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COVER STORY

18-02-2000

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Briefing

Strategic Games

The United States' game plan in the current India-Pakistan context is to play the role of a mighty intervener and pressure India into signing the unequal Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. For its part the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government, whil e projecting an excessive keenness to win U.S. support for its position on Pakistan, also hopes to use the opportunity to facilitate its weaponisation drive.

AS the "security dialogue" between India and the United States has run its meandering course, few authentic details have really emerged about the intent or purpose of the exercise. It has been generally believed that the principal American objective is t o limit and ultimately to reverse India's nuclear capability. Correspondingly, India's purpose has been to minimise the fetters upon its autonomy and ensure that any concession made would not be devoid of an element of reciprocity - whether real or imagi ned.

Indications of the general approach of the two sides are available from a few utterances on the peripheries of the dialogue. The Indian Government has sought to advertise the country's virtues as a stable democracy wedded to free-market principles, a vit al link in global flows of commodities and finance. It would also like the U.S. and the global community to take cognisance of the serious threat posed to this developing idyll by right-wing fundamentalist terror.

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The U.S. for its part has affected some sympathy but remained aloof from India's most critical concerns. Clearly, American perceptions are still moulded overwhelmingly by the single-dimensional view of India as a recalcitrant element in its global crusad e against nuclear proliferation.

In an effort to accommodate these reservations, the Indian government has sworn allegiance to a minimal nuclear- security doctrine and promised longer-term restraints upon the development of its nuclear weapons capability. Opposition groups in India have wondered aloud whether the bargain is really worth the price the country will have to pay for accommodation within the global nuclear imperium.

At the core of the new American engagement in the South Asian region is the U.S. obsessive need to win global endorsement of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) - a corollary to the grossly flawed Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In its phras ing the CTBT entails an equal set of obligations for all its signatories - whether they are nuclear weapons states or otherwise. But the lapse of 30 years since the NPT was signed has ensured that the CTBT only reinforces the inherent biases of its prede cessor. The CTBT may have been a good idea if it had been formulated at the time the NPT was signed. But three decades of skewed obligations between nuclear weapons states and the rest have rendered the CTBT practically worthless as a nuclear disarmament treaty.

For the BJP-led Government to put possible accession to the CTBT on the table as a part of the new bargain it is seeking with the U.S. is clearly a departure from India's time-honoured commitment to global disarmament as an irreducible goal. It betrays a n undue desire to win approval from the U.S. and to create the conditions propitious to the visit to this country of U.S. President Bill Clinton.

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The deeper purpose of the bargain is obviously to secure American sustenance in meeting the challenge of terrorism that Pakistan poses. But this gain, even if it is won, could prove transient. More durable would be the dent that unconditional accession t o the CTBT would cause to India's global posture on disarmament.

Ultimately, the reality of the moment is that the BJP-led Government is seeking accession to the CTBT only in order to proceed with its nuclear weaponisation programme. This is as good a comment as any on the efficacy of the CTBT as a disarmament obligat ion. Campaigners for a world free from weapons of mass destruction may see some value in the suspension of nuclear explosive testing. They overlook the fact that the global climate for the disarmament dialogue is perhaps at its worst in decades, followin g the U.S.' reckless decision to expand the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to the doorsteps of Russia and its resumption of tests on an anti-ballistic missile system.

A further corollary to the NPT-CTBT duet would be the formulation of an agreement cutting off production of fissile material. A Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT), in fact, is in the process of negotiation at the Conference on Disarmament (C.D.) in Ge neva - the very forum that drafted the CTBT. In stark contrast to the role it has usually played, India today is an ally of the U.S in the C.D. The two countries have made common cause in insisting that existing stockpiles of fissile material should be e xcluded from the scope of a cutoff treaty. In the unseemly haste with which it has embraced this concession and dropped its insistence that the disarmament agenda should have priority over all else in the C.D., India has caused serious damage to its glob al credentials.

After the tenth round of discussions in what has proved an opaque and open-ended "security dialogue", India and the U.S. announced the formation of a joint working group (JWG) to deal with the problem of global terrorism. The JWG will reportedly hold its first meeting in Washington in early February.

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Official circles could barely conceal their sense of gratification at the recognition that the problem that India confronts in Jammu and Kashmir has won entry in the U.S. government's register of global terrorism. The acknowledgment of common interests i s, in the official Indian perception, the first step towards crafting the practical instruments to achieve a shared purpose - eliminating fundamentalist terror.

This joint initiative was followed within days by the visit of a high-power team of U.S. State Department officials to Pakistan. Though the reading in India of the outcome of this visit tended towards hyperbole, there is evidence that Pakistan was clearl y put on notice that certain organisations operating on its territory were beyond the pale of legitimate political activity.

In India's expectations, it was only a short step from this recognition of fact to the characterisation of Pakistan as a state sponsoring and supporting terrorism - a "terrorist state" in U.S. political parlance. But for reasons clearly connected to the historic depth of its engagement in Pakistan, the U.S. seemed at the very threshold of this momentous step to pause and then pull back.

Categorisation as a "terrorist state" would be a traumatic setback for Pakistan, already reduced to parlous economic circumstances. The choking off of all financial sustenance from the U.S. - an action mandated by law for all states characterised as supp orters of terrorism - would in all probability precipitate a rapid meltdown of the Pakistan economy.

If the eruption of animosity against Pakistan following the December 1999 hijack of an Indian Airlines aircraft were to be momentarily set aside, there could be serious anxieties about the consequences of a catastrophic economic collapse in the neighbour hood. But in the current mood, these subtleties of perception are unlikely to have much bearing. The Indian Government today seems anxious to secure American endorsement for its campaign to ostracise Pakistan in global councils. And in the bargain it see ms more than ever willing to sign on to the status of a junior member of the American nuclear imperium.

But substantive action from the U.S. for the ostracism of Pakistan appeared unlikely a whole month after the conclusion of the hijack drama. The focus then shifted to securing a symbolic gesture from the U.S. India is eager to receive Clinton in Delhi in the next few weeks and ensure that there is no similar benediction bestowed upon Pakistan. Pakistan's omission from the presidential itinerary would be definitive affirmation that the military regime currently ensconced in Islamabad is devoid of politic al legitimacy and undeserving of the status of an interlocutor in bilateral dialogue.

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To cast the Musharraf regime out of the circle of legitimate political engagement would be a happy outcome for India. In his first major interview with an Indian newspaper since seizing power in October 1999, Musharraf directly identified Kashmir as the "core issue" in any future engagement with India (The Hindu, January 17). This of course is a routine reiteration of a position that nobody in Pakistan can afford to repudiate. But Musharraf went further. He identified the weak and anaemic tone of the references to Kashmir in the Lahore Declaration of February 1999 as a serious irritant in the Pakistan Army's relations with the government of Nawaz Sharif. Increasingly, it is clear that the military in Pakistan has set itself up as the ultimate ar biter of relations in the subcontinent. A civilian government, even one bolstered by a mammoth parliamentary majority, cannot afford to make even the slightest verbal concession on Kashmir, without inviting upon itself the wrath of the Army.

International ostracism of the Musharraf regime would spare India the onus of dealing with Pakistan in the foreseeable future. This is an end that the foreign policy establishment in India has sought with great ardour to achieve since the military takeov er in Pakistan. The U.S. administration, despite a torrent of media comment, remains divided in its counsels. And to win the ultimate prize of American endorsement, the Atal Behari Vajpayee Government seems willing to sign away India's long-standing comm itments in the global nuclear dialogue.

Since the days of the Bush administration, the U.S. has tended to look at Kashmir in the wider context of its global nuclear non-proliferation concerns. India and Pakistan are not merely two states with a legacy of mutual animosity, they are the most lik ely to disrupt the global nuclear order that the U.S. has been painstakingly seeking to assemble since the end of the Cold War.

A year away from retirement, Clinton would dearly like to take away as a trophy a peace agreement between Syria and Israel. Ranking only slightly lower in his list of priorities is securing the accession of both India and Pakistan to the CTBT. But since the two objectives have been conjoined by the peculiar circumstances prevalent in South Asia, the President probably believes that no useful purpose would be served by eliminating Pakistan from his travel itinerary. Rather, by touching down briefly for a dialogue with Musharraf, he may well win Pakistani accession to the CTBT.

THE Indian Government's stance on the CTBT changed radically when it decided to detonate five nuclear devices in the Rajasthan desert in May 1998. Eager to contain the tide of global outrage against the act, the Government announced a moratorium on furth er nuclear testing and promised to convert voluntary restraint into a de jure obligation. This was as clear a signal as any from Prime Minister Vajpayee's inner circle that he would be willing to put his signature to the CTBT, provided domestic po litical opinion proved acquiescent. This matched the U.S demand that India sign on unconditionally and then seek redress for its other grievances in the realm of national security.

This seemingly easy option has never found any takers in India. A growing body of political opinion now believes that the nuclear option is integral to national security and cannot be subject to any manner of restraint at this stage in the development of India's capability. The more principled opposition comes from the Left, which believes - for good reason - that the CTBT is an imperfect instrument of global disarmament. Far from serving the common purpose of securing the world against weapons of mass destruction, it would only make the world safe for nuclear blackmail by a few countries. Indeed, at the decisive phase of the negotiations, India relied upon this position - rather than the more narrow purpose of "national security" - in order to justify its rejection of the CTBT.

The Government, under the guidance of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), has sought to efface this record of commitment to the cause of nuclear disarmament and cut through the various irreconcilable postures that have emerged on the CTBT by pro posing a draft Indian nuclear doctrine (dIND). Formulated in August 1999, the dIND comprises a conglomerate of principles that seeks to be all things to all people. It commits India to the maintenance of a credible nuclear deterrent force and forswears t he first use of nuclear weapons. It places emphasis on "survivability" and "second-strike capability", with all its attendant technical requirements - a space-based surveillance and early-warning system and a triad of land, sea and air-based platforms fo r launching nuclear weapons. And after all this, the dIND, rather incongruously, reaffirms India's commitment to global nuclear disarmament.

Expectedly, the dIND was the least welcome news in Washington, where it was described as "unhelpful" to the cause of nuclear arms control. On the parallel track, the security dialogue had been proceeding through periodic meetings between External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. Clearly, from the Government's point of view the objective was to secure favourable terms for accession to the CTBT. On current evidence, though, the security dialogue would appea r to be an exercise in futility.

As far back as November 1998, Talbott had outlined the principles that were guiding the U.S. in the new phase of its engagement in South Asia. Far from being defined in terms of the CTBT, these principles were framed in reference to the NPT. The goal, sa id Talbott, was "universal adherence" to the NPT. The U.S. would not, in other words, "concede even by implication that India and Pakistan have established themselves as nuclear weapons states under the NPT... Unless and until they disavow nuclear weapon s and accept safeguards on all their nuclear activities, they will continue to forfeit the full recognition and benefits that accrue to members in good standing of the NPT."

This did not mean that the U.S. was about to embark upon a course of coercion to obtain the immediate application of the NPT to India and Pakistan. The approach rather was more subtle, since the U.S. recognised that "any progress towards a lasting soluti on must be based on India's and Pakistan's perceptions of their own national interests". It was a heartening feature, though, that both countries had pronounced their willingness to remain constrained within "minimal" nuclear postures. The U.S. objective , then, was to ensure that this commitment was honoured - to see that burgeoning geopolitical rivalries did not occasion a destabilising nuclear and missile race in the South Asian region.

In essence, these principles are no different from those spelt out by Talbott in a recent interview to The Hindu (January 14). He said: "In a nutshell, the question is whether India chooses to move towards the international mainstream on a variety of non-proliferation and security issues. Setting aside our preference that India not acquire nuclear weapons, will it engage in a destabilising arms race by dint of its nuclear and missile posture? Will its approach to the question of defence posture b e interpreted by others as provocative and open-ended or as consistent with a common sense definition of minimum credible deterrent... How (India) addresses these questions will influence the decisions others make about their own interactions with India. "

THIS picture of virtual stagnation in American perceptions of the nuclear question in South Asia is reinforced by the two-stage plan recently outlined by John Holum, head of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), to deal with the proliferat ion problem in South Asia. The first was to use President Clinton's visit to persuade India to sign the CTBT. The second was to bring diplomatic pressure to bear, so that India would accede to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state, subject to all the li mitations and constraints associated with that status. Any concession that may have been made by Talbott to India's sovereign right to determine its own nuclear posture was no more than verbal. Holum was absolutely clear that "India's security requiremen ts are best served without a nuclear capability". Further, said Holum, the Clinton administration did not "acquiesce in or accept" India's aspirations to be accorded the status of a nuclear weapons state.

The evidence indicates that India is no nearer an accommodation with the U.S. on nuclear strategic matters. By all indications, though, its anxiety to secure the international isolation and ostracism of Pakistan is very much more acute now than at any ti me in the past. There is an obvious effort under way to reinforce the moral advantage gained during the Kargil conflict with the adverse notice that Pakistan has attracted since the military takeover and the hijack drama of December. The divided counsels within the U.S., though, may well render this strategy ineffective. And the politically tenuous situation in Pakistan and the radical situation of institutional instability that prevails there may well prove hazardous in the extreme.

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The U.S. is subject to conflicting pressures as far as Pakistan is concerned. There is, on the one hand, the tacit acknowledgment of American complicity in the growth of the parallel system of political legitimacy in Pakistan that the religious seminarie s and fundamentalist militias embody. And there is, on the other hand, the realisation that the public branding of Pakistan as a terrorist state would only destroy whatever residual influence the U.S. has in that country.

Looming over all these is the gloomy prognosis made by the veteran analyst of South Asian affairs, Selig Harrison, that Pakistan could be on the verge of another drastic shift towards the fundamentalist right. Harrison has identified two senior Army offi cers, Lt.Gen. Mohammad Aziz and Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed - respectively the Chief of General Staff and the Director-General of Inter Services Intelligence - as the elements most likely to pose a threat to the Musharraf dispensation. This should be rather b leak news for India, since both were intimately involved in the planning and execution of Pakistan's Kargil adventure. In fact, they were specifically identified by Musharraf in the celebrated telephone intercepts obtained by Indian intelligence as the o fficers who should handle all political briefings since they alone were aware of the "ground situation" in Kargil.

For India, the price of seeking the ostracism of the Musharraf regime could well be the emergence of an even less acceptable variant of the militarist face of Pakistan. In spurning bilateralism and seeking the tutelage of the U.S. in neighbourhood affair s, the Vajpayee Government could be setting the stage for still greater acrimony, mutual suspicion and violence. Defence Minister George Fernandes' definition of a new doctrine of a "limited war" may in this context be unduly optimistic, since the furies of fundamentalism, once unleashed, are not quite so easily limited.

Capitulation all the way

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SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN

RATHER quietly and with deliberate intent to avoid public exposure, India concluded an agreement with the U.S. at the end of December, in order to phase out rapidly the quantitative restrictions (QRs) it maintains on imports of a range of commodities. Th e formal announcement of the understanding came from the office of the U.S. Trade Representative in Washington. With the nation's attention fixed on the hijacked aircraft at Kandahar, initially the deal failed to attract much public notice.

Invoking a specific exemption available under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, India had been restricting the imports of a range of commodities in accordance with certain defined quantitative quotas. This was an exception to WTO norms, which prescri be that import controls should not go beyond the accepted price mechanisms available through tariffs.

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Of course, this was not a recourse that was likely to go unchallenged, partly because of India's own schizoid attitude. The only circumstances in which QRs are justified under WTO rules are compelling difficulties on the balance of payments front. And wh ile India often took the position in global councils that it faced precisely this kind of situation, its own policy documents for domestic consumption were more often suffused with optimistic prognoses as far as the balance of payments position was conce rned.

The matter went before the dispute settlement body (DSB) of the WTO following a complaint from the European Union, Australia and Switzerland, among others. India negotiated a six-year timetable for the elimination of QRs with these complainants. Since WT O rules insist on equal treatment of all member-states, this effectively meant that the same regime of QRs removal would apply to the U.S.

Not satisfied with this, the U.S. took up the matter again with the DSB. In its ruling of April 1999, the DSB panel ruled that the six-year period sought by India was inordinately long and that an objective evaluation of the country's balance of payments position showed that the plea was unjustified. A subsequent ruling by the appellate body of the WTO upheld this official conclusion. Both these findings were adopted by the DSB in September 1999, obliging India to conclude a deal with the U.S. for a mut ually agreeable schedule for lifting QRs.

It now transpires that the negotiations were conducted through correspondence between two officials - N.N. Khanna, Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce, and Susan Esserman, his counterpart in the U.S. Department of Commerce. This exchange of letters did not evidently waste any time in protracted deliberation over what is an issue of great complexity.

On December 16, Esserman proposed that the schedule on QRs phaseout that she was proposing, together with Khanna's acknowledgment in reply, be given the status of an agreement between the two governments, to be effective from December 28. And that, in de fiance of all processes of democratic decision-making, is how the matter came to be announced on December 29.

Under the bilateral agreement, which would now have general applicability, QRs on 714 of a total of 2,714 items, will be removed by April 1, 2000. Another 715 items will be unfettered a year later. Generally speaking, the items covered are primary produc ts, such as fish, milk, coconut, coffee, tea, ragi, animal carcasses, and various kinds of grain.

For this reason, the first to protest was the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), which described the deal as an act of "capitulation". At a time when various primary products were prone to violent and destabilising price fluctuations, this agreement would bit e deeply into the subsistence needs of the Indian peasantry, warned the AIKS.

It later came to light, through an intervention by P. Chidambaram, who was Finance Minister in the United Front government, that the U.S. had been persuaded to accept a six-year schedule for the elimination of QRs as far back as 1997.

This happened in the course of then Prime Minister I.K. Gujral's visit to the U.S. in September 1997.

Within three days of Gujral's meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton, Chidambaram recalls, the Indian Ambassador to the WTO was informed by the U.S. Trade Representative that a six-year schedule was acceptable, though the specific details of which comm odities would feature in each phase of QR elimination still needed to be negotiated. The implications of Chidambaram's intervention are clear - that the BJP-led government failed to capitalise on this negotiating opportunity and instead went into a needl essly pliant posture in relation to the U.S.

Murasoli Maran, Union Minister for Commerce and Industry, has contested Chidambaram's interpretation. The devil lay in the details of the deal Gujral and Chidambaram struck, he implies. Though the U.S. was willing to accept a six-year schedule for phasin g out QRs, it insisted on a "front-loaded" programme - that is, on unfettering the imports of a large number of commodities of extreme sensitivity from the Indian viewpoint, in the early part of the six-year period. This gave the Indian government no alt ernative but to pursue its case through the WTO's dispute settlement mechanism. And an adverse ruling from that forum obliged India to resume the negotiations with the U.S. on an entirely new basis.

What Maran failed to address adequately is India's failure to announce a policy decision that had serious implications for its agricultural sector and its small-scale industry. The delay of a fortnight in issuing an official announcement must be consider ed unusual by any standards. And already by January 12, the Government seemed aware that it had much to be defensive about.

The official announcement chose to cast the bilateral agreement with the U.S. in the same mould as the trade liberalisation measures that have been initiated over the last decade. There was, in this reading, no serious departure from accepted practice.

Yet it is difficult to reconcile this claim with various other facts. To begin with, an export-import policy announcement is imminent and this periodic exercise of Commerce Ministry has been - even over the last decade of liberalisation - the context for the announcement of major decisions. From India's point of view nothing would have been lost by delaying the decision on the elimination of QRs till the exim policy was formulated in all its details.

Ironically, the official announcement of the deal with the U.S., in its self-justificatory zeal, drew attention to this precise anomaly. "India has been autonomously removing QRs on imports progressively in successive annual exim policies," it declared, without quite stating the reasons for the unseemly haste displayed this time around when an exim policy announcement is just around the corner.

On his recent visit to India, U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers met everybody who mattered, though he spoke little about the agenda of his visit. When asked pointedly about the ethics of maintaining economic sanctions when the U.S. President was c ontemplating a visit to India, he indicated that the lifting of sanctions was premised upon a satisfactory outcome to the security dialogue.

From all indications, the U.S. only conceives of one possible outcome to the security dialogue - India's unconditional accession to the CTBT and the subsequent domestication of the Indian nuclear programme through the medium of the Nuclear Non-Proliferat ion Treaty (NPT). The BJP-led government has, in a bid to fight off this radical abridgment of sovereignty, yielded ground on another front, showing a cavalier disregard for the security of livelihood of a vast section of the country. How much further it will be compelled to cede zealously guarded national autonomy in the policy realm remains a matter of conjecture.

'U.S. will not abandon Pakistan'

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Prakash Karat, member of the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is of the view that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government is in a make-believe world when it claims that India's relations with the United States ar e is poised for a quantum leap. In an interview to Venkitesh Ramakrishnan, he argues that the basic direction of U.S. policy for the Indian subcontinent has not changed. He believes that "factors in Pakistan have an important place in the geopolit ical and geostrategic considerations and related activities of the U.S. in the region." Excerpts:

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Recent happenings in the Indian subcontinent, including the hijacking of the Indian Airlines aircraft and India's request to the U.S. thereafter to declare Pakistan a terrorist state, have apparently imparted a new dimension to the strategic equation s between India, Pakistan and the U.S. In the context of U.S. President Clinton's proposed visit to India, how do you look at these developments?

There has been much talk by government spokespersons that a new qualitative stage has been reached in Indo-U.S. relations. Last year Union Home Minister L.K. Advani said that we had reached a turning point in Indo-U.S. relations. Following that there was talk of a strategic partnership between India and the U.S. But all this is highly exaggerated and misleading. Look at the response to (Prime Minister) Vajpayee's call to brand Pakistan a terrorist state. The reply from President Clinton said that there was no evidence to link the Pakistani government with such activities as the hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane. From all this it is clear that the Government is living in its own make-believe world. Factors in Pakistan have an important place in the geopolitical, geostrategic considerations and related activities of the U.S. in the region.

The fact is that the basic direction of U.S. policy vis-a-vis India and Pakistan has not changed since the two countries became independent. The emphasis and orientation of using Pakistan as a strategic ally may change. Earlier it was directed mai nly at the Soviet Union. Then there was a time when the U.S. was worried about Iran and the rise of established fundamentalism. Today there are other considerations, such as its focus on Central Asia. Pakistan is not going to be abandoned by the U.S.

There is a fundamental fallacy in the Vajpayee Government's approach to the U.S. From the beginning it has been saying 'we would be better allies for you than Pakistan. Stop relying on Pakistan, and we are prepared to be a better junior partner in your g lobal strategy'. I do not think that the Americans are going to buy this fully. Of course it is advantageous for them to have a pliant India. But the American chariot is going to be run by two horses - both India and Pakistan. What the Vajpayee Governmen t has effectively done is to reduce India's status to parity with Pakistan, and this is a demeaning and humiliating step as far as I can see. The net result of all this would be that the terms would become more adverse for India.

At their last round of talks, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott agreed to set up a joint working group (JWG) on terrorism. The argument of supporters of government policy is that this is a major step towards reorientation of policy.

The decision to have the JWG was taken before the hijacking. Even afterwards we saw the U.S. response to the hijacking. It took four days for the State Department to come out with even a statement of condemnation. After that also they have rebuffed all I ndian government initiatives to pinpoint responsibility for this terrorist act. One would have thought that in the context of the special relationship as signified by the JWG, when one of the partners is subjected to a terrorist act the other would do so mething more than issue a formal statement, that too after four days.

The second thing is that the U.S., as a senior partner, sustains, finances and legitimises all successive regimes in Pakistan today. The other point to be noted in the context of the JWG is the lineage and history of the Taliban. It was set up by the fun ds and arms provided by the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), Pentagon and the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence). In fact, the Taliban is a creature of the "counter- terrorism" activities of the U.S.

The dialogues between Jaswant Singh and Talbott too are a mystery. Why is it necessary to have their meetings always in a third country? Why this clandestine operation between the two international leaders? It has been going on and on, and this shows the foreign policy outlook of the Vajpayee Government. There is a complete reliance and over-dependence on the U.S.

This secrecy in the dialogue between India and the U.S. has given rise to conjectures that the talks are moving towards India's accession to the CTBT and the waiver of the U.S. sanctions against India. What is your view on this possibility?

The dialogue started after the Pokhran-II blasts. That is why we think that this is not a natural coming together of two countries to sort out any problem. It took place after our isolation internationally after the Pokhran blasts. It also seems to have been motivated by our anxiety to get recognition from the U.S. as a nuclear power. The Americans have used this as a leverage mechanism to force India into a dialogue on what they think are important issues. The main agenda of the U.S. includes non-proli feration, opening up of the economy to its multi-national corporations, etc. Overall, the dialogue is an unequal one and that is why it is kept clandestine.

But the government says that it will evolve a domestic consensus on the CTBT.

All this talk about domestic consensus, in our view, is to create a fig leaf to go into what the Government has already committed to the U.S. Finally this could turn out into our going into the CTBT and the U.S. giving some sort of recognition to what th e Government calls minimum credible deterrent, that is, some nuclear stockpile. But that arsenal would also be subject to American approval and supervision. So the entire nuclear regime in India and Pakistan is going to be arbitrated and mediated by the U.S.

There is a view that India has virtually deserted the principle of bilateralism in its relationship with Pakistan. What is your opinion?

We lost it with Pokhran-II. Although the CPI(M) did not oppose them, the Lahore talks were also done at the prodding of the U.S. There is an overall foreign policy reversal and it is in this background that the Clinton visit is taking place. We have init iated discussions with other organisations to present a charter to the people of India, identifying the issues that must be addressed when Clinton comes to India. They concern economic issues, foreign policy, science and technology, security issues and I ndia's role in the world. There is a whole range of issues where the U.S. has been pressuring India to go against its own interests. We have generally lost ground in coming to a more equal and balanced relationship. China has also reached some agreements with the U.S. on economic issues. But there has been give and take. We only seem to be giving.

The U.S. has certain interests in securing access to the Central Asian republics, which are rich in mineral resources. This is one of the reasons why it backed the Taliban militia in its early days. Do you think that this factor has ceased to operate in American geopolitical calculations, so that the U.S. swings to India's side in the matter of neighbourhood confrontations?

Not at all. As I said at the outset, Central Asia is one of the factors why the U.S. would keep its strategic relationship with Pakistan and the potential of improving its relationship with the Taliban.

How do you respond to the doctrine of a limited war, propounded by Defence Minister George Fernandes?

It is very difficult to say whether this concept is George Fernandes' or the Government of India's or that of the armed forces. After Pokhran-II we had pointed out that the Government had given the advantage to Pakistan and made limited wars possible in the region. Kargil was a very good example. George Fernandes is making things worse by making such statements. The situation in both countries actually requires some understanding in order to avert conflict.

For a new orientation

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Former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral feels that it is time a white paper was brought out on the ongoing "strategic discussions" between India and the United States in order to evolve a consensus on and provide clarity to diplomatic and strategic init iatives. He said that the context of President Bill Clinton's visit to India should be used to evolve this clarity and to develop a new orientation for Indo-U.S. relations. Excerpts from an interview he gave Venkitesh Ramakrishnan:

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Recent events, including the hijacking and India's request to the U.S. to declare Pakistan a terrorist state, have thrown up a new dimension to the strategic equations between India, Pakistan and the U.S. In the context of President Clinton's visit t o India, how do you look at these developments?

The point to be kept in mind in respect of bilateral relations today is that there is no such thing as exclusivism. And no nation decides its relations with a third party on the basis of the advice of the second party. It is a well-known fact that the U. S. and Pakistan have been enjoying good relations for a long time. At no stage have they shown any sign of reversing this. From our point of view, the difficulty is that while ten rounds of talks have been held with the U.S., except for a few statements made by some officials the Clinton administration has not exactly spelt out what it is looking for. What are the issues that it wants to address? What is the direction? And what are the parameters specified? There is no clarity on these.

I also do not know how far India has progressed in devising a new orientation to the relationship. When I met President Clinton I urged him to look at the Indo-U.S. relationship in a holistic fashion. The difficulty about the Indo-U.S. relationship in th e recent past has been that it is dominated by one issue: the nuclear arms dimension. If the present discussions can give a new orientation to the dialogue and go beyond the singular dimension, that would be welcome. The point is not whether President Cl inton comes to India or goes to Pakistan. I think we are placing unnecessary emphasis on this aspect. For 20 years no U.S. President has come here. Still we have survived in the international arena.

During the last round of their talks in London in January, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott agreed to set up a Joint Working Group (JWG) on terrorism. What qualitative difference do you think i t will make to the present discussions?

Terrorism is a scourge that worries everybody, including America. If India and the U.S. can work together to contain terrorism, it would be a good thing.

On the lack of clarity in the dialogue between India and the U.S., there are well-informed conjectures that point to two possible outcomes. One, India's accession to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and, two, the waiver of all U.S. sanctions, including technology denial regimes, against India. How do you react to this possibility?

It would be unfair on my part to take sides on hypothetical premises. It would be a mistake to assume that we can persist with the mindset of the Cold War. New world realities are such that any improvement in Indo-U.S. relations will prove useful to both countries. The desirability in improving relations is definitely there.

So the CTBT issue should not be addressed now?

On the CTBT, there are many questions to be looked into, such as whether it would come out of the U.S. Senate in its original form or in an amended form. A proper response can be made only after looking at all these aspects.

On India's request to the U.S. to declare Pakistan a terrorist state, there is one opinion that this is a departure from the principle of bilateralism that we have adopted with Pakistan in the past. What is your view?

In the contemporary era it is difficult to be one-line-oriented on a particular formation. After all, terrorism is something that is bothering the world. And if we have enough evidence to prove Pakistan's complicity in terrorist activities, there is noth ing wrong in making this demand. At the same time we should also strive to evolve an international consensus in combating terrorism, especially in the subcontinent. India and Sri Lanka have for long been disturbed by terrorism and now Nepal is getting in to the same league.

But during your prime ministerial tenure you advocated the Gujral Doctrine, which emphasised good neighbourly relations.

The Gujral Doctrine emphasised on good neighbourly relations with all our neighbours. Even the Lahore Declaration was a logical conclusion of the process initiated by the Gujral Doctrine. But Pakistan's polity is a complex one. In that complexity one ele ment thought of Kargil and the same element thought of a coup. This shows that there are elements within Pakistan's polity that do not want to move in a direction that is in the larger interests of that country too.

The U.S. has certain interests in securing access to the Central Asian republics, which are rich in mineral resources. This is one of the reasons why it backed the Taliban militia in its early days. Do you think that this factor has ceased to operate in American geopolitical calculations so that the U.S. may swing to India's side in neighbourhood confrontations?

At one stage the U.S. needed the Taliban to pursue its economic and other operations in Central Asia. But the information available now is that it is evolving other options in the region in order to protect and advance its interests. Whether this would b e sufficient to make it swing to India's side is a question that would have no definite answer at the moment.

How do you respond to the doctrine of a limited war, propounded by Defence Minister George Fernandes?

A war is a plague whose size cannot be specified. I hope that the Defence Minister's viewpoint is not the viewpoint of the Government as a whole. India has always stood for peace and I am of the opinion that this Government is also generally pursuing tha t time-tested line.

'We must talk to Pakistan'a

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K. Natwar Singh, former diplomat and a member of the Congress(I) Working Committee, sees the current deterioration of relations with Pakistan as an alarming development and counsels a degree of caution in the headlong rush towards orchestrating th e international ostracism of the neighbouring state. He set out his views in an interview with Sukumar Muralidharan. Excerpts:

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How do you view the formation of a Joint Working Group (JWG) on terrorism with the U.S. in the context of the ongoing strategic dialogue and also of neighbourhood relations in South Asia?

I welcome the establishment of the joint working group between the U.S. and India, but if this is the only concrete outcome after ten rounds of talks, then this is a case of a mountain producing a molehill. The substance of the discussions apparently rev olves around the nuclear question. The country is still in the dark as to what has been the content and nature of the discussions between the External Affairs Minister and the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State. It is incumbent on the Government to take the country into confidence, because I think there are some serious doubts about the CTBT within the country.

There is some informed conjecture that there are basically two objectives behind this. One would be India's accession to the CTBT and the other the waiver of the sanctions and the renewal of high-technology exports to India. Do you think that this wo uld be a fair and acceptable bargain?

The Congress party does not have a closed mind. But we certainly have doubts. This should be discussed in Parliament because leaders of this Government have said that there should be a national consensus, which can only be arrived at through discussions on the merits and demerits of the CTBT. The Government has, I am afraid, been avoiding this discussion.

The other striking thing is that the U.S. Senate has rejected the CTBT. Now if somebody were to ask me, I would say to sign it we should wait till the U.S. has ratified it. And the scientific community here is divided. Some are not sure that five tests a re enough for all time. There are various views on this and the Congress is looking at all of them very carefully.

The U.S. Treasury Secretary visited India and said that the sanctions could be lifted if the security dialogue was completed satisfactorily.

Another representative of that Government has said that we should sign the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) also. The point basically is, do these powers recognise India as a de jure nuclear weapons state?

The question of sanctions then is not critical. We can put up with them for some time longer?

Absolutely. The real sanctions have been in place since 1974. You see, this is important - the nuclear question has never been linked with economics or finance or aid. It transcends these matters. We should satisfy ourselves, after a full-fledged debate in Parliament, of the advantages and disadvantages of the CTBT.

There has been some sustained activity in recent weeks to have Pakistan branded a terrorist state. Do you think this is an appropriate attitude to take in neighbourhood relations?

With great respect to the Prime Minister, he should not have made this kind of a pronouncement in public without sounding out the Americans through diplomatic channels. The response to him came the next day, from an official of the U.S. Government, sayin g that Pakistan would not be declared a terrorist state. And as far as I understand the working of the U.S. Government, they are not likely to pronounce Pakistan a terrorist state. One day, Mr. Jaswant Singh escorts three known terrorists in his own airc raft to Kandahar. The next day, the Prime Minister makes this demand. I think the Government should make up its mind.

So the demand is not going to succeed...

We should set our own house in order. Why are we pleading with the Americans? There is a United Nations mechanism, which could be used. Call the Security Council to session - tell them this is what is happening, we are a victim of terrorism, and what are you doing about it?

You think the U.S. has strategic interests in Pakistan which would be endangered by branding that country a terrorist state?

If they did so, then whatever leverage they had with Pakistan would disappear. They have been strategic partners for a long time. The very fact that the U.S. President is weighing the pros and cons of going to Pakistan shows how deep this relationship is .

How do you view the new doctrine of "limited war" propounded by George Fernandes, again with a direct bearing on the neighbourhood context?

I think this is a drastic failure of our policy. I am not in any way condoning what Pakistan has been doing. They have been very unwise and very short-sighted. But we can give no credit to this government for the manner in which it has handled the relati ons with Pakistan or China.

Would it be a wise thing to secure international ostracism of the military regime in Pakistan and evade a dialogue?

Obviously, the climate is not right. But at some point we will have to talk to them. If not with (Pervez) Musharraf, then his successor, who could be from the Army. Who are we to choose the government of Pakistan? Either we should say we are breaking dip lomatic relations, or we must try to unfreeze the situation by talking to them.

Is this the end of bilateralism in the neighbourhood and the emergence of superpower tutelage?

The Americans still think Kashmir is disputed territory and Clinton wants to play a role. He has earlier said that he will take "personal interest" in this matter. What does this mean?

A recognition of India's 'new status'

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Former diplomat N.N. Jha has since early 1998 been the convener of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bharatiya Janata Party. He sees no scope in the current situation for any sort of engagement with Pakistan and believes that a visit by the U.S . President would imply a new recognition for India's emerging global status. Excerpts from an interview he gave Sukumar Muralidharan:

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The "security dialogue" between India and the U.S. recently produced something tangible, in the form of a Joint Working Group (JWG) on terrorism. Does this go beyond the original agenda of the negotiations? And how do you view its implications?

In the last two years, we have had two main items on the agenda. First, to bring the sequence of events inaugurated by the nuclear tests of May 1998 to a successful and satisfactory end. The second one is of slightly more recent origin so far as our gove rnment is concerned, though in a manner of speaking it predates May 1998. That is terrorism. Now we have had this Joint Working Group on terrorism, and let us hope that its efforts are positive, even if somewhat delayed in terms of application. It does m ark quite a departure from the earlier U.S. stand.

But the U.S. is being a bit ambivalent about characterising Pakistan as a terrorist state.

Frankly, I do not think it matters very much. There is already much speculation in the American media about Pakistan being put back on the terrorism watch-list before long. I would say that this Joint Working Group is more important than Pakistan being b randed a terrorist state.

The security dialogue with the U.S. has been rather open-ended and the specific objectives have never been spelt out at any stage. But there is informed conjecture that from India's point of view the objectives essentially are two-fold: to obtain fav ourable conditions for accession to the CTBT and then to secure the waiver of all the sanctions and technology denial regimes that have been in application since 1974. Do you think this is a fair bargain?

That would be a fair assessment of some of the main objectives of the dialogue. From India's point of view, to be accepted as a nuclear weapons state would be the best bargain. If that cannot be done directly because of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Trea ty, then indirectly we could have a de facto recognition. Don't forget, the Americans have said that the earlier objective of capping, roll-back and elimination of India's nuclear capability is no longer there. That being so, the overall impressio n here is that the Americans are seeking a commitment from India on the size of the deterrent that this country will maintain. That, we have told them earlier, is not possible, since it is something that is subject to change from time to time.

Recent remarks by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott indicate that though India has adopted a doctrine of minimum nuclear deterrence, the U.S. would like assurances that "minimum" will remain so. The U.S. knows from experience that this is a slippery doctrine which does not really admit of any defined limits on nuclear arsenals. It would like a commitment on the size of the nuclear deterrent that India will maintain. Does this provide a basis for further negotiations?

I don't think that should hold up the dialogue at all. They have been aware of this stand of ours, right from day one. The nuclear doctrine that was presented last August has stuck to this stand - it is predicated on the pillars of minimum credible deter rence and "no first strike".

Pakistan has begun to interpret this as a licence for it too to maintain a "minimum credible deterrent".

As far as Pakistan is concerned, frankly, it is really impossible for us to say much. I get the impression that they are only looking for excuses. But in the quest of parity with India, they will certainly go very far.

We are just about a month away from the first anniversary of the Lahore Declaration and 1999 has perhaps been the worst in all of 50 years in neighbourhood relations. Are we taking the right approach in seeking the international ostracism of Pakistan rather than engage with it in a dialogue of sorts?

