher than in Gujarat and Kerala (by seven and 10 percentage points, respectively), while the State has the dubious distinction of being ranke d on a par with Bihar. Even the all-India level of urban poverty was three percentage points lower than Maharashtra's.

Again, in terms of Human Development Index (HDI), Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat, Orissa and Bihar rank second, fourth, seventh, eighth and 12th respectively, while Maharashtra ranks 14th. The female literacy rate in Kerala is 74 per cent compared to Maharas htra's abysmally low 34 per cent.

THESE facts lead one to three broad conclusions. First, in terms of economic growth (PCI), Maharashtra is very advanced and ranks next only to Punjab. Second, both rural poverty and urban poverty are comparatively more pervasive in Maharashtra and are di sproportionate to the State's profile of economic prosperity. Third, economic growth is only a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for the alleviation of poverty.

It is now imperative to explain the paradox of the coexistence of affluence and poverty in Maharashtra. First, owing to its obsession with industrialisation, Maharashtra neglected its agricultural sector. Although the agricultural sector ac counts for only one-fifth of the State Domestic Product (SDP), it provides sustenance to between 75 and 80 per cent of the population. In 1981-82, the extent of irrigated area was barely 12 per cent, and that increased to 15 per cent in 1993-94 - that is , by three percentage points in nearly one and a half decades. On the other hand, corresponding figures for Bihar and Orissa were thrice and twice respectively that of Maharashtra. Even Gujarat and Karnataka were way ahead of the State in this regard; so is the country as a whole.

Maharashtra is thus deficit in terms of foodgrain production. Sugarcane and cotton are the two main cash crops of the State. In the case of sugarcane production, the State ranks second, behind Uttar Pradesh. It has successfully built up a cooperative sug ar economy, mainly in the western Maharashtra region. In the case of cotton, the State has been uniquely employing the Monopoly Cotton Procurement Scheme. What is disappointing, however, is that the increase in the production of both sugarcane and cotton has been achieved not through any increase in productivity (yield per hectare) but by progressively enhancing the area under cultivation.

Punjab's productivity in the case of cotton is about two and a half times more than that of Maharashtra. The situation in Maharashtra in respect of sugarcane is more alarming. For instance, during the decade 1981-91, sugarcane productivity in the State d eclined by 1.5 per cent per annum. What is further shocking is the fact that sugarcane on barely 2.5 to 3 per cent of the land under the crop grabs nearly 60 per cent of the total irrigation water. This is socially offending inasmuch as 80 to 85 per cen t of the marginal, small and dry land medium farmers in the State are denied irrigation water even for a single crop. For them, farming has become a distress activity.

OF late, industrialisation has slowed down in the State. In 1980-81, the industrial (secondary) sector accounted for 35 per cent of the SDP, and this declined to 34 per cent in 1995-96. Industrial production grew at an annual rate of about 9 per cent dur ing the decade 1981-91, while during the next six years it decelerated to 6 per cent per annum. As a result, during 1993-1997, Maharashtra's share in the country's industrial production remained stagnant, between 16 and 17 per cent. The same was true of the State's share in the country's aggregate factory employment, which was around 14 per cent and which in all probability may have declined further. There has been a large-scale industrial sickness, which is growing. For instance, the number of sick lar ge units increased from 146 in 1985 to 312 in 1990, while that of small sick units from 8,500 to 20,000.

Industrial sickness must have further increased in the past eight years, worsening the problem of unemployment.

Deteriorating industrial relations and the faulty handling of industrial relations by the State Government are among the main reasons for the industrial deceleration. The State Government handled the 1982 textile mill strike with ineptitude and callousne ss. Even today, the Government is dilly-dallying with the millowners' demand to sell the mills' surplus land. On the other hand, the employment scene in the State is worsening. For instance, at the end of December 1998 there were 41 lakh names on the emp loyment exchange registers: 25 per cent of these persons had not passed the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examination, 52 per cent had SSC as their qualifications and the remaining 23 per cent were with higher education. Although immediately after c oming to power the Shiv Sena-BJP Government promised to create of 27 lakh jobs, it virtually did nothing in this regard.

In 1973, Maharashtra introduced the Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS) with a view to giving the guarantee of employment to all unskilled persons in the rural areas within a radius of 5 kilometres. In 1977, the State enacted the relevant legislation and m ade the EGS statutory. The EGS won appreciation not only in India but in the entire developing world as a unique and novel scheme. During the last 25 years or so, there have been a number of studies evaluating the EGS from all possible angles. What, howe ver, has emerged from these studies is that notwithstanding its limitations the EGS proved to be a major source of livelihood for lakhs of unskilled rural people, both men and women, particularly from the poverty-sticken Marathwada region and part of the Vidarbha region.

During the last few years, however, the EGS has been marginalised. For instance, in 1989-90 the Government spent about Rs. 288 crores on the EGS, but in 1991-92 the expenditure fell by about Rs. 100 crores to Rs. 194 crores. During the same period, expen diture on wages fell from Rs. 153 crores to Rs. 108 crores. In 1986-87, employment of about 19 crore person-days was created. In 1991-92, the figure declined to barely 6.5 crores. Although employment increased to about 9.7 crores in 1995-96, it was still half of its volume in 1986-87. Thus wide-scale rural poverty in Maharashtra may partly be attributed to the decline of the EGS.

NOR is the State serious about improving the Public Distribution System (PDS). It is obvious that being a deficit State its rural people depend very much on the PDS. It is, therefore, imperative that the State implements the PDS with commitment and since rity. But this is far from the reality. The gap between the Central Government's allotment of grains (rice and wheat) and the State's purchases is a clear testimony to this. For example, in 1990 the Centre allotted 17.35 lakh tonnes of grains, while the State (fair price shops) lifted 16.58 lakh tonnes. In 1994, however, out of the Central allotment of 18.18 lakh tonnes, barely 8.13 lakh tonnes was lifted (The position improved somewhat between 1994 and 1998). Secondly, nearly 30 per cent of the PDS gra in is offered to the city of Mumbai alone, while the rest of the State has to be content with the remaining 70 per cent. Lastly, unlike other States, Maharashtra does not add its own subsidy on PDS grain to that given by the Central Government, as a resu lt of which PDS prices in Maharashtra have been higher than those in Orissa, Bihar, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. This is despite the State Government's attempt to hold PDS prices for five years.

THE social sectors in the State too have been deteriorating. For instance, the number of public/government-aided hospitals and dispensaries declined from 830 and 1,702 in 1992 to 714 and 1,423 in 1997 and the number of primary health centres increased by a mere 23 in a period of five years - from 1,672 to 1,695 . It is therefore not surprising that the number of beds per lakh of population declined from 144 in 1992 to 141 in 1997. Again, 89 per cent of the rural households do not have sanitary facilitie s.

On the whole, the expenditure on social sectors such as health, education and drinking water and that on the weaker sections such as the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, as also women are grossly inadequate, particularly when compared to the St ate's level of economic development.

Again, the level of real agricultural wages (RAWs) in the State is far from satisfactory. This has made makes the conditions of agricultural workers deplorable. During 1991-92 and 1995-96 the RAWs in the State actually declined. Persistent demands from a gricultural labourers and their organisations for higher wages have been of no avail.

Lastly, the imbalance in regional development has been a formidable problem that the political economy of the State faces. Owing to a series of political agitations in the backward regions of Marathwada and Vidarbha, the State Government formed, a decade ago, the Statutory Development Councils (SDCs) and assigned to them the responsibility of overall economic development of these regions. But owing to several constraints, particularly the gross inadequacy of financial resources, the SDCs have done prett y little, compared to what was expected from them.

AS a way to address the issue of poverty amidst affluence in Maharashtra, one may suggest that the following broad policy initiatives:

(i) Irrigation potential should be developed to the maximum extent, with fair distribution of water among different regions and sections;

(ii) Rural industrialisation and diversification should be given top priority;

(iii) Social sectors such as health, education, provision of drinking water and sanitary facilities, need to be given due attention with emphasis on the development of women and other weaker sections, particularly in the rural areas;

(iv) The EGS should be restructured to make it more viable, with an upward revision of EGS as well as minimum agricultural wages;

(v) The PDS should be properly revamped and sincerely implemented with more attention to the rural poor; and

(vi) The imbalance in regional development should be effectively removed within a reasonable period of time.

If the political leadership of Maharashtra genuinely believes in making economic growth socially relevant, it would be rather obligatory for it to start working immediately on these policies and programmes. But that will require political will of a high order. Do the rulers in Maharashtra have such political will?

Dr. Bhalchandra Mungekar, Professor of Industrial Economics at the University of Mumbai, is a member of the Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices.

Down and out in Punjab

Punjab's Dalits get a raw deal; and this is deepening caste fissures in the State.

SAMEY SINGH desperately needed time off from his job at a brick kiln near Faridkot, southern Punjab. Back home, in Megha Kheri, the family's home village near Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, his son Rahul had fallen seriously ill. But Samey Singh had tak en a Rs.5,000 advance from the kiln owners at the start of the season, and they were only willing to let him go if he left behind his wife and daughter. Pali Singh and her daughter Pooja were forced to work without pay and on some days, without food. Bot h were often beaten, and six-year-old Pooja was threatened with sexual abuse. At sunset, mother and daughter were locked into a six foot by ten foot hovel.

