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COVER STORY

29-09-2000

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Briefing

THE LAXMAN LINE

Bangaru Laxman, the new national president of the BJP, prescribes a 10-point social agenda to overcome the factors that have worked against the growth of the party of Hindutva, but his bid to court Indian Muslims and non-privileged sections has met with scepticism within the party and outside it.

THE "Bharatiya Janata Party's continued rapid expansion", admitted Bangaru Laxman in his presidential address to the party's National Council session in Nagpur on August 26 and 27, has been impeded by three factors: first, the party is yet to consolidate its new support base among Dalits, adivasis and backward classes; second, in States where the BJP has once been elected to power, it has failed to cope with the incumbency disadvantage in the next round of electoral contests; and third, the equation bet ween the BJP and the Muslim community has just not worked out right yet.

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Laxman's analysis of why the progress of the party of Hindutva has hit a plateau would perhaps merit high marks for candour and transparency from detached observers. But the prescription he has issued on ways to overcome the factors that have worked agai nst the growth of the party, has provoked an intense debate within the party on its prudence and outside on the BJP's real intentions here.

Laxman has, first, urged all party units to make sustained efforts to expand their political and organisational work among Dalits, adivasis and backward classes. The Dalit leader from Andhra Pradesh cautioned that the promotion of social justice and soci al integration cannot be achieved through governmental action alone. This implies that all party workers and leaders would need to be closely associated with some social reform activities in their regions.

This appeal to BJP workers to take up apolitical, constructive work - almost in the Gandhian mould - was received with scepticism within the party. In recent times, it has shown a proclivity for theories such as "social engineering" as a technique of exp anding its social base. Laxman's elevation as the party's national president could itself be considered, in this interpretation, a consequence of the strategy of "social engineering". But the strategy of engineering a leadership hierarchy that mirrors th e larger reality in its social origins, has been implemented only sporadically and selectively. In Uttar Pradesh, for instance, the post of State unit president was recently given to a Brahmin leader. And since the backward class leader Kalyan Singh's ou ster from the party last year, it has relentlessly sought to marginalise other backward class leaders who figured prominently in its hierarchy earlier. In this context of acute competition among various castes for the internal levers of power in the part y, it is considered somewhat implausible that Gandhian devotion to social constructive work would yield any significant dividends for the party.

The likely impact of Laxman's ascent to the post of national president on the party's social base is yet unclear, despite his claim that it has thrown the parties claiming to champion the cause of Dalits, notably the Bahujan Samaj Party, into a state of "shock". The BJP boasts that it has the largest number of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe MPs and MLAs in the country.

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But as Laxman himself would admit, the number is still not sufficient to show that the party has a winning strategy to woo these sections. Laxman's 10-point agenda for advancing social justice, outlined in Nagpur, is a list of the BJP's avowed goals, and lacks the practical thrust to inspire the confidence of these sections.

Laxman urged all his colleagues in States where the BJP had been a victim of the anti-incumbency factor, to do a critical analysis of their gains and losses. "They should also learn from the positive experiences of other political parties that have survi ved the anti-incumbency trend," he counselled. Some of the States where the disadvantage of being in office has not seriously damaged the electoral chances of the incumbent party are West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. Considering the BJP's new-found aggression in West Bengal and its animus towards the Laloo Prasad Yadav dispensation in Bihar, the exhortation that the party should learn from these States should seem somewhat curious.

Yet the BJP obviously has much to learn on this score. With the exception of Rajasthan in 1993, when the party won an ambiguous victory despite being in office till the previous year, the BJP has suffered massive anti-incumbency effects in elections wher ever it has held office. And its incumbency in Uttar Pradesh is almost certain to end in a rout when elections are next held in the State.

The reasons for the BJP not being able to survive the incumbency disadvantage in States where it has held power may perhaps be partly found in its inability to attract the durable allegiance of Dalits, adivasis, backward classes and religious minorities. When its core constituencies begin fraying after some years in office, the BJP invariably suffers disastrously, because it is unable to attract other groups to its banner. Indeed, Laxman's thesis on the need to rework the relationship between the BJP an d Indian Muslims, has been interpreted in different ways. While Muslim public opinion has been generally lukewarm to Laxman's invitation to join the party, the BJP's motives in making this course correction have attracted considerable interest.

Laxman was indeed right in assuming that one of the chief reasons for the virtual stagnation of the BJP in terms of electoral support in the Lok Sabha elections of 1998 and 1999 was its failure to secure Muslim votes. "Ironically, although Shri Atalji is highly respected and popular among Indian Muslims, they tend to keep away from the BJP," he said in Nagpur session. Some of the course correction measures that he has proposed include espousing developmental issues concerning common Muslims, bringing mo re dynamic and socially respected Muslim activists into the BJP, and having more Muslims in the lists of the BJP's candidates to various elections.

Laxman's repeated use of the term "Indian Muslims" showed that the BJP is yet to change its mindset regarding the country's most numerous religious minority. To the specific question of why he had chosen to characterise Muslims as 'Indian Muslims' when H indus were not similarly described as "Indian Hindus", Laxman evaded a clear answer at his first press conference in New Delhi after assuming charge. But observers were quick to point out that the BJP leaders used the term Indian Muslims, in order to dis tinguish them from those who were suspected to have extra-territorial loyalties. Far from the benign message that Laxman sought to convey, they observe that the term "Indian Muslims" has a deeper and more sinister connotation.

IN wooing Muslims, Laxman claimed during his presidential address in Nagpur, the BJP should be guided by what Deendayal Upadhyaya himself exhorted them to remember, in his presidential address at the Kozhikode (then Calicut) session of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh in December 1967. Laxman went on to quote Upadhyaya as having told the Jan Sangh at that session: "Muslims are the flesh of our flesh and the blood of our blood." An examination of the full text of Upadhyaya's speech and its context might facilitat e a better understanding of Laxman's current utilisation of it.

Upadhyaya's presidential speech made in Hindi is carried as Appendix IV in the book, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya: Ideology and Perception, Part VII - A Profile, by V.N. Deodhar. His remarks on the minorities, made towards the end of his speech, are too general in nature and he did not refer to any particular community, let alone Muslims: "We are pledged to the service not of any particular community or section, but of the entire nation. Every countryman is blood of our blood and flesh of our flesh ." (The Hindi version of the speech says "every countryman is our relative - "bandhav".) "We shall not rest till we are able to give to every one of them a sense of pride that they are children of Bharatmata," Upadhyaya concluded.

None can deny the BJP the right to take liberties with quotations from its own ideological gurus, in order to drive home an expedient current message with greater force. However, Upadhyaya's remarks have to be understood within the totality of his politi cal philosophy. It was certainly not the intention of the Jan Sangh or of Upadhyaya to recognise the inalienable rights of Muslims as a minority. Recognition and respect for the diverse culture, as represented by Islam and its believers in India, is not what Upadhyaya had in mind when he made the speech at the largely Muslim town in the erstwhile Malabar region. In fact, at an RSS camp in Rajasthan on June 9, 1966, Upadhyaya was clearer and more specific about his basic beliefs. He said: "As long as Hin dus live, there is no threat to Islam. There is no difference between Ram and Allah. In Vishnusahasranamam, there is no harm if we add one name of Allah. But the fight is not over religion, but ambitious, communal politics, resorted to by Mosques."

Writing in the Republic Day Special of Organiser in 1962, Upadhyaya stated: "There is no harm in Christianity and Islam continuing along with the other sects of Hinduism. In fact, they can exist only if Hinduism is the dominant part of our nationa l life. However, their followers should be one with the national current."

These statements seem to indicate that Upadhyaya fully subscribed to the Sangh philosophy which denied the existence of a separate Muslim identity. As Upadhyaya's biographer, and BJP's Rajya Sabha MP, Mahesh Chandra Sharma said: "Upadhyaya believed in th e geo-cultural identity of Hinduism. Thus he refused to recognise that there are two nations, or two communities, or two cultures. He was against treating Hinduism as a religion. There is no reason to disbelieve that Upadhyaya would have considered Musli ms as an integral part of our society."

Symbolism is what the BJP resorts to while trying to woo Muslims, and Laxman's line is not the first of its kind in the party's history. The BJP created a Minorities Cell within the party on the eve of the 11th Lok Sabha elections in 1996. Arif Beg, who was the convener of the Minorities Cell, however, quit the party after failing to get a ticket to fight the Lok Sabha elections in 1998. Another prominent Muslim leader, Sikandar Bakht was unceremoniously excluded from Vajpayee's third Ministry in 1999. The BJP Minorities Cell had prepared a comprehensive package offering taaleem (education), tanzeem (organisation) and tijarat (employment) to Muslims as part of its campaign for the 1996 general election. But Muslims were not quite c onvinced about the party's credentials.

The new emphasis on gaining the trust of the minorities is inducing certain curious changes in the pattern of utterances issuing from the party leadership. When in Opposition, the BJP lost no opportunity to castigate the Congress(I) for providing a subsi dy in the matter of the air fare for the Haj pilgrimage, which in its eyes then was a symbol of minority appeasement. Today, the BJP proudly advertises its decision to increase the subsidy given to the pilgrims.

Even as Laxman was appealing to his partymen to woo Muslims, the National Commission for Minorities released its report on the riots in Surat, following the BJP's protest bandh over the killing of pilgrims to Amarnath by Kashmiri militants. The bandh, su pported by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal on August 3, turned violent in Surat. The NCM has found that Bismillah Hotel, owned by a Muslim, was targeted and ransacked. Besides, shops, business establishments and powerloom sheds belong ing to Muslims, were selectively targeted throughout Surat. A total of 150 business establishments were burnt down, even though Muslims had closed their shops, and announced full participation in the proposed bandh. The NCM, therefore, asked the State go vernment to persuade the VHP and the Bajrang Dal to accept full moral responsibility for failing to prevent their field functionaries from resorting to violence while enforcing the bandh. The NCM received several representations from Christians and other minority groups in Gujarat about incidents of violence against them in recent months.

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Praful Goradia, former editor of BJP Today, the official party organ, said: "Laxman has begun a process. It will take time for the activists to change their attitudes. With more Muslims joining the BJP, they will change." It seems the BJP currentl y has a membership of 16 lakh Muslims, who have been enrolled as primary members during the past few years.

In the context of a general sense of insecurity felt by the minorities, particularly Muslims, the BJP needs to demonstrate its sincerity rather than engage in mere sloganeering.

The RSS obviously has no problems in letting such symbolic efforts by the BJP to woo Muslims. A senior RSS functionary refused to describe Laxman's appeal as an effort at appeasement, but the Nagpur speech has certainly angered the BJP's ally, the Shiv S ena. Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena chieftain, not only disapproved of Laxman's invitation to Muslims to join the party, but warned the BJP that the Shiv Sena would review its ties with the BJP if it makes a Muslim leader one of the five general secretarie s of the BJP, as suggested by media reports.

Notable among the allies who have reason to welcome the kinder, gentler image of the BJP are the Trinamul Congress, the Telugu Desam Party and the Tamil Nadu allies, the DMK and the MDMK. All these parties took significant risks with their traditional co nstituencies among the religious minorities to align with the BJP. Though the alliance did not prove a liability in the last elections, it could have proven embarrassing if the BJP had not opted for a change of image. The BJP might ignore the Shiv Sena's provocative behaviour for the moment, as it is more than offset by the support of the other allies in the National Democratic Alliance. But it will have to go beyond symbolism to the real substance of winning Muslim loyalty if it is to sustain the new i mage.

In defence of a pro-Muslim strategy

cover-story

The new president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Bangaru Laxman, has kicked off a debate with the exposition of a thesis on reworking the BJP's relationship with Indian Muslims, in his presidential address at the National Council session in Nagpur . In this interview to V. Venkatesan, Laxman outlines the reasons behind his appeal to Muslims to support the party, and seeks to clarify the contradictions involved. Excerpts:

In your presidential address in Nagpur you said that Muslims are the last major section of Indian society that you need to reach out to. What is the significance of your invitation to your workers to take this appeal and your activities to Muslim hom es and mohallas?

How can the leading coalition partner of a ruling alliance, and a large minority keep themselves apart? They have to come together. In the past five to 10 years, we have been able to get a sizable number of Muslims enrolled as BJP members. Our minority m orcha has been quite active in that mission. For the first time, the BJP mahila morcha organised a Muslim mahila conference, which was attended by about 4,000 delegates.

But I was not happy about the rate at which we are able to enrol them. Therefore I called upon my workers to take special care, and organise a special drive as such. Now, don't expect Muslims to come to our office and join. So, I said, 'go to their mohal las, go to their homes, and enrol them; enrol, but not on the basis of promises.' Whatever fears about the BJP they had, those fears have been proved wrong in the last couple of years. Whatever has been said against the BJP has not been proved, they have come to realise that. And whatever has been the record of the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre during the last two and a half years on the one side, and various State governments' performance, keep these two things, and go to the pe ople; ask them to judge for themselves, and appeal to them to support the BJP, this is what I told my workers.

What are the positive measures the NDA government has taken towards the welfare of Muslims, that should inspire their confidence in the BJP?

For the first time, Urdu computer training has been introduced by the Government of India at 54 centres in 47 districts spread over 18 States. The number of such centres will be 75 in this financial year, and will be 100 by the next year. Diplomas in Inf ormation Technology are being awarded to students undergoing training at these centres. Of the 3,065 students who received instruction in these centres last year, 955 were women. The one-year training for the Diploma in Computer Applications and Multilin gual DTP will help the students pursue careers in graphic design, and data entry operations. The National Council for the Promotion of Urdu Language, under the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development, has launched a new calligraphy-cum-commercial ar t-cum-graphics centre to impart training to the students.

Then, the government has published 87 new books on Urdu-related subjects. Besides, new editions of 143 books have been published. An encyclopaedia in Urdu has been published for the first time on 32 different subjects in three volumes. Six volumes of Eng lish-Urdu dictionary have also been published.

For the sake of Haj pilgrims, subsidy has been increased, besides increasing the number of pilgrims. For the first time, special flights have been planned. In terms of development activities, programmes have been identified with an emphasis on reaching t he most backward sections among the Muslims, and to give them the benefit of the government's positive measures.

But will all this result in a change in the attitudes of the BJP and Sangh Parivar activists towards Muslims? The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) recently indicted the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal activists for their role in the Sur at riots, during the BJP-organised bandh in Gujarat following the Amarnath tragedy.

What the Sangh Parivar says is not the issue. The RSS spokesperson has said that there is nothing wrong in what I said in Nagpur regarding Muslims. We have the highest respect for the National Commission for Minorities. It is an autonomous body. But you must understand that under the NDA government there was only one Surat, whereas under the previous Congress governments there were many Surats. You cannot cite any instance under NDA rule of communal clashes resulting in loss of lives. By and large, thin gs are under control on the communal front.

But will your appeal to woo Muslims have any impact on the extreme elements within the BJP and the other organisations of the Sangh Parivar?

It should have an impact. They will have to change with the times. But it will take time. But I am confident that there will be a change in the days to come, with Muslims beginning to shed their suspicions about the BJP's intentions.

There have been many incidents of attacks against the minorities, causing physical and psychological insecurity among them. The sporadic incidents of attacks against the Christian minority, for instance, by the activists of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal have been well documented. Why is your appeal directed only towards Muslims, and not to other minority groups?

I don't think there is any pattern in these incidents. In a few incidents, the role of these organisations has not been established. I chose Muslims because they constitute the largest minority population in the country, and the BJP has always been wrong ly described by its adversaries as being anti-Muslim. This image of the BJP has to change.

You have said that the BJP will stick to the National Agenda of Governance (NAG), and that there is no question of reviving the controversial issues of Ayodhya, abrogation of Article 370 and a uniform civil code until the next Lok Sabha elections. Doe s this mean the party will be free to revive on the eve of the next elections its stand on these core issues that shaped the party's identity?

What I said was, as of now I am bound by the NDA's NAG. Our stand on these issues had been elaborated earlier, and it is part of the party's records. There is no need to repeat them now. What will happen at the time of next Lok Sabha elections is too ear ly to say. We will be free to review our stand then. And looking at the circumstances then, we will devise our strategy. If the present arrangement with our NDA allies continues even after the next Lok Sabha elections, perhaps we may continue our allegia nce to NAG.

As Muslims suspect the BJP's intentions, and as you seek their support, would it not be a better idea for the BJP to abandon its stand on these issues?

I don't think these are the core issues on which Muslims would support the BJP. Take Article 370, for instance. It is specific to Jammu and Kashmir. Muslims outside the State are hardly concerned about the issue. Regarding Ayodhya, we have said repeatedl y that we will wait for the court ruling on the issue. We will be bound by the ruling, and we expect the other side too to agree to be bound by the ruling, whatever it may be. We would also welcome any out-of-court settlement between the two communities on this issue. On uniform civil code, we had only stated the constitutional requirement, and there is an incorrect assumption that the code would be inherently anti-Muslim. I think Muslims are gradually realising that these fears about the BJP are mispla ced. What they are concerned about today are issues of employment, and development, and the BJP is sincere in addressing these issues.

You seem to be facing problems in constituting your new team of party office-bearers. Sushma Swaraj has apparently declined your invitation to accept the post of party spokesperson.

Venkaiah Naidu continues to be our spokesperson. Constituting my new team would involve discussions at various levels, and it will take some time. After all, Kushabhau Thakre, after he became the party president in 1998, took nearly a month to constitute his team of office-bearers. Sushma Swaraj has agreed to accept whatever responsibility, the party entrusts her with.

The Prime Minister declared during his visit to the U.S. that he would always remain a "swayamsevak". In response to a question from an audience comprising largely of VHP sadhus, he said that the temple could not be built in Ayodhya because the BJP la cked a majority in the Lok Sabha, and that his party would build the "India of our dreams" if it ever came to power on its own. How would these remarks inspire confidence among Muslims?

The Prime Minister is correct. After all, the post of the Prime Minister is temporary. The Prime Minister did not address an RSS meeting there. So it is not fair to infer that he would like to be the swayamsevak of the Sangh. Secondly, all the sadhus who attended the meeting did not belong to the VHP. One of them talked about constructing a temple in Ayodhya. The Prime Minister's remarks were not in response to the question on building the temple in Ayodhya. He spoke about other issues also at the meeti ng. He only said the BJP would "build the India of our dreams", if it came to power on its own. He did not make a promise that the BJP would build the temple if it had a majority in the Lok Sabha.

Who is in, who is out

V. VENKATESAN cover-story

The list of new BJP office-bearers announced by Bangaru Laxman indicates A.B. Vajpayee's tightening hold on the party's organisational apparatus.

PERHAPS never before in the history of the Bharatiya Janata Party has a list of office-bearers and National Executive members chosen by a new president of the party been awaited with such keen interest. This was partly because the "unanimous" election of Bangaru Laxman as party president in August had been marked by a high level of pulls and pressures within the top leadership. Laxman's choice, attributed widely to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's growing clout in the party, therefore logically led to intense speculation over the composition of his new committee. The speculation centred on whether Laxman, by managing to pack his camp followers to the extent of 25 per cent of the new members in the National Executive - which includes 21 office-bear ers under a constitutional provision - would change the party's power structure.

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Laxman's list, released on September 11, indeed had many surprises. Chief among them was the failure of party secretary and former Union Minister Muqtar Abbas Naqvi to make it as a general secretary. Naqvi's inclusion as one of the five new general secre taries was widely expected, Laxman having been stressing the need to woo Muslims to join the party.

Naqvi, who joined the BJP in 1984, had been all-India vice-president of its youth wing for two terms. He has been a member of the National Executive for three terms, under both L.K. Advani and Kushabhau Thakre. He was the first Muslim to be elected on th e BJP ticket to the Lok Sabha in 1998 from Rampur, Uttar Pradesh. However, he lost the 1999 elections. In the previous Vajpayee government, Naqvi was Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting and Parliamentary Affairs.

Laxman was pretty close to elevating Naqvi as one of the general secretaries when Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, who had already voiced his displeasure over Laxman's courtship of Muslims, gave a clear warning that should Naqvi be made a general secretar y, he would review his party's ties with the BJP. The warning had the intended effect, even though Naqvi, who has been retained as one of the seven secretaries, himself would not link these two events. Concealing his disappointment, he said on September 11: "I am happy with whatever responsibility the party has entrusted me with."

In the BJP's scheme of distribution of responsibilities among the office-bearers, the five posts of general secretaries are immensely important. Essentially in charge of the affairs of the party in various States, these general secretaries enjoy enormous powers with regard to the organisation and implementation of the party's programmes and decisions. The secretaries, on the other hand, merely discharge the functions allocated to them by the president, and help the general secretaries in their tasks.

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Three of the general secretaries, M. Venkaiah Naidu, Narendra Modi and Maya Singh, and two of the vice-presidents Madan Lal Khurana and Gopinath Munde.

Laxman retained only two of Thakre's five general secretaries: M. Venkaiah Naidu and Narendra Modi. Venkaiah Naidu's inclusion in Vajpayee's Ministry was considered a probability, as Vajpayee was under compulsion to fill three vacancies. These vacancies were created by the death of Power Minister Rangarajan Kumaramangalam, and the resignation of two Ministers of State, Bangaru Laxman and Uma Bharati. While Laxman quit following his election as BJP president in line with the one-man-one-post principle, U ma Bharati quit the Ministry expressing a wish to be involved in agitational politics in Madhya Pradesh against the Congress(I) government led by Digvijay Singh. Uma Bharati submitted her resignation from the Lok Sabha to the Prime Minister, and quit the National Executive too. Although she denied that she was doing so in protest against Vajpayee's reluctance to include her in his Ministry again, Laxman decided to keep her out of his team and the National Executive, ostensibly in deference to her wishes .

Venkaiah Naidu was known to be uncomfortable with Laxman taking over as party president. Both hail from Andhra Pradesh, where they did not have a good equation. Venkaiah Naidu was in fact an aspirant for the post of party president, backed by Advani. Ass uming that a posture of self-denial would promote his chances, Venkaiah Naidu told the party's senior leaders that he was not interested in the post of party president. This, however, helped Vajpayee, who was keen on keeping all erstwhile Advani loyalist s out of the power structure.

Thus outmanoeuvred, Venkaiah Naidu was apparently offered the consolation prize of a Union Minister's post by Vajpayee. Vajpayee had earlier shown considerable interest in making Venkaiah Naidu a Union Minister, by asking him to delay his departure to th e United States by a few days so as to make himself available for consultations when he inducted new Ministers. However, Vajpayee did not go ahead with the induction of new Ministers immediately. Meanwhile, Venkaiah Naidu, unsure whether he would get a C abinet post or the position of a Minister of State, politely declined the offer, indicating that given a choice he would prefer to work for the party. With Laxman's decision to retain him as a general secretary, Venkaiah Naidu has no option but to work u nder Laxman.

That Sushma Swaraj would not be made a general secretary was a foregone conclusion after she had spoken out at the National Council meeting held in Nagpur against the government on the handling of the Kashmir issue. She was obliquely critical of both Vaj payee and Advani for their mode of handling of the Kashmir situation, which she alleged had led to the Amarnath tragedy. Though expression of dissent is not unusual in party forums, Vajpayee and Advani did not take kindly to Sushma Swaraj's outburst.

While Advani, in his speech in Nagpur, chided Sushma Swaraj, without naming her, for crossing the "Lakshman rekha", the Vajpayee camp was behind press reports that she was unlikely to make it to the Union Cabinet because of her "indiscretion" in Nagpur. Ahead of Nagpur, it appears, Vajpayee had almost decided to include her in his Cabinet. Advani, sensing Vajpayee's unease over Sushma Swaraj's remarks, probably wanted to distance himself from her, as she is known to be his protege. Had Advani not done t hat, it could have driven a wedge between him and Vajpayee.

In the context of the adverse publicity about her following the Nagpur speech, she prudently declined, citing personal reasons, the offer of a party post by Laxman, who was keen on making her a party spokesperson. Laxman, however, retained her as a membe r of the National Executive. Had Laxman not offered a post to her, it would have led to the conclusion that Vajpayee wanted to keep her out of the party's power structure as well, and Laxman probably wanted to avoid this impression.

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K.N. Govindacharya, who has ceased to be general secretary; Muktar Abbas Naqvi, whose appointment as general secretary failed to materialise; Sushma Swaraj, whose exclusion from the National Executive was a foregone conclusion.

Another Advani loyalist who invited Vajpayee's wrath was K.N. Govindacharya, general secretary. He played a key role in the drafting of the party's economic resolution in Nagpur, and has been identified as being a part of the party's think-tank. Therefor e, his exit from Laxman's team was a clear indication that the Vajpayee-Advani cold war was in full flow. Govindacharya had once termed Vajpayee the most acceptable "face" of the party. Govindacharya's remark was translated in Hindi as "mukhota" ( meaning mask) in an article carried by Panchjanya, a weekly run by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Govindacharya denied having used that expression to describe Vajpayee, and it appeared for a while that Vajpayee was convinced of Govindacharya's e xplanation. In any case, Vajpayee had no option but to let Govindacharya continue as party general secretary, in view of Advani's firm grip over the party affairs at that point.

However, with the election of Laxman as party president, Vajpayee probably thought it was now his turn to strike. Besides, Human Resource Development Minister, Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, who was not exactly happy with Govindacharya's thesis of social engin eering to make the party more acceptable to the non-privileged sections of society, backed the move to get rid of Govindacharya as a general secretary. And his removal from Laxman's team became inevitable after he presided over a National Executive meeti ng of the RSS-backed Swadeshi Jagran Manch in Agra in July 2000. This meeting gave a call for "a second freedom struggle," against the Vajpayee government's economic policies. It adopted a three-point action plan to make the people aware of the policies which, according to the Manch, are not only anti-people but also against the nation's interests. "Despite repeated warnings, the government is going ahead with its policies, which are certain to bring the country's rural economy to the brink of bankruptc y," one of the resolutions passed at the meeting said.

Govindacharya pleaded ignorance about the purpose of the meeting, but this was hardly convincing. In his defence, Govindacharya claimed that he had been requesting party president Kushabhau Thakre since March this year to relieve him from the post of gen eral secretary, so as to enable him to devote more time to study the economic problems facing the country. He argued that India could show a third way, which was distinct from the two rival economic models, as represented by statism and market forces.

As he was the best suited to identify the third way, Govindacharya wanted two years' study leave to pursue research into this question at the SJM-funded Centre for Policy Studies in Chennai. He said that he had followed up his request with Laxman, who ha d accepted it. It appears that Laxman offered the post of vice-president to Govindacharya, who, however, declined it. The BJP has seven vice-presidents, and they generally assist the president in the discharge of his duties. Considered an ornamental post , it generally went to senior leaders of the party. It is significant that Govindacharya went to Nagpur to consult the RSS sarsangchalak, K.S. Sudarshan, and had a long meeting with Advani, his mentor, before announcing his decision to keep out of Laxman's team.

Govindacharya denied that he was one of the newly sulking leaders in the party, and hoped that the period of his two-year leave would help the party ultimately. He, however, continues to be a member of the National Executive.

Ironically, while Govindacharya has had to give up the post of general secretary for having promoted the swadeshi philosophy, another general secretary, Sangh Priya Gautam, has been elevated to the post of vice-president despite having dubbed the economic reforms as "bakwas" (idle talk) during a debate in the Rajya Sabha.

Madan Lal Khurana was removed as vice-president by Kushabhau Thakre following his open criticism of the government's economic policies. Fearing that Khurana might embarrass the government during the Budget session of Parliament, Vajpayee bought his peace with him but could neither include him in his Ministry nor undo his removal as vice-president by Thakre. Khurana's come-back as vice-president in Laxman's team shows that Vajpayee has rewarded his one-time loyalist, even though Laxman is of the view tha t all dissidents should face disciplinary action without delay. Khurana had earned the RSS' wrath by publicly protesting against the attacks on Christians by Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal activists, even risking his ministerial post under Vajpaye e during his earlier term. Khurana's rival in Delhi's regional politics, Sahib Singh Verma, has been made general secretary by Laxman, probably to keep the party's two major factions in Delhi in good humour.

Another sign of Vajpayee's increasing control over the party apparatus is the addition of Sunil Shastri, son of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, as a general secretary. Shastri joined the BJP on the eve of the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, and he i s considered a Vajpayee loyalist. The inclusion of former Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde as a vice-president is significant in the context of Vajpayee's compulsions to keep the Shiv Sena happy.

Of the 19 office-bearers chosen by Laxman (there are two vacancies in the list of secretaries), six are Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe persons, and women, as required by the party constitution. The lone woman office-bearer is Maya Singh, who has bec ome a general secretary. The question now is, will Laxman's new team help Vajpayee to consolidate his hold over the party?

Homilies abroad

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On the core issue of the RSS and how they fare in the context of the new Laxman line.

SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN

EVIDENTLY, there is something about the company of the American citizen of Indian origin that sets free the most backward-looking longings of the average Hindu preacher. Great acts of creative concoction are spawned when material wealth devoid of social status meets the promise of spiritual solace.

The dust from the BJP's National Council meeting in Nagpur was yet to settle and the basic task of reorganising the top leadership tiers of the party remained incomplete. But on a tour of the U.S. when he evidently had more time on his hands than is cust omary for visiting leaders, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee chose to make an appearance at a conclave of "Indian Americans", which in all but name was a showcase for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

The VHP had, through various front organisations, scheduled a series of events in the U.S. for the weeks following the U.N. Millennium Summit. This was in part to celebrate its elevation to the status of a participant organisation in the deliberations on religion that preceded the summit. Vajpayee was a featured speaker in the VHP event in Staten Island (New York) according to the schedule fixed in advance. His participation was only lent an element of piquancy by the immediately preceding BJP strategy session in Nagpur when the party had sought, quite consciously, to distance itself from the extremists and broaden its appeal to sections of India that were earlier regarded as enemy elements.

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Expectedly, all the VHP rhetoric was presented with renewed vehemence at Staten Island, with the Prime Minister in attendance. Apart from Vajpayee, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and Gujarat Governor Sundar Singh Bhandari - presumably the "secul ar" leaders of the Hindu community - other invitees included over 100 Hindu sadhus, sants and mahants, typically self-appointed to their positions of spiritual authority. The Laxman Line was immaterial to this motley grouping of spiritual hucksters, who spoke with one voice of the greatness of Bharat, a nation that had been reduced to pitiable circumstances because of "forced conversion" and the zealotry of religions born out of "violence and guilt".

In the VHP's strategic scheme, the gathering in the U.S. was designated as a "mandir nirman pratiggya sammelan" - or a session to reaffirm the collective Hindu resolve to build a temple at the site in Ayodhya where the Babri Masjid stood. But in o bvious deference to the presence of the Prime Minister, the point was expressed in tones of relative moderation. One of the 100-odd saffron clad mendicants in attendance posed the question: could Vajpayee help hasten the construction of the Ram mandir at Ayodhya? The reply was suitably ambiguous. If he could obtain a parliamentary majority on his own, said the Prime Minister, then he would certainly build the Bharat that Hindutva dreams are made of.

As a reply to a fairly pointed question, this was suitably ambiguous. It gave nothing away and sought to shift the emphasis away from the Ram mandir as a physically accomplished reality. Rather, in Vajpayee's rather clever response, the temple at Ayodhya was elevated to metaphorical status, representing in a figurative sense the quest for renewed national glory.

Among the other homilies delivered by the Hindu sants in attendance at Staten Island was the exhortation to the Indian-American community to "protect their children". Danger, they said, lurks at every corner: "The only protection is teaching them the Ved as and our ancient and glorious culture. Then they will get samskara."

VAJPAYEE'S participation at this rather bizarre congress of cultural alienation was undoubtedly part of his strategy of blunting the force of the Hindutva weapon. The BJP is approaching the first anniversary of its renewed term in office without serious threats from within the ruling coalition. The main challenge to the stability of the ruling arrangement now comes from the Hindutva fold. After having propelled the BJP's ascent to authority, the Hindutva forces are now facing the unpleasant prospect of political isolation. The compulsions of coalition politics have made the BJP indifferent to the core issues of the Hindutva agenda, such as the construction of a temple at Ayodhya, the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution and the enactment of a uniform civil code. From the standpoint of the hardline Hindutva element, the new Laxman Line must seem utterly unpalatable, with its advocacy of a rapprochement with Muslims and other religious minorities.