Trying to engage in a dialogue with Pakistan would be a tacit acceptance of all the policies they have pursued in relation to India, which have been almost exclusively based on an intensification of low-intensity conflict. Don't forget that the Lahore pr ocess - quite apart from the fact that it was a bold measure - was initiated with a civilian government in Pakistan. And nobody knew at that stage that the events that would be unleashed from May onwards would, first, indicate the dominance of the milita ry and, secondly, the coup d'etat of October would totally reaffirm the fact. So one should take the Lahore process only in the manner in which it was intended. It was meant to be a very sincere effort to bury the past once and for all.

There is no scope for engagement at this stage.

I would say none at all.

The consequences could be very destabilising for Pakistan and for the region.

Well, we have to think of our interests first. Kargil was bad enough but the hijacking made it worse.

U.S. President Bill Clinton is likely to visit India in the next couple of months. Is it really prudent to display a degree of anxiety to ensure that he does not touch down in Islamabad?

Touching down in Pakistan involves bestowing a kind of recognition to the military regime there. So from our point of view it is better that he does not go there at all. But the ultimate decision is his and he will have to take various other factors into account.

With Clinton having entered his last year in office, what do you expect the visit to yield?

If you interpret his visit as something that indicates a certain recognition (after over 20 years we have an American presidential visit), if this indicates a certain recognition of India's new status, it would have served a purpose. I think it would be a very important visit and even if the Americans do not proclaim it from the housetops, it would mean a new recognition of India's emerging status.

To counter a covert aggressor

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For reasons of strategic interests the U.S. may not declare Pakistan a state-sponsor of international terrorism, but that should not deter India from pursuing its dossier against the covert aggressor.

B. RAMAN

THERE has been disappointment in India over the fact that not only the U.S. State Department but also South Asia experts such as Michael Krepon of the Stimson Centre, Washington, Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution, Washington, and Teresita Schaff er of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, have reacted negatively to India's renewal of its complaint against Pakistan as a state-sponsor of international terrorism. The fresh Indian move came after the recent hijacking of Ind ian Airlines Flight IC 814 by members of the Pakistan-based Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. The hijackers demanded the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, secretary-general of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and close associate of Osama bin Laden, who was involved in the murder of U.S. Marines in Somalia, and two others.

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Questions have been raised as to how the Government of India could establish that they were Pakistani nationals; how it could secure their photographs so quickly; what evidence it has to back its allegation of the involvement of the Inter Services Intell igence (ISI) of Pakistan in the incident; and, if this was so, how it would explain the action of the Pakistani authorities in refusing the plane permission to land at Lahore at the first instance.

The Government established the identity of the hijackers after the interrogation of some Pakistani members of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen in Mumbai, who were in telephonic contact with the hijackers in Kandahar, and secured their photographs from the files of the airport immigration authorities and the police in Mumbai. Every Pakistani national entering India is required to submit a copy of his or her visa application with his or her photograph to the immigration officials on arrival at the airport and ano ther to the police authorities of the area in which he or she would be staying. These applications carry the seal of the Indian diplomatic mission issuing the visa.

Once the identities are established, securing the photographs is a five-minute job. The Harkat-ul-Mujahideen members arrested in Mumbai said that all the hijackers were Pakistani nationals and that their leader was Ibrahim Azhar, the younger brother of M aulana Masood Azhar.

The Government's statement that Ibrahim was the leader has been independently corroborated by two Pakistani journalists of the monthly Herald of Karachi (January) and Asiaweek (January 14) of Hong Kong.

While the Herald story was based on an interview of Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakkil to the British Broadcasting Corporation's Pushtoo service, the Asiaweek correspondent was one of only three foreign journalists present in Kandahar during the drama. The Asiaweek correspondent has reported that in his presence the leader of the hijackers identified himself as the brother of Masood Azhar to the United Nations representative, who had gone to Kandahar from Islamabad.

In law, if a material fact of a statement by the prosecution is proved to be correct through independent corroboration, the other material facts of the statement are also presumed to be correct unless proved otherwise by the defence. From this, the indep endent corroboration of the identity of the leader by Pakistani witnesses strengthens the credibility of the Indian evidence that all the hijackers were Pakistani nationals.

The fact that all of them belonged to the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen has also been corroborated by Herald, which wrote: "In the first few days of the hijacking, the HUM (Harkat-ul-Mujahideen) tried to distance itself from the events in Kandahar, but onc e the hijacking saga was over, senior members of the HUM in Muzaffarabad were willing to admit that all hijackers belonged to their group."

IN its annual reports on Patterns of Global Terrorism, the Counter-Terrorism Division of the U.S. State Department has been telling Congress every year that the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen is Pakistan-based, that it has been involved in acts of terrorism in India and other countries, that it had signed the fatwa issued by Osama bin Laden in February 1998 calling for attacks on U.S. and Israeli nationals and that it was suspected in the kidnapping, under the name of Al Faran, of five Western touri sts in Kashmir in 1995. The U.S. also suspected that it had a hand in the murder of some U.S. nationals in Karachi during the second tenure of Benazir Bhutto as Prime Minister.

The State Department had on October 1, 1997 listed the group among the 30 international terrorist organisations, including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. At that time it was known as the Harkat-ul-Ansar. Subsequently it changed its name to Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. The declaration was renewed in October 1999.

Despite this, the Pakistan Government has neither banned the organisation nor controlled its activities. The court-martial of some Pakistani Army officers arrested in 1995 for plotting to overthrow the government of Benazir Bhutto revealed the nexus betw een the organisation and the Army. In fact, one of the arrested officers was found travelling with Saifullah Akhtar, the patron of the organisation, at the time of his arrest. Herald (January 1996) reported that while the Army court-martialled its officers, it decided, mysteriously, not to prosecute Akhtar.

If an organisation raised, trained, armed and motivated by the ISI and the Pakistan Army commits an act of hijacking and if the Pakistan Army avoids the arrest of the hijackers, just as the Zia-ul-Haq regime avoided the arrest and prosecution of the Dal Khalsa hijackers of 1981 until the U.S. warned it of the consequences of its inaction in 1984, is there not a reasonable presumption under law that the hijacking was sponsored by the Pakistani official agencies?

According to preliminary indications, the hijacking was sponsored by Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmad, former Commanding Officer of the 10 Corps based in Rawalpindi, who played a key role in transporting the supporters of bin Laden to Kargil in February last year and in the overthrow of Nawaz Sharif on October 12, 1999. He was subsequently appointed as the ISI's Director-General by General Pervez Musharraf, the Chief Executive.

It is said that Lt. Gen. Ahmad had the hijacking carried out through Brig. Salahuddin Satti, who, as the head of the 111 Brigade, captured the television and radio stations on October 12, arrested Sharif and took him to an Army guest house at Chaklala. B rig. Satti, who had served with the Special Services Group (SSG) in Siachen, had also functioned as the Chief of Staff of the 10 Corps and as Brigade Major under Musharraf. He was made Major-General on December 7, 1999.

It is also said that for a week after their entry into Pakistan from Kandahar, the hijackers were kept in the same guest house in which Sharif was kept before he was shifted to Karachi. Their present whereabouts are not known.

Well-informed sources claim that the ISI's instruction to the hijackers was to take the aircraft directly to Kandahar. But the hijackers got confused and asked the pilot to go to Lahore.

This caused apprehension in Pakistan, as it was felt that permission to land in Lahore might expose the ISI involvement as did the permission to some Sikh hijackers in 1984. They, therefore, asked Lahore airport not to let the aircraft land. But when the plane flew in from Amritsar, they were forced to allow it landing facility as it had no fuel left for the journey to Kandahar or Kabul.

COHEN compares the activities of the Pakistan-sponsored terrorists to the alleged activities of the LTTE from Indian soil, but he forgets that hundreds of Indian soldiers died trying to help Sri Lanka end the LTTE's terrorist acts and that Rajiv Gandhi p aid with his life for assisting Sri Lanka to root out LTTE terrorism.

Lecture notes recovered from the ISI-trained Sikh, Kashmiri and other terrorists contained instructions on subjects such as preparation of hit-lists, how to carry out assassinations, how to hijack an aircraft, the importance of avoiding Air-India planes lest foreign concern should be aroused, the importance of eliminating Hindus from Jammu and Buddhists from Ladakh and how to destroy the off-shore oil installations in Bombay High. It was owing to this that the Government decided in the early 1990s to se nsitise world public opinion to state-sponsorship of terrorism by Pakistan and to press the U.S. to declare Pakistan a state-sponsor of international terrorism under its laws.

Interestingly, this idea emanated not from Indian experts, but from some West European experts who were convinced from their own independent evidence of the role of Pakistan. The West European expert advised that the matter be taken up directly with the State Department instead of through U.S. experts.

The first dossier prepared by India was rejected by the State Department under the pretext that much of the evidence was based on interrogation reports, which it could not accept in view of the alleged use of torture during interrogation.

In 1992, Lal Singh alias Manjit Singh of the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), Canada, who figured in the wanted list of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), was arrested by the Gujarat Police after he entered India from Pakistan, where h e had been living since 1985. West European experts advised their Indian counterparts to invite U.S. experts to interrogate him as they felt that the State Department would find it difficult to dismiss their interrogation reports as based on torture.

The State Department advised the U.S. experts not to accept the Indian invitation. The U.S. decided not to pursue the case against Lal Singh, apparently fearing that if its experts reported that India's dossier against Pakistan was correct, it would be d ifficult to avoid action against Pakistan.

THE only occasion when the U.S. almost took a decision to act against Pakistan was in the second half of 1992. The first organised group of Israeli tourists had arrived in Kashmir. The Indian media covered its visit prominently. The ISI informed the Kash miri terrorists that these tourists were actually Israeli counter-terrorism experts who were coming to Srinagar to assist the Indian security forces. It, therefore, asked them to attack the Israelis. One Israeli was killed and another kidnapped. A large number of Jewish journalists from the U.S. and Israel rushed to India to cover the event and, although India had not yet established diplomatic relations with Israel, senior Israeli officials also visited the scene. This resulted in wide publicity in the world media to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in India and to the reluctance of Washington to act against Pakistan.

The U.S. was in the middle of the presidential and congressional election campaign. Under pressure from voters, who were sympathetic to India's predicament, President George Bush ordered a re-examination of India's dossier. The very same State Department officials, who had earlier rejected the dossier, suddenly found a lot of merit in it and advised Bush that there were strong grounds for action against Pakistan.

As Bush lost the election, he left the dossier to his successor Bill Clinton for a decision. Clinton placed Pakistan on the so-called watch-list of suspected state-sponsors of international terrorism, instead of declaring it to be so.

Two other developments of 1993 further strengthened the Indian dossier. The first was the report of the U.S. experts who had visited the scene of the Mumbai blasts in March that one of the timers recovered was of U.S. origin, supplied to the Pakistan Arm y. The second was a report from U.S. intelligence officials that the arms and ammunition found on the LTTE ship carrying Kittu, which was intercepted by the Indian Navy, were actually given to the LTTE by Pakistan's narcotics barons in return for the LTT E's help in transporting narcotics consignments to Western ports on its ships registered in Greece, and that these arms and ammunition were loaded onto the ship at Karachi under the supervision of the ISI and the Pakistan Navy.

The ISI's action defied logic since Islamabad had close relations with Colombo and the LTTE was, in fact, massacring Muslims in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. Nawaz Sharif was shocked when this information was brought to his notice by the U.S. Embas sy in Islamabad. The ISI had kept him informed of its terrorist operations in India, but not of its links with the LTTE and its assistance to narcotics barons.

It was this which ultimately made Sharif succumb to Washington's pressure to remove Lt. Gen. Javed Nasir from the post of Director-General, ISI, and other officers suspected of promoting terrorism. It looked as though the State Department might, at long last, declare Pakistan a state-sponsor of international terrorism. By then, Sharif's troubles with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Gen. Abdul Waheed Kakkar, the then Chief of the Army Staff, had started and it was evident that his days were numbered. Ben azir Bhutto, who was then the Leader of the Opposition, sent urgent messages to the White House through her American friends that it should not take any action on India's dossier and that if she returned to power she would stop the ISI's activities. Tran scripts of her telephonic requests to the U.S. were available in the classified archives of the Government of India.

U.S. officials removed Pakistan from the watch-list in July 1993 and told New Delhi that they expected Benazir Bhutto to return to power and that they were hopeful that she would stop the ISI's activities. After coming back to power, Benazir did cooperat e with the U.S. in launching action against narcotics barons and against terrorists wanted by the U.S., but went back on her word to stop the ISI's activities against India.

It would thus be apparent that the more the evidence India presented against Pakistan, the more the pretexts the U.S. used for not acting against Pakistan. Why this U.S. reluctance to act against Pakistan?

FIRST, despite its strong pronouncements against terrorism, the U.S. acts only when its own nationals are threatened and not otherwise. Year after year, India has been presenting to the world clinching evidence of the involvement of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, backed by the ISI, in acts of terrorism. Activists of the organisation have massacred hundreds of Hindus in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. The U.S. has refrained from acting against it because, despite its anti-U.S. rhetoric, the group has refrained from attacks on U.S. nationals.

The Al-Umma of Tamil Nadu is a purely local entity with, as yet, no proven all-India or international links. India has, therefore, never taken up with the U.S. its activities. Al-Umma has never uttered any threat against the U.S. or other countries. Yet it finds mention on Pages 89 and 90 of Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1998, submitted by the State Department to Congress in May 1999. Why? Because in 1998 it had activated a crude explosive device at an important traffic junction in Chennai in or der to get some publicity for its demand for the release of its leaders. The device was planted in front of the U.S. Consulate. Since then the U.S. has been taking its activities seriously.

Secondly, the U.S.' strategic interests in Pakistan; its gratitude to Islamabad for backing Washington during the Cold War, particularly against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan; and a feeling of guilt for having contributed to Pakistan's present dysfunc tional state as a result of the cooperation extended to the U.S. in Afghanistan.

Thirdly, there is a more disquieting reason. In an interview in the late 1980s, the late Count Alexandre de Marenches, the chief of the SDECE (as the French external intelligence agency was then known) between 1974 and 1982, stated that during a visit to Washington he had proposed to Bill Casey, the then Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), that the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies help the Afghan Mujahideen produce heroin so that the Soviet Army could be destroyed through drug addiction.

According to the Count, Casey, who liked the idea, took him to Ronald Reagan, who was enthusiastic like a child and wanted the idea to be immediately implemented. However, the Count claimed, it was abandoned owing to strong opposition from sections of th e CIA. The fact of the matter is that it was not abandoned as claimed by the Count.

It was implemented vigorously by Pakistan-based CIA officers with the help of the ISI. They trained the Afghan Mujahideen not only in guerilla warfare, but also in methods of improving poppy cultivation and opium refining.

The drugs produced under the CIA's guidance were initially smuggled to the Soviet troops, but when the Mujahideen and the ISI officers found that there was more money to be made by smuggling them to the U.S. and West European countries they started doing so in large quantities.

The CIA lost control over the narcotics barons of its own creation just as it lost control over the terrorists of its own creation, such as bin Laden. These barons started ruining the lives and careers of thousands of American children.

The CIA has two types of experts - those of its counter-terrorism division who have not had much involvement in Pakistan of the 1980s and hence have no problem in recommending action against Pakistan, and those of the area (operational) division, many of whom won their professional spurs in the Pakistan of the 1980s and were closely involved in the production of terrorists and narcotics barons.

These experts and the State Department officials are worried over the possibility of the CIA's role in the promotion of the narcotics trade in the 1980s coming to light if they acted against Pakistan. And, Islamabad uses this possibility as a blackmailin g argument to deter Washington from declaring it a state-sponsor of international terrorism.

It is, therefore, unlikely that the U.S. would ever declare Pakistan a state-sponsor of international terrorism. But that should not deter India from pursuing its dossier against Pakistan. Pakistan has been waging a covert war against India since 1981- i nitially in Punjab, then in Kashmir from 1989 and later from other parts of India too. Covert aggressors are not defeated through open means, openly discussed. India needs to pursue its hard state agenda against Pakistan and, before doing that, needs to p repare the diplomatic groundwork for the new track.

B. Raman is a retired Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.

Pressures on Pakistan

As Indian and U.S. concerns over "regional terrorism" converge, Pakistan feels the heat and faces isolation.

PAKISTAN is finding it difficult to contain the fallout of the hijacking of Flight IC 814 to Kandahar. Its chief problem arises from the attitude of the United States, which has begun to demonstrate a new toughness on the issue of terrorism.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth delivered a blunt message on terrorism to Pakistan's Chief Executive, General Pervez Musharraf, during a two-hour meeting between them in Pakistan on January 21. Inderfurth's discussions were preceded by the formation in London on January 21 of an Indo-U.S. Joint Working Group (JWG) to combat terrorism together, the first initiative of its kind involving the two countries. This decision was taken at the 10th round of the "strategic dialogue" between Ext ernal Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott.

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Although the formation of the JWG has so far not had any tangible impact, there is little doubt that Pakistan feels isolated by the action the U.S. has planned along with its arch rival, India.

It is clear that Indian and U.S. concerns on "regional terrorism" (stemming from Pakistan and Afghanistan) have converged. Washington's principal concern relates to the Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden and his worldwide terrorist network and the inability of Pakistan to influence its ally, the Taliban, to deliver bin Laden, who is hiding in Afghanistan, to stand trial.

Linked to the bin Laden concern is the determination by the U.S. that the fundamentalist Harkat-ul-Mujahideen was responsible for the serial rocket attacks on U.S. installations in Islamabad on November 12, 1999. The Harkat, as is well known, has been on the U.S. State Department's watch list of terrorist organisations since 1997. It operates from Pakistan, unfettered. There is also little doubt that militant groups such as the Harkat enjoy the support of Pakistani intelligence agencies.

To a question whether the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate was linked to the Harkat, the U.S. State Department spokesman said on January 27: "This is a matter of extreme concern to us. That is an organisation we have declared a ter rorist organisation, and there have been some links providing general support to a number of groups operating in Kashmir, including this one. That is one of the issues we raised with them (the Pakistani Government) in these (Inderfurth-Musharraf) discuss ions."

Inderfurth spoke directly about U.S. concerns over terrorism during his visit to Islamabad. He asked Pakistan to bring the hijackers of the Indian Airlines plane to book and to check the terrorist groups operating from the country. At his press conferenc e Inderfurth said, evidently as an exercise in public diplomacy: "There is a clear need to take the next step with respect to the hijacking, which is to find the hijackers and bring them to justice... We urged them (the Pakistani side) to make every eff ort to determine their (hijackers') location... I believe that the hijackers will be found. I believe that they cannot simply disappear from the face of the earth..."

He went on: "We believe that the presence and activities of these groups give Pakistan a bad reputation in the world community and thus works against Pakistan's national interest... We hope that every effort will be made to address those violent, militan t groups that are threatening citizens of other countries as well as the long-term stability of Pakistan itself."

Earlier, reading from a prepared text, Inderfurth stressed the "need for cooperation to reduce the threat of terrorism which stems from this region and directly threatens the U.S. and Pakistan as well as the region and the world. This was dramatically il lustrated by the recent hijacking of the Indian Airlines aircraft."

The other issues of concern to the U.S. that were discussed included the need for a comprehensive road map with milestones for a return to democratic civilian rule in Pakistan, the need for regional stability, prevention of an arms race in South Asia and restoration of a productive dialogue with India.

The statement said: "All of these measures, we believe, would enhance Pakistan's security. Finally, we stressed the urgency with which the President and Congress view these issues. We trust our messages have been received and understood, and that we have increased our mutual understanding on them."

Information made available to Frontline suggests that Gen. Musharraf asked for "time" to take action against the militant groups operating from Pakistan. He is said to have told Inderfurth that he did not feel strong enough at the moment to take o n these forces.

It appears that the U.S. is of the considered opinion that the Musharraf Government is the "last chance" for Pakistan to come out of the "jehadi mindset", which is creating all kinds of domestic problems for the country. The U.S. seems to believe that if Musharraf fails to deliver on these crucial issues, there is no "Plan B" for Pakistan to fall back on.

FOR the U.S., the issue of religious fundamentalism is linked to Pakistan's overall development, both economic and political. If there is no crackdown on these "jehadi groups", then Pakistan's prospects are bleak, according to current U.S. analysi s.

Although there was no reference as to how the U.S. would use the economic lever in the form of International Monetary Fund (IMF) funding to Pakistan, it is clear that Washington is conscious of such a factor. An American analyst, Selig. S. Harrison, arg ued in the January 18 issue of The Los Angeles Times that the hijacking had "vividly dramatised why the United States should stop coddling the military regime in Pakistan and use its economic leverage to promote an early return to civilian rule".

Harrison argued: "So long as the armed forces retain absolute control, Islamic extremists will wield power out of all proportion to their real influence in Pakistan society. This means that Pakistan will continue to oppose American interests in South Asi a, and support Taliban rule in Afghanistan as well as militant Kashmiri insurgent factions opposed to political accommodation with India based on Kashmiri autonomy."

He wrote: "Given Islamabad's desperate need for IMF aid, the U.S. has enormous leverage. Washington should insist on a clear timetable for a return to constitutional, civil and democratic government as the precondition for U.S. support of further aid fro m international financial institutions. On his projected trip to South Asia, President Clinton should not visit Pakistan unless a timetable is announced. The President should not authorise further military sales to Pakistan that would undercut relations with India.."

Harrison added: "Islamic extremists have never done well in Pakistan at the polls, but they are likely to grow progressively stronger in the streets as disenchantment with the military regime deepens... Moving to a new elected leadership offers the last, best hope to consolidate secular resistance to a fundamentalist take-over and to defuse regional tensions. Indefinite military rule is the road to internal chaos and another Indo-Pakistan war."

THERE is little doubt that relations between India and Pakistan have never been as bad as they are today, and the two countries have the ability to sink their relations further to depths that have never been fathomed before. The Pakistani establishment, in its blind support to the jehadi forces, needs to realise that the mood in India is harsh, and that no unilateral initiative should be expected by the military rulers after the hijacking incident.

The growing impression is that Pakistan provides sanctuary to anti-India, anti-U.S. terrorist forces, whether they are released militants or hijackers. The fact that Ibrahim Azhar or Athar, brother of Masood Azhar, who is suspected to be the Kingpin of t he hijack drama, has not appeared in public even a month after the incident, makes it clear that he is one of the hijackers.

Even as diplomatic pressure is mounted on Pakistan, the need to focus on peace in the region cannot be ignored. "Limited war" doctrines or warnings that India could cross the Line of Control (LoC) are best avoided in a tense environment. Also, it is clea r that there is no "one truth" about incidents that occur along the LoC: Pakistan has its own "truth" and India has its own. Often, there is no meeting point between these conflicting versions.

Pakistan is a state which can say anything to its citizens about India and get away with it. A questioning approach on issues related to India, barring some honourable exceptions, is absent in the country as a whole. Sustaining an artificial "consensus" on India is central to Pakistan's foreign policy approach.

In a refreshingly candid piece in The Friday Times (January 28-February 3, 2000), Khalid Ahmed, a Pakistani analyst, writes: "Pakistan's foreign policy can be summed up in short order as confrontation with India and commitment in Afghanistan... bo th Kashmir and Afghan policies were a continuation of the policy of subterfuge adopted during the jehad against the Soviet invasions. The world knew that Pakistan was deeply involved but accepted its denials and voted overwhelmingly for Pakistan-s ponsored resolutions in the U.N. General Assembly.

"Pakistan embraced the practice of a 'deniable' foreign policy and made it permanent. But after the Soviets left Afghanistan, international opinion gradually veered away from accepting it without questioning it. Afghanistan and Kashmir were linked togeth er under the simple principle of good management. The militants for Kashmir were also trained in camps in Afghanistan. Jehadi militias operating in Held Kashmir straddled Pakistan, making a bridge out of it. Their proliferation gave birth to rogue and se mi-rogue outfits that Pakistan had to tolerate to save its foreign policy from collapsing...

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"It is no longer possible to defend the 'deniable' foreign policy in Kashmir and Afghanistan. International opinion may be critical of India's violation of human rights in Kashmir, but it is more troubled by Pakistan's intervention in Held Kashmir.

"Those who wish to stick to the old policy are simply resisting internal change in Pakistan either because they favour what is happening inside Pakistan or are simply too fearful of defying the internal trends... They may be scared of Talibanisation of P akistan but will not factor that into their consideration of Pakistan's Afghan policy..."

Clearly, the stark contradictions in Pakistani policy are apparent to right-thinking Pakistanis. The question, of course, remains: can the military government of Pervez Musharraf distance itself from the jehadi forces and return Pakistan to a genu inely moderate Muslim state, rather than converting it into an Islamic state whose chief export is "jehad"?

Renewed hostilities

cover-story

The fresh round of clashes along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir could snowball into a serious crisis and help Pakistan's calls for a U.S.-authored solution to the Kashmir conflict find sympathy abroad.

PRAVEEN SWAMI

EIGHT months after the beginning of the Kargil War, the areas along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir are once again resounding with machine gun fire. At least half a dozen major skirmishes have occurred in the past month in the Jammu and Le h divisions. Firing on border posts are not particularly unusual since Pakistan has traditionally helped terrorists and foreign mercenaries to infiltrate from across the border by subjecting India's forward positions to suppressive fire. But read in the context of a general escalation of violence in the State, renewed hostilities along the LoC could snowball into a serious crisis.

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The worst attack took place in the Akhnoor sector of the Jammu division on January 22, ahead of Republic Day. Indian officials said that at least 18 Pakistani soldiers were killed when Indian troops repulsed an assault by soldiers of the 24 Bhaluch Regim ent on an Indian position, PP 13, in the Pallanwalla area of Akhnoor. The Pakistani attack was backed by mortar fire. Six bodies, including that of an officer, were recovered by Indian soldiers. (Two attempts were made to capture the post, on August 31 a nd September 12, 1999, but they were not executed on the scale of the January offensive.)

Pakistan promptly claimed that the casualties were inflicted by Indian soldiers who had stormed its border position. While this does not explain how the bodies of Pakistani soldiers ended up on the Indian side, some observers believe that the fighting co uld have in fact involved limited incursions by both sides. Late last year Pakistan had claimed that Indian troops had crossed the LoC near Gulmarg in order to attack a position where terrorists tasked to attack forward Indian posts had been positioned. At least 12 Pakistani troops were killed in that operation, although their bodies were again recovered on the Indian side.

As in the past, Pakistan responded to the Pallanwalla firing with a massive artillery barrage. A civilian, Puran Chand of Gangriyal village, died in the fire. Pallanwalla town has been deserted ever since its 15,000 residents were evacuated during the Ka rgil offensive. Intelligence officials believe that the latest artillery barrage was used by at least one Harkat-ul-Ansar group, led by Arshad Khan, to cross the LoC to Jammu. Several reports of similar infiltration preceded Republic Day celebrations in the State; in Jammu city timer-fitted rockets were discovered days before the event.

The Pallanwalla fighting is just part of a larger pattern of similar incidents. On December 31, Pakistani troops attacked the Amar Post in the Turtok area in Leh, leading again to massive artillery duels. Details of the incident and of the casualties are yet to emerge. What is known is that the Amar post assault was followed in quick time by fighting at Thang Top, the mountain perched over the village of Thang, which India gained control of in the 1971 war. Both attacks, officials say, were repulsed. Sn iping is common in the Siachen area, to which Turtok is the gateway, but such concerted attacks have taken place after several months.

There is also considerable controversy surrounding a second reported incident of combat in the Kargil sector. In mid-January, reports began to circulate that Pakistani soldiers had occupied Indian posts above Niril and Badgam, mountain villages perched a bove Kargil town. Rumours circulating in the town provoked panic, particularly since Indian Army officials have ensured that no troops are withdrawn from winter positions despite the sub-zero temperatures.

Officials of 121 Brigade who are charged with the defence of the Kargil area, insist that all their posts are in position. While the Army's credibility about its forward positions was more than a little undermined by the truth of Kargil, in this particul ar case it appears that 121 Brigade's account may be correct.

Heightened tensions have, however, been witnessed throughout the State. Several Pakistani gun positions have been moved forward to the LoC in Turtok. Since routine shelling does not need artillery to be positioned so close to Indian positions, officials suspect that the Pakistani Army wishes to be prepared to hit targets deep on the Indian side. The Tangdhar area on the LoC's northwestern corner has also seen regular exchanges of fire. Indian deployments in the area were significantly strengthened after reports came in that Pakistani irregulars planned to cut off the Tangdhar-Srinagar road with artillery support. Intelligence reports suggested that a similar enterprise was planned in the Uri sector as well.

Border exchanges are just part of the problem. The series of attacks on Indian Army and police positions by Lashkar-e-Taiba and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen suicide squads, called Fidayeen groups, continued unabated. In the latest incident, the 10th of its kind, two Harkat-ul-Mujahideen operatives attacked the Army's Tattoo parade ground in Batmaloo in Srinagar, while other members of the group suppressed its defences with grenades and rockets. Two soldiers were killed and six injured in the attack. Subsequent investigations revealed appalling security lapses.

Defence Minister George Fernandes charged Pakistan on January 24 with intensifying border clashes. But he seemed less than clear about just what the Government planned to do about the situation. After the bloody Pallanwalla clash, Pakistan's Chief Execut ive, General Pervez Musharraf, for his part, threatened to "teach India a lesson". Observers believe that the border exchanges, along with the sharp escalation of violence in the State, are designed to force the pace of the United States' intervention in the issue. With President Bill Clinton's visit to India expected soon, it would suit Pakistan to have the LoC in as fragile a state as possible.

Much of the Indian Government's time is being spent in persuading the U.S. to act against Pakistan though there is little reason to believe that its efforts will bear fruit. The U.S. does indeed appear to be pressuring the Pakistan Government and its int elligence apparatus to end their flagrant support to militant organisations such as the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. But the U.S' chief concern appears to be the Harkat's connections with the Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden (who is reportedly in Kandahar, under the protection of the Taliban) and other far-Right terrorist organisations in Afghanistan, and not its campaign in Jammu and Kashmir.

It has passed almost unnoticed that the Kargil War was preceded in the spring of 1999 by the worst artillery exchanges since 1971 along the LoC. A succession of communal massacres and attacks on security personnel too marked the build-up to the war. It i s hard to say just how events might play themselves out this time around, but it would be unwise to pretend that the prospect of another limited conventional engagement does not exist. Incidents such as the one at Pallanwalla illustrate that the patience of Indian troops on the ground is running out. Should the ongoing clashes escalate into wider hostilities, Pakistan's calls for a U.S-authored end to the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir may just find sympathetic ears abroad.

An offensive strategy

cover-story

The BJP-led Central Government's new 'offensive strategy' to engage terrorists in Kashmir would only jeopardise the internal security arrangements in the State.

PRAVEEN SWAMI

IN 1649, Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh went to battle at Kandahar, pitting their armies against the Safavid dynasty's forces. Despite suicidal charges that were fuelled by opium, the Mughal infantry was driven back. When all else failed, Aurangzeb reached fo r his prayer mat to call god to the aid of the Mughal armies. Dara Shikoh, for his part, pushed sorcerers and shamans into battle. But prayer and black magic, the holy book and occult invocations, all proved inadequate to retake Kandahar. Persia's modern artillery ensured that the city of Aurangzeb and Shikoh's forefathers remained in Safavid hands.

Union Home Minister L.K. Advani is an unlikely candidate for description as a latter-day Aurangzeb. But the fact remains that the making of policy on Jammu and Kashmir is beginning to resemble a bizarre, narcotic-driven ritual, complete with mystical inc antations and magic potions. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government's new policy on combating terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir is more than a public relations exercise to retrieve the credibility lost by its capitulation to the hijackers of Indian Airli nes Flight IC 814. Announced on January 17, the new policy transcends actuality, making it clear that the Union Government wishes the real world did not exist.

Consider the facts. Advani announced that new, specialised units of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) would be set up to address terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. Two days later, officials in Jammu were informed that 26 companies of the CRPF, consist ing of over 3,000 personnel, were to be withdrawn from the State. The companies will come from the training reserve strengths of each of the CRPF battalions, made up of six companies, posted in the State. None of them, perhaps unsurprisingly, is actually being withdrawn for transformation into the crack anti-terrorist force Advani had spoken of. State security officials were curtly told that they were needed for election duties in Bihar.

Under other circumstances, the withdrawal of the CRPF battalions would not have been a problem. But the deployment of security forces for purposes of internal security has been severely thinned in the wake of the Kargil War. Fiftyeight battalions of the Army were hurriedly withdrawn from anti-terrorist duties soon after the Kargil War broke out. Although most of the troops have now returned to their previous locations in the State, independent estimates suggest that some 22 of these battalions are now c ommitted to defensive duties along the Line of Control. The string of attacks this winter on Army camps has led to a near-doubling of troops committed to securing their own locations. The withdrawal will inevitably put further strain on operational resou rces.

MASSING troops to secure the Rashtriya Janata Dal's defeat in Bihar at least makes some crude political sense. However, other elements of the BJP's new policy on Jammu and Kashmir do not. Advani spoke, for example, of extending the current Unified Headqu arters structure down to the divisional and district level. This is meant to help Army units liaise with the State police, the Border Security Force (BSF) and the CRPF. But such coordination already exists on an informal basis, and there is reason to be lieve that the new structures could create more problems than they solve. Indeed, the result of district- and divisional-level headquarters is likely to be the replication of the power struggles in the existing twin Unified Headquarters at Jammu and Srin agar.

As the announcement that the Army's 14 Corps will have overall control of the new Unified Headquarters at Leh suggest, the plan appears to be a response to Army demands for overall control of counter-insurgency operations. In August last year, plans for control of the BSF by the Army had provoked a furore in the State security apparatus. Based on a 1998 internal document issued by the Army Training Command in Shimla, those ideas appear to have been pushed through in a modified form. Past experiments of this kind were far from successful. In 1997, Doda district was carved into four "core group" areas, and an officer of the rank of Superintendent of Police was assigned effective charge of each Army brigade. Power struggles and institutional egos predicta bly disrupted the earlier parameters of cooperation between the forces, and the concept was quietly shelved.

What form sector operations might take is also far from clear. The Home Minister announced that 49 operational sectors were being carved out in order to improve efficiency. In fact, 30-odd sectors already exist, built around the Army's brigade-level depl oyments. The new sectors would presumably break down the cutting-edge deployments in some of the existing areas from the brigade to the battalion level. But no one at the Union Ministry of Home Affairs has so far cared to explain just how this will impro ve the functioning of the counter-insurgency grid. At best, the new sectors would put in place some kind of additional structures with specifically assigned charge of areas particularly hard-hit by violence.

Even more bizarre is Advani's demand that security forces in the State "take a proactive approach against the terrorists in the hinterland and establish area domination by day and by night" ('Govt. plans unified command against terrorism', The Times o f India, January 18, 2000). That the Union Government imagines that security forces personnel spend their nights in bed illustrates just how detached from reality the politicians and bureaucrats who frame policy can be. Advani also spoke of "round-th e-clock operations to neutralise terrorist modules", an insult to the officials and troopers who often spend days on end without sleep engaged with enemy fire. Making forward-line officers and personnel scapegoats for the larger doctrinal and strategic f ailures of the Union Government is perhaps politically expedient, but has led to more than a little bitterness.

Security officials in Kashmir wryly suggest that the solution might lie in the creation of a Unified Headquarters in New Delhi, not north of the Zojila pass. The Union Government's allegedly new policy was crafted by a Byzantine maze of agencies and bure aucrats including Union Home Secretary Kamal Pande, head of the Home Ministry's Jammu and Kashmir cell, T.R. Kakkar, and members of its Internal Security cell responsible for all India matters. The heads of the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and An alysis Wing, Shyamal Dutta and A.S. Dulat respectively, also pitched in, along with Chief of the Army Staff Gen. V.P. Malik and heads of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, the BSF and the CRPF. Few of these security officials have any real contact with the State, bar the odd, airborne day-trip.

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IF security personnel in Srinagar are demanding a Unified Headquarters in New Delhi, their calls are not purely ironic. Advani's own incantations on Jammu and Kashmir have been mirrored by a series of similar magic formulas broadcast by Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh. Although Advani ensured that the January 17 meeting was chaired by Vajpayee, the fact remains that the BJP's internal fissures over Jammu and Kashmir have become embarrassingly evident. Replete wit h real durbar intrigue in the finest medieval tradition, the BJP's internal war on Jammu and Kashmir has crippled state policy as never before.

Jaswant Singh's unsubtle efforts to recruit the United States' assistance on Kashmir have, so far, had results not dissimilar to those of Advani's "proactive" policy. On January 19, the U.S. and India agreed in London to set up a joint working group on t errorism. Since exchanges of intelligence are well-established, it is unclear just what purpose such an institution would serve. U.S. demands that Pakistan shut down the offices of organisations such as the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen are driven by released ter rorist Masood Azhar's recent declaration of a jehad against that country. The U.S. has, in contrast, shown no inclination to sever its abiding relationship with its loyal client-state over violence in Kashmir.

What Jaswant Singh's desperate calls for U.S. mediation, cast as an appeal for assistance against terrorism, have achieved is to strengthen Pakistan's position. On January 20, Pakistan's Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf cited the examples of Koso vo and Bosnia to argue for greater U.S. intervention in Kashmir. President Bill Clinton, in turn, has on more than one occasion affirmed Pakistan's claims that Kashmir is the principal cause of tension between India and Pakistan, and a possible nuclear f lashpoint. It seems evident that the U.S. will use Clinton's coming visit to India to broker the contours of a settlement on Kashmir, a prospect that India's External Affairs Ministry has for several good reasons resisted for five decades.

Pakistani newspapers have been replete with speculation that the U.S. may, in the near future, appoint a special envoy on Jammu and Kashmir, mirroring similar arrangements for Tibet. Such a move would help push informal plans long advocated by the U.S. f or soft borders in Jammu and Kashmir, and near-complete autonomy for the Indian-held areas of the State. In practice, the plans are certain to ensure the ascendancy of far-Right Islamic groups in the region, with obvious consequences for India. The U.S. would, of course, emerge as the central architect of South Asia's future. The journey that began with Vajpayee's letter to Clinton asking for help with the Kargil War would then be complete.

ONE interesting sign of things to come is the announcement by the State Government last month that it would proceed with the implementation of plans for broad autonomy for the State. The proposals, outlined in the Report of the Committee on State Autono my, released in March last year, would replace, among other things, the fundamental rights granted by the Indian Constitution with new rights to be written into the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution. The Supreme Court's jurisdiction in the State will then e nd, along with that of the Election Commission. Parliament's powers to legislate for Jammu and Kashmir would be restricted to the subjects of defence, external affairs and communications. Additional subjects of legislation added after 1950 would lapse.