There are supposed to be no slaves in Punjab, one of India's richest States. In a State known for its affluence and egalitarian traditions, its Dalits have for long been believed to be better off than oppressed castes elsewhere. In some senses, they stil l are. But Samey Singh's story is just one in a chain of brutalities directed at Punjab's Dalits in recent months. At a time of shrinking economic opportunities, caste fissures are deepening in the State.

POOJA would have spent her life as a slave if it had not been for chance. In September, Tarsem Jodhan, general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU)-affiliated Lal Jhanda Punjab Bhatta Mazdoor Union (Red Flag Punjab Brick-kiln Workers' Un ion) visited western Uttar Pradesh on an election tour. During a meeting in Megha Kheri, held to canvass Chamar caste migrant workers there, Samey Singh came up to Jodhan. His wife had been thrown out of the kiln that month because injuries caused by bea tings had left her unable to work. The couple had tried unsuccessfully to get their daughter back. "The kiln owner did not give me my job back," Samey Singh said, "so I didn't have any money. He just wouldn't give Pooja back to us."

Jodhan moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which sent an officer to rescue Pooja Singh. On October 14, six months after she was made a slave, Jodhan found Pooja locked in a cell, terrified, near-starving, and bruised from repeated beatings. "They us ed to tell me they would get me married," Pooja Singh told Frontline, "so that they could put my children to work as slaves too." Amazingly, police officials at Dharamkot, the Faridkot area where Pooja and Pali Singh were held captive, have taken no action. "When I was thrown out of the kiln, I went to the Dharamkot police station, but they threw me out. No one would even let me into the building, let alone register a complaint," Pali Singh said.

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Ghawaddi village, an hour's drive from Ludhiana, is the Samey Singh family's new home. Although most workers here say the kiln owner has a good reputation in the area, conditions are sub-human. Workers are paid about Rs.140 for every 1,000 bricks they tu rn out. If women and children work 16 hours a day along with the men, a family can make some 800 bricks. Each family puts in 12 days at a stretch, and then takes three days off to recover. During the monsoons, most of the estimated 2.5 lakh migrant brick -kiln workers return to their homes in Uttar Pradesh. What they save through the nine months in Punjab has to see them through the monsoon, for there is little work to be had in Muzaffarnagar or elsewhere.

If the wages seem relatively attractive, they do not guarantee basic human rights. Hours spent in the slush, exposed to the evening cold and searing kiln heat, mean that sickness is common. Workers in Ghawaddi told Frontline that each family spent upwards of Rs.1,200 a month to treat fevers and diarrhoea. Workers have to use the services of the plethora of quacks operating in rural Punjab, for there are no government-run health facilities nearby. Access to clean drinking water is minimal, and the re are no sanitation facilities at all. Most children appear severely malnourished. No families carry ration cards, and they must buy food in the market. Sugar sells at Rs.17 a kg, and flour at Rs.8. No family can afford vegetables or milk.

Perhaps worst of all, the migrant workers are denied even the few opportunities for progress that Dalits have elsewhere. Not a single child in Ghawaddi goes to school. Although a few families have tried to keep at least one son at school in Uttar Pradesh , girls do not get that chance. Work starts at an improbably young age, with three-year-olds scooping out slush for their parents to shape into bricks. Although service terms and working conditions at Punjab's brick kilns violate the Factories Act, Lal J handa Bhatta Mazdoor Union officials say that not one single unit has been prosecuted so far. Kiln accidents are common, but families never get the compensation they are legally entitled to.

MIGRANT workers do not have a vote, so the Punjab Government succeeds in pretending that they do not exist. But conditions are not enormously better for Punjab-based Dalits either. Most Dalits at Dhaliyan village belong to the Ramdasiya caste, and have f or generations worked on the fields of local landlords. During the Green Revolution, when demand for workers went up and wages rose, most Dalit families managed to procure some basic assets. Every family now has a few buffaloes and decent shelter. But wi th combine harvesters displacing agricultural labourers, and machines taking over jobs such as planting potatoes, making a living is becoming more difficult than it has been in decades.

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Raj Singh has seen the change. "Ten years ago," he said, "it was easy to find work 25 days a month, and I would be busy right through the harvest and sowing seasons. Now, there is barely work in the fields for three days a month." Wages, too, have dipped . "The landlords offer us Rs.60 a day. If we ask for more, they tell us there are thousands of migrants willing to work for half that amount." As a result, more and more Dalits have been pushed to do casual jobs, such as selling vegetables or scavenging plastic bags to be recycled. Others have ended up in the brick kilns. A decade ago, Ram Dayal, a resident of Burji Hakima, worked as a farmer. "I could buy 10 kg of gur (raw sugar) with a day's wage then," he said. "Now, it takes me two days of work at t he kiln to buy the same quantity."

The problem does not lie in combine harvesters, but in the failure of successive governments in the State to shape rural development policies that benefit the poor. The village infrastructure that could have improved the lives of the Dalits has fallen ap art. In Dhaliyan, as in many other neighbouring villages, only Dalits send their children to government schools. This strange apartheid has come about because most people who can afford it, send their children to private schools which have better facilit ies and also teachers who actually show up for work, unlike state-run schools. Dhaliyan does have a ration shop, but despite recent price hikes, only poor-quality sugar and rice are available here, and kerosene never is. By way of contrast, the Punjab Go vernment has the budget to waive electricity charges for big landlords who own tubewells.

IF the economic problems of Dalits have been sharpening in Punjab, the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance has added to their woes by unleashing the state apparatus against them. On September 17, police and administration officials in Jee van Nagar, Faridkot, demolished 40 houses built by Dalits on government land. About 175 people, including 50 children, were thrown out with due notice and lost an estimated Rs.15 lakh in the demolition. The Dalits had been allowed to move on to the land in the build-up to the recent Lok Sabha elections, and some had even secured electricity connections. Their failure to return the favour by voting for the SAD-BJP combine, residents say, led to the retaliation.

A similar demolition took place in Sangrur after the Lok Sabha elections. Hansa Singh's family, which lives in Buttar village near Moga, chose to vote for the Communist Party of India(Marxist) candidate, Principal Ajit Singh. Despite the fact that their home on shamlat (village) land had been up for six years, Hansa Singh's son Baldev Singh said, a local SAD worker and panchayat member ensured its demolition. Dalit houses were brought down also in another Sangrur village, Lasoolpur. The Faridkot Unit of the Association for Democratic Rights did intervene in the demolition there, but no official action has been taken. Minor village-level demolition generally passes unreported and unnoticed.

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When the state does step in, it is generally to crush Dalit protests. Gurketan Singh and Beera Singh were infuriated when the upper caste sarpanch of Burji Kalan village in Bhatinda district decided to lease out a pond, which the entire village used, to a contractor. A fight broke out, and Sarpanch Sukhjit Singh was stabbed. The next day, June 7, mobs burned down the houses of Gurketan Singh and Beera Singh, and threw into a nearby canal whatever belongings they could find. The local unit of the Communi st Party of India (CPI) intervened to secure peace, and arranged for both the young men to surrender. Nonetheless, both were alleged to have been tortured in custody. No action was taken against the mob which destroyed the Dalit families' houses.

In January, four members of the village panchayat of Bhungar Khera village in Abohar paraded a handicapped Dalit woman naked through the village. No action was taken by the police, despite local Dalit protests. It was only on July 20 that the four pancha yat members were arrested, after the State Home Department was compelled to order an inquiry into the incident. But the State police is prompt in redressing complaints against Dalits. When 65-year old Nand Lal failed to pay back an advance of Rs.6,000 to the owner of the brick kiln where he works, personnel from the Jalaldiwal police post of Raikot police station stepped in. "The police made him put his thumb impression on papers written in English," said his son Balbir Singh, "and said they would beat him if he did not return the money soon."

CHIEF MINISTER Prakash Singh Badal has been putting out a series of curious ideas on how these problems ought to be solved. At a function in Jalandhar on October 24, he promised to set up "Dalit specific schools" in the State so that Scheduled Caste chil dren could "get quality education to compete for the IAS (Indian Administrative Service), IPS (Indian Police Service) and other services." This proclamation that a de facto caste segregation of education would receive official sanction sadly went unchallenged. Interestingly, the Ambedkar Academy, set up in Mohali to train Dalit students for the civil services, has not had much success. The number of Dalit students who have made it to the allied services can be counted on one's fingertips; and fin gers are not needed to count the number of central services entrants the academy has produced.

Programmes such as the State Government's pet Shagun Scheme pass for Dalit welfare commitments. Some Rs.45 crore has been given out since the scheme was put in place after the SAD-BJP came to power, in the form of Rs.5,100-grants to Dalit girls at the ti me of their marriage. Misappropriation of funds has been one common complaint. Just three Dalit families in Dhaliyan received the handouts, for example, although 20 girls here had got married over the last two years. But, more disturbingly, the scheme pr ovides incentives to poor Dalit families to marry their daughters off early rather than keep them in school. Worst of all, the Shagun Scheme provides state subsidies for dowry, and promotes wasteful expenditure.