There have been sufficient affirmations from the Hindutva cabal that the eclipse of their agenda is only a temporary phenomenon. First, K.N.Govindacharya, the soon-to-be-exiled general secretary of the BJP, stated quite definitively that the withdrawal o f the Hindutva agenda was only an arrangement of convenience. Then came the statement of Pravinbhai Togadia, the international general secretary of the VHP, that the construction of the Ayodhya temple would begin at a convenient date after March 2001.

A senior VHP leader contacted by Frontline, sought to underplay the significance of the Nagpur conclave. It was a fortuituous circumstance, he seemed to imply, that the National Council was dominated by the pro-Vajpayee elements. This balance of p ower within the party is bound to change in the next few months, he asserted.

A series of meetings have been planned under the auspices of the Sangh Parivar to bring the Hindutva agenda to the foreground again. Apart from the ongoing cycle of observances in the U.S. that the Prime Minister has himself become a participant in, ther e is a Jaipur to Ayodhya yatra planned, which would put the model of the proposed Ram Mandir on display for public edification. A meeting of the Marg Darshak Mandal, the guidance committee of saffron clad spiritualists, has been scheduled for October in Goa. This would be followed by a convention of the Dharma Sansad, or "religious parliament", comprising an assortment of Hindu sants and mahants, in Allahabad early next year.

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Govindacharya has also explained away the BJP's decision to relegate the Hindutva agenda to the background in terms of the compulsions of coalition politics. By implication then, the revival of the agenda must await the BJP's arrival in Delhi as the sole party of governance, with an unambiguous parliamentary majority of its own. To this extent, Govindacharya's assertions seem to echo the sentiments expressed by Vajpayee at the Staten Island gathering. Differences could arise, however, over the strategic devices that the BJP should adopt to achieve the status of the single ruling party.

The Vajpayee line, articulated by Bangaru Laxman in Nagpur, is that the BJP needs to broaden its appeal to achieve a more inclusive representation of social classes within its political programmes. The Hindutva line would be that the party should press o n with the hardline agenda and consolidate the allegiance of those sections that respond to this slogan. The battle between these two strategic perspectives remains to be joined.

It is evident from the response of the official party organ, BJP Today, that the battle, when it is fought, will be bloody. In what seemed a pointed rebuff to the strategy of moderation that Laxman had proposed in Nagpur, BJP Today ran a co ver story terming the party as the "Gangotri of Hindutva". The lead article in this issue of the party organ seeks, quite diligently, to trace the history of Hindutva from its supposed golden period in the ancient days to the assaults that have been made against it in the medieval period and, finally, to its resurgence in the modern age.

BJP Today has generally been the bastion of L.K. Advani camp-followers. Its former editor, Praful Goradia, carried his ardour to such an extreme that one whole recent issue of the magazine was devoted to portraying a larger-than-life image of Adva ni even at the cost of knocking down Vajpayee. He paid for this transgression with his job. But the magazine continues to be secure in the hands of the anti-Vajpayee forces. It is evident that in the months to come party organs such as BJP Today w ill prove as important instruments through which the ideological battle between the Hindutva forces and the pragmatic elements will be waged.

The Advani factor

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SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN

TOWARDS the end of 1995, Lal Krishna Advani seemed fairly secure in his control over the BJP's organisational apparatus. He had suffered a temporary eclipse during Murli Manohar Joshi's stewardship of the party, but been restored to a leadership role wit h results that were almost immediately apparent. A transition was being signalled from the hardline ideological agenda of the early 1990s to a more moderate course. The BJP was the party of governance in a number of significant States and needed to act t he role.

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At a National Executive session in Panaji in April 1995, Advani had laid out a new political strategy for the party. Grown flabby and inept after years in authority, the Congress(I) was in the throes of self-destruction. Its final collapse would leave th e BJP as the only other claimant to the mantle of a national party. All it needed to do was keep itself aloof from any kind of divisive and emotive campaign and seek the image of a responsible party of governance. Advani spelt out the risks inherent in t his strategy with great clarity at Panaji: "The BJP is indeed growing. But it is worrisome that the pace at which the... Congress... is collapsing is greater than the pace at which we are growing." This left the door open, in Advani's estimation, for var ious kinds of "dangerous forces" to fill the vacuum created by the collapse of the Congress: specifically, the "forces of casteism, communalism and communism".

The reference of course was only to minority communalism and the kind of political mobilisations around caste that had consistently thwarted the BJP's pursuit of power. But to combat these forces it was deemed necessary to co-opt them. The BJP's courtshi p of electoral allies who would help it bridge the many glaring lacunae in its organisational structure, really begins in 1995.

Conflict with the hardline element still remained an incipient possibility. By the end of 1995, Advani was into his second consecutive term as party president and constitutionally forbidden from occupying the post beyond 1997. Anxious to consolidate his position and to broaden the constituency for moderation within the BJP, Advani then played his master-stroke - plucking his old friend Atal Behari Vajpayee from the fringes to which he had sullenly withdrawn during the Ayodhya campaign, and nominating hi m as the party's prime ministerial candidate for the general elections due by mid-1996.

Between Advani's 1990 rath yatra and the Assembly elections in five northern States in 1993, the BJP had reaped all the possible rewards of raising its pitch of political extremism. It had also suffered all the attendant risks. Advani's own pragmatic ext remism had given way in this period to Joshi's deeply ideological and programmatic extremism. Despite evident misgivings on the part of Advani and his close associates, Joshi launched his final assault to capture the holy grail of Ayodhya during his term as BJP president. For Advani, Ayodhya was symbolic of a larger struggle for the conquest of power in Delhi. For the strategically obtuse and rigid Joshi, Ayodhya was a goal in itself.

By mid-1993, the BJP seemed already to be uneasily aware that its stridency on Ayodhya had recoiled. Advani came in as party president again, vowing to move the Ayodhya issue down in his priorities list. Rather, a more "holistic" programme was promised, with the BJP confining itself to an auxiliary role on Ayodhya itself.

The rebuff that was administered by the electorate in 1993 was unmistakable. The BJP could hope to benefit from the waves of anti-incumbency sentiment that were buffeting the Congress(I) in virtually every State that it ruled. It could use the symbolism of mythology to propagate its cause and to build up a following. But there was a figurative boundary which could not be crossed. Once past this threshold, the party would tend to repel potential adherents in larger numbers than it could attract them.

Though Advani as party president had to bear the burden of responsibility for the 1993 election debacles, most of the party faithful were willing to ascribe the blame to Joshi's preceding term in office. Vajpayee, at the same time, was an isolated figure within the party. His three terms as BJP president in the first half of the 1980s were a scarcely remembered prehistory in the career of the party. And his committed following within the party cadre was limited. He was considered by most people as an at tractive frontman for the party who could not do much of substance in organisational or strategic terms.

Vajpayee had regained a momentary lease of relevance as the only senior leader of the party to evade arrest after the demolition at Ayodhya. His role in preserving a semblance of public respectability for the BJP in the aftermath of that dark deed was si gnificant. Despite his professed sense of agony over the demolition, he was still willing to take his place on the streets to protest the supposed suppression of the BJP's legitimate political rights.

Advani too went through a spasm of contrition after the demolition, describing it as the saddest event of his life and professing his continuing faith in secularism. But for him the discourse of Hindu victimhood was still relevant.

Though propelled into the leadership role in the 1996 campaign, Vajpayee remained dependent entirely on the muscle that Advani's control of the organisation lent him. Since assuming office as Prime Minister with a reasonable assurance of political longev ity in 1998, he has sought to break out of this situation of dependence. A part of the need to do so has arisen from the need for Vajpayee as Prime Minister to adopt a policy course that sets him at divergence with powerful sections within his party. And though Advani himself may share many of the basic premises of Vajpayee's economic policy, several of his acolytes within the organisation have completely antithetical views. And the Prime Minister has dealt with this situation either by winning over tra ditional Advani loyalists to his side or by isolating those that were proving recalcitrant to his overtures.

The potential for a conflict between the two old associates in the cause of Hindutva has been inherent on matters involving policy, politics and personnel. But on most issues, Advani has shown a tendency to defer to the wishes of his senior in party coun cils. Ram Jethmalani was ejected from his post as Union Minister for Law following a public tiff with the Chief Justice of India, despite Advani's expressed preference to retain him in the Cabinet in an alternative post. M. Venkaiah Naidu and Sushma Swar aj, two of Advani's closest confidant(e)s, have been left out of the Cabinet despite what they imagine are compelling claims to being accommodated. And in Uttar Pradesh, the State which represents the vanishing point of political ideology, Kalyan Singh, despite all his proximity to Advani, was ruthlessly cut out of the reckoning by a coterie acting with Vajpayee's explicit blessings.

There have also been areas of conflict in policy, particularly on Kashmir. Advani is believed to have had serious reservations about the release of three Islamic militants from imprisonment after the Kandahar hijacking last year. He was more sceptical ab out initiating a political dialogue in Kashmir than were Vajpayee and his advisers.

Personal warmth has long since ebbed in relations between the two old associates, to be replaced by a certain formal correctness. Despite his strongly held beliefs, this is perhaps testimony to the strength of the pragmatic streak in Advani's political m akeup. And it is also understood to be his implicit tribute to the consensual style of politics that Vajpayee has been practising within the ruling coalition.

Advani perhaps believes that when he succeeds to the job that Vajpayee today holds - as he undoubtedly thinks it is his manifest destiny to - he would be able to keep the faith of the allies in the same manner, while regaining the commitment of those wit hin the party who may have been alienated. There is no reason to expect that serious turbulence will ensue with the coalition partners, since Advani more than Vajpayee was the key figure in working out all the alliances both in 1998 and 1999.

But within the diverse factions and coteries that today constitute the BJP, there is little question that Advani would be a more acceptable figure. His problems are likely to begin when the considerations of political pragmatism are outweighed by loyalti es of caste, language and religion.

Strengths and infirmities

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Although not entirely physically fit, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee has realised his personal strength and political constituency and is taking a firm position with regard to the Sangh Parivar leadership.

VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN in New Delhi

IS Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee healthy enough to perform his immense responsibilities? His ardent followers in the Bharatiya Janata Party and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) aver he is, but some sections of the ruling establishment itself express doubts. His sudden departure from the venue of the Nagpur session of the BJP National Executive, complaining of uneasiness, even triggered speculation at various levels of post-Vajpayee scenarios.

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A Cabinet Minister considered close to both Vajpayee and Home Minister L.K. Advani told Frontline that the most upsetting factor was the steady fall in the attention span of the Prime Minister in the past few months. Vajpayee, according to him, is unable to concentrate on administrative and political matters to the extent he was capable of earlier. "His one-to-one interaction with colleagues and officials has been characterised recently by long pauses in conversations."

Concern over Vajpayee's health became more pronounced following the External Affairs Ministry's decision to defer his departure to the United States by two days. However, the question of Vajpayee's health has periodically come up since his first stint as Prime Minister in 1998. The issue received serious attention after August 15, 1998, when Vajpayee stepped out of his car wearing only one shoe. On Independence Day this year, he almost stumbled at the Red Fort ramparts in full view of the cameras. There are several theories and stories about Vajpayee's illness, but most of them lack official corroboration.

The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and sources in the BJP have systematically maintained that the Prime Minister's only ailment is osteoarthritis of the knees, which makes standing for long durations difficult, and that it is a curable condition.

After his embarrassing departure from Nagpur, Vajpayee himself stated that he suffered from arthritis of the knee and that this was not uncommon among people of his age. "I have no other problem. But if the media desire to indulge in speculation, I canno t prevent it," he said rather vehemently.

Dr. Randeep Guleria, the doctor at the PMO, said that in Vajpayee's case all other health parameters were satisfactory. "His blood pressure is normal, he does not have a cholesterol problem and his lung function test has shown that there is no need for c oncern there." And he has no history of diabetes.

In the opinion of Dr. P.K. Dave, Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Vajpayee's knee problem can be explained as a moderate case of osteoarthritis common among people of his age.

The PMO is ready to concede that being over-weight is another problem the Prime Minister faces. "He must keep his weight under control. In a way, that has aggravated the knee problem." Osteoarthritis manifests itself only occasionally, and it only affect s the Prime Minister's left leg," a PMO official said. Another senior official in the PMO said that surgery of the left knee was contemplated but by all indications a decision would be taken after Vajpayee sought medical opinion during his U.S. trip.

According to some officers in the PMO, surgery was recommended two years ago, but Vajpayee declined as it would put him out of action for two weeks. Instead he resorted to painkillers. Moreover, the consensus in the Cabinet and among the top leaders of t he BJP was that, in the interests of the NDA, he should carry on with his normal schedule and his ailments should not be publicised. "For a man of his age, he has indeed coped well with scant medication," a PMO official said.

In the context of these avowals, the question of Vajpayee's actual age has again assumed importance. There are different versions about the Prime Minister's age even in official records.

While the Lok Sabha Who's Who records Vajpayee's date of birth as December 25, 1926, the Lok Sabha website puts it as December 25, 1924. This discrepancy is further complicated by Vajpayee's own recorded statement submitted on September 1, 1942, b efore the District Magistrate of Bhateshwar in Madhya Pradesh (Frontline, February 7, 1998). While the main purpose of that statement was to assert that he had played no role in the violent incidents that had taken place at Bhateshwar as part of t he freedom struggle, Vajpayee mentioned his age as 20. If that was true, then Vajpayee's current age would be 78.

The frequent reference to the state of his health as also certain medical restrictions imposed on him have created a feeling in Vajpayee that he is a sick man.

According to a Vajpayee supporter from Uttar Pradesh, "this complicated the situation." He said: "In Nagpur, Vajpayeeji was not as unwell as he himself thought. Many of us tried to persuade him to take rest for some time and make at least a brief speech. "

Party leaders also point to the psychological burden that the medical treatment has imposed on the Prime Minister. "One method by which his doctors have sought to control the knee problem is to persuade him to stand at the podium for shorter durations by compelling him to make shorter speeches than normal. The PMO, for its part, gives written speeches that would not take more than 15-20 minutes to deliver. The net result of this on an orator like Vajpayee is that every time he makes a speech the feeling that he is a sick man gets reinforced," a senior BJP leader from Uttar Pradesh said.

THE one big question now is what impact the obvious deterioration in Vajpayee's health will have on the NDA and on his own political career. Clearly, the non-BJP segments of the NDA and even a large section of the BJP favour Vajpayee's leadership. "Right now we do not want to address the issue for the simple reason that Vajpayee is irreplaceable," a Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader said. A Trinamul Congress member of Parliament said no other BJP leader would be acceptable to the party. Thus signif icantly even with his physical infirmities Vajpayee keeps growing in power within the BJP. Not only was he able to enforce his choice of Bangaru Laxman to replace Kushabhau Thakre as party president but he succeeded in removing his bete noire, K.N. Govindacharya, as general secretary. For several years Vajpayee and Govindacharya seldom missed an opportunity to jibe at each other. Govindacharya's remark to a BBC correspondent that Vajpayee was only a mukhota (mask) of the BJP and the tussle between the two on the swadeshi versus globalisation issue are two notable instances. The fact that Govindacharya has been the chief Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) representative in the BJP and virtually the link between the party and the rest of the Sangh Parivar deterred Vajpayee many times in the past from going on an all-out offensive. But this time, when he is seemingly ill, Vajpayee has gotten over the restraining factors and struck decisively. It is learnt that he was ready even to take on the leaders of the Sangh Parivar, including the top brass of the RSS, to effect Govindacharya's removal.

His offer was clear. Govindacharya can be made a vice-president of the party - a largely ceremonial position - and not a powerful general secretary. The RSS top brass, including Madan Das Devi, tried to put pressure on Vajpayee but he was firm. Devi had a series of discussions with Bangaru Laxman and Kushabhau Thakre and tried to impress upon them the need to retain Govindacharya. Ultimately, the leaders of the Sangh Parivar had to take cover under the reasoning that Govindacharya wanted to be relieved from the general secretary's post to study development models and evolve an Indian alternative.

By all indications, Vajpayee's struggle against the RSS top brass is not yet over. The Sangh Parivar had suggested the names of Dr. Mahesh Chandra Sharma and Bal Apte as possible replacements for Govindacharya. Sharma is a Rajya Sabha member and the Edit or of Swadeshi Patrika of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, which criticised the Vajpayee government's economic policy in strong terms recently, while Bal Apte is a senior RSS activist. But Vajpayee replied that they too can be accommodated only as vice- presidents.

According to BJP and Sangh Parivar insiders, Vajpayee's new-found penchant for self-assertion could cause serious problems for the BJP and even the NDA. Vajpayee's reiteration that the BJP and the RSS are different entities is perceived by the liberal su pporters of the Prime Minister as part of a strategy. Vajpayee told mediapersons recently that the RSS and its front organisations have an identity of their own, entirely independent of the BJP. He emphasised that the BJP was a political party involved i n political activities on the basis of a political agenda and should be judged by its performance in office and not on the basis of the ideology of some other organisation.

Upholding the right of the RSS and its front organisations to propagate their own views, he added that criticism was an integral part of a democratic society but everybody should take care not to cross the "Lakshman Rekha" or the limit. For a leader who invariably succumbed to the RSS view when it came to the crunch, these words are rated as strong.

Commenting on this statement and his adamant position on Govindacharya, a senior BJP leader said that "the Prime Minister, by all indications, has embarked on a very significant battle of his life." This could even acquire intense ideological dimensions, he said. In his view, with the formation of the NDA government, "Vajpayee has realised his real personal strength and real political constituency. He has understood that he is closer to the liberal, democratic values of several NDA constituents than to the BJP, and he seems keen to retain this constituency."

Vajpayee might even go to the extent of openly taking on the Sangh Parivar to retain this constituency, and this battle might ultimately elevate him to the position of a statesman who overcame his past association with obscurantist forces for the sake of welfare of the country, the leader said.

According to a Cabinet Minister belonging to the BJP, the Prime Minister is playing with a double-edged sword at great personal peril, particularly when he is not fully fit physically.

Between the law and the outlaw

The Supreme Court's intervention in the efforts to meet Veerappan's demands for the return of Rajkumar adds to the predicament of the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments.

THE stalemate over the abduction of Kannada film actor Rajkumar and three of his associates by forest brigand Veerappan and his cohorts has continued to haunt the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments into a seventh week, with the legal hurdles in the way of meeting some of the abductors' demands proving to be the latest hitch. All that the checkmated Chief Ministers of the two States could do as they watched the drama unfold in the courts and in the forests was to counsel patience and make it known that they were trying to expedite their moves to secure the release of Rajkumar while gingerly manoeuvring their way through a legal minefield.

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Rajkumar and three others, kidnapped on the night of July 30 from the village of Gajanur close to the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border, have now become the hostages whom Veerappan has held for the longest period. The acute embarrassment of the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments, especially of the S.M. Krishna government in Karnataka, has meanwhile been compounded. The Krishna government has been facing flak from a number of quarters, including political opponents, the film industry and the powerful Rajkuma r Fans Association, for not being able to secure the release of the actor. According to the Leader of the Opposition in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, Jagadish Shettar, "there has been virtually no government in existence in Karnataka ever since Raj kumar's kidnap".

Yet none of Krishna's critics has been able to indicate the possible alternative course of action that he should follow. As the Congress(I) Chief Minister himself confessed, "only those who are in the hot seat can fully understand the situation."

Krishna received a hand from Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi when she sent Ghulam Nabi Azad, generally secretary of the All India Congress Committee, to Bangalore, to assure the Chief Minister that he had the backing of the party's central leadership with regard to his handling of the situation.

The latest legal twist was the filing of a special leave petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court on August 21 by Abdul Kareem, a retired policeman and father of Shakeel Ahmed, a sub-inspector of police from Karnataka who was slain allegedly by Veerappan in A ugust 1992. And then there was a related public interest petition preferred by two Delhi-based lawyers. These petitions stopped the moves by the two governments to barter 126 prisoners - including five Tamil militants jailed in Tamil Nadu and 51 others b ooked under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) - for Rajkumar and three others.

On August 29, hardly 24 hours after a weary Krishna had announced at the end of a meeting of a high-power committee constituted to deal with the crisis that his government had dropped all charges filed under different sections of the Indian Penal Code (I PC) against 121 (51 of whom face TADA charges) of Veerappan's suspected associates, a three-member Bench of the Supreme Court directed that pending further orders none of them should be released on bail or otherwise. The court's orders, on Kareem's petit ion questioning an August 19 decision of the Designated TADA Judge in Mysore according "consent" to the Karnataka government's special prosecutor Ashwin Kumar Joshi to withdraw charges for offences under Sections 3, 4 and 5 of the TADA Act against 51 all eged Veerappan associates, meant that the Karnataka government could not fulfil one of the bandit's key demands. (These 51 - including 12 women - detenus, who have been in a Mysore jail for seven years, till recently without trial, are among the 121 peop le whose release Veerappan has sought.)

Kareem's SLP contended that the August 19 order had "resulted in an unprecedented miscarriage of justice as the learned Designated Judge failed to appreciate that the permission (of the government to withdraw TADA charges) was sought on grounds extraneou s to the interest of justice". Chava Badrinath Babu, Kareem's advocate, told Frontline that while the initial plea in the petition was against the dropping of TADA charges against the detenus, as a corollary it sought a stay on their being granted bail. "In order to take a lenient view and get them released, the Karnataka government is circumventing the law by dropping TADA charges," he said.

Kareem's petition has posed other questions, the most important of them being the resort to Section 321 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) by public prosecutor Joshi. Said Badrinath Babu: "While it is the prerogative of the public prosecutor to wit hdraw charges under Section 321, it cannot be done under pressure from the executive. There can be no extraneous considerations. We believe that in this case he has sought the dropping of charges on extraneous considerations. How can the government be ju stified in dropping TADA charges and not contesting the bail applications of the detenus? It has wholeheartedly agreed to the contention of the accused without any reservations when on the contrary there is plenty of evidence to deny bail to the detenus. Joshi will also have to file his reply since he has now been impleaded in the matter."

A related SLP challenging an order of the Mysore Principal and Sessions Court on August 28 granting bail to 50 of these 51 detenus was also admitted in the Supreme Court. In the wake of public interest petitions, the Supreme Court also put on hold steps initiated by the Tamil Nadu government to release Ponnivalavan, Muthukumar, Manikan-dan, Sathyamurthy and Radio Venkatesan, the five Tamil militants whose release Veerappan has demanded.

A STUNNED Karnataka government, which was allowed to file a counter-affidavit, reacted on August 30 by doing a volte-face on its stand that it had dropped all cases booked under sections of the IPC against 121 of Veerappan's associates. Stating th at through a Government Order of August 28 it had only withdrawn cases filed under TADA, State Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister D.B. Chandre Gowda sought to clarify that the IPC cases could only be withdrawn after the Supreme Court decided on the S LP filed by Kareem.

But if the Supreme Court's interim orders with regard to the release of Veerappan's associates put the Karnataka government on the backfoot in its negotiations with Veerappan, more tough talking was to come from the same court. On September 1, a three-me mber Bench comprising Justice S.P. Bharucha, D.P. Mohapatra and Y.K. Sabharwal made oral observations criticising the Karnataka government for both its recent decisions - succumbing to Veerappan's "illegal and unreasonable" demands (hostages-for-prisoner s swap) in a bid to secure the release of Rajkumar, and its inability to apprehend Veerappan over the past eight years. The Bench asked: "What have you done for eight years to apprehend that man? We make it clear it is the responsibility of the State gov ernment to maintain law and order. If you cannot do it, then quit and make way for somebody else who can."

The court was not impressed by the argument put forward by Harish Salve, the Solicitor-General of India who appeared for Karnataka, that the impugned decision of the Karnataka government to withdraw the TADA cases was not taken in order to secure the rel ease of Rajkumar but in the larger interest of the linguistic communities, and harmony and tranquility in the State. The Bench rejected the argument, indicating that the deal was made purely for extraneous or political reasons, and observed that "as the facts exist today (September 1) we will not give any relief as it amounts to compounding negligence upon negligence upon negligence". The court, however, agreed to Salve's plea that Karnataka be permitted to file a more comprehensive affidavit giving the reasons and the background that prompted it to decide to withdraw the TADA cases. The court on September 3 asked both the States and the petitioner to submit all documents pertaining to the matter by September 13.

WHILE the Supreme Court's staying of the move to release Veerappan's associates has been a thorn in the flesh for both Krishna and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, it has brought cheer to Kareem. The 76-year-old person who sold a residential sit e which had been allotted to him in order to raise funds for his legal battle against the State, told Frontline that "justice has been done". He said he had been aghast that the government, which had as recently as last December fought tooth and n ail efforts by non-governmental groups to quash TADA charges against the 121 persons, had now capitulated to the demand. (The Karnataka High Court has over the past few years dismissed over 40 writ petitions - including a habeas corpus petition - challen ging the legal aspects of detaining the 51 detenus under TADA.)

Kareem said that support for his fight had come from all over. He said that Dr. Harshavardhan Raju, Director-General of Police and now Commander of the Karnataka Special Task Force (KSTF), had sent him to a lawyer in Bangalore to file an affidavit agains t the bail application of the 51 detenus.

Others who have lost their near and dear ones to Veerappan's bullets are also vehemently opposed to the government's move. Preetha, widow of slain Karnataka Special Task Force Superintendent T. Harikrishna, said: "This would bring to nought the supreme s acrifice made by many policemen and others."

Both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka requested the court to expedite the matter. But given its complexity and the many replies and rejoinders involved, the matter could take a while. With legal hurdles preventing the two governments' from making the prisoners-f or-hostages deal a basis for the release of Rajkumar, the governments might just have to look for other means to secure the release. So far they have refused to do so, ruling out, for example, commando action as it would endanger the lives of the hostage s. According to police officials, any change in the governments' strategy could only be expected after the legal avenue route is closed. Said Krishna: "We have been able to establish contact with Veerappan on three occasions through our emissary (R.R. Go pal). This is how governments conduct business in hostage crises - by opening up negotiations. No other method has prevailed."

The Karnataka government, in a bid to circumvent an unpalatable judgment from the apex court vis-a-vis Kareem's writ petition, hinted that the Central government could be approached to promulgate an ordinance to do away with already registered TAD A cases (The TADA Act was repealed in 1995).

At an all party meeting convened by Krishna to brief leaders of other political parties on his discussions with Karunanidhi, it was suggested that Karnataka promulgate an ordinance. But it was pointed out that it was for the Centre to do it taking into c onsideration the national situation.

ON September 6, Gopal returned to Chennai unable to secure the release of Rajkumar, for the Supreme Court indefinitely stayed the release of the detenus. Besides, the Karnataka High Court again imposed the stay on the hearings of the Justice Sadashiva Co mmission. Gopal and Nakkheeran associate editor A. Kamaraj met Karunanidhi and briefed him on the mission. The same evening Gopal and film actor Rajnikant, who has been showing a keen interest in the release of Rajkumar, flew together to Bangalore . Gopal briefed Krishna and also met Rajkumar's wife Parvathamma.

Two days later, on September 8, Karunanidhi flew to Bangalore and met Krishna. Karunanidhi stressed that he had come to Bangalore to assuage the feelings of Kannadigas and to see to it that nothing was done to harm the amity between Tamilians and Kannadi gas.

Krishna and Karunanidhi stressed that though Gopal had so far been unsuccessful in bringing back Rajkumar, he had been able to convince Veerappan of the two governments' earnestness in seeking to meet Veerappan's demands. Krishna pointed out: "Some kind of arrangement had been worked out by Gopal with Veerappan (for the release of the hostages) but the subsequent intervention of the Court has delayed the process."

The governments will stick to Gopal as their emissary since, as Krishna explained, "not everybody and everyone can get to Veerappan". Added Karunanidhi: "Gopal has been able to take our explanations to Veerappan, and Veerappan accepted some of them, but the matter went to the Court and got delayed. We cannot call Gopal's efforts a failure, only a setback."

But the governments' insistence on continuing with the strategy of negotiations through the medium of Gopal has its share of critics in Tamil Nadu and in Karnataka. According to P.G.R. Sindhia, former Home Minister who is now the floor leader of the Jana ta Dal (United) in the Legislative Assembly, the Karnataka government should come out with a fresh strategy instead of depending only on Gopal. Sindhia added: "Even if the governments want to stick to Gopal they must adopt a carrot and stick policy. So f ar only the carrot is in evidence. Where is the stick?"

The leaders of most of the Opposition parties in Karnataka, during a meeting of the floor leaders of the various political parties on September 4 and again on September 9, even while offering their full support to the government in its efforts to secure the release of the hostages, asked the government to rethink on the strategy since the one used had failed to produce the desired result. During the September 4 meeting, for the first time the Opposition, which had been until then one with the Krishna go vernment in its responses to the abduction, sounded a discordant note. But Krishna's response was that negotiations were at the mid-way stage and Veerappan would probably understand the legal complexities and release his hostages. But Gopal's return on S eptember 6 proved Krishna wrong. The brigand had insisted that his demand that the governments free 126 of his associates be first met.

ANOTHER key demand of Veerappan that the governments pay compensation to victims of alleged Special Task Force excesses has also run into legal difficulties. Though the two governments have decided to set aside Rs.5 crores for this purpose, the proceedin gs of the Justice Sadashiva Commission (set up under the chairmanship of Justice Sadashiva by the National Human Rights Commission in June 1999 to look into the alleged human rights violations) were stayed again by the Karnataka High Court on September 5 .

A single Bench of the High Court, which had stayed the functioning of the Commission on March 27 acting on a writ petition filed by M. Muthuraya, a former STF officer - one of the many officers against whom allegations that range from illegal confinement , extra-judicial killings, torture, forced labour and rape have been levelled - had given the commission a breather on August 8 when it modified its earlier order to permit the Commission to hold sittings. The order, however, specified that the NHRC shal l not act on the Commission's report till the writ petition was disposed of.

But on September 5, a division Bench of the High Court comprising acting Chief Justice Ashok Bhan and Justice Gururajan, acting on another writ petition filed by Muthuraya, stayed an order of the single Bench that allowed the Commission to go ahead with the inquiry. Both parties (the petitioner and the NHRC) were asked to submit relevant documents.

Muthuraya had challenged the authority of the NHRC to delegate powers to a Commission and argued that under Section 36(2) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1994 (the NHRC functions under this piece of legislation) the NHRC (or a State commission) ca nnot inquire "into any matter (of human rights violation) after the expiry of one year from the date on which the act constituting violation of human rights is alleged to have been committed". While most of the allegations relate to May 1993, complaints from tribal welfare organisations and human rights groups to the NHRC were only made in 1997. The Commission itself was only set up in June 1999. Prior to the stay, the Commission had held sittings at Gobichettipalayam near Erode, and Kolathur, near Mett ur (Frontline, March 31, 2000).

According to Justice Sadashiva, it is now up to the State's Advocate-General, who will appear for the NHRC, to convince the court. Sadashiva had decided to resume the sittings of the Commission at Kolathur from September 11, since during the previous sit ting there many of the people who had turned up were unable to testify. But the court's intervention upset the plans.

The fact that Karnataka is yet to establish a State Human Rights Commission is a handicap too. Had a State commission existed, all that the NHRC would have had to do was to forward the papers to it to look into cases such as STF atrocities. But suggestio ns - a writ petition in this regard was filed by two non governmental organisations some time ago - made to the Karnataka government have not been acted upon. All that the government of the day said was that it was looking into them.

But Justice Sadashiva told Frontline categorically that the writ petition did not mean a bar on a remedy for the alleged victims. He said: "In the instance of the panel not being able to function, the NHRC will itself record a finding of illegal c onfinement, rape, etc., and decide what action has to be taken. This can be acted upon by the governments."

The Karnataka government was also embarrassed when it was reported that the State's Director-General of Police, C. Dinakar, had conveyed to Home Secretary M.B. Prakash his opposition to the dropping of charges against the suspected associates of Veerappa n. But Dinakar would neither confirm nor deny reports in this regard.