It seems implausible that Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah would have pushed ahead with his autonomy plans without some form of sanction from New Delhi. Abdullah's regular promises of securing autonomy no longer have great credibility in the State, so the decision to push for the implementation of the report is unlikely to have been driven by electoral concerns. It appears designed, rather, to aid the process of an eventual U.S.- authored solution. It is far from clear whether such a deal could be sold by the pro-U.S. factions within the BJP, but it seems probable that some effort to prepare the ground for such a deal is under way. This hijacking of the autonomy platform, originally conceived of as part of a broader process of democratisation, has not be en preceded by any process of broad-based consultation as promised two years ago.

Meanwhile, the business of managing violence in Jammu and Kashmir is being ignored. The real steps to contain terrorism lie not in troop redeployments or gross strengths, but in a candid reassessment of India's post-1996 counter-insurgency doctrines and tactics. Using massive Army and paramilitary deployments will help hold ground, but not the elimination of small groups of terrorists. In the process, the Army is being slowly bled. That fighting a covert war with overt means is an exercise in futility h as for long been understood. But plans to revitalise the State police force, and to improve the State's covert resources have been stonewalled by the political establishment, with calamitous results.

Sadly, even the more successful unorthodox enterprises of the mid-1990s have been allowed to collapse. Pro-India militia groups, made up of terrorists opposed to the ascendancy of the Jamaat-e-Islami and Hizbul Mujahideen, have degenerated into political enterprises, used mainly for ballot-box stuffing during elections. Reports of defections from major militias are frequent, and few groups are actually of any operational use. The Special Operations Group of the State police, set up to carry out targeted operations against the top leadership of terrorist groups, has been facing sustained attack from the ruling National Conference. What remains are political broadcasts masquerading as new policies, devoid of any ground-level meaning or purpose.

PAKISTAN'S war is certain to escalate this spring, as South Asia gears up for Clinton's visit. One probable course of action is for it to escalate violence along the Line of Control, this time not in Kargil but in Kashmir itself. Small groups of insurgen ts, which Indian intelligence officials describe as border action teams, have attacked Indian forward posts from Pakistan Army positions on several occasions. There have been at least six significant skirmishes along the LoC since last summer. Indian tro ops have responded twice, eliminating hostile positions in Gulmarg last September and at Akhnoor on January 22. Artillery exchanges have routinely followed such skirmishes. Pakistan's interests obviously lie in ensuring that these exchanges snowball into a full-blown confrontation.

Prime Minister Vajpayee, playing Dara Shikoh to the Home Minister's Aurangzeb, clearly has no answers. Both he and Advani see Jammu and Kashmir principally as a source of inner-party ideological legitimacy and mass support. The long journey that began wi th the Pokhran-II nuclear blasts in May 1998, and then travelled through Kargil to Kandahar, is still far from over.

Iron in the soul, decay in the brain

the-nation
P. SAINATH

"It seems, in the social realm, some kind of a counter-revolution is taking place in India."

"...as a society, we are becoming increasingly insensitive and callous."

"...The infamous practice (of sati) still manages to raise its head and, what is worse, even gets explained away as 'suicide' or as saintly sacrifice!"

"In parts of rural India, forms of sadism seem to be earmarked for Dalit women. From the time of Draupadi, our womenfolk had been subjected to public disrobing and humiliation as a means of vendetta - individual, social or political. For Dalit women it h as become a common experience in rural areas..."

"...the manner in which we squander or pollute precious reserves... the way we allow children to be exploited, the disabled to be passed by, speaks of a stony-hearted society, not a compassionate one that produced the Buddha, Mahavira, Nanak, Kabir and G andhi."

"...our greatest national drawback (is) the status of our women, and our greatest national shame, the condition of the Dalits..."

"Untouchability has been abolished by law but shades of it remain in the ingrained attitudes nurtured by the caste system."

"The unabashed, vulgar indulgence in conspicuous consumption by the noveau-riche has left the underclass seething in frustration. One half of our society guzzles aerated beverages, while the other has to make do with palmfuls of muddied water."

"... there is sullen resentment among the masses against their condition, erupting often in violent forms..."

"Our giant factories rise from out of squalor; our satellites shoot up from the midst of the hovels of the poor."

"What one finds disconcerting is even the absence of political rhetoric on these social ills."

- President K.R. Narayanan.

IT was simply the most significant speech made by a head of state in independent India's history. And much of the media missed the story.

When K.R. Narayanan addressed the nation on the eve of Republic Day, he handed down a scathing analysis of what has gone wrong with the country in recent years. Coming from a person holding the nation's highest office, it was not merely unusual but unpre cedented.

Here was the President of India speaking of "a counter- revolution taking place" in our society. With the exception of Harish Khare in The Hindu (who caught the soul of the speech in his report) most newspapers did not even mention that phrase, le t alone comment on it.

Here was a head of state saying, "the plain truth is that the female half of the Indian population continues to be regarded as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries." When a person with four decades of experience as a diplomat uses such unvarnished langu age, he does so deliberately and after much thought.

"Many a social upheaval can be traced to the neglect of the lowest tier of society, whose discontent moves towards the path of violence." That is the President of India explaining the turmoil in many parts of the country. Stating as given, that which off icialdom would fiercely contest.

Narayanan's main focus was on the rapidly widening inequality that marked Indian society in the 1990s.

It could not have been more appropriate. While people belonging to a microscopic percentage of the population are crowding weight-loss clinics to shed their fat, hundreds of millions of Indians are actually eating less. While young CEOs of companies draw pay packages that are unheard of, the real wages of agricultural labourers have stagnated or fallen in parts of the country.

Recent studies based on official data suggest that 70 million people have been added to those below the poverty line since the so-called "reforms" began. Even the World Bank concedes a disturbing rise in poverty in India (see the Bank Update on Poverty, July 1999). Hundreds of farmers committed suicide in India of the 1990s. And the number of job-seekers registered at employment exchanges reached 40 million. Put that in a single queue crowding two people to a metre - you would have a line 20,000 km long . More than thrice the length of India's 6,083-km coastline.

The President's Republic Day address was thus the first speech from official quarters approximating the realities of the 1990s. A far cry from the gung-ho pro-liberalisation platitudes stuffed down Indian ears since 1991.

HOW did the media respond? The country's most powerful English daily, The Times of India (Mumbai edition), gave all of six inches to the President. Less than half the space it gave the privatisation of Indian Airlines alongside (the Indian Airline s story was the first lead). The Times of India headline managed to miss entirely the thrust of the address. Its headline was "President for peace, advises Pakistan to shun terrorism."

On comparison, I found that the paper had given much more space on the front page of The Bombay Times to fashion model Madhu Sapre and assorted film stars to lecture us on patriotism during the Kargil conflict. Apparently the President of India is a weak-selling brand. And an unpatriotic one.

The Indian Express (Mumbai) did far better, though the Indian Airlines story was the first lead story there too. It noted that the President had expressed serious concern over regional and social inequalities. It caught his distress over growing d isparity in society. And it gave his comments more space than The Times of India did.

It then destroyed with its editorial the good sense shown in its news report. The President's speech had "all the usual lamentations..." And it challenged Narayanan on quotas by completely misstating his position. "No Sir! Permanent reservation is not sa lvation, it only enhances the social divide." Nowhere did Narayanan call in his speech for "permanent" reservations. Nowhere did he espouse them as "salvation".

And, of course, the editorial lectures the President on where The Indian Express thinks salvation lies. "There is an Indian market, a market not yet fully free in a democracy. But the state has not fully come to terms with the bazaar. For that we need a statesman with iron in the soul."

The editorial is a perfect reflection of the vulgarity, self-righteousness and self-indulgence that the presidential address so movingly describes. What Narayanan calls a "stony-hearted society" is what The Indian Express endorses. In response to the misery of hundreds of millions, it wants a leader with iron in the soul. The editorial made very well the President's point: "There are signs that our privileged classes are getting tired of (the) affirmative action..." The Indian Express seem s positively exhausted.

In all the TV channels I flipped through in the period soon after Narayanan made his speech, the first lead was the privatisation of Indian Airlines. Zee at least noted that there were critical references in the President's address. Some of the others wa sted not a word on it.

Never mind it was the first honest appraisal of the state of the nation in the post-1991 era of liberalisation and globalisation coming from a person holding high office.

THE effect of the President's speech (and later his comments on the legal system) on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party was entertaining. The same people clamouring for "a strong chief executive" were in panic at the first sign of a President giving the n ation both guidance and a piece of his mind. Remember, these are the very politicians who want a switchover to a presidential system where the chief executive is unshackled from accountability!

What if K.R. Narayanan had continued in his initial profession of journalist? And if he had submitted this striking analysis to a newspaper in Delhi or Mumbai? It is likely to have been rejected by the editor of the editorial page. The writer would have been told it was too ideological, lacking in objectivity and in balance.

It is not ideological, however, to dance like scantily clad cheerleaders for each act of privatisation that takes place. A semi-literate glorification of Market Fundamentalism and its Gospel of Growth would also not be ideological. That is normal behavio ur. The President's comments on the performance of the judiciary would be seen as inviting trouble and lacking in respect.

In short, he would not have been published. Come to think of it, even submitting the speech as President of India has not helped him get it published properly. Maybe we need a few editors with less iron in the brain and more grey matter.

A presidential intervention

the-nation

President K.R. Narayanan's cautionary words on the proposal to review the Constitution put the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government on the defensive.

SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN V. VENKATESAN

IRONICALLY enough, the proposal to "review" the Constitution forced itself into public focus as the country celebrated the golden jubilee of its basic document of laws and citizens' rights and duties. Not for many years has there been such a clear expres sion of divergence of opinions between the President and the Prime Minister, as was witnessed at the special function in the Central Hall of Parliament on January 27. Although spokespersons for the government have since been diligently seeking to dispel any notion of a rift on fundamental matters of principle, the intervention by President K.R. Narayanan has drawn clear attention to a deep-seated ambivalence in current political thinking.

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The proposition advanced by the President was simple. Infirmities of the political dispensation could not be attributed to the Constitution. Rather, they could be more appropriately blamed on the character and commitment of the men who have been working the political system. The President said: "(T)oday when there is so much talk about revising the Constitution or even writing a new Constitution, we have to consider whether it is the Constitution that has failed us or whether it is we who have failed th e Constitution."

That this presidential intervention followed a fairly clear-cut articulation by the Prime Minister of an intent to review the Constitution lent it added piquancy. And it has necessitated a thorough excavation of the origins of the idea in order to unrave l the agendas that may be hidden behind the innocuous notion of a review of the basic law.

Election manifestoes often have a quality of empty ritualism about them in the manner they choose to affirm traditional and well-respected political verities. Core areas of divergence between political parties lie in details which are generally left out of manifestoes. On occasion, though, the preambles, which set out the general ambience of a party's political philosophy, could be crucial to understanding its wider purposes.

Although it may have been broached on occasion in the past, the notion of a thorough review of the Constitution perhaps entered the political discourse for the first time in the Bharatiya Janata Party's election manifesto of 1998. This document begins wi th the invocation of an eternal Indian mind that has found its expression in the Indian nation. "It is this ancient Indian mind that formulated the Constitution of India," says the maniifesto, and "it is not the Constitution that shaped the Indian mind."

This is by any standard of evaluation a rather curious locution. As against the decidedly modern values that the Constitution seeks to enshrine - equality, the rule of law, secularism, the separation of powers - the BJP was seeking to invoke a primeval i nspiration for the Indian polity and its system of laws. This rather backward-looking perspective endowed the BJP's subsequent promise, to "review the Constitution of India, in the light of the experience of the past 50 years", with a certain ominous qua lity.

The BJP was until recently a staunch advocate of a presidential system of government, which presumably would eliminate the multiple sources of uncertainty and instability that parliamentary democracy is prone to. It found little purchase for this idea, s ince the dominant sentiment in political quarters was that the presidential system tilts too strongly towards a variety of political absolutism that a fledgling democracy cannot afford. In 1998, the promise to "review" the Constitution was read as an eff ort to recycle this old proposal and seek more far-reaching changes in the system of governance.

The idea nevertheless found its way subsequently into the BJP-led coalition's National Agenda for Governance in 1999. Although stripped of its metaphysical content by this time, the notion could not be viewed in neutral terms, simply because of the circu mstances of its origin. The golden jubilee of the Indian republic has provided the Atal Behari Vajpayee Government with the occasion to begin the process of implementing this election commitment. There is currently a search under way for suitable persons to serve on the proposed review committee.

According to the Union Law Ministry's background note on the issue, an Overview Committee, consisting of Prof. Mool Chand Sharma, R.K.P. Shankardass, Seita Vaidialingam, and Prof. Ghanshyam Singh, has identified many areas that need evaluation. These inc lude the fundamental rights, the directive principles of State policy, and fundamental duties. These apart, several Articles of the Constitution have been identified as reflecting areas of ambiguity. These relate, among other things, to the choice of Pri me Minister, assessment of the confidence of the Lower House of Parliament, and the determination of the "pleasure" of the President or (in the case of a State) a Governor.

Such a committee is also expected to examine the method and mechanism to be followed before an invitation to form a government can be extended, especially in situations where legislative majorities prove elusive. In this respect, the committee will have to examine all the key questions that have emerged over the last decade of instability in the Indian polity: whether it is the single largest group or party that should enjoy priority, whether a pre-election alliance should be given the first claim as ag ainst a post-poll coalition, and related matters. Other issues which are expected to be taken up are the powers and role of the Speaker under the Anti-Defection Act, the function of Governors, and the application of Article 356 to dismiss a State governm ent.

A gamut of other issues, such as electoral reforms, judicial appointments, corruption and political accountability, minority rights, federal fiscal relations, inter-State disputes, reorganisation of States, reservations and affirmative action, economic r eforms, and the role of a neutral bureaucracy, would also conceivably be examined by the committee, which would be expected to hear all interested parties and groups.

A point on which the BJP has shown particular eagerness would also come up - on the feasibility of incorporating a provision analogous to the German system of a constructive vote of no-confidence. Such a provision would ensure that a motion of no-confide nce would only be admitted on condition that the political party initiating it had the legislative resources to form an alternative government. It would ostensibly ensure that a duly elected Lower House would complete its full five-year term of office, s ays the concept note prepared by the Ministry of Law. The note calls the conduct of three parliamentary elections in just three years as an aberration that calls out for correction.

Critics of the government's intent insist that on all these questions, there exist a sufficient weight or precedent and judicial rulings that can through political dialogue and consensus be operationalised within the Constitution. They believe that the B JP's ultimate purpose is to graft an artificial notion of political stability on to the basic law, which could prove harmful to the more valuable notion of accountability.

THESE were the concerns that the President forcefully articulated in his address of January 27. He took his cue from the following characterisation of the Constitution by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, its principal author: "It is workable, it is flexible and it is strong enough to hold the country together both in peace time and in war time. Indeed, if I may say so, if things go wrong under the new Constitution, the reason will not be that we had a bad Constitution. What we will have to say is that man is vile."

The President also quoted Dr. Rajendra Prasad, who as the President of the Constituent Assembly, had said: "If the people who are elected are capable men of character and integrity, they should be able to make the best of a defective Constitution. If the y are lacking in these, the Constitution cannot help the country."

Inherent in the President's intervention was a resounding reproach. If politics becomes the domain of the self-seeker, then the character of the law that they are required to work would be immaterial. If they should then arrogate to themselves the freedo m to alter the basic law, they are likely to do more harm than good.

The President was at pains to point out that great thought and deliberation had gone into the choice of the appropriate form of government for the country. Ambedkar, he reminded the audience, had explicitly drawn attention to the polarity between the not ions of stability and responsibility, and emphasised that he preferred to keep his faith with the latter: "In the Constituent Assembly Dr. Ambedkar explained that the Drafting Committee in choosing the parliamentary system for India, preferred more respo nsibility to more stability, a system under which the government will be on the anvil every day... The Constituent Assembly... chose this system because they preferred more responsibility to stability, which could slip into authoritarian exercises of pow er. Another factor to be borne in mind is the immensity of India, the perplexing variety and the diversity of the country, the very size of its population and the complexity of its social and developmental problems. In such a predicament, described by on e writer as one of 'a million mutinies', there must be in the body politic a vent for discontents and frustrations to express themselves in order to forestall and prevent major explosions in society. The parliamentary system provides this vent more than a system which prefers stability to responsibility and accountability."

The value of this system was not in any way diminished by the recent experience of instability in government, said the President: "In my opinion we should avoid too much rigidity in our system of government as in a very rigid system there is the danger o f major explosions in society taking place. The possibility and the facility of a change in government is itself a factor in the stability of the political system in the long term because then the people will be more inclined to tolerate a political situ ation they do not approve of or find difficult to cope with for long."

Prime Minister Vajpayee had earlier spelt out his perceptions on the issue by drawing attention to the "acutely" felt need for stability both at the Centre and in the States, to ensure faster socio-economic development. The Constitution, he said, was not immutable, since "even in the mightiest fort one has to repair the parapet from time to time. One has to clean the moat and check the banisters... the same is true of our Constitution." While the Constitution has stood the test of time, five decades aft er its adoption India was faced with a "new situation", the Prime Minister suggested.

The Prime Minister reiterated his full and unreserved acceptance of the validity of the basic structure doctrine, as enunciated in the Keshavananda Bharati case by the Supreme Court. Nobody in the BJP has yet spoken openly in terms of abrogating t he parliamentary system of governance in preference to the presidential system, although Law Minister Ram Jethmalani did, in a subsequent intervention, say that the review committee would be free to consider proposals to this effect.

The President did not take a position on the proposal to adopt the German system of constructive motions of no-confidence. But several observers question the wisdom of such a move, since it would incorporate a number of rigidities into the parliamentary system. The notion that once a government is in place it should not be subject to repeated demands to prove that it enjoys the confidence of Parliament is quite a distinct one, which could conceivably be achieved through a simple amendment in the rules o f procedure of the Lok Sabha.

In a hastily convened press conference the following day, Ram Jethmalani denied that there was any conflict between the views of the President and of the Government. Jethmalani interpreted the President's address to mean that he approved of the process o f keeping the Constitution under review and making changes where necessary. Whatever the recommendations of the review committee, they can only be brought into effect by the procedure enshrined in the Constitution, which is by a two-thirds majority in bo th Houses of Parliament. And since the BJP-led alliance lacks even a simple majority in the Rajya Sabha, it is effectively prevented from introducing any whimsical or arbitrary changes.

President Narayanan did in point of fact underline the need for changes in the basic law in a different context: "The founding fathers deliberately made the amendment process of the Constitution easy so that shortcomings or lacunae in the Constitution ca n be rectified by the Parliament without too much difficulty. There are other changes that can be brought about, like changes in the electoral law or the functioning of the political parties. Whatever we may do, and we have a right to bring about necessa ry changes in the political and economic system, we should ensure that the basic philosophy behind the Constitution and the fundamental socio-economic soul of the Constitution remain sacrosanct. We should not throw out the baby with the bath water..."

Taking his cue from this reference, Jethmalani insisted that if the President was opposed to "amendment per se, he would have been highly critical of what has been done to the Constitution almost 80 times in a span of 50 years."

STIRRING at the roots of this divergence are contrasting approaches to the task of improving the quality of governance and ensuring political accountability. The President evidently believes that the institutions and the enabling powers already exist to permit an enlightened debate on the experience of the last 50 years. The Government, in contrast, thinks that a new institution should be created to raise the level of debate. Opposition parties, however, believe that in the process of choosing a committ ee, the Government can also determine the nature of the outcome of its deliberations.

In subsequent statements, the BJP echoed the Prime Minister's view that there was no question of tinkering with the basic structure of the Constitution. Party general secretary M. Venkaiah Naidu, however, underlined the need for amendments to plug loopho les. He gave a technical justification on the basis of the President's address to the joint session of Parliament on October 25, 1999, which mentioned the Government's intention to appoint a review committee. In having adopted the motion of thanks for th e President's address, Parliament sealed its approval of this proposal, he claimed. Union Home Minister L.K. Advani again sought to characterise the review as a "periodic health check-up".

The Congress(I) welcomed the President's cautionary words and virtually adopted them as its own. The party views the Constitution as an embodiment of the values of the freedom movement, which has stood the test and scrutiny of time. Party spokesperson Aj it Jogi expressed the fear that in the guise of a review, the government was seeking to put into effect its own sectarian agenda.

Devendra Dwivedi of the Nationalist Congress Party thought the President's intervention was in complete consonance with the oath he took on assuming office, to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member Prakash Karat was in complete agreement with the views expressed by the President. Changes, he said, can be made within the existing framework, but there should be no question of allowing any tinkeri ng with the basic values enshrined in the Constitution. Similarly, the Communist Party of India alleged that the BJP had been campaigning for a review to bring in changes that would cripple the parliamentary system and reduce accountability in Government . The President has put forward timely and cogent arguments against such attempts, it said. The party was opposed to a "roving review" as it would amount to putting a question mark on the Constitution itself.

A wake-up call

President K.R. Narayanan's address to the nation on the eve of Republic Day makes a profound impact.

THIS year's Republic Day marked the golden jubilee of the Indian republic. As always it was an occasion infused with symbolic importance. In the backdrop of the Kargil War and the hijack at Kandahar, the day seemed to have assumed further significance.

Introducing an element of introspection into his customary address to the nation on the eve of Republic Day, President K.R. Narayanan assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the republic. While hailing its achievements, he cautioned that justice - socia l, economic and political - remained an unrealised dream for millions of people. He said: "The benefits of our economic growth are yet to reach them. We have one of the world's largest reservoirs of technical personnel, but also the world's largest numbe r of illiterates; the world's largest middle class, but also the largest number of people below the poverty line and the largest number of children suffering from malnutrition. Our giant factories rise from out of squalor; our satellites shoot up from th e midst of the hovels of the poor. Not surprisingly, there is sullen resentment among the masses against their condition, erupting often in violent forms in several parts of the country."

Narayanan warned against the evils of unregulated liberalisation and the excessive focus on advertisement-driven consumerism, which he claimed unleashed frustrations and tensions in society. He said: "The unabashed, vulgar indulgence in conspicuous consu mption by the noveau-riche has left the underclass seething in frustration. One half of our society guzzles aerated beverages while the other has to make do with palmfuls of muddied water. Our three-way fast-lane of liberalisation, privatisation and glob alisation must provide safe pedestrian crossings for the unempowered India also so that it too can move towards 'equality of status and opportunity'. 'Beware of the fury of the patient man,' says the old adage. One could say 'beware of the fury of the pa tient and long-suffering people.'"

Referring to the debate on development versus ecology, and evidently hinting at the Narmada dam controversy, the President said that the nation cannot and ought not to halt movement in the trajectories of modern progress. He hoped that more factories wou ld rise, more satellites soar into the sky, and more dams built to prevent floods, generate electricity and irrigate dry lands. He, however, clarified: "But that should not cause ecological and environmental devastation and the uprooting of human settlem ents, especially of tribals and the poor. Ways and methods can be found for countering the harmful impact of modern technology on the lives of the common people... While the government must be held responsible for environmental and human consequences of mega projects, the responsibility for environmental protection cannot, however, lie with the government alone. It must also be borne by civil society." He suggested that governmental efforts in increase water supply be supplemented by a people's movement to capture and conserve rain water.

The President dwelt at length on the status of women and Dalits. The status of women was the greatest national drawback and the condition of Dalits the greatest national shame, he said.

"Fifty years after our Constitution, the plain truth is that the female half of Indian population continues to be regarded as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries," he said.

Justifying the demand for reserving seats in Parliament and State legislatures for women, he said that it had become a compelling necessity to counter discrimination against women in society. Subtly hitting back against the people who hesitate to give th e Dalits their due share in the political, social and judicial order, he hinted that there were signs that "our privileged classes are getting tired of the affirmative action provided by constitutional provisions."

He cautioned: "On this golden jubilee I would like to say that let us not get tired of what we have provided for our weaker sections, for otherwise, as Dr. Ambedkar pointed out, the edifice of our democracy would be like a palace built on dung heap." He said that although the policy of reservation in educational institutions and public services flowed from the Constitution, it remained unfulfilled because of narrow interpretations of these special provisions by the bureaucracy and the administrative mac hinery.

The President observed that some kind of a counter-revolution was taking place in the social realm. "It is forgotten that these benefits have been provided not by way of charity, but as human rights and as social justice to a section of society who const itute a big chunk of our population, and who actually contribute to our agriculture, industry and services as landless labourers, factory and municipal workers," he said.

The President's address, a departure from the conventional speeches made by his predecessors, made a profound impact for his candid analysis of the social system and for his call for an introspection on where the nation went wrong and the need to take co rrective steps.

Republic Day honours

the-nation
V. VENKATESAN

CIVILIAN awards bestowed by the government on eminent personalities on Republic Day every year are generally intended to renew public esteem on individual achievement, even though official recognition by itself sometimes lacks credibility. Recipients in the past have included persons whose contributions have been controversial if not dubious.

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There have been cases of recognition coming only after the individual received international acclaim. The belated move to confer the highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, on Amartya Sen, after he had received the Bank of Sweden Prize awarded by the N obel Prize Commitee, spoke volumes for the government's keenness to recognise merit.

In this year's awards, announced on January 25, no one has been conferred the Bharat Ratna. By awarding the Padma Vibhushan, the nation's second highest civilian award, to eminent writer R.K. Narayan (who fully deserved the Bharat Ratna in view of his in ternationally acclaimed literary accomplishments) along with 14 others, the government seems to have honoured the award itself. Narayan, who received the Padma Bhushan as early as 1964, received the Padma Vibhushan in the category of literature and educa tion.

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Other Padma Vibhushan awardees include Chief Election Commissioner Dr.M.S. Gill (civil service); former Punjab Governor B.D. Pande (civil service); economists Prof. Jagdish Bhagwati and Prof. K.N. Raj (both for literature and education); Pandit Jasraj (a rt - classical music - vocal); Hariprasad Chaurasia and Ustad Vilayat Khan (both for art - classical music - instrumental); Odissi exponent Kelucharan Mohapatra (art - classical dance); Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman Dr.K. Kasturirang an (science and engineering - space technology); former Reserve Bank of India Governor M. Narasimham (trade and economic activity); former bureaucrats Tarlok Singh and Krishen Behari Lall (both for civil service).

Former Union Minister Sikander Bakht, the prominent Muslim leader in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who was not given a berth in the Vajpayee Ministry after the last general elections, has received the Padma Vibhushan in the public affairs category. B akht had openly criticised his exclusion from the Ministry and this is clearly an instance of a national civilian award being used to appease partisan and sectional interests, and to balance the various pulls and pressures within the BJP.

Swami Ranganathananda of the Ramakrishna Mission has declined the Padma Vibhushan as it was conferred on him in his individual capacity. He had accepted the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration in 1987 and the Gandhi Peace Prize in February last year as both were conferred on the Mission.

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Among the 21 recipients of Padma Bhushan were Tamil superstar Rajnikant (art - cinema), Director of Centre for Science and Environment and environmental activist Anil Agarwal (miscellaneous), industrialist Ratan Tata, former Information Adviser to Indira Gandhi, H.Y. Sharada Prasad, scientist Prof. P.V. Indiresan and Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan. Archaeologist B.B. Lal, who had backed the Sangh Parivar's view on the Babri Masjid's archaeology during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, was also hono ured with a Padma Bhushan.

Cardiologists Mathew Samuel Kalarickal and I. Sathyamurthy, music director A.R. Rahman, film director Shekhar Kapur, vocalist Shubha Mudgal, film actress and dancer Hema Malini, film producer and director Ramanand Sagar of Ramayana fame, painter Anjolie Ela Menon figure among the 43 Padma Shri awardees.

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Although the awards are meant to honour persons who have excelled in various walks of life, the powers that be have found it difficult to resist the temptation of honouring persons close to their school of thought. The Vajpayee Government has tried to st rike a balance between the compulsions of distributing such honours to persons close to the Sangh Parivar and honouring non-partisan eminent personalities.

The clergy vs the SGPC

other

War breaks out in the Sikh politico-religious establishment, with almost all Akali factions supporting the SGPC and the entire religious establishment backing Puran Singh, the Jathedar of the Akal Takht.

PRAVEEN SWAMI

WAR has broken out again for control of the Sikh faith. The central characters in this are the predictable ones. Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) president Jagir Kaur is pitted against Puran Singh, the Jathedar of the Akal Takht, the highes t seat of Sikh religious authority. Earlier battles have seen the several Akali factions wage war through their proxies in the theocratic establishment. This time, however, the rules of engagement are altogether different. Priests and politicians stand s undered, with almost all the Akali factions backing the SGPC and the entire religious establishment supporting Puran Singh.

The bitterness of the fight was evident on January 25, when, with the backing of a wide spectrum of religious figures, Puran Singh excommunicated Jagir Kaur from the Sikh faith. While the Akal Takht has for long used excommunication to intimidate suppose d heretics or coerce dissidents, this is the first time in the institution's history that the head of the powerful SGPC has been subjected to such punishment.

As in the past, an arcane religious dispute forms the issue around which a war is waged. More than two years ago, the SGPC revived a century-old debate on a new Sikh calendar. The Bikrami calendar, shared by both Sikhs and North Indian Hindus, is inaccur ate by some 20 minutes each year. The Baisakhi festival, commemorating the founding of the Khalsa sect by Guru Gobind Singh, fell on April 10 in 1799. Last year, it was celebrated on April 14. Theologians concerned with the millennial implications of the 20-minute error pointed out that 13,000 years from now, Baisakhi would be celebrated in October. Under the Bikrami regime, saints' birthdays sometimes fell twice in the same year, and in some years they never came at all.

Some others were, however, less than enthused by this proposed break with tradition. Punjab's highly orthodox Sant Samaj, a coalition of powerful religious leaders, protested against the decision. Proposals sponsored by the SGPC for a new calendar, the S ant Samaj argued, would subvert well-established traditions. People who sympathised with the Sant Samaj position argued that most religions based their calendars on the movements of the moon, and not that of the sun. The then Akal Takht Jathedar, Ranjit Singh, evidently agreed. The SGPC's plan to implement the Nanakshahi regime were put on hold. However, vigorous debate on the issue continued both inside and outside the theocratic establishment.

Through most of 1999, the Sikh political and religious establishment had other things to worry about. By early last year, Ranjit Singh had entered into a frontal engagement with Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) establi shment. Egged on by SAD dissident and the then SGPC President, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Ranjit Singh attacked official plans for the celebration of the tercentennial of the Khalsa. The revolt led to the sacking of both Ranjit Singh and Tohra and their repl acement by Puran Singh and Jagir Kaur. Tohra responded by campaigning against SAD candidates in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. His campaign was at least in part responsible for the party's decimation.

In the wake of the SAD's humiliation in the Lok Sabha elections, Puran Singh proceeded to raise his own banner of revolt. On October 9, 1999 he joined a gathering organised by far-Right leaders such as Simranjit Singh Mann, Member of Parliament from Sang rur, to commemorate the deaths of General A.S. Vaidya's assassins Harjinder Singh Jinda and Sukhdev Singh Sukha. On the ocassion, Puran Singh described the two assassins as martyrs who were "the pride of the community". If this left anything to the imagi nation, Puran Singh forged on. "Bhindranwale," he asserted, was a "true follower of Sikhism, who fought bravely to defend the Golden Temple." Although Jagir Kaur and Badal were strengthened by the SAD's victory in the SGPC elections in November, the grou nd for renewed hostilities with the priesthood had been laid.

Matters came to a head in December, when the Punjab Government announced a holiday to mark Guru Nanak's birthday. The official holiday, based on the SGPC's Nanakshahi calendar-based recommendations, was scheduled for January 5. The priesthood was outrage d and insisted that the birth anniversary be celebrated on January 14, in keeping with the tradition. On December 23, Puran Singh summoned to the Golden Temple the head priests of the five most important shrines to discuss the issue. As members of the ri val factions shouted each other down outside, the Akal Takht finally issued its decision. A seven-member committee was set up to decide the issue, and Puran Singh asked all factions to abide by the Bikrami dates until it issued its verdict.

Events did not go quite according to plan. Although Badal backed down and announced a state holiday on the Bikrami date of Guru Nanak's birthday as well, the SGPC insisted on commemorating the event on the Nanakshahi date. Meanwhile, the seven-member com mittee split down the middle. A new calendar following the lines of the Bikrami regime was issued, following which three committee members, led by the Nanakshahi calendar's architect Pal Singh Purewal, resigned in protest. Jathedar Puran Singh rejected t he resignations, but the controversy refused to die down. The SAD centrists around Badal let it be known that they intended to force the issue. Rumours were rife that Puran Singh would meet the fate of his predecessor.

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On January 24, Puran Singh told his aides at the Golden Temple that he was driving down to the Huzoor Sahib shrine at Nanded in Maharashtra. The next afternoon, some newspaper offices received a fax message sent from a public facility in Guna, Madhya Pra desh, informing them that Jagir Kaur had been excommunicated. The excommunication order, signed by Puran Singh, said that Kaur was "excommunicated from the Sikh Panth for repeatedly and brazenly violating the writ of the Akal Takht". Puran Singh's note s harply attacked the SGPC president for "repeatedly ignoring and attempting to supersede the Akal Takht's position on the new Nanakshahi Calendar". This, he said, was evident in Jagir Kaur's decision to honour Purewal with a ceremonial siropa (scar f).

Puran Singh's order had clear political overtones. It directed that an SGPC executive committee meeting scheduled for January 27 be cancelled, and demanded that all its 15 members appear in person before the Akal Takht on February 2. The meeting is belie ved to have been called to build a consensus on deposing Puran Singh, and if that was indeed the case, the Jathedar had succeeded in ensuring his own survival. Badal, however, has denied that he has any plans to force a confrontation, and has appealed to both the Jathedar and the SGPC President to avoid furthering the fracas. It is unclear if Badal's appeal means that the SGPC executive will honour the Akal Takht summons, but tradition suggests defiance is improbable.

Jagir Kaur, however, seems determined to fight till the end. At a press conference, she asserted that "hukumnamas (edicts) cannot be pronounced from the rear seat of a car". She said, "I have not received any copy of the hukumnama", and add ed that she was "saddened" by what she described as "a violation of Sikh values and traditions". The hukumnama, she continued, could have been the outcome of the Jathedar being poorly advised by religious "renegades". Jagir Kaur pointedly referred to the fact that "the SGPC is entirely competent to dismiss the Jathedar". Although plans to call a special SGPC meeting to discuss the events have been deferred, it seems clear that Kaur is unwilling to allow the Jathedar to have his way.

WHY are festival dates so important to both priests and politicians? Part of the answer lies in the fact that the Bikrami calendar represents one of the few elements of Punjab's composite culture to have survived the processes of communal polarisation se t in place by the Akali and the Hindu-revivalist Arya Samaj movements. Important Sikh and Hindu festivals often coincide. Deepavali, for example, is celebrated by Sikhs as Bandi Chhor Diwas, marking the day when the sixth Guru, Hargobind Singh, secured t he release of people incarcerated in the Gwalior jail. The festival of Hola Mohalla always follows the Hindu festival of Holi, and Baisakhi, which represents the coming of spring, is celebrated by both Hindus and Sikhs.

Should the Nanakshahi calendar become universally accepted, many of these traditions would be fractured. Indeed, some religious figures, such as preacher Kashmira Singh have suggested that persons who promote the Nanakshahi regime in fact seek to disrupt Punjab's composite cultural traditions. But for politicians of the Sikh Right, the rejection of the Bikrami calendar would be an important step in defining and sharpening boundaries of identity. This desire to demarcate Sikh identity rigidly has been a central component of Akali politics from the 1930s, one driven at least in part by Hindu revivalism which sought to subsume the faith. Purewal has argued that the new calendar would be a central component of Sikh identity, mirroring the Muslim Hijri and the Hindu Bikrami regimes.

It is unsurprising, then, that Sikh communal politicians ranging from Badal to Tohra and Mann have supported efforts to put the Nanakshahi calendar in place. Akali politics is premised, in key senses, on the notion that the Sikh identity is so wholly dis tinct from that of the world around it that a separate political space is also imperative. Politicians like Badal and Tohra get little support from Punjab's Hindus, and their electoral survival is premised on ensuring that Sikh voters see the SAD faction s as their sole representative.

For the priests of the Sant Samaj, preserving secularism is not a major issue; ensuring control of the terms and content of religious identity is. Should the SGPC and the SAD succeed in pushing through the Nanakshahi calendar, the supremacy of these inst itutions over the religious leadership would be reinforced. While the Akal Takht Jathedar is technically a mere employee of the SGPC, and the Sikh Gurdwaras Act of 1928 makes no reference to his powers, successive occupants of the seat have engaged in co nfrontations with politicians. Similarly, organisations like the Sant Samaj have worked to ensure that their religious concerns remain at the centre of the SAD's political agenda.

Who, then, will win this war? History and the institutional influence of the SGPC and the SAD suggest that the priests are fighting a losing battle. But in the meanwhile the bitterness and confusion generated by decades of factional feuds in the Sikh rel igious establishment have had enormous costs for both the community and Punjab at large. The root of the problem lies in the inability of the SAD and other Akali factions to transcend the belief that the realms of faith and politics are inseparable. Iron ically, the SAD's recent electoral reverses illustrate the fact that most ordinary people feel that concerns of faith should stay inside gurdwaras. Both priests and politicians could discover in the not-too-distant future that their flock has moved on.

In a quandary over clemency

With political parties in Tamil Nadu holding divergent views, the Karunanidhi Government is dithering on the clemency petitions of the four persons sentenced to death in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

IT is more than three months since the Supreme Court reconfirmed by a two-one majority on October 8, 1999 the death sentences on Murugan, his wife Nalini, Santhan and Perarivalan, accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Yet no decision has so far been taken on executing the death sentence, essentially because the Tamil Nadu Government is in a quandary with regard to the clemency petitions submitted by the convicts to the Governor. As late as January 23, 2000, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi said t hat "legal discussions have not yet concluded" on their plea to reduce their sentence to life imprisonment.

Lawyers point out that the ball is now in the court of the Tamil Nadu Government because it is yet to appeal against the Madras High Court's verdict setting aside Governor Fathima Beevi's earlier order (dated October 27, 1999) rejecting the convicts' pet itions. When the order was challenged, Justice K. Govindarajan ruled on November 25, 1999 that the Governor's order could not be sustained because "the procedure of getting advice from the Council of Ministers by the Governor" under Article 161 of the Co nstitution had not been followed. The Judge said that it was for the first respondent (Governor) to pass a fresh order on the clemency petitions "after getting the advice of the Council of Ministers". He quoted from several Supreme Court judgments that h eld that the Governor had no discretionary powers under Article 161.