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PUNJAB'S society has had little place for the kinds of violent caste confrontation seen elsewhere in the country. But signs of trouble simmer under the surface. Ten years ago, the State Government provided grants of Rs.60,000 to Mahila Mandals to purchas e marquees and cooking utensils. The idea was to allow the Mahila Mandals to generate revenue by renting out these assets for weddings and religious ceremonies. In practice, Dalits found themselves pushed out of the Mahila Mandals in order to ensure that they did not gain access to the utensils. A survey carried out by Chandigarh's Institute for Development and Communication (IDC) found, for example, that Dalits made up just 10 per cent of Mahila Mandal members in Jalandhar, and that there was not a sin gle member in Patiala.

The figures do not make pretty reading on other counts either. A study carried out for the IDC by Bhupendra Yadav and A.M. Sharma points to just a few of the stark indexes of deprivation of Dalits in Punjab. Although Punjab has the highest proportion of Scheduled Castes to its population as a whole - at 28.3 per cent - Dalits own just 2.54 per cent of the agricultural land. While the percentage of literates in the State is higher than the national average, its Dalits are less likely to be educated than their counterparts nationwide. School enrolment rates are dismal, and drop-out rates appalling. Amazingly, about 40 per cent of Dalit children in Punjab are likely to be malnourished. Between 1981 and 1991, the percentage of Dalits in Punjab living below the poverty line barely declined, while the numbers of both Dalit and non-Dalit poor actually grew.

Despite their numerical strength, Punjab's traditionally pro-Congress(I) Dalits have had little political power in effect. The rise of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the early 1990s appears to have ended. But the SAD-BJP's marked upper-caste biases, an d the growing deprivation among Dalits, could soon force a new search for political representation. Recent proposals to remove reservations for Scheduled Castes in the Shiromani Gurudwara Praban-dhak Committee (SGPC) provoked bitter debates. A recent Sup reme Court order limiting reservations in promotions among government employees sparked vigorous Dalit mobilisation, as well as threats from some employee organisations of upper caste counter-mobilisations.

The four gurdwaras and two temples in Pakhowal village map Punjab's caste terrain. Two gurdwaras are run by upper-caste Sikhs, and two by Dalit communities; both temples, too, are divided on caste lines. It is not as if either temples or gurdwaras would deny entry to members of other castes, but the fact remains they are segregated spaces. If caste tensions have never exploded in Punjab, it was perhaps because prosperity subsumed social tensions. With opportunity narrowing, this peace could soon be ques tioned.

The Harry Potter magic

SUSAN RAM other

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997, pages 224, 4.99, paperback); Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998, pages 251, 4,99, paperback); Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999, pages 317, 10.99, hardback); by J.K.Rowling; published by Bloomsbury, London.

IT has had more than a touch of magic about it. The summer of 1999, for the British publishing industry, was to be the season of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the fictional serial murderer with a proclivity for cannibalism and fine wines, who was brought to inter national stardom through the novels of his creator, Thomas Harris, and the movie, The Silence of the Lambs. Harris, a slow-paced wordsmith who prides himself on the thoroughness of his research, had at last completed a new Lecter saga. Heinemann, his publishers, came up with the title Hannibal and entered into battle mode, preparing a promotional blitzkrieg that would propel the book beyond the status of a mere bestseller: Hannibal was to be the fastest, biggest selling book of all time.

In June, all seemed to be going to plan. In its first week, Hannibal notched up close to 60,000 copies in sales in the British general retail market, entering the record book as the fastest selling hardback fiction title in recent history. Demand through out the United Kingdom threatened to outstrip supply; customers at one London bookshop queued up for extra copies shipped in by taxi. Random House, the owners of Heinemann, began projecting hardback sales of half a million.

Then, with the whoosh of a broomstick and a shout of 'Quidditch!', there arrived if not nemesis then a rival from entirely unexpected quarters. A small, on the face of it unremarkable rival: a bespectacled, undersized, unkempt boy on the threshold of his thirteenth birthday, distinguished from the run of boys only by the thin, lightning-shaped scar across his forehead. Even his name, Harry Potter, breathed ordinariness. Yet little Harry, or rather his creator Joanne ('J.K.') Rowling, was about to effect a feat of magic totally belied by his youth and apparent meekness. In a manner expected by thousands of children, in Britain and beyond, who were already familiar with his extraordinary gifts, Harry Potter in July took hold of the publishing industry, s hook it and turned it upside down. For week after week thereafter, it would be Harry Potter, not the blood-curdling Hannibal Lecter, who would lord it over the bestseller lists.

THE origins of the Harry Potter phenomenon lie with Rowling's decision, in the mid-1990s, to try her hand at writing children's fiction. There is a magical quality to her own story, a rags-to-riches rise out of unemployment and financial insecurity. She found a publisher, and her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, appeared in 1997 with a print run of just 7,000 copies. Just what happened next is not entirely clear, but it seems that, by word of mouth, from child to child and sc hool to school, the phenomenon began to take shape and grow. The message was simple: against the temptations of television, computer games and the other diversions available to modern children above a certain level of affluence, here was a book that simp ly had to be read, that children could not put down.

By the appearance of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in 1998, Rowling's publisher, Bloomsbury, was aware of the golden goose it had unwittingly nurtured. So much so that careful planning was set in motion for the launch of the third Harry Potter title in July 1999. A print run of 75,000 hardback copies for the British trade alone was decided and, to justify this level of risk, the eight weeks prior to publication were marshalled into a strategic campaign. Extracts from the book were publi shed in major national newspapers, reviews were arranged to appear in adult book review sections, and Rowling was interviewed in the magazine section of The Daily Telegraph. Publication day itself was observed with the ritual normally associated w ith public examinations: copies of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban arrived at booksellers' doorsteps, wrapped and sealed, on the morning of July 8, but sales were embargoed until 3-45 p.m. - the end of the school day.

Presented thus, Harry Potter's ascendancy looks a little less than innocent, not quite the story of fresh-faced simplicity triumphing over the smug assumptions of publishing house boardrooms. Further doubts are raised when one confronts the actual conten t of the books. Even Rowling enthusiasts among her adult readers and reviewers concede that her fiction is essentially formulaic, conforming to conventions of plot, character and setting that other writers for children have sought to move beyond. Yet for all the hype, for all the inherent literary limitations, children love Harry Potter, are excited by his feats, cannot wait for his next adventure. In classrooms throughout Britain (now, too, in the United States, where the phenomenon has taken hold with similar force) teachers report that Harry Potter has the quite supernatural ability to quieten the unruly, engage the disruptive - and get children reading.

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DECONSTRUCTING the Harry Potter phenomenon is easily done. To start things off, take a hero who is both male and vulnerable: with his weedy physique, the orphaned Harry is the quintessential target of bullies, whether in the shape of his unspeakable rela tives (uncle, aunt and over-indulged cousin Dudley) or in the form of classroom nasties. Children everywhere instinctively identify with the picked-upon - the more so when the 'victim' proves capable of striking back in all manner of resourceful and unpr edictable ways. And this Harry achieves through his access to magic. For he is no run-of-the-mill hero. On the contrary, he is perhaps the most astonishing boy who has ever lived: the son of practising wizards, Harry, when just a baby, managed to confoun d the evil machinations of the darkest of dark forces. What child reader could fail to be gripped?

With utmost confidence and literary sure-footedness, Rowling places her hero in the setting that has proved a mainstay of children's fiction in the Anglo-Saxon tradition: the British public school. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which Harry enters at the age of 11 (and from which he will graduate at 18, thereby guaranteeing a sequence of seven Harry Potter sagas), roots its hocus-pocus and extraordinary goings-on in a familiar framework of prefects, examinations, detentions and competitive sport. Pupils are organised into Houses (named with suitable outlandishness), and there is the well-worn cast of eccentric teachers: the stuttering professor; the strict female teacher with glasses and her hair in a bun; the sinister master darting malev olence with every glance. As generations of writers for children have discovered afresh, the boarding school offers a world in which children, detached from their families, can build new sets of relationships with their peers, but still within a context of adult authority and implicit safety and security.

Rowling's achievement - whether serendipitous or calculated one does not know - lies in combining the boarding school genre of children's fiction with the much more free-ranging, expansive tradition of fantasy and magic. What lifts the Harry Potter books above the status of contemporary Billy Bunter-style larks and wheezes is an engagement with the supernatural that shows imaginative range, narrative skill and the ability to zero in on children's hopes, fears and ways of thinking.

Magic, in the world of Harry Potter as conveyed to his young readers, is fun and also deeply menacing. At one level, it offers and sustains a parallel universe from which non-wizarding adults are excluded, enabling children to unfold their inherent capac ities and, where necessary, give insensitive or oppressive adults their come-uppance. Here, there are clear affinities with the children's fiction of Roald Dahl, one of a number of writers whose influence can be discerned in Rowling's work.