THOUGH life has gone on as usual for nearly all of Karnataka's residents - whatever their linguistic identity - especially in Bangalore which bore the brunt of vandalism in the immediate aftermath of the abduction, Rajkumar's continuing absence has affec ted the film industry. Despite the abducted actor's plea to the contrary, the activities of the Kannada film industry have come to a stop. Though there are a number of voices which would like to restart operations, the general feeling is that a few peopl e who have taken "whimsical decisions" have been able to "frighten away those who want to restart". Theatres in Bangalore reopened after a month. The matter is creating a rift between the Kannada film industry and non-Kannada film distributors and exhibi tors.

For their part, Tamil organisations have gone out of their way to condemn Veerappan for his actions and have disassociated themselves from the brigand, stating that they did not need "a plunderer and murderer to take up the cause of the Tamils".

While both the Chief Ministers were unwilling to spell out what changes in strategy could be expected, Karunanidhi hinted at the direction they may be forced to take when he said, "We will try to speed up the case in the Supreme Court and also mount effo rts to persuade Veerappan to release the hostages, but in the meantime if Krishna and I feel that there is no other alternative, a situation may arise when we will have to seek central assistance". The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister disclosed that his Home Se cretary had been periodically informing the Union Home Secretary of the developments and that both he and Krishna would meet Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee depending on the court's verdict. Thus the ball now lies in the Supreme Court.

Gestures of goodwill

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RAVI SHARMA

SINCE the abduction of Rajkumar, Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna has visited Chennai with his entourage four times to hold talks with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi, the government emissary R.R. Gopal and officials. On September 8, it wa s the turn of Karunanidhi to go to Bangalore. Krishna, who is facing arguably the sternest test of his political career, could take some consolation from the fact that he could convince Karunanidhi that it was time for him to do so.

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On the two previous occasions on which Gopal went into the forests and returned with audio and/or video cassettes he had handed them over to Karunanidhi, who in turn telephonically informed Krishna of the development. Thereupon Krishna reached Chennai to be briefed about Gopal's missions.

Whenever there was criticism in Karnataka about this pattern, Krishna and Home Minister M. Mallikarjun Kharge chose to explain it as being but "natural", for the abduction had taken place on Tamil Nadu territory and the hostages were also being held in T amil Nadu. There have been many people in the Opposition parties who would love to cash in on the issue, some of Veerappan's demands (such as the sharing of the Cauvery waters and the status of Tamil) being even otherwise highly emotive issues. After an all-party meeting on September 4, some Opposition leaders expressed the opinion that it would only be "fair" to expect Karunanidhi also to display the same degree of concern for the abducted actor by making a trip to Bangalore. They said that such a visi t would send the "right signals to the people of Karnataka". Krishna was blamed by these leaders "for playing second fiddle to Karunanidhi" and letting the latter dictate the strategy, be it choosing the emissary or the venue for inter-governmental discu ssions. Soon after his return from his latest foray into the forest, Gopal paid a visit to Bangalore on September 6. And the Karnataka-born Tamil matinee idol Rajnikant made a statement that Karunanidhi was concerned about the well-being of the abducted Kannada actor as much as any Kannadiga. It was then logical that the fifth meeting between Karunanidhi and Krishna since the abduction would take place at Bangalore on September 8.

Karunanidhi's trip to Bangalore went off with clock-work precision and helped Krishna blunt the barbs from his political critics and also sent the right signals to the man on the street. Karunanidhi hit the nail on the head when after meeting Krishna he said that the purpose of his visit was to "infuse confidence and to foster brotherhood and fraternal feelings between the peoples of the two States". "Otherwise," he said, "I would have met your Chief Minister in Chennai itself."

After a 45-minute, closed-door meeting between Krishna and Karunanidhi, which was attended also by Kharge and Tamil Nadu Health Minister Arcot Veerasamy, there was another meeting between the two Chief Ministers in which officials of both States were pre sent. Representatives of a few Bangalore-based Tamil organisations met Karunanidhi and requested him to secure the early release of Rajkumar. A 11-member delegation from the film industry had a 15-minute meeting with the two Chief Ministers, and presente d a memorandum to Karunanidhi. Prior to his departure for Chennai Karunanidhi spent five minutes at Rajkumar's residence where he explained to Rajkumar's wife Parvathamma the steps that the governments were taking for the actor's release.

The only discordant note came at a joint press conference by the Chief Ministers. When Krishna was asked why he was not speaking in Kannada (since Karunanidhi spoke in Tamil at the Chennai briefings) Krishna replied, pointing to his counterpart, "he has to understand". Karunanidhi, however, chose to speak in chaste Tamil although the questions were in English. Tamil Nadu Law Minister Aladi Aruna translated into English the gist of Karunanidhi's replies.

Krishna politely intervened when Karunanidhi faced a volley of questions, some of which had the imputation that the Tamil Nadu government was not cooperating with Karnataka or doing enough over the past few years to apprehend Veerappan. Karunanidhi turne d defensive and asked: "What do you want us do ?" Krishna ended the exchange with the remark: "Let us confine ourselves to securing the release of Rajkumar".

A mission on hold

ON August 31, for Nakkheeran Editor R.R. Gopal, it appeared that securing the release of Rajkumar and others held hostage by Veerappan was only a matter of one week. However, the opportunity slipped through his fingers the next day, as he watched helplessly.

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Emissary of the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments in their dealings with Veerappan, Gopal had sewn up an agreement with the sandalwood smuggler and nine Tamil extremists with him in the Sathyamangalam-Thalavadi forests. The hostages' release, accordin g to it, was to be in exchange for the release of five extremists imprisoned in Tamil Nadu and 121 alleged associates of Veerappan detained in Karnataka, including 51 in Central Prison, Mysore. According to the "schedule" sent in an audio cassette to Tam il Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi on September 2, Gopal had mentioned when and where the five extremists, belonging to the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Tamil National Retrieval Force (TNRF), should be sent. These persons were to reach th e forests September 4. Gopal was to return to Chennai with Rajkumar and S.A. Govindaraj, Nagesh and Nagappa, the other hostages, on September 5. Gopal said: "It was on August 31 evening, after this agreement was reached, that I felt genuinely happy after several weeks."

But then the Supreme Court intervened. Two directions of the court on a petition before it, and the Karnataka High Court's intervention on another issue, both of which had a bearing on the kidnappers' demands, came as two consecutive blows, according to Gopal. He said these orders led to the collapse of the agreement. Veerappan and the nine TNLA/TNRF cadres with him were firm that Rajkumar would be released only when the five TNLA/TNRT men and the 121 alleged associates of Veerappan were released. "They said they are not bothered about the Supreme Court orders... I decided that there was no use of my staying in the forests. So I left the forests on September 5 and reached Chennai the following day," Gopal said. He met Karunanidhi and flew to Bangalore the same evening with film actor Rajnikant. In Bangalore he met Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna.

While talking to Frontline about the collapse of the agreement with Veerappan, Gopal appeared hurt by the media campaign in Chennai and Bangalore that he had returned "empty-handed". He was sore that his efforts to get Rajkumar released, which inc luded three arduous treks into the forests, had not won due appreciation in the media. Gopal said that the two Chief Ministers had entrusted him with "a sensitive mission". In the audio cassette that Veerappan first gave Rajkumar's wife Parvathamma on Ju ly 30 (the day of the abduction), the brigand had not specifically asked the two State governments to send Gopal as an emissary: he only said that "an emissary" be sent to discuss his demands. Nor did Gopal ask the Chief Ministers that he be sent as the emissary. He said,"Both the governments chose me. It is 40 days since I accepted the mission. Ever since, I have been walking on the razor's edge. If I have stomached so much of humiliation, there is only one reason: to obtain Rajkumar's release and ensu re the safety of a couple of million Tamils living in Karnataka."

After the abduction, Gopal left for the forests for the third time on August 28. He was accompanied by Nakkheeran reporter/videographer/photographer P. Sivasubramanian, and reporters P. Subramanian and Balamurugan. The meeting with Veerappan did n ot come easily in the present episode, unlike earlier. Gopal had to wait at the fringes of the forest for several days. He said, "I had to talk to Veerappan and convince him. I also had to convince the nine TNLA/TNRT men. Besides, I had to persuade them to allow me to meet Rajkumar and comfort him. I did all this in the three missions."

GOPAL and his team entered the forests on August 30 night after being received by Veerappan's deputies Sethukuli Govindan and Chandran Gounder. Gopal met Veerappan on August 31. The latter reiterated his demands, which included, apart from the release of the detainees, payment of compensation of Rs.10 lakhs each to the women who were allegedly raped and the families of persons who were allegedly killed by the Special Task Force (STF) formed to catch him, and Rs.5 lakhs each to people who were affected o therwise. Gopal explained how the Tamil Nadu government had agreed to the unconditional release of the five men, and how the Karnataka government has agreed to release all the 121 persons on bail (71 of them had already obtained bail), and how the two go vernments had together set up a corpus of Rs.10 crores to provide compensation to those affected during STF operations in 1991-92.

"The negotiations came to an end the same evening (September 31). He said 'give me five men and I will give you four men in exchange'. The 121 persons were also to be released," Gopal said. "All the nine TNLA/TNRF cadres were present at the negotiations. Veerappan asked them, 'Is there anything more? Shall we close the matter?' Then he waved his hand and the negotiations concluded successfully. He asked Sivasubramanian to switch off the video cameras."

After this Gopal met Rajkumar and the three other hostages. Gopal sent a video cassette and an audio cassette to Chennai through two members of his team. The video cassette shows Rajkumar as saying that he was all right and asking the people of Karnataka to show restraint. He said there were fears that after his release, Tamilians in Karnataka would be harmed. This should not happen, Rajkumar said. He wanted the two governments to provide relief at the earliest to those affected by the anti-Tamil riots during the agitation over the Cauvery water issue in 1991 and those affected by the STF action.

In the audio cassette, Gopal gave the details of the agreement he had reached with Veerappan. Gopal mentioned where the five detainees should be sent on September 4. The next day, he said, he would return to Chennai with Rajkumar. Both the cassettes were received by Nakkheeran's Associate Editor A. Kamaraj and handed over to Karunanidhi. The video cassette was sent to Krishna.

In the night after the negotiations Gopal saw the nine TNLA/TNRF cadres writing banners with red ink. He said with them there were books on Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, V.I. Lenin and Che Guevara. When Gopal asked them what they were doing, they replied that the next day (September 1) was the death anniversary of TNLA founder Tamilarasan and that they commemorated it as martyrs' day.

Gopal said that their slogans, including those extolling Tamil nationalism, echoed in the forests on September 1 morning. A red-and-yellow flag, with stars on the left and the picture of a man taming a bull in the middle, fluttered on an improvised flag pole. Pictures of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Che Guevara, besides those of Arjunan (Veerappan's brother, who died while in custody) and Dharmapuri Ravindran (a Marxist-Leninist who died recently) were arranged on the floor. The nine men were dressed in the uniforms of the TNLA and the TNRF. "General" Veerappan was in combat fatigues and an Army cap. Sethukuli Govindan was also dressed similarly.

Maran spoke in Tamil for about 15 minutes on why the movement was started and where it was headed. Under the flag, the group took an oath that they would wage an armed struggle and fulfil the dream of Tamilarasan for the "liberation" of Tamil Nadu. They also swore that they would struggle for the formation of a casteless and classless socialist society in the State. After they took the red salute, Maran announced that "elder brother" ('Periannan') would speak. Thereupon Veerappan spoke about various "mo vements" and how "demons" (policemen) should be "slain". Maran then took Gopal and Rajkumar to the place where they took the red salute and lectured to them on the version of Marxism.

Gopal said that after this Veerappan listened to the Tamil news bulletin of All India Radio at 12-40 p.m., and came to him. "He asked us what the indefinite stay meant," Gopal recalled. Gopal had not listened to the news bulletin and was hence puzzled, b ut explained the meaning of the term. Gopal listened to the 2-15 p.m. Tamil bulletin, and knew about the Supreme Court order. It was as if thunderbolt had struck us," he said. Then on September 3 came the news about the public interest petition pleading that five TNLA/TNRF men should not be released. The Supreme Court told the Karnataka government on September 4 to complete the pleadings before pressing for an early hearing. There was more "bad news" on September 5, when the Karnataka High Court stayed the hearings of the Justice Sadashiva Commission of Inquiry, which is investigating allegations against the STF personnel.

Veerappan, his men and the TNLA/TNRF activists held consultations several times. Veerappan said: "Give me five men and the 121 persons in this hand and take back four from the other hand." According to Gopal, they said they were not bothered about the Su preme Court order because the two governments had promised them the release of all these persons. Gopal pointed out to them how it was not possible to go against the Supreme Court orders. But they ignored what he said. Gopal said he thought of alternativ e plans. However, after the Karnataka High Court order, he decided that "there is no use staying in the forests." He returned to Chennai on September 6.

For Gopal, now a picture of dejection, it was so close and yet so far.

A wave of new recruits

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PRAVEEN SWAMI

IT took less than a fortnight for the Jammu and Kashmir Police to arrest key members of the Lashkar-e-Toiba group who set off the August 10 blast in Srinagar which claimed 15 lives, including that of The Hindustan Times photographer Pradeep Bhatia . This may give the families of the victims of the explosion some reason for satisfaction, but the real lessons of the affair are disquieting. Profiles of those arrested illustrate that far Right Islamist groups have begun to attract a wave of fresh recr uits among the young.

Abu Hurrera, the Lashkar commander who engineered the August 10 bombing, continues to be at large. A coherent version of the events, however, has emerged from his arrested associates. Among the most important testimony for investigators has come from Sha fat Reishi, a resident of the Taingpora area of Sumbal, Baramulla. Operating under the codename Zubair, Reishi joined the Lashkar five months ago. He had earlier worked briefly with al-Badr, but was told to leave the organisation because one of his relat ives worked for the police, and because his father Haji Mir Mohammad Reishi, an orchard owner and public works contractor, has had a long-standing Congress(I) affiliation.

Reishi told Frontline that Hurrera had received instructions from his handlers to engineer a big explosion in the wake of the Hizbul Mujahideen's ceasefire declaration. Srinagar's Humhama airport, he said, was considered and then abandoned as a ta rget because there was no prospect of parking a car-bomb for any length of time even at its first set of security check barriers. Residency Road, an upmarket area where police officers were certain to congregate at the site of a blast, was then decided o n. Hurrera's key associates from Baramulla, Kala Khan and his nephew Iqbal Khan, were assigned the task of setting up infrastructure in Srinagar, where the group had never operated before.

Ali Mohammad Bhat, a government employee who moonlighted as a property broker, provided just the resource the Khans were looking for. The group approached Bhat as a prospective property buyers. They left a Rs.5 lakh cash advance in his hands on August 8 and shipped in a cylinder packed with Research Department Explosive (RDX) which they hid in his attic. Although Bhat told Frontline that he had no idea what would follow, and that he only hid the explosive out of fear that he would be killed in th e event he refused to do so, investigators believe that the cash purchased his acquiescence. The next day, the group used Bhat's home to initiate the operation and to meet before dispersing.

The vehicle used in the bombing was a car that belonged to the Jammu and Kashmir Bank. Its driver, Farooq Ahmed Dar, lost his brother to terrorists two years ago. When Reishi and the Khans contacted him in a public park near Safakadal, he decided he had no wish to go the same way. Dar allowed himself to be persuaded that if he reported the car lost before the bombing, no suspicion would fall on him. "I had no desire to involve myself in the whole thing," he says. "Another driver from the bank had asked them for Rs.5 lakh to hand over his vehicle. I didn't take a paisa. All I wanted was my life."

In the event, the explosion went off before Dar could file a first information report. Dar drove Hurrera, Kala Khan and two women, who have not yet been identified, to Residency Road. When the vehicle was pulling up, a television news crew which happened to be in the area recording footage for an unrelated story captured the image. Shortly afterwards, Iqbal Khan and Reishi arrived by bus, and walked up to the end of the lane where the car was parked. There, Iqbal Khan threw the grenade that was to attra ct police officials to the car. Once a crowd had gathered, Hurrera, standing with Kala Khan some distance away, set off the device by remote control.

The first clues came from the Intelligence Bureau, which had initiated surveillance on Kala Khan in the course of a separate operation. Srinagar police officials followed up the tip-off. "Hurrera had ensured the bombing would be difficult to solve," says Deputy-Inspector General of Police K. Rajendra. "All the main figures were from outside Srinagar, and neither Dar nor Bhat would have told us the truth had we not confronted them with the material Reishi and the Khans gave us." Experience suggests a con viction is unlikely, given the poor forensic resources available to the State police, but this time at least one of the accused may turn approver. Abdul Hameed Bhat, known by the nickname Chini (sugar), became a part of the group only after his work as a n Army source was compromised, and may perhaps choose to give evidence for the prosecution.

Investigations have also thrown up evidence of procedural errors behind the tragedy. Minutes before the bomb went off, Superintendent of Police Pankaj Darar notified his immediate superior, Senior Superintendent B. Srinivas, that he had located a suspici ous looking vehicle. However, instead of vacating the area and awaiting the arrival of the bomb squad, police officials present chose to inspect the car themselves.

As the cases of Reishi and Iqbal Khan have once again shown, many young people have begun to be attracted to the furthest fringes of the Islamic Right, enabling organisations like the Lashkar-e-Toiba to operate independently of groups like the Hizbul Muj ahideen. Efforts to accelerate this process are certain to be made. Others, like property broker Bhat and car driver Dar, are drawn into violent activity because they feel they do not have a choice. Tackling these problems will prove considerably more di fficult than arresting those responsible for individual acts of terrorism.

A dangerous game

The process of seeking a direct settlement with terrorist groups has marginalised the prospect of a meaningful debate on autonomy, which could have propelled a real dialogue on the democratic aspirations of Jammu and Kashmir's diverse communitie s.

TWO years ago, Abdul Majid Dar's friends have it, the Hizbul Mujahideen commander received divine directions to a initiate dialogue with the Indian government. The crush of pilgrims in Mecca had led the Saudi Arabian police to suspend movement in the hol y city. Stuck right in front of the Kaaba, the structure at the heart of the Haj pilgrimage, Dar had a vision of the devastation he had inflicted in Jammu and Kashmir. At that moment, Dar's associates claim, he decided to meet interlocutors who might bri ng about negotiations to end the carnage. After putting his plans to his wife, a doctor in the United Arab Emirates, the Hizb's operations chief began to plan the peace process that finally began in July this year. Dar himself is not available for commen t, so there is no way of finding out just how seriously he himself takes this god-did-it narrative. What is clear, however, is that the work of an invisible hand is indeed evident in the events Dar set in play. But there is nothing supernatural here: the hand is that of the United States of America.

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Dar's chosen mediator, Fazl-ul-Haq-Qureishi, has given the first real idea of what the Hizb's vision of a negotiated settlement to the crisis in Jammu and Kashmir might constitute. In a September 1 interview to an Internet news portal, the People's Polit ical Front leader said he had submitted to the Union Government formal plans for a quasi-independent Jammu and Kashmir. "The model," Qureishi said, "envisages a semi-sovereign status for Jammu and Kashmir, and joint control exercised by both India and Pa kistan". It is not clear whether Qureishi was speaking for the Hizb or his own organisation, which appears to be developing independent political ambitions. But the fact that the statement came from Qureishi suggested to most people that it had the suppo rt of at least a section within the Hizb leadership.

Masood Tantrey, the Hizb's valley commander and its official spokesperson, formally disassociated himself from Qureishi's pronouncements three days later. "We have made enough concessions by agreeing to (a) tripartite solution," Tantrey's statement read, "and there is no scope for further compromise. Now all of us should accept only that settlement which is agreed through the tripartite solution." It was lost on none, though, that Qureishi's announcements closely mirrored proposals made by other Kashmir -based figures on the Islamic right. On May 9, just a month before Dar came out with his ceasefire declaration, the then chief of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and Jamaat-e-Islami leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, announced that his organisatio n was "not for the division of the state, and if in the talks the parties reach a consensus to divide the State, we will accept that".

Geelani's proposals, as in the case of those made by Qureishi, have their origins in proposals put out by the Kashmir Study Group (KSG), a United States-based organisation. Farooq Kathwari, who owns the upmarket Ethan Allen, set up the KSG after his son was killed in an accident during training in Afghanistan as a recruit for the Islamic Right's jehad in Jammu and Kashmir. With the backing of prominent Indian establishment figures, the KSG put out proposals in September 1999 for the creation of a new Kashmiri state which would be a "sovereign entity but one without an international pers onality" (Frontline, October 22, 1999). The new state, the KSG report said, "would have its own secular, democratic constitution, as well as its own citizenship, flag and a legislature which would legislate on all matters other than defence and fo reign affairs. India and Pakistan would be responsible for the defence of the Kashmiri entity, which would itself maintain police and gendarme forces for internal law and order purposes".

Almost unnoticed, Kathwari's proposals for a new state created by sundering Jammu and Kashmir along communal lines, gathered momentum. The furniture tycoon met high-level officials in New Delhi and Srinagar this March, including Chief Minister Farooq Abd ullah. In the build-up to the Kargil war, Pakistan's then Foreign Minister Niaz Naik mirrored the suggestions in the KSG Report, calling for a series of tehsil-level referendums to settle the State's future. Reports in the Pakistan press suggest that Nai k and the Indian government's back-channel negotiator during the Kargil war, R.K. Mishra, also held discussions on the plan. Finally, the Jammu and Kashmir government's Regional Autonomy Commission (RAC) called for the sundering of the State along commun al lines. Sources close to the official charged with the implementation of the RAC Report, Riyaz Punjabi, say that he has watered down some of its more explicitly communal proposals, but its final contours remain to be seen.

QUREISHI'S conversion to the Kathwari plan is not the only sign of the U.S. role in the ongoing processes in Jammu and Kashmir. On September 4, just as Tantrey was busy attacking Qureishi's proposals, in Islamabad Hizbul Mujahideen chief Mohammad Yusuf S hah was offering journalists riveting insights into the U.S. role in the dialogue process. Shah, who prefers to use the nom de guerre of Syed Salahuddin, said he had given to a U.S.-based businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, a detailed account of the Hizb's reason s for terminating its ceasefire. Ijaz, Shah suggested, had been acting as a personal representative for U.S. President Bill Clinton. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained nuclear physicist, he is chairman of the New York-based Crescent Equity I nvestment Bank and a member of the influential Council for Foreign Relations.

It is now well known that Ijaz was in India around the time Dar was in Jammu and Kashmir. Ijaz was flown in through Kathmandu on a special Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) aircraft (Frontline, June 9, 2000). The U.S. businessman, who is personally close to Clinton and a major campaign finance donor to the Democratic Party, arrived in Srinagar in the second week of May. Escorted by RAW minders, he was whisked through passport control at Srinagar's Humhama Airport without the mandatory entries bein g made, and driven to a State guest house under escort. Later, he was briefed by 15 Corps Commander Lieutenant-General Kishan Pal and Director-General of Police Gurbachan Jagat, a privilege rarely granted to foreign nationals other than high-level diplom ats. Finally, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah hosted a dinner for the visitor at his residence on Srinagar's Gupkar Road on May 10, attended by a small group of State Cabinet Ministers.

Abdullah himself has gone on record to say that he did indeed meet both Kathwari and Ijaz, but little is known about the specific role of the U.S. in preparing the ground for the ongoing peace process. One important event, however, appears to have been t he visit of U.S. Senator David Bonier to Srinagar in April. In Srinagar, Bonier is believed to have flatly told Geelani and top APHC leaders including its current chairman Abdul Ghani Bhat to drop their opposition to any negotiations not involving Pakist an. Geelani subsequently flew to New Delhi for discussions with Pakistan High Commissioner Ashraf Qazi Jehangir. Similar plain talking was possibly done in New Delhi, for on May 7, Union Home Minister L.K. Advani had for the first time spoke of the prosp ect of talks with terrorist groups, saying he was working "to create a climate in which if any section of the Kashmiri people wishes to discuss issues with the Government of India, discussions can take place".

Key players in the dialogue process are far from unanimous on its future, or even its contours. Deep fissures are evident even within the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Hizb's parent organisation. Following bitter criticism by Geelani of the Jamaat's Amir (chief), Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, the organisation's Majlis-e-Shoura (supreme council) met to consider the former APHC chief's future. Although Geelani refused to withdraw his attack on Bhat for supporting the ceasefire, the Majlis, at the end of a three-day meetin g on August 29, chose neither to censure him nor to remove him from the APHC, where he serves as the Jamaat's representative.

Events in the Majlis-e-Shoura surprised more than a few observers. Only weeks earlier, Bhat, who has been one of the principal advocates of a ceasefire and a negotiated peace, appeared to have secured the organisation's unequivocal support. Bhat defeated Geelani's nominee, Ashraf Sehrai, in elections for the Amir's post held by the Jamaat's general house of representatives, the 90-member Majlis-e-Numaindgan. The outcome of the Majlis-e-Shoura, however, illustrates that Bhat is in no position to risk a s plit in the Jamaat, or to marginalise the hardliners decisively. Instead, something of a compromise between the two factions emerged, with Bhat accepting Sehrai as a deputy, and Geelani, who heads the Jamaat's political wing, taking on Ghulam Qadir Lone, a moderate, as his second-in-command. The feud within the organisation appears to reflect larger schisms within the Hizb itself, for Dar has been unable to gain endorsement for his initiative from several key field commanders.

Developments at the other end of the political spectrum are not dissimilar. Mainline Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) activists were stunned by the support their cadre gave to the controversial former Jan Sangh chief Balraj Madhok during his September 1 visi t to Jammu. Madhok charged Advani with "bringing shame to the nation" by engaging in a dialogue with the Hizbul Mujahideen. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Advani, he said, "should quit and hand over Jammu and Kashmir to the Army". The newly-form ed Jammu and Kashmir Nationalist Front, Madhok announced, would launch a campaign to sunder the state into three. Madhok shared a platform with a spectrum of Right-wing leaders in the State, notably the Ladakh Buddhist Association's Tsering Samphel. Samp hel has been at the cutting edge of a Buddhist-chauvinist agitation in Ladakh this summer, which has on at least one occasion almost provoked violence.

If the Hindu Right is under pressure in Jammu, so too are its Islamic counterparts in Kashmir. The APHC, for one, has found itself under collective assault from revanchist organisations like the Jammu Kashmir Islamic Front, threatening to execute securit y guards assigned to its leaders. The Hizb, for its part, has been forced to threaten to engage in a new wave of hostilities that is pan-Indian in character, a posture obviously designed to ward off pressure from Pakistan-based jehadi organisation s. Hizb commanders have also been seeking to make a communal issue of census operations, which are being undertaken in Jammu and Kashmir after two decades.

As the September 1 bombing which injured former State Minister Maulvi Iftekhar Husain Ansari illustrates, just weeks after the Hizb ceasefire, it is back to business in Jammu and Kashmir. While high-political plans for a resolution of Jammu and Kashmir's bloody war may seem conceptually attractive, their principal impact so far has been to deepen the conflict between religious communities. Through the State, peoples and politicians have begun to position themselves in the event of a partition, however f ar it might yet be in the future. Tragically, meaningful debate on autonomy, which could have propelled a real dialogue on the welter of democratic aspirations of the State's diverse communities, has been marginalised by the process of bringing about a d irect settlement with terrorist groups. Many had advertised the Hizb ceasefire as the beginning of a new time of peace. It may turn out, instead, to be just a false dawn.

Pressures on an academic body

The Shastri Institute in Toronto withdraws financial support to an art exhibition and cancels an academic seminar, raising questions about political interference in academic affairs.

TWO recent developments - the cancellation of an academic seminar and the withdrawal of financial support to an art exhibition - have brought the affairs of the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute under scrutiny. This has happened even as the Institute is in the process of discussing a contract with the Indian government for the next five years and re-examining a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Indian government with a view to defining clearly the institute's scope and mandate.

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The Indian High Commissioner to Canada, Rajnikanta Verma, kicked up the first dust storm with the demand that the institute to withdraw its financial support to the art exhibition, "Dust on the Road: Canadian Artists in Dialogue with SAHMAT" (Safdar Hash mi Memorial Trust), which had just finished its Toronto leg of a five-city cross-Canada tour. Then came the shocker from Verma: he wanted the institute to withdraw the financial support to a joint academic conference planned by the University of Waterloo and the University of Guelph, both located in the province of Ontario.

The Indian diplomatic mission was peeved at the exhibition displaying the works of several Indian artists involved in SAHMAT, the New Delhi-based activist group, which is one of the bodies in the forefront of the fight against communalism, along with sev eral Toronto-based artists. The Shastri Institute bore the brunt of the criticism in this regard because it had provided a grant of $5,000 to the University of Western Ontario for six projects, one of which was the exhibition supported by its McIntosh Ga llery but organised by Hoopoe Curatorial. It was Consul-General in Toronto, Chandra Mohan Bhandari, who touched off the diplomatic wrangling when he quietly appeared at the opening ceremony of the exhibition at the York Quay Gallery at Toronto's landmark Harbourfront Centre, but could not conceal his identity for long. He was seen using a video camera when Ram Rahman, one of the three key persons in SAHMAT, began delivering his opening remarks. When somebody in the audience identified Bhandari, he was a sked to stop shooting as he had not obtained the mandatory permission from the Harbourfront Centre authorities. After Rahman, a photographer who divides his time between New York and New Delhi, finished his address, Bhandari engaged him in a conversation . The Harbourfront Centre confirmed that Bhandari had not sought permission to shoot on the opening day but was granted permission a few days later to videotape the exhibition. The Harbourfront Centre also stood by its decision to host the exhibition say ing that it fell within its mandate.

Bhandari said that he took exception to Rahman's remarks that the freedom of expression was under threat in India. He felt that the exhibition had no artistic value. He said that it was sheer political propaganda against the present government in New Del hi and that several of the exhibits were nothing but posters that were distributed as part of the anti-BJP campaign in the Lucknow Lok Sabha constituency from where Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee contested the last general elections.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Rajnikanta Verma, who said that the exhibition was devoid of any artistic, literary or cultural merit and had no resemblance whatsoever to reality and, therefore, totally lacked credibility. "I can only call it a work of fiction, rooted in jaundiced imagination. But my comments to Shastri (Institute) are confidential and nobody's business."

Hoopoe Curatorial's Jamelie Hassan joined forces with the South Asian Left Democratic Alliance (SALDA) to challenge the diplomats and also to seek explanations from the Shastri Institute for its actions. After consulting groups such as Rights and Democra cy, Hassan wrote to Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy on Bhandari's actions and went to the press. Toronto's two leading newspapers, The Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail, gave wide coverage to both incidents. Hassan noted that SAH MAT had been chosen because its work fitted into the nature of work that Hoopoe Curatorial did in the field of human rights.

But the important questions that arose from the issue related to political interference in the freedom of artistic and cultural expression and whether it is right for an academic body like the Shastri Institute to succumb to pressure from the Indian gove rnment. Hoopoe is yet to get a reply from the Department of Foreign Affairs to its letter regarding Bhandari's actions. Hassan said that he was perplexed by the institute's decision since it was aware that SAHMAT would be featured at the exhibition. She wondered how the High Commissioner, who is on the Shastri Institute's board of directors, had not raised any objection earlier with regard to the matter. Since the institute was just one of its sponsors, the exhibition could do without its support. The e xhibition went on, and the organisers say it got a positive response. The exhibition will stick to its charted course and move to London (Ontario), Montreal and Vancouver before making its way to India along with the works of Canadian artists collected f rom the four venues.

A few days before the exhibition ended in Toronto, Shabnam Hashmi, one of the key members of SAHMAT and the sister of the slain activist Safdar Hashmi, flew to Toronto from New York - where she was part of a group protesting against the invitation to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) for the United Nation's Millennium Summit - to explain SAHMAT's role in India and its continuing struggle against fundamentalist groups, notably the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. Several of t he exhibits are from the exhibition "Ham Sab Ayodhya", organised by SAHMAT in India; some exhibits criticise the nuclear explosions of May 1998 under the BJP-led government and the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.