(Nalini, Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan sent their clemency petitions to the Governor on October 17, 1999. The petitions pointed out that Nalini and Murugan were married to each other and a daughter was born to them in prison. According to Nalini's pet ition, if she were to be hanged her daughter would be orphaned. The petitions said the four had undergone solitary imprisonment for eight years, and "this alone is a mitigating factor for commuting the death sentences" to life imprisonment.)

After the High Court's ruling, whenever reporters asked Karunanidhi whether the Council of Ministers had taken a decision on the clemency petitions, he replied that legal consultations were under way. He said on December 2, 1999 that it was the President who had to take a decision.

The fact is that the Tamil Nadu Government has been unable to take a decision on the politically sensitive issue. The ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) is in a bind, with its allies taking contradicting positions. Two of its allies, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), have been demanding commutation of the death sentences.

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On December 19, following a meeting of the MDMK general council, party general secretary Vaiko wanted the death sentences commuted to life sentence. PMK founder Dr. S. Ramadoss wrote to Sonia Gandhi, widow of Rajiv Gandhi, asking her to request President K.R. Narayanan to commute the death sentences on humanitarian grounds. Defence Minister and Samata Party leader George Fernandes also wanted mercy to be shown to the four convicts. (The four have not yet appealed to the President because the issue is st ill before the State Governor.) A number of organisations held a joint rally in Chennai on November 30, 1999 to urge Karunanidhi to recommend the reduction of the death sentences.

Two other allies of the DMK, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Tamilaga Rajiv Congress (TRC), have, however, explicitly said that "no mercy" should be shown to the killers of the former Prime Minister. TRC president and former Union Minister Vazhappadi K. Ramamurthi said his party would organise agitations in front of the Collectorates in the State on January 31 demanding that the Centre recommend to the President that the death sentences be confirmed. Ramamurthi pointed out that those who wanted mercy to be shown now were silent when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) killed Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) leader K. Padmanabha and 13 others and Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) leaders A. Amirthalingam, V. Yogeswaran , Sarojini Yogeswaran and Neelan Tiruchelvam. (The Supreme Court has held that it was the LTTE alone that was responsible for murdering Rajiv Gandhi. Many of the accused, including Murugan and Santhan, were LTTE operatives.)

Ramamurthi said: "The assassins of Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Gandhi were given death sentences and they were hanged. Those who argue on behalf of the LTTE should ponder this. It will become a precedent if, in the name of compassion, the death sentences o n the four persons are reduced to life imprisonment. It will become an incentive for murdering several leaders of Tamil Nadu. I request the Centre and the President not to delay the death sentence on the four accused in the murder of Rajiv Gandhi."

The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), headed by former Chief Minister Jayalalitha, and the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), led by G.K. Moopanar, have also made no bones about their opposition to the commutation of the death sentences. Cong ress(I) president Sonia Gandhi met the President and requested that the death sentence on Nalini be commuted to life imprisonment because Nalini had a daughter, but Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) president K. Ramamurthy vehemently opposed any commu tation of the sentence.

An advocate said that the problem had arisen now mainly because there was no time-limit for the Council of Ministers at the Centre or the State to tender its advice to the President or the Governor. "If there is a delay in the execution, the condemned pr isoner can approach the court again and the court may show sympathy because he has already undergone mental torture with the death sentence hanging over him," the advocate said. He pointed out that it was in January 1998 that the trial court sentenced al l the 26 accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case to death. But the Supreme Court annulled the death sentence on all but Nalini, Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan. "For the past two years, these people have been under stress but no decision has been taken," he said.

'Cho' S. Ramaswamy, Member of Parliament and Editor of Thuglak, a Tamil weekly, said: "I am not sure whether decisions on clemency petitions can be delayed beyond what amounts to a reasonable period of time. There have been cases where condemned prisoner s have argued that this very delay has subjected them to mental agony. Then the courts may pass strictures, which may lead to a reconsideration of the verdict."

Cho said that in this case "the delay created doubts about the motives of both the Tamil Nadu Government and the Central Government". He pointed out that there had been pleas that Nalini should not be hanged because she had a child and there were pleas o n behalf of the other three too. "The very approach and attitude of the advocates of compassion towards these killers is sickening," he said.

According to Cho, the attitude of the MDMK and the PMK, important partners in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which rules at the Centre, and of George Fernandes, accused of being an LTTE sympathiser, made him wonder whether the Centre was under pressure to recommend to the President the acceptance of the clemency petitions. Karunanidhi also would not like to be seen as a Chief Minister whose Council of Ministers recommended the execution of these Tamils. "So he would like the Centre to accept t he responsibility," Cho added.

This, he said, was "a very disturbing trend" because one would have expected the Centre and the State to say straightaway that these killers deserved no mercy. "I suspect that there is a conspiracy among the Centre, the State and the sympathisers of the LTTE to delay a decision on the matter as long as possible so that it will become a non-issue," he said.

The MDMK, the PMK and certain human rights organisations said that they were against death sentences in general. Cho asked, "Why did they not agitate against the death sentence when 'auto' Shanker (of Chennai, who was sentenced to death for several murde rs) was hanged? Do they want mercy to be shown to these (four) persons because they are politically opposed to the Congress?" He appreciated Vazhappadi Ramamurthi as one politician who took "a courageous and sensible stance on this issue".

Going for the Golan

It would appear that some headway has been made in the Israel-Syria talks on the Golan Heights, although a number of differences persist.

MOSHE DAYAN, then Israel's Defence Minister, had a change of heart in the small hours of June 9, 1967. Till then the lone hold-out in the Israeli Cabinet against an attack on Syria, Dayan suddenly called up his Commander in the north, General David Elaza r, and ordered him to take the Golan plateau. Analysts are still unsure whether the enigmatic Dayan had pulled off a masterly deception or whether he had finally made the choice between the risk of international opprobrium and the Israeli desire to posse ss the Golan. Ehud Barak, Israel's current Prime Minister and like Dayan a former General, appears to be following the same enigmatic route, albeit from the opposite point of origin.

Dayan never claimed that he stayed on the defensive on the Syrian front only till his army had broken the Egyptians and Jordanians and was thus free to concentrate in the north. He did admit in his autobiography that the unexpectedly swift collapse of th e Egyptian and Jordanian armies provided the opportunity for a strike against Syria before a United Nations-mandated ceasefire became operational. Since Dayan also notes that he feared the Soviet Union would pounce on Israel if it attacked Syria, some Is raeli analysts think that the Defence Minister might have been merely trying to deceive the world with a show of restraint till the opportunity arose.

What was more interesting were the comments that Dayan made in a subsequent interview that the decision to attack the Golan was made under a deal of political pressure from residents of Israel's Upper Galilee area. These residents apparently told the Cab inet that life had become intolerable because of artillery shelling from the Syrian side. In his interview Dayan was to say that the Syrians had in 80 per cent of the cases merely retaliated to Israeli provocations. It was lust for the green slopes of th e Golan and its rich water rather than the Syrian shelling that drove the Upper Galilee residents and led them to blackmail the government politically. All these points have been subsequently disputed, and since Dayan never revealed what exactly led him to change his mind, this will remain a grey area.

THE same mix of motives is operational 33 years down the road after Israel and Syria restarted negotiations in December 1999. Israel keeps playing up the security aspect and insists on guarantees in this regard before it will agree to withdraw from the G olan. At the same time, it is extremely anxious about the control and management of the water resources. Barak has already made one effort to persuade Syria to allow Israeli settlers on the Golan to remain even beyond the plateau. That was quickly shot d own but there are indications that more efforts on these lines will be made. These settlers, unlike those in the Palestinian territories, initially did not go up onto the plateau on the basis of any religio-historic motives. They now have flourishing vin eyards and industries there and the plateau is a more comfortable place to stay than the coastal plains to which the settlers might have to return.

Neither of these concerns, over security or water, entitles Israel to keep the Golan. As Syria's Foreign Minister Farooq al Sharaa pointed out in his opening remarks when the negotiations resumed, there are thousands of Syrians displaced from the Golan w ho now languish in Damascus as refugees. Israel may have the right to argue that the 1923 border linemarked by the French and British when they each appropriated provinces of the dissolved Turkish empire ought to be taken as the base when the internation al border is finally demarcated. But even if this line were to be taken as the true one, it would leave all of the Golan under Syrian sovereignty. In the war that broke out upon the formation of Israel in 1948 the Syrian forces made some advances in this sector, capturing the forward slopes of the Golan right down to a part of the Galilee sea shoreline. This was the border line till June 4, 1967, and Syria is firm that it will settle for nothing less than the restoration of this line.

Even Israeli reports, though somewhat foggy on the issue, seem to indicate clearly that Yitzhak Rabin had promised an Israeli withdrawal to the west and south of the June 4, 1967 lines in the course of the negotiations held between 1992 and 1996. The Syr ian representatives at those talks have claimed that an Israeli promise to withdraw beyond the 1967 line was "deposited" with the U.S. mediators. The document handed over by Rabin's government to the U.S. might have been a "declaration of intent" or "a c onditional promise" or an indicator of how far they would go if their demands were also met. But all said and done, the Rabin government did appear to have given a promise that the 1967 line would be treated as the border if a final agreement was reached after it was also satisfied about its demands.

The Rabin government's promise might not have been very relevant, though it would still have created problems if the government of Benjamin Netanyahu had not made a similar promise. During secret talks conducted through a businessman friend, Netanyahu re portedly handed over a letter to the Syrians strongly implying a withdrawal beyond the 1967 line, though the exact words were not used. This offer was scuttled by Ariel Sharon when he became Foreign Minister in the Netanyahu Cabinet. But even the Netanya hu letter might not have mattered if, as reported by Yehodiot Ahornot, Barak himself had not made a similar promise in an exchange with U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1999.

It was apparently this secret promise from Barak which provided Clinton with the substance to induce Syrian President Hafez al Assad to assent to a resumption of talks. Clinton finessed the face-off between the two sides by announcing publicly that the t wo sides had agreed to resume the negotiations "from the point they were left off in 1996". Such a formulation left vague the correct situation but allowed the Israelis to return to the negotiations saying that they had not agreed to the 1967 line and at the same time it allowed the Syrians to claim that Tel Aviv had indeed done so. The U.S. could have clarified the situation but it could only have done so at the cost of annoying one of the principals, and jeopardising the talks in the process.

Although Israel had "annexed" the Golan Heights by an Act of Parliament in the 1980s, it has been recognised by all the political parties there that there would be no peace with Syria unless there was a withdrawal "on" if not "from" the Golan. (Since Syr ia has never been willing to accept anything short of a full withdrawal, any Israeli presence to retain some presence "on" at least a part of the Golan would probably have been still-born.) But if the secret messages from three Prime Ministers showed any thing, it was a realistic appraisal that they would have to quit the plateau. In return for such a withdrawal, Israel has been demanding certain security arrangements and full normalisation of relations. The demand for normalisation is based on the presu mption that the establishment of full diplomatic, economic and commercial ties and the free movement of people and goods are by themselves the best guarantees of security.

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Barak met with Syria's Foreign Minister, in the presence of Clinton and his officials, in the U.S. in mid-December. The two West Asian leaders then returned for more intensive negotiations at Sheperdstown, West Virginia, from January 3 to 12. Four commit tees were set up to discuss the issues of borders, normalisation, security arrangements and water. Sticking to their negotiating position that they would settle the border question only after the security and normalisation aspects were rounded off, Israe l ensured that the security and normalisation committees would meet before the border committee. Syria clawed its way back into the negotiations and the border committee also began its discussions within a couple of days.

When the full discussions got under way, it became clear that it was going to be the "so near yet so far" kind of situation which had been expected. Progress in any one of the committees could not so outpace the others as to create the impression that th e demands of one side or the other were being satisfied first. At length, Clinton apparently felt that he needed to apply a closure of some limited degree by setting out on paper how far and on what issues the two sides were in agreement or close to it a nd where they were not. This was supposed to be an informal "working document" on which both sides were invited to record their divergences on the points set out.

Despite the fact that a "media blackout" had been imposed, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz managed to publish a copy of this working paper which must be considered authentic since no one has questioned it yet. In form this document was a draft agree ment with preamble and nine articles. Both Syria and Israel had appended their differences as required. For example, in dealing with the border the document states: "2. The permanent, secure and recognised international boundary between Israel and Syria is the boundary set forth in Article II below. The location of the boundary has been commonly agreed (Syrian position: and is based on the June 4, 1967 line) (Israeli position: taking into account security and other vital interests of the Parties as well as legal considerations of both sides). Israel will (S: withdraw) (I: relocate) all its armed forces (S: and civilians) behind this boundary in accordance with Annex - of this Treaty. (S: Thereafter, each Party will exercise its full sovereignty on its side of the international boundary, including as agreed in this Treaty)."

Despite the number of differences recorded, the document showed that either some headway had been made in the negotiations or either side had started with a slightly softer approach than suggested by their public postures. For instance, Israel had droppe d any specific reference to the 1923 line, though the format used in recording their position vis-a-vis this point ("taking into account security and other vital interests of the parties as well as legal considerations of both sides") did not prec lude its being raised. On their part, the Syrians had apparently acceded to the Israeli demand that there must be a monitoring station atop Mount Hermon (abutting the Golan plateau), to observe any hostile movements from within Syrian territory even afte r a final agreement is reached. They, however, differed from Israel in that they wanted the post to be manned by U.S. and French personnel while Israel insisted that there must be an effective Israeli presence at this post.

There were other differences, mainly those relating to modalities rather than substance, in respect of other security arrangements, especially the size of demilitarised zones. But it did not appear that these differences would make for insurmountable obs tacles if other issues were settled. Neither side had any divergent views to offer on Clinton's formulation of what would be required in a state of normal relations between them. For instance, Syria, the far weaker economy, did not protest at the documen t's provisions for the free movement of goods and people. Even in respect of water the Syrians appear to have conceded that although they would control the Baniyas springs and other sources of the Jordan river (if and when they regained possession of the Golan) Israel would still have a say in the management of these water resources.

SO, as it has always been, the whole affair boils down to the question of the border. There is no way Syria is going to agree to a border line that runs along the Golan escarpment or one fairly high up the forward slope of the plateau. If the 1967 line i s taken as the base, it provides some scope for mutual adjustments since it was not a recognised or demarcated line. It was merely a line drawn on armistice maps that set out the military posts of the respective sides, minefields and demilitarised zones. Compromises are at least feasible when this line, or something based on it, is marked out on the ground. According to Haaretz, Barak has already got his military to map out where the 1967 line ran.

Taking into consideration the various developments during the negotiations and outside of it, the reason for Israel's refusal to acknowledge its acceptance of the 1967 line is not very clear. Barak has promised his people that he would sign a peace deal with Syria only if they endorse it in a referendum. Currently those opposed to a withdrawal from the Golan have the political momentum. Israeli analysts, giving the benefit of the doubt to Barak, feel that he has not got enough on security and normalisat ion for him to be able to convince his people that the return of the Golan is worthwhile.

The record suggests that the Israelis are is poised to get quite a deal already and that they will probably be very close to full satisfaction if they make the Syrians happy on the border question. Then again, Barak is perhaps waiting for these facts to sink in in the minds of his public before he makes any further move. Meanwhile, Syria called for an indefinite postponement of the third round, scheduled for January 19, till Israel provided a written promise that it would indeed withdraw behind the 1967 line.

Jubilee hopes

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Protests against the Confederate flag in South Carolina, which to many is a symbol of white supremacy, bring to the fore issues of racial justice and equality in the United States.

VIJAY PRASHAD

ON January 17, 2000, almost 50,000 people, mainly African Americans, but also sizable numbers of whites and others, gathered before the South CarolinaStatehouse for a rally to honour and enliven the ideals of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The crowd came from far and wide, mainly organised by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Urban League, and various African American, civil rights and religious organisations. People of all ages carried signs that read "Your Heritage is My Slavery", a rebuke to the Confederate flag that flies atop the statehouse. On January 1, the NAACP started an economic boycott of South Carolina to force the government to lower the flag.

"We are determined to bring that flag down," said Kweisi Mfume, president of the NAACP, an organisation founded in 1909 to fight racial discrimination in the United States. The flag, he noted, "Represents one of the most reprehensible aspects of American history not only for people of African ancestry but for people from every background who know and understand the destructive horrors created by slavery in this country". The NAACP is known for a restrained approach towards social justice, but over the p ast two years it has been forceful and has been taking to the streets. To some extent this has to do with the virulent backlash against people of African ancestry.

CURRENTLY, two million people languish in U.S. jails, of whom two-thirds are African Americans and Latinos and almost all are from the working class. Cases of police brutality against African Americans offer an indication of the everyday danger of being a black in the U.S. Amadou Diallo was shot by the New York police 41 times as he stood unarmed in his home. The Riverside, California, police shot Tyisha Miller as she sat in her car. Aquan Salomon, 14, was shot in the back by a Hartford police officer a s he stood with his hands raised. Enduring black economic disenfranchisement and intensified police misconduct towards blacks do not sit well with most Americans.

At the same time, many white Americans feel that the federal government should not do anything to transform what is widely regarded as a racist social structure. When Representative John Conyers Jr. asked for $8 million to fund a commission to study the feasibility of paying reparations to African Americans for slavery, he was not given time of day (he has submitted the bill each year since 1989). The German government compensated Jewish families for the Holocaust and corporations are now paying for for ced labour extracted during the Second World War. The U.S. government settled money on Japanese Americans who lost their wealth when they were interned in concentration camps during the 1940s.

Chattel slavery enabled the U.S. to gain from generations of African Americans, although they and their descendents will not see the gains from that labour. In the 1870s, the federal government promised 40 acres (16 hectares) and a mule to each freed sla ve. But that promise, like many others, was not honoured. President Bill Clinton offered a mute apology last year for the institution of slavery. In 1997, he ensured that African American survivors of the infamous Tuskegee Experiment received $10 million for the syphilis experiments they endured at the hands of the Public Health Service in the 1930s.

Most of the advances gained for African Americans have come as a result of their own struggles. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Parting the Waters, historian Taylor Branch documents the tireless striving of the African American people against a recalcitrant federal government. The fights to win freedom in the 1960s elevated Martin Luther King Jr. to virtual sainthood, this even more after his assassination by a white supremacist in 1968.

The fight to honour King's birthday is a symbolic one. South Carolina is the only State that refuses to declare a holiday on that day. Around the time of the struggle, the federal government approved the erection of a monument to King in Washington, D.C. , between the famous memorials to Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. It will be the first such monument for an individual who was not a President.

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Leslie Dunbar of the National Urban League told this writer that African Americans expected the year 2000 to bring some major changes. "It's 'Jubilee Time'," she noted, a reference to the millenarian idea within the African American tradition that on the 'Day of Jubilo' wrongs will be set right, not in some heavenly paradise but on the earth. Most celebrations of the millennium in the U.S. looked back nostalgically at the past and looked hopefully towards the future. The protests in South Carolina remin ded the nation that the past is not something that can be easily dismissed: the flag is a symbol of different heritages and of what equality should look like in the future. Almost two-thirds of the population of South Carolina indicated to pollsters that they would like to see the flag removed. Mark Toney, executive director of the Centre for Third World Organising, told this writer that for African Americans the idea of 'Jubilee Time' gave a sense of hope that the symbols of slavery must be removed and justice must reign.

As a monument to Martin Luther King will rise in Washington, D.C., the Confederate flag will continue to fly in South Carolina. The flag was adopted by the southern States in 1861 as they began their secession from the Union and inaugurated the Civil War (1862-1865). The last rebel flag was lowered in Liverpool, England, on November 6, 1865 when the Confederate navy (Shenandoah) surrendered to the Union. In 1962, as the U.S. was in the midst of a torrential fight over civil rights, white supremacists fo ught for and won the right to raise the Confederate flag atop the Statehouse. A hundred years after the start of the Civil War, which was principally over the question of chattel slavery, a segment of the white population that lost the war refused to adm it defeat.

A week before the NAACP protest, the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, members of the Republican Party and several white supremacist organisations held the Southern Heritage Celebration 2000 on behalf of the flag. Six thousand people gathered to hear Rep resentative Harry Cato intone that the flag "is now, it always has been, and it always will be a symbol of freedom". Senator Arthur Ravenel called the NAACP the "National Association for Retarded People" and the Commander in Chief of the Sons of the Conf ederate Veterans told the crowd to "stand up to the NAACP". Ravenel later apologised to "the retarded folks of the world for equating them with the NAACP".

On January 21, David Duke, a former leader of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan, formed the National Organisation for European American Rights. "I guarantee there are many European Americans who are refugees in our own cities," Duke told a news conferen ce where he lashed out at African Americans, Latinos, Jews and homosexuals. "We like our values. We like our culture. We want to preserve it," he said.

Duke's new organisation argues - as it was argued at the rally - that whites feel powerless today, not because of the power of multinational corporations, but because of the bias towards minorities. They speak of their 'heritage' and of 'state's rights', but to many African Americans these are code words for the continuation of the traditions of slavery. Barbara Phillip Sullivan, Professor of Law at the University of Mississipi, says that the flag is "hate speech, because its use in the South was intend ed to convey the ideology of white supremacy and the inhumanity and subordination of African Americans".

THE flag issue has become a touchstone for the campaign for the U.S. presidential election later this year. President Clinton said that the flag was raised atop the Capitol in 1962 by white supremacists as a "gesture of defiance". Vice-President Al Gore asked for the flag to be lowered. The Republicans, however, spoke for "white rights". Senator John McCain (Arizona) noted that "personally I see the battle flag as a symbol of heritage. I have ancestors who have fought for the Confederacy, none of whom o wned slaves. I believe they fought honourably." Laura Bush, wife of Texas Governor George W. Bush, the frontrunner for the Republican Party ticket for the presidency, said that the flag "is not a symbol of racism. I grew up in South Texas. It's just a ti me in our history that we can't erase."

Of course, those who want the flag to be removed want to remember history from the standpoint of the oppressed. This is the nub of the issue. Local politicians are left with an onerous task. David Beasley, the previous Governer of South Carolina, vowed t o remove the flag in November 1996 (this he did after he was elected on a pro-flag position). He was voted out of office. The present Governor, Jim Hodges, said that he wanted the flag to be moved to a place "of historical significance on the Statehouse grounds", to please all sides. However, no one is happy.

The year 2000 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of two anti-racist rebels, one white (John Brown) and one black (Nat Turner). The struggles of the NAACP against the Confederate flag are an apt start to this jubilee year, this celebration of the bi rth of two well-regarded Americans.

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

THE COST OF LIVING

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ARUNDHATI ROY

FAME is a funny thing. Apart from my friends and family and of course some old enemies (what's life without a few old enemies?), most people who know of me now, know of me as the author of that very successful book - The God of Small Things.

Success, of course, is a funny thing too.

Many are familiar with the public story that surrounds the publishing of The God of Small Things. As stories go, it has a sort of cloying, Reader's Digest ring to it - an unknown writer who spent secret years writing her first novel which w as subsequently published in 40 languages, sold several million copies and went on to win the Booker Prize.

The private story, however, is a less happy one.

When The God of Small Things was first published I truly enjoyed accompanying it on its journey into the world. I had a high old time. I spent a year travelling to places I never dreamed I'd visit. I was exhilarated by the idea that a story writte n by an unknown person could make its way across cultures and languages and continents into so many waiting hearts.

At readings, when people asked me what it felt like to be a writer who was published and read in so many languages, I'd say "The opposite of what it must feel like to be a nuclear bomb. Literature hugs the world and the world hugs it back."

After a year of travelling, I decided I wanted to go back to my old life in what was now the New Nuclear India. But that proved impossible. My old life had packed its bags and left while I was away. As the Indian Government gears up to spend millions on nuclear weapons, the land it seeks to protect moulders. Rivers die, forests disappear and the air is getting impossible to breathe.

Delhi, the city I live in, changes before my eyes. Cars are sleeker, gates are higher, old, tubercular watchmen have made way for young, armed guards. But in the crevices of the city, in its folds and wrinkles, under flyovers, along sewers and railway tr acks, in vacant lots, in all the dank, dark places, the poor are crammed in like lice. Their children stalk the streets with wild hearts. The privileged wear their sunglasses and look away as they glide past. Their privileged children don't need sunglass es. They don't need to look away. They've learned to stop seeing.

A writer's curse is that he or she cannot easily do that. If you're a writer, you tend to keep those aching eyes open. Every day your face is slammed up against the windowpane. Every day you bear witness to the obscenity. Every day you are reminded that there is no such thing as innocence. And every day you have to think of new ways of saying old and obvious things. Things about love and greed. About politics and governance. About power and powerlessness. About war and peace. About death and beauty. Thi ngs that must be said over and over again.

While I watch from my window, the memory of the years of pleasure I had writing The God of Small Things has begun to fade. The commercial profits from book sales roll in. My bank account burgeons. I realise that I have accidentally ruptured a hidd en, mercantile vein in the world, or perforated the huge pipeline that circulates the world's wealth amongst the already wealthy, and it is spewing money at me, bruising me with its speed and strength. I began to feel as though every emotion, every littl e strand of feeling in The God of Small Things, had been traded in for a silver coin. As though one day, if I wasn't very careful, I would turn into a little silver figurine with a gleaming, silver heart. The debris around me would serve only to s et off my shining. These were my thoughts, this my frame of mind when, in February (1999) there was a ripple of news in the papers announcing that the Supreme Court of India had vacated a four-year-long legal stay on the construction of the controversial , half-completed, Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada river in central India. The court order came as a body blow to one of the most spectacular, non-violent resistance movements since the freedom struggle. A movement which, those of us watching from a dis tance thought, had more or less already achieved what it set out to. International attention had been focussed on the project. The World Bank had been forced to withdraw from it. It seemed unlikely that the Government would be able to cobble together the funds to complete the project. Then suddenly, with the lifting of the stay, the scenario changed. There was gloom in the Narmada Valley and dancing on the streeets of Gujarat.

I grew interested in what was happening in the Narmada Valley because almost everyone I spoke to had a passionate opinion based on what seemed to me to be very little information. That interested me too, so much passion in the absence of information.

I substituted the fiction I intended to read in the coming months with journals and books and documentary films about dams and why they're built and what they do. I developed an inordinate, unnatural interest in drainage and irrrigation. I met some of th e activists who had been working in the valley for years with the NBA - the extraordinary Narmada Bachao Andolan. What I learned changed me, fascinated me. It revealed, in relentless detail, a Government's highly evolved, intricate way of pulverising a p eople behind the genial mask of democracy. I have angered people in India greatly by saying this. Compared to what goes on in other developing countries, India is paradise, I've been told. It's true, India is not Tibet, or Afghanistan, or Indonesia. It's true that the idea of the Indian Army staging a military coup is almost unimaginable. Nevertheless, what goes on in the name of 'national interest' is monstrous.

Though there has been a fair amount of writing on the Narmada Valley Development Project, most of it has been for a 'special interest' readership. Government documents are classified as secret. Experts and consultants have hijacked various aspects of the issue - displacement, rehabilitation, hydrology, drainage, water-logging, catchment area treatment, passion, politics - and carried them off to their lairs where they guard them fiercely against the unauthorised curiosity of interested laypersons. Socia l anthropologists have acrimonious debates with economists about whose jurisdiction R&R falls in. Engineers refuse to discuss politics when they present their proposals. Disconnecting the politics from the economics from the emotion and human tragedy of uprootment is like breaking up a band. The individual musicians don't rock in quite the same way. You keep the noise but lose the music.

In March I travelled to the Narmada Valley. I returned ashamed of how little I knew about a struggle that had been going on for so many years. I returned convinced that the valley needed a writer. Not just a writer, a fiction writer. A fiction writer who recognised that what was happening in the valley was perhaps too vulgar for fiction, but who could use the craft and rigour of writing fiction to make the separate parts cohere, to tell the story in the way it deserves to be told. I believe that the sto ry of the Narmada Valley is nothing less than the story of Modern India.

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The Narmada Valley Development Project is supposed to be the most ambitious river valley development project in the world.

It envisages building 3,200 dams that will reconstitute the Narmada and her 419 tributaries into a series of step-reservoirs - an immense staircase of amenable water. Of these, 30 will be major dams, 135 medium and the rest small. Two of the major dams w ill be multi-purpose mega dams. The Sardar Sarovar in Gujarat and the Narmada Sagar in Madhya Pradesh, will, between them, hold more water than any other reservoir in the Indian subcontinent.

For better or for worse, the Narmada Valley Development Project will affect the lives of 25 million people who live in the valley and will alter the ecology of an entire river basin. It will submerge sacred groves and temples and ancient pilgrimage route s and archaeological sites that scholars say contain an uninterrupted record of human occupation from the Old Stone Age.

The Sardar Sarovar project belongs firmly in the era of the great Nehruvian dream. But before I come specifically to the story of the Sardar Sarovar, I'd like to say a little about the raging Big Dam debate.

For a whole half-century after Independence, Nehru's footsoldiers sought to equate dam-building with Nation-building. Not only did they build new dams and irrigation schemes, they took control of small, traditional water harvesting systems that had been managed for thousands of years and allowed them to atrophy. To compensate the loss they built more and more dams. Today, India is the world's third largest dam-builder. According to the Central Water Commission we have 3,600 dams that qualify as big dams , 3,300 of them built after Independence. A thousand more are under construction.

Nehru's famous statement about dams being the Temples of Modern India has made its way into primary school textbooks in every Indian language. Big dams have become an article of faith inextricably linked with nationalism. To question their utility amount s almost to sedition. Every school child is taught that Big Dams will deliver the people of India from hunger and poverty.

But will they? Have they? Are they really the key to India's food security?

Today India has more irrigated land than any other country in the world. In the last 50 years the area under irrigation increased by about 140 per cent. It's true that in 1947, when Colonialism formally ended, India was food-deficient. In 1951 we produce d 51 million tonnes of foodgrains. Today we produce close to 200 million tonnes. Certainly, this is a tremendous achievement. (Even though there are worrying signs that it may not be sustainable.) But surely nobody can claim that all the credit for incre ased food production should go to Big Dams. Most of it has to do with mechanised exploitation of groundwater, with the use of high-yielding hybrid seeds and chemical fertilizers.

The extraordinary thing is that there are no official figures for exactly what portion of the total foodgrain production comes from irrigation from Big Dams.

What is this if not a state's unforgivable disregard for its subjects? Given that the people of the Narmada Valley have been fighting for over fifteen years, surely the least the government could do is to actually substantiate its case that Big Dams are India's only option to provide food for her growing population.

The only study I know of was presented to the World Commission on Dams by Himanshu Thakker. It estimates that Big Dams account for only 12 per cent of India's total foodgrain production!

12 per cent of the total produce is 24 million tonnes. In 1995 the state granaries were overflowing with 30 million tonnes of foodgrains, while at the same time 350 million people lived below the poverty line.

According to the Ministry of Food and Civil Supplies, 10 per cent of India's total foodgrain production, that is 20 million tonnes, is lost to rodents and insects because of bad and inadequate storage facilities. We must be the only country in the world that builds dams, uproots communities and submerges forests in order to feed rats. Clearly we need better storerooms more urgently than we need dams.

Similarly, in the case of electricity, planners flaunt the fact that India consumes 20 times more electricity today than it did 50 years ago. And yet over 70 per cent of rural households have no access to electricity. In the poorest States - Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and Rajasthan - over 80 per cent of Adivasi and Dalit households have no electricity. Electricity produced in the name of the poor consumed by the rich with endless appetites.

Official estimates say that 22 per cent of the power generated is lost in transmission and system inefficiencies. Existing dams are silting up at a speed which halves and sometimes quarters their projected life-spans.

It seems obvious, surely, that before the government decides to build another dam it ought to do everything in its power to maintain and increase the efficiency of the systems it already has in place. What happens, in fact, is the reverse.

Dams are built, people are uprooted, forests are submerged and then the project is simply abandoned. Canals are never completed... the benefits never accrue (except to the politicians, the bureaucrats and the contractors involved in the construction). Th e first dam that was built on the Narmada is a case in point - the Bargi Dam in Madhya Pradesh was completed in 1990. It cost ten times more than was budgeted and submerged three times more land than engineers said it would. To save the cost and effort o f doing a survey, the government just filled the reservoir without warning anybody. 70,000 people from 101 villages were supposed to be displaced. Instead, 114,000 people from 162 villages were displaced. They were evicted from their homes by rising wate rs, chased out like rats, with no prior notice. There was no rehabilitation. Some got a meagre cash compensation. Most got nothing. Some died of starvation. Others moved to slums in Jabalpur. And all for what? Today, ten years after it was completed, the Bargi Dam produces some electricity, but irrigates only as much land as it submerged. Only 5 per cent of the land its planners claimed it would irrigate. The Government says it has no money to make the canals. Yet it has already begun work downstream, o n the mammoth Narmada Sagar Dam and the Maheshwar Dam.

Why is this happening? How can it be happening?

Because Big Dams are monuments to corruption. To international corruption on an inconceivable scale. Bankers, politicians, bureaucrats, environmental consultants, aid agencies - they're all involved in the racket. The people that they prey on are the poo rest, most marginalised sections of the populations of the poorest countries in the world. They don't count as people. Therefore the costs of Big Dams don't count as costs. They're not even entered in the books. What happens instead is that international consultants on Resettlement (global experts on despair) are paid huge salaries to devise ever more sensitive, ever more humane-sounding, ever more exquisitely written, resettlement policies that are never implemented. Like the saying goes - there's a lo t of money in poverty.

When I was writing "The Greater Common Good"* - my essay on the Narmada Valley project - wading through the fusillade of 'pro-dam' and 'anti-dam' statistics, what shocked me more than anything else was not the statistics that are available bu t the ones that aren't. To me, this is the most unpardonable thing of all. It is unpardonable on the part of the Indian state as well as on the part of the intellectual community.

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The Government of India has detailed figures for how many million tonnes of foodgrains or edible oils the country produces and how much more we produce now than we did in 1947. It can tell you what the total surface area of the National Highways adds up to, how many graduates India produces every year, how many men had vasectomies, how many cricket matches we've lost on a Friday in Sharjah.

But the Government of India does not have a record of the number of people that have been displaced by dams or sacrificed in other ways at the altars of 'National Progress'. Isn't this astounding? How can you measure Progress if you don't know wha t it costs and who has paid for it? How can the 'market' put a price on things - food, clothes, electricity, running water - when it doesn't take into account the real cost of production?

Unofficial estimates of the number of displaced people have swung from an unsubstantiated 2 million to an unsubstantiated 50 million, and everything in between. There's plenty of scope for bargaining.

When I wrote my Essay, I thought it necessary to try and put a figure on how many people have actually been displaced by Big Dams. To do a back-of-the-envelope calculation. A sort of sanity check. The point was to at least begin to bring some pers pective to the debate. As my starting premise, I used a study of 54 Large Dams by the Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA) based on field data from the Central Water Commission. The reservoirs of these 54 dams, between them, displaced about 2 .4 million people. The average number of people displaced by each dam came to 44,000. Correcting for the fact that the dams the IIPA chose to study may have been some of the larger of the Large Dam projects, I pared down the average number of displaced p eople to 10,000 people per dam. Using this scaled-down average, the total number of people displaced by Large Dams in the last fifty years worked out to a scandalous 33 million people!

33 million people.

Recently N.C. Saxena, Secretary to the Planning Commission, said he thought that the number was in the region of 40 million people.

About 60 per cent of those displaced are either Dalit or Adivasi. If you consider that Dalits account for 15 per cent and Adivasis only 8 per cent of India's population, it opens up a whole other dimension to the story. The ethnic 'otherness' of the vict ims takes some of the strain off the Nation builders.

What has happened to these millions of people? Where are they now? How do they earn a living? Nobody really knows. When history is written, they won't be in it, not even as statistics. When it comes to resettlement, the government's priorities are clear. India does not have a National Resettlement Policy. Displaced people are only entitled to a meagre cash compensation. The poorest of them, Dalits and Adivasis, who are either landless or have no formal title to their lands, but whose livelihoods depend entirely on the river - get nothing. Some of the displaced have been subsequently displaced three and four times - a dam, an artillery proof range, another dam, a uranium mine. Once they start rolling there's no resting place. The great majority i s eventually absorbed into slums on the periphery of our great cities, where it coalesces into an immense pool of cheap labour (that builds more projects that displaces more people)... and still the nightmare doesn't end. They continue to be uprooted eve n from their hellish hovels whenever elections are comfortingly far away and the urban rich get twitchy about hygiene. In cities like Delhi they get shot for shitting in public places, like three slum dwellers were, not more than two years ago.

On the whole there's a deafening silence on the politics of forced, involuntary displacement. It's accepted as a sort of unavoidable blip in our democratic system. In Kargil, while the Indian Army fought to regain every inch of territory captured by Paki stani infiltrators, hundreds of people in the Narmada Valley were being forcibly flooded out of their homes by the rising waters of the Sardar Sarovar Reservoir. The nation rose as one to support the soldiers on the front. Middle-class housewives held co oking festivals to raise money, people queued up to donate blood, they collected food, clothing, first aid. Actors, sportsmen and celebrities swarmed to the border to bolster the morale of the fighting forces.

There were no such offers of help for the people in the Narmada Valley.

Some of them had stood in their homes in chest-deep water for days on end, protesting the Supreme Court's decision to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam. They were seen as people who were unwilling to pay the price for National progress. They wer e labelled anti-national and anti-development and carted off to jail. The general consensus seems to be "Yes it's sad, but hard decisions have to be made. Someone has to pay the price for development."

I often wonder what would happen if the Government was to declare that in order to raise funds to complete these mammoth projects, it was going to commandeer the assets and bank accounts of a hundred thousand of its richest citizens. I have no doubt that it would become an international scandal. Banner headlines would appear in newspapers announcing the death of democracy. Suddenly the ecological and human costs of Big Dams would be Page One news.

In a flash there would be phenomenal, imaginative solutions for irrigation and power generation. Cheaper, quicker, more efficient. Nuclear hawks would suddenly realise they could drastically scale down the number of bombs they need for a minimum credible deterrent.

So far I have only discussed the human and social costs of Big Dams. What about the environmental costs? The submerged forests, the ravaged ecosystems, the destroyed estuaries, the defunct, silted-up reservoirs, the endangered wildlife, the disapp earing biodiversity, the millions of hectares of land that are either water-logged or salt-affected. None of this appears on the balance sheet. There are no official assessments of the cumulative impact Big Dams have had on the environment.

What we do know is that a study of 300 projects done by an Expert Committee on River Valley Projects reported that 270 of them - that's 90 per cent of them - had violated the environmental guidelines laid down by the Ministry of Environment. The Ministry has not taken action or revoked the sanction of a single one of them.