But at another level, magic opens a window into a darker world shaped by myths that reach back deep into the history of humankind. In this universe lurk monsters beyond the reach of reason, ready to pursue their prey along limitless nightmare ways. In th is universe, too, lie treachery, double-dealing, revelations that stun by their ability to stand old assumptions on their head, the remorselessness and finality of death. In the 20th century, no writer has explored this realm more thoroughly and with mor e literary effect than J.R.R. Tolkien. Rowling's ventures into it are altogether more modest, but the response to her work underlines its continuing potency. Contemporary children, it seems, crave as much as their forebears did for the terror zone.

Such imperatives may be all too easily forgotten once children cross the threshold of adulthood. This, at least, seems to be the message from South Carolina, where the Board of Education, under pressure from a group of agitated parents, is currently revi ewing the use of the Harry Potter books in the state's schools. The suspicion in some Bible Belt quarters is that little Harry Potter is luring his enthralled followers into satanic rites and devil worship; in the view of one horrified mother, the books possess "a serious tone of death, hate, lack of respect and sheer evil".

Any of Harry's readers could have told you what happens next. Harry and his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, aided perhaps by Rubeus Hagrid, the avuncular school gamekeeper and by Hedwig, Harry's ever useful and obliging owl, will concoct a spel l that brings upon the ludicrous South Carolina parents not mayhem but ridicule. And, around the world, thousands of children will raise a cheer.

Demystifying U.S. foreign policy

The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo by Noam Chomsky; Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1999; $15.95.

IN 1959, Noam Chomsky made a landmark attack on B. F. Skinner's behaviourism. Skinner argued that human behaviour, like animal behaviour, was fairly predictable and that it could be controlled. Concerned with the absence of human creativity in this model , Chomsky denounced Skinner's science and also the political implications of his work. Finding behaviourism to be scientifically banal, Chomsky argued that it tells "any concentration camp guard that he can do what his instincts tell him to do, but prete nd to be a scientist at the same time. So that makes it good, because science is good, or neutral, and so on." Anti-social tendencies, Skinner believed, could be muted by state action, something abhorrent to the anarchist in Chomsky.

Chomsky's sustained critique of U.S. foreign policy for over three decades comes from his belief in human creativity and his suspicion of the behaviourist assumptions of U.S. imperial pronouncements. The U.S. never claims to attack an adversary in the in terest of economic gain, but it has, since its founding in the 18th century, justified its interventions in the name of some higher, frequently moral (and pedagogical), power. James Madison justified U.S. power over the Americas with the concept of Manif est Destiny, and now Bill Clinton adopts the posture of human rights as the design for his overseas adventures. To herald the U.S. bombardment of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), Clinton quoted President Theodore Roosevelt who said that "unless you're willing to fight for great ideals, those ideals will vanish" (page 91). Roosevelt referred to the fight that thwarted the legitimate ambitions of Filipinos, Cubans and Puerto Ricans - all in the name of justice (what Rudyard Kipling called, withou t irony, the "white man's burden"). If the precedent for the U.S. intervention in Yugoslavia was from the Spanish-American War (1898), then the dictionary may have to be re-written to define anew words such as 'justice,' 'ideals' and 'human rights'.

If one counters the bad faith of the U.S. trumpet of good intentions, one frequently meets a Skinnerist submission to malevolence. This is the way things are, one is told, for Evil is a tragic inheritance of human nature. "The obviousness of disaster," t he philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote in the late 1940s, "becomes an asset to its apologists - what everyone knows no-one need say - and under cover of silence is allowed to proceed unopposed."

Neo-Skinnerism in the guise of Charles Murray and some persons within the Human Genome Project puzzle over those parts of our chemistry and biology that produce evil actions. The idea of Hitler's evilness exculpates processes within Germany from interrog ation and de-Nazification. Much the same attitude is taken today with Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic. These men are seen as the spawn of Evil, ruling autocratically over rogue states. If they are dislodged, through massive violence, then the natur al (and neoliberal) goodness of people will be allowed to flourish. The recent biography (Milosevic: Portrait of a Tyrant) by Dusko Doder and Louise Branson paints such a simple-minded portrait of the conflict in the Balkans. The processes that le d to the crisis in the Yugoslavia or else in West Asia become irrelevant to this sort of blase cynicism.

The leader is Evil. He is the cause of the problem. To remove him is to solve the problem. In broad strokes, this has been the U.S. position on 'rogue states'. Chomsky's new book, The New Military Humanism, savages this simplicity to reveal the ba d faith with which the machinery of U.S. domination operates. Like his earlier studies, it takes the U.S. statements at face value and then demolishes their truth claims by reference to a mass of data. U.S. National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, for ins tance, argues that the bombardment of Yugoslavia offers an example of the "saintly glow" of U.S. policy, since the state acted without any special interest for itself beyond its humanitarianism (page 14). "We had to act in the face of Evil: how could we have sat by and watched genocide proceed?" Such sentiments did not emerge during the Rwanda emergency, nor do they come when the US-International Monetary Fund routinely render people economic refugees in far greater numbers than the Kosovo crisis did. I nternational amnesia allowed the Tony Blair-Clinton project to don robes of moral glory, despite the shabbiness of those very garments.

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Within the U.S. and in most of western Europe, there is a tussle going on between state-sanctioned xenophobia (mainly through draconian immigration controls) and liberal multiculturalism. Some people want to see states constituted around ethnic purity, w hereas others want diversity to be the cultural logic of states. But when it comes to most of the world, the logic of ethnic purity rules the day. The tacit U.S. support for a 'Free Tibet' comes alongside Washington's support for the Croatian ethnocide i n Krajina, for the Serb assault on Srebrenica - what U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher called "simplifying matters" (page 32). The Dayton Accord and the Wye Rivers Agreement continue the logic of partition of states on monocultural lines, a sure way to perpetuate conflict. Ethnocide and partition produce refugees. Once chaos is produced, has North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the European Community or the U.S. come forward as the champion of the ejected people? The 1997 Italian military intervention in Albania was undertaken in order to prevent a flood of Albanian refugees into Italy. The European Union (E.U.) was worried about the exodus of Kosovars into the rest of Europe, but what it failed to see was that the bombardment will certa inly lead to intensified migration of Kosovars into Europe, in search of a region that has not been bombed out of modernity. The strong anti-immigration rules in western Europe suggest the lack of humanism in NATO policy.

As the population of refugees increases with each new conflict, one would expect the United Nations to spend more money on the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). However, owing to the budgetary crisis in the U.N. (generated, mainly, by the refusa l of the U.S. to pay its dues), the UNHCR eliminated a fifth of its staff in January 1999 (page 37). By the good graces of humankind, the refugees of so many conflicts find the means to survive.

One cannot even offer an approximate figure for the number of the refugees, since the UNHCR recognises the definitional problems involved and the institutional scale at which one would have to work (the UNHCR hired its first professional statistician in 1993 and began its numbers project only in 1994). The UNHCR counts about 11.5 million refugees, a number that cannot be taken seriously if one adds those economic refugees who produce the 'footloose labour' catalogued by Jan Breman and other scholars.

The U.S. slash-and-burn of the U.N. comes as the U.S. puts itself forward as the champion of human rights. If the Rambouillet negotiations are any indication, the U.S. failed grossly on the human rights front. Chomsky, with great pains, goes over the U.S . assassination of the negotiations. Appendix B of the Agreement said that NATO should enjoy "free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY including associated airspace and territorial waters" (page 107). No sovereign state can a llow that. The Serbian National Assembly resolution passed on March 23 (the day before the attack) spelt out the language for 'political autonomy' that could have been the basis of discussion, but this was summarily rejected by the U.S. (page 112). Inste ad, there came the bombardment, which did not so much as alleviate real problems in Yugoslavia, as it intensified the ejection of Kosovo Albanians (page 21, page 81) and destroyed much of the extant civil society (page 133). The Kosovo Liberation Army (K LA) is now the sole authority in Kosovo, along with NATO, and it has driven other forces into the ground. The Serbs, further, are "unified from heaven - but by the bombs, not by God" (noted Alexsa Djilas, page 133). Furthermore, Chomsky notes the wilful destruction of Yugoslavia's infrastructure, notably Vojvodina, a province far from the conflict that was, until its devastation, a centre of democratic dissent (page 34). The New Humanism of NATO can be explained with the following analogy: "Suppose you see a crime in the streets, and feel that you can't just stand by silently, so you pick up an assault rifle and kill everyone involved: criminal, victim, bystanders" (page 156). This is the Blair-Clinton logic for humanitarian intervention.

Chomsky is not averse to humanitarian intervention: indeed he mentions as two credible examples the Indian assistance in East Pakistan in 1971 and the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia to end the Pol Pot terror in 1978 (page 75). The NATO intervention, how ever, comes not for humanitarian reasons, he argues, but to sustain the credibility of NATO (page 134 and page 145). Arms producers and dealers, construction companies (who will now 'rebuild' Yugoslavia) and NATO itself gain from the conflict (pages 138- 139). Chomsky lays out the bad faith of NATO, but he does not offer political and economic explanations of why the U.S. is so eager to expand NATO at this time. There is no discussion, for instance, on U.S. anxiety over the creation of the euro (a challe nge to the dollar), or on the attempt by the European Community to manage its defence itself. Without NATO, the U.S. will lose its leverage over Europe, and it will be not be able to exert itself to the edges of the Russian Federation. Chomsky's overall argument is not affected by these omissions, since he offers a clear and reasoned analysis of the rhetoric and action of NATO, much of it along the grain of Skinnerite behaviourism. One hopes for an Indian edition, not just for this book but for most of Chomsky's political oeuvre, in order to understand better the architecture of the new imperium.