Just as the diplomats were fighting the artists over the exhibition, the High Commissioner was caught in a new war with academics. Verma's insistence that the conference was beyond the scope and mandate of the Shastri Institute raised many academic eyeb rows. Besides, it seems that the organisers and the academics were stunned by the fact Verma waited until the eve of the conference to raise objections when the decision to hold the meeting was taken in June 1999. Professor James Walker of the Waterloo U niversity, one of the members of the Shastri Institute's board of directors, was taken aback at the executive decision. The co-chairperson of the conference titled "Accommodating Diversity: Learning from the Indian and Canadian Experiences", he hoped tha t the conference would take place at a later date. Insisting that the conference has only been postponed but not cancelled, Walker said that the aim of the conference was to provide comparative analysis.

Out of the four workshops, two - "Human Rights: Gender and Social Issues", and "Good Governance and Human Security" - got under the skin of Verma and forced him to apply pressure on the Shastri Institute. Walker insisted that the conference was not meant to pry into India's secrets. "We are not Amnesty International. We are scholars," he said. The conference was to be the preliminary one, with the final one to be held in New Delhi next year.

Buckling under pressure, the institute withdrew the $27,000 assistance provided for the conference, although the money had come from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and not from the Indian government. It was too late in the day for t he organisers to seek other sponsors to salvage the three-day conference, which was to start on August 8. Besides, the conference had been timed to benefit from the visit of some Indian academics and scholars, including former Comptroller and Auditor-Gen eral of India and BJP member of Parliament T.N. Chaturvedi, to attend an international conference on politics in Montreal.

The Shastri Institute's executive director, Lavina Mohr, said that in the absence of Verma, Deputy High Commissioner Debashish Chakravarty was present at a meeting in Montreal in June 1999 where the plan to hold the conference was discussed. She recalled that Chakravarty had sought further information on the workshop on human rights and that it was not until Verma wrote to the president of the institute, Prof. Hugh Johnston, a noted historian of the Sikh presence in Canada, that any serious objection to these subjects was brought before the board.

Verma rebutted the allegation of pressuring the institute over the art exhibition but declined to comment on the academic dust storm. He told this correspondent that since discussions on the issue were on within the Shastri Institute's board, "I have no further comment." But he told The Toronto Star, "I would not call it pressure. I did not put pressure on Shastri. All activities funded by Shastri must be approved by the Department of Foreign Affairs and by us. In this instance, we disapproved. I f plans were made and tickets were bought ahead of our approval for the conference, that's their bad luck."

The other co-chair, O.P. Dwivedi of the University of Guelph, termed Verma's objection one-sided because there was no examination of the issues involved. In fact, even Walker did not have a look at the abstracts of the papers to be read at the conference as this aspect was handled by his Waterloo university colleague, Prof. Ashok Kapur, who has written a book on India's nuclear programme.

The second dust storm has already hit the academia with potent force. Hari Sharma, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the Simon Fraser Institute in Burnaby near Vancouver, British Columbia, and Gardezi, Professor Emeritus of Algoma University College, Sa ult Ste. Marie (Ontario), who serves as a referee for grant applicants, have severed their ties with the Shastri Institute. Sharma was forthright in his denunciation of his colleague Johnston (the president of the institute) for capitulating under pressu re from the High Commissioner. In his letter, Sharma disclosed that the Indian government had been interfering tremendously in the day-to-day functioning of the institute and that the five-year MoU had not been signed even though more than 18 months had elapsed. The rupee allocation has not been made, and scholars who have won fellowships to visit India may not be able to do so. Calling the conference a noble venture, he said Canada could learn from the centuries-old composite civilisation that India ha d inherited. But the present-day rulers of India are certainly afraid to open up the learning process to what Canada could teach them. They are not interested in honouring and enriching diversity; they are interested in homogenising India under the rubri c of Hindutva.

Sharma wants the MoU trashed if it prevents academic conferences and forces the withdrawal of support to an art exhibition. Joining him in castigating the institute is Prof. Majunath Pendakur of Western University, who said that by withdrawing support to the exhibition and to the workshop on diversity and human rights, the institute's tradition of maintaining an arm's-length relationship with the Indian government was destroyed. "Its intellectual credibility in the eyes of the academic world in both cou ntries is diminished. India's image as a democracy where dissent is tolerated and free speech is protected by governments in power is tarnished."

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Denouncing the interference by the diplomats, the Professor of Media Studies said that diplomacy involved understanding the sensibilities and sensitivities of the cultures in which one worked. Since the issue had also reverberated in India with 42 MPs si gning a petition for the recall of the High Commissioner, Pendakur, who is also on the institute's board, said: "I wish more members had taken up this issue," and reminded the diplomats that the academia would not tolerate India's image in the world bein g reduced to that of a banana republic in the critical area of free speech.

The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) said that if diplomats had any issues to raise, they should bring them to the attention of the Ministry. A spokesman of the department told the media that while the High Commissio ner had the right to his opinion about the exhibition, a diplomat posted in Canada could not get involved in the country's domestic affairs.

This is the first time that the Indian government has directly intervened in the academic matters of the institute. However, according to a scholar and a former senior official of the institute, who wished to remain anonymous, no conference, seminar or w orkshop dealing with the sensitive subjects of human rights and diversity had been held before. He also noted that the Indian government had in the past denied visas to scholars doing research in critical areas such as nuclear science and Kashmir.

In the 32 years of its existence, the bilateral institute, which receives annually about $40,000 from the Indian government and about $1 million from Canadian agencies, has had some hiccups, but these were confined largely to the administrative area. It was a few years ago that Indian officials brought the full weight of their power to bear on the institute to dismiss its former executive director Viswas P. Govitrikar, who allegedly made disparaging remarks against the Indian bureaucracy during an in ca mera meeting. The Govitrikar incident almost had Canadian academics and Indian bureaucrats, high-ranking officials of the Education Department and the Ministry of External Affairs, sit on the Indian Advisory Council, in a tug-of-war situation. Except for a few academics who enjoyed a close relationship with Govitrikar, many did not deem it fit to raise a storm.

Sources say that Prof. Narendra Wagle, the vice-president and resident in charge of the Delhi office of the Shastri Institute, managed to soothe the frayed tempers that threatened to destroy the institution, which was formed to promote understanding betw een India and Canada, mainly by facilitating academic activities. It is also learnt that Wagle, Director of South Asian Studies at Toronto University, was in New Delhi for more than six weeks during the recent summer break to put administrative matters i n order. With the start of the new academic year from September 5, the Shastri Institute issue is bound to resound in the halls of the universities and among students of India-related subjects.

THE India-Canada diplomatic relationship was once a warm friendship but it suffered a mild freeze when Canada put its relationship with India on hold following Pokhran-II. Canada cut aid in the area of technology and economic matters but kept the pipelin e open in educational, cultural and humanitarian fields. To show its disregard for Canada in the high-stakes of global politics, India refused to grant visa to independent Senator and human rights activist Lois Wilson in November 1998 to attend a meeting of the World Federalist Movement in Chennai. She told the media that Verma told her in no uncertain terms that the decision was taken because of Canada's attitude to the nuclear tests and because relations between India and Canada were not on even keel. Although the MPs have demanded Verma's resignation, the High Commissioner has got a clean chit from the Indian government. It is unlikely that Canada would accede to SALDA's demand to reprimand Verma. How the CIDA, the Shastri Institute and the Indian g overnment would come together to solve the crisis will be the next lesson in this chapter of academic and artistic freedom of expression in Canada and foreign interference.

INDIA AND THE BOMB1

the-nation
1 AMARTYA SEN

WEAPONS of mass destruction have a peculiar fascination. They can generate a warm glow of strength and power carefully divorced from the brutality and genocide on which the potency of the weapons depend. The great epics - from Iliad and Ramayana to Kalev ala and Nibelungenlied - provide thrilling accounts of the might of special weapons, which not only are powerful in themselves, but also greatly empower their possessors. As India, along with Pakistan, goes down the route of cultivating nuclear weapons, the imagined radiance of perceived power is hard to miss.

The Moral and the Prudential

Perceptions can deceive. It has to be asked whether powerful weapons in general and nuclear armament in particular can be expected - invariably or even typically - to strengthen and empower their possessor. An important prudential issue is involved here. There is, of course, also the question of ethics, and in particular the rightness or wrongness of a nuclear policy. That important issue can be distinguished from the question of practical benefit or loss of a nation from a particular policy. We have go od grounds to be interested in both the questions - the prudential and the ethical - but also reason enough not to see the two issues as disparate and totally delinked from each other. Our behaviour towards each other cannot be divorced from what we make of the ethics of one another's pursuits, and the reasons of morality have, as a result, prudential importance as well.2 It is in this light that I want to examine the challenges of nuclear policy in the subcontinent in general and in India in particular.

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Whether, or to what extent, powerful weapons empower a nation is not a new question. Indeed, well before the age of nuclear armament began, Rabindranath Tagore had expressed a general doubt about the fortifying effects of military strength, If "in his ea gerness for power", Tagore had argued in 1917, a nation "multiplies his weapons at the cost of his soul, then it is he who is in much greater danger than his enemies."3 Tagore was not as uncompromisingly a pacifist as Mahatma Gandhi was, and h is warning against the dangers of alleged strength through more and bigger weapons related to the need for ethically scrutinising the functions of these weapons and the exact uses to which they are to be put as well as the practical importance of the rea ctions and counteractions of others. The "soul" to which Tagore referred includes, as he explained, the need for humanity and understanding in international relations.

Tagore was not merely making a moral point, but also one of pragmatic importance, taking into account the responses from others that would be generated by one's pursuit of military might. His immediate concern in the quoted statement was with Japan befor e the Second World War. Tagore was a great admirer of Japan and the Japanese, but felt very disturbed by its shift from economic and social development to aggressive militarisation. The heavy sacrifices that were forced on Japan later on, through militar y defeat and nuclear devastation, Tagore did not live to see (he died in 1941), but they would have only added to Tagore's intense sorrow. But the conundrum that he invoked, about the weakening effects of military power, has remained active in the writin gs of contemporary Japanese writers, perhaps most notably Kenzaburo Oe.4

Science, Politics and Nationalism

The leading architect of India's ballistic missile programme and a key figure in the development of nuclear weapons is Dr. Abdul Kalam. He comes from a Muslim family, is a scientist of great distinction, and has a very strong commitment to Indian nationa lism. Abdul Kalam is also a very amiable person (as I had discovered when I had been closeted with him at an honorary degree ceremony in Calcutta in 1990, many years before the blasts). Kalam's philanthropic concerns are strong, and he has a record of he lping in welfare-related causes, such as charitable work for mentally impaired children in India.

Kalam recorded his proud reaction as he watched the Indian nuclear explosions in Pokhran, on the edge of the Thar desert in Rajasthan, in May 1998: "I heard the earth thundering below our feet and rising ahead of us in terror. It was a beautiful sight."< sup>5 It is rather remarkable that the admiration for sheer power should be so strong in the reactions of even so kind-hearted a person, but perhaps the force of nationalism played a role here, along with the general fascination that powerful weapo ns seem to generate. The intensity of Kalam's nationalism may be well concealed by the mildness of his manners, but it was evident enough in his statements after the blasts ("for 2,500 years India has never invaded anybody"), no less than his joy at Indi a's achievement ("a triumph of Indian science and technology").

This was, in fact, the second round of nuclear explosions in the same site, in Pokhran; the first was under Indira Gandhi's prime ministership in 1974. But at that time the whole event was kept under a shroud of secrecy, partly in line with the Governmen t's ambiguity about the correctness of the nuclear weaponisation of India. While China's nuclearisation clearly had a strong influence in the decision of the (Indira) Gandhi government to develop its own nuclear potential (between 1964 and 1974 China had conducted 15 nuclear explosions), the official government position was that the 1974 explosion in Pokhran was strictly for "peaceful purposes", and that India remained committed to doing without nuclear weapons. The first Pokhran tests were, thus, follo wed by numerous affirmations of India's rejection of the nuclear path, rather than any explicit savouring of the destructive power of nuclear energy.

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It was very different in the summer of 1998 following the events that have come to be called Pokhran-II. By then there was strong support from various quarters. This included, of course, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or the BJP, which had included the deve lopment of nuclear weapons in its electoral manifesto, and led the political coalition that came to office after the February elections in 1998. While previous Indian governments had considered following up the 1974 blast by new ones, they had stopped sh ort of doing it, but with the new - more intensely nationalist - government the lid was lifted, and the blasts of Pokhran-II occurred within three months of its coming to power. The BJP, which has built up its base in recent years by capturing and to a g reat extent fanning Hindu nationalism, received in the elections only a minority of Hindu votes, and a fortiori a minority of total votes in the multireligious country. (India has nearly as many Muslims as Pakistan and many more Muslims than in Banglades h, and also of course Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Parsees, and other communities.) But even with a minority of parliamentary seats (182 out of 545), the BJP could head an alliance - a fairly ad hoc alliance - of many different political factions, varying f rom strictly regional parties (such as the AIADMK, the DMK and the MDMK of Tamil Nadu, the Haryana Lok Dal and the Haryana Vikas Party of Haryana, the Biju Janata Dal of Orissa, the Trinamul Congress of West Bengal) to specific community-based parties (i ncluding the Akali Dal, the party of Sikh nationalism), and some breakaway factions of other parties. As the largest group within the coalition, the BJP was the dominant force in the 1998 Indian government (as it is in the present coalition government si nce the new elections that had to be called in late 1999), which gives it much more authority than a minority party could otherwise expect to get in Indian politics.

The BJP's interest in following up the 1974 blast by further tests and by actually developing nuclear weapons received strong support from an active pro-nuclear lobby, which includes many Indian scientists.6 The advocacy by scientists and defe nce experts was quite important in making the idea of a nuclear India at least plausible to many, if not quite fully acceptable yet as a part of a reflective equilibrium of Indian thinking. As Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik put it in their well-researche d and well-argued book, "The most ardent advocates of nuclear weapons have constantly sought to invest these weapons with a religious-like authority and importance - to emphasise the awe and wonder rather than the revulsion and horror - to give them an a ccepted and respectable place in the mass popular culture of our times."7

The Thrill of Power

Kalam's excitement at the power of nuclear explosions was not, of course, unusual as a reaction to the might of weapons. The excitement generated by destructive power, dissociated from any hint of potential genocide, has been a well-observed psychologica l state in the history of the world. Even the normally unruffled J.Robert Oppenheimer, the principal architect of the world's first nuclear explosion, was moved to quote the two-millennia-old Bhagavad Gita (Oppenheimer knew Sanskrit well enough to get his Gita right) as he watched the atmospheric explosion of the first atom bomb in a U.S. desert near the village of Oscuro on July 16, 1945: "the radiance of a thousand suns... burst into the sky."8

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Oppenheimer went on to quote further from the Bhagavad Gita: "I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds." That image of death would show its naked and ruthless face next month in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (what Kenzaburo Oe has called "the most terr ifying monster lurking in the darkness of Hiroshima"9). But in the experimental station in the U.S. desert, code-named "Jornala del Muerto" (translatable as "Death Tract"), there was only sanitised abstractness firmly detached from any actual killing.10

The thousand suns have now come home to the subcontinent to roost. The five Indian nuclear explosions in Pokhran on May 11 and May 13, 1998 were quickly followed by six Pakistani blasts in the Chagai hills. "The whole mountain turned white," was the Paki stan government's charmed response. The subcontinent was by now caught in an overt nuclear confrontation, masquerading as further empowerment of each country.

These developments have received fairly uniform condemnation abroad, but also considerable favour inside India and Pakistan, though we must be careful not to exaggerate the actual extent of domestic support. Pankaj Mishra did have reason enough to conclu de, two weeks after the blasts, that "the nuclear tests have been extremely popular, particularly among the urban middle class."11 But that was too soon to see the long-run effects on Indian public opinion. Furthermore, the enthusiasm of the c elebrators is more easily pictured on the television than the deep doubts of the sceptics. Indeed, the euphoria that the television pictures captured on the Indian streets immediately following the blasts concentrated on the reaction of those who did cel ebrate and chose to come out and rejoice. It was accompanied by doubts and reproach of a great many people who took no part in the festivities, who did not figure in the early television pictures, and whose doubts and opposition found increasingly vocal expression over time. As Amitav Ghosh, the novelist, noted in his extensive review of Indian public reactions to the bomb for The New Yorker, "the tests have divided the country more deeply than ever".12

It is also clear that the main political party that chose to escalate India's nuclear adventure, namely the BJP, did not get any substantial electoral benefit from the Pokhran blasts. In fact quite the contrary, as the analyses of local voting since the 1998 blasts tend to show. By the time India went to the polls again, in September 1999, the BJP had learned the lesson sufficiently to barely mention the nuclear tests in their campaign with the voters. And yet, as N. Ram (the political commentator and t he Editor of Frontline) has cogently argued in his anti-nuclear book Riding the Nuclear Tiger, we "must not make the mistake of assuming that since the Hindu Right has done badly out of Pokhran-II, the issue has been decisively won".13

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Indian attitudes towards nuclear weaponisation are characterised not only by ambiguity and moral doubts, but also by some uncertainty as to what is involved in making gainful use of these weapons. It may be the case, as several opinion polls have indicat ed, that public opinion in India has a much smaller inclination, compared with Pakistani public opinion, to assume that nuclear weapons will ever be actually used in a subcontinental war.14 But since the effectiveness of these weapons depends ultimately on the willingness to use them in some situations, there is an issue of coherence of thought that has to be addressed here. Implicitly or explicitly an eventuality of actual use has to be a part of the possible alternative scenarios that must be contemplated, if some benefit is to be obtained from the possession and deployment of nuclear weapons. To hold the belief that nuclear weapons are useful but must never be used lacks cogency and can indeed be seen to be a result of the odd phenomenon that Arundhati Roy (the author of the wonderful novel The God of Small Things) has called "the end of imagination".15

As Roy has also brought out with much clarity, the nature and results of an actual all-out nuclear war are almost impossible to imagine in a really informed way. Arundhati Roy describes a likely scenario thus:

Our cities and forests, our fields and villages will burn for days. Rivers will turn to poison. The air will become fire. The wind will spread the flames. When everything there is to burn has burned and the fires die, smoke will rise and shut out the sun .16

It is hard to think that the possibility of such an eventuality can be a part of a wise policy of national self-defence.

Established Nuclear Powers and Subcontinental Grumbles

One of the problems in getting things right arises from a perceived sense of inadequacy, prevalent in India, of any alternative policy that would be entirely satisfactory and would thus help to firm up a rejection of nuclear weapons through the transpare nt virtues of a resolutely non-nuclear path (as opposed to the horrors of the nuclear route). This is perhaps where the gap in perceptions is strongest between the discontent and disgust with which the subcontinental nuclear adventures are viewed in the West and the ambiguity that exists on this subject within India (not to mention the support of the nuclear route that comes from the government, the BJP, and India's pro-nuclear lobby). It is difficult to understand what is going on in the subcontinent w ithout placing it solidly in a global context.

Nuclear strategists in South Asia tend to resent deeply the international condemnation of Indian and Pakistani policies and decisions that does not take note of the nuclear situation in the world as a whole. They are surely justified in this resentment, and also right to question the censoriousness of Western critics of subcontinental nuclear adventures without adequately examining the ethics of their own nuclear policies, including the preservation of an established and deeply unequal nuclear hegemony, with very little attempt to achieve global denuclearisation. The Defence Minister of India, George Fernandes, told Amitav Ghosh: "Why should the five nations that have nuclear weapons tell us how to behave and what weapons we should have?" This was matc hed by the remark of Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami (Pakistan's principal religious party), to Ghosh: "... we don't accept that five nations should have nuclear weapons and others shouldn't. We say, 'Let the five also disarm'."17< /sup>

The inquiry into the global context is indeed justified, but what we have to examine is whether the placing of the subcontinental substory within a general frame of a bigger global story really changes the assessment that we can reasonably make of what i s going on in India and Pakistan. In particular, to argue that their nuclear policies are deeply mistaken does not require us to dismiss the widespread resentment in the subcontinent of the smugness of the dominant global order. These complaints, even if entirely justified and extremely momentous, do not establish the sagacity of a nuclear policy that dramatically increases uncertainties within the subcontinent without achieving anything to make each country more secure. Indeed, Bangladesh is now probab ly the safest country in the subcontinent to live in.

Moral Resentment and Prudential Blunder

There are, I think, two distinct issues, which need to be carefully separated. First, the world nuclear order is extremely unbalanced and there are excellent reasons to complain about the military policies of the major powers, particularly the five that have a monopoly over official nuclear status as well as over permanent membership in the Security Council of the United Nations. The second issue concerns the choices that other countries - other than the Big Five - face, and this has to be proper ly scrutinised, rather than being hijacked by resentment of the oligopoly of the power to terrorise. The fact that other countries, including India and Pakistan, have ground enough for grumbling about the nature of the world order, sponsored and supporte d by the established nuclear powers without any serious commitment to denuclearisation, does not give them any reason to pursue a nuclear policy that worsens their own security and adds to the possibility of a dreadful holocaust. Moral resentment cannot justify a prudential blunder.

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I have so far not commented on the economic and social costs of nuclearisation and the general problem of allocation of resources. That issue is, of course, important, even though it is hard to find out exactly what the costs of the nuclear programmes ar e. The expenses on this are carefully hidden in both the countries. Even though it is perhaps easier to estimate the necessary information in India (given a greater need for disclosure in the Indian polity), the estimates are bound to be quite rough.

Recently, C. Rammanohar Reddy, a distinguished journalist at the major daily The Hindu, has estimated that the cost of nuclearisation is something around half a percentage of the gross domestic product per year.18 This might not sound l ike much, but it is large enough if we consider the alternative uses of these resources. For example, it has been estimated that the additional costs of providing elementary education for every child with neighbourhood schools at every location in the co untry would cost roughly the same amount of money.19 The proportion of illiteracy in the Indian adult population is still about 40 per cent, and it is about 55 per cent in Pakistan. Furthermore, there are other costs and losses as well, such a s the deflection of India's scientific talents to military-related research away from more productive lines of research, and also from actual economic production. The prevalence of secretive military activities also restrains open discussions in Parliame nt and tends to subvert traditions of democracy and free speech.

However, ultimately the argument against nuclearisation is not primarily an economic one. It is rather the increased insecurity of human lives that constitutes the biggest penalty of the subcontinental nuclear adventures. That issue needs further scrutin y.

Does Nuclear Deterrence Work?

What of the argument that nuclear deterrence makes war between India and Pakistan less likely? Why would not the allegedly proven ability of nuclear balance, which is supposed to have kept peace in the world, be effective also in the subcontinent? I beli eve that this question can be answered from four different perspectives.

First, even if it were the case that the nuclearisation of India and Pakistan reduces the probability of war between the two, there would be a trade-off here between a lower chance of conventional war against some chance of a nuclear holocaust. No sensib le decision-making can concentrate only on the probability of war without taking note of the size of the penalties of war should it occur. Indeed, any significant probability of the scenario captured by Arundhati Roy's description of "the end of imaginat ion" can hardly fail to outweigh the greater probability, if any, of the comparatively milder penalties of conventional war.

Second, there is nothing to indicate that the likelihood of conventional war is, in fact, reduced by the nuclearisation of India and Pakistan. Indeed, hot on the heels of the nuclear blasts, the two countries did undergo a major military confrontation in the Kargil district in Kashmir. The Kargil conflict, which occurred within a year of the nuclear blasts of India and Pakistan, was in fact the first military conflict between the two in nearly 30 years. Many Indian commentators have argued that the conf rontation, which was provoked by separatist guerillas coming across the Line of Control from Pakistan (in their view, joined by Army regulars), was helped by Pakistan's understanding that India would not be able to use its massive superiority in conventi onal forces to launch a bigger war in retaliation, precisely because it would fear a nuclear holocaust. Whether or not this analysis is right, there is clearly substance in the general reasoning that the enemy's fear of nuclear annihilation can be an arg ument in favour of military adventurism without expectation of a fuller retaliation from the enemy. Be that as it may, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and no matter what the explanation, nuclearisation evidently has not prevented non-nuclear c onflicts between India and Pakistan.

Third, the danger of accidental nuclear war is much greater in the subcontinent than it was in the Cold War itself. This is not only because the checks and controls are much looser, but also because the distances involved are so small between India and P akistan - that there is little time for any conversation when a crisis might occur and a first strike were feared. Also, the much-discussed hold of fundamentalist jehadists within the Pakistan military and the absence of democratic control add to the fear of a sudden flashpoint.

Fourth, there is a need also to assess whether the peace that the world enjoyed with nuclear deterrence during the global Cold War was, in fact, predictable and causally robust. The argument for the balance of terror has been clear enough for a long time , and was most eloquently put by Winston Churchill in his last speech to the House of Commons on March 1, 1955. His ringing words on this ("safety will be the sturdy child of terror, and survival the twin brother of annihilation") has a mesmerising effec t, but Churchill himself did make exceptions to his rule, when he said that the logic of deterrence "does not cover the case of lunatics or dictators in the mood of Hitler when he found himself in his final dug-out".20

Dictators are not unknown in the world (even in the subcontinent), and at least part-lunatics can be found with some frequency in both the countries, judging by what some eloquent commentators seem to be able to write on the nuclear issue itself. But per haps more importantly, we have reason to note that risks have been taken also by people with impeccable credentials on sanity and lucidity. To give just one example (a rather prominent one), in choosing the path of confrontation in what has come to be ca lled the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy evidently took some significant risks of annihilation on behalf of humanity. Indeed, Theodore C. Sorenson, Special Counsel to President Kennedy, put the facts thus (in a generally admiring passage):

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John Kennedy never lost sight of what either war or surrender would do to the whole human race. His U.N. Mission was preparing for a negotiated peace and his Joint Chiefs of Staff were preparing for war, and he intended to keep both on rein.... He could not afford to be hasty or hesitant, reckless or afraid. The odds that the Soviets would go all the way to war, he later said, seemed to him then "somewhere between one out of three and even."21

Well, a chance of annihilation between one-third and one-half is not an easy decision to be taken on behalf of the human race.

I think we have to recognise that the peace of nuclear confrontation in the Cold War partly resulted from luck, and may not have been pre-ordained. To take post hoc to be propter hoc is a luxury that can be quite costly for charting out future policies i n nuclear - or indeed any other - field. We have to take account not only of the fact that circumstances are rather different in the subcontinent compared with what obtained during the nuclear confrontation in the global Cold War, but also the world was actually rather fortunate to escape annihilation even in the Cold War itself. And the dangers of extermination did not come only from lunatics or dictators.

So, to conclude this section, the nuclearisation of the subcontinental confrontations need not reduce the risk of war (either in theory or in practice), and it escalates the penalty of war in a dramatic way. The unjust nature of world military balance do es not change this crucial prudential recognition.

Were the Indian Government's Goals Well Served?

I come now to a question of rather limited interest, but which is asked often enough, addressed particularly to India. Even if it is accepted that the subcontinent is less secure as a result of the tit-for-tat nuclear tests, it could be the case that Ind ia's own self-interest has been well served by the BJP-led government's nuclear policy. India has reason to grumble, it is argued, for not being taken as seriously as one of the largest countries in the world should be. There is unhappiness also in the a ttempt by some countries, certainly the United States in the past, to achieve some kind of a "balance" between India and Pakistan, whereas India is nearly seven times as large as Pakistan and must not be taken to be at par with it. Rather the comparison should be with China, and for this - along with other causes such as getting India a permanent seat in the Security Council - India's nuclear might could be expected to make a contribution. The subcontinent may be less secure as a result of the nuclear d evelopments, but, it is argued, India did get some benefit. How sound is this line of argument?

I have some difficulty in pursuing this exercise. Even though I am a citizen of India, I don't really think I can legitimately inquire only into the advantages that India alone may have received from a certain policy, excluding the interests of others wh ose interests were also affected. However, it is possible to scrutinise the effects of a certain policy in terms of the given goals of the Indian government (including strategic advantages over Pakistan as well as enhancement of India's international sta nding), and ask the rather coldly "scientific" question whether those goals have been well served by India's recent nuclear policy. We do not have to endorse these goals to examine whether they have actually been better promoted.

There are good reasons to doubt that these goals have indeed been better served by the sequence of events at Pokhran and Chagai. First, India had - and has - massive superiority over Pakistan in conventional military strength. That strategic advantage ha s become far less significant as a result of the new nuclear balance. Indeed, since Pakistan has explicitly refused to accept a "no first use" agreement, India's ability to count on conventional superiority is now, to a great extent, less effective (alon g with increasing the level of insecurity in both countries).

In the Kargil confrontation, India could not even make use of its ability to cross into the Pakistani administered Kashmir to attack the intruders from the rear, which military tacticians seem to think would have made much more sense than trying to encou nter the intruders by climbing steeply up a high mountain from the Indian side to battle the occupants at the top. This not only made the Indian response less effective and rapid, it also led to more loss of Indian soldiers (1,300 lives according to the Government of India's estimate and 1,750 according to Pakistan's estimate) and added greatly to the expenses of the war conducted from an unfavoured position ($2.5 billion in direct expenses).22 With the danger of a nuclear outburst, the India n government's decision not to countercross the Line of Control in retaliation was clearly right, but it had no real option in this respect, given the strategic bind which it had itself helped to create.

Second, the fact that India can make nuclear weapons was well established before the present tit-for-tat nuclear tests were conducted. Pokhran-I in 1974 had already established the point, even though the Indian official statements tried to play down the military uses of that blast a quarter of a century ago. After the recent set of tests, India's and Pakistan's position seem to be much more even, at least in international public perception. As it happens, Pakistan was quite modest in its response. I rem ember thinking in the middle of May 1998, following the Indian tests, that surely Pakistan would now blast a larger number of bombs than India's five. I was agreeably impressed by Pakistan's moderation in blasting only six, which is the smallest whole nu mber larger than five. The Government of India may deeply dislike any perception of parity with Pakistan, but did its best, in effect, to alter a situation of acknowledged asymmetry into one of perceived parity.

Third, aside from perceptions, in terms of the scientific requirement for testing, Pakistan clearly had a greater case for testing, never having conducted a nuclear test before 1998. This contrasted with India's experience of Pokhran-I in 1974. Also, wit h a much smaller community of nuclear scientists and a less extensive development of the possibilities of computerised simulation, the scientific need for an actual test may be much greater in Pakistan than in India. While Pakistan was concerned about th e condemnation of the world community by testing on its own, the Indian blasts in May 1998 created a situation in which Pakistan could go in that direction without being blamed for starting any nuclear adventure. Eric Arnett puts the issue thus:

"In contrast to its Indian counterparts, Pakistan's political elite is less abashed about the need for nuclear deterrence. Military fears that the Pakistani nuclear capability was not taken seriously in India combined with a feeling of growing military i nferiority after being abandoned by the USA after the cold war create an imperative to test that was resisted before May 1998 only because of the threat of sanctions. The Indian tests created a situation in which the Pakistani leadership saw an even grea ter need to test and a possible opening to justify the test as a response that was both politically and strategically understandable."23

The thesis, often articulated by India's pro-nuclear lobby, that India was in greater danger of a first strike from Pakistan before the summer of 1998 lacks scientific as well as political credibility.

Fourth, nor was there much success in getting recognition for India as being in the same league as China, or for its grumble that inadequate attention is internationally paid to the dangers India is supposed to face from China. Spokesmen of the Indian go vernment were vocal on these issues. A week before the Pokhran tests in 1998, Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes said in a much-quoted television interview, "China is potential threat number one....The potential threat from China is greater than th at from Pakistan."24 In between the tests on May 11 and May 13, Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee wrote to President Clinton to point to China as being related to the motivation for the tests. This letter, which was published in The New York T imes (after being leaked) on May 13, did not name China, but referred to it in very explicit terms:

We have an overt nuclear weapon state on our borders, a state which committed armed aggression against India in 1962. Although our relations with that country have improved in the last decade or so, an atmosphere of distrust persists mainly due to the un resolved border problem. To add to the distrust that country has materially helped another neighbour of ours to become a covert nuclear weapons state.25

However, as a result of the tit-for-tat nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, China could stand well above India's little grumbles, gently admonishing it for its criticism of China, and placing itself in the position of being a subcontinental peace-maker. When President Clinton visited China in June 1998, China and the United States released a joint statement declaring that the two countries would cooperate in non-proliferation efforts in the subcontinent.