The evidence against Big Dams is mounting alarmingly - irrigation disasters, dam-induced floods, the fact that there are more drought-prone and flood-prone areas today than there were in 1947. The fact that not a single river in the plains has potable wa ter. The fact that 250 million people have no access to safe drinking water. And yet there has not been an official audit, a comprehensive, honest, thoughtful, post-project evaluation of a single Big Dam to see whether or not it has achieved what it s et out to achieve. Whether or not the costs were justified, or even what the costs actually were.

"This is exactly why the Sardar Sarovar Project is different," its proponents boast. They call it the 'most studied project' in the world. (You'll notice as we go along, that the story of the Narmada Valley is full of this sort of superlative - the most studied project, the most ambitious river valley project, the best rehabilitation package... etc.) One of the reasons the Sardar Sarovar is so 'studied' is because it's also so controversial.

In 1985, when the World Bank first sanctioned a 450-million-dollar loan to fund the project, no studies had been done, nobody had any idea what the human cost or the ecological impact of the dam would be. The point of doing studies now can only be to jus tify what has become a fait accompli. So costs are suppressed and benefits exaggerated to farcical proportions.

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The politics of the Sardar Sarovar Dam are complicated because the Narmada flows through three States - ninety per cent of it through Madhya Pradesh, it then merely skirts the northern border of Maharashtra and finally flows through Gujarat for about 180 kilometres before it reaches the Arabian Sea.

In order for the three States to arrive at a water-sharing formula, in 1969 the Central Government set up a body called the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal. It took ten years for it to announce its Award. Geographically, the Sardar Sarovar Dam is located in Gujarat. Its reservoir submerges 245 villages, of which only 19 are in Gujarat. All the rest are in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. What this means is that the social costs are borne by Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, while the benefits go to Gujarat . This is what has sharpened the controversy around it.

The cost-benefit analysis for the Project is approached in a friendly, cheerful way. Almost as though it's a family board game.

First let's take a look at the 'costs'.

In 1979, when the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal announced its award, the official estimate for the number of families that would be displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Reservoir was about 6,000. In 1987 the figure grew to 12,000. In 1992 it surged to 27,00 0. Today it hovers between 40,000 and 42,000 families. That's about 200,000 people. And that's just the official estimate. According to the NBA, the actual number of affected families is about 85,000. Close to half a million people.

The huge discrepancy between the Government's estimate and the NBA's has to do with the definition of who qualifies as 'Project Affected'. According to the Government, the only people who qualify as Project Affected are those whose lands and homes are su bmerged by the reservoir. But when you tear up the fabric of an ancient, agrarian community, which depends on its lands and rivers and forests for its sustenance, the threads begin to unravel in every direction. There are several categories of displaceme nt that the Government simply refuses to acknowledge.

For example:

The Sardar Sarovar Project envisages bending the last 180 km of the Narmada and diverting it about 90 degrees north, into a 75,000-sq-km network of canals that planners claim will irrigate a command area of 1.8 million hectares. The government has acquir ed land for the canal network. 200,000 families are directly affected. Of these 23,000 families, let's say about 100,000 people, are seriously affected.

They don't count as project affected. Not in the official estimates.

In order to compensate for the submergence of 13,000 hectares of prime forest, the Government proposes to expand the Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary near the dam site. This would mean that about 40,000 Adivasi people from about 101 forest villages with in the boundaries of the park will be 'persuaded' to leave. They don't count as project affected.

In addition to the sanctuary, the other mitigating measure is the extraordinary process known as Compensatory Afforestation in which the government acquires land and plants three times as much forest as has been submerged by the reservoir.

The people from whom this land is acquired do not count as project affected.

In its plans for what it is going to do with its share of the Narmada water, the Gujarat Government has allocated no water at all - 0 million acre feet - for the stretch of river downstream of the dam. This means that in the non-monsoon months there will be no water in the last 180 km of the river. The dam will radically alter the ecology of the estuary and affect the spawning of the Hilsa and freshwater prawns. 40,000 fisherfolk who live downstream depend on the river for a living.

They don't count as project affected.

In 1961, the Gujarat Government acquired 1,600 acres of land from 950 Adivasi families for the infrastructure it would need for starting work on the dam. Guest houses, office blocks, housing for engineers and their staff, roads leading to the dam site an d warehouses for construction material.

Overnight, the villagers became landless labourers. Their houses were dismantled and moved to the periphery of the colony, where they remain today, squatters on their own land. Some of them work as servants in the officers' bungalows and waiters in the g uest house built on land where their own houses once stood

Incredibly, they do not qualify as project affected!

In its publicity drive, the other sleight of hand by the proponents of the Sardar Sarovar is to portray costs as benefits. For instance, there's the repeated assertion that Displacement is actually a positive intervention, a way of relieving acute depriv ation. That the state is doing people a favour by submerging their lands and homes, taking them away from their forests and river, drowning their sacred sites, destroying their community links and forcibly displacing them against their wishes. Anybody wh o argues against this is accused of being an 'ecoromantic', of wanting to deny poor and marginalised people the "fruits of modern development". Of glorifying the notion of the Noble Savage.

If the well-being of Adivasi people is what is uppermost in the Planners' minds, why is it that for fifty years there have been no roads, no schools, no clinics, no wells, no hospitals in the areas they live in? Why is it for all these years they didn't take any steps to equip the people they care so deeply about, for the world they were going to be dumped in? Why is it that the first sign of 'development' - a road - brought only terror, police, beatings, rape, murder? Why must the offer of Development be conditional, that is: You give up your homes, your lands, your field, your language, your gods, and we'll give you 'development'?

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As part of 'the best rehabilitation package in the world', the Gujarat Government has offered to rehabilitate all the officially 'project affected', even those from Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The Madhya Pradesh Government has filed an affidavit in c ourt declaring that it has no land to rehabilitate people displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Reservoir. This means that all the displaced people from Madhya Pradesh have no choice but to move to Gujarat - not a State known for its hospitality towards 'outsi ders'. It's like displacing people in England and forcing them to live in France. Notwithstanding its feigned generosity, in point of fact the Government of Gujarat hasn't even managed to rehabilitate people from the 19 Adivasi villages in Gujarat that a re being submerged by the reservoir, let alone those from the rest of the 226 villages in the other two States. The inhabitants of Gujarat's 19 villages have been scattered to 175 separate rehabilitation sites. Social links have been smashed, communities broken up. Not a single village has been resettled, according to the directives of the Tribunal.

Some families have been given land, others haven't. Some have land that is stony and uncultivable. Some have land that is irredeemably water-logged or infested with pernicious daab grass. Some have been driven out by landowners that sold land to t he Government but hadn't been paid yet.

Some who were resettled on the peripheries of other villages have been robbed, beaten and chased away by their host villagers.

In several resettlement sites, people have been dumped in rows of corrugated tin sheds which are furnaces in summer and 'fridges in winter. Some of them are located in dry river beds which, during the monsoon, turn into fast-flowing drifts. I've been to some of these 'sites'. I've seen film footage of others: Shivering children, perched like birds on the edges of charpoys, while swirling waters enter their tin homes. Frightened, fevered eyes watch pots and pans carried through the doorway by the current, floating out into the flooded fields, thin fathers swimming after them to retrieve what they can.

When the waters recede, they leave ruin. Malaria, diarrhoea, sick cattle stranded in the slush.

Forty households were moved from Manibeli in Maharashtra to a resettlement site in Gujarat. In the first year, thirty-eight children died.

In April 1999 the papers reported nine deaths from chronic malnutrition in a single rehabilitation site in Gujarat. In the course of a week. That's 1.2875 people a day, if you're counting.

Many of those who have been resettled are people who have lived all their lives deep in the forest with virtually no contact with money and the modern world. Suddenly they find themselves left with the option of either starving to death or walking severa l kilometres to the nearest town, sitting in the marketplace, (both men and women) offering themselves as wage labour, like goods on sale.

Instead of a forest from which they gathered everything they needed - food, fuel, fodder, rope, gum, tobacco, tooth powder, medicinal herbs, housing material - they earn between ten and twenty rupees a day with which to feed and keep their families. Inst ead of a river, they have a hand pump. In their old villages, certainly they were poor, extremely poor, but they were insured against absolute disaster. If the rains failed, they had the forests to turn to. The river to fish in. Their livestock was their fixed deposit. Without all this, they're a heartbeat away from destitution.

For the people who've been resettled, everything has to be re-learned. Every little thing, every big thing: from shitting and pissing (where d'you do it when there's no jungle to hide you?) to buying a bus ticket, to learning a new language, to understan ding money. And worst of all, learning to be supplicants. Learning to take orders. Learning to have Masters. Learning to answer only when they're addressed.

From being self-sufficient and free, to being further impoverished and yoked to the whims of a world you know nothing, nothing about - what d'you suppose it must feel like?

In fifteen years, the government has not managed to resettle people displaced by half a dam. What are they going to do about the remaining 3,199 dams? There's something wrong with the scale of the operations here. This is Fascist Maths. It strangl es stories, bludgeons detail and manages to blind perfectly reasonable people with its spurious, shining vision.

So much for project costs. Now let's take a look at the benefits. The stated benefits.

The whole purpose of the Sardar Sarovar, the Government of Gujarat says, is to take water to the drought-prone regions of Kutch and Saurashtra which lie at the very end of the canal network. The Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam publicity campaign is full of pictures of parched earth and dying cattle. In the name of Kutch and Saurashtra, it justifies using about 80 per cent of Gujarat's irrigation budget for the Sardar Sarovar. It says, categorically, that there is no alternative to the Sardar Sarovar.

To understand what's really going on, the first thing you must do is to look at a map of Gujarat. Look for two other rivers - the Mahi and the Sabarmati. You'll see that both are miles closer to Kutch and Saurashtra than the Narmada is. Both have been dammed and the water diverted to Ahmedabad, Mehsana and Kheda, the Patel-rich, irrigation rich, politically powerful areas of Central Gujarat. The people of Kutch and Saurashtra haven't seen a drop of water from these rivers.

When the Sardar Sarovar Project was first planned, there was no mention of drinking water for the villages in Kutch and Saurashtra. It was supposed to be primarily an irrigation project. When the project ran into political trouble, the Governement discov ered the emotive power of thirst. Drinking water became the rallying cry of the Sardar Sarovar Project. Officially, the number of people whose thirst would be slaked fluctuated from 28 million (1983) to 32.5 million (1989) to 10 million (1992) to 25 mill ion (1993).

The number of villages that would get drinking water varied from zero in 1979 to 8,215 in 1991. When pressed, the Government admitted that the figures for 1991 included 236 uninhabited villages.

Nobody builds Big Dams to take drinking water to remote villages. Of the one billion people in the world who have no access to safe drinking water, 855 million live in rural areas. The cost of installing an energy-intensive network of thousands of kilome tres of pipelines, aqueducts, pumps and treatment plants to provide drinking water to scattered populations is prohibitive. When the members of the World Bank's Morse Committee arrived in Gujarat to do the Independent Review, they were impressed by the G ujarat Government's commitment to take drinking water to the State's remote regions. They asked to see the plans. There weren't any. They asked if the costs had been worked out.

'A few thousand crores,' was the breezy answer. A billion dollars, is an expert's calculated guess. But of course, that isn't a part of the cost-benefit analysis (the benefit-benefit analysis, shall we call it?)

As for the irrigation benefits, when the Government of Gujarat argued its case before the Water Disputes Tribunal it pleaded for more than its proportionately fair share of water because it said it desperately needed water to irrigate 11,00,000 hectares of land in the arid region of Kutch. The Tribunal accepted the argument and allotted Gujarat 9 MAF of water. It did not specify how that water should be used. The Gujarat Government then reduced the 11,00,000 hectares to less than a tenth of that. To 100 ,000 hectares. That's 1.8 per cent of the cultivable area in Kutch. And that's on paper. On paper it irrigates only 9 per cent of the cultivable land in Saurashtra. If you ask what they're going to do about the rest of the drought-prone regions, they tal k of 'alternatives'. Water-shed management. Rainwater harvesting. Well-recharging. The point is that if there are alternatives which are good enough for 98.2 per cent of Kutch and 91 per cent of Saurashtra, then why won't they work for the whole 100 per cent?

There are some other interesting caveats which make it unlikely that water from the Narmada will ever get to Kutch and Saurashtra, situated as they are at the tail end of the canal.

First, there's a lot less water in the Narmada than the government says there is.

Before the Tribunal announced its water-sharing formula, it had to assess how much water there actually was in the river. Since there was no actual flow data available at the time, it extrapolated it from what was even at the time thought to be faulty ra infall data.

They arrived at a figure of 27.22 MAF.

In 1992, actual flow data indicates that there is only 22.69 MAF of water in the river - that's a whole 18 per cent less!

Second, the Sardar Sarovar Dam was planned in conjunction with the Narmada Sagar Dam. In the absence of the Narmada Sagar, on which construction has temporarily been stopped, the irrigation benefits of the Sardar Sarovar drop drastically.

Third, the irrigation efficiency of the canal has been arbitrarily fixed at 60 per cent when the highest irrigation efficiency ever achieved in India is 35 per cent.

Last, and perhaps most important of all, are the competing claims being made on the water. The Authorities of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam declared that farmers would not be allowed to grow sugar-cane in the command area because sugar-cane is a water -guzzling cash crop and would use up the share of water meant for those at the tail end of the canal. But the Government of Gujarat has already given licences to dozens of large sugar mills at the head of the canal. The chief promoter of one of th em is Sanat Mehta, who was Chairman of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam - the Dam Authority - for several years.

The chief promoter of another was Chiman Bhai Patel, former Chief Minister of Gujarat, probably the most ardent promoter of the Sardar Sarovar Project. When he died, his ashes were scattered over the dam site.

Other than the politically powerful sugar lobby, to get to Kutch and Saurashtra the canal has to negotiate its way past a series of golf-courses, luxury hotels and water parks which, the Government says, it has sanctioned in order to raise money to compl ete the project!

Apart from all this, and in complete contravention of its own directives, the government has allotted the city of Baroda a sizeable quantity of water. What Baroda gets, can Ahmedabad bear to lose? The political clout of powerful urban centres will make s ure they get their share.

So the chances of the farmers of Kutch and Saurashtra benefiting from the Narmada get remoter by the day.

Of late, the people of Kutch and Saurashtra, who have endured water-shortages for years, have begun to recognise Government propaganda for what it is. Civil unease is stirring as realisation dawns that the Sardar Sarovar is mopping up their money but is not going to solve their water problems. That the solution lies not with the Government but with themselves. The Gujarat Land Development Corporation estimates that there is at least 15 to 20 MAF of rainwater that can be harvested by local watershed harv esting schemes in Kutch and Saurashtra. (The Sardar Sarovar promises, on paper, 3 MAF to these areas.) In several villages, entirely through peoples' initiatives, successful water-harvesting schemes are already under way. Hundreds of thousands of wells are being recharged with rainwater that was flowing away unused. So much for the Government of Gujarat's claims that there are no alternatives to the Sardar Sarovar.

A people's organisation has filed a case against the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam, demanding an express canal to Kutch, with no designer stops on the way.

Another huge cost that does not figure in the benefit-benefit analysis of the Sardar Sarovar Project is the cost of installing drainage in the command area to prevent water-logging and salinisation. The cost of installing drainage is about five times hig her than the cost of installing the irrigation system. So, traditionally drainage costs are left out in order to make projects in developing countries appear viable. I'm told this is an old World Bank practice.

Over the last fourteen years, the NBA has pointed to these facts over and over again, and asked for the project to be reviewed. After the World Bank's Independent Review was published and the Bank stepped back from the project, the Gujarat Government has systematically blocked every attempt at a review. It prevented the Five Member Group Committee from entering Gujarat. It refused permission to the World Commission on Dams to visit the dam site. It prevented the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Sch eduled Tribes from visiting the dam site. It prevented the Union Welfare Ministry from assessing the Rehabilitation and Resettlement situation. It stood by and watched while the NBA office in Baroda was ransacked and its documents publicly burnt.

In May 1994, the NBA filed a petition in the Supreme Court in which it listed all the points I've talked about, and asked for a review of the project. In early 1995, on the grounds that the Resettlement of displaced people was not satisfactory, the court ordered a halt to the construction. Over the years the court has managed to limit the whole issue to resettlement. It has cast itself in the role of a sort of Welfare Inspector of Resettlement Colonies whose jurisdiction is more or less restricted to Gu jarat. It oversees the resettlement of only those who officially qualify as 'project affected'. Unfortunately, even here it hasn't distinguished itself.

In February 1999, despite the fact that nothing had changed radically in the resettlement scenario, despite the fact that families who were supposed to have been resettled had returned in despair to their original villages, the Supreme Court lifted the f our-year-long stay and allowed construction of the dam to continue.

The people in the valley responded by declaring that they would drown rather than move from their homes. The NBA defied the gag imposed on them by the court. In a statement to the press, its leader, Medha Patkar, announced that she would drown herself in the river if the court permitted any further construction.

As a response to this, the Gujarat Government filed a petition asking that the NBA be removed as petitioners for committing contempt of court and that criminal action be taken against me for writing "The Greater Common Good" which, they claimed, undermin ed the dignity of the court and attempted to influence the course of justice.

In July and August, while the waters rose in the Narmada, while villagers stood in their homes for days together in chest-deep water to protest the decision of the court, while their crops were submerged, and while the NBA pointed out (citing specific in stances) that government officials had committed perjury by signing false affidavits claiming that resettlement had been carried out when it hadn't, the three-judge bench in the Supreme Court met over three sessions. The only subject they discusse d was whether or not the dignity of the court had been undermined. On the 15th of October, 1999 they issued an elaborate order. Here are some extracts.

... Judicial process and institution cannot be permitted to be scandalised or subjected to contumacious violation in such a blatant manner in which it has been done by her (me)... vicious stultification and vulgar debunking cannot be permitted to poll ute the stream of justice... we are unhappy at the way in which the leaders of NBA and Ms Arundhati Roy have attempted to undermine the dignity of the Court. We expected better behaviour from them... After giving this matter thoughtful consideration and keeping in view the importance of the issue of Resettlement and Rehabilitation... we are not inclined to initiate contempt proceedings against the petitioners, its leaders or Arundhati Roy... after the 22nd of July 1999... nothing has come to our notice which may show that Ms Arundhati Roy has continued with the objectionable writings insofar as the judiciary is concerned. She may have by now realised her mistake.

So. Shall I heed the warning or persevere with the contumely?

To heed the warning might be prudent, but in my opinion it would undermine the dignity of Art. And, as we all know, there's no excuse for bad art. Just as much as the valley needs a writer, I believe that writers need the valley. Not just writers - poets , painters, dancers, actors, film-makers - every kind of artist. If we are to remain alive, if we are to continue to work, we need to reclaim the political arena which we seem to have so willingly abdicated. If we choose to look away now, at this point - somehow it doesn't say very much about our art. I'm not suggesting that everybody must turn out a hectoring, political manifesto. I'm all for Matisse and goldfish on a window sill. All I mean is that from time to time we could lift our eyes from the pag e and acknowledge the condition of the world around us. Acknowledge the price that someone, somewhere far away is paying, in order for us to switch our lights on, cool our rooms and run our baths.

Today the Sardar Sarovar Dam is 88 metres high. It has submerged only a fourth of the area that it will when (if) the dam reaches its full height of 138 metres. It's true that the Government has already spent a lot of money on the project. But continuing with it would mean spending about six times that amount - throwing good money after bad. There is a detailed engineering proposal in place for how the dam can be used at the current height in order to take water straight to Kutch and Saurashtra, if that is indeed what the Government wants to do. Restructuring the project with this lower dam height would mean saving hundreds of thousands of people from certain destitution. It would mean saving thousands of hectares of forest. It would mean saving some o f the most fertile agricultural land in Asia from submergence. It would mean having enough money to fund local water-harvesting schemes in every village in Gujarat.

It would mean a victory for non-violence and the principles of democracy. It would mean that we still have hope.

Since this is the Nehru Memorial Lecture, let me end with a quote from a speech he made in November 1958 at the Annual Meeting of the Central Board of Irrigation and Power:

For some time past, however, I have been beginning to think that we are suffering from what we may call the "disease of gigantism". We want to show we can build big dams and do big things. This is a dangerous outlook developing in India.... it is the small irrigation projects, the small industries and the small plants for electric power which will change the face of this country far more than half a dozen big projects in half a dozen places...

Needless to say, this speech never made it into the school books.

I've made myself very unpopular in India by saying the things I say.

Fortunately, I'm not standing for elections. As I writer, I would rather be loved by a river valley than by a nation-state.

Any day. Frontline

This is the text of the Nehru Memorial Lecture delivered by the writer at Cambridge University on November 8, 1999. The lecture was delivered at the invitation of Professor Amartya Sen, Master of Trinity College.

The essential Gandhi on CD-ROM

other
PARVATHI MENON

CD-ROM on Mahatma Gandhi, produced for the Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, by Icon Softec, New Delhi, 1999; Rs.2,500, $59.50.

WE see how Gandhi, with expressions of unconcealed joy and purpose on his face, and in remarkable physical vigour, sets the swift pace for a swelling band of satyagrahis through the dry 365-km route from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi on the Arabian Sea coast in 1930. Now appears the familiar picture of a group of satyagrahis marching single file along what seems to be a tank bund. Gandhi's sturdy staff and even sturdier legs are sharply reflected in the water of the field along which they stride. Here is Ga ndhi bent forward grasping a fistful of salt as Sarojini Naidu watches.

There are yet other images - a sombre Gandhi walking though the ravaged villages of East Bengal and Bihar in 1946, people converging upon him from all directions. His lisping, sing-song accent in Hindi telling people that he is a "Sanatani Hindu" but no less a Muslim, Sikh, Parsi and Christian.

Images of Gandhi in yet another context, in England in 1931 when he goes to attend the Round Table Conference. We see Gandhi, his bare legs and sandalled feet emerging from a swathe of white shawl, being mobbed by warmly clad Londoners. He visits the hom es of the Lancashire Cotton Mill workers, jokes with children and thanks the people for the "opportunity to see the houses of the poor".

And so on through some of the most dramatic moments of the freedom movement brought alive through sound and action. These video and photographic images of some of the epoch-making events of Gandhi's life are part of a CD-ROM recently brought out by the P ublications Division. The CD-ROM also contains almost the entire corpus of Gandhi's writings. Gandhi-centred imagery of the freedom struggle, once widely disseminated through clips put out by the Films Division, exhibitions, photographs and posters, pamp hlets and popular books, is today far less in circulation. This CD-ROM can certainly help bring an important part of Gandhi's life and times back into classrooms, libraries and homes.

The core of the collection is of course the 50,000 pages in 100 volumes of Gandhi's collected works from 1884 to 1948. This is invaluable for researchers both Indian and foreign, and all those who would like access to Gandhi's writings without having to search for a library that has a complete set of his collected works. There is an indexing system which helps entry to this section. The multimedia section has 30 minutes of film footage, over 550 photographs, and 15 minutes of Gandhi's voice. This intera ctive multimedia section is designed presumably for a different audience. Schools and libraries would certainly want to possess it, especially abroad where the kind of Gandhi source-base that exists in India is absent. The interactive section in turn has several components. There is a short introduction to Gandhi which takes the viewer through his life with narrative, images, and tributes, though alas little good analysis. There is a very interesting section called Landmark Events which brings together 40 important events of Gandhi's life, presented with photographs, footage and speech. A section on Gandhian concepts offers explanations on some of his principles and philosophical concepts.

IN an otherwise much-needed and imaginative effort, there are some inexcusable omissions and a disregard for details. The most glaring gap in the narrative, both in the Introduction and under the Landmark Events section, is the failure to mention the nam e of Gandhi's assassin. That it was Nathuram Godse, a Hindu fanatic and one-time member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) who murdered Gandhi is a fact of history which has never been contested. Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948, the nar rative solemnly informs us, and it then moves on to reactions to his death, as if the identity of the assassin and his political convictions are really of no special consequence! While viewers will draw their own conclusions from this omission in a compi lation brought out by the Publications Division in 1999, the credibility of this whole effort at history-making is severely compromised. A user will surely wonder what else has been omitted.

There are other, less damaging, problems with the production. For example, there are practically no dates given in the section 'Introducing Gandhi', which is a short illustrated narration on Gandhi's life and his contribution to India's freedom struggle. This narrative has only three dates - 1915, which is the year he returned from South Africa; 1930, the year he undertook the Dandi March; and January 30, 1948, the date he was killed. All other important events of his life are described, but with no men tion of when they happened. The other noticeable evidence of lack of attention to detail is the careless translation of speech to text. A voice recording from Martin Luther King on Gandhi gets written into text with the important word "oppressed" left ou t. A voice recording of C. Rajagopalachari is rendered into text with avoidable errors of punctuation.

While the photographic, videographic and voice reproductions in the production are remarkable for their clarity of image and sound, the production has some navigation problems which subsequent updates could perhaps seek to solve. The most obvious one rel ates to sub-menus. For example, from the Landmark Events menu page or screen, it is possible to click into any of the 40 landmark events that have been listed. However, once on an information page (entitled 'Dandi March' or 'The Rowlatt Acts', for exampl e), it is not possible to click back directly into the Landmark Events mainscreen. Instead, the user must go back to the main menu - a user-unfriendly step. The other inconvenience that the user faces is a main navigation bar at the bottom of the screen that in some screens is black and therefore unnavigable. The user must literally navigate in the dark with the pointer, and make several errors before hitting upon the icon she/he wants.

This CD-ROM is compatible both on Macintosh and Windows platforms and comes packaged with Quick Time 2.1 and Adobe Acrobat Reader software.

'We must talk to Pakistan'a

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K. Natwar Singh, former diplomat and a member of the Congress(I) Working Committee, sees the current deterioration of relations with Pakistan as an alarming development and counsels a degree of caution in the headlong rush towards orchestrating th e international ostracism of the neighbouring state. He set out his views in an interview with Sukumar Muralidharan. Excerpts:

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How do you view the formation of a Joint Working Group (JWG) on terrorism with the U.S. in the context of the ongoing strategic dialogue and also of neighbourhood relations in South Asia?

I welcome the establishment of the joint working group between the U.S. and India, but if this is the only concrete outcome after ten rounds of talks, then this is a case of a mountain producing a molehill. The substance of the discussions apparently rev olves around the nuclear question. The country is still in the dark as to what has been the content and nature of the discussions between the External Affairs Minister and the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State. It is incumbent on the Government to take the country into confidence, because I think there are some serious doubts about the CTBT within the country.

There is some informed conjecture that there are basically two objectives behind this. One would be India's accession to the CTBT and the other the waiver of the sanctions and the renewal of high-technology exports to India. Do you think that this wo uld be a fair and acceptable bargain?

The Congress party does not have a closed mind. But we certainly have doubts. This should be discussed in Parliament because leaders of this Government have said that there should be a national consensus, which can only be arrived at through discussions on the merits and demerits of the CTBT. The Government has, I am afraid, been avoiding this discussion.

The other striking thing is that the U.S. Senate has rejected the CTBT. Now if somebody were to ask me, I would say to sign it we should wait till the U.S. has ratified it. And the scientific community here is divided. Some are not sure that five tests a re enough for all time. There are various views on this and the Congress is looking at all of them very carefully.

The U.S. Treasury Secretary visited India and said that the sanctions could be lifted if the security dialogue was completed satisfactorily.

Another representative of that Government has said that we should sign the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) also. The point basically is, do these powers recognise India as a de jure nuclear weapons state?

The question of sanctions then is not critical. We can put up with them for some time longer?

Absolutely. The real sanctions have been in place since 1974. You see, this is important - the nuclear question has never been linked with economics or finance or aid. It transcends these matters. We should satisfy ourselves, after a full-fledged debate in Parliament, of the advantages and disadvantages of the CTBT.

There has been some sustained activity in recent weeks to have Pakistan branded a terrorist state. Do you think this is an appropriate attitude to take in neighbourhood relations?

With great respect to the Prime Minister, he should not have made this kind of a pronouncement in public without sounding out the Americans through diplomatic channels. The response to him came the next day, from an official of the U.S. Government, sayin g that Pakistan would not be declared a terrorist state. And as far as I understand the working of the U.S. Government, they are not likely to pronounce Pakistan a terrorist state. One day, Mr. Jaswant Singh escorts three known terrorists in his own airc raft to Kandahar. The next day, the Prime Minister makes this demand. I think the Government should make up its mind.

So the demand is not going to succeed...

We should set our own house in order. Why are we pleading with the Americans? There is a United Nations mechanism, which could be used. Call the Security Council to session - tell them this is what is happening, we are a victim of terrorism, and what are you doing about it?

You think the U.S. has strategic interests in Pakistan which would be endangered by branding that country a terrorist state?

If they did so, then whatever leverage they had with Pakistan would disappear. They have been strategic partners for a long time. The very fact that the U.S. President is weighing the pros and cons of going to Pakistan shows how deep this relationship is .

How do you view the new doctrine of "limited war" propounded by George Fernandes, again with a direct bearing on the neighbourhood context?

I think this is a drastic failure of our policy. I am not in any way condoning what Pakistan has been doing. They have been very unwise and very short-sighted. But we can give no credit to this government for the manner in which it has handled the relati ons with Pakistan or China.

Would it be a wise thing to secure international ostracism of the military regime in Pakistan and evade a dialogue?

Obviously, the climate is not right. But at some point we will have to talk to them. If not with (Pervez) Musharraf, then his successor, who could be from the Army. Who are we to choose the government of Pakistan? Either we should say we are breaking dip lomatic relations, or we must try to unfreeze the situation by talking to them.

Is this the end of bilateralism in the neighbourhood and the emergence of superpower tutelage?

The Americans still think Kashmir is disputed territory and Clinton wants to play a role. He has earlier said that he will take "personal interest" in this matter. What does this mean?

A recognition of India's 'new status'

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Former diplomat N.N. Jha has since early 1998 been the convener of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bharatiya Janata Party. He sees no scope in the current situation for any sort of engagement with Pakistan and believes that a visit by the U.S . President would imply a new recognition for India's emerging global status. Excerpts from an interview he gave Sukumar Muralidharan:

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The "security dialogue" between India and the U.S. recently produced something tangible, in the form of a Joint Working Group (JWG) on terrorism. Does this go beyond the original agenda of the negotiations? And how do you view its implications?

In the last two years, we have had two main items on the agenda. First, to bring the sequence of events inaugurated by the nuclear tests of May 1998 to a successful and satisfactory end. The second one is of slightly more recent origin so far as our gove rnment is concerned, though in a manner of speaking it predates May 1998. That is terrorism. Now we have had this Joint Working Group on terrorism, and let us hope that its efforts are positive, even if somewhat delayed in terms of application. It does m ark quite a departure from the earlier U.S. stand.

But the U.S. is being a bit ambivalent about characterising Pakistan as a terrorist state.

Frankly, I do not think it matters very much. There is already much speculation in the American media about Pakistan being put back on the terrorism watch-list before long. I would say that this Joint Working Group is more important than Pakistan being b randed a terrorist state.

The security dialogue with the U.S. has been rather open-ended and the specific objectives have never been spelt out at any stage. But there is informed conjecture that from India's point of view the objectives essentially are two-fold: to obtain fav ourable conditions for accession to the CTBT and then to secure the waiver of all the sanctions and technology denial regimes that have been in application since 1974. Do you think this is a fair bargain?

That would be a fair assessment of some of the main objectives of the dialogue. From India's point of view, to be accepted as a nuclear weapons state would be the best bargain. If that cannot be done directly because of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Trea ty, then indirectly we could have a de facto recognition. Don't forget, the Americans have said that the earlier objective of capping, roll-back and elimination of India's nuclear capability is no longer there. That being so, the overall impressio n here is that the Americans are seeking a commitment from India on the size of the deterrent that this country will maintain. That, we have told them earlier, is not possible, since it is something that is subject to change from time to time.

Recent remarks by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott indicate that though India has adopted a doctrine of minimum nuclear deterrence, the U.S. would like assurances that "minimum" will remain so. The U.S. knows from experience that this is a slippery doctrine which does not really admit of any defined limits on nuclear arsenals. It would like a commitment on the size of the nuclear deterrent that India will maintain. Does this provide a basis for further negotiations?

I don't think that should hold up the dialogue at all. They have been aware of this stand of ours, right from day one. The nuclear doctrine that was presented last August has stuck to this stand - it is predicated on the pillars of minimum credible deter rence and "no first strike".

Pakistan has begun to interpret this as a licence for it too to maintain a "minimum credible deterrent".

As far as Pakistan is concerned, frankly, it is really impossible for us to say much. I get the impression that they are only looking for excuses. But in the quest of parity with India, they will certainly go very far.

We are just about a month away from the first anniversary of the Lahore Declaration and 1999 has perhaps been the worst in all of 50 years in neighbourhood relations. Are we taking the right approach in seeking the international ostracism of Pakistan rather than engage with it in a dialogue of sorts?

Trying to engage in a dialogue with Pakistan would be a tacit acceptance of all the policies they have pursued in relation to India, which have been almost exclusively based on an intensification of low-intensity conflict. Don't forget that the Lahore pr ocess - quite apart from the fact that it was a bold measure - was initiated with a civilian government in Pakistan. And nobody knew at that stage that the events that would be unleashed from May onwards would, first, indicate the dominance of the milita ry and, secondly, the coup d'etat of October would totally reaffirm the fact. So one should take the Lahore process only in the manner in which it was intended. It was meant to be a very sincere effort to bury the past once and for all.

There is no scope for engagement at this stage.

I would say none at all.

The consequences could be very destabilising for Pakistan and for the region.

Well, we have to think of our interests first. Kargil was bad enough but the hijacking made it worse.

U.S. President Bill Clinton is likely to visit India in the next couple of months. Is it really prudent to display a degree of anxiety to ensure that he does not touch down in Islamabad?

Touching down in Pakistan involves bestowing a kind of recognition to the military regime there. So from our point of view it is better that he does not go there at all. But the ultimate decision is his and he will have to take various other factors into account.

With Clinton having entered his last year in office, what do you expect the visit to yield?

If you interpret his visit as something that indicates a certain recognition (after over 20 years we have an American presidential visit), if this indicates a certain recognition of India's new status, it would have served a purpose. I think it would be a very important visit and even if the Americans do not proclaim it from the housetops, it would mean a new recognition of India's emerging status.

To counter a covert aggressor

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For reasons of strategic interests the U.S. may not declare Pakistan a state-sponsor of international terrorism, but that should not deter India from pursuing its dossier against the covert aggressor.

B. RAMAN

THERE has been disappointment in India over the fact that not only the U.S. State Department but also South Asia experts such as Michael Krepon of the Stimson Centre, Washington, Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution, Washington, and Teresita Schaff er of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, have reacted negatively to India's renewal of its complaint against Pakistan as a state-sponsor of international terrorism. The fresh Indian move came after the recent hijacking of Ind ian Airlines Flight IC 814 by members of the Pakistan-based Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. The hijackers demanded the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, secretary-general of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and close associate of Osama bin Laden, who was involved in the murder of U.S. Marines in Somalia, and two others.

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Questions have been raised as to how the Government of India could establish that they were Pakistani nationals; how it could secure their photographs so quickly; what evidence it has to back its allegation of the involvement of the Inter Services Intell igence (ISI) of Pakistan in the incident; and, if this was so, how it would explain the action of the Pakistani authorities in refusing the plane permission to land at Lahore at the first instance.

The Government established the identity of the hijackers after the interrogation of some Pakistani members of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen in Mumbai, who were in telephonic contact with the hijackers in Kandahar, and secured their photographs from the files of the airport immigration authorities and the police in Mumbai. Every Pakistani national entering India is required to submit a copy of his or her visa application with his or her photograph to the immigration officials on arrival at the airport and ano ther to the police authorities of the area in which he or she would be staying. These applications carry the seal of the Indian diplomatic mission issuing the visa.

Once the identities are established, securing the photographs is a five-minute job. The Harkat-ul-Mujahideen members arrested in Mumbai said that all the hijackers were Pakistani nationals and that their leader was Ibrahim Azhar, the younger brother of M aulana Masood Azhar.

The Government's statement that Ibrahim was the leader has been independently corroborated by two Pakistani journalists of the monthly Herald of Karachi (January) and Asiaweek (January 14) of Hong Kong.

While the Herald story was based on an interview of Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakkil to the British Broadcasting Corporation's Pushtoo service, the Asiaweek correspondent was one of only three foreign journalists present in Kandahar during the drama. The Asiaweek correspondent has reported that in his presence the leader of the hijackers identified himself as the brother of Masood Azhar to the United Nations representative, who had gone to Kandahar from Islamabad.

In law, if a material fact of a statement by the prosecution is proved to be correct through independent corroboration, the other material facts of the statement are also presumed to be correct unless proved otherwise by the defence. From this, the indep endent corroboration of the identity of the leader by Pakistani witnesses strengthens the credibility of the Indian evidence that all the hijackers were Pakistani nationals.

The fact that all of them belonged to the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen has also been corroborated by Herald, which wrote: "In the first few days of the hijacking, the HUM (Harkat-ul-Mujahideen) tried to distance itself from the events in Kandahar, but onc e the hijacking saga was over, senior members of the HUM in Muzaffarabad were willing to admit that all hijackers belonged to their group."

IN its annual reports on Patterns of Global Terrorism, the Counter-Terrorism Division of the U.S. State Department has been telling Congress every year that the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen is Pakistan-based, that it has been involved in acts of terrorism in India and other countries, that it had signed the fatwa issued by Osama bin Laden in February 1998 calling for attacks on U.S. and Israeli nationals and that it was suspected in the kidnapping, under the name of Al Faran, of five Western touri sts in Kashmir in 1995. The U.S. also suspected that it had a hand in the murder of some U.S. nationals in Karachi during the second tenure of Benazir Bhutto as Prime Minister.

The State Department had on October 1, 1997 listed the group among the 30 international terrorist organisations, including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. At that time it was known as the Harkat-ul-Ansar. Subsequently it changed its name to Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. The declaration was renewed in October 1999.

Despite this, the Pakistan Government has neither banned the organisation nor controlled its activities. The court-martial of some Pakistani Army officers arrested in 1995 for plotting to overthrow the government of Benazir Bhutto revealed the nexus betw een the organisation and the Army. In fact, one of the arrested officers was found travelling with Saifullah Akhtar, the patron of the organisation, at the time of his arrest. Herald (January 1996) reported that while the Army court-martialled its officers, it decided, mysteriously, not to prosecute Akhtar.