Vijay Prashad is Assistant Professor, International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut.

Red tape in the time of IT

The idea behind the creation of a Ministry of Information Technology appears to be conceptually flawed: a bureaucratic behemoth may not be the agency best suited to facilitate the growth of this sector.

SEVENTEEN months after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee gave a call to make India an "Information Technology Superpower" and one of the largest generators and exporters of software in the world within 10 years, the Government created a Ministry of Inf ormation Technology (MIT) in October 1999.

However, is the new Ministry, with all its bureaucratic trappings, the agency best suited to provide the much-needed push for IT and facilitate the growth of this sector, as envisaged by a high-power National Task Force on IT and Software Development tha t was constituted the very day Vajpayee gave the call. The impression has gained ground that the Ministry was created in order to kill two birds with one stone: to handle the pressure from the Indian Administrative Service lobby to overcome stagnanation in its upper rungs, and to pander to post-election forces and exigencies.

The 20-member Task Force was constituted on May 22, 1998. Among its tasks was to recommend, within a month, steps that the government must take to remove bottlenecks in the growth of IT, and to formulate a draft national policy on informatics. The Task F orce was chaired by Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Jaswant Singh, and co-chaired by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu and former Union Minister for Science and Technology Prof M.G.K. Menon. National Informatics Centre Director-Gener al Dr. N. Seshagiri, the chief architect of the initiative, was its convenor.

On July 4, 1998, the Task Force came out with its first basic document, IT Action Plan I (ITAP-I). This document identified both impediments in and promotional measures for the growth of IT and made 108 recommendations to make India an IT superpower. Thi s was followed by two other documents. The first, ITAP-II, which was submitted on October 26, 1998, focussed on IT hardware. And ITAP-III, released on April 16, 1999, focussed on a long-term national IT policy. The recommendations were notified in the ga zette on July 25, 1998. This seemed to signal a governmental commitment to developing the IT sector.

Significantly, these initiatives notwithstanding, a recent report of the United States Department of Commerce's Office of Technology Policy titled "Information Technologies in the Development Strategies of Asia" did not include India among the Asian coun tries that it studied. The report looked at the Newly Industrialised Economies (NIEs) - Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan and Korea - and China. India figured here only in connection with Singapore's participation in the setting up of an IT Park in B angalore in 1995, which was expanded in 1997 "specifically to take advantage of India's 140,000 low-cost computer programmers". The objective of the report was to assess the evolution of the new global competitive paradigm and to enable the U.S. to formu late its economic and technological policy and strategies for global cooperation and competition accordingly. Although the report's focus was largely on hardware, its approach would suggest that India, notwithstanding its claimed competitive software cap ability, was not of strategic importance in the U.S. perspective.

The simple reason for this could be that while India does contribute substantially to meeting the U.S' "new big deficit" in software professionals through manpower export, IT policy instruments that are in place in the country leave much to be desired. T he Task Force has completed its tasks, but the political momentum that was evident initially seems to have died down. In fact, there has been no political action on ITAP-II and ITAP-III, which were accepted by the government in principle.

THE presidential notification of October 15 on the creation of the Ministry, the allocations of business of the MIT on October 20 and the likelihood of turf battles among the Ministries on which the MIT will have a bearing (evident from the pronouncement s by Ministers) have only served to cause confusion and uncertainty.

In effect, the Ministry is nothing but a "renamed" Department of Electronics (DoE) with "an expanded role". The October 15 notification said that the MIT's resposibility would include "promotion of knowledge-based enterprises, ... promotion of the Intern et, ... promotion of e-commerce, ... promotion of IT education and IT-based education," the "National Informatics Centre" and the "Electronics and Computer Software Export Promotion Council". The notification is poorly phrased, for the last two are indep endent institutions, the former under the Planning Commission and the latter under the Commerce Ministry, and not activities like the others, which the Ministry can help promote.

The phrasing of the 'allocations of business', in the notification of October 20, is even worse. It states: "The nomenclature of the Department of Electronics (DoE) stands substituted by the Ministry of Information Technology with immediate effect." The list of items of business of the MIT in the notification retains some items of business of the erstwhile DoE that are meaningless today, given the paradigm changes that have occurred. It incorporates illogical combinations of functions, such as "coordina tion of requirements relating to electronics processing equipment (computers)", "all matters pertaining to silicon facility", "all matters concerning computer-based information, technology and processing including hardware and software, standardisation o f procedures and matters relevant to international bodies such as IFIP, IBI and ICC." In point of fact, the expression "electronics processing equipment" would cover much more than just computers, the phrase "silicon facility" is meaningless, and the las t entry makes no sense; in addition, two of the three international bodies mentioned do not exist any more.

It is clear that someone who knows little about electronics or IT has done a cut-and-paste job after the first notification of October 15 was issued. The entire exercise is indicative of things to come, complete with the bureaucratic baggage that accompa nies the creation of a full-fledged Ministry. On DoE stationery the expression "Department of Electronics" has been replaced by "Ministry of Information Technology", and the DoE Web site is now the MIT Web site. These are only indications that the reorga nised structure is at work. The officials and scientists are unclear what their new functions are.

The new Secretary, P.V. Jayakrishnan, IAS, who replaced Ravindra Gupta, is still familiarising himself with the Department's activities. There is uncertainty about what the MIT can or cannot do, particularly in the light of the fact that Communications M inister Ram Vilas Paswan and Commerce Minister Murasoli Maran are unwilling to give up their control over policy matters relating to the Internet (which are currently in the domain of the Department of Telecommunications) and e-commerce and software expo rts.

It is likely that service bureaucrats will play an active role in the Ministry. The DoE was one of the first scientific departments in which an IAS officer replaced a technical person as its Secretary. Bureaucrats will now be waiting to take up positions in the new Ministry. According to observers, the key position of NIC Director-General may become a casualty. Dr. Seshagiri has thus far kept the NIC away from bureaucratic control and for this reason has not endeared himself to some bureaucratic pressur e groups. But he is due to retire in seven months.

Informed sources in the DoE say that Dr. Seshagiri, who has the rank of Special Secretary, may have initially favoured the creation of a Ministry in the hope of becoming its Secretary. In the event, however, the bureaucrats got the better of him. Dr.Sesh agiri was apparently slighted at the first meeting held after the erstwhile DoE Secretary Ravindra Gupta, IAS, took over as Secretary in the MIT (consequent on the creation of the Ministry). Every officer present introduced himself or herself: Dr.Seshagi ri introduced himself as NIC Director-General and Special Secretary to the Government. To this, one officer is reported to have said that there was now only one Secretary to the Ministry and no Special Secretaries. Indeed, the NIC's status has been reduc ed to that of an "attached office" of the MIT: Dr. Seshagiri has to report to the Secretary, and administrative matters regarding the NIC are being handled by a Joint Secretary of the MIT. Such dilution of the NIC's autonomy could prove counterproductive to the development of the IT sector, feel observers.

THE appointment of Pramod Mahajan as Minister for Information Technology is seen as a move to assuage the Bharatiya Janata Party leader who had to give up the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. Mahajan heads another high-profile Ministry - Parliament ary Affairs. Indeed, during his first meeting with MIT officials, he is reported to have said that he was still to familiarise himself with the various aspects of IT and so could not immediately clarify the functions of the Ministry. More significantly, he is reported to have said that many important pieces of legislation were to be come up during the winter session of Parliament, and his responsibilities as Parliamentary Affairs Minister would preclude him from devoting time to his new portfolio for a couple of months.

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Mahajan's remark in Mumbai subsequently that the MIT would only be a facilitator and not a regulator has been welcomed guardedly by Dr. Seshagiri, because this aspect is in tune with the Task Force recommendations. However, some of Mahajan's other uttera nces have confused matters. Just what he meant when he said that the MIT is a "no-budget Ministry" and that IT could have been part of other Ministries such as I&B or Communications is not clear. Since the organisational structure - for example, the rela tionship and role of the NIC (which has more technical staff than the DoE) vis-a-vis the rest of the Ministry - is vague and both the Minister and the Secretary are still "familiarising themselves", even routine business, such as licensing or leasing of bandwidth capacity to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), might come to a halt, feel insiders. Will new applicant s have to route their applications through the MIT? Similarly, once the proposed "cyber law", which is to be introduced during the winter session, is passed, which will be the implementing agency - the MIT or the Commerce Ministry (since many of the prov isions of the the proposed bill relate to e-commerce) or the Communications Ministry (since the law has also to do with data security, encryption and so on)?

Apart from these issues, the fundamental question of whether there is any need for an administrative structure of a full-fledged Ministry has not been answered. Technologies in respect of computers, communication and broadcasting are converging at a rapi d pace. With digital technologies being the cornerstone of virtually every conceivable activity, the component of software, namely, processing of digital information, in equipment is increasing and plain hardware is becoming less functional.