Mark Frazier's assessment of the gap between Government of India's attempts and its achievement in this field captures the essence of this policy failure.

Had it been India's intention to alert the world to its security concerns about China as a dangerous rising power, the tests managed to do just the opposite - they gave the Chinese officials the opportunity to present China as a cooperative member of the international community seeking to curb nuclear weapons proliferation. Far from looking like a revisionist state, China played the role of a status quo power, and a rather assertive one at that.26

Fifth, nor did the blasts advance the cause of India's putative elevation to a permanent membership of the Security Council. If a country could blast its way into the Security Council, this would give an incentive to other countries to do the same. Furth ermore, the new parity established between India and Pakistan after Pokhran-II and Chagai Hills also militates against the plausibility of that route to permanency in the Security Council, and this too could have been well predicted. I personally don't s ee why it is so important for India to be permanently on the Security Council (it may be in the interest of others for this to happen, given India's size and growing economic strength, but that is a different issue altogether). However, for the Governmen t of India which clearly attaches importance to this possibility, it would surely have been wiser to emphasise its restraint in not developing nuclear weapons despite its proven ability to do so since 1974, and also use the pre-1998 asymmetry with Pakist an, in contrast with the symmetry that developed - following the Indian Government's own initiative - after Pokhran-II and Chagai.

One of the interesting sidelights that emerge from a scrutiny of Indian official perceptions is the extent to which the government underestimates India's importance as a major country, a democratic polity, a rich multireligious civilisation, with a well- established tradition in science and technology (including the cutting edge of information technology), and with a fast-growing economy that could grow, with a little effort, even faster. The overestimation of the persuasive power of the bomb goes with a n underestimation of the political, cultural, scientific and economic strengths of the country. There may be pleasure in the official circles at the success of President Clinton's visit to India and the asymmetrically favoured treatment it got in that vi sit vis-a-vis Pakistan, but the tendency to attribute that asymmetry to Indian nuclear adventure, rather than to India's large size, democratic politics, and its growing economy and technology is difficult to understand.

On Separating the Issues

To conclude, it is extremely important to distinguish the two distinct problems, both of which have a bearing on subcontinental nuclear policies. First, the world order on weapons needs a change and in particular requires an effective and rapid disarmame nt, particularly in the nuclear arsenal. Second, the nuclear adventures of India and Pakistan cannot be justified on the ground of the unjustness of the world order, since the people whose lives are made insecure as a result of these adventures are prima rily the residents of the subcontinent themselves. Resenting the obtuseness of others is not a good ground for shooting oneself in the foot.

This does not, of course, imply that India or Pakistan has reason to feel happy about the international balance of power that the world establishment seems keen on maintaining, with or without further developments, such as an attempted "nuclear shield" f or the United States. Indeed, it must also be said that there is an inadequate appreciation in the West of the extent to which the role of the Big Five arouses suspicion and resentment in the Third World, including the subcontinent. This applies not only to the monopoly over nuclear armament, but also, on the other side, to the "pushing" of conventional, non-nuclear armaments in the world market for weapons.

For example, as the Human Development Report 1994, prepared under the leadership of that visionary Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq, pointed out, not only were the top five arms-exporting countries in the world precisely the five permanent member s of the Security Council of the United Nations, but also they were, together, responsible for 86 per cent of all the conventional weapons exported during 1988-92.27 Not surprisingly, the Security Council has not been able to take any serious initiative that would really restrain the merchants of death. It is not hard to understand the scepticism in India and Pakistan - and elsewhere - about the responsibility and leadership of the established nuclear powers.

As far as India is concerned, the two policies - of nuclear abstinence and demanding a change of world order - can be pursued simultaneously. Nuclear restraint strengthens rather than weakens India's voice. To demand that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treat y be redefined to include a dated programme of denuclearisation may well be among the discussable alternatives. But making nuclear bombs, not to mention deploying them, and spending scarce resource on missiles and what is euphemistically called "delivery ", can hardly be seen as sensible policy. The claim that subcontinental nuclearisation would somehow help to bring about world nuclear disarmament is a wild dream that can only precede a nightmare. The moral folly in these policies is substantial, but wh at is also clear and decisive is the prudential mistake that has been committed. The moral and the prudential are, in fact, rather close in a world of interrelated interactions, for reasons that Rabindranath Tagore had discussed nearly a hundred years ag o.

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Finally, on a more specific point, no country has as much stake as India in having a prosperous and civilian democracy in Pakistan. Even though the Nawaz Sharif government was clearly corrupt in specific ways, India had no particular advantage in undermi ning civilian rule in Pakistan, to be replaced by activist military leaders. Also, the encouragement of across-border terrorism, which India accuses Pakistan of, is likely to be dampened rather than encouraged by Pakistan's economic prosperity and civili an politics. It is particularly important in this context to point to the dangerousness of the argument, often heard in India, that the burden of public expenditure would be more unbearable for Pakistan, given its smaller size and relatively stagnant eco nomy, than it is for India. This may well be the case, but the penalty that can visit India from an impoverished and desperate Pakistan in the present situation of increased insecurity is hard to contemplate. Enhancement of Pakistan's stability and well- being has prudential importance for India, in addition to its obvious ethical significance. That central connection - between the moral and the prudential - is important to seize.

Amartya Sen, 2000

Amartya Sen is Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and Lamont University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University.

2 I have tried to explore the connections between the two sets of questions in the analysis of economic problems in "Rational Fools: A Critique of the Behavioral Foundations of Economic Theory", Philosophy and Public Affairs, 6 (1977), and On E thics and Economics (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987).

3 Rabindranath Tagore, Nationalism (London: Macmillan, 1917; new edition with an introduction by E.P. Thompson, 1991).

4 Kenzaburo Oe, Japan, the Ambiguous, and Myself (Tokyo and New York: Kodansha International, 1995).

5 The Times of India, June 28, 1998.

6 On this see George Perkovich, India's Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation (Berkeley, Ca.: University of California Press, 1999). See also T. Jayaraman, "Science, Politics and the Indian Bomb: Some Preliminary Considerations", mimeog raphed, The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, C.I.T. Campus, Chennai, 2000.

7 Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik, New Nukes: India, Pakistan and Global Nuclear Disarmament (Oxford: Signal Books, 2000, p. 1).

8 For a graphic account of this episode and the chain of events related to it, see Robert Jungk, Brighter Than a Thousand Suns: A Personal History of Atomic Scientists (New York: Penguin Books, 1960).

9 Kenzaburo Oe, Hiroshima Notes, translated by David L. Swain and Toshi Yonezawa (New York: Grove Press, 1996, p. 182).

10 As the consequences of nuclearisation became clearer to Oppenheimer, he went on to campaign against nuclear arms, and in particular opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb.

11 Pankaj Mishra, "A New, Nuclear India?" in India: A Mosaic, eds. Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein (2000), p. 230. The essay is dated May 28, 1998.

12 Amitav Ghosh, "Countdown: Why Can't Every Country Have the Bomb?" The New Yorker, October 26 & November 2, 1998, p. 190. See also his later book, Countdown (Delhi: Ravi Dayal, 1999), which further develops some of his arguments.

13 N. Ram, Riding the Nuclear Tiger (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 1999), p. 106. See also his "Preface" to India: A Mosaic, eds. Silvers and Epstein (New York: New York Review of Books, 2000).

14 See Amitav Ghosh, Countdown (1999).

15 Arundhati Roy, The End of Imagination. See also her "Introduction" to India: A Mosaic, eds. Silvers and Epstein (2000).

16 Arundhati Roy, "Introduction: The End of Imagination", in Bidwai and Vanaik, New Nukes (2000), p. xx.

17 Ghosh, "Countdown", The New Yorker, pp. 190 and 197.

18 C. Rammanohar Reddy, "Estimating the Cost of Nuclear Weaponisation in India", mimeographed, The Hindu, Chennai, 1999.

19 The so-called PROBE report cites two distinct estimates made by two government committees, which came to roughly the same figure; see Public Report on Basic Education (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999).

20 Robert Rhodes James, Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches 1897-1963 (New York: R.R. Bowker, 1974), pp. 8629-8630.

21 Theodore C. Sorenson, Kennedy (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1965), p. 705. "The Kennedy Tapes" too bring out how close the world came to a nuclear annihilation.

22 Bidwai and Vanaik, New Nukes, pp. xiii, xv.

23 Eric Arnett, "Nuclear Tests by India and Pakistan", SIPRI Yearbook 1999 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 377).

24 Even though it is not clear whether Fernandes knew about the dates of the impending tests, he would certainly have seen - and in part been in charge of - the connection between Indian defence postures and its international pronouncements.

25 "Nuclear Anxiety: India's Letter to Clinton on the Nuclear Testing", The New York Times, May 13, 1998, p. 4.

26 Mark W. Frazier, "China-India Relations since Pokhran II: Assessing Sources of Conflict and Cooperation", Access Asia Review, 3 (July 2000), National Bureau of Asian Research, p. 10.

27 UNDP, Human Development Report 1994 (New York: United Nations, 1994), pages 54-5, and Table 3.6.

Whither economic reforms?

India's Economic Performance and Reforms: A Perspective for the New Millennium by Subramanian Swamy; Konark Publishers, 2000; pages xi + 339, Rs. 400.

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BY now there are quite a few books on India's economic reforms, and presumably there are several more in the pipeline. Usually these tend to be collections of papers written by different authors. Typically the papers outline the reforms undertaken in spe cific sectors since 1991 and the unfinished agenda. However, because they are written by different authors, a holistic view is missing, no matter how good a job the editor does through an introductory chapter. Hence a single-author volume like the presen t one has advantages. The proposition in Subramanian Swamy's book is the following: If the reforms continue and India focusses on exports (of processed agricultural products, textiles, services, information technology, and so on), a 10 per cent growth in GDP (gross domestic product) is possible.

The book has four chapters - dealing with the initial conditions (1950), the phases of growth and the results (1950-90), the economic reforms since 1991 and future projections. There is also a mathematical appendix. Since I happen to consider this a good book and agree with the argument, let me first mention the four minor criticisms I have. First, the preface should have been worded more carefully. Some assertions (about East Asia and World Trade Organisation-compliant agricultural subsidies), although not strictly incorrect, are too sweeping and may divert attention from the academic merit of the rest of the book. Secondly, the Indian Penal Code dates to 1860, not 1870 (page 5). Thirdly, there is no need for the appendix table on human development in dices taken from the Human Development Report (HDR). It gives figures from HDR 1999 although the Report for 2000 has now been published. It does not belong, is pasted on and looks like an after-thought. Fourthly, the mathematical appendix has technical p roblems.

Having got these criticisms out of the way, let me turn to the good points. The two strongest chapters are those dealing with the initial conditions and the future potential. The former actually begins with the British period and there is a useful India- China comparison, especially with Subramanian Swamy's expertise. The differential in agricultural performance and hence overall growth is explained by the colonial government's land revenue policy. (As a minor point, in 1950 the literacy rate in India wa s 20 per cent, not the illiteracy rate as mentioned on page 30.) Thus, in 1952, China was better poised for industrialisation. And India moved to capital goods-based heavy industrialisation. "The grafting of this model on Indian planning was done by a ph ysicist turned statistician who had little or no formal education in economics: Professor P.C. Mahalanobis, founder of the Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta. Mahalanobis, a confirmed Left intellectual, had lifted a Soviet growth model of the 1920s a uthored by Fel'dman, and introduced it into Indian planning without acknowledging the original authorship. For years, Fel'dman's model was passed off in India as "Mahalanobis' Growth Model", till MIT economist Evsey Domar discovered the truth, and laid i t bare."

The second chapter is on growth performance during the period of import substitution (1950-90) and the critique is by now fairly well established in the literature. Swamy highlights five elements that contributed to lost growth opportunities - distortion s caused by planning, lack of agricultural modernisation, high cost industry, inefficient resource allocation and lack of fiscal reform. It is impossible to disagree with this, although the critique can also be articulated in a slightly different way. Ho wever, one again wishes the wording had been more careful. "By all objective accounts, during the last 53 years the percentage of people living under the poverty line had not gone down despite nine large Five Year Plans. Unemployment had actually increas ed." The thrust of the argument is true. But as stated, the proposition quoted is incorrect. The percentage of the population below the poverty line has indeed declined. What is presumably meant is the absolute number.

This takes us to the third chapter on the economic reforms since 1991. "As a result of this economic schizophrenia, economic reforms which ran out of steam by 1996, have now become half-hearted. Reforms have yet to touch the really essential areas of Sta tes and city corporations. Deregulation measures have to date been confined to the Central government, and even here it has been piecemeal. Privatisation, financial institutional reform, and synchronisation with WTO, require changes, which however have b een put on hold. The setback to investment has been serious, causing a drop of three per cent points in the rate of investment to GDP since 1996." Agreed. The argument will be stronger if one singles out public sector investments. Incidentally, the numbe r of items under QRs (quantitative restrictions) is now 715 at the eight-digit level, not 1,429 (page 142).

Since the fourth chapter is about India becoming a global economic power in the new millennium, it is in many respects the most interesting chapter. For this to happen, India needs to have the following as objectives - an appropriate low interest rate, a competitive and predictable real exchange rate, a low and stable inflation rate, a low fiscal deficit and a viable current account deficit as a share of GDP. A 10 per cent growth rate can ensure these targets, and for such a growth rate to materialise o ne needs an investment rate of 30 per cent and an incremental capital/output ratio (ICOR) of 3. The break-up of the 30 per cent investment rate is: 22 per cent from household savings, 5 per cent from the private corporate sector and 3 per cent from forei gn savings. Although public savings do not have a share in this, this is in fact an improvement on the present dissaving. How are household savings stimulated? By abolishing all direct taxes. Buoyancy in indirect taxes will compensate for revenue losses. How will private corporate sector savings be stimulated? Through fiscal incentives. For foreign savings, one obviously needs a more open policy towards foreign investments. And public dissaving can be brought down to zero through privatisation and disin vestment. One might disagree with the nitty gritty. But an ICOR of 3 and an investment rate of 30 per cent are reasonable enough.

The chapter then moves on to the question of what needs to be done to reform agriculture. There is nothing objectionable there except the statement, "Subsidies for agricultural products like foodgrains, inputs like fertilizers and pesticides should be co ntinued." It is true that there is no WTO-driven compulsion to phase out input subsidies because India is below the threshold limit. However, there are internal arguments for reform and the Swamy blueprint also envisages market-determined output prices, with the public distribution system (PDS) replaced by a system of food stamps. There are also sections on textiles and garments (no position is taken here on the dereservation of the small-scale sector), information technology ("The new Ministry of Infor mation Technology is wholly unnecessary and antithetical to the concept of downsizing government"), services, education, infrastructure and good governance. Except for the head of good governance, familiar territory is covered under the other heads. For good governance, Subramanian Swamy says, "there should exist (1) a political leadership sufficiently educated and experienced to absorb concepts and formulations of the academia; (2) a democratic environment, based on issues; and (3) the scholars should enjoy academic freedom to fearlessly contribute ideas to the leadership." It is true that good governance is a difficult term to define, but Subramanian Swamy's prescription does not say much.

Where does that leave us? "In the year 2000, there is a substantial gap between China and India, but if India were to concentrate on producing a significantly accelerated growth in agriculture, information technology, and exports during the next two deca des, the gap in qualitative terms can be quickly bridged. Clearly, India will have to make strenuous efforts fiscally, to raise the rate of investment to reach or cross 30 per cent, as a minimum condition for commencing on closing the China-India gap. Th e task of course is within reach and it is a target for which the people would be willing to make a sacrifice. 'Catching up with China' is a worthwhile slogan for India's new millennium, along with a national commitment to grow at 10 per cent per year. B oth goals are feasible and attainable, and within India's grasp and at striking distance. The only question is whether the polity is up to it."

I am not sure whether "Catching up with China" is indeed a worthwhile slogan. In terms of purchasing power parity, India is the fourth largest economy in the world now, after the United States, China and Japan, in that order. India recently overtook Germ any. By 2010 or thereabouts, India should be in a position to overtake Japan. I am extremely sceptical about the possibility of India overtaking China in the next 20 years. However, the India-China trade-off or comparison is hackneyed and unnecessary. In the next 30 years, there is room for both countries to explore and contribute to world economic growth. Rather remarkably, an increasing number of commentators believe that in the next 20 years India's real GDP can potentially grow at 10 per cent if ref orms are carried out and can grow at a trend rate of 8 per cent even if the reform process is hesitant. The percentage of the population below the poverty line is likely to come down to less than 15 per cent, the adult literacy rate is likely to go up to 85 per cent and the infant mortality rate is likely to come down to 35 per thousand. Of course, there will be inter-regional and inter-State variations and this will lead to heightened socio-economic tensions. The inter-State aspect is missing in the bo ok.

In recent months, Subramanian Swamy has been quite prolific. This book meshes neatly with India's Labour Standards and the WTO Framework (also Konark). Both are worth reading.

Ceasefire as smokescreen

AIJAZ AHMAD the-nation

The Central government has no policy on Kashmir because the Bharatiya Janata Party is unable to bridge the gap between the international pressures and the achievable terms of peace in Kashmir on the one hand and the maximalist position of the Ra shtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on the other.

THE declaration of a "unilateral" ceasefire for three months by the Hizbul Mujahideen on July 24 was surely dramatic, perhaps more dramatic than its equally unilateral withdrawal of the offer on August 8. A certain watershed had been reached, and it is u nlikely that the withdrawal of the offer could take the respective belligerents back to where they were before the drama was staged.

17190851jpg jehadi

In the short run, of course, the Hizb's various moves had the effect of shifting everyone's attention away from the autonomy resolution that the Jammu and Kashmir State Assembly had passed only recently. That was perhaps the great favour that the Hizb di d to the A.B. Vajpayee government, which had felt quite cornered by that resolution. This was, in one sense, quite in the fitness of things. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah knew of the various tracks through which talks on Kashmir were going on: with the Hizb itself, with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), the Americans, the Pakistan government. He knew that some sort of breakthrough was in the offing - whether with the Hurriyat or with the Hizb, one could not quite tell. He pushed the resolutio n through the Assembly in order to steal the limelight before the breakthrough came about. With its announcement of the ceasefire, the Hizb took back the limelight.

Everyone seems to have been trying to upstage everyone else. Just as Farooq had been worried by the ongoing talks between the government and the APHC and had therefore tried desperately to reassert his own status as the central figure in Jammu and Kashmi r, it seems fairly clear that the Hizb was equally keen to upstage Farooq and the Hurriyat alike. Leaders of the APHC were to characterise the Hizb's decision as having been "too hasty," and they were of course right. Neither the Hizb nor the Vajpayee go vernment, which had been talking to each other for quite a while, had actually worked out any significant details as to how the ceasefire was to be implemented.

The government seems to have had two concerns: to play off the various parties against one another and thus undermine them all, and to demonstrate "progress" before Prime Minister Vajpayee's trip to the United States. The breakdown itself, so long as it came on the Hizb's initiative, was perfectly acceptable. It could be used to exacerbate tensions within the outfit while the Americans could be told that India had done its part but the other side was insincere. For the Hizb too, "haste" was of the essen ce - to pre-empt the others and to assert its primacy within the jehad.

TO the question of Farooq Abdullah we shall return at some length shortly. Suffice it to say here that Farooq's commitment to real autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir within India, in accordance with Article 370, suits neither the Hizb nor the Vajpayee govern ment. It does not suit the Hizb for the obvious reason that the autonomy resolution commits Jammu and Kashmir irrevocably to India, which is unacceptable to Pakistan government as well as the Hizb. However, the autonomy resolution is not acceptable to th e Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) either, thanks precisely to that same Article 370 which bestows upon Jammu and Kashmir a very special status, to which the whole Sangh Parivar is fundamentally opposed. The Vajpayee government would rather discuss "azadi " with the Islamicists than discuss Article 370 and restoration of autonomy with the anti-Islamicists.

Meanwhile, the Hizb had a profound interest in upstaging the Hurriyat and scuttling the latter's talks with the government of India. The Hizb is an arm of the Jama'at-e-Islami, a powerful political party based in Pakistan which has used the Hizb to estab lish a major presence for itself within the Kashmir valley, where it had very little influence before 1990. The Jama'at-e-Islami fully intends to take power in Pakistan and had in the past tried its very best to impose its ally, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, as t he unchallenged ruler in Afghanistan. It is one of the central forces in exporting the jehad to Jammu and Kashmir as well. As such, the single aim of the Hizb since its inception in 1990 has been to establish its own dominance over the fighting fo rces in Jammu and Kashmir.

It once fought a fierce and bloody battle against the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), because the latter was secular, was opposed to the idea of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan, and did not serve the interests either of the Jama 'at-e-Islami or, more generally, of the Islamicist jehad. Since the decisive defeat of the JKLF in the early 1990s (by 1996, at the latest, it had been wiped out quite decisively), the Hizb has been mainly concerned with establishing its dominance over the Islamicist groups themselves, of whatever stripe. For that reason, it has sought to dominate the APHC as well as to undermine it. The Hizb's advantage in the enterprise has been that it indeed is the most formidable fighting force whereas the A PHC is basically a debating society, a public relations outfit, and at best a loose forum through which others can talk to the fraternity of Islamicist groups. The "haste", in any case, was designed to outflank the larger coalition.

In context, then, there was something rather surreal in the way the Hizb appeared in the government's pronouncements as well as in the rhetoric of the dominant media as a darling of both, consistently for some two weeks though not after August 8. We were told that this was positively the first time that a major militant organisation in Jammu and Kashmir had offered a ceasefire, and an unconditional one at that. That was not exactly true. The JKLF had offered a ceasefire in 1994 on almost exactly the sam e terms. The government of the day had not taken the offer seriously because it knew that the JKLF was already cornered and because the government sought not to make peace with the organisation but to split it. The perception was correct and the split wa s successfully executed. However, it was with the elimination of the JKLF that the insurgency came to be dominated exclusively by the Islamicist and jehadi groups wholly loyal to Pakistan.

We were also told that the government was willing to negotiate all kinds of concessions with the Hizb because, among all the Islamicist groups, it was the most indigenously rooted. Indeed, Home Minister L.K. Advani went so far as to refer to the Hizb fon dly as "domestic dissidents," unlike the other groups which were simply "foreigners". That was in some restricted sense true but highly, even dangerously, misleading. Information about the Hizb that is publicly available suggests that the majority of its cadres come from the Indian side of Kashmir. However, the Hizb was in the very moment of its inception specifically a creation of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) at the time when men like Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul were deeply committed to taking t he Afghan jehad into Kashmir.

The Jama'at-e-Islami of Pakistan had cooperated with the ISI in creating the Hizb because it wanted to expand its bases on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC) and had also wanted to outflank other Islamicist outfits loyal to political forces wit hin Pakistan, such as the Jami'atul Ulema-e-Islam and the Tableeghi Jama'at, which were competing with the Jama'at-e-Islami for supremacy inside Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan and Jammu and Kashmir. Thanks to its connection with the Jama'at-e-Islami, the Hizb also benefited from alignment with Hekmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami. All these forces built up the Hizb with a two-pronged agenda against the JKLF: 1. to break a relatively secular force in order to establish the dominance of the Islamicists, and 2. t o eliminate the one major force which stood for the independence of Kashmir so that the whole of the insurgency could be dominated by the elements that seek the amalgamation of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan.

It was on the instruction of those forces that the Hizb fought an implacable battle against the JKLF and played perhaps a more decisive role in its elimination than did the Indian security forces. Two things can be said with some reasonable degree of con fidence about that episode. One should not forget that unlike the Hizb, the JKLF was mainly a secular organisation, and that it was at least as much indigenously rooted as the Hizb. In and around Srinagar, and in impressive sections of the secular Kashmi ri intelligentsia, it seemed to have had a degree of presence and popularity that the Hizb has probably not had, even though the Hizb does control impressive fire-power thanks to its sponsors.

IN the immediate aftermath of the Hizb's unilateral offer in July this year, we heard a lot about how it was truly indigenous, how it had defied the Pakistan government in making the offer, and how it controlled some 60 per cent of the armed insurgency a nd was as such the real party to talk to. Given the Hizb's often brutal and successful operations against the other jehadi groups, and given that the Hizb is allied with the Jama'at-e-Islami which is now, thanks to the Hizb's own performance in th e fighting, a major political party in Jammu and Kashmir, it is possible that the estimate of 60 per cent is correct. Meanwhile, there had also been a split in the major Deobandi organisation, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, paving the way for the Jama'at-e-Is lami and the Hizb to pick up more support among the Islamicist circles. It was indeed this sense of strength that made it easier for the Jama'at-e-Islami and its front to respond to the American pressure and open negotiations about a year ago, and then t o speed them up after the visit of President Bill Clinton, knowing that it would dominate the negotiating process.

The problem, however, was that by the government's own assertion there was another motley crowd of armed groups which controlled 40 per cent of the jehad and were not a party to the ceasefire. How was that still formidable section to be mollified and restrained in the observance of a ceasefire to which it was not a party? What became quite clear soon after the announcement of the ceasefire offer was that neither side had a firm idea of how an effective cesaefire was to be implemented in this flui d situation. Nor had the two parties agreed on a formula before the "unilateral" announcement was made. Indeed, the two positions that emerged over the next week or so were so far apart that one found it difficult to believe that either side - particular ly the Indian side - had been serious in the first place. For, the Hizb simply reiterated the position that every significant group involved in the Kashmir insurgency has held: tripartite talks that would fully include Pakistan, and a framework of talks outside the Indian Constitution. The Indian government, on its part, seemed preoccupied with one objective alone: getting as many of the Hizb commanders to come overground as possible.

At one level, the Hizb's ceasefire offer was being used as the JKLF's offer had been used some six years earlier: to force as much of a split, and as many splits, as possible.

The other calculation, also reasonably sound, was that the Indian security forces need do nothing to undermine the ceasefire; other Islamicist groups would accomplish that effectively enough. There were some problems too, however. First, the timing seems to have been dictated not by the level of preparation for a durable ceasefire but by the prospect of two short-term tactical gains: circumventing Farooq Abdullah's move on the question of autonomy, and the need to report to the Americans. Second, the ve ry media blitz that the government itself organised, and the confusions in which the blitz collapsed, raised the hopes too much and then dashed those hopes too fast.

When the Hizb announced its offer, it was built up as a truly indigenous force - sons of the soil, as it were - defying the Pakistan government. When, two weeks later, it withdrew the offer, it was portrayed as having succumbed to Pakistani pressure. Nei ther the government nor the media was quite able to tell how it was that the Hizb fell so very quickly under that same pressure which it was supposed to have defied so dramatically only a few days ago.

THE Hizb is an arm of a Pakistani political party that was intimately aligned with Nawaz Sharif and now maintains a complicated relationship both with Gen. Pervez Musharraf and with the U.S. administration. Its local commanders in the Valley may have con siderable leeway but, in the end, the Hizb is not its own master. It may draw most of its cadres from the Valley but it uses Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK), and Pakistan itself, for sanctuaries, supplies, recruitment, training and territorial depth. It is possible that some individual commanders have been softened up by the Indian side but it is inconceivable that the Hizb would break with Pakistan simply because some Indian officials have talked sweetly to them.

The same applies to the offer the Hizb made. In sum, it made a conditional offer: a ceasefire for three months that could be extended indefinitely, if the Indian government was willing to hold unconditional talks with the Hizb itself, with Hurriya t and with Pakistan. Nor had this offer been "unilateral". Some discussion with the various players, including the Pakistani Jama'at-e-Islami, has been going on for a while. Then, the Hurriyat leaders had been released to synchronise the event with the C linton visit. The Indian government had by then opened separate dialogues with the APHC leaders and with the Hizb's organising chief Abdul Majid Dar. In other words, this particular phase of behind-the-doors negotiation began with Clinton's visit and was meant to produce some results before Vajpayee's return visit to Washington. The fundamental flaw with this whole process is that none of the parties involved - least of all the Indian government - has clear policy positions and objectives. All are respo nding primarily to external pressures and therefore floundering from one ad hoc move to the next.

If India is under pressure to show progress, Pakistan is more so. Musharraf has made his own offers for a six-month ceasefire along the LoC, reduction of forces on the India-Pakistan border as well as reduction in the military budget, to reduce tensions. Similarly, he is known to have approached some of the foreign governments to take back their nationals currently based in Pakistan as 'guest mujahideen'. Some weeks before the Hizb made its offer, major Indian newspapers had reported that the Pakistan A mbassador in India, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, had advised the APHC leaders not to insist on Pakistan's direct involvement in the impending talks. The Hizb's so-called "unilateral" offer was part of this larger initiative.

Some of it can be gathered from the statements of Qazi Ahmed Hussain, the Amir of the Jama'at-e-Islami in Pakistan. As the custodian of the jehad in Kashmir, he cannot afford to be seen as a dove even though he too has been involved in behind-the- scenes diplomacy leading up to the ceasefire. He has been issuing all kinds of statements, some highly belligerent and others equally conciliatory, but what he keeps repeating is that the decision was "hasty" and that the pace was forced by the Pakistan government. If the Indian government is blaming Pakistan for sabotaging the ceasefire, the Jama'at-e-Islami is blaming the Pakistan government for the making of the offer in the first place.

Pakistan does not have to prove that it should be brought into the talks; the whole world is demanding that India and Pakistan resolve the Kashmir issue through bilateral talks. And because it knows that no final settlement in Kashmir is possible without its involvement and agreement, Pakistan can be quite flexible as to when and how it enters the negotiations. Indeed, just as it has conducted a 'proxy war', some degree of 'proxy negotiations' may be to its advantage. It may watch and see what India off ers without committing itself to anything.

The Hizb and the APHC want Pakistan directly involved in the negotiations as soon as possible, for their own reasons, because they want Pakistan to take responsibility for the outcome. Sponsors have a way of dropping their clients or simply leaving them in the lurch. Here, the clients are the ones keen to involve the sponsor. Meanwhile, if India is serious about a negotiated settlement of the insurgency in Kashmir, it too needs to bring Pakistan into the negotiations because any agreement with this or t hat jehadi group shall remain largely meaningless unless Pakistan is a party to it. That is why every major party outside the BJP-led alliance, from the Congress(I) to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has urged that India open a dialogue wi th Pakistan as well.

That the Hizb would pre-empt the APHC's own dialogue with the government by acting unilaterally, but that it would then insist on the Hizb's participation, also makes sense in its own terms. Most other groups cannot even function much without help from t he Hizb, and the Hizb is keen to prove that it is very much the first among equals. This insistence in any case coincides with the objectives of the Jama'at-e-Islami, its parent organisation in Pakistan. However, the Hizb also knows that no real ceasefir e is possible unless other components of the APHC (as well as the jehadi groups outside it, such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba) also observe the rules of the game.

THE two weeks when the ceasefire was formally in place showed the impossibility of keeping the peace in Jammu and Kashmir under these circumstances. The synchronised massacres of August 1, which came exactly one week after the announcement of the ceasefi re and left one hundred dead, showed the untenability of the situation in one way. On August 4, three days after the massacres and four days before the Hizb withdrew its offer, the French news agencies reported a massive military operation by the Indian forces across much of southern Kashmir, specially the districts of Doda and Banihal, which was said to have involved attack aircraft, helicopter gunships and thousands of ground troops.

Having committed itself to a ceasefire, the Hizb found itself caught in this cross-fire. It had no means of stopping the fighting, nor could it restrain all its cadres on the ground from joining the fight when such operations were mounted. It had the cho ice of either allowing its cadres to join the fight on the side of the other insurgent groups or to fight against such groups on the side of the Indian security forces. In this situation, it simply stuck to its deadline of August 8 and then withdrew the offer altogether, no doubt creating much confusion and even dissension in its own ranks.