If an organisation raised, trained, armed and motivated by the ISI and the Pakistan Army commits an act of hijacking and if the Pakistan Army avoids the arrest of the hijackers, just as the Zia-ul-Haq regime avoided the arrest and prosecution of the Dal Khalsa hijackers of 1981 until the U.S. warned it of the consequences of its inaction in 1984, is there not a reasonable presumption under law that the hijacking was sponsored by the Pakistani official agencies?

According to preliminary indications, the hijacking was sponsored by Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmad, former Commanding Officer of the 10 Corps based in Rawalpindi, who played a key role in transporting the supporters of bin Laden to Kargil in February last year and in the overthrow of Nawaz Sharif on October 12, 1999. He was subsequently appointed as the ISI's Director-General by General Pervez Musharraf, the Chief Executive.

It is said that Lt. Gen. Ahmad had the hijacking carried out through Brig. Salahuddin Satti, who, as the head of the 111 Brigade, captured the television and radio stations on October 12, arrested Sharif and took him to an Army guest house at Chaklala. B rig. Satti, who had served with the Special Services Group (SSG) in Siachen, had also functioned as the Chief of Staff of the 10 Corps and as Brigade Major under Musharraf. He was made Major-General on December 7, 1999.

It is also said that for a week after their entry into Pakistan from Kandahar, the hijackers were kept in the same guest house in which Sharif was kept before he was shifted to Karachi. Their present whereabouts are not known.

Well-informed sources claim that the ISI's instruction to the hijackers was to take the aircraft directly to Kandahar. But the hijackers got confused and asked the pilot to go to Lahore.

This caused apprehension in Pakistan, as it was felt that permission to land in Lahore might expose the ISI involvement as did the permission to some Sikh hijackers in 1984. They, therefore, asked Lahore airport not to let the aircraft land. But when the plane flew in from Amritsar, they were forced to allow it landing facility as it had no fuel left for the journey to Kandahar or Kabul.

COHEN compares the activities of the Pakistan-sponsored terrorists to the alleged activities of the LTTE from Indian soil, but he forgets that hundreds of Indian soldiers died trying to help Sri Lanka end the LTTE's terrorist acts and that Rajiv Gandhi p aid with his life for assisting Sri Lanka to root out LTTE terrorism.

Lecture notes recovered from the ISI-trained Sikh, Kashmiri and other terrorists contained instructions on subjects such as preparation of hit-lists, how to carry out assassinations, how to hijack an aircraft, the importance of avoiding Air-India planes lest foreign concern should be aroused, the importance of eliminating Hindus from Jammu and Buddhists from Ladakh and how to destroy the off-shore oil installations in Bombay High. It was owing to this that the Government decided in the early 1990s to se nsitise world public opinion to state-sponsorship of terrorism by Pakistan and to press the U.S. to declare Pakistan a state-sponsor of international terrorism under its laws.

Interestingly, this idea emanated not from Indian experts, but from some West European experts who were convinced from their own independent evidence of the role of Pakistan. The West European expert advised that the matter be taken up directly with the State Department instead of through U.S. experts.

The first dossier prepared by India was rejected by the State Department under the pretext that much of the evidence was based on interrogation reports, which it could not accept in view of the alleged use of torture during interrogation.

In 1992, Lal Singh alias Manjit Singh of the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), Canada, who figured in the wanted list of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), was arrested by the Gujarat Police after he entered India from Pakistan, where h e had been living since 1985. West European experts advised their Indian counterparts to invite U.S. experts to interrogate him as they felt that the State Department would find it difficult to dismiss their interrogation reports as based on torture.

The State Department advised the U.S. experts not to accept the Indian invitation. The U.S. decided not to pursue the case against Lal Singh, apparently fearing that if its experts reported that India's dossier against Pakistan was correct, it would be d ifficult to avoid action against Pakistan.

THE only occasion when the U.S. almost took a decision to act against Pakistan was in the second half of 1992. The first organised group of Israeli tourists had arrived in Kashmir. The Indian media covered its visit prominently. The ISI informed the Kash miri terrorists that these tourists were actually Israeli counter-terrorism experts who were coming to Srinagar to assist the Indian security forces. It, therefore, asked them to attack the Israelis. One Israeli was killed and another kidnapped. A large number of Jewish journalists from the U.S. and Israel rushed to India to cover the event and, although India had not yet established diplomatic relations with Israel, senior Israeli officials also visited the scene. This resulted in wide publicity in the world media to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in India and to the reluctance of Washington to act against Pakistan.

The U.S. was in the middle of the presidential and congressional election campaign. Under pressure from voters, who were sympathetic to India's predicament, President George Bush ordered a re-examination of India's dossier. The very same State Department officials, who had earlier rejected the dossier, suddenly found a lot of merit in it and advised Bush that there were strong grounds for action against Pakistan.

As Bush lost the election, he left the dossier to his successor Bill Clinton for a decision. Clinton placed Pakistan on the so-called watch-list of suspected state-sponsors of international terrorism, instead of declaring it to be so.

Two other developments of 1993 further strengthened the Indian dossier. The first was the report of the U.S. experts who had visited the scene of the Mumbai blasts in March that one of the timers recovered was of U.S. origin, supplied to the Pakistan Arm y. The second was a report from U.S. intelligence officials that the arms and ammunition found on the LTTE ship carrying Kittu, which was intercepted by the Indian Navy, were actually given to the LTTE by Pakistan's narcotics barons in return for the LTT E's help in transporting narcotics consignments to Western ports on its ships registered in Greece, and that these arms and ammunition were loaded onto the ship at Karachi under the supervision of the ISI and the Pakistan Navy.

The ISI's action defied logic since Islamabad had close relations with Colombo and the LTTE was, in fact, massacring Muslims in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. Nawaz Sharif was shocked when this information was brought to his notice by the U.S. Embas sy in Islamabad. The ISI had kept him informed of its terrorist operations in India, but not of its links with the LTTE and its assistance to narcotics barons.

It was this which ultimately made Sharif succumb to Washington's pressure to remove Lt. Gen. Javed Nasir from the post of Director-General, ISI, and other officers suspected of promoting terrorism. It looked as though the State Department might, at long last, declare Pakistan a state-sponsor of international terrorism. By then, Sharif's troubles with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Gen. Abdul Waheed Kakkar, the then Chief of the Army Staff, had started and it was evident that his days were numbered. Ben azir Bhutto, who was then the Leader of the Opposition, sent urgent messages to the White House through her American friends that it should not take any action on India's dossier and that if she returned to power she would stop the ISI's activities. Tran scripts of her telephonic requests to the U.S. were available in the classified archives of the Government of India.

U.S. officials removed Pakistan from the watch-list in July 1993 and told New Delhi that they expected Benazir Bhutto to return to power and that they were hopeful that she would stop the ISI's activities. After coming back to power, Benazir did cooperat e with the U.S. in launching action against narcotics barons and against terrorists wanted by the U.S., but went back on her word to stop the ISI's activities against India.

It would thus be apparent that the more the evidence India presented against Pakistan, the more the pretexts the U.S. used for not acting against Pakistan. Why this U.S. reluctance to act against Pakistan?

FIRST, despite its strong pronouncements against terrorism, the U.S. acts only when its own nationals are threatened and not otherwise. Year after year, India has been presenting to the world clinching evidence of the involvement of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, backed by the ISI, in acts of terrorism. Activists of the organisation have massacred hundreds of Hindus in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. The U.S. has refrained from acting against it because, despite its anti-U.S. rhetoric, the group has refrained from attacks on U.S. nationals.

The Al-Umma of Tamil Nadu is a purely local entity with, as yet, no proven all-India or international links. India has, therefore, never taken up with the U.S. its activities. Al-Umma has never uttered any threat against the U.S. or other countries. Yet it finds mention on Pages 89 and 90 of Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1998, submitted by the State Department to Congress in May 1999. Why? Because in 1998 it had activated a crude explosive device at an important traffic junction in Chennai in or der to get some publicity for its demand for the release of its leaders. The device was planted in front of the U.S. Consulate. Since then the U.S. has been taking its activities seriously.

Secondly, the U.S.' strategic interests in Pakistan; its gratitude to Islamabad for backing Washington during the Cold War, particularly against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan; and a feeling of guilt for having contributed to Pakistan's present dysfunc tional state as a result of the cooperation extended to the U.S. in Afghanistan.

Thirdly, there is a more disquieting reason. In an interview in the late 1980s, the late Count Alexandre de Marenches, the chief of the SDECE (as the French external intelligence agency was then known) between 1974 and 1982, stated that during a visit to Washington he had proposed to Bill Casey, the then Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), that the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies help the Afghan Mujahideen produce heroin so that the Soviet Army could be destroyed through drug addiction.

According to the Count, Casey, who liked the idea, took him to Ronald Reagan, who was enthusiastic like a child and wanted the idea to be immediately implemented. However, the Count claimed, it was abandoned owing to strong opposition from sections of th e CIA. The fact of the matter is that it was not abandoned as claimed by the Count.

It was implemented vigorously by Pakistan-based CIA officers with the help of the ISI. They trained the Afghan Mujahideen not only in guerilla warfare, but also in methods of improving poppy cultivation and opium refining.

The drugs produced under the CIA's guidance were initially smuggled to the Soviet troops, but when the Mujahideen and the ISI officers found that there was more money to be made by smuggling them to the U.S. and West European countries they started doing so in large quantities.

The CIA lost control over the narcotics barons of its own creation just as it lost control over the terrorists of its own creation, such as bin Laden. These barons started ruining the lives and careers of thousands of American children.

The CIA has two types of experts - those of its counter-terrorism division who have not had much involvement in Pakistan of the 1980s and hence have no problem in recommending action against Pakistan, and those of the area (operational) division, many of whom won their professional spurs in the Pakistan of the 1980s and were closely involved in the production of terrorists and narcotics barons.

These experts and the State Department officials are worried over the possibility of the CIA's role in the promotion of the narcotics trade in the 1980s coming to light if they acted against Pakistan. And, Islamabad uses this possibility as a blackmailin g argument to deter Washington from declaring it a state-sponsor of international terrorism.

It is, therefore, unlikely that the U.S. would ever declare Pakistan a state-sponsor of international terrorism. But that should not deter India from pursuing its dossier against Pakistan. Pakistan has been waging a covert war against India since 1981- i nitially in Punjab, then in Kashmir from 1989 and later from other parts of India too. Covert aggressors are not defeated through open means, openly discussed. India needs to pursue its hard state agenda against Pakistan and, before doing that, needs to p repare the diplomatic groundwork for the new track.

B. Raman is a retired Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.

Pressures on Pakistan

As Indian and U.S. concerns over "regional terrorism" converge, Pakistan feels the heat and faces isolation.

PAKISTAN is finding it difficult to contain the fallout of the hijacking of Flight IC 814 to Kandahar. Its chief problem arises from the attitude of the United States, which has begun to demonstrate a new toughness on the issue of terrorism.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth delivered a blunt message on terrorism to Pakistan's Chief Executive, General Pervez Musharraf, during a two-hour meeting between them in Pakistan on January 21. Inderfurth's discussions were preceded by the formation in London on January 21 of an Indo-U.S. Joint Working Group (JWG) to combat terrorism together, the first initiative of its kind involving the two countries. This decision was taken at the 10th round of the "strategic dialogue" between Ext ernal Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott.

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Although the formation of the JWG has so far not had any tangible impact, there is little doubt that Pakistan feels isolated by the action the U.S. has planned along with its arch rival, India.

It is clear that Indian and U.S. concerns on "regional terrorism" (stemming from Pakistan and Afghanistan) have converged. Washington's principal concern relates to the Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden and his worldwide terrorist network and the inability of Pakistan to influence its ally, the Taliban, to deliver bin Laden, who is hiding in Afghanistan, to stand trial.

Linked to the bin Laden concern is the determination by the U.S. that the fundamentalist Harkat-ul-Mujahideen was responsible for the serial rocket attacks on U.S. installations in Islamabad on November 12, 1999. The Harkat, as is well known, has been on the U.S. State Department's watch list of terrorist organisations since 1997. It operates from Pakistan, unfettered. There is also little doubt that militant groups such as the Harkat enjoy the support of Pakistani intelligence agencies.

To a question whether the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate was linked to the Harkat, the U.S. State Department spokesman said on January 27: "This is a matter of extreme concern to us. That is an organisation we have declared a ter rorist organisation, and there have been some links providing general support to a number of groups operating in Kashmir, including this one. That is one of the issues we raised with them (the Pakistani Government) in these (Inderfurth-Musharraf) discuss ions."

Inderfurth spoke directly about U.S. concerns over terrorism during his visit to Islamabad. He asked Pakistan to bring the hijackers of the Indian Airlines plane to book and to check the terrorist groups operating from the country. At his press conferenc e Inderfurth said, evidently as an exercise in public diplomacy: "There is a clear need to take the next step with respect to the hijacking, which is to find the hijackers and bring them to justice... We urged them (the Pakistani side) to make every eff ort to determine their (hijackers') location... I believe that the hijackers will be found. I believe that they cannot simply disappear from the face of the earth..."

He went on: "We believe that the presence and activities of these groups give Pakistan a bad reputation in the world community and thus works against Pakistan's national interest... We hope that every effort will be made to address those violent, militan t groups that are threatening citizens of other countries as well as the long-term stability of Pakistan itself."

Earlier, reading from a prepared text, Inderfurth stressed the "need for cooperation to reduce the threat of terrorism which stems from this region and directly threatens the U.S. and Pakistan as well as the region and the world. This was dramatically il lustrated by the recent hijacking of the Indian Airlines aircraft."

The other issues of concern to the U.S. that were discussed included the need for a comprehensive road map with milestones for a return to democratic civilian rule in Pakistan, the need for regional stability, prevention of an arms race in South Asia and restoration of a productive dialogue with India.

The statement said: "All of these measures, we believe, would enhance Pakistan's security. Finally, we stressed the urgency with which the President and Congress view these issues. We trust our messages have been received and understood, and that we have increased our mutual understanding on them."

Information made available to Frontline suggests that Gen. Musharraf asked for "time" to take action against the militant groups operating from Pakistan. He is said to have told Inderfurth that he did not feel strong enough at the moment to take o n these forces.

It appears that the U.S. is of the considered opinion that the Musharraf Government is the "last chance" for Pakistan to come out of the "jehadi mindset", which is creating all kinds of domestic problems for the country. The U.S. seems to believe that if Musharraf fails to deliver on these crucial issues, there is no "Plan B" for Pakistan to fall back on.

FOR the U.S., the issue of religious fundamentalism is linked to Pakistan's overall development, both economic and political. If there is no crackdown on these "jehadi groups", then Pakistan's prospects are bleak, according to current U.S. analysi s.

Although there was no reference as to how the U.S. would use the economic lever in the form of International Monetary Fund (IMF) funding to Pakistan, it is clear that Washington is conscious of such a factor. An American analyst, Selig. S. Harrison, arg ued in the January 18 issue of The Los Angeles Times that the hijacking had "vividly dramatised why the United States should stop coddling the military regime in Pakistan and use its economic leverage to promote an early return to civilian rule".

Harrison argued: "So long as the armed forces retain absolute control, Islamic extremists will wield power out of all proportion to their real influence in Pakistan society. This means that Pakistan will continue to oppose American interests in South Asi a, and support Taliban rule in Afghanistan as well as militant Kashmiri insurgent factions opposed to political accommodation with India based on Kashmiri autonomy."

He wrote: "Given Islamabad's desperate need for IMF aid, the U.S. has enormous leverage. Washington should insist on a clear timetable for a return to constitutional, civil and democratic government as the precondition for U.S. support of further aid fro m international financial institutions. On his projected trip to South Asia, President Clinton should not visit Pakistan unless a timetable is announced. The President should not authorise further military sales to Pakistan that would undercut relations with India.."

Harrison added: "Islamic extremists have never done well in Pakistan at the polls, but they are likely to grow progressively stronger in the streets as disenchantment with the military regime deepens... Moving to a new elected leadership offers the last, best hope to consolidate secular resistance to a fundamentalist take-over and to defuse regional tensions. Indefinite military rule is the road to internal chaos and another Indo-Pakistan war."

THERE is little doubt that relations between India and Pakistan have never been as bad as they are today, and the two countries have the ability to sink their relations further to depths that have never been fathomed before. The Pakistani establishment, in its blind support to the jehadi forces, needs to realise that the mood in India is harsh, and that no unilateral initiative should be expected by the military rulers after the hijacking incident.

The growing impression is that Pakistan provides sanctuary to anti-India, anti-U.S. terrorist forces, whether they are released militants or hijackers. The fact that Ibrahim Azhar or Athar, brother of Masood Azhar, who is suspected to be the Kingpin of t he hijack drama, has not appeared in public even a month after the incident, makes it clear that he is one of the hijackers.

Even as diplomatic pressure is mounted on Pakistan, the need to focus on peace in the region cannot be ignored. "Limited war" doctrines or warnings that India could cross the Line of Control (LoC) are best avoided in a tense environment. Also, it is clea r that there is no "one truth" about incidents that occur along the LoC: Pakistan has its own "truth" and India has its own. Often, there is no meeting point between these conflicting versions.

Pakistan is a state which can say anything to its citizens about India and get away with it. A questioning approach on issues related to India, barring some honourable exceptions, is absent in the country as a whole. Sustaining an artificial "consensus" on India is central to Pakistan's foreign policy approach.

In a refreshingly candid piece in The Friday Times (January 28-February 3, 2000), Khalid Ahmed, a Pakistani analyst, writes: "Pakistan's foreign policy can be summed up in short order as confrontation with India and commitment in Afghanistan... bo th Kashmir and Afghan policies were a continuation of the policy of subterfuge adopted during the jehad against the Soviet invasions. The world knew that Pakistan was deeply involved but accepted its denials and voted overwhelmingly for Pakistan-s ponsored resolutions in the U.N. General Assembly.

"Pakistan embraced the practice of a 'deniable' foreign policy and made it permanent. But after the Soviets left Afghanistan, international opinion gradually veered away from accepting it without questioning it. Afghanistan and Kashmir were linked togeth er under the simple principle of good management. The militants for Kashmir were also trained in camps in Afghanistan. Jehadi militias operating in Held Kashmir straddled Pakistan, making a bridge out of it. Their proliferation gave birth to rogue and se mi-rogue outfits that Pakistan had to tolerate to save its foreign policy from collapsing...

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"It is no longer possible to defend the 'deniable' foreign policy in Kashmir and Afghanistan. International opinion may be critical of India's violation of human rights in Kashmir, but it is more troubled by Pakistan's intervention in Held Kashmir.

"Those who wish to stick to the old policy are simply resisting internal change in Pakistan either because they favour what is happening inside Pakistan or are simply too fearful of defying the internal trends... They may be scared of Talibanisation of P akistan but will not factor that into their consideration of Pakistan's Afghan policy..."

Clearly, the stark contradictions in Pakistani policy are apparent to right-thinking Pakistanis. The question, of course, remains: can the military government of Pervez Musharraf distance itself from the jehadi forces and return Pakistan to a genu inely moderate Muslim state, rather than converting it into an Islamic state whose chief export is "jehad"?

Renewed hostilities

cover-story

The fresh round of clashes along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir could snowball into a serious crisis and help Pakistan's calls for a U.S.-authored solution to the Kashmir conflict find sympathy abroad.

PRAVEEN SWAMI

EIGHT months after the beginning of the Kargil War, the areas along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir are once again resounding with machine gun fire. At least half a dozen major skirmishes have occurred in the past month in the Jammu and Le h divisions. Firing on border posts are not particularly unusual since Pakistan has traditionally helped terrorists and foreign mercenaries to infiltrate from across the border by subjecting India's forward positions to suppressive fire. But read in the context of a general escalation of violence in the State, renewed hostilities along the LoC could snowball into a serious crisis.

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The worst attack took place in the Akhnoor sector of the Jammu division on January 22, ahead of Republic Day. Indian officials said that at least 18 Pakistani soldiers were killed when Indian troops repulsed an assault by soldiers of the 24 Bhaluch Regim ent on an Indian position, PP 13, in the Pallanwalla area of Akhnoor. The Pakistani attack was backed by mortar fire. Six bodies, including that of an officer, were recovered by Indian soldiers. (Two attempts were made to capture the post, on August 31 a nd September 12, 1999, but they were not executed on the scale of the January offensive.)

Pakistan promptly claimed that the casualties were inflicted by Indian soldiers who had stormed its border position. While this does not explain how the bodies of Pakistani soldiers ended up on the Indian side, some observers believe that the fighting co uld have in fact involved limited incursions by both sides. Late last year Pakistan had claimed that Indian troops had crossed the LoC near Gulmarg in order to attack a position where terrorists tasked to attack forward Indian posts had been positioned. At least 12 Pakistani troops were killed in that operation, although their bodies were again recovered on the Indian side.

As in the past, Pakistan responded to the Pallanwalla firing with a massive artillery barrage. A civilian, Puran Chand of Gangriyal village, died in the fire. Pallanwalla town has been deserted ever since its 15,000 residents were evacuated during the Ka rgil offensive. Intelligence officials believe that the latest artillery barrage was used by at least one Harkat-ul-Ansar group, led by Arshad Khan, to cross the LoC to Jammu. Several reports of similar infiltration preceded Republic Day celebrations in the State; in Jammu city timer-fitted rockets were discovered days before the event.

The Pallanwalla fighting is just part of a larger pattern of similar incidents. On December 31, Pakistani troops attacked the Amar Post in the Turtok area in Leh, leading again to massive artillery duels. Details of the incident and of the casualties are yet to emerge. What is known is that the Amar post assault was followed in quick time by fighting at Thang Top, the mountain perched over the village of Thang, which India gained control of in the 1971 war. Both attacks, officials say, were repulsed. Sn iping is common in the Siachen area, to which Turtok is the gateway, but such concerted attacks have taken place after several months.

There is also considerable controversy surrounding a second reported incident of combat in the Kargil sector. In mid-January, reports began to circulate that Pakistani soldiers had occupied Indian posts above Niril and Badgam, mountain villages perched a bove Kargil town. Rumours circulating in the town provoked panic, particularly since Indian Army officials have ensured that no troops are withdrawn from winter positions despite the sub-zero temperatures.

Officials of 121 Brigade who are charged with the defence of the Kargil area, insist that all their posts are in position. While the Army's credibility about its forward positions was more than a little undermined by the truth of Kargil, in this particul ar case it appears that 121 Brigade's account may be correct.

Heightened tensions have, however, been witnessed throughout the State. Several Pakistani gun positions have been moved forward to the LoC in Turtok. Since routine shelling does not need artillery to be positioned so close to Indian positions, officials suspect that the Pakistani Army wishes to be prepared to hit targets deep on the Indian side. The Tangdhar area on the LoC's northwestern corner has also seen regular exchanges of fire. Indian deployments in the area were significantly strengthened after reports came in that Pakistani irregulars planned to cut off the Tangdhar-Srinagar road with artillery support. Intelligence reports suggested that a similar enterprise was planned in the Uri sector as well.

Border exchanges are just part of the problem. The series of attacks on Indian Army and police positions by Lashkar-e-Taiba and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen suicide squads, called Fidayeen groups, continued unabated. In the latest incident, the 10th of its kind, two Harkat-ul-Mujahideen operatives attacked the Army's Tattoo parade ground in Batmaloo in Srinagar, while other members of the group suppressed its defences with grenades and rockets. Two soldiers were killed and six injured in the attack. Subsequent investigations revealed appalling security lapses.

Defence Minister George Fernandes charged Pakistan on January 24 with intensifying border clashes. But he seemed less than clear about just what the Government planned to do about the situation. After the bloody Pallanwalla clash, Pakistan's Chief Execut ive, General Pervez Musharraf, for his part, threatened to "teach India a lesson". Observers believe that the border exchanges, along with the sharp escalation of violence in the State, are designed to force the pace of the United States' intervention in the issue. With President Bill Clinton's visit to India expected soon, it would suit Pakistan to have the LoC in as fragile a state as possible.

Much of the Indian Government's time is being spent in persuading the U.S. to act against Pakistan though there is little reason to believe that its efforts will bear fruit. The U.S. does indeed appear to be pressuring the Pakistan Government and its int elligence apparatus to end their flagrant support to militant organisations such as the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. But the U.S' chief concern appears to be the Harkat's connections with the Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden (who is reportedly in Kandahar, under the protection of the Taliban) and other far-Right terrorist organisations in Afghanistan, and not its campaign in Jammu and Kashmir.

It has passed almost unnoticed that the Kargil War was preceded in the spring of 1999 by the worst artillery exchanges since 1971 along the LoC. A succession of communal massacres and attacks on security personnel too marked the build-up to the war. It i s hard to say just how events might play themselves out this time around, but it would be unwise to pretend that the prospect of another limited conventional engagement does not exist. Incidents such as the one at Pallanwalla illustrate that the patience of Indian troops on the ground is running out. Should the ongoing clashes escalate into wider hostilities, Pakistan's calls for a U.S-authored end to the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir may just find sympathetic ears abroad.

An offensive strategy

cover-story

The BJP-led Central Government's new 'offensive strategy' to engage terrorists in Kashmir would only jeopardise the internal security arrangements in the State.

PRAVEEN SWAMI

IN 1649, Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh went to battle at Kandahar, pitting their armies against the Safavid dynasty's forces. Despite suicidal charges that were fuelled by opium, the Mughal infantry was driven back. When all else failed, Aurangzeb reached fo r his prayer mat to call god to the aid of the Mughal armies. Dara Shikoh, for his part, pushed sorcerers and shamans into battle. But prayer and black magic, the holy book and occult invocations, all proved inadequate to retake Kandahar. Persia's modern artillery ensured that the city of Aurangzeb and Shikoh's forefathers remained in Safavid hands.

Union Home Minister L.K. Advani is an unlikely candidate for description as a latter-day Aurangzeb. But the fact remains that the making of policy on Jammu and Kashmir is beginning to resemble a bizarre, narcotic-driven ritual, complete with mystical inc antations and magic potions. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government's new policy on combating terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir is more than a public relations exercise to retrieve the credibility lost by its capitulation to the hijackers of Indian Airli nes Flight IC 814. Announced on January 17, the new policy transcends actuality, making it clear that the Union Government wishes the real world did not exist.

Consider the facts. Advani announced that new, specialised units of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) would be set up to address terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. Two days later, officials in Jammu were informed that 26 companies of the CRPF, consist ing of over 3,000 personnel, were to be withdrawn from the State. The companies will come from the training reserve strengths of each of the CRPF battalions, made up of six companies, posted in the State. None of them, perhaps unsurprisingly, is actually being withdrawn for transformation into the crack anti-terrorist force Advani had spoken of. State security officials were curtly told that they were needed for election duties in Bihar.

Under other circumstances, the withdrawal of the CRPF battalions would not have been a problem. But the deployment of security forces for purposes of internal security has been severely thinned in the wake of the Kargil War. Fiftyeight battalions of the Army were hurriedly withdrawn from anti-terrorist duties soon after the Kargil War broke out. Although most of the troops have now returned to their previous locations in the State, independent estimates suggest that some 22 of these battalions are now c ommitted to defensive duties along the Line of Control. The string of attacks this winter on Army camps has led to a near-doubling of troops committed to securing their own locations. The withdrawal will inevitably put further strain on operational resou rces.

MASSING troops to secure the Rashtriya Janata Dal's defeat in Bihar at least makes some crude political sense. However, other elements of the BJP's new policy on Jammu and Kashmir do not. Advani spoke, for example, of extending the current Unified Headqu arters structure down to the divisional and district level. This is meant to help Army units liaise with the State police, the Border Security Force (BSF) and the CRPF. But such coordination already exists on an informal basis, and there is reason to be lieve that the new structures could create more problems than they solve. Indeed, the result of district- and divisional-level headquarters is likely to be the replication of the power struggles in the existing twin Unified Headquarters at Jammu and Srin agar.

As the announcement that the Army's 14 Corps will have overall control of the new Unified Headquarters at Leh suggest, the plan appears to be a response to Army demands for overall control of counter-insurgency operations. In August last year, plans for control of the BSF by the Army had provoked a furore in the State security apparatus. Based on a 1998 internal document issued by the Army Training Command in Shimla, those ideas appear to have been pushed through in a modified form. Past experiments of this kind were far from successful. In 1997, Doda district was carved into four "core group" areas, and an officer of the rank of Superintendent of Police was assigned effective charge of each Army brigade. Power struggles and institutional egos predicta bly disrupted the earlier parameters of cooperation between the forces, and the concept was quietly shelved.

What form sector operations might take is also far from clear. The Home Minister announced that 49 operational sectors were being carved out in order to improve efficiency. In fact, 30-odd sectors already exist, built around the Army's brigade-level depl oyments. The new sectors would presumably break down the cutting-edge deployments in some of the existing areas from the brigade to the battalion level. But no one at the Union Ministry of Home Affairs has so far cared to explain just how this will impro ve the functioning of the counter-insurgency grid. At best, the new sectors would put in place some kind of additional structures with specifically assigned charge of areas particularly hard-hit by violence.

Even more bizarre is Advani's demand that security forces in the State "take a proactive approach against the terrorists in the hinterland and establish area domination by day and by night" ('Govt. plans unified command against terrorism', The Times o f India, January 18, 2000). That the Union Government imagines that security forces personnel spend their nights in bed illustrates just how detached from reality the politicians and bureaucrats who frame policy can be. Advani also spoke of "round-th e-clock operations to neutralise terrorist modules", an insult to the officials and troopers who often spend days on end without sleep engaged with enemy fire. Making forward-line officers and personnel scapegoats for the larger doctrinal and strategic f ailures of the Union Government is perhaps politically expedient, but has led to more than a little bitterness.

Security officials in Kashmir wryly suggest that the solution might lie in the creation of a Unified Headquarters in New Delhi, not north of the Zojila pass. The Union Government's allegedly new policy was crafted by a Byzantine maze of agencies and bure aucrats including Union Home Secretary Kamal Pande, head of the Home Ministry's Jammu and Kashmir cell, T.R. Kakkar, and members of its Internal Security cell responsible for all India matters. The heads of the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and An alysis Wing, Shyamal Dutta and A.S. Dulat respectively, also pitched in, along with Chief of the Army Staff Gen. V.P. Malik and heads of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, the BSF and the CRPF. Few of these security officials have any real contact with the State, bar the odd, airborne day-trip.

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IF security personnel in Srinagar are demanding a Unified Headquarters in New Delhi, their calls are not purely ironic. Advani's own incantations on Jammu and Kashmir have been mirrored by a series of similar magic formulas broadcast by Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh. Although Advani ensured that the January 17 meeting was chaired by Vajpayee, the fact remains that the BJP's internal fissures over Jammu and Kashmir have become embarrassingly evident. Replete wit h real durbar intrigue in the finest medieval tradition, the BJP's internal war on Jammu and Kashmir has crippled state policy as never before.

Jaswant Singh's unsubtle efforts to recruit the United States' assistance on Kashmir have, so far, had results not dissimilar to those of Advani's "proactive" policy. On January 19, the U.S. and India agreed in London to set up a joint working group on t errorism. Since exchanges of intelligence are well-established, it is unclear just what purpose such an institution would serve. U.S. demands that Pakistan shut down the offices of organisations such as the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen are driven by released ter rorist Masood Azhar's recent declaration of a jehad against that country. The U.S. has, in contrast, shown no inclination to sever its abiding relationship with its loyal client-state over violence in Kashmir.

What Jaswant Singh's desperate calls for U.S. mediation, cast as an appeal for assistance against terrorism, have achieved is to strengthen Pakistan's position. On January 20, Pakistan's Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf cited the examples of Koso vo and Bosnia to argue for greater U.S. intervention in Kashmir. President Bill Clinton, in turn, has on more than one occasion affirmed Pakistan's claims that Kashmir is the principal cause of tension between India and Pakistan, and a possible nuclear f lashpoint. It seems evident that the U.S. will use Clinton's coming visit to India to broker the contours of a settlement on Kashmir, a prospect that India's External Affairs Ministry has for several good reasons resisted for five decades.

Pakistani newspapers have been replete with speculation that the U.S. may, in the near future, appoint a special envoy on Jammu and Kashmir, mirroring similar arrangements for Tibet. Such a move would help push informal plans long advocated by the U.S. f or soft borders in Jammu and Kashmir, and near-complete autonomy for the Indian-held areas of the State. In practice, the plans are certain to ensure the ascendancy of far-Right Islamic groups in the region, with obvious consequences for India. The U.S. would, of course, emerge as the central architect of South Asia's future. The journey that began with Vajpayee's letter to Clinton asking for help with the Kargil War would then be complete.

ONE interesting sign of things to come is the announcement by the State Government last month that it would proceed with the implementation of plans for broad autonomy for the State. The proposals, outlined in the Report of the Committee on State Autono my, released in March last year, would replace, among other things, the fundamental rights granted by the Indian Constitution with new rights to be written into the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution. The Supreme Court's jurisdiction in the State will then e nd, along with that of the Election Commission. Parliament's powers to legislate for Jammu and Kashmir would be restricted to the subjects of defence, external affairs and communications. Additional subjects of legislation added after 1950 would lapse.

It seems implausible that Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah would have pushed ahead with his autonomy plans without some form of sanction from New Delhi. Abdullah's regular promises of securing autonomy no longer have great credibility in the State, so the decision to push for the implementation of the report is unlikely to have been driven by electoral concerns. It appears designed, rather, to aid the process of an eventual U.S.- authored solution. It is far from clear whether such a deal could be sold by the pro-U.S. factions within the BJP, but it seems probable that some effort to prepare the ground for such a deal is under way. This hijacking of the autonomy platform, originally conceived of as part of a broader process of democratisation, has not be en preceded by any process of broad-based consultation as promised two years ago.

Meanwhile, the business of managing violence in Jammu and Kashmir is being ignored. The real steps to contain terrorism lie not in troop redeployments or gross strengths, but in a candid reassessment of India's post-1996 counter-insurgency doctrines and tactics. Using massive Army and paramilitary deployments will help hold ground, but not the elimination of small groups of terrorists. In the process, the Army is being slowly bled. That fighting a covert war with overt means is an exercise in futility h as for long been understood. But plans to revitalise the State police force, and to improve the State's covert resources have been stonewalled by the political establishment, with calamitous results.

Sadly, even the more successful unorthodox enterprises of the mid-1990s have been allowed to collapse. Pro-India militia groups, made up of terrorists opposed to the ascendancy of the Jamaat-e-Islami and Hizbul Mujahideen, have degenerated into political enterprises, used mainly for ballot-box stuffing during elections. Reports of defections from major militias are frequent, and few groups are actually of any operational use. The Special Operations Group of the State police, set up to carry out targeted operations against the top leadership of terrorist groups, has been facing sustained attack from the ruling National Conference. What remains are political broadcasts masquerading as new policies, devoid of any ground-level meaning or purpose.

PAKISTAN'S war is certain to escalate this spring, as South Asia gears up for Clinton's visit. One probable course of action is for it to escalate violence along the Line of Control, this time not in Kargil but in Kashmir itself. Small groups of insurgen ts, which Indian intelligence officials describe as border action teams, have attacked Indian forward posts from Pakistan Army positions on several occasions. There have been at least six significant skirmishes along the LoC since last summer. Indian tro ops have responded twice, eliminating hostile positions in Gulmarg last September and at Akhnoor on January 22. Artillery exchanges have routinely followed such skirmishes. Pakistan's interests obviously lie in ensuring that these exchanges snowball into a full-blown confrontation.

Prime Minister Vajpayee, playing Dara Shikoh to the Home Minister's Aurangzeb, clearly has no answers. Both he and Advani see Jammu and Kashmir principally as a source of inner-party ideological legitimacy and mass support. The long journey that began wi th the Pokhran-II nuclear blasts in May 1998, and then travelled through Kargil to Kandahar, is still far from over.

THE COST OF LIVING

the-nation
ARUNDHATI ROY

FAME is a funny thing. Apart from my friends and family and of course some old enemies (what's life without a few old enemies?), most people who know of me now, know of me as the author of that very successful book - The God of Small Things.

Success, of course, is a funny thing too.

Many are familiar with the public story that surrounds the publishing of The God of Small Things. As stories go, it has a sort of cloying, Reader's Digest ring to it - an unknown writer who spent secret years writing her first novel which w as subsequently published in 40 languages, sold several million copies and went on to win the Booker Prize.

The private story, however, is a less happy one.

When The God of Small Things was first published I truly enjoyed accompanying it on its journey into the world. I had a high old time. I spent a year travelling to places I never dreamed I'd visit. I was exhilarated by the idea that a story writte n by an unknown person could make its way across cultures and languages and continents into so many waiting hearts.

At readings, when people asked me what it felt like to be a writer who was published and read in so many languages, I'd say "The opposite of what it must feel like to be a nuclear bomb. Literature hugs the world and the world hugs it back."

After a year of travelling, I decided I wanted to go back to my old life in what was now the New Nuclear India. But that proved impossible. My old life had packed its bags and left while I was away. As the Indian Government gears up to spend millions on nuclear weapons, the land it seeks to protect moulders. Rivers die, forests disappear and the air is getting impossible to breathe.

Delhi, the city I live in, changes before my eyes. Cars are sleeker, gates are higher, old, tubercular watchmen have made way for young, armed guards. But in the crevices of the city, in its folds and wrinkles, under flyovers, along sewers and railway tr acks, in vacant lots, in all the dank, dark places, the poor are crammed in like lice. Their children stalk the streets with wild hearts. The privileged wear their sunglasses and look away as they glide past. Their privileged children don't need sunglass es. They don't need to look away. They've learned to stop seeing.

A writer's curse is that he or she cannot easily do that. If you're a writer, you tend to keep those aching eyes open. Every day your face is slammed up against the windowpane. Every day you bear witness to the obscenity. Every day you are reminded that there is no such thing as innocence. And every day you have to think of new ways of saying old and obvious things. Things about love and greed. About politics and governance. About power and powerlessness. About war and peace. About death and beauty. Thi ngs that must be said over and over again.