With the increasing penetration of computers in every area, the day-to-day functioning of organisations, public or private, has become IT-oriented. Because of this, the interaction of the public with the government too has become IT-based, be it in banki ng and other financial transactions, public transport or bill payments. E-governance is the buzzword today (Frontline, December 10). The need for an administrative body within the government that coordinates the IT-component in all sectors and pro motes increased use of IT, which translates into greater efficiency of operations, is being increasingly felt. But is a Ministry the best administrative structure that can achieve this?

INFORMED sources in the industry concede that there is a need for a catalytic agent or an enabling body to promote IT growth, but feel that a Ministry would only add another bureaucratic layer to the already cumbersome process of securing approvals. They claim that the DoE was more a hindrance than a favourable agent for the growth of electronics. If anything, they say, it was restrictive policies that killed the computer hardware industry. They are not entirely convinced by Mahajan's remark that the MI T would not "regulate" the industry; in their view, a bureaucratic hierarchy will imply greater regulation and more paperwork. If IT is to grow, the government should keep out of it, they feel.

In the perspective of people engaged in electronics R&D and industry, the field involves much more than R&D. The mere fact that there is embedded software in every piece of electronic equipment does not make it IT, they say. For example, how can one just ify calling High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC), a major field under the DoE that uses power electronic devices called thyristors, constitute IT and come under MIT? Or for that matter, how can the entire field of radar development or strategic electronics or microwave research under SAMEER, an important activity of DoE, be regarded as IT? Or Standards, Testing and Quality Control (STQC) activity of DoE? In fact, there is a whole range of conventional electronics hardware in the country that is under thre at of being wiped out in the wake of impending duty reductions consequent on the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) arrived at under the World Trade Organisation regime. The consequence, they fear, would be a marginalisation and eventual closure of t hese important activities.

SCIENTISTS at the National Centre for Software Technology (NCST), an R&D centre under the DoE (now under the MIT) in Mumbai, feel that some facilitating body that would support IT R&D was certainly necessary, because IT was not considered part of the Dep artment of Science and Technology (DST) and the DoE had never actively supported R&D in IT. For India to be a dominant player, research and IT education should have been given importance.

The reports of the Task Force too have taken a very narrow vision of IT growth in the country. They have looked at an unrealistic linear model, chiefly from the perspective of growth in earnings from IT services and body shopping, a euphemism for softwar e capability, whereas the ultimate strength in software would come from software packages and application software where there is a dearth of expertise. So, the scientists say, it would be good if some agency - whether it is a Ministry or some other stru cture - facilitated funding of research and education in IT. But if it is supposed to be a "no-budget Ministry" or a merely renamed structure, it will get nowhere, they say.

The members of the Task Force did not in fact recommend a ministerial structure. The original notification from the Prime Minister's Office that constituted the Task Force said: "The task force will recommend an appropriate empowered institutional mechan ism to implement the national informatics policy as a national mission with the participation of the Central and State governments, industry, academic institutions, and the society at large." Accordingly, given the convergence of technologies and informa tion based functionalities, ITAP-III recommended an organisational structure in order to facilitate the coherence in planning and implementation of IT-related activities.

THE organisational structure envisaged by the Task Force included a key adviser on IT in the PMO in order to give proper emphasis and focus to this area and a separate division in the Planning Commission with an IT adviser. At the level of each departmen t and Ministry, it recommended that there be a Chief Informatics Officer with the responsibility to design, develop and implement information processing and retrieval systems. These were to be supported by a High Level Apex Committee on IT comprising nat ional and international IT experts and "enablers" who would assist in the process of defining and implementing the IT vision. "This structure," the Task Force said, "will be insulated from changes at the political level and also will have the credibility and authority to see the process of planning and implementation to its logical conclusion." Clearly, the Task Force did not have a Ministry on its mind.

A senior scientist at the NIC said: "One hopes that this is a temporary phase. You cannot expect entrenched structures to give results. New nucleating centres that emerge have to be separated from these. The Government should have no role besides focussi ng on convergence and facilitation."

According to the scientists, instead of creating a Ministry, one of three options could have been considered: 1. establishing an empowered development council; 2. establishing a Commission such as the Commissions on electronics, telecommunication or spac e but without a department; and 3. a notification that IT industry be decontrolled, deregulated and open-ended. He also felt that the DST should be responsible for R&D in IT and that in order to minimise R&D investment in the government sector it should ensure that R&D efforts are not duplicated. "It should only serve to create an R&D platform of national factor advantage, from which industry can take off," he said.

Prof. M.G.K. Menon said that IT was "all-pervasive, and a colonial structure like a Ministry is hardly suited" to facilitate IT growth. ''Merely renaming the DoE a Ministry with a few appendages "cannot work and this is not what we recommended," he added . "A suitable enabling structure has to be evolved. Our experience with Commissions suggests that even a Commission may not be the correct structure. We have to look at new forms of structures that bring together the IT component in all sectors, includin g education, health and agriculture. But the government has shown little interest in our reports after the first one was submitted. The other reports have not seen the light of day."

In the opinion of Dr. Ashok Parthsarathi, who was among the first to bring to the government's attention the need for an IT policy, the Planning Commission "has all the necessary structure and authority to fund, focus and implement IT-related strategies which cut across Ministries and regions." He had advocated a structure for India along the lines of the Chinese model which, he feels, is eminently workable for India.

As it stands, the MIT is quite different from what people at various levels feel is the most appropriate administrative structure; the new Ministry has created a climate of uncertainty in respect of IT growth in the country as the world enters a new mill ennium which will be knowledge- and information-driven. The creation of the Ministry seems to be conceptually flawed. Under these circumstances, will the dream of India as an IT superpower ever become real?

The earth watchers

Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior comes to India as part of a tour aimed at creating awareness about hazardous wastes.

When the Earth is sick and the animals and plants begin to die, then the Indians will regain their spirit and gather people of all nations, colour and creed to join together in the fight to save the planet and they will be known as the Warriors of the Rainbow.

- prophecy made by "Eyes of Fire", an old woman of the Cree tribe.

ON its maiden voyage to India, as part of the Toxic Free Future Tour of Asia, the 55-foot, three-mast ship Rainbow Warrior of Greenpeace docked at Mumbai's Ferry Wharf in the last week of November. The tour, which began in South America last year and pas sed through ports in the northern regions of Europe and the Mediterranean, is aimed at creating awareness about the trade in hazardous waste and the export of technology that creates hazardous waste. The Toxic Free Future Tour was planned to coincide wit h the 15th anniversary of the disaster in the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal.

A report prepared by scientists Ruth Stringer and Kevin Brigden of the Greenpeace Research Laboratories was released in Mumbai on November 29. Titled "The Bhopal Legacy", it states that the disaster goes beyond the gas leak. "The disaster is continuing," says Stringer. "The environment is being polluted even today." On analysing samples of soil, water and waste from the factory site, Stringer and Brigden found that there was "severe contamination with heavy metals and toxic organic chemicals". Some samp les had 12 per cent mercury, which is 20,000 to six million times higher than in soil elsewhere. The researchers allege that sacks of chemicals still lie around inside the factory and that these are leaking into the soil and contaminating the groundwater . They say that the drinking water has a contamination level that is 1,000 times higher than is acceptable. The toxic substances affect the liver, kidneys, intestines and the nervous system. According to them, the technology to destroy these chemicals ex ists, and all that is needed is funds and the political will.

Bhopal is a microcosm of what toxic pollution by persistent organic pollutants (POPs) will make the world in the long term. Disseminating information about POPs will be central to Greenpeace's tour of Asia. Nityanand Jayaraman, Greenpeace's Asia coordina tor, said: "There are no safe levels of exposure to POPs. So we call for a cessation of their production. The industry, however, wants a regulation of these products."

Peter Willcox, captain of Rainbow Warrior, spoke about how he first came across POPs. "I became aware of toxic pollution in 1973 when working on the Hudson river in New York. Environmentalists there were patting one another on the back because the river was being rid of the petroleum and sewage pollution that was so easy to see. Then we learnt about poly chlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, that had settled on the river bed."

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The original Rainbow Warrior was built in 1977 from the hull of a North Sea trawler. Its earliest campaigns included those aimed at protecting whales and seals, eliminating high-sea drift nets and opposing nuclear testing. In 1985, when the Rainbow Wa rrior was docked in Auckland, New Zealand, before sailing to the Pacific atoll of Mururoa for a peaceful protest against the nuclear tests being carried out by France in the atoll, French secret service agents attached limpet bombs to its hull. The ship sank, killing Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira. Greenpeace, however, was undeterred and bought another ship. A three-mast schooner was rebuilt on the hull of a fishing vessel called Grampian Fame. The present Rainbow Warrior, which was launched i n 1989, is equipped with the latest electronic navigation, sailing and communication equipment.

POPs, including PCBs, have a long life. They emit toxicity into the environment gradually by getting into all the life forms that come into contact with them. They survive in fatty deposits and float in the air, spreading toxicity. Since PCBs survive wel l in fatty deposits, their effect is severe on creatures at the apex of the food chain, such as human beings, whales and polar bears. "Today, polar bears have the highest concentration of PCBs," says Willcox.