THE Indian government must have known the Hizb's compulsions and anticipated some such outcome. Why did it let all that happen?

On the tactical level, the answer is simple: it welcomed the possibility that the untenable position in which the Hizb was putting itself might lead to major splits within it, while in entering the negotiations at all the government could report 'progres s'. More fundamentally, however, there really is no policy because the BJP cannot bridge the gap between the international pressures and the achievable terms of peace in Kashmir on the one hand, and the maximalist position of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sa ngh (RSS), on the other.

That maximalist position has three components. First, the abrogation of Article 370. Second, the militancy is to be seen exclusively as a Pakistani conspiracy, with no indigenous roots, to which then there can only be a military solution. Third, the RSS envisions not a peaceful India but a nuclearised India with delusions of being a world power.

This maximalist position makes impossible any serious negotiations with either Pakistan or the militants. Indeed, no serious discussion is possible even with the elected government of Jammu and Kashmir which is itself an ally of the BJP at the Centre. Th is one can illustrate by recalling the forked tongue with which the BJP and its Hindutva allies had responded to the autonomy resolution which Farooq Abdullah had expected to be a ground for negotiations, modification and discussion in Parliament. That w as not to be.

Indeed, the RSS spokesmen had openly criticised Vajpayee for "compromising" on the question of abrogation of Article 370 even before Farooq had armed himself with that resolution. Then, Kushabhau Thakre, the then president of the BJP, dismissed the auton omy resolution as "a retrograde step" on June 26, as soon as it was passed. On June 27, Advani said that the matter would be decided by Parliament, and on June 30 Vajpayee said that the resolution was within the Indian Constitution. As it turned out, the resolution was not even presented in Parliament for discussion.

The pressure had by then mounted in an orchestrated campaign. Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray had already demanded on June 28 that the Farooq government be dismissed. The RSS then passed a resolution calling the resolution "a step short of actual secession " and demanding the abrogation of Article 370, dismissal of the Farooq government and the ouster of the National Conference from the ruling alliance. J.P. Mathur, the senior vice-president of BJP, called Farooq a representative of "Islamic fundamentalism ". On July 4, then, the Cabinet rejected the resolution "unanimously" at a single sitting, demonstrating not only the BJP's own intransigence but the utterly supine character of the coalition partners as well.

It needs to be recalled here that, irrespective of the timing, the actual content of the autonomy resolution was not some surprise that Farooq had suddenly sprung. At the swearing-in ceremony in October 1996 when he returned as Chief Minister, and which was attended by leaders of all the national parties except the BJP, Farooq had emotionally declared, "The last drop of my blood will go to defend India. Kashmir has been, is and will always be part of India." But, then, in an interview with Outlook soon thereafter he was to reassert that he had fought the elections on the plank of maximum autonomy, by which he meant the revival of the 1952 Accord between the National Conference and the Government of India, which had conceded charge of defence, co mmunications and foreign affairs to New Delhi while leaving all the rest to State authorities.

Whether Farooq was being reasonable or not in dreaming of going all the way back to 1952 can be debated, but he was being doubtless consistent; he was saying in June this year what he had said four years ago. He had also made it clear time and again that all this was up for discussion, which implied that he would settle for appreciably less but that, for a political solution to be found, the Centre would have to restore a large part of the autonomy that Jammu and Kashmir had lost over the years, startin g with a clear reaffirmation of Article 370. The refusal of the BJP to start with that reaffirmation is the clearest sign that it is serious in none of its negotiations: not with Abdullah, not with the Hizb, the Hurriyat or anyone else. It is only becaus e of external pressure that it is going through the motions.

The Hurriyat has said that "the way the BJP and the Centre reacted to their own ally Farooq Abdullah shows they have no regard for their own Constitution."

One does not have to be on the side of the Hurriyat to see the justice of that statement. Whatever else may be wrong, a couple of things about Farooq Abdullah are undeniable: he is not a paid agent of Pakistan, he does not threaten the territorial integr ity of India with a gun, he is fully committed to autonomy within the Indian Constitution, and he is - for better or worse - the only elected Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir we have. And he has armed himself not with a gun but with a piece of paper: a resolution passed by a duly elected State Assembly.

ANY government that is serious about peace in Jammu and Kashmir must begin with a serious dialogue on the issue of autonomy. It must give Farooq the role that is due to a Chief Minister but it must also involve in the peace process a whole range of other secular, democratic forces in the State from outside the National Conference as well. The jehadis cannot be defeated purely through military means unless a popularly-based secular coalition of Kashmiris is there to oppose them within the Valley p olitically. A powerful secular coalition is the only real answer to religious zealotry, whether of the Islamicists in Kashmir or of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its cohorts all over India.

Instead of bestowing prestige upon the Islamicists by accepting them as the chief interlocutors, the Indian state should devote its energies to building such a coalition consisting of forces drawn from all the regions of the State, all the religious comm unities and all the significant political alignments that are committed to the secular unity of the State and the country. But the government has been captured by the frontmen of the RSS. A secular solution in Kashmir has been rendered impossible twice o ver: by the Islamicists, and by the present Indian government itself. So, the bloodletting is likely to go on for the foreseeable future, theatrics notwithstanding.

Article 370: Law and politics

the-nation

While the Constitution recognises in Article 370 the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, the Central Government's policies since 1953 have totally undermined its autonomy. Senior lawyer and political analyst A.G. NOORANI discusses both aspects and suggests a way out of the mess.

"I say with all respect to our Constitution that it just does not matter what your Constitution says; if the people of Kashmir do not want it, it will not go there. Because what is the alternative? The alternative is compulsion and coercion..." "We have fought the good fight about Kashmir on the field of battle... (and) ...in many a chancellery of the world and in the United Nations, but, above all, we have fought this fight in the hearts and minds of men and women of that State of Jammu and Kashmir. Because, ultimately - I say this with all deference to this Parliament - the decision will be made in the hearts and minds of the men and women of Kashmir; neither in this Parliament, nor in the United Nations nor by anybody else," Jawaharlal N ehru said in the Lok Sabha on June 26 and August 7, 1952.

- Selected works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vol. 18, p. 418 and

vol. 19 pp. 295-6, respectively.

"From 1953 to 1975, Chief Ministers of that State had been nominees of Delhi. Their appointment to that post was legitimised by the holding of farcical and totally rigged elections in which the Congress party led by Delhi's nominee was elected by huge majorities."

- This authoritative description of a blot on our record which most overlook was written by B. K. Nehru, who was Governor of Kashmir from 1981 to 1984, in his memoirs published in 1997 (Nice Guys Finish Second; pp. 614-5).

THOSE who cavil at Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and the "special status" of Kashmir constitutionally ought to remember the "special" treatment meted out to it politically. Which other State has been subjected to such debasement an d humiliation? And, why was this done? It was because New Delhi had second thoughts on Article 370. It could not be abrogated legally. It was reduced to a husk through political fraud and constitutional abuse. The current debate is much more than about restoration of Article 370 by erasing the distortions. It is about redressing a moral wrong.

The United Front government's minimum programme, published on June 5, 1996, said "respecting Article 370 of the Constitution as well as the wishes of the people, the problems of Jammu and Kashmir will be resolved through giving the people of that State t he maximum degree of autonomy."

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Constitutional abuse accompanied political fraud. Article 370 was intended to guarantee Kashmir's autonomy. On December 4, 1964, Union Home Minister G. L. Nanda said it would be used to serve as "a tunnel (sic.) in the wall" in order to increase the Cent re's power.

The State was put in a status inferior to that of other States. One illustration suffices to demonstrate that. Parliament had to amend the Constitution four times, by means of the 59th, 64th, 67th and 68th Constitution Amendments, to extend the President's Rule imposed in Punjab on May 11, 1987. For the State of Jammu and Kashmir the same result was accomplished, from 1990 to 1996, by mere executive orders under Article 370.

Another gross case illustrates the capacity for abuse. On July 30, 1986, the President made an order under Article 370, extending to Kashmir Article 249 of the Constitution in order to empower Parliament to legislate even on a matter in the State List on the strength of a Rajya Sabha resolution. "Concurrence" to this was given by the Centre's own appointee, Governor Jagmohan. G.A. Lone, a former Secretary, Law and Parliamentary Affairs, to the State Government described in Kashmir Times (April 20 , 1995) how the "manipulation" was done "in a single day" against the Law Secretary's advice and "in the absence of a Council of Ministers."

The Nehru-Abdullah Agreement in July 1952 ("the Delhi Agreement") confirmed that "the residuary powers of legislation" (on matters not mentioned in the State List or the Concurrent List), which Article 248 and Entry 97 (Union List) confer on the Union, w ill not apply to Kashmir. The order of 1986 purported to apply to the State Article 249, which empowers Parliament to legislate even on a matter in the State List if a Rajya Sabha resolution so authorises it by a two-thirds vote. But it so amended Article 249 in its application to Kashmir as in effect to apply Article 248 instead - "any matter specified in the resolution, being a matter which is not enumerated in the Union List or in the Concurrent List."

The Union thus acquired the power to legislate not only on all matters in the State List, but others not mentioned in the Union List or the Concurrent List - the residuary power. In relation to other States, an amendment to the Constitution would require a two-thirds vote by both Houses of Parliament plus ratification by the States (Article 368). For Kashmir, executive orders have sufficed since 1953 and can continue till Doomsday. "Nowhere else, as far as I can see, is there any provision author ising the executive government to make amendments in the Constitution," President Rajendra Prasad pointed out to Prime Minister Nehru on September 6, 1952. Nowhere else, in the world, indeed. Is this the state of things we wish to perpetuate? Uniquely Ka shmir negotiated the terms of its membership of the Union for five months. Article 370 was adopted by the Constituent Assembly as a result of those parleys.

YET, all hell broke loose when the State Assembly adopted, on June 26, a resolution recording its acceptance of the report of the State Autonomy Committee (the Report) and asked "the Union Government and the Government of Jammu and Kashmir to take positi ve and effective steps for the implementation of the same." On July 4, the Union Cabinet said that the resolution was "unacceptable... would set the clock back and reverse the natural process of harmonising the aspirations of the people of Jammu & Kashmi r with the integrity of the State" - a patent falsehood, as everyone knows.

The State's Law Minister, P.L. Handoo, said on June 26 that the people "want nothing more than what they had in 1953." Overworked metaphors (about the clock or the waters of the Jhelum which flowed since) do not answer two crucial questions: Can lapse of time sanctify patent constitutional abuse? Can it supply legislative competence? If Parliament has legislated over the States on a matter on which it had no power to legislate, under the Constitution, it would be a nullity. Especially if the State's peo ple have been protesting meanwhile and their voice was stifled through rigged elections.

Disapproval of Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah's opportunist politics should not blind one to the constitutional issues. The State's Finance Minister, Abdul Rahim Rather, a moving spirit behind the Report, resents suggestions of political timing. The repo rt was placed before the Assembly on April 13, 1999. The State Cabinet endorsed its recommendations and decided last April to convene a special session of the Assembly to discuss it. The Government of India was "once again requested to set up a ministeri al committee in order to initiate a dialogue on the report."

It provides a comprehensive survey of constitutional developments, which is useful in itself for its documentation. It lists 42 orders under Article 370 and gives the following opinion: "Not all these orders can be objected to. For instance, none can obj ect to provisions for direct elections to Parliament in 1966... It is the principle that matters. Constitutional limits are there to be respected, not violated."

The ruler of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India by an Instrument of Accession on October 26, 1947 in respect of only three subjects - defence, foreign affairs and communications. A schedule listed precisely 16 topics under these heads plus four others (e lections to Union legislature and the like).

Clause 5 said that the Instrument could not be altered without the State's consent. Clause 7 read: "Nothing in this Instrument shall be deemed to commit me in any way to acceptance of any future Constitution of India or fetter my discretion to enter into arrangements with the Government of India under any such future Constitution." Kashmir was then governed internally by its own Constitution of 1939.

The Maharaja made an Order on October 30, 1947 appointing Sheikh Abdullah the Head of the Emergency Administration, replacing it, on March 5, 1948, with an Interim Government with the Sheikh as Prime Minister. It was enjoined to convene a National Assemb ly "to frame a Constitution" for the State.

Negotiations were held on May 15 and 16, 1949 at Vallabhbhai Patel's residence in New Delhi on Kashmir's future set-up. Nehru and Abdullah were present. Foremost among the topics were "the framing of a Constitution for the State" and "the subjects in res pect of which the State should accede to the Union of India." On the first, Nehru recorded in a letter to the Sheikh (on May 18) that both Patel and he agreed that it was a matter for the State's Constituent Assembly. "In regard to (ii) the Jammu and Kas hmir State now stands acceded to the Indian Union in respect of three subjects; namely, foreign affairs, defence and communications. It will be for the Constituent Assembly of the State when convened, to determine in respect of which other subjects th e State may accede" (emphasis added, throughout). Article 370 embodies this basic principle which was reiterated throughout (S.W.J.N. Vol. 11; p. 12).

On June 16, 1949, Sheikh Abdullah, Mirza Mammad Afzal Beg, Maulana Mohammed Saeed Masoodi and Moti Ram Bagda joined the Constituent Assembly of India. Negotiations began in earnest on Article 370 (Article 306. A in the draft). N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar tri ed to reconcile the differences between Patel and Abdullah. A text, agreed on October 16, was moved in the Constituent Assembly the next day, unilaterally altered by Ayyangar. "A trivial change," as he admitted in a letter to the Sheikh on October 18. Pa tel confirmed it to Nehru on November 3 on his return from the United States. Beg had withdrawn his amendment after the accord. Abdullah and he were in the lobby, and rushed to the House when they learnt of the change. In its original form the draft woul d have made the Sheikh's ouster in 1953 impossible.

ARTICLE 370 embodies six special provisions for Jammu and Kashmir. First, it exempted the State from the provisions of the Constitution providing for the governance of the States. Jammu and Kashmir was allowed to have its own Constitution within the Indi an Union.

Second, Parliament's legislative power over the State was restricted to three subjects - defence, external affairs and communications. The President could extend to it other provisions of the Constitution to provide a constitutional framework if they rel ated to the matters specified in the Instrument of Accession. For this, only "consultation" with the State government was required since the State had already accepted them by the Instrument. But, third, if other "constitutional" provisions or other Unio n powers were to be extended to Kashmir, the prior "concurrence" of the State government was required.

The fourth feature is that that concurrence was provisional. It had to be ratified by the State's Constituent Assembly. Article 370(2) says clearly: "If the concurrence of the Government of the State... be given before the Constituent Assembly for the pu rpose of framing the Constitution of the State is convened, it shall be placed before such Assembly for such decision as it may take thereon."

The fifth feature is that the State government's authority to give the "concurrence" lasts only till the State's Constituent Assembly is "convened". It is an "interim" power. Once the Constituent Assembly met, the State government could not give i ts own "concurrence". Still less, after the Assembly met and dispersed. Moreover, the President cannot exercise his power to extend the Indian Constitution to Kashmir indefinitely. The power has to stop at the point the State's Constituent Assembly draft ed the State's Constitution and decided finally what additional subjects to confer on the Union, and what other provisions of the Constitution of India it should get extended to the State, rather than having their counterparts embodied in the State Const itution itself. Once the State's Constituent Assembly had finalised the scheme and dispersed, the President's extending powers ended completely.

The sixth special feature, the last step in the process, is that Article 370(3) empowers the President to make an Order abrogating or amending it. But for this also "the recommendation" of the State's Constituent Assembly "shall be necessary before the President issues such a notification".

Article 370 cannot be abrogated or amended by recourse to the amending provisions of the Constitution which apply to all the other States; namely, Article 368. For, in relation to Kashmir, Article 368 has a proviso which says that no constitutional amend ment "shall have effect in relation to the State of Jammu and Kashmir" unless applied by Order of the President under Article 370. That requires the concurrence of the State's government and ratification by its Constituent Assembly.

Jammu and Kashmir is mentioned among the States of the Union in the First Schedule as Article 1 (2) requires. But Article 370 (1) (c) says: "The provisions of Article 1 and of this Article shall apply in relation to that State". Article 1 is thus appl ied to the State through Article 370. What would be the effect of its abrogation, as the Bharatiya Janata Party demands?

Ayyangar's exposition of Article 370 in the Constituent Assembly on October 17, 1949 is authoritative. "We have also agreed that the will of the people through the instrument of the Constituent Assembly will determine the Constitution of the State as wel l as the sphere of Union jurisdiction over the State... You will remember that several of these clauses provide for the concurrence of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir State. Now, these relate particularly to matters which are not mentioned in the Ins trument of Accession, and it is one of our commitments to the people and Government of Kashmir that no such additions should be made except with the consent of the Constituent Assembly which may be called in the State for the purpose of framing its Co nstitution."

Ayyangar explained that "the provision is made that when the Constituent Assembly of the State has met and taken its decision both on the Constitution for the State and on the range of federal jurisdiction over the State, the President may, on the recomm endation of that Constituent Assembly, issue an Order that this Article 306 (370 in the draft) shall either cease to be operative, or shall be operative only subject to such exceptions and modifications as may be specified by him. But before he issued an y order of that kind, the recommendation of the Constituent Assembly will be a condition precedent."

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This unique process of Presidential Orders altering constitutional provisions by a mere executive order ends with the final decision of the State's Constituent Assembly. Ayyangar repeatedly said that the State government's concurrence alone will not do. "That concurrence should be placed before the Constituent Assembly when it meets and the Constituent Assembly may take whatever decisions it likes on those matters." (Constituent Assembly Debates; Vol. 8; pp. 424-427).

In 1949, no one knew when Kashmir's Constituent Assembly would be elected. Ayyangar therefore said: "The idea is that even before the Constituent Assembly meets, it may be necessary... that certain items which are not included in the Instrument of Access ion would be appropriately added to that list in the Instrument... and as this may happen before the Constituent Assembly meets, the only authority from whom we can get consent for the addition is the Government of the State." This was explicitly only for that interim period.

Article 370 (1) (b) is clear. "The power of Parliament to make laws for the said State shall be limited to" (1) matters in the Union and Concurrent Lists corresponding to the broad heads specified in the Instrument of Accession "and (ii) such other matte rs in the said Lists as, with the concurrence of the Government of the State the President may by Order specify". An Explanation defined "the Government of the State". Similar "concurrence" was required when extending provisions regarding Union instituti ons beyond the agreed ones. But Article 370 (2) stipulated clearly that if that concurrence is given "before the Constituent Assembly... is convened, it shall be placed before such Assembly for such decision as it may take thereon".

Once Kashmir's Constituent Assembly was "convened" on November 5, 1951, the State Government lost all authority to accord its "concurrence" to the Union. With the Assembly's dispersal on November 17, 1956, after adopting the Constitution of Jammu and Kas hmir, vanished the only authority which alone could cede: (a) more powers to the Union and (b) accept Union institutions other than those specified in the Instrument of Accession. All additions to Union powers since then are unconstitutional. This unders tanding informed decisions - right until 1957.

THE Constituent Assembly of India adopted the Constitution on November 26, 1949. A day earlier, the ruler of Kashmir made a Proclamation declaring that it "shall in so far as it is applicable to the State of Jammu and Kashmir, govern the constitutional r elationships between this State and the contemplated Union of India". Article 370 is more than a provision of that solemn document. It is also a sacred compact with the State. On January 26, 1950, the President made his first Order under Article 370, ext ending specified provisions of the new Constitution to the State.

On April 20, 1951, the ruler made a Proclamation for convening the State's Constituent Assembly. It met on November 5, 1951. Two issues came to the fore. Nehru was eager to secure Kashmir's "closer integration" with India; the Sheikh to ensure popular go vernance. The Delhi Agreement that followed was announced at a press conference in Delhi on July 24, 1952 by both. This Union-Centre accord had no legal force by itself. Only an Order under Article 370 could confer that - after the Sheikh gave his "concu rrence" formally.

The Sheikh, meanwhile, pressed for an Order to redraft "the Explanation" in Article 370 redefining the State government as one headed by an elected "Sadar-i-Riyasat (State President)... acting on the advice" of his Ministers.

As for the Sheikh's request, Nehru wrote on July 29, 1952: "It is not a perfectly clear matter from the legal point of view how far the President can issue notifications under Article 370 several times." On September 6, 1952, President Rajendra Prasad po inted out the illegality of such a course in a closely reasoned Note. (It is appended to the Report.) He questioned "the competence of the President to have repeated recourse to the extraordinary powers conferred on him" by Article 370. "Any provi sion authorising the executive government to make amendments in the Constitution" was an incongruity. He endorsed Ayyangar's views on the finality of a single Order under Article 370. "I have little doubt myself that the intention is that the power is to be exercised only once, for then alone would it be possible to determine with precision which particular provisions should be excepted and which modified."

The President concluded: "The conclusion, therefore, seems to me to be irresistible that Clause (3) of Article 370 was not intended to be used from time to time as occasion required. Nor was it intended to be used without any limit as to time. The correc t view appears to be that recourse is to be had to this clause only when the Constituent Assembly (sic) (Constitution) of the State has been fully framed." That was over on November 17, 1956. But he yielded to Nehru's pressure and made the Order on Novem ber 15, 1952.

Events took a tragic course. The Sheikh was dismissed from office and imprisoned on August 9, 1953 (vide the writer's article, How and Why Nehru and Abdullah Fell Out": Economic and Political Weekly; January 30, 1999). On May 14, 1954 came a compr ehensive Presidential Order under Article 370. Although it was purported to have been made with the "concurrence" of the State government it drew validity from a resolution of the Constituent Assembly on February 15, 1954 which approved extension to the State of some provisions of the Constitution of India. The Order sought to implement the Delhi Agreement. The Report makes two valid points. Why the haste since the State's Constitution was yet to be framed? Besides, the order in some respects went beyon d the Delhi Agreement. It certainly paved the way for more such Orders - all with "the concurrence of the State Government", each elected moreover in a rigged poll. Ninetyfour of the 97 Entries in the Union List and 26 of the 47 in the Concurrent List we re extended to Kashmir as were 260 of the 395 Articles of the Constitution.

Worse, the State's Constitution was overridden by the Centre's orders. Its basic structure was altered. The head of State elected by the State legislature was replaced by a Governor nominated by the Centre. Article 356 (imposition of President's Rule) wa s applied despite provision in the State's Constitution for Governor's rule (Section 92). This was done on November 21, 1964. On November 24, 1966, the Governor replaced the Sadar-i-Riyasat after the State's Constitution had been amended on April 10, 196 5 by the 6th Amendment in violation of Section 147 of the Constitution. Section 147 makes itself immune to amendment. But it referred to the Sadar-i-Riyasat and required his assent to constitutional amendments. He was elected by the Assembly [Section 27 (2)]. To replace him by the Centre's nominee was to alter the basic structure.

Article 370 was used freely not only to amend the Constitution of India but also of the State. On July 23, 1975 an Order was made debarring the State legislature from amending the State Constitution on matters in respect of the Governor, the Election Co mmission and even "the composition" of the Upper House, the Legislative Council.

It would be legitimate to ask how all this could pass muster when there existed a Supreme Court of India. Three cases it decided tell a sorry tale. In Prem Nath Kaul vs State of J&K, decided in 1959, a Constitution Bench consisting of five judges unanimously held that Article 370 (2) "shows that the Constitution-makers attached great importance to the final decision of the Constituent Assembly, and the continuance of the exercise of powers conferred on the Parliament and the President by t he relevant temporary provision of Article 370 (1) is made conditional on the final approval by the said Constituent Assembly in the said matters". It referred to Clause 3 and said that "the proviso to Clause (3) also emphasises the importance whi ch was attached to the final decision of Constituent Assembly of Kashmir in regard to the relevant matters covered by Article 370". The court ruled that "the Constitution-makers were obviously anxious that the said relationship should be finally d etermined by the Constituent Assembly of the State itself."

But, in 1968, in Sampat Prakash vs the State of J&K, another Bench ruled to the contrary without even referring to the 1959 case. Justice M. Hidayatullah sat on both Benches. The court held that Article 370 can still be used to make orders thereunder despite the fact that the State's Constituent Assembly had ceased to exist.

FOUR BASIC flaws stand out in the judgment. First, the Attorney-General cited Ayyangar's speech only on the India-Pakistan war of 1947, the entanglement with the United Nations and the conditions in the State. On this basis, the court said, in 1968, that "the situation that existed when this Article was incorporated in the Constitution has not materially altered," 21 years later. It ignored completely Ayyangar's exposition of Article 370 itself; fundamentally, that the Constituent Assembly of Kashmir al one had the final say.

Secondly, it brushed aside Article 370 (2) which lays down this condition, and said that it spoke of "concurrence given by the Government of State before the Constituent Assembly was convened and makes no mention at all of the completion" of its work or its dissolution.

The supreme power of the State's Constituent Assembly to ratify any change, or refuse to do so, was clearly indicated. Clause (3) on the cessation of Article 370 makes it clearer still. But the court picked on this clause to hold that since the Assembly had made no recommendation that Article 370 be abrogated, it should continue. It, surely, does not follow that after that body dispersed the Union acquired the power to amass powers by invoking Article 370 when the decisive ratificatory body was gone.

Thirdly, the Supreme Court totally overlooked the fact that on its interpretation, Article 370 can be abused by collusive State and Central Governments to override the State's Constitution and reduce the guarantees to naught. Lastly, the court misconstru ed the State Constituent Assembly's recommendation of November 17, 1952, referred to earlier, which merely defined in an explanation "the Government of the State". To the court this meant that the Assembly had "expressed its agreement to the continued op eration of this Article by making a recommendation that it should be operative with this modification only." It had in fact made no such recommendation. The Explanation said no more than that "for the purposes of this Article, the Government of the State means..." It does not, and indeed, cannot remove the limitations on the Central Government's power to concurrence imposed by Clause (2); namely ratification by the Constituent Assembly.

The court laid down no limit whatever whether as regards the time or the content. "We must give the widest effect to the meaning of the word 'modification' used in Article 370 (1)". The net result of this ruling was to give a carte blanche to the Government of India to extend to Kashmir such of the provisions of the Constitution of India as it pleased.

In 1972, in Mohammed Maqbool Damnoo vs the State of J & K, another Bench blew sky high the tortuous meaning given to the Explanation. It was a definition which had become "otiose". But this Bench also did not refer to the 1959 ruling. Cases there are, albeit rare, when courts have overlooked a precedent. But that is when there is a plethora of them. Article 370 gave rise only to three cases. The first was studiously ignored in both that followed. The court found no difference between an elected S adar and an appointed Governor. "There is no question of such a change being one in the character of that government from a democratic to a non-democratic system." If the Constitution of India is amended to empower the Prime Minister to nominate the Pres ident as Sri Lanka's 1972 Constitution did - would it make no difference to its democratic character, pray? To this Bench "the essential feature" of Article 370 (1) (b) and (d) is "the necessity of the concurrence of the State Government", not the Consti tuent Assembly. This case was decided before the Supreme Court formulated in 1973 the doctrine of the unamendable basic structure of the Constitution.

GIVEN their record, whenever Kashmir is involved, how can anyone ask Kashmiris to welcome Union institutions (such as the Election Commission) with warmth?

Sheikh Abdullah had no cards to play when he concluded an Accord with Indira Gandhi and became Chief Minister on February 24, 1975. At the outset, on August 23, 1974, he had written to G. Parthasarathy: "I hope that I have made it abundantly clear to you that I can assume office only on the basis of the position as it existed on August 8, 1953." Judgment on the changes since "will be deferred until the newly elected Assembly comes into being". On November 13, 1974, G.P. and M.A. Beg signed "agreed concl usions" - Article 370 remained; so did the residuary powers of legislation (except in regard to anti-national acts); Constitutional provisions extended with changes can be "altered or repealed"; the State could review Central laws on specified topics (we lfare, culture, and so on) counting on the Centre's "sympathetic consideration"; a new bar on amendment to the State Constitution regarding the Governor and the E.C. Differences on "nomenclature" of the Governor and Chief Minister were "remitted to the p rincipals". Differences persisted on the E.C., Article 356 and other points. On November 25, the Sheikh sought a meeting with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Her reply not only expressed doubt on the usefulness of talks but also on his commitment to "the b asic features of the State's Constitution" and to "the democratic functioning" of the government. Hurt, he wrote back ending the parleys. They met at Pahalgam. An exchange of letters, on February 12, 1975, clinched the deal on the basis of the Agreed Con clusions.

This was a political accord between an individual, however eminent, and the Government, like the Punjab Accord (July 24, 1985); the Assam Accord (August 15, 1985); the Nagaland Accord (November 11, 1975); and the Mizoram Accord (June 30, 1986) - e ach between the government and the opposition. It cannot override Article 370; still less sanctify Constitutional abuse. It bound the Sheikh alone and only until 1977.

This was explicitly an accord on "political cooperation between us", as Indira Gandhi wrote (December 16, 1974). On February 12, 1975, Abdullah recorded that it provided "a good basis for my cooperation at the political level". In Parliament on March 3, 1975 she called it a "new political understanding". He was made Chief Minister on February 24, backed by the Congress' majority in the Assembly and on the understanding of a fresh election soon. Sheikh Abdullah's memoirs Aatish-e-Chinar (Urdu) rec ord her backtracking on the pledge and the Congress' perfidy in March 1977 when she lost the Lok Sabha elections. It withdrew support and staked a claim to form a government. Governor's Rule was imposed. The Sheikh's National Conference won the elections with a resounding majority on the pledge to restore Jammu and Kashmir's autonomy, which was also Farooq's pledge in 1996. The 1975 accord had collapsed.

It was, I can reveal, based on gross error. The Agreed Conclusions said (Para 3): "But provisions of the Constitution already applied to the State of J&K without adaptation or modification are unalterable." This preposterous assertion was made in the tee th of the Sampat Prakash case. One order can always be rescinded by another. All the orders since 1954 can be revoked; they are a nullity anyway. Beg was precariously ill and relied on advice which GP's "expert" had given him. He was one S. Balakr ishnan whom R.Venkataraman refers to as "Constitutional Adviser in the Home Ministry" in his memoirs. It is no disrespect to point out that issues of such complexity and consequence are for counsel's opinion; not from a solicitor, still less a bureaucrat even if he had read the law. Even the Law Secretary would have insisted on the Attorney-General's opinion. Amazed at what Beg had told me in May 1975, I pursued the matter and eventually met Balakrishnan in 1987. He confirmed that he had, indeed, given such advice. It was palpably wrong. The 1975 Accord is worse than useless. It is harmful to the State's rights and interests. It has neither legal efficacy nor moral worth.

A system in peril

other

Kerala's public distribution system, the best in the country, is seriously affected by the shift in Central government policies on the allocation and pricing of foodgrains and increasing deficit in rice production in the State.

R. KRISHNAKUMAR in Thiruvananthapuram

CYRUS ROSY has lived all her 60 years in the small fishing village of Kottupuram near Thiruvananthapuram. She said that until a few years ago, every evening the local ration shop (now 'public distribution centre') had been a hub of activity, as women fis h-vendors spent their day's earnings there. They were assured of their weekly allotment of "good quality" rice, wheat, sugar and kerosene; they bought these in instalments, "as and when they could during the week". The prices were "reasonable" and lower than those charged by the private provision stores that line the main road, which leads to the local church. For the majority of the 473 ration card-holders in the village, the ration shop, ARD 510, was the first stop when they returned from work.

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Not any more, said Rosy. "I have a family of five - husband and three young daughters. We buy our weekly quota of subsidised rice, but even dogs refuse to eat it. Why should we buy such poor quality rice when we get better rice from the nearby store at 5 0 or 60 paise more a kg?"

Seeing Rosy's agitated gestures, a crowd gathered in front of the shop. A young woman said: "Our men won't be able to go to the sea if they eat this rice. We feed it to the chickens. We buy only sugar and kerosene. They sell wheat at Rs.8.90 a kg but we get it cheaper in the market."

A youth looked away from the two salesmen inside the ration shop and said loudly: "Kerosene is never measured to the litre, nor do we get our full quota." (Kerosene is a premium commodity in fishing villages.)