While I watch from my window, the memory of the years of pleasure I had writing The God of Small Things has begun to fade. The commercial profits from book sales roll in. My bank account burgeons. I realise that I have accidentally ruptured a hidd en, mercantile vein in the world, or perforated the huge pipeline that circulates the world's wealth amongst the already wealthy, and it is spewing money at me, bruising me with its speed and strength. I began to feel as though every emotion, every littl e strand of feeling in The God of Small Things, had been traded in for a silver coin. As though one day, if I wasn't very careful, I would turn into a little silver figurine with a gleaming, silver heart. The debris around me would serve only to s et off my shining. These were my thoughts, this my frame of mind when, in February (1999) there was a ripple of news in the papers announcing that the Supreme Court of India had vacated a four-year-long legal stay on the construction of the controversial , half-completed, Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada river in central India. The court order came as a body blow to one of the most spectacular, non-violent resistance movements since the freedom struggle. A movement which, those of us watching from a dis tance thought, had more or less already achieved what it set out to. International attention had been focussed on the project. The World Bank had been forced to withdraw from it. It seemed unlikely that the Government would be able to cobble together the funds to complete the project. Then suddenly, with the lifting of the stay, the scenario changed. There was gloom in the Narmada Valley and dancing on the streeets of Gujarat.

I grew interested in what was happening in the Narmada Valley because almost everyone I spoke to had a passionate opinion based on what seemed to me to be very little information. That interested me too, so much passion in the absence of information.

I substituted the fiction I intended to read in the coming months with journals and books and documentary films about dams and why they're built and what they do. I developed an inordinate, unnatural interest in drainage and irrrigation. I met some of th e activists who had been working in the valley for years with the NBA - the extraordinary Narmada Bachao Andolan. What I learned changed me, fascinated me. It revealed, in relentless detail, a Government's highly evolved, intricate way of pulverising a p eople behind the genial mask of democracy. I have angered people in India greatly by saying this. Compared to what goes on in other developing countries, India is paradise, I've been told. It's true, India is not Tibet, or Afghanistan, or Indonesia. It's true that the idea of the Indian Army staging a military coup is almost unimaginable. Nevertheless, what goes on in the name of 'national interest' is monstrous.

Though there has been a fair amount of writing on the Narmada Valley Development Project, most of it has been for a 'special interest' readership. Government documents are classified as secret. Experts and consultants have hijacked various aspects of the issue - displacement, rehabilitation, hydrology, drainage, water-logging, catchment area treatment, passion, politics - and carried them off to their lairs where they guard them fiercely against the unauthorised curiosity of interested laypersons. Socia l anthropologists have acrimonious debates with economists about whose jurisdiction R&R falls in. Engineers refuse to discuss politics when they present their proposals. Disconnecting the politics from the economics from the emotion and human tragedy of uprootment is like breaking up a band. The individual musicians don't rock in quite the same way. You keep the noise but lose the music.

In March I travelled to the Narmada Valley. I returned ashamed of how little I knew about a struggle that had been going on for so many years. I returned convinced that the valley needed a writer. Not just a writer, a fiction writer. A fiction writer who recognised that what was happening in the valley was perhaps too vulgar for fiction, but who could use the craft and rigour of writing fiction to make the separate parts cohere, to tell the story in the way it deserves to be told. I believe that the sto ry of the Narmada Valley is nothing less than the story of Modern India.

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The Narmada Valley Development Project is supposed to be the most ambitious river valley development project in the world.

It envisages building 3,200 dams that will reconstitute the Narmada and her 419 tributaries into a series of step-reservoirs - an immense staircase of amenable water. Of these, 30 will be major dams, 135 medium and the rest small. Two of the major dams w ill be multi-purpose mega dams. The Sardar Sarovar in Gujarat and the Narmada Sagar in Madhya Pradesh, will, between them, hold more water than any other reservoir in the Indian subcontinent.

For better or for worse, the Narmada Valley Development Project will affect the lives of 25 million people who live in the valley and will alter the ecology of an entire river basin. It will submerge sacred groves and temples and ancient pilgrimage route s and archaeological sites that scholars say contain an uninterrupted record of human occupation from the Old Stone Age.

The Sardar Sarovar project belongs firmly in the era of the great Nehruvian dream. But before I come specifically to the story of the Sardar Sarovar, I'd like to say a little about the raging Big Dam debate.

For a whole half-century after Independence, Nehru's footsoldiers sought to equate dam-building with Nation-building. Not only did they build new dams and irrigation schemes, they took control of small, traditional water harvesting systems that had been managed for thousands of years and allowed them to atrophy. To compensate the loss they built more and more dams. Today, India is the world's third largest dam-builder. According to the Central Water Commission we have 3,600 dams that qualify as big dams , 3,300 of them built after Independence. A thousand more are under construction.

Nehru's famous statement about dams being the Temples of Modern India has made its way into primary school textbooks in every Indian language. Big dams have become an article of faith inextricably linked with nationalism. To question their utility amount s almost to sedition. Every school child is taught that Big Dams will deliver the people of India from hunger and poverty.

But will they? Have they? Are they really the key to India's food security?

Today India has more irrigated land than any other country in the world. In the last 50 years the area under irrigation increased by about 140 per cent. It's true that in 1947, when Colonialism formally ended, India was food-deficient. In 1951 we produce d 51 million tonnes of foodgrains. Today we produce close to 200 million tonnes. Certainly, this is a tremendous achievement. (Even though there are worrying signs that it may not be sustainable.) But surely nobody can claim that all the credit for incre ased food production should go to Big Dams. Most of it has to do with mechanised exploitation of groundwater, with the use of high-yielding hybrid seeds and chemical fertilizers.

The extraordinary thing is that there are no official figures for exactly what portion of the total foodgrain production comes from irrigation from Big Dams.

What is this if not a state's unforgivable disregard for its subjects? Given that the people of the Narmada Valley have been fighting for over fifteen years, surely the least the government could do is to actually substantiate its case that Big Dams are India's only option to provide food for her growing population.

The only study I know of was presented to the World Commission on Dams by Himanshu Thakker. It estimates that Big Dams account for only 12 per cent of India's total foodgrain production!

12 per cent of the total produce is 24 million tonnes. In 1995 the state granaries were overflowing with 30 million tonnes of foodgrains, while at the same time 350 million people lived below the poverty line.

According to the Ministry of Food and Civil Supplies, 10 per cent of India's total foodgrain production, that is 20 million tonnes, is lost to rodents and insects because of bad and inadequate storage facilities. We must be the only country in the world that builds dams, uproots communities and submerges forests in order to feed rats. Clearly we need better storerooms more urgently than we need dams.

Similarly, in the case of electricity, planners flaunt the fact that India consumes 20 times more electricity today than it did 50 years ago. And yet over 70 per cent of rural households have no access to electricity. In the poorest States - Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and Rajasthan - over 80 per cent of Adivasi and Dalit households have no electricity. Electricity produced in the name of the poor consumed by the rich with endless appetites.

Official estimates say that 22 per cent of the power generated is lost in transmission and system inefficiencies. Existing dams are silting up at a speed which halves and sometimes quarters their projected life-spans.

It seems obvious, surely, that before the government decides to build another dam it ought to do everything in its power to maintain and increase the efficiency of the systems it already has in place. What happens, in fact, is the reverse.

Dams are built, people are uprooted, forests are submerged and then the project is simply abandoned. Canals are never completed... the benefits never accrue (except to the politicians, the bureaucrats and the contractors involved in the construction). Th e first dam that was built on the Narmada is a case in point - the Bargi Dam in Madhya Pradesh was completed in 1990. It cost ten times more than was budgeted and submerged three times more land than engineers said it would. To save the cost and effort o f doing a survey, the government just filled the reservoir without warning anybody. 70,000 people from 101 villages were supposed to be displaced. Instead, 114,000 people from 162 villages were displaced. They were evicted from their homes by rising wate rs, chased out like rats, with no prior notice. There was no rehabilitation. Some got a meagre cash compensation. Most got nothing. Some died of starvation. Others moved to slums in Jabalpur. And all for what? Today, ten years after it was completed, the Bargi Dam produces some electricity, but irrigates only as much land as it submerged. Only 5 per cent of the land its planners claimed it would irrigate. The Government says it has no money to make the canals. Yet it has already begun work downstream, o n the mammoth Narmada Sagar Dam and the Maheshwar Dam.

Why is this happening? How can it be happening?

Because Big Dams are monuments to corruption. To international corruption on an inconceivable scale. Bankers, politicians, bureaucrats, environmental consultants, aid agencies - they're all involved in the racket. The people that they prey on are the poo rest, most marginalised sections of the populations of the poorest countries in the world. They don't count as people. Therefore the costs of Big Dams don't count as costs. They're not even entered in the books. What happens instead is that international consultants on Resettlement (global experts on despair) are paid huge salaries to devise ever more sensitive, ever more humane-sounding, ever more exquisitely written, resettlement policies that are never implemented. Like the saying goes - there's a lo t of money in poverty.

When I was writing "The Greater Common Good"* - my essay on the Narmada Valley project - wading through the fusillade of 'pro-dam' and 'anti-dam' statistics, what shocked me more than anything else was not the statistics that are available bu t the ones that aren't. To me, this is the most unpardonable thing of all. It is unpardonable on the part of the Indian state as well as on the part of the intellectual community.

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The Government of India has detailed figures for how many million tonnes of foodgrains or edible oils the country produces and how much more we produce now than we did in 1947. It can tell you what the total surface area of the National Highways adds up to, how many graduates India produces every year, how many men had vasectomies, how many cricket matches we've lost on a Friday in Sharjah.

But the Government of India does not have a record of the number of people that have been displaced by dams or sacrificed in other ways at the altars of 'National Progress'. Isn't this astounding? How can you measure Progress if you don't know wha t it costs and who has paid for it? How can the 'market' put a price on things - food, clothes, electricity, running water - when it doesn't take into account the real cost of production?

Unofficial estimates of the number of displaced people have swung from an unsubstantiated 2 million to an unsubstantiated 50 million, and everything in between. There's plenty of scope for bargaining.

When I wrote my Essay, I thought it necessary to try and put a figure on how many people have actually been displaced by Big Dams. To do a back-of-the-envelope calculation. A sort of sanity check. The point was to at least begin to bring some pers pective to the debate. As my starting premise, I used a study of 54 Large Dams by the Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA) based on field data from the Central Water Commission. The reservoirs of these 54 dams, between them, displaced about 2 .4 million people. The average number of people displaced by each dam came to 44,000. Correcting for the fact that the dams the IIPA chose to study may have been some of the larger of the Large Dam projects, I pared down the average number of displaced p eople to 10,000 people per dam. Using this scaled-down average, the total number of people displaced by Large Dams in the last fifty years worked out to a scandalous 33 million people!

33 million people.

Recently N.C. Saxena, Secretary to the Planning Commission, said he thought that the number was in the region of 40 million people.

About 60 per cent of those displaced are either Dalit or Adivasi. If you consider that Dalits account for 15 per cent and Adivasis only 8 per cent of India's population, it opens up a whole other dimension to the story. The ethnic 'otherness' of the vict ims takes some of the strain off the Nation builders.

What has happened to these millions of people? Where are they now? How do they earn a living? Nobody really knows. When history is written, they won't be in it, not even as statistics. When it comes to resettlement, the government's priorities are clear. India does not have a National Resettlement Policy. Displaced people are only entitled to a meagre cash compensation. The poorest of them, Dalits and Adivasis, who are either landless or have no formal title to their lands, but whose livelihoods depend entirely on the river - get nothing. Some of the displaced have been subsequently displaced three and four times - a dam, an artillery proof range, another dam, a uranium mine. Once they start rolling there's no resting place. The great majority i s eventually absorbed into slums on the periphery of our great cities, where it coalesces into an immense pool of cheap labour (that builds more projects that displaces more people)... and still the nightmare doesn't end. They continue to be uprooted eve n from their hellish hovels whenever elections are comfortingly far away and the urban rich get twitchy about hygiene. In cities like Delhi they get shot for shitting in public places, like three slum dwellers were, not more than two years ago.

On the whole there's a deafening silence on the politics of forced, involuntary displacement. It's accepted as a sort of unavoidable blip in our democratic system. In Kargil, while the Indian Army fought to regain every inch of territory captured by Paki stani infiltrators, hundreds of people in the Narmada Valley were being forcibly flooded out of their homes by the rising waters of the Sardar Sarovar Reservoir. The nation rose as one to support the soldiers on the front. Middle-class housewives held co oking festivals to raise money, people queued up to donate blood, they collected food, clothing, first aid. Actors, sportsmen and celebrities swarmed to the border to bolster the morale of the fighting forces.

There were no such offers of help for the people in the Narmada Valley.

Some of them had stood in their homes in chest-deep water for days on end, protesting the Supreme Court's decision to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam. They were seen as people who were unwilling to pay the price for National progress. They wer e labelled anti-national and anti-development and carted off to jail. The general consensus seems to be "Yes it's sad, but hard decisions have to be made. Someone has to pay the price for development."

I often wonder what would happen if the Government was to declare that in order to raise funds to complete these mammoth projects, it was going to commandeer the assets and bank accounts of a hundred thousand of its richest citizens. I have no doubt that it would become an international scandal. Banner headlines would appear in newspapers announcing the death of democracy. Suddenly the ecological and human costs of Big Dams would be Page One news.

In a flash there would be phenomenal, imaginative solutions for irrigation and power generation. Cheaper, quicker, more efficient. Nuclear hawks would suddenly realise they could drastically scale down the number of bombs they need for a minimum credible deterrent.

So far I have only discussed the human and social costs of Big Dams. What about the environmental costs? The submerged forests, the ravaged ecosystems, the destroyed estuaries, the defunct, silted-up reservoirs, the endangered wildlife, the disapp earing biodiversity, the millions of hectares of land that are either water-logged or salt-affected. None of this appears on the balance sheet. There are no official assessments of the cumulative impact Big Dams have had on the environment.

What we do know is that a study of 300 projects done by an Expert Committee on River Valley Projects reported that 270 of them - that's 90 per cent of them - had violated the environmental guidelines laid down by the Ministry of Environment. The Ministry has not taken action or revoked the sanction of a single one of them.

The evidence against Big Dams is mounting alarmingly - irrigation disasters, dam-induced floods, the fact that there are more drought-prone and flood-prone areas today than there were in 1947. The fact that not a single river in the plains has potable wa ter. The fact that 250 million people have no access to safe drinking water. And yet there has not been an official audit, a comprehensive, honest, thoughtful, post-project evaluation of a single Big Dam to see whether or not it has achieved what it s et out to achieve. Whether or not the costs were justified, or even what the costs actually were.

"This is exactly why the Sardar Sarovar Project is different," its proponents boast. They call it the 'most studied project' in the world. (You'll notice as we go along, that the story of the Narmada Valley is full of this sort of superlative - the most studied project, the most ambitious river valley project, the best rehabilitation package... etc.) One of the reasons the Sardar Sarovar is so 'studied' is because it's also so controversial.

In 1985, when the World Bank first sanctioned a 450-million-dollar loan to fund the project, no studies had been done, nobody had any idea what the human cost or the ecological impact of the dam would be. The point of doing studies now can only be to jus tify what has become a fait accompli. So costs are suppressed and benefits exaggerated to farcical proportions.

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The politics of the Sardar Sarovar Dam are complicated because the Narmada flows through three States - ninety per cent of it through Madhya Pradesh, it then merely skirts the northern border of Maharashtra and finally flows through Gujarat for about 180 kilometres before it reaches the Arabian Sea.

In order for the three States to arrive at a water-sharing formula, in 1969 the Central Government set up a body called the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal. It took ten years for it to announce its Award. Geographically, the Sardar Sarovar Dam is located in Gujarat. Its reservoir submerges 245 villages, of which only 19 are in Gujarat. All the rest are in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. What this means is that the social costs are borne by Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, while the benefits go to Gujarat . This is what has sharpened the controversy around it.

The cost-benefit analysis for the Project is approached in a friendly, cheerful way. Almost as though it's a family board game.

First let's take a look at the 'costs'.

In 1979, when the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal announced its award, the official estimate for the number of families that would be displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Reservoir was about 6,000. In 1987 the figure grew to 12,000. In 1992 it surged to 27,00 0. Today it hovers between 40,000 and 42,000 families. That's about 200,000 people. And that's just the official estimate. According to the NBA, the actual number of affected families is about 85,000. Close to half a million people.

The huge discrepancy between the Government's estimate and the NBA's has to do with the definition of who qualifies as 'Project Affected'. According to the Government, the only people who qualify as Project Affected are those whose lands and homes are su bmerged by the reservoir. But when you tear up the fabric of an ancient, agrarian community, which depends on its lands and rivers and forests for its sustenance, the threads begin to unravel in every direction. There are several categories of displaceme nt that the Government simply refuses to acknowledge.

For example:

The Sardar Sarovar Project envisages bending the last 180 km of the Narmada and diverting it about 90 degrees north, into a 75,000-sq-km network of canals that planners claim will irrigate a command area of 1.8 million hectares. The government has acquir ed land for the canal network. 200,000 families are directly affected. Of these 23,000 families, let's say about 100,000 people, are seriously affected.

They don't count as project affected. Not in the official estimates.

In order to compensate for the submergence of 13,000 hectares of prime forest, the Government proposes to expand the Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary near the dam site. This would mean that about 40,000 Adivasi people from about 101 forest villages with in the boundaries of the park will be 'persuaded' to leave. They don't count as project affected.

In addition to the sanctuary, the other mitigating measure is the extraordinary process known as Compensatory Afforestation in which the government acquires land and plants three times as much forest as has been submerged by the reservoir.

The people from whom this land is acquired do not count as project affected.

In its plans for what it is going to do with its share of the Narmada water, the Gujarat Government has allocated no water at all - 0 million acre feet - for the stretch of river downstream of the dam. This means that in the non-monsoon months there will be no water in the last 180 km of the river. The dam will radically alter the ecology of the estuary and affect the spawning of the Hilsa and freshwater prawns. 40,000 fisherfolk who live downstream depend on the river for a living.

They don't count as project affected.

In 1961, the Gujarat Government acquired 1,600 acres of land from 950 Adivasi families for the infrastructure it would need for starting work on the dam. Guest houses, office blocks, housing for engineers and their staff, roads leading to the dam site an d warehouses for construction material.

Overnight, the villagers became landless labourers. Their houses were dismantled and moved to the periphery of the colony, where they remain today, squatters on their own land. Some of them work as servants in the officers' bungalows and waiters in the g uest house built on land where their own houses once stood

Incredibly, they do not qualify as project affected!

In its publicity drive, the other sleight of hand by the proponents of the Sardar Sarovar is to portray costs as benefits. For instance, there's the repeated assertion that Displacement is actually a positive intervention, a way of relieving acute depriv ation. That the state is doing people a favour by submerging their lands and homes, taking them away from their forests and river, drowning their sacred sites, destroying their community links and forcibly displacing them against their wishes. Anybody wh o argues against this is accused of being an 'ecoromantic', of wanting to deny poor and marginalised people the "fruits of modern development". Of glorifying the notion of the Noble Savage.

If the well-being of Adivasi people is what is uppermost in the Planners' minds, why is it that for fifty years there have been no roads, no schools, no clinics, no wells, no hospitals in the areas they live in? Why is it for all these years they didn't take any steps to equip the people they care so deeply about, for the world they were going to be dumped in? Why is it that the first sign of 'development' - a road - brought only terror, police, beatings, rape, murder? Why must the offer of Development be conditional, that is: You give up your homes, your lands, your field, your language, your gods, and we'll give you 'development'?

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As part of 'the best rehabilitation package in the world', the Gujarat Government has offered to rehabilitate all the officially 'project affected', even those from Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The Madhya Pradesh Government has filed an affidavit in c ourt declaring that it has no land to rehabilitate people displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Reservoir. This means that all the displaced people from Madhya Pradesh have no choice but to move to Gujarat - not a State known for its hospitality towards 'outsi ders'. It's like displacing people in England and forcing them to live in France. Notwithstanding its feigned generosity, in point of fact the Government of Gujarat hasn't even managed to rehabilitate people from the 19 Adivasi villages in Gujarat that a re being submerged by the reservoir, let alone those from the rest of the 226 villages in the other two States. The inhabitants of Gujarat's 19 villages have been scattered to 175 separate rehabilitation sites. Social links have been smashed, communities broken up. Not a single village has been resettled, according to the directives of the Tribunal.

Some families have been given land, others haven't. Some have land that is stony and uncultivable. Some have land that is irredeemably water-logged or infested with pernicious daab grass. Some have been driven out by landowners that sold land to t he Government but hadn't been paid yet.

Some who were resettled on the peripheries of other villages have been robbed, beaten and chased away by their host villagers.

In several resettlement sites, people have been dumped in rows of corrugated tin sheds which are furnaces in summer and 'fridges in winter. Some of them are located in dry river beds which, during the monsoon, turn into fast-flowing drifts. I've been to some of these 'sites'. I've seen film footage of others: Shivering children, perched like birds on the edges of charpoys, while swirling waters enter their tin homes. Frightened, fevered eyes watch pots and pans carried through the doorway by the current, floating out into the flooded fields, thin fathers swimming after them to retrieve what they can.

When the waters recede, they leave ruin. Malaria, diarrhoea, sick cattle stranded in the slush.

Forty households were moved from Manibeli in Maharashtra to a resettlement site in Gujarat. In the first year, thirty-eight children died.

In April 1999 the papers reported nine deaths from chronic malnutrition in a single rehabilitation site in Gujarat. In the course of a week. That's 1.2875 people a day, if you're counting.

Many of those who have been resettled are people who have lived all their lives deep in the forest with virtually no contact with money and the modern world. Suddenly they find themselves left with the option of either starving to death or walking severa l kilometres to the nearest town, sitting in the marketplace, (both men and women) offering themselves as wage labour, like goods on sale.

Instead of a forest from which they gathered everything they needed - food, fuel, fodder, rope, gum, tobacco, tooth powder, medicinal herbs, housing material - they earn between ten and twenty rupees a day with which to feed and keep their families. Inst ead of a river, they have a hand pump. In their old villages, certainly they were poor, extremely poor, but they were insured against absolute disaster. If the rains failed, they had the forests to turn to. The river to fish in. Their livestock was their fixed deposit. Without all this, they're a heartbeat away from destitution.

For the people who've been resettled, everything has to be re-learned. Every little thing, every big thing: from shitting and pissing (where d'you do it when there's no jungle to hide you?) to buying a bus ticket, to learning a new language, to understan ding money. And worst of all, learning to be supplicants. Learning to take orders. Learning to have Masters. Learning to answer only when they're addressed.

From being self-sufficient and free, to being further impoverished and yoked to the whims of a world you know nothing, nothing about - what d'you suppose it must feel like?

In fifteen years, the government has not managed to resettle people displaced by half a dam. What are they going to do about the remaining 3,199 dams? There's something wrong with the scale of the operations here. This is Fascist Maths. It strangl es stories, bludgeons detail and manages to blind perfectly reasonable people with its spurious, shining vision.

So much for project costs. Now let's take a look at the benefits. The stated benefits.

The whole purpose of the Sardar Sarovar, the Government of Gujarat says, is to take water to the drought-prone regions of Kutch and Saurashtra which lie at the very end of the canal network. The Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam publicity campaign is full of pictures of parched earth and dying cattle. In the name of Kutch and Saurashtra, it justifies using about 80 per cent of Gujarat's irrigation budget for the Sardar Sarovar. It says, categorically, that there is no alternative to the Sardar Sarovar.

To understand what's really going on, the first thing you must do is to look at a map of Gujarat. Look for two other rivers - the Mahi and the Sabarmati. You'll see that both are miles closer to Kutch and Saurashtra than the Narmada is. Both have been dammed and the water diverted to Ahmedabad, Mehsana and Kheda, the Patel-rich, irrigation rich, politically powerful areas of Central Gujarat. The people of Kutch and Saurashtra haven't seen a drop of water from these rivers.

When the Sardar Sarovar Project was first planned, there was no mention of drinking water for the villages in Kutch and Saurashtra. It was supposed to be primarily an irrigation project. When the project ran into political trouble, the Governement discov ered the emotive power of thirst. Drinking water became the rallying cry of the Sardar Sarovar Project. Officially, the number of people whose thirst would be slaked fluctuated from 28 million (1983) to 32.5 million (1989) to 10 million (1992) to 25 mill ion (1993).

The number of villages that would get drinking water varied from zero in 1979 to 8,215 in 1991. When pressed, the Government admitted that the figures for 1991 included 236 uninhabited villages.

Nobody builds Big Dams to take drinking water to remote villages. Of the one billion people in the world who have no access to safe drinking water, 855 million live in rural areas. The cost of installing an energy-intensive network of thousands of kilome tres of pipelines, aqueducts, pumps and treatment plants to provide drinking water to scattered populations is prohibitive. When the members of the World Bank's Morse Committee arrived in Gujarat to do the Independent Review, they were impressed by the G ujarat Government's commitment to take drinking water to the State's remote regions. They asked to see the plans. There weren't any. They asked if the costs had been worked out.

'A few thousand crores,' was the breezy answer. A billion dollars, is an expert's calculated guess. But of course, that isn't a part of the cost-benefit analysis (the benefit-benefit analysis, shall we call it?)

As for the irrigation benefits, when the Government of Gujarat argued its case before the Water Disputes Tribunal it pleaded for more than its proportionately fair share of water because it said it desperately needed water to irrigate 11,00,000 hectares of land in the arid region of Kutch. The Tribunal accepted the argument and allotted Gujarat 9 MAF of water. It did not specify how that water should be used. The Gujarat Government then reduced the 11,00,000 hectares to less than a tenth of that. To 100 ,000 hectares. That's 1.8 per cent of the cultivable area in Kutch. And that's on paper. On paper it irrigates only 9 per cent of the cultivable land in Saurashtra. If you ask what they're going to do about the rest of the drought-prone regions, they tal k of 'alternatives'. Water-shed management. Rainwater harvesting. Well-recharging. The point is that if there are alternatives which are good enough for 98.2 per cent of Kutch and 91 per cent of Saurashtra, then why won't they work for the whole 100 per cent?

There are some other interesting caveats which make it unlikely that water from the Narmada will ever get to Kutch and Saurashtra, situated as they are at the tail end of the canal.

First, there's a lot less water in the Narmada than the government says there is.

Before the Tribunal announced its water-sharing formula, it had to assess how much water there actually was in the river. Since there was no actual flow data available at the time, it extrapolated it from what was even at the time thought to be faulty ra infall data.

They arrived at a figure of 27.22 MAF.

In 1992, actual flow data indicates that there is only 22.69 MAF of water in the river - that's a whole 18 per cent less!

Second, the Sardar Sarovar Dam was planned in conjunction with the Narmada Sagar Dam. In the absence of the Narmada Sagar, on which construction has temporarily been stopped, the irrigation benefits of the Sardar Sarovar drop drastically.

Third, the irrigation efficiency of the canal has been arbitrarily fixed at 60 per cent when the highest irrigation efficiency ever achieved in India is 35 per cent.

Last, and perhaps most important of all, are the competing claims being made on the water. The Authorities of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam declared that farmers would not be allowed to grow sugar-cane in the command area because sugar-cane is a water -guzzling cash crop and would use up the share of water meant for those at the tail end of the canal. But the Government of Gujarat has already given licences to dozens of large sugar mills at the head of the canal. The chief promoter of one of th em is Sanat Mehta, who was Chairman of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam - the Dam Authority - for several years.

The chief promoter of another was Chiman Bhai Patel, former Chief Minister of Gujarat, probably the most ardent promoter of the Sardar Sarovar Project. When he died, his ashes were scattered over the dam site.

Other than the politically powerful sugar lobby, to get to Kutch and Saurashtra the canal has to negotiate its way past a series of golf-courses, luxury hotels and water parks which, the Government says, it has sanctioned in order to raise money to compl ete the project!

Apart from all this, and in complete contravention of its own directives, the government has allotted the city of Baroda a sizeable quantity of water. What Baroda gets, can Ahmedabad bear to lose? The political clout of powerful urban centres will make s ure they get their share.

So the chances of the farmers of Kutch and Saurashtra benefiting from the Narmada get remoter by the day.

Of late, the people of Kutch and Saurashtra, who have endured water-shortages for years, have begun to recognise Government propaganda for what it is. Civil unease is stirring as realisation dawns that the Sardar Sarovar is mopping up their money but is not going to solve their water problems. That the solution lies not with the Government but with themselves. The Gujarat Land Development Corporation estimates that there is at least 15 to 20 MAF of rainwater that can be harvested by local watershed harv esting schemes in Kutch and Saurashtra. (The Sardar Sarovar promises, on paper, 3 MAF to these areas.) In several villages, entirely through peoples' initiatives, successful water-harvesting schemes are already under way. Hundreds of thousands of wells are being recharged with rainwater that was flowing away unused. So much for the Government of Gujarat's claims that there are no alternatives to the Sardar Sarovar.

A people's organisation has filed a case against the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam, demanding an express canal to Kutch, with no designer stops on the way.

Another huge cost that does not figure in the benefit-benefit analysis of the Sardar Sarovar Project is the cost of installing drainage in the command area to prevent water-logging and salinisation. The cost of installing drainage is about five times hig her than the cost of installing the irrigation system. So, traditionally drainage costs are left out in order to make projects in developing countries appear viable. I'm told this is an old World Bank practice.

Over the last fourteen years, the NBA has pointed to these facts over and over again, and asked for the project to be reviewed. After the World Bank's Independent Review was published and the Bank stepped back from the project, the Gujarat Government has systematically blocked every attempt at a review. It prevented the Five Member Group Committee from entering Gujarat. It refused permission to the World Commission on Dams to visit the dam site. It prevented the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Sch eduled Tribes from visiting the dam site. It prevented the Union Welfare Ministry from assessing the Rehabilitation and Resettlement situation. It stood by and watched while the NBA office in Baroda was ransacked and its documents publicly burnt.

In May 1994, the NBA filed a petition in the Supreme Court in which it listed all the points I've talked about, and asked for a review of the project. In early 1995, on the grounds that the Resettlement of displaced people was not satisfactory, the court ordered a halt to the construction. Over the years the court has managed to limit the whole issue to resettlement. It has cast itself in the role of a sort of Welfare Inspector of Resettlement Colonies whose jurisdiction is more or less restricted to Gu jarat. It oversees the resettlement of only those who officially qualify as 'project affected'. Unfortunately, even here it hasn't distinguished itself.

In February 1999, despite the fact that nothing had changed radically in the resettlement scenario, despite the fact that families who were supposed to have been resettled had returned in despair to their original villages, the Supreme Court lifted the f our-year-long stay and allowed construction of the dam to continue.

The people in the valley responded by declaring that they would drown rather than move from their homes. The NBA defied the gag imposed on them by the court. In a statement to the press, its leader, Medha Patkar, announced that she would drown herself in the river if the court permitted any further construction.

As a response to this, the Gujarat Government filed a petition asking that the NBA be removed as petitioners for committing contempt of court and that criminal action be taken against me for writing "The Greater Common Good" which, they claimed, undermin ed the dignity of the court and attempted to influence the course of justice.

In July and August, while the waters rose in the Narmada, while villagers stood in their homes for days together in chest-deep water to protest the decision of the court, while their crops were submerged, and while the NBA pointed out (citing specific in stances) that government officials had committed perjury by signing false affidavits claiming that resettlement had been carried out when it hadn't, the three-judge bench in the Supreme Court met over three sessions. The only subject they discusse d was whether or not the dignity of the court had been undermined. On the 15th of October, 1999 they issued an elaborate order. Here are some extracts.

... Judicial process and institution cannot be permitted to be scandalised or subjected to contumacious violation in such a blatant manner in which it has been done by her (me)... vicious stultification and vulgar debunking cannot be permitted to poll ute the stream of justice... we are unhappy at the way in which the leaders of NBA and Ms Arundhati Roy have attempted to undermine the dignity of the Court. We expected better behaviour from them... After giving this matter thoughtful consideration and keeping in view the importance of the issue of Resettlement and Rehabilitation... we are not inclined to initiate contempt proceedings against the petitioners, its leaders or Arundhati Roy... after the 22nd of July 1999... nothing has come to our notice which may show that Ms Arundhati Roy has continued with the objectionable writings insofar as the judiciary is concerned. She may have by now realised her mistake.

So. Shall I heed the warning or persevere with the contumely?

To heed the warning might be prudent, but in my opinion it would undermine the dignity of Art. And, as we all know, there's no excuse for bad art. Just as much as the valley needs a writer, I believe that writers need the valley. Not just writers - poets , painters, dancers, actors, film-makers - every kind of artist. If we are to remain alive, if we are to continue to work, we need to reclaim the political arena which we seem to have so willingly abdicated. If we choose to look away now, at this point - somehow it doesn't say very much about our art. I'm not suggesting that everybody must turn out a hectoring, political manifesto. I'm all for Matisse and goldfish on a window sill. All I mean is that from time to time we could lift our eyes from the pag e and acknowledge the condition of the world around us. Acknowledge the price that someone, somewhere far away is paying, in order for us to switch our lights on, cool our rooms and run our baths.

Today the Sardar Sarovar Dam is 88 metres high. It has submerged only a fourth of the area that it will when (if) the dam reaches its full height of 138 metres. It's true that the Government has already spent a lot of money on the project. But continuing with it would mean spending about six times that amount - throwing good money after bad. There is a detailed engineering proposal in place for how the dam can be used at the current height in order to take water straight to Kutch and Saurashtra, if that is indeed what the Government wants to do. Restructuring the project with this lower dam height would mean saving hundreds of thousands of people from certain destitution. It would mean saving thousands of hectares of forest. It would mean saving some o f the most fertile agricultural land in Asia from submergence. It would mean having enough money to fund local water-harvesting schemes in every village in Gujarat.

It would mean a victory for non-violence and the principles of democracy. It would mean that we still have hope.

Since this is the Nehru Memorial Lecture, let me end with a quote from a speech he made in November 1958 at the Annual Meeting of the Central Board of Irrigation and Power:

For some time past, however, I have been beginning to think that we are suffering from what we may call the "disease of gigantism". We want to show we can build big dams and do big things. This is a dangerous outlook developing in India.... it is the small irrigation projects, the small industries and the small plants for electric power which will change the face of this country far more than half a dozen big projects in half a dozen places...

Needless to say, this speech never made it into the school books.

I've made myself very unpopular in India by saying the things I say.

Fortunately, I'm not standing for elections. As I writer, I would rather be loved by a river valley than by a nation-state.

Any day. Frontline

This is the text of the Nehru Memorial Lecture delivered by the writer at Cambridge University on November 8, 1999. The lecture was delivered at the invitation of Professor Amartya Sen, Master of Trinity College.

The LTTE and suicide terrorism

the-nation

The suicide terrorism syndrome which has become acute in South Asia and West Asia in the past two decades has, however, not driven states most affected by the menace to study and uproot it. The LTTE in Sri Lanka is among the deadliest exponents of the syndrome.

ROHAN GUNARATNA

THE three suicide attacks by the LTTE in Colombo within a span of three weeks have revived the "suicide bomb syndrome" in Sri Lanka. Amidst preventive and reactive measures against suicide attacks - curfews, large-scale arrests, mobile checkpoints, tight er security for vulnerable targets - the threat of another attack looms.

Despite large-scale cordon-and-search operations, security forces have failed to net the suicide cadres or their weapon caches in Colombo. Only searches and arrests made on the basis of accurate and timely intelligence tip-offs have succeeded in eroding the LTTE's compartmentalised infrastructure to conduct suicide attacks. Sri Lankan intelligence operatives estimate that in addition to the LTTE cells engaged in reconnaissance on human and infrastructure targets, there are about 30 active and sleeper LT TE cells in Colombo, drawn from the LTTE group called the Black Tigers.

The LTTE leads the global list of groups that are capable of suicide attacks. Other groups with such capability are the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Hamas in Palestine, the Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) of Turkey, the Groupe Islamique Armee (GIA or the Armed Islamic Group) of Algeria and the Islamic Group of Egypt. A brief review of the suicide threat to targets in Sri Lanka and India from the LTTE and an analysis of global trends and patterns in suicide terrorism are therefore in order.

IN South Asia, the LTTE is the only suicide capable group. It is the only group to have assassinated two world leaders, both assassinations carried out using the suicide body-suit. Unlike former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President Premadasa, incumb ent Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga was fortunate to survive, though with a serious injury. Both intelligence and interrogation of LTTE cadres reveal that the LTTE intended to assassinate Chandrika Kumaratunga in order to ensure the victory of leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremasinghe. Wickremasinghe's United National Party (UNP) had initiated a dialogue with the LTTE with the intention of declaring a ceasefire, which would have enabled the LTTE, as it had done during three previous cease fires, to strengthen its organisation both politically and militarily. The political context of each suicide operation reveals how the LTTE manages to survive and advance its aims using this lethally accurate tactic.

The suicide bomb threat from the LTTE is not confined to Sri Lanka. In fact the LTTE's first suicide attack using a suicide body-suit took place in India. The LTTE had mounted surveillance on a number of Indian leaders, with the intention of assassinatin g them in order to control the threat to it from India. Recent arrests both in India and in Sri Lanka reveal that the LTTE was likely to have made a serious attempt to assassinate Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi during the campaign for the Lok Sabha e lections in September-October 1999, had LTTE assessments indicated that the Congress(I) would win. The LTTE assessed that had Sonia Gandhi assumed power, she would assist the Sri Lankan Government militarily to crush the LTTE in order to avenge the death of her husband. On the eve of the Lok Sabha elections in 1991, the LTTE assassinated Rajiv Gandhi to pre-empt a reintroduction of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) in the island. The LTTE had secured intelligence through a prominent Tamil Nadu polit ician that Rajiv Gandhi had vowed to "teach Prabakaran a lesson" for going back on the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of July 1987.

Similarly, on the eve of the 1994 Sri Lankan elections, the LTTE assassinated UNP presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake who enjoyed close ties with India. Interrogation of LTTE cadres revealed that V. Prabakaran, the LTTE's supreme leader, had decide d to target Dissanayake for fear that a government under Dissanayake would receive Indian assistance. The LTTE has not targeted an Indian VIP since Rajiv Gandhi's assassination because successive governments in India have not gone out of their way to har ass the LTTE. Furthermore, the LTTE had managed to neutralise the threat from New Delhi by befriending a handful of Indian political leaders such as George Fernandes. Except for extending the proscription of the LTTE, the assistance given by New Delhi to Colombo in the war against the LTTE has been minimal. As such, there is no immediate threat to India from the LTTE.

Among the contemporary terrorist groups engaged in suicide attacks, the LTTE has conducted the largest number of attacks. The Black Tigers are constituted exclusively of cadres who have volunteered to conduct suicide operations. On July 5, 1999, Black Ti ger day, the LTTE erected in Puthukuthirippu in the Wanni a monument for the Black Tigers who killed themselves in operations. A statement issued from its political headquarters in Mallavi in the Wanni said that the LTTE had conducted 147 suicide operati ons since 1987. However, this number did not include the suicide attacks carried out on non-military targets, such as politicians and economic infrastructure, in which civilians were killed or injured. The LTTE code prevents it from claiming responsibili ty for attacks on non-military persons such as Rajiv Gandhi, Premadasa, Dissanayake, and Ranjan Wijeratne, the Sri Lankan Minister of State for Defence. By adopting such a position, the LTTE seeks to project to the international community that it is a li beration movement that targets only military personnel, and not a terrorist group.