Greenpeace is also targeting a group of chemical compounds called dioxins, which it treats as toxic pollutants. Dioxins are the byproducts of industrial processes such as PVC manufacture, pesticide production, incineration, bleaching of pulp and paper wi th chlorine, and smelting and recycling of metals. Like PCBs, dioxins too are transported across vast distances, even by air and ocean currents. Because of this, dioxins can be found in the tissues, blood and breast milk of humans in most countries.

Stricter environmental regulations in the industrialised countries have led to the transfer of old and obsolete technology to nations where regulations are weak or non-existent. The latter category of nations includes India. Quoting a 1989 government cir cular, Greenpeace states: "According to the Indian government, industries that engage in activities involving TCCD (the most toxic form of dioxin) have specific responsibilities such as assessment of major hazards, measures to prevent accidents and limit impairment of human health and environmental pollution, proper information for workers, emergency plans etc. Unfortunately, these requirements are not enforced and there are no known standards for controlling or reducing emissions of dioxin into air, la nd or water. Greenpeace knows of no certified laboratory in India equipped to analyse for the presence of dioxin."

With their tradition of peaceful and hands-on protests, Greenpeace activists have sailed into nuclear test zones, blocked toxic effluent pipes and manoeuvred themselves between whales and harpoons. While Greenpeace does not envisage such direct action im mediately in the current context, the organisation will continue with its basic strategy of campaigning against the abuse of the environment by lobbying with the relevant authorities and international conventions, providing alternative choices and soluti ons in the form of studies and reports, and promoting environmentally responsible technologies and products.

According to Willcox, in India Greenpeace "will network using NGOs (non-governmental organisations), offering them scientific information support." Local groups will be provided support in terms of information and research. This strategy of providing sup port to local groups is also expected to help minimise any stonewalling tactics local governments may employ against any internationally initiated action.

Greenpeace believes that the involvement of local populations is another crucial element in the process of change. With the help of NGOs, Greenpeace will campaign for legislation that guarantees the community the right to know about the nature of waste d umping (if any) in their neighbourhood. As Willcox said, "These toxins are accumulating in our bodies and we are paying the price." Greenpeace is also calling for corporate accountability, saying that unregulated operation of industrial plants should be stopped.

In less than three decades, Greenpeace has, by campaigning against environmental pollution, notched up quite a few successes. It was instrumental in bringing about a ban on dumping toxic waste into the sea and on the export of hazardous waste from indust rialised to industrialising nations. In India, Greenpeace's efforts to ensure that Asia does not become a dumping ground for hazardous waste led to the 1997 Supreme Court order that banned the import of such substances.

Summing up the danger posed by toxic pollutants, Willcox said: "If I have learnt one thing about POPs in the last 26 years, it is that they represent a very serious threat to our health. And the longer we wait, the higher the cost we will pay for produci ng them."

The self as institution

A.R. VASAVI obituary

HE gave the academic world the terms "vote bank", "dominant caste" and "sanskritisation". And they became part of our common lexicon - terms used in everyday speech and popular writing. It was this, his astute understanding of the everyday life of the na tion and his ability to render academic jargon into common parlance, that gave Professor M.N. Srinivas the stature of a people's sociologist.

Eschewing the purely abstract and theoretical study of India's cultures and societies, he charted a new terrain in which intensive fieldwork became the central methodology, and the representation of the lives of people in accessible writing the key respo nsibility of researchers.

In his personality was blended the culture of three different places, namely, princely Mysore where he was born and studied till his Masters, nationalist Bombay where he received his doctorate, and Oxford where he came under the influence of anthropologi sts A.R. Radcliffe-Brown and E.E. Evans-Pritchard. But as he often wrote and said, he also carried with him the sensitivities and sensibilities learnt in Rampura, the other 'university' about which he wrote in the now classic monograph, The Remembered Village. He considered himself privileged to have known and won the affection of village residents, and regretted that he had not had the time to write more about them. Although he was popularly known as an authority on caste and its multiple avatar s, Professor Srinivas was also concerned with rural India and its myriad problems. He often wished that he had had the time to write a more definitive essay on India's peasants, which he wanted to call the "Moral Universe of the Indian Peasantry".

Of the departments and the institution he helped establish and built - the Department of Sociology, M.S. University, Baroda ; the Department of Sociology, Delhi University; the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore; and the Sociology and So cial Anthropology Unit at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) - he was most proud of the Sociology Department at Delhi University. He would speak of its faculty as a proud father would of his children, keeping himself updated on its courses and publications, and taking immense pride in it becoming one of the best Sociology departments in the world. His institution-building capabilities drew on a sense of purpose, perseverance and foresight. He also had the skills, indispensable for institu tion- builders in India, to negotiate the fault lines of status, power, ego and personal idiosyncrasy.

He was not only a student and scholar of Indian society and its complexities, but was also an adviser who counselled many, including this writer, about ways to make sense of our personal lives in a society in which family, gender, kinship, caste and clas s often took pernicious and punitive social forms. He vociferously objected to purely negative portrayals and representations of India, and firmly believed that the nation had several achievements to its credit, and that with time, would overcome its man y vexing problems - of poverty, caste, gender bias and so on. He objected to the very idea of a caste census, which the present Government plans to conduct in 2001, believing that the complexities of jatis and sub-jatis could never be authe ntically recorded.

We often discussed and argued about the state of academia in the country. An issue of recurring concern was about ossified institutions invoking outdated rules to exclude talented scholars, while patronising mediocrity. He himself was a stickler for ins titutional regularity and academic standards and was most intolerant of anything he considered lax. He was alarmed at the dismal quality of certain types of foreign funded social research, and at a recent symposium organised by an international developme nt agency, he publicly chastised the researchers for oversimplifying and even caricaturing the lives of village residents.

Although vigilant about keeping pace with recent anthropological literature, he tended to dismiss trendy, theoretical work as "academic mantra-tantra". He once took me to task on my paper written for an in-house seminar on "Theory in Anthropology", as he was offended at my criticism of cultural particularism. Sometimes, such differences made for strained relations, but he would relent after a few days and make amends by offering me a piece of mysore pak, some sonepapdi or even a "mint-with -a-hole"! He did not always take academic suggestions easily. For me it seems both ironic and sad that after a heated discussion we had about his last public lecture on "Obituary for Caste as a System", he conceded to my suggestion that Dr. B.R. Ambedkar 's writings had substantial academic and anthropological worth.

The list of what he wanted to write and do was long. But what he discussed the most and looked forward to eagerly was completing his autobiography. This, he joked, he would auction to the highest bidding publisher, just as celebrity novelists did these d ays! I now think that he would have wanted this, a likely magnum opus, to be dedicated to "Rukka", his wife Rukmini. Theirs was a special relationship of camaraderie, support and understanding. He also wanted the autobiography to be read as a text as he considered the study of the self to have sociological validity. Indeed, in his case, he developed the self as an institution, adhering strictly to what he believed to be norms of correct social conduct, interaction and protocol. His daughter Lakshmi beli eves that for him work was the most meaningful part of his life. Yet, MNS, as he was known, was a person of many interests and passions. He delighted in the small and beautiful things of life - the shrikes and bulbuls that visited their garden, the fish in the lotus pond, the new fruits and nuts available in the market, fancy stationery, and details of the latest films in town.

Professor Srinivas' last working day, November 10, at the NIAS, was both typical and special. He arrived later than his usual and very punctual 9.10 a.m. and took several people to task for the office car having been sent late. Although he looked tired, he addressed a workshop on "Socio-Anthropological Approaches to Educational Research" and delivered an impromptu and passionate lecture on the need to see education not only as an important issue but as an issue vital to the nation's progress. At tea-bre ak, he was all charm to the participants, asking each of them about their home State and responding with an anthropological observation on each region. As he prepared to leave, he shook hands with every participant. Back at home around 4 p.m., he had a c up of tea and then donned the cap of the concerned public citizen. He rode in the Bangalore City Corporation's jeep, indicating to the ward officer the many areas that required cleaning, clearing or re-doing.

Twenty days later, Professor Srinivas was ready for a different anthropological journey. On November 30, for this, his last field trip, his daughter Tulasi thoughtfully placed his favourite items beside him - a copy of The Remembered Village, his reading glasses, and a pen.

A.R. Vasavi is a Fellow at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in the Sociology and Social Anthropology Unit.

A scholar remembered

M.N. Srinivas, 1916-1999.

M.N. SRINIVAS, India's most distinguished sociologist and social anthropologist, died in Bangalore on November 30 from complications arising from a lung infection. He had turned 84 on November 16. While India has lost a keen observer and interpreter of c ontemporary social change, the city of Bangalore, where Srinivas and his wife Rukmini spent the last 27 years, will feel the loss of an ardent campaigner for the city's civic and environmental betterment. The genial visage of the internationally acclaime d scholar with his leonine shock of white hair had become a familiar sight for the residents of the city he was so involved with.