"Nobody wants such poor-quality foodgrain," a salesman admitted. "This shop runs at a loss. Before they changed the system, we used to sell nearly 33 quintals a week. Now it has come down to 50 kg."

Of the 473 cardholders attached to the shop, 201 belong to the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category. Despite its poor quality, several people buy the BPL rice, because it is priced much below the market price. "It is not fit for human consumption. There has been virtually no sale of rice meant for the Above Poverty Line (APL) category. The entire stock sits here and rots and when we cannot bear the smell any longer, we sell it, priced at Rs.13.90 a kg, to some hotel or the other at Rs.7.50 a kg. Rice of th e same quality is available in the local market at Rs.8.50 a kg, and the ration shop owner has to bear the loss. The sale of sugar and kerosene has also been restricted, adding to the shop owner's woes."

The ration shop at Kottupuram is a comparatively better off one, because nearly half of its customers come under the BPL category and buy foodgrains from the shop every week. Many of the retail ration outlets elsewhere in Kerala have only a negligible nu mber of people in the BPL category. A ration shop (ARD 251) owner, G. Kumaraswamy told Frontline: "Only 100 of the 700 cards allotted to my shop belong to people in the BPL category. They alone buy foodgrains. There is negligible sale of APL rice, which is supposedly 'A' grade. In the past two months no one has come to buy APL rice on which there is no subsidy."

If there was a public distribution system (PDS) that should have become a model for the entire country, it was the system that existed in food-deficit Kerala. The 14,272 retail ration outlets (as of April 2000) formed the backbone of the chronically food -deficit State's public distribution system - the most important instrument of food security for its people, and the poorer sections in particular.

The system in several other States failed to serve the population below the poverty line, had an urban bias, had negligible presence in areas with high concentrations of the rural poor, lacked transparency and accountability, suffered from large-scale le akages and failed to provide adequate nutritional support to the people. Kerala, on the other hand, had developed a commendable and near-universal public distribution system.

Kerala's PDS was evolved in the 1960s in response to the hard struggles waged by its people in the context of the extreme scarcity conditions created by its dependence on other States for food (Frontline, October 31, 1997). The Central government had failed to meet food security needs of the State, especially in the pre-Green Revolution years. Several States had imposed arbitrary restrictions on foodgrain movement, and private traders had used the opportunity to make their pile.

"Kerala is perhaps the most vulnerable among the States to any short-term or long-term foodgrain deficit at the national level," says K.P. Kannan of the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram. "This is borne out by the experience of Kerala si nce its formation in 1956 to the mid-1970s, when India experienced shortfalls in foodgrain production and consequently restrictions on the movement of foodgrains. The food problem had then become an important factor in the coalition politics of the State as well as in its relationship with the Central government. The response was the setting up of the universal PDS and because it was 'universal', it continued to get better political support."

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In fact it was the sight of the comprehensive network of ration shops that often soothed Kerala's worries about the availability of food. According to the State government, today, on an average, there is one ration outlet for every 400 households and one within 2 km of every household. The PDS covers 97 per cent of the State's population and provides rice, wheat, sugar and kerosene on a ration scale that satisfies the minimum daily cereal requirement (370 gm) of a person (as recommended by the Indian Co uncil of Medical Research). As of April 2000, there were 61,95,536 families with ration cards in the State.

Being a consumer State in respect of other commodities as well, Kerala also developed a second tier of public distribution outlets, a chain of 'Maveli' provision stores, super markets, mini super markets and 'Maveli' medical stores (see interview with Fo od Minister E. Chandrasekharan Nair). These work outside the Central Government-FCI-ration shop system; rice and wheat products, sugar, pulses, vegetables and a range of consumer goods are procured independently from the market for distribution through t hem at reasonable prices.

Kerala's PDS, especially its first tier, succeeded in all its objectives - to provide basic food items to the vulnerable populations at reasonable prices, to put a leash on private trade, to maintain price stability, to be a system of rationing during sc arcity - and thus compensated for the State's insufficiency in the production of foodgrains, especially rice, the staple food. Kerala's deficit in rice production, which was 50 to 55 per cent from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s, has now increased to 80 per cent. This accompanied by the shift in the Central government's policies regarding the allocation and pricing of foodgrains, has dealt a severe blow to the chain of ration shops. Despite additional subsidies sought to be provided by the State govern ment, the State has started witnessing the first signs of a gradual dismantling of its celebrated PDS.

"Given the fact that Kerala's fiscal deficit is growing, the contours of the emerging economics of the State's PDS are only beginning to be realised. The Kerala government may soon have to make the hard choice between continuation of the existing PDS wit h universal coverage involving unsustainable subsidies or restricting the PDS to the poor with serious implications of enhancing Kerala's vulnerability to food security," Kannan said.

The Centre recognises only 25 per cent of the State's population as being in the BPL category. But the State Government treats 42 per cent as being in the BPL category (as identified for the implementation of the Integrated Rural Development Programme, o r IRDP, schemes) and has decided to bear the subsidy burden for an additional 17 per cent. In Kerala, each cardholder in the BPL category is eligible for 20 kg of rice a month at the rate of Rs.6.40 a kg. An additional 10 kg is provided to the BPL catego ry at Rs.10 a kg, with an additional subsidy of Rs.2 provided by the State government. To people in the APL category, the State provides 20 kg of 'A grade' rice with a subsidy of Rs.2 at Rs.10 a kg (known as APL-Subsidy) and the rest of the quota of 'A g rade' rice at Rs.12.40 a kg (APL-Normal).

"The rations shops have now lost attractions of lower price and good quality of grain. Unsold stocks are building up. As of March 31, 2000, ration dealers in Kerala had a balance stock of 58,000 tonnes, most of which, even after five months, has not been sold and is rotting. The State government has now asked us to convert the APL-Subsidy rice, which we bought at a higher price, and sell it to the BPL card holders. But in a large number of ration shops, the number of BPL card holders is very small," say s N. Thanu Pillai, working president, Kerala State Retail Ration Dealers' Association.

According to the Ration Dealers' Association, which claims a membership of over 9,000, on an average a ration shop now sells only 1,400 kg of rice, 600 kg of wheat, 400 kg of sugar and 2,000 litres of kerosene a month. Before the current prices were fixe d, a shop sold 10,000 kg of rice, 2,000 kg of wheat, 800 kg of sugar and 3,000 litres of kerosene a month.

Sasidharan, owner of a ration shop (ARD 121) in the heart of Thiruvananthapuram city, said that after the price hike, the sale of foodgrains had dropped by one sixth, of sugar by half and of kerosene by two-thirds in his shop.

State Controller of Rationing M.K. Balakrishnan told Frontline: "On a rough estimate, ration shops can break even if every month they are able to sell 20 tonnes of foodgrains, including rice and wheat, 1,000 litres of kerosene and five quintals of sugar. It is true that in most cases this is not happening."

Thanu Pillai said that 10 to 15 per cent of the retail dealers in the State had written to the local supply offices seeking either cancellation or suspension of their licences, as profitable operations had become impossible. (If a shop's licence is suspe nded for a while, the customers are to be attached to another ration shop nearby.) "But no dealer wants to take the additional responsibility of serving customers of another shop; neither has anyone applied for a new licence. On the other hand, a few ins tances of suicides by ration shop owners have been reported in the State because of increasing debt burden," he said.

According to Sasidharan, profits are a thing of the past. "The price of ration articles went up unchecked and affected sales. This in turn raised our costs, which included salary to employees, rent, printing and stationery expenses, electricity charges, licence fee charged by various government departments and transportation costs," he said.

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The Ration Dealers' Association estimates the average monthly expenditure in a shop to be about Rs.2,800 and the profit to be a meagre Rs.220. The Association calculates the average loss in a ration shop in Kerala to be about Rs.2,580 a month.

However, one of the dealers and a State committee member of the Association said on condition of anonymity: "Such calculations alone will not convey the true picture. It is an open secret that there is some element of illegal practices in the system that has kept so many ration shop owners in business for so long. Even when the system of 'universal' delivery was in existence, there was self-targeting by the cardholders, especially the rich. At the end of the week, thus, a large number would not have bou ght their quota because they wanted to buy better quality commodities. Ration dealers however would show this as 'sold', in most cases with the knowledge of officials, and then divert it to the open market for a profit."

In many rural areas, the Association leader said, dealers indulged in other manipulations, such as providing poor quality articles and recording the sales as of the best quality. "It was this vicious circle of 'mild corruption with official connivance th at did not harm anybody' that actually kept ration shops in business for so long. After the price of ration articles were hiked to near-open market levels and their quality went down, the opportunity for running ration shops as a business proposition is lost. That is the real crisis," he said.

Then was it the diversion of foodgrains and the leakages that facilitated the functioning of the PDS system in Kerala? A senior Civil Supplies Department official said that before the new policy changes were implemented, it was more or less an accepted f act that about 20 per cent of the articles that reached retail outlets that found their out of the system. "But on the other hand, it ensured that the needy got what they wanted. You cannot ignore the excellent benefits that the PDS brought into a food-d eficit State. You cannot allow such a system to be destroyed because there was some diversion or leakage in the system."

Dinesh Sharma, Secretary, Civil Supplies, said: "Compared to the kind of leakages taking place in many States, the scale of leakages from the Kerala system is negligible. Will any cardholder in Kerala say he is being denied his allotted quota of ration a rticles?" According to Kannan, the universal nature of the Kerala PDS ensured that Kerala society was vigilant about large-scale aberrations in the system. "The universal system had better political and social support. With targeting comes the danger of loss of such support," he said.

Civil Supplies officials said one instance that shows large-scale diversion from the PDS systems in other States is the arrival of ration rice from Tamil Nadu, where PDS rice is heavily subsidised by the State Government. "In Idukki district, with a larg e population of Tamilian plantation labourers, for example, ration rice from Tamil Nadu is auctioned off on a large scale. Traders who buy it are able to sell ration rice in the open market in Kerala at a much lower price than in the ration shops in the State," an official said.

According to Balakrishnan, the total requirement of rice in Kerala is estimated to be nearly 40 lakh tonnes a year. The internal production is 7.27 lakh tonnes. Eighteen lakh tonnes was provided through the PDS. Now that has come down to six lakh tonnes. The rest of the requirement is being met by the open market. "That is the kind of transfer of trade to the open market that has taken place in Kerala as a result of the new policies," Balakrishnan said.

Officials refused to confirm the Dealers' Association's claim that 10 to 15 per cent of the dealers in the State have asked the local Civil Supplies authorities to cancel and/or suspend their licences. They said that the right procedure would be to 'surr ender' the licence. However, they said, the Dealers' Association might be referring to refusal by their members to lift the stock for sometime. Asked why the dealers are continuing to run a loss-making business, Balakrishnan said: "It is a reflection of the role that ration shops have played in ensuring food security for the people in Kerala that a shop owner still has a certain position in Kerala society. In many cases, people have been in the business for a long time. Many do not know any other work. It still provides employment to at least two persons, who are paid salaries ranging from Rs.500 to Rs.2,000. Ration shop owners can meet at least their own families' food requirements from the shop."

'Centre should change its policy'

other

Interview with E. Chandrasekharan Nair, Minister for Food and Civil Supplies.

Kerala's Minister for Food and Civil Supplies E. Chandrasekharan Nair says that if the current public distribution system (PDS) in Kerala is destroyed, the State will experience a serious food crisis. Excerpts from the interview he gave R. Kris hnakumar:

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What has been the impact of the Central policies on Kerala's public distribution system?

As a result of the new policies the offtake from the State PDS is coming down. One reason is the inefficiency of the procurement system, another is the poor quality of the articles. But the most vital one is the pricing policy. At one time in Kerala, whe n the prices were more affordable, the offtake of cereals from the PDS, including wheat, went up to 18 lakh tonnes a year. The offtake would have been higher if the quality was better. The first priority of the Central Government was to increase PDS pric es to such a level that now nobody goes to the PDS.

The Union government has also drawn a mythical border called the BPL (Below Poverty Line), to provide merely 10 kg of rice to just 25 per cent of the State's population. What is the big idea when the actual requirement is to provide subsidised food for 5 0 per cent of the population? What is the BJP government's priority - is it providing Internet facilities and mobile phones, however much they may be needed in the modern world, or basic food at prices that ordinary people can afford?

How does Kerala view the Centre's decision to sell excess wheat in the open market in the northern States?

So far the FCI (Food Corporation of India) used to sell at the same price in every part of the country. Now that is being changed. They say that they are going to sell wheat at Rs.6.50 a kg to private traders in the north. How can they sell at a lower pr ice to private traders who want to make a profit and demand a higher price from a State government that wants to provide wheat to the common man at affordable prices? Can wheat be sold at two prices in the ration shops in Kerala?

What should be the policy to sell excess stock? You reduce the price and sell it through the PDS. In Kerala, if needed, we can sell two lakh tonnes. Then the poor will have food. Why should you give it to the traders at reduced rates? What is the objecti ve in all this? Is it to throw away the PDS and become a traders' distribution agency? A government wants to give just seven million tonnes out of a total 50 million tonnes of stock to the PDS at a higher rate and the rest is to be distributed over a per iod to the traders at a lower rate. Can there be a more anomalous situation? Negotiations are going on. If the procurement price, the support price and the food subsidy are not continued, India will go back to its pre-Independence stage of scarcity on th e food front. It is a suicidal policy. We cannot go by the prescriptions of Western economists and destroy all that we have built up. Even in Western economies, food is heavily subsidised.

Dealers claim that ration shops in Kerala have become unviable. How true is this statement?

They have become less viable. All the ration shops together sell only around 50,000 tonnes of foodgrain, while at one time Kerala used to sell 1.5 lakh tonnes. Their plight is really sad. For years they tried to develop it as a means of living. Many shop s have become unviable. They are continuing in this business with the hope that things will improve.

What is the State's actual subsidy burden now since the offtake has come down?

We are giving 16 kg of rice at Rs.10, subsidising more than Rs.2 a kg. We are also providing the same subsidy to an additional 17 per cent of the population so as to include a total of 42 per cent in the BPL category. Together we expect the annual commit ment to be around Rs.150 crores. But it all depends on the offtake. BPL rice is sold completely, and this happens only in Kerala.

Why is that so?

Because we have a better delivery system and because of the low price. No shop has been closed down so far, even after all this.

The Ration Dealers' Association claims that 10 to 15 per cent of the ration shop owners in Kerala have sought either cancellation or suspension of their licences...

I don't have official figures on this. It is easy to blame the State government. But this is a clear case of a problem with the national policy. We might face another problem very soon. The prices will increase further if there is an increase in petroleu m prices.

Recently Kerala proposed importing food directly, especially because the FCI was providing poor quality foodgrains. Why did the State not go ahead with the proposal?

The problem in all this is that the grain merchants are a powerful lobby, and after all they are the backbone of the BJP government. The proposal is not viable now because the Government of India has increased the import tariff. But there is a logic in t he argument that we need not import because there is surplus production.

What is the State government planning to do to see that the ration shops are not closed down?

We are trying to help. We have now allowed them to buy and sell essential articles other than foodgrains, sugar and kerosene. We have also decided to give them up to Rs.5,000 by way of credit through the State Civil Supplies Corporation (Supplyco) for se lling essential and household provisions through ration shops as in the case of the Maveli stores. They can even sell vegetables. That way we are trying to give a boost to business in the ration shops.

The new policies are driving customers away from the ration shops and to the open market. What impact has this had on sales through the Supplyco outlets, the second tier of Kerala's PDS? In the context of the liberalisation policies, can the Supplyco outlets not be made to play a more prominent role as a price control and food provisioning system?

Sales through Supplyco Maveli stores and super-markets have increased correspondingly. The Supplyco turnover is nearly Rs.800 crores now. We are planning to start at least one Maveli store in every panchayat. By November-December, all panchayats in Keral a will have at least one Maveli store each.

Are there any constraints to develop this chain of outlets further, so as to provide relief against a possible disintegration of the universal coverage offered by the ration shop system?

There are no constraints, except the managerial constraints. You only have to imagine how it will be for a public undertaking to manage a chain of about 1,200 provision stores. That is the problem in expanding it further.

How much subsidy is involved in running the Supplyco outlets?

There is only a subsidy of Rs.50 crores and they function well with that. I think that is not a big price to pay if the State's interests are served, if it aids in controlling price rise. For the first time in the history of Kerala there is a negative gr owth in the cost of living index, as stated in the Economic Review.

Given the State's vulnerability to the Central government's policy changes, what is the solution to Kerala's food security problem, in the long term?

The solution is that the Central government should change its policy, or that there should be a government that will change this policy. We can try and raise the production and productivity of crops within the State, but there is only limited scope for this. Where is the land for paddy cultivation? There is a written assurance from Jawaharlal Nehru when he was Prime Minister that the Centre will look after the State's food needs; he gave this while asking Kerala to concentrate on growing the more remun erative cash crops. This was reiterated by Jagjivan Ram in Parliament. Unfortunately it is a Congress government that changed Nehru's policies and decided to take away food subsidy. The BJP government is trying to better the Congress record.

Brutal crackdown

The Chandrababu Naidu government's attempt to crush the agitation against the power tariff hike has helped the Left-led movement gain wide public support.

THE problem with a high-profile image is that when things go wrong, they go horribly wrong and there is nowhere to hide. N. Chandrababu Naidu, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, portrayed by sections of the media as the icon of economic reforms, has acqui red a blood-splattered image following the brutal August 28 police firing and lathicharge in Hyderabad on protestors demonstrating against the steep revision in power tariffs.

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The images delivered live by the electronic media to millions of homes across the State outraged public opinion against the government. The government's refusal to initiate a judicial probe into the incidents came to be widely interpreted as an admission of guilt. The government remains unmoved by the turn of events and has rejected the plea by all political parties, including its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party, to reconsider the massive tariff hike, which came into effect in June (Frontline, J une 23, 2000).

The images of the police firing, the indiscriminate lathicharge and charging at 25,000-odd protestors at Basheerbagh Chowk in Hyderabad by the mounted police were transmitted by Teja, a Telugu TV channel. Television viewers saw cane-wielding police hitti ng the protestors, aiming at their heads; protestors being hit by water cannons; and the police firing opening fire, which resulted in the death of two persons. The two protestors, one of them belonging to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and the other to the Congress(I), were hit in the chest. The video clips also showed protestors returning to claim the bodies of the dead or help the injured, or fight the police with stones. In the two-hour episode, a leader of the dhobies' union sustained bra in damage, caused by police lathis. The transmission stopped abruptly and Teja later claimed that it was muzzled by the government machinery. But, by then, the people's anger had been aroused and there were spontaneous protests in several parts of the St ate against the police action.

Even the strongest critics of the Left parties, which have for more than two years been campaigning against the government's power sector reforms under the direction of the World Bank, have voiced their protests. An industrialist said, "It is obvious to all that the communists took the brunt of the police attack." He said that the police had used "excessive force" and could have used less deadly methods of crowd control. Rubber bullets were hardly used, and water cannons and teargas shells were not depl oyed properly, he said.

Several eyewitnesses told Frontline that the firing started 10 or 15 minutes after a contingent of protestors reached Basheerbagh Chowk. At least 26 persons sustained bullet injuries in the police attack. Although the police claimed that one of th eir men suffered bullet injuries when some protestors grabbed the rifle of a policeman, an eyewitnesses said that she saw a policeman being hit by a bullet from his colleague's pistol. She even offered to name, from the badge he was wearing, the policema n who fired the pistol.

On September 4, Teja put out a story alleging police repression and censorship. It alleged that it was prevented from airing its full report on the August 28 incidents. In Khammam and other towns, cable TV operators protested against police censorship of video cassettes of the August 28 incidents. On September 5, Congress(I) MLA T. Jeevan Reddy alleged in the Assembly that government officials in several districts were forcing cable TV operators to edit out the "brutal and beastly behaviour" of the poli ce. There have been widespread allegations that the government had unleashed repression on democratic dissent.

Chandrababu Naidu's claim that extremist elements among the protestors caused the violence was immediately dismissed by the Opposition. He also claimed that the agitation was organised by a few cadres of political parties, implying that the movement had no popular support. However, Home Minister Devender Goud's admission in the Assembly that more than 25,000 protestors had been arrested since the agitation began on May 27, contradicted this. Goud also admitted that 158 instances of lathicharge on demons trators had taken place across the State during the period, implying that on an average every two days there had been three episodes of lathicharge.

B.V. Raghavalu, secretary of the State Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has in a report to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) alleged that goondas hired by the TDP, under the banner of the Telugu Sena, persistently attacked p rotestors across the State. (The formation of the controversial Telugu Sena was authorised by the TDP's politburo after the protests began in May.)

The All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), in a memorandum to the NHRC alleged that the police "specifically targeted" women protestors (see box). Claiming that more than 100 women were injured, it observed that the police action was meant to "coerce women into withdrawing from the public sphere".

As it happened, immediately after the August 28 incidents, World Bank President James Wolfensohn said in Washington that there was "nothing dramatic" in what the Andhra Pradesh government was doing. He said that power plants should broadly recover costs and advised the Andhra Pradesh government to have a tariff structure that at least enabled full recovery of costs. He said: "If you want to subsidise poor people, subsidise them directly."

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Wolfensohn's statement was greeted with an uproar in the Assembly. The Left parties and the Congress(I) claimed that the statement endorsed their position that the Bank was interfering in the affairs of the State. The BJP's floor leader, Indrasena Reddy, alleged that the government had become a "puppet" in the hands of the World Bank. He also said that it had borrowed "indiscriminately" from the Bank and was taking the State on the road to "economic slavery". The strong criticism forced the government t o place some of the documents that it had signed with the Bank on the table of the House. The documents indicate that the government has committed to the World Bank that it will keep increasing the tariffs by about 15 per cent annually in the next four y ears and thereafter by 12 per cent.

IN May, the Andhra Pradesh Electricity Regulatory Commission (APERC) notified a steep increase in power tariffs affecting almost all classes of consumers (Frontline, September 1, 2000). The revision resulted in an increase in revenues amounting to about Rs.800 crores. The Congress(I), the leading Opposition party, was quick to protest. The nine-party Left alliance, formed to protest President Bill Clinton's visit to India in March, was united on the issue too. Raghavalu explained that the Left pa rties, badly splintered since the 1970s, "learnt to live together and sank their ideological differences to ensure a united front against the government."

The Left alliance and the Congress(I) "synchronised" their protests to ensure maximum impact. Thus protests were organised at every meting attended by Ministers and at every official event.

In June the Andhra Pradesh Federation of Chambers of Commerce formed an action committee and in early July it organised a "bijli bandh" (electricity bandh) in the Chikkadapally area in Hyderabad. Shops and business establishments turned off the lights an d conducted business with kerosene lamps, torches and candles. This form of protest was later adopted by the political parties for a State-wide bijli bandh in August. Small industrialists in the industrial estates organised picketing and rasta roko actio n in Hyderabad.

Fundamentally, the APERC has been criticised for a total lack of transparency in arriving at the tariff revision. Almost every section of society - agricultural users, domestic consumers, traders and industrialists - has protested against the tariff hike . Agriculturists say that they will be unable to bear the heavy burden of the new levies. Farmers of Telengana and Rayalaseema regions, who have invested heavily in pumpsets, will bear higher costs compared to farmers in the coastal Andhra region, making them non-competitive. Moreover, they allege that the government's failure to compensate the Andhra Pradesh State Electricity Board (APSEB) - now unbundled into APTRANSCO, APGENCO and several regional power distribution companies - has led to poor financ ial condition of APTRANSCO. They allege that the government's failure to compensate the APSEB (and now TRANSCO), is the primary reason for the financial crisis.

Industrial users complain that the regulator's hearings, which led to the tariff revision, were utterly non-transparent. V.B. Shankar, vice-president of the Federation of Andhra Pradesh Small Industries Association (FAPSIA), told Frontline that in dustry representatives were not allowed to observe the proceedings of the Commission. "Even more galling," he said, "was the presence of the members of the World Bank team during the proceedings."

The APERC is also mired in a legal battle with industrial consumers. The Commission's ruling banning the use of captive power generators has been challenged in the State High Court by several spinning mills. A senior official in one of the spinning mills alleged that the APERC had failed to maintain a distance with the power supplier (TRANSCO). He alleged that the APERC was protecting the interests of the power supplier while ignoring the interests of consumers.

According to K. Rosaiah, Congress(I) spokesperson, the APERC's computation of tariffs for domestic consumers is seriously flawed as consumers are charged a peak load rate even though the APTRANSCO is not incurring any peak load costs for power purchased from other States. A former Electricity Minister, Rosaiah alleged that the tariff did not take into account the weightage of peak and non-peak power consumption by domestic users. He said that the government promised a subsidy of Rs.2,100 crores in Decem ber 1999 but scaled it down to Rs.1,345 crores in May 2000 and that this was accepted by the APERC without due consideration.

Several issues regarding the functioning of APTRANSCO have been highlighted by critics of the government. First, only 41 per cent of the power supplied by APTRANSCO is billed. This means that about two-thirds of the consumers are bearing the load of the entire system. The transmission and distribution (T&D) losses of APTRANSCO stood at 37 per cent in 1999-2000, compared to the international norm of 10 to 12 per cent. It is generally accepted that power theft is an important component in what goes under the name of T&D losses. The APSEB had not been incurring losses until 1994, that is, before the reforms were introduced. The reform process has dramatically changed TRANSCO's losses, which are now in excess of Rs.3,000 crores.

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Critics of the government allege that this situation has arisen partly out of the government's failure to compensate TRANSCO for the power it has to provide to agricultural and other consumers at subsidised rates. To make matters worse, TRANSCO's T&D los ses have increased from about 19 per cent in 1994-95 to about 37 per cent in 1999-2000. These losses have imposed a colossal drain on the utility. It is estimated that a 1 per cent reduction in T&D losses would generate additional revenue to the tune of about Rs.125 crores for TRANSCO. The argument against the hike goes thus: a 6 per cent saving in T&D losses, possible in technical terms, would undermine the very rationale for the tariff hike.

Greater transparency in economic affairs, leading to improved efficiency, has been held out a major argument in favour of economic reforms. Chandrababu Naidu's popularity among business interests was based on this attractive proposition. However, transpa rency is widely perceived to be the major casualty in the power sector reforms. One area where transparency has been found most wanting pertains to the operations of the independent power producers (IPP).

Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan, campaign coordinator of Lok Satta, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), which concentrates on political reforms, told Frontline that a proper metering and reconciliation system would enable the electricity board to funct ion more efficiently. This would bring down costs, and as a consequence, the tariffs. He also advocates decentralisation of electricity distribution, possibly allowing for the emergence of consumer cooperatives. Lok Satta claims that the operations of th e IPPs have been non-transparent, allowing for cost-padding on several counts.

Left party leaders allege that the hike in tariffs is meant to serve the interests of private players in the power sector. They argue that higher tariffs are, in part, caused by the very nature of the operations of the IPPs. Moreover, higher tariffs are also meant to keep "investor interest" alive in the distribution business. The next stage of the unbundling process of electricity utilities, which is due, may offer tremendous room for the free play of private interests in power distribution.

Raghavalu, in a public interest petition before the High Court, has raised the apprehension that the assets of the now publicly-owned distribution companies may be sold for a song to private entities. The value of TRANSCO's assets are likely to be in the region of Rs.60,000 crores. In addition, it has properties whose commercial value is likely to be in the region of Rs.25,000 crores. It is feared that these assets will be heavily undervalued. Raghavalu says that, for instance, the assets of the four di stribution companies in Tirupati, Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam and Warangal are valued at Rs.370 crores while their real value, including considerable real estate, would be several thousand crores. The gross undervaluation of assets of the public company mea ns that the private sector entity, which will take a 51 per cent controlling stake in the newly formed private distribution company, need bring only a couple of hundred crores as equity.

It is now clear that electricity as a public issue is unlikely to remain off the political agenda. Despite its ambivalence on the reforms process, the Congress(I) is clearly under pressure to maintain the momentum of the protests. The Left parties, enthu sed by the widespread support the movement has enjoyed, are ready for a long haul. For the TDP government, the August 28 incidents have perhaps brought to a close a phase in which he was posed as the CEO of a reforming State.

Targeting women

Targeting women the-nation

Excerpts from a memorandum submitted by the All India Democratic Women's Association to Justice J.S. Verma, chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, on September 5:

We believe that democratic rights are a basic human right and it is this basic human right which is being violated in Andhra Pradesh. As a women's organisation we are particularly concerned about the violence on women protestors. While on the one hand th e Government has made a public commitment to "women's empowerment including increased participation in the political process", on the other hand it has used brutal methods to coerce women into withdrawing from the public sphere, in this case in an agitat ion against a huge hike in electricity rates. The intervention of the NHRC, we believe, is essential not only to defend the democratic rights of the people of Andhra Pradesh but to send a wider message to the State, the police and governments that such a ttacks on women will not be tolerated.

We regret that the avenues of justice within the State have been blocked by the refusal of the State government to order a judicial inquiry into the entire incident. Indeed so one-sided has been the State government's approach and its defence of the poli ce, in spite of prima facie evidence of brutalities, that the conclusion is inescapable that the police were in fact acting on the instructions of the State government.

The procession started from a place called Indira Park and was to end at the Jagjivan Ram statue after crossing a flyover. About 200 metres away on the right side of the statue and under the flyover at Basheerbagh crossing, a second cordon was to be kept , so that the demonstrators could court arrest at two spots.

According to the statements of the women, who were at the head of the procession, they reached the Jagjivan Ram statue where they found the entire road blocked with police. In front of the police was a fencing of barbed wire. The police were also lining the roads. The women demonstrators started shouting slogans. Some women climbed on to an adjacent wall where they also shouted slogans. Suddenly the male police started throwing lathis at the women from across the barbed wire fence. Simultaneously the po licemen at the side of the road started pushing women onto the barbed wire fence. These were all male police. Several women were badly hurt on the wire. They suffered deep cuts on their arms, shoulders, back and thighs. When the women protested the male police started bodily lifting them. The women were badly manhandled. Several women who protested and tried to wrest themselves free of the male grip had their clothes torn. The clothes of at least two of the women, Devi and Mamta, were in shreds.

Some of the statements made by the women give a graphic picture of what happened. Mamta said: "The male police pulled my kurta right up and then tore it. I was lifted by them and thrown on to the wire." Devi said: "The men surrounded me and started pulli ng my clothes. I protested. They used filthy language and said we will teach you to come to demonstrations and tore my kurta and pulled my salwar. They lifted me and threw me into an open truck and started beating me. Some people saw it and surrounded th e truck and helped me to escape." Roja said: "I was pulled separately and beaten by men and women police. Three times they caught me and beat me." Praveena said: "The men caught my hands and pinned them back, while others beat me on the head. I pulled on e arm free and put it over my head and then they hit it with a lathi and severely injured it." Salma said: "When in front of my eyes they were beating up the women, I rushed to help but the police caught me and beat me on the back and the arms. They star ted the water cannon and aimed it at us. I was hit badly by the force of the water and started bleeding from the nose. But even after that the police did not spare me." Fatima said: "I reached the procession a bit late. The violence against the demonstra tion had already started. Suddenly the police came and started pushing me around. One of the men hit me hard on the knee and I fell down." There are scores of such statements.

The policemen also called for the women police and shouted at them to start beating up the women, which they did. All the while the most filthy, sexist, abusive language was used by the police against the women. They were referred to as sluts, prostitute s, bitches; obscene gestures were made. When the protestors still did not leave the site the male police resorted to repeated cane charges in which the women demonstrators were specifically targeted. This was immediately followed by water cannoning and t eargas shells being fired. Seeing the police brutality against women, Communist leader Ramakrishna, who was present, strongly protested and tried to save some of the women. The police caught him and beat him mercilessly on his head repeatedly. He is now in the intensive care unit of the Apollo Hospital where he is in a coma fighting death.

Meanwhile at the second spot in Basheerbagh, even before the procession could reach the cordon, the police started beating the veteran Left leaders who led the procession and also the women who were in the front.