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THE mindset of the LTTE suicide bomber is distinct from his or her West Asian counterpart. The LTTE suicide bomber is motivated by his or her politico-social environment as well as by the indoctrination carried out by the organisation. Prabakaran states: "With perseverance and sacrifice, Tamil Eelam can be achieved in 100 years. But if we conduct Black Tiger operations, we can shorten the suffering of the people and achieve Tamil Eelam in a shorter period of time."

The first LTTE suicide operation was conducted on July 5, 1987, to stall the advance of the Sri Lankan military to Jaffna town. It was not an LTTE cadre wearing a suicide body-suit, but a vehicle laden with explosives that was used. Wasanthan alias Capta in Millar volunteered to drive the vehicle bomb into the makeshift army camp in Nelliaddy. Although the suicide operation was not the reason to abort the mission to capture Jaffna, LTTE propaganda claimed that Captain Millar's success in killing 40 soldi ers in Nelliaddy frustrated the intentions of the Government to recapture the Tamil heartland. For some unknown reason, which perhaps security specialists will be able to analyse in the future, the LTTE did not conduct suicide operations during the IPKF period. But immediately after that it initiated a series of suicide attacks with the assassination of Wijeratne and Rajiv Gandhi in March and May 1991 respectively. These off-the-battlefield strikes were developed in Eelam War II, when the LTTE integrate d suicide bombers into its land and sea fighting forces.

The vulnerability of any group driven by ethnic nationalism to the use of the tactic of suicide terrorism is demonstrated in the Sri Lankan case. At a global level, suicide terrorism is driven not only by religious but also ethnic nationalism. In the lon g term, a higher number of ethnic communities are at risk of experiencing conflicts driven by ethnic nationalism. Only four per cent of the countries in the world have just one ethnic community. By understanding both the contexts of and the vulnerability of separatist groups to the use of suicide terrorism, the threat can be addressed proactively and comprehensively.

In this context, the Sri Lankan experience provides invaluable lessons because no other country has lost so many leaders in such a short time as Sri Lanka. Other than the loss of leaders, the country's national political, economic and cultural infrastruc ture has been damaged by suicide attacks. The LTTE deployed with deadly accuracy suicide bombers to destroy the Joint Operations Command, the nerve-centre of the Sri Lankan security forces; the Central Bank; the World Trade Centre; the Temple of the Toot h Relic, the most hallowed Buddhist shrine; and the oil storage installations in Kolonnawa. The LTTE used suicide bombers to kill a number of service personnel, apart from political leaders and outstanding intellectuals such as Neelan Thiruchelvam. Sri L ankan Navy chief Admiral Clancy Fernando was killed by a suicide bomber on a motor cycle soon after he returned from India after discussing Indo-Sri Lankan naval cooperation. Two officers engaged in the "hearts and minds" campaign, Brigade commander of t he Jaffna peninsula Brigadier Larry Wijeratne and Jaffna town commandant Brigadier Ananda Hamangoda, were killed in two independent suicide attacks. In order to paralyse the security apparatus, the LTTE singled out and targeted individuals who were at th e forefront of counter-insurgency operations. For instance, Chief Inspector Nilabdeen, the head of the anti-terrorism unit in a suburban police station, escaped with injuries but Razeek, a former Tamil militant who had been integrated into the Sri Lankan Army, was killed in May 1999.

IN most cases, the suicide bombers have succeeded in reaching their target through infiltration or following thorough reconnaissance. Security designed to deceive the LTTE rather than increase the protection of the target has helped save the lives of sev eral VIPs. Further, sound and timely intelligence has disrupted several LTTE cells in the south of the island. President Chandrika Kumaratunga survived at least four attempts to assassinate her when some of the operation leaders or cell members were arre sted or killed in premature explosions. For instance, a suicide bomber was arrested in Colombo, a reconnaissance team member was arrested in Vavuniya, and a lorry laden with explosives blew up prematurely in Galle on December 8, 1997. Similarly, three at tempts to kill General Aniruddha Ratwatte failed - a suicide bomber with a cart of coconuts prematurely blew up in Torrington on August 7, 1995; a bus laden with explosives meant for his vehicle blew up in Maradana on March 5, 1998; a female bomber in fr ont of the Prime Minister's office, who was aiming to target his vehicle, was interdicted on January 5, 2000.

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THE number of groups engaged in suicide operations has increased between the 1980s and the 1990s. The 1990s witnessed suicide strikes by the Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad in Israel; the Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel, Panama and Argentina; the GIA in A lgeria; PKK in Turkey and Iraq; al-Gama'at al-Islamiyya, or Islamic Group of Egypt, in Pakistan and Croatia; and the LTTE in Sri Lanka and India. The 1980s witnessed suicide strikes by the Hezbollah, al-Da'aw (Islamic Action), al-Amal, the Syrian Sociali st Nationalist Party, the Ba'ath Party, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in Lebanon and Kuwait, and by the LTTE in Sri Lanka.

The concept of suicide terrorism was acquired by emulation or by the transfer of technology through group-to-group contact. The groups currently engaged in suicide terrorism have political, military and financial links with several other groups. As more guerilla and terrorist groups have become capable of carrying out suicide attacks in the 1990s than they were in the 1980s, it is likely that the threat of suicide terrorism will continue into the new century. Most suicide attacks in the 1980s were in pr e-existing theatres of conflict but their range of operation increased into neighbouring countries in the 1990s. For instance, a female suicide bomber of the LTTE assassinated Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu in 1991.

The Hamas commenced its suicide bomb campaign in Israel in October 1993, after an abortive attack in June 1988. A Hezbollah suicide bomb destroyed the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish Community Centre in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in March 1992 and July 1994 respectively. A mid-air explosion on board an aircraft killed a suicide bomber and 20 others in Panama in July 1994. An affiliate of the IG of Egypt conducted suicide strikes at the police headquarters in Rijeka, Croatia, and the Egyptian Embassy in I slamabad in October and November 1995 respectively.

The LTTE, the Hezbollah, the Hamas and the PKK institutionalised indoctrination and physical training of volunteers in order to enhance the efficiency of the bomber. The threat of suicide bombings, previously confined to West Asia and South Asia, is like ly to spread to other areas with domestic governments increasingly denying these groups the use of their territories.

North American and Western European security and intelligence agencies assess suicide terrorism as a threat to Western security. Post-Cold War regional conflicts are witnessing both enhanced migration of displaced persons and their sustenance by fledglin g diaspora and ethnic communities. Under cover of such communities, the potential of a guerilla/terrorist group to employ a bomber to engage in long-range surveillance and strike a target in an "enemy" country is increasing. The increase in the potential of groups to penetrate and operate far away from the theatres of conflict can have implications for states hosting migrant refugee communities as well as those intervening in conflicts.

Suicide strikes have serious implications. Suicide attacks led to the withdrawal of the Multi-National Peacekeeping Force after the Hezbollah destroyed the headquarters of the United States Marines and the French paratroopers in Lebanon in October 1983; pre-empted the re-introduction of the IPKF into Sri Lanka after the LTTE assassinated the architect of the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord, Rajiv Gandhi, in India; and temporarily stalled the peace process in West Asia after the Hamas targeted civilians in I srael throughout the 1990s. One suicide bomber can have a profound effect on the political, military and economic contexts, especially in peace-building situations. After the conflict-ravaged Jaffna peninsula held by the LTTE was recovered by the militar y in 1995, the ambitious rehabilitation and reconstruction programme was disrupted by a lone suicide bomber who killed the Town Commandant Brigadier Ananda Hamangoda (posthumously promoted as Major-General). Even for states with sophisticated militar y and intelligence apparatuses, suicide terrorism is hard to combat.

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DEFENCE research by Israel, Sri Lanka, India and Turkey, states affected by suicide terrorism, has led to the development of human intelligence capability and other technical counter-measures. But there is no security or technical cooperation between the most affected states - Israel and Sri Lanka. Although there is security and intelligence cooperation between India and Sri Lanka, Israel and India, and Israel and Turkey, there is a lack of technical cooperation. The technologies for non-commercial, ind igenously developed electronic warfare counter-measures against terrorism are rarely shared even among friendly states. Current research by governments is largely confined to technically protecting land or sea targets from suicide attacks or preventing s uch attacks.

After nearly two decades of suicide terrorism, systematic research examining this phenomenon evades both the scholar and the analyst owing to a lack of intensive research into group dynamics as well as the political, military and socio-economic contexts that spawn and sustain suicide terrorism. For instance, widespread poverty and underdevelopment exist in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, southeastern Turkey, and northeastern Sri Lanka, which form the recruiting ground for a bulk of the suicide bombers. Da n Setton (director), Suicide Bombers: Secrets of the Shaheed, Cinemax Reel Life film, April 1998, states: "...Hamas extremists continue to preach their version of patriotism among the desperate and the poor."

Instead of regulating the environmental factors and group dynamics, states respond to the threat in different ways. For instance, Israel responds reactively to the effects of suicide terrorism by destroying the homes of the suicide bombers and prosec uting potential suicide bombers. As a result, suicide attacks have become more ruthless (targeting civilian targets), deceptive (using deep penetration) and daring (attacking multiple targets). As suicide attacks are planned and executed by compartmental ised cells, even a pragmatic military response, such as infiltration or "hardening" likely targets by stepping up protection, fails to guarantee security and offers no long-term solution. The extant criminal justice and prisons systems offer neither dete rrence nor rehabilitation to a politically motivated potential bomber. In Sri Lanka and in other states, the effectiveness of the state response to suicide terrorism has not been assessed. Similarly, no analysis has been conducted on the differing trends in the use of suicide terrorism. By comparing the evolution in technology, training and operational doctrine against state response over nearly two decades, likely trends can be identified.

There is a paucity of research on suicide terrorism in open as well as classified literature. Research on suicide terrorism has been confined to West Asia. An exception has been the work of the Indian forensic specialist, P. Chandrasekharan, who scientif ically proved that it was the suicide bomber Thenmuli Rajaratnam alias Dhanu who assassinated Rajiv Gandhi. Except for the Chandrasekharan study, and another study tracing the roots of the phenomenon to the Indian Ocean region, suicide terrorism as a pol itical and social phenomenon has not been researched in Asia.

In suicide terrorism, the aim of the psychologically and physically war-trained terrorist is to die while destroying the "enemy" target. Suicide as used in the appellation "suicide terrorism" does not imply suicide as a psychological or pathological situ ation or condition. Suicide terrorism is different from high-risk military operations where death is not certain and the perpetrator may survive the operation. In the spectrum of political violence, from the perspective of the perpetrator, suicide terror ism is the most violent form of expression.

Today law enforcement reports analyse the threat from potential bombers and their suicide devices, logistics and support network and modus operandi, and also identify them and their ideologues and device designers. By acquiring and comparatively a nalysing a wide range of data, a deeper understanding of the distinction between suicide and non-suicide terrorism must be gained. This is essential to evolve solutions to suicide terrorism. The underlying factors and conditions that drive suicide terror ism can help formulate long-range policies to break the cycle of violence. As a political and social phenomenon as well as a security threat, suicide terrorism is a least studied problem.

Dr. Rohan Gunaratna is the author of Sri Lanka's Ethnic Crisis and National Security.

ROHAN GUNARATNA

THE security threat posed to India by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is on a par with the threat to the country from the numerous other terrorist groups, according to a recent Indian intelligence warning. The intelligence agencies have alert ed the Government of India about the impending threat from the LTTE. It has now been revealed that the LTTE, an organisation with long-term strategic goals, has developed contingency plans to target nuclear facilities in South India. The LTTE has planned to deploy a number of suicide squads armed with custom-designed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to sabotage these facilities in the event of India stepping up military assistance to the Government of Sri Lanka, especially by reintroducting its troop s on Sri Lankan soil.

The recent debriefing of a senior LTTE leader by a foreign intelligence agency revealed that the LTTE had mounted surveillance on, built scale models of and developed operational plans to sabotage strategic targets in India. The LTTE's civil intelligence under Pottu Amman and its military and strategic adviser Wedi Dinesh were both instrumental in running a number of agents into India to gather details of these facilities. The intelligence gathered includes photographs of some of the facilities and deta ils of senior, middle-level, and junior staff of the Fuel Reprocessing Plant at Kalpakkam. The scale models of the targets were built by the map- and the model-making units of the LTTE's military and civil intelligence wings. The intelligence gathering w as coordinated by Janan Master, a senior intelligence wing leader, who was assigned to cover India. Janan Master, who was responsible for planning the assassination of President Ranasinghe Premadasa, is widely respected in LTTE circles. His presence in I ndia was clandestine even when other LTTE leaders and cadres engaged in "political and military" activities in the country.

Targets in India?

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ROHAN GUNARATNA

THE security threat posed to India by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is on a par with the threat to the country from the numerous other terrorist groups, according to a recent Indian intelligence warning. The intelligence agencies have alert ed the Government of India about the impending threat from the LTTE. It has now been revealed that the LTTE, an organisation with long-term strategic goals, has developed contingency plans to target nuclear facilities in South India. The LTTE has planned to deploy a number of suicide squads armed with custom-designed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to sabotage these facilities in the event of India stepping up military assistance to the Government of Sri Lanka, especially by reintroducting its troop s on Sri Lankan soil.

The recent debriefing of a senior LTTE leader by a foreign intelligence agency revealed that the LTTE had mounted surveillance on, built scale models of and developed operational plans to sabotage strategic targets in India. The LTTE's civil intelligence under Pottu Amman and its military and strategic adviser Wedi Dinesh were both instrumental in running a number of agents into India to gather details of these facilities. The intelligence gathered includes photographs of some of the facilities and deta ils of senior, middle-level, and junior staff of the Fuel Reprocessing Plant at Kalpakkam. The scale models of the targets were built by the map- and the model-making units of the LTTE's military and civil intelligence wings. The intelligence gathering w as coordinated by Janan Master, a senior intelligence wing leader, who was assigned to cover India. Janan Master, who was responsible for planning the assassination of President Ranasinghe Premadasa, is widely respected in LTTE circles. His presence in I ndia was clandestine even when other LTTE leaders and cadres engaged in "political and military" activities in the country. n

Governing the airwaves

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Prasar Bharati and a road map to the future. S. KRISHNASWAMY

SINCE we have lessons to learn from the past, let us briefly dwell on the history of television. Here, I wish to look back, around and ahead.

LOOKING BACK

Broadcasting was a war-gadget during the First World War. After the War, the army stopped buying radio sets in very large numbers. In 1920, manufacturers of radio receivers in the United States wanted a market for these receivers among the civilian popul ation and they began establishing radio stations. In other words, broadcasting started in order to sell radio receivers. Initially, these radio stations were open for anybody to come and broadcast. It was more or less like standing on a bench at Hyde Par k to make a public speech. People walked into radio stations and sang songs or delivered speeches as they liked. They also gave birthday messages. Small stores found it was profitable to popularise their names through the medium. The radio stations began to charge them, and thus the radio commercial was born. By 1925, there were 400 radio stations in the U.S. and the number was growing. Eventually, the U.S. government thought it fit to control the airwaves and appointed the Federal Communications Commis sion (FCC) to allot airwaves in order that the same frequency was not used by competing radio stations.

When radio broadcasting was inaugurated in India by the British Government, the first Director of All India Radio (AIR), Lionel Fielden, wrote that his four years of strenuous efforts were "enough to make a cat laugh. It was the biggest flop of all time. "

Throughout the world as within India, the control of the broadcast waves has been disputed territory. AIR made outstanding contributions to the popularisation as well as archival preservation of Indian classical music. But in the realm of information and views, the strangulated voice of AIR during the first three decades after Independence was reflected in the insipid vision of Doordarshan which came into being as a nascent broadcasting organisation. Indeed, some outstanding programmes were produced by the staff of AIR and Doordarshan as well as by outsiders; but these were exceptions rather than the rule.

The international experience has shown that "great, good, bad and indifferent" programmes are produced by private profit-oriented organisations, autonomous non-profit bodies and public sector bodies. The secret of good production lies in the motivation a nd talent of the individuals involved, a general culture of creative freedom and an ethos of aesthetic and technical finesse. None of this, of course, can exist in an administrative and financial vacuum.

Television, the little giant, is tossed between three players - the producer, the sponsor and the audience. The American experience over the past five decades has shown that in a milieu that believes in free trade in all aspects of society, the sponsor d ominates the medium either directly or indirectly. This is true of a predominant percentage of American entertainment television programmes. The major advertisers, for example, would not like their products to be advertised on the screen when the main p rogramme is anything less than extravagantly glossy. It cannot even remotely portray poverty of any kind or the darker side of life in the U.S. It is believed that the audience for such a programme is subconsciously not in a mood to buy in a lavish mann er. Hence, the commercial interests in general exclusively support glossy, escapist entertainment with an atmosphere of unreal affluence, in order to influence subliminally the spectator often to buy what he or she does not need, at prices he or she cann ot afford. No wonder, even non-fiction is about the "rich and the famous".

In the words of Aldous Huxley, television in such a society is "concerned in the main with neither truth nor falsehood; neither beauty nor ugliness; neither phenomenon nor the reality behind them", but with "the ephemeral, the more or less totally irrele vant". Huxley further noted that as a consequence of this, Jeffersonian concepts of democracy are no longer valid since Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues could not have imagined the distortions, if not perversions, of the mass media of the future.

Two decades ago, even as some sections of society in India were trying to promote and press for allowing private ownership of broadcasting, ironically the intelligentsia in the U.S. were trying to bring some kind of state control over broadcasting - in o rder to ensure that the power of the media was not "wasted". Intellectual opinion was that a precious instrument of knowledge was being frittered away on frivolous commercial considerations. This resulted in the birth of the Public Broadcasting Service ( PBS) in the U.S. PBS is primarily funded by the state. If at all corporate bodies offer sponsorship in PBS, the intention was that they should merely get a credit line for sponsorship without any commercials promoting products and services.

LOOKING AROUND

"Papa, what is the moon supposed to advertise?"

- Carl Sandburg in "The People, Yes".

Television is a challenge to the very philosophy on which the Indian Constitution is based. As Huxley pointed out, some aspects of the functioning of democracy have to be changed after making due adjustments and taking into account the impact of TV on hu man minds. India has been a crucible for studying the influence of cinema on society. In many pockets of India, cinema has performed the role of negating the benefits of democracy. As a non-literate medium, cinema has held a hypnotic spell on a mass of p eople which, by and large, has been detrimental to voters' awareness and maturity, distorting their perception of political processes and ideologies.

The reason for mentioning cinema here is that private TV channels in India are satellite channels in another sense of the term - most of them are satellites of the film industry. Given these circumstances, ideally Prasar Bharati should be geared to liber ate TV from mass cinema and build up an independent identity - an identity that can be more mature, leading people to better awareness in every sense of the term.

The problem with Doordarshan has been that it started with a public broadcasting philosophy, unceremoniously diluted this purpose with a commercial broadcast protocol (but adopting managerially inefficient procedures inconsistent with market objectives), and has since then been fluctuating between the goals of commercial self-sufficiency, oneupmanship against private tinsel channels in capturing a mass audience with populist programmes, competing with the best non-commercial public service broadcast cha nnels of the world, and so on. With the political establishment in a state of flux owing to too many changes in the last decade, Doordarshan has unfortunately become rudderless, but with enormous investments and a mammoth staff strength. The weakness has been compounded by financial improprieties and many complaints of graft. The constantly fluctuating priorities, the absence of a transparent policy, and the lack of commitment to any goal have cumulatively made Doordarshan a blindfolded elephant of trem endous strength, moving without a sense of direction. There are several good professionals within and outside Doordarshan. But they are riding the blindfolded elephant without a map, without a charter, without a compass, and indeed without a road. Even a s the rajahs and nawabs of India were at their weakest when colonisers entered this subcontinent, this TV giant was at its weakest when private satellite channels set up shop.

These private channels inspired by the American television model have become such a prominent component of Indian living rooms that we need to consider what their impact has been in the soil they belong to.

LOOKING AHEAD

"I believe that television is going to be the test of the modern world. We shall stand or fall by television - of that I'm quite sure."

- E.B. White, author.

The content of media being a product of culture and several millennia of our civilisational values, some of which are unique to India and some of which are common to humankind as a whole, the medium cannot be treated on a par with other commodities of th e market, whether they are material commodities or services. Hence, not all the rules that are applied to economic liberalisation and market liberalisation can be applied to the media - particularly television.

Discussing which other areas are to be protected from the onslaught of such liberalisation would be a larger debate. The scope of this article being limited to television, I speak here only of the need to protect it as "cultural entity".

Humanity's search for the perfect model for political and social institutions continues. No system has found the ultimate answer, if there is any. Technological changes bring about big changes to the very contexts in which models are evolved, even before their implementation. The Prasar Bharati Act is a case in point: a model conceived in the context of a monopolistic government-controlled medium, proposing that it may better come under an autonomous body for governance. But even before its implementati on, the monopoly was lost. This has changed the very foundation of assumptions on which the original model was proposed. I still strongly advocate "autonomy" as a basis. But many details need to be looked into entirely afresh.

LET us try to find answers to three questions: 1. How do you finance the operation? 2. Who should govern the broadcasting organisation? 3. How are programme content and the producers to be chosen?

First, on financing an egalitarian public broadcasting system to serve the primary purpose of Prasar Bharati. The cultural and philosophical basis of government funding is akin to funding for HRD (Human Resource Development). You do not expect immediate financial returns on education. It is an investment in human development. It is the same with a public broadcasting system.

The problem of funds, often cited as a stumbling block, is not as overwhelming as it is made to appear. Various methods of financing have been suggested. The publicly owned airways are being used rent-free by commercial users to create vast fortunes; the re is no reason, as Walter Lippmann suggested long ago, why commercial users should not pay a rental or royalty for such use of public property, to be earmarked for the needs of public broadcasting. The device suggested by the Ford Foundation - a royalty from domestic communication-satellite revenue - holds equal merit. The Carnegie Commission's proposal of a special tax on the receiver is also logical, perhaps as a supplementary device. Let us look at these first as recommendations in the American con text. In the words of Erik Barnouw:

The Carnegie document, surveying American television, concluded that society has communication needs which could not be met by an advertising-based system. These needs were felt to call for a "public" television service channelling a different set of mot ives, a system through which Americans would "know themselves, their communities, and their world in richer ways". The commission termed it "a civilised voice in a civilised community". In its first decade this "public" system, linked by a Public Broadcasting Service and receiving Federal funds through a Corporation for Public Broadcasting, has made important strides in the hoped-for direction. A key element in the Carnegie manifesto was its financial recommendation. To assure the independence of the system, it was to have an automatic source of revenue such as a dedicated tax on electronic equipment. Several alternative tax bases were suggeste d. The dedicated tax was meant to parallel, to some extent, arrangements in effect in Britain and Japan, both of which have effective, well-financed non-commercial systems based on licence-fees - systems existing side by side with their commercial system s, and holding large audiences. The reasons for the Carnegie stipulation were clear. To fulfil its purpose, the system had to be independent not only of sponsor domination but also of pressures involved in constant confrontations with congressional committees over appropriations and po licies.

In the Indian context, the government should be able to underwrite and subsidise 90 per cent of the recurring expenses in running the various channels. Sponsorship may be accepted on a limited basis for getting sponsorship credit lines - but with no product advertising, in the main channels of Doordarshan. The required resources can be raised in the following manner.

A system of taxation should be evolved by which the privately owned satellite channels will pay a differential tax to a separate fund in order to finance Doordarshan's operations. A higher tax slab for foreign-owned media and a lower slab for Indian-owne d channels will be perfectly justified. This can be modelled after the Carnegie Commission recommendations with suitable modifications to suit our ethos. There should also be a differential tax slab, based on the broad content of the material broadcast b y these channels - with much lower slabs for news, current affairs, educational and such other channels, and a steeply higher slab for the entertainment channels. This should generate substantial revenues to take care of the entire cost of programme prod uction for Doordarshan. The government should consider it a societal obligation to pay for hardware, renewals, salaries and all such other overheads in order to run the autonomous broadcasting channels under Prasar Bharati efficiently.

Barnouw, whose three-volume history of broadcasting is considered the most authentic, while discussing the Carnegie Commission recommendations in the U.S. context expands on how and why politicians were unwilling to accept the entire proposal and how Con gress voted only part of the proposals. He writes:

Congress did not follow the recommendation. Congressmen ensured their hold over the system by making it dependent on periodic appropriations... This has virtually pushed the system into the arms of the corporate sponsor and also into endless subscription drives - which may meet increasing resistance as the sponsor's role expands. Whatever attitudes and fears were involved, the financial status inflicted on public television has done much to sabotage the original plan. At most stations major programme proposals are drawn up, then held in abeyance while fund raisers seek under-writ ing. The sponsor's nod is awaited.

Recognising that the problem in India is far more complex than in the U.S., the Indian Parliament should rise to the occasion beyond the party divide, and create a public broadcasting system that can stand out as a model for the world. With India's resil ience born out of several millennia of civilisational values, we need not wait for role models to appear elsewhere in the world. The challenge of neo-colonialism through control of television by multinational corporations is a real challenge; and India's public broadcasting system should be considered as important as security and defence. As much as we need to protect our geographic borders and territory, it is imperative to protect our psychic identity as a nation of thoughtful people with perennial hu man values enshrined in our consciousness. It is indeed worth allotting the regular financial resources required on a massive scale to protect this. Tinkering with the Prasar Bharati framework will not do. We need a comprehensive revision, a comprehensive cultural defence force in place, with adequate funding. WE now come to the question of how and who should govern the airwaves under Prasar Bharati. There are no satisfactory models to copy. Hence we have to evolve a model of our own. I propose that the Prasar Bharati Board be directly elected by the people of India - not by every citizen, but by a discretely chosen electoral college, which may consist of the following people, with provision for one-third of the board to retire every alternate year. I propose that the electoral college to elect the board members of Prasar Bharati consist of Indian citizens with the following minimum qualifications: 1. Doctoral degree holders of recognised (accredited) Indian and international universities, in any su bject. 2. Professionals with bachelor's degrees (from recognised universities) limited to engineering, medicine, law and education. 3. Musicians, dancers, stage/screen actors and actresses, with at least five years of public performance experience, and a minimum of bachelor's degree from a recognised university. 4. Painters, sculptors, visual artists, photographers, with a minimum of five years of work experience and a minimum of a bachelor's degree from a recognised university or an equivalent diploma from any school of arts or a film/television institute. 5. Working journalists employed in a registered newspaper for more than five years, with a minimum of a bachelor's degree. 6. Authors with published books in any Indian language or English (fiction or non-fiction), and directors of released feature films, documentary films and television serials, with a minimum of a bachelor's degree in any subject from a recognised university. 7. Authors, performing artists and visual artists who have received awa rds at the national level from the Sahitya Akademi, the Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Lalit Kala Akademi, and directors of feature films and non-fiction-films who have received national awards for their films, even if they have not received any formal un iversity education. The third question is, how will the programme content and programme producers be chosen by this hopefully eminent board. It is easy to get caught in a trap of evolving very strict rules and regulations. Suffice it to say that the board will be wise enoug h to avoid scrupulously tinsel names of commercial cinema and build up a healthy, meaningful alternative channel for people to enjoy. Suffice it to say also that producers will not be given serial numbers to line up in a queue (there were these incredibl e physically lined-up queues, standing day and night in front of Doordarshan to get a time-slot allotment during the days of its monopoly), but that the board will have the stature, wisdom and sensitivity to identify creative brains and invite them for w hat will be collaborative efforts between the channels and the producers. Objective criteria can be evolved for such selection. With all its promise, the information superhighway will be marked by the pot-holes and pitfalls of history. And, therefore, we are likely to need more of the resources of humanism, humility, constraint and virtue. These are not qualities to be found on o r along the information superhighway. No one may figure out a way of digitising them, for they depend on a different order of living and interaction. Dr. S. Krishnaswamy is a writer, producer and director of television serials and documentary films, who has won national and international awards. He is a media analyst and co-author of the book Indian Film with Erik Barnouw.

Seattle and beyond

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Post-Seattle, only a coming together of developing countries on the basis of an agenda that will help protect their interests can hold out against the developed world on issues of practising technological protectionism, environmental imperialism and social exclusion.

DINESH ABROL

THE strategies that the United States and the European Commission (E.C.) would follow in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in order to shape the agenda of post-Seattle negotiations in Geneva are now clear. Their recent actions indicate that despite diff erences on some crucial issues, the U.S. and the E.C. will closely coordinate on issues of common concern to them.

The joint attempt of the E.C., Norway, the U.S., Japan and Switzerland to make the Committee on Subsidies take action on the extension of the period of waiver from the application of provisions that make many of their own subsidies for technology develop ment actionable, is a case in point. The U.S. and the E.C. continue to coordinate on the issue of getting the members to agree on the start of a new round that will have several non-trade issues (such as investment, competition policy, biotechnology safe ty, environment and labour) included in the agenda. They have even pressed Mike Moore, the Director-General of the WTO, into service to champion the cause of a new round. The Director-General was in India recently to attend an event organised by the Conf ederation of Indian Industry (CII). At this meeting, the Director-General was completely open about his mission. He went out of his way to impress upon industry and government officials the need to launch a new round of negotiations.

It is a matter of relief that the view of a large majority of countries is that the Seattle Ministerial Conference has ended and that the conference is not in a state of suspension and cannot be resumed. In the consultations after Seattle before the Dece mber 17 General Council meeting in Geneva, the U.S. sought to take the opposite position. It tried to adopt a view that had two sides. One, that the Ministerial Conference was in suspension and that all issues and papers before it remained "frozen". Two, that the Seattle Ministerial had ended, in the sense that the General Council could act and decide issues. This way the U.S. wanted to enable itself to continue consultations to find a consensus on dispute settlement and keeping alive the e-commerce mor atorium on custom duties or the labour issue.

The developing countries themselves have to share the blame for this partly. The inability of these countries to follow an agreed approach on relevant issues is a major reason for a new determination on the part of the developed world. The developing cou ntries are yet to realise the real meaning of the failure of WTO in Seattle. They are still unable to act in concert. Individual nations are trying to cut deals with the U.S., whose administration cannot for now deliver anything. India is itself a perfec t example of this mode of behaviour.

The result is that the WTO General Council meeting on December 17 got adjourned without a decision on the proposals seeking delays in end-of-the-year deadlines for applying obligations and other provisions of WTO agreements - for example, in the realm of intellectual property (TRIPS) and certain investment measures (TRIMS). These deadlines will now be among the subjects discussed.

A detailed reading of the decision taken in the General Council meeting indicates a sinister design on the part of the developed world to trap the developing countries into another major surrender. The real intentions of the developed world are clearly l inked to the so-called "implementation" issues on which the developing world can claim to have done at least some mobilisation. At one level, the December 17 decision is an attempt by the developed world to decide at least some of the so-called "implemen tation" issues through the means of not taking any action. The developed world has thereby succeeded in creating a situation where it would be in a position, post-December 31, to threaten some of the developing countries with cross-retaliation on the iss ue of non-implementation. The developed world is also interested in putting them on a new round because that would give the delegations of developed countries a clear chance to use the so-called issues of "implementation" or extension of deadlines to ext ract more concessions from the developing countries.

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THEREFORE for the developing world, the moot issues to be considered today are two fundamental questions of counter-strategy. First, what kind of leverage does the developing world have today vis-a-vis the developed countries in the WTO? And second, is t he developing world at all in a position to take advantage of the available space?

There are at least two issues in which the developed world clearly has a major interest, and if the developing countries join forces to withhold consensus on these, they are likely to get leverage to influence the WTO on their own problems and demands.

One issue relates to the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing duties that sets for the developed countries the target of completely removing by December 31 all those subsidies that are said to cause serious prejudice to other members. The subsidies that are defined as prohibited and actionable by the WTO include research and development activities of enterprises that could be subsidised up to 75 per cent of the cost of research and up to 50 per cent of the costs of pre-competitive activity. Several countries of the developed world were supposed to undertake reductions in such industrial subsidies and they are as a whole guilty of violating these legal provisions of the WTO.

Similar violations have occurred in the case of environmental and regional subsidies, where too the developed world is a big culprit. There has been little close monitoring, and even less of a reporting requirement on countries, on the various subsidies that they provide to industrial and service enterprises.

The second issue relates to the Agreement on Electronic Commerce, where also the Seattle Conference has neither extended the moratorium on custom duties nor taken any decision. The interests of the developed world, particularly of the U.S., are largely a t stake here. To the developing world, both these issues offer some hopes of righting the wrongs done to it at Marrakesh.

COMING now to the second aspect, the moot question is whether the developing world has the right mindset to exploit the above-discussed issues for its own benefit. By all indications, the developing countries are still divided along the lines of large an d small countries. The E.C. and the U.S. are also consciously trying to divide them as the advanced and least developed countries. In Seattle they made a conscious attempt to divide the developing countries into three sets: advanced developing economies, developing economies and least developed economies. They have announced that the developed world would be willing to offer zero tariff benefit to the least developing economies if the advanced developing economies are also ready to do the same. In the U ruguay Round, the developing world was divided into only two sub-sets, but in Seattle the attempt was to divide the developing world into three sub-sets. This issue, if not tackled on time, has the potential to cause serious divisions in the developing w orld.

But if the developing world were in the right mindset, it would not allow itself to be divided on this issue. Large developing economies have to play a positive role here. India can take a lead in suggesting to the least developed economies that if they give full support on the concerns relating to non-trade issues, the proposal of zero tariffs would be acceptable to it.

To come to the hurdle of differentiated interests in respect of access to markets, technology and investment, India can take the lead by suggesting to the developing countries the adoption of an approach of having only multilateral agreements on non-trad e issues. The suggested approach would give the developing countries freedom to optimise their own respective strategies. They will be still free to decide whether to join the multilateral agreements being offered on non-trade issues. With these steps In dia can hope to bring all the developing economies into a united bloc. In Seattle, the developing countries showed maximum unity over the issue of undemocratic practices being followed in the decision-making processes. There was a clear assertion over th is by Africa, the countries of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and the Latinos. They were forthright in stating that they will not tolerate the lack of respect being shown by the developed world to the issues of transparency and full participation of m embers. The scale of unity that was seen in Seattle over the issue of decision-making processes is yet to be converted into unity on substantive issues. In the absence of a common approach to substantive issues, it would not be possible for the developin g world to take advantage of the leverage the developed world appears to be generating on account of its own compulsions. The scale of unity was smaller when it came to taking a common stand on substantive issues. The like-minded group gathered by India on the "implementation" issues has just 12 members.

IN this connection, the question to be answered is why this unity was always limited. The answer may be that the larger economies among the developing countries have developed a mindset which is essentially inimical to the strengthening of unity in the d eveloping world. They have started to believe that they are "Big Boys", and that their interests are better served by being with the countries of the North. Apparently their thinking is that they have little in common with the rest of the developing worl d. Among them there is a perception that the smaller developing countries are merely herds that could will be easily bought for small gains, and also that they are too diverse to be united as the developing world. In their view, the developing world is a differentiated world, whose interests in respect of market access are so varied that in the WTO a united approach by the developing countries is not possible.

In fact, Commerce Minister Murasoli Maran is one of those few leaders who went on record on this issue in Seattle. Asked why groups like G-15 and G-77 were not able to issue any declarations, he clearly said that their interests were too diverse. In Indi a this belief has emerged as a part of the process of ongoing liberalisation. In this the Minister is not alone; it is a complete mindset. It is a mindset that big business holds today in India. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Member, Planning Commission, was la ter echoing the words. In fact, he went one step further and argued that it was wrong on the part of the Commerce Ministry to try changes in the agreements based on a perspective that runs contrary to liberalisation. He wondered why the Ministry of Comme rce should be at all interested in reviving the instrument of quantitative restrictions (QRs) for the sake of food security when the country is committed to moving in the direction of speeding up the process of liberalisation. He was quite open in arguin g that India should not bother about how to unite the developing countries. His advice was to bother only about how you can get more foreign direct investment (FDI) or enhanced market access. The only issue that bothered him relates to the demand for the linkage of trade with the enforcement of labour standards. Significantly, on the eve of the start of the Seattle negotiations, in Parliament Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee advocated the same stand of do-and-die on the labour linkage issue.

WHAT is really striking about this stand is that in this framework there is no firm opposition to the introduction of agreements on the rest of the non-trade issues. The stand of no compromise on labour linkage but surrender on every other non-trade issu e is an integral part of the framework that Indian big business seems to be content with today. It appears that since this framework ensures for big business a place of junior partner of multinational corporations, the liberalisers have no qualms in driv ing the government in the direction of making such a bargain. It is also seemingly true that to Indian big business it is immaterial that such a framework is essentially inimical to the interests of employment-oriented growth and technological self-relia nce.

This time Indian big business was well represented in the official WTO delegation in Seattle. Its influence was quite visible on the strategy. Indian big business was busy having a tete-a-tete with U.S. business and was directing India to go close r to the U.S. positions. India was being moved to accept an extremely dangerous position that the U.S. was taking in Seattle on the issue of market access in respect of agricultural goods. This time the U.S. was trying to push its biotechnology products into the negotiations on agriculture in the WTO. The U.S. position was therefore that the WTO should end the distinction it today makes between industry and agriculture when it comes to deciding on issues of market access. India was being pushed by big b usiness into accepting this position. This time the Indian delegation was totally for a policy of market access at any cost. It was willing to sacrifice the crucial interest of food security for a few dollars more for the sake of Indian big business, whi ch may get some crumbs in respect of agribusiness. In the Agreement on Agriculture, the mention of food security amounts merely to a best endeavour clause. India may not be able to convert it now into a binding commitment without making a compromise on t he issue of subsidies for agriculture in the developed world.

Needless to say, if India wants to avert these kinds of disasters it would have to pursue a consistent stand in the interests of the Indian people as a whole. The government would have to be pushed into adopting an approach that unites the developing cou ntries in the direction of fighting the developed world on the issue of practising technological protectionism, environmental imperialism and social exclusion.

The government must oppose with greater determination the implementation of a framework that grants multinational corporations easy access to Indian markets without the developing world and the Indian people getting anything substantially in return in th e areas of access to technology and markets.

Dinesh Abrol is a researcher working on science and technology policy. He is joint convener of the National Working Group on Patent Laws.

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