Srinivas' last public lecture, which he gave on October 7 at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, was titled "Obituary on Caste as a System". It may have appeared ironic to many that Srinivas, the first Indian sociologist to anticipate the persistence and longevity of caste in modern India, should, towards the end of his life, have written a requiem for that very system. Indeed, he did nothing of the sort in the lecture, its provocative title notwithstanding. His talk was an explorator y foray into the changing contours of caste, and on how emerging rural economies were transforming caste as a system. It is perhaps fitting that in what was to be his last talk, Srinivas should have returned to the theme that forms the leit motif of his scholarship spanning over five decades. His death cut short a line of enquiry pregnant with new insights on one of India's most complex social institutions.

The hallmark of Srinivas' scholarship was its accessibility and its firm roots in the Indian reality. He was among the earliest social anthropologists in India to break out of the confines of textual authority on which the discipline had till then rested . His social laboratory was the village, factory, classroom and home, where people lived, worked, and in general played out a multiplicity of social and cultural roles. "Srinivas' scholarship was not marked by high flights of theory," said T.N. Madan, a noted sociologist and Srinivas' friend for over three decades. "He had the rare gift of conveying insightful observations in simple language. The term 'vote bank', the notion of the 'dominant caste', or the concept of 'sanskritisation' have become part o f common speech. His scholarship was remarkable for its accessibility."

Srinivas is perhaps best known for having coined and elaborated on the concept of "sanskritisation", the process by which castes placed lower in the caste hierarchy seek upward mobility by emulating the rituals and practices of the upper or dominant cast es. He first propounded this theory in his book, Religion and Society Among the Coorgs of South India (1952). Written for his D.Phil degree at Oxford University, the book is an ethnographical study of the then little known Coorg community. It was a path- breaking study for several reasons. To begin with, it validated fieldwork as an essential methodology of the disciplines of sociology and social anthropology. Secondly, it offered a ground view that challenged the colonial notion of caste as static and u nchanging. Through terms such as "sanskritisation", "dominant caste", "vertical (inter-caste) and horizontal (intra-caste) solidarities", Srinivas sought to capture the fluid and dynamic essence of caste as a social institution. Thirdly, it rejected the idea of a rigid, pan-Indian caste system, widely upheld in scholarship then. Instead his study asserted the importance of the regional dimensions of caste and the "little traditions" of Hinduism. At a time when an influential section of India's intellige ntsia optimistically believed that caste would disintegrate under the march of modernisation, it was both prescient and brave of Srinivas to have argued to the contrary. Caste, he firmly believed, would continue to find expression in the public and priva te lives of Indians. Srinivas, however, never supported caste-based reservation as a programme to alter unequal caste equations.

The Remembered Village (1976), a socio-anthropological study done in 1948 of the village of Rampura near Mysore, remains Srinivas' finest monograph, one that he considered his best. It was this book that won him international recognition and estab lished his scholarly reputation. How Srinivas lost his precious Rampura field notes in a fire at Stanford University and reconstructed the book from memory has become part of sociological lore. This tragedy later brought its own rewards. Friends and coll eagues of Srinivas agree that the insights, readability and novel-like sensibilities of this outstanding work of ethnography derived from the quality of recall that Srinivas put to effective use in writing it. (This was not Srinivas' last encounter with fire, nor indeed with being called upon to "remember". In 1972, while shifting from New Delhi to Bangalore, the container which carried a large number of his books and papers caught fire as it was being transported by train. And then, in December 1998, h e gave an extensive interview to anthropologist Chris Fuller for the journal Anthropology Today. Fuller lost the recording a day later when his suitcase was stolen from a train. Fuller notes that "with great sympathy and patience", Srinivas agreed to redo the whole interview a few days later.)

MYSORE NARASIMHACHAR SRINIVAS was born on November 16, 1916 in Mysore, although his parents were from Arakere, a village 20 miles (32 km) away. Srinivas, the youngest of four sons, studied in Mysore. He took an honours degree in social philosophy from My sore University, "an ambitious programme, covering an immense variety of subjects, which would have daunted any undergraduate anywhere" he recalled in his interview to Fuller. Srinivas has written about how, as an "overprotected Brahmin boy", he experien ced his first "culture shocks not more than fifty yards from the back wall of our house... The entire culture of Bandikere was visibly and olfactorily different from that of College Road. Bandikere was my Trobriand Islands, my Nuerland, my Navaho country and what have you. In retrospect, it is not surprising that I became an anthropologist, an anthropologist all of whose fieldwork was in his own country."

From Mysore, Srinivas moved to Bombay and later to Oxford University. He did his Masters under G.S. Ghurye, during which he did a dissertation he later published as Marriage and Family in Mysore (1942). Srinivas would later recall that the seeds f or his ideas on sanskritisation were sown during his fieldwork for his M.A. dissertation. At Oxford, Srinivas worked under the two leading anthropologists of the day, A.R. Radcliffe-Brown and E.E Evans-Pritchard. In his interview to Fuller, Srinivas spea ks of this period as one of both intellectual excitement and growth.

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Srinivas returned to India in 1951, and joined the Department of Sociology of M.S. University, Baroda. He formulated a new syllabus for the department and built it into a reputed centre of socio-anthropological teaching and research. In February 1959, h e was invited to Delhi University to establish and head the Department of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, which was recognised as a centre for advanced study in 1968. Srinivas attracted the best talent to the department and built it into one of the leading departments in the country in the field, combining sociology with social anthropological approaches. Its competitor at the Delhi School was the Economics Department which had an array of distinguished economists such as K.N. Raj, Amartya S en, Pranab Bardhan, Mrinal Dutta Chaudhuri and others on its faculty. In his interview to Fuller, Srinivas hints at the competition and tension between these two strong departments. "Marxism was the dominant ideology of the economists - Marxism and macro -economics. They laughed at the kind of things we were doing. We were studying kinship, caste, villages, religion, and they looked upon us as backward people," Srinivas told Fuller.

In 1972, Srinivas returned to his home State and joined the Institute for Social and Economic Change set up by V.K.R.V. Rao in Bangalore as Joint Director, a position he gave up in 1979. He joined the National Institute of Advanced Study (NIAS) as the J. R.D. Tata Visiting Professor in 1992 and started a unit of sociology and social anthropology in 1997. He and R.L. Kapur set up the Women's Policy, Research and Advocacy Unit at the NIAS. His interest in issues relating to gender began with his participat ion in the Status of Women in India Report, 1975.

After shifting to Bangalore, Srinivas continued to write on those themes that flowed from his early anthropological work - caste, modernisation, sanskritisation, social change, gender, the practice of social anthropology, and so on. His most recent publi cation, Indian Society through Personal Writings (1998), dedicated to his old friend, novelist R.K. Narayan, is a collection of essays - some biographical, some on caste disputes in Rampura, an account ("idiosyncratic, if not capricious") of Banga lore, and so on. Interestingly, in the book Village, Caste, Gender and Method (1998), he also included two short stories.

Srinivas had for some time been working on his autobiography. He believed that an autobiography could become a productive tool of sociological research. He wrote in a recent book about how and why sociologists in India have not tried to use their own liv es as ethnographical data for analysis. "It is my plea," he wrote, "that the movement from studying one's own culture or a niche in it, to studying oneself as an ethnographic field, is a natural one... Sociology of the Self should be a rich field, given the diversities and unities which the members of Indian civilisation are heirs to."

As a commentator on current trends in Indian society, Srinivas was surprisingly reticent on the impact of the growth of Hindu fundamentalism in recent years. T.N. Madan, however, says that Srinivas was, in fact, "deeply worried about the political link b etween religion and politics, between the mindless use of religion by Hindu communalists and its equally mindless rejection by the secularists." All of this he felt had led to the "decline in the serious study of religion". Srinivas had been involved in coordinating an international seminar on religion to be held in September 2000 at the NIAS. According to Madan, he was also critical of sections of the English press for allowing their anti-Bharatiya Janata Party sentiments to often turn into a sweeping anti-Hindu position.

Yet Srinivas was remarkably outspoken in his defence of the Indian media from the pressures of globalisation. He participated in the public debate on the entry of the foreign media into India with a forceful plea that it be kept out. He did not oppose th is on the narrow grounds of "westernisation", but on the grounds that it would compromise and distort the independent news agenda of the Indian press. He became increasingly interested in issues relating to Information Technology and had helped draft the Bangalore Declaration during IT.Com, 1998, held in Bangalore.

Srinivas and his wife Rukmini, a geographer teaching at the Aditi Mallya International School in Bangalore, have had a large circle of friends, students and colleagues. Their two daughters, Lakshmi and Tulasi, live in the United States. Lakshmi has a Ph. D in Sociology from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and is now on its faculty. Tulasi is doing her doctorate in Anthropology at Boston University.

H.Y. Sharada Prasad and R.K. Narayan count as two of Srinivas' oldest friends. Talking to Frontline from New Delhi, Sharada Prasad recalled several of Srinivas' personal qualities. "He had a tremendous range of interests," he said. "He was a keen observer of individuals, their lives, thought processes, stories and problems. It was so easy to converse with him. There was no pedantry or boast in him... amazing for a scholar of his international standing." Chuckling at the memory of their last meeti ng at NIAS a few months ago, Sharada Prasad said of his friend, "Everything was so unstructured about him. He did not stand on a pedestal and say 'Behold, here I am'."

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