Immediately thereafter, without any warning, even as the main body of the procession was on the flyover, the police started firing at the procession. At this spot there was no lathicharge or teargassing. The procedure laid down in the manuals is for the DM (District Magistrate) or his equivalent to give the order for firing after exhausting all other avenues. Even then the police are instructed to first fire in the air or below the knee. In this case the police fired to kill. Two died in the firing - Ba laswamy and Vishnu Vardha Reddy. The scores of those injured had bullet wounds in the stomach, the hands, the chest or the side of the head. The firing continued for half an hour.

The government put out the story that a policeman had been killed and several were severely injured for which reason the police had to open fire. This was a total lie. Not a single policeman died on August 28. Of the 28 persons admitted to the Osmania ho spital, only two were policemen, both of whom had injuries on their feet and one on his knee as a result of stone throwing. Other policemen who had been admitted in another hospital also suffered similar injuries. At the Jagjivan Ram statue spot, it was the women who were in front. The police, without any provocation, attacked them, beat them up, tore their clothes, used teargas and water cannons, injuring hundreds of protestors.

The Hyderabad incidents were the most brutal form of police repression. However, it was not the only example. Women demonstrators have been at the receiving end of political atrocities on them for the last three months ever since they joined the campaign to roll back the electricity price hikes. In district headquarters across the State, women were protesting during the government organised programmes, raising slogans and waving black flags. These are democratic means of protest, yet the police retaliat ed with vicious beatings. In every single one of these incidents it is the male police who were involved. Over 60 women have had false cases imposed on them.

Signed by Brinda Karat, general secretary, and Pramila Pandhe, vice-president, of the All India Democratic Women's Association.

The Advani factor

cover-story
SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN

TOWARDS the end of 1995, Lal Krishna Advani seemed fairly secure in his control over the BJP's organisational apparatus. He had suffered a temporary eclipse during Murli Manohar Joshi's stewardship of the party, but been restored to a leadership role wit h results that were almost immediately apparent. A transition was being signalled from the hardline ideological agenda of the early 1990s to a more moderate course. The BJP was the party of governance in a number of significant States and needed to act t he role.

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At a National Executive session in Panaji in April 1995, Advani had laid out a new political strategy for the party. Grown flabby and inept after years in authority, the Congress(I) was in the throes of self-destruction. Its final collapse would leave th e BJP as the only other claimant to the mantle of a national party. All it needed to do was keep itself aloof from any kind of divisive and emotive campaign and seek the image of a responsible party of governance. Advani spelt out the risks inherent in t his strategy with great clarity at Panaji: "The BJP is indeed growing. But it is worrisome that the pace at which the... Congress... is collapsing is greater than the pace at which we are growing." This left the door open, in Advani's estimation, for var ious kinds of "dangerous forces" to fill the vacuum created by the collapse of the Congress: specifically, the "forces of casteism, communalism and communism".

The reference of course was only to minority communalism and the kind of political mobilisations around caste that had consistently thwarted the BJP's pursuit of power. But to combat these forces it was deemed necessary to co-opt them. The BJP's courtshi p of electoral allies who would help it bridge the many glaring lacunae in its organisational structure, really begins in 1995.

Conflict with the hardline element still remained an incipient possibility. By the end of 1995, Advani was into his second consecutive term as party president and constitutionally forbidden from occupying the post beyond 1997. Anxious to consolidate his position and to broaden the constituency for moderation within the BJP, Advani then played his master-stroke - plucking his old friend Atal Behari Vajpayee from the fringes to which he had sullenly withdrawn during the Ayodhya campaign, and nominating hi m as the party's prime ministerial candidate for the general elections due by mid-1996.

Between Advani's 1990 rath yatra and the Assembly elections in five northern States in 1993, the BJP had reaped all the possible rewards of raising its pitch of political extremism. It had also suffered all the attendant risks. Advani's own pragmatic ext remism had given way in this period to Joshi's deeply ideological and programmatic extremism. Despite evident misgivings on the part of Advani and his close associates, Joshi launched his final assault to capture the holy grail of Ayodhya during his term as BJP president. For Advani, Ayodhya was symbolic of a larger struggle for the conquest of power in Delhi. For the strategically obtuse and rigid Joshi, Ayodhya was a goal in itself.

By mid-1993, the BJP seemed already to be uneasily aware that its stridency on Ayodhya had recoiled. Advani came in as party president again, vowing to move the Ayodhya issue down in his priorities list. Rather, a more "holistic" programme was promised, with the BJP confining itself to an auxiliary role on Ayodhya itself.

The rebuff that was administered by the electorate in 1993 was unmistakable. The BJP could hope to benefit from the waves of anti-incumbency sentiment that were buffeting the Congress(I) in virtually every State that it ruled. It could use the symbolism of mythology to propagate its cause and to build up a following. But there was a figurative boundary which could not be crossed. Once past this threshold, the party would tend to repel potential adherents in larger numbers than it could attract them.

Though Advani as party president had to bear the burden of responsibility for the 1993 election debacles, most of the party faithful were willing to ascribe the blame to Joshi's preceding term in office. Vajpayee, at the same time, was an isolated figure within the party. His three terms as BJP president in the first half of the 1980s were a scarcely remembered prehistory in the career of the party. And his committed following within the party cadre was limited. He was considered by most people as an at tractive frontman for the party who could not do much of substance in organisational or strategic terms.

Vajpayee had regained a momentary lease of relevance as the only senior leader of the party to evade arrest after the demolition at Ayodhya. His role in preserving a semblance of public respectability for the BJP in the aftermath of that dark deed was si gnificant. Despite his professed sense of agony over the demolition, he was still willing to take his place on the streets to protest the supposed suppression of the BJP's legitimate political rights.

Advani too went through a spasm of contrition after the demolition, describing it as the saddest event of his life and professing his continuing faith in secularism. But for him the discourse of Hindu victimhood was still relevant.

Though propelled into the leadership role in the 1996 campaign, Vajpayee remained dependent entirely on the muscle that Advani's control of the organisation lent him. Since assuming office as Prime Minister with a reasonable assurance of political longev ity in 1998, he has sought to break out of this situation of dependence. A part of the need to do so has arisen from the need for Vajpayee as Prime Minister to adopt a policy course that sets him at divergence with powerful sections within his party. And though Advani himself may share many of the basic premises of Vajpayee's economic policy, several of his acolytes within the organisation have completely antithetical views. And the Prime Minister has dealt with this situation either by winning over tra ditional Advani loyalists to his side or by isolating those that were proving recalcitrant to his overtures.

The potential for a conflict between the two old associates in the cause of Hindutva has been inherent on matters involving policy, politics and personnel. But on most issues, Advani has shown a tendency to defer to the wishes of his senior in party coun cils. Ram Jethmalani was ejected from his post as Union Minister for Law following a public tiff with the Chief Justice of India, despite Advani's expressed preference to retain him in the Cabinet in an alternative post. M. Venkaiah Naidu and Sushma Swar aj, two of Advani's closest confidant(e)s, have been left out of the Cabinet despite what they imagine are compelling claims to being accommodated. And in Uttar Pradesh, the State which represents the vanishing point of political ideology, Kalyan Singh, despite all his proximity to Advani, was ruthlessly cut out of the reckoning by a coterie acting with Vajpayee's explicit blessings.

There have also been areas of conflict in policy, particularly on Kashmir. Advani is believed to have had serious reservations about the release of three Islamic militants from imprisonment after the Kandahar hijacking last year. He was more sceptical ab out initiating a political dialogue in Kashmir than were Vajpayee and his advisers.

Personal warmth has long since ebbed in relations between the two old associates, to be replaced by a certain formal correctness. Despite his strongly held beliefs, this is perhaps testimony to the strength of the pragmatic streak in Advani's political m akeup. And it is also understood to be his implicit tribute to the consensual style of politics that Vajpayee has been practising within the ruling coalition.

Advani perhaps believes that when he succeeds to the job that Vajpayee today holds - as he undoubtedly thinks it is his manifest destiny to - he would be able to keep the faith of the allies in the same manner, while regaining the commitment of those wit hin the party who may have been alienated. There is no reason to expect that serious turbulence will ensue with the coalition partners, since Advani more than Vajpayee was the key figure in working out all the alliances both in 1998 and 1999.

But within the diverse factions and coteries that today constitute the BJP, there is little question that Advani would be a more acceptable figure. His problems are likely to begin when the considerations of political pragmatism are outweighed by loyalti es of caste, language and religion.

Strengths and infirmities

cover-story

Although not entirely physically fit, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee has realised his personal strength and political constituency and is taking a firm position with regard to the Sangh Parivar leadership.

VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN in New Delhi

IS Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee healthy enough to perform his immense responsibilities? His ardent followers in the Bharatiya Janata Party and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) aver he is, but some sections of the ruling establishment itself express doubts. His sudden departure from the venue of the Nagpur session of the BJP National Executive, complaining of uneasiness, even triggered speculation at various levels of post-Vajpayee scenarios.

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A Cabinet Minister considered close to both Vajpayee and Home Minister L.K. Advani told Frontline that the most upsetting factor was the steady fall in the attention span of the Prime Minister in the past few months. Vajpayee, according to him, is unable to concentrate on administrative and political matters to the extent he was capable of earlier. "His one-to-one interaction with colleagues and officials has been characterised recently by long pauses in conversations."

Concern over Vajpayee's health became more pronounced following the External Affairs Ministry's decision to defer his departure to the United States by two days. However, the question of Vajpayee's health has periodically come up since his first stint as Prime Minister in 1998. The issue received serious attention after August 15, 1998, when Vajpayee stepped out of his car wearing only one shoe. On Independence Day this year, he almost stumbled at the Red Fort ramparts in full view of the cameras. There are several theories and stories about Vajpayee's illness, but most of them lack official corroboration.

The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and sources in the BJP have systematically maintained that the Prime Minister's only ailment is osteoarthritis of the knees, which makes standing for long durations difficult, and that it is a curable condition.

After his embarrassing departure from Nagpur, Vajpayee himself stated that he suffered from arthritis of the knee and that this was not uncommon among people of his age. "I have no other problem. But if the media desire to indulge in speculation, I canno t prevent it," he said rather vehemently.

Dr. Randeep Guleria, the doctor at the PMO, said that in Vajpayee's case all other health parameters were satisfactory. "His blood pressure is normal, he does not have a cholesterol problem and his lung function test has shown that there is no need for c oncern there." And he has no history of diabetes.

In the opinion of Dr. P.K. Dave, Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Vajpayee's knee problem can be explained as a moderate case of osteoarthritis common among people of his age.

The PMO is ready to concede that being over-weight is another problem the Prime Minister faces. "He must keep his weight under control. In a way, that has aggravated the knee problem." Osteoarthritis manifests itself only occasionally, and it only affect s the Prime Minister's left leg," a PMO official said. Another senior official in the PMO said that surgery of the left knee was contemplated but by all indications a decision would be taken after Vajpayee sought medical opinion during his U.S. trip.

According to some officers in the PMO, surgery was recommended two years ago, but Vajpayee declined as it would put him out of action for two weeks. Instead he resorted to painkillers. Moreover, the consensus in the Cabinet and among the top leaders of t he BJP was that, in the interests of the NDA, he should carry on with his normal schedule and his ailments should not be publicised. "For a man of his age, he has indeed coped well with scant medication," a PMO official said.

In the context of these avowals, the question of Vajpayee's actual age has again assumed importance. There are different versions about the Prime Minister's age even in official records.

While the Lok Sabha Who's Who records Vajpayee's date of birth as December 25, 1926, the Lok Sabha website puts it as December 25, 1924. This discrepancy is further complicated by Vajpayee's own recorded statement submitted on September 1, 1942, b efore the District Magistrate of Bhateshwar in Madhya Pradesh (Frontline, February 7, 1998). While the main purpose of that statement was to assert that he had played no role in the violent incidents that had taken place at Bhateshwar as part of t he freedom struggle, Vajpayee mentioned his age as 20. If that was true, then Vajpayee's current age would be 78.

The frequent reference to the state of his health as also certain medical restrictions imposed on him have created a feeling in Vajpayee that he is a sick man.

According to a Vajpayee supporter from Uttar Pradesh, "this complicated the situation." He said: "In Nagpur, Vajpayeeji was not as unwell as he himself thought. Many of us tried to persuade him to take rest for some time and make at least a brief speech. "

Party leaders also point to the psychological burden that the medical treatment has imposed on the Prime Minister. "One method by which his doctors have sought to control the knee problem is to persuade him to stand at the podium for shorter durations by compelling him to make shorter speeches than normal. The PMO, for its part, gives written speeches that would not take more than 15-20 minutes to deliver. The net result of this on an orator like Vajpayee is that every time he makes a speech the feeling that he is a sick man gets reinforced," a senior BJP leader from Uttar Pradesh said.

THE one big question now is what impact the obvious deterioration in Vajpayee's health will have on the NDA and on his own political career. Clearly, the non-BJP segments of the NDA and even a large section of the BJP favour Vajpayee's leadership. "Right now we do not want to address the issue for the simple reason that Vajpayee is irreplaceable," a Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader said. A Trinamul Congress member of Parliament said no other BJP leader would be acceptable to the party. Thus signif icantly even with his physical infirmities Vajpayee keeps growing in power within the BJP. Not only was he able to enforce his choice of Bangaru Laxman to replace Kushabhau Thakre as party president but he succeeded in removing his bete noire, K.N. Govindacharya, as general secretary. For several years Vajpayee and Govindacharya seldom missed an opportunity to jibe at each other. Govindacharya's remark to a BBC correspondent that Vajpayee was only a mukhota (mask) of the BJP and the tussle between the two on the swadeshi versus globalisation issue are two notable instances. The fact that Govindacharya has been the chief Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) representative in the BJP and virtually the link between the party and the rest of the Sangh Parivar deterred Vajpayee many times in the past from going on an all-out offensive. But this time, when he is seemingly ill, Vajpayee has gotten over the restraining factors and struck decisively. It is learnt that he was ready even to take on the leaders of the Sangh Parivar, including the top brass of the RSS, to effect Govindacharya's removal.

His offer was clear. Govindacharya can be made a vice-president of the party - a largely ceremonial position - and not a powerful general secretary. The RSS top brass, including Madan Das Devi, tried to put pressure on Vajpayee but he was firm. Devi had a series of discussions with Bangaru Laxman and Kushabhau Thakre and tried to impress upon them the need to retain Govindacharya. Ultimately, the leaders of the Sangh Parivar had to take cover under the reasoning that Govindacharya wanted to be relieved from the general secretary's post to study development models and evolve an Indian alternative.

By all indications, Vajpayee's struggle against the RSS top brass is not yet over. The Sangh Parivar had suggested the names of Dr. Mahesh Chandra Sharma and Bal Apte as possible replacements for Govindacharya. Sharma is a Rajya Sabha member and the Edit or of Swadeshi Patrika of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, which criticised the Vajpayee government's economic policy in strong terms recently, while Bal Apte is a senior RSS activist. But Vajpayee replied that they too can be accommodated only as vice- presidents.

According to BJP and Sangh Parivar insiders, Vajpayee's new-found penchant for self-assertion could cause serious problems for the BJP and even the NDA. Vajpayee's reiteration that the BJP and the RSS are different entities is perceived by the liberal su pporters of the Prime Minister as part of a strategy. Vajpayee told mediapersons recently that the RSS and its front organisations have an identity of their own, entirely independent of the BJP. He emphasised that the BJP was a political party involved i n political activities on the basis of a political agenda and should be judged by its performance in office and not on the basis of the ideology of some other organisation.

Upholding the right of the RSS and its front organisations to propagate their own views, he added that criticism was an integral part of a democratic society but everybody should take care not to cross the "Lakshman Rekha" or the limit. For a leader who invariably succumbed to the RSS view when it came to the crunch, these words are rated as strong.

Commenting on this statement and his adamant position on Govindacharya, a senior BJP leader said that "the Prime Minister, by all indications, has embarked on a very significant battle of his life." This could even acquire intense ideological dimensions, he said. In his view, with the formation of the NDA government, "Vajpayee has realised his real personal strength and real political constituency. He has understood that he is closer to the liberal, democratic values of several NDA constituents than to the BJP, and he seems keen to retain this constituency."

Vajpayee might even go to the extent of openly taking on the Sangh Parivar to retain this constituency, and this battle might ultimately elevate him to the position of a statesman who overcame his past association with obscurantist forces for the sake of welfare of the country, the leader said.

According to a Cabinet Minister belonging to the BJP, the Prime Minister is playing with a double-edged sword at great personal peril, particularly when he is not fully fit physically.

Targeting women

Targeting women the-nation

Excerpts from a memorandum submitted by the All India Democratic Women's Association to Justice J.S. Verma, chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, on September 5:

We believe that democratic rights are a basic human right and it is this basic human right which is being violated in Andhra Pradesh. As a women's organisation we are particularly concerned about the violence on women protestors. While on the one hand th e Government has made a public commitment to "women's empowerment including increased participation in the political process", on the other hand it has used brutal methods to coerce women into withdrawing from the public sphere, in this case in an agitat ion against a huge hike in electricity rates. The intervention of the NHRC, we believe, is essential not only to defend the democratic rights of the people of Andhra Pradesh but to send a wider message to the State, the police and governments that such a ttacks on women will not be tolerated.

We regret that the avenues of justice within the State have been blocked by the refusal of the State government to order a judicial inquiry into the entire incident. Indeed so one-sided has been the State government's approach and its defence of the poli ce, in spite of prima facie evidence of brutalities, that the conclusion is inescapable that the police were in fact acting on the instructions of the State government.

The procession started from a place called Indira Park and was to end at the Jagjivan Ram statue after crossing a flyover. About 200 metres away on the right side of the statue and under the flyover at Basheerbagh crossing, a second cordon was to be kept , so that the demonstrators could court arrest at two spots.

According to the statements of the women, who were at the head of the procession, they reached the Jagjivan Ram statue where they found the entire road blocked with police. In front of the police was a fencing of barbed wire. The police were also lining the roads. The women demonstrators started shouting slogans. Some women climbed on to an adjacent wall where they also shouted slogans. Suddenly the male police started throwing lathis at the women from across the barbed wire fence. Simultaneously the po licemen at the side of the road started pushing women onto the barbed wire fence. These were all male police. Several women were badly hurt on the wire. They suffered deep cuts on their arms, shoulders, back and thighs. When the women protested the male police started bodily lifting them. The women were badly manhandled. Several women who protested and tried to wrest themselves free of the male grip had their clothes torn. The clothes of at least two of the women, Devi and Mamta, were in shreds.

Some of the statements made by the women give a graphic picture of what happened. Mamta said: "The male police pulled my kurta right up and then tore it. I was lifted by them and thrown on to the wire." Devi said: "The men surrounded me and started pulli ng my clothes. I protested. They used filthy language and said we will teach you to come to demonstrations and tore my kurta and pulled my salwar. They lifted me and threw me into an open truck and started beating me. Some people saw it and surrounded th e truck and helped me to escape." Roja said: "I was pulled separately and beaten by men and women police. Three times they caught me and beat me." Praveena said: "The men caught my hands and pinned them back, while others beat me on the head. I pulled on e arm free and put it over my head and then they hit it with a lathi and severely injured it." Salma said: "When in front of my eyes they were beating up the women, I rushed to help but the police caught me and beat me on the back and the arms. They star ted the water cannon and aimed it at us. I was hit badly by the force of the water and started bleeding from the nose. But even after that the police did not spare me." Fatima said: "I reached the procession a bit late. The violence against the demonstra tion had already started. Suddenly the police came and started pushing me around. One of the men hit me hard on the knee and I fell down." There are scores of such statements.

The policemen also called for the women police and shouted at them to start beating up the women, which they did. All the while the most filthy, sexist, abusive language was used by the police against the women. They were referred to as sluts, prostitute s, bitches; obscene gestures were made. When the protestors still did not leave the site the male police resorted to repeated cane charges in which the women demonstrators were specifically targeted. This was immediately followed by water cannoning and t eargas shells being fired. Seeing the police brutality against women, Communist leader Ramakrishna, who was present, strongly protested and tried to save some of the women. The police caught him and beat him mercilessly on his head repeatedly. He is now in the intensive care unit of the Apollo Hospital where he is in a coma fighting death.

Meanwhile at the second spot in Basheerbagh, even before the procession could reach the cordon, the police started beating the veteran Left leaders who led the procession and also the women who were in the front.

Immediately thereafter, without any warning, even as the main body of the procession was on the flyover, the police started firing at the procession. At this spot there was no lathicharge or teargassing. The procedure laid down in the manuals is for the DM (District Magistrate) or his equivalent to give the order for firing after exhausting all other avenues. Even then the police are instructed to first fire in the air or below the knee. In this case the police fired to kill. Two died in the firing - Ba laswamy and Vishnu Vardha Reddy. The scores of those injured had bullet wounds in the stomach, the hands, the chest or the side of the head. The firing continued for half an hour.

The government put out the story that a policeman had been killed and several were severely injured for which reason the police had to open fire. This was a total lie. Not a single policeman died on August 28. Of the 28 persons admitted to the Osmania ho spital, only two were policemen, both of whom had injuries on their feet and one on his knee as a result of stone throwing. Other policemen who had been admitted in another hospital also suffered similar injuries. At the Jagjivan Ram statue spot, it was the women who were in front. The police, without any provocation, attacked them, beat them up, tore their clothes, used teargas and water cannons, injuring hundreds of protestors.

The Hyderabad incidents were the most brutal form of police repression. However, it was not the only example. Women demonstrators have been at the receiving end of political atrocities on them for the last three months ever since they joined the campaign to roll back the electricity price hikes. In district headquarters across the State, women were protesting during the government organised programmes, raising slogans and waving black flags. These are democratic means of protest, yet the police retaliat ed with vicious beatings. In every single one of these incidents it is the male police who were involved. Over 60 women have had false cases imposed on them.

Signed by Brinda Karat, general secretary, and Pramila Pandhe, vice-president, of the All India Democratic Women's Association.

'We have exposed the power sector reforms'

the-nation

Interview with B.V. Raghavalu, CPI(M) State secretary, Andhra Pradesh.

Nine Left parties have since May been in the forefront of the agitation against the hike in the power tariffs in Andhra Pradesh, synchronising their agitational programmes with the main Opposition party, the Congress(I). B.V. Raghavalu, secretary of the State Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), who has been actively involved in the agitation, spoke to V. Sridhar in Hyderabad about the all-India ramifications of the protests. Excerpts from the interview:

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The agitation against the power sector reforms appears to have entered a new phase after the police opened fire on protestors in Hyderabad on August 28. Do you see a qualitative change in the situation?

Yes, there is a change in the situation. The movement since May picked up momentum gradually. August 28 was the peak moment in the struggle against the hike in power tariffs. Simultaneously, Opposition legislators staged a hunger-strike. It was called of f on August 28. The movement has now entered a long-drawn phase. This means that new sections of people have to be drawn into it and new forms of struggle have to be devised. Three things have to be done in the future: we have to intensify the movement, widen it and run it on a long-term basis. I feel that the conditions are suitable for this.

Many sections of the people expressed solidarity with the struggle - not just the trade unions and peasant organisations, but even lawyers, artists and writers. Associations representing the weaker sections have also supported the cause. they are confide nt that we are steadfast in our resistance to economic reforms.

What has happened to Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu's image as the champion of reforms?

The August 28 incidents have shattered many myths about Chandrababu Naidu. First, the belief that he is invincible has been shaken. The movement has shown that he is weak-kneed and has played into the hands of the World Bank; that he is vulnerable to a u nited movement; and that the power of the media cannot prevent the truth from sinking in. As the movement grew in strength, the Chief Minister pleaded with the people to bear with the tariff hike and promised to spare consumers when the next revision is due in December 2000. This is a moral victory for the movement. The myth, reinforced by the national and international media, that he enjoys the support of the people has also been shattered.

Political parties such as the Congress(I) that were supportive of the World Bank-induced reforms are now bitterly opposed to the Bank policies. In the State Assembly, even the floor leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Indrasena Reddy, alleged that the interests of the State are being mortgaged to the World Bank. There are some elements in the State BJP, who are not so ideologically committed, who feel that the wishes of the people should be respected. The public outrage is so enormous that the BJP has demanded a rollback of the hike. Within the ruling TDP (Telugu Desam Party) also signs of outrage at the government's handling of the protests are evident. One of the achievements of the movement is the bringing to light of the World Bank's role in the reforms process.

What are the innovative features of the agitation?

Many new methods of struggle have been evolved by the people. In the last few years there have been several occupational and lifestyle changes. These have given rise to new forms of protests. The cadres and committed activists participate in the old form s of protest, such as dharnas, picketing demonstrations and hunger strikes. But ordinary people prefer newer forms. For instance, the signature campaigns were a tremendous success. When we campaigned at railway stations and bus stands, people queued up t o sign the protest petitions. Another form of protest was the "People's Ballot". People were asked to vote for or against the tariff hike. Over five lakh ballots were polled in a single day across the State. The whole process - from polling to counting - was conducted in the presence of media representatives and, of course, the overwhelming response was against the hike. The government alleged that the balloting was rigged. We challenged it to conduct such a vote.

Another innovative protest was the bijli bandh. The traders of the Chikkadapalli area in Hyderabad were the first to switch off their power connections and conduct business without power for an hour as a mark of protest. We learnt from this experi ence. On August 24, the entire State was plunged into darkness when we organised a bijli bandh for an hour between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Since these forms of protest are purely voluntary, they give the people a chance to give full expression to their feelings. This is also the meaning of the complete and real involvement of the people. When people attend our public meetings, we cannot cla im that they support us. They may just be curious to hear us. But when people participate in such innovative protests they participate fully.

The nine Left parties were united on a single platform in Andhra Pradesh, adding a new dimension to the politics of resistance to economic reforms. What are the implications and lessons for the unity of Left forces at the national level?

The Communist movement in Andhra Pradesh has a glorious history. Unfortunately, since the 1970s the movement here has splintered into several groups. Exasperated by the state of affairs in the movement, people also lost confidence in the communists. The power tariff issue united the people and they forced the communists to come together. The people have also realised that although they could not force a rollback, they have acquired a new strength to fight the repressive policies of the government. Durin g the 100-day struggle, the communists learnt to live together.

How was this possible?

The nine Left parties kept ideological issues out of the agenda and agreed to focus on the struggle. We also realised during the course of the struggle that although we are trying to change the situation, we are also being changed by the emerging situati on. We adopted forms of struggle that were earlier considered revisionist or Gandhian. Although more than 25,000 protestors were arrested across the State and there were 158 instances of lathicharges on protestors, no public property was destroyed and no t a single policeman was attacked. This has been a fully non-violent movement although repression was let loose on us. Despite several differences, the Left parties accepted this form of struggle and it prevented us from being isolated. For the sake of t he unity of the people, we buried our differences with the Congress(I) in order to take part in the joint struggles.

How did the Left manage to keep company with the Congress(I) despite its ambivalence on the power sector reforms? What are the Congress(I)'s compulsions that have forced it to keep company with the Left?

We started on the basic premise that the tariff hike has imposed a heavy burden on the people. To build the struggle we needed to mobilise every section of the people. This task posed some questions. We realised that about 40 to 50 per cent of the masses are behind the Congress(I); we could not strengthen the movement without mass support. So we had to live with the Congress(I). At the same time, we did not want to lose our identity. We evolved a new tactic of synchronisation with the Congress(I). The L eft parties decided to discuss and deliberate their programme of action with the Congress(I) and conduct the agitations on the same day but as separate entities. At the ground level there was unity between the two forces and at the higher levels, the pro grammes were synchronised to ensure maximum impact. Throughout the struggle the Left parties held separate discussions and deliberations. In short, the first priority was the unity of the Left and then synchronisation with the largest political force, th e Congress(I).

There was also popular pressure on the Congress(I) from the grassroots. Although we are aware that the Congress(I) is not committed in its opposition to the World Bank and its policies, we realised that the agitation was an indirect struggle against the Bank. Therefore we did not insist that the Congress(I) commit itself to a fight against the World Bank. However, the experience of the agitation made the Congress(I) realise that it could not escape criticising the World Bank. Ultimately the Congress(I) has come around to criticise the Bank's conditionalities and it has now demanded that the agreement with the Bank be scrapped.

You have alleged that the government used the might of the state machinery against the agitation. There have also been allegations about the arm-twisting of the media.

The World Bank is experimenting with Andhra Pradesh. We have also learnt many things in the process. The media have been used to propagate the World Bank's structural adjustment programmes. The media are also being used to suppress any criticism of the B ank. The TDP government's allocation of funds for the Public Relations Department increased from just about Rs.5 crores to about Rs.80 crores in a very short period. Most of this money is used to purchase the media. Pressure is exerted on managements of media organisations) to keep in check journalists who are critical of the government. Attacks by hired goondas on journalists have increased in recent months. In Samalkot, Kurnool and Vijayawada, cameramen of television channels have been attacked for co vering the protests. The editor of a prominent Telugu daily was removed under pressure from the government for his criticism of the tariff hike. The government has also exerted pressure on newspaper managements by withholding government advertisements.

During the 100 days of protests, the police resorted to lathicharge all over the State. Women protestors were humiliated and women police personnel were not always pressed into service. The police systematically let loose terror on the protestors. Police in plainclothes lathicharged them in complete violation of legal provisions and standing orders. The Telugu Sena, a gang of goons, attacked demonstrators with knives, razors, blades and other sharp weapons. The police did nothing to control this.

Do you see the August 28 incidents as some kind of a turning point in the struggle against economic reforms?

The movement started as a struggle against the power tariff increase. By August 28 it covered a wider gamut of issues: the World Bank was brought into the picture. People now understand that the price rise is because of the Bank-dictated policies. Althou gh there is a temporary setback in terms of not being able to force the government to roll back the increase, a whole new set of issues have opened up in the realm of public discourse. The people and political parties have learnt some lessons from the st ruggle. That has been the biggest achievement of the movement. We are happy that we have given a thrust to the resistance to economic reforms in India.

And now the NGMA

SUNEET CHOPRA the-nation

Participating artists force the National Galery of Modern Art to cancel an exhibition of works following a gross effort at censorship by the Department of Culture - dealing a serious blow to the credibility of the NGMA.

PERHAPS all government-sponsored shows involve the dispensation of grace and favour. And perhaps the exhibition, 'Combine - Voices for the New Century', was no different. The 26 artists chosen are well known as having been patronised by government offici als like Ashok Bajpai of the Ministry of Culture, by the former Director of the National Gallery of Modern Act (NGMA), and by various embassies and leading galleries. Not one of these artists is "new" in any sense of the word. They are in no way fringe e lements.

Finally, the exhibition failed to take off because the participating artists took exception to a particularly gross effort at censorship by the Department of Culture in the Central government. This was a serious blow to the credibility of the NGMA, which had turned away an exhibition by Victor Vasarely, a Hungarian born French artist of world renown, to put up 'Combine'.

The works featured in 'Combine', however, were by and large conventional ones. True, the concept note spouts platitudes like the artists having "cut the umbilical cord", or "portraying and symbolising contemporary issues". But the show does not reflect m uch that is beyond the ordinary. The artists describe themselves as "people who represent (a) major school of thought with astonishing power" and the show is said to be "a delight by virtue of its simplicity and austerity", reflecting "daring conviction and a no compromise attitude" as a result of which they complain of "being neglected". But one finds that far more radical artists have been excluded than been included in the show.

However, the exhibition was to be a well chosen conventional show sponsored by an art bureaucracy that the present dispensation wanted to uproot because it cannot bear to give public credibility to anything that is not entirely its own. In order to ensur e that, no one, however tame, is to be spared the whip. The message they give is clear: go through us, or not at all. That is why after M.F. Husain's works have been attacked so many times and he faces numerous false cases foisted by elements from the Sa ngh Parivar, the same Prime Minister who wrote in the catalogue of his tormentor took a painting by the artist to gift to the Pope. Similarly Jatin Das, who was nearly lynched by Bajrang Dal elements, has been given an offer to do a mural in Parliament. Anjolie Ela Menon and Latika Katt were abusively addressed by an official of the Ministry of Culture during their efforts to find the missing sculptor Balbir Katt. Their efforts to find any trace of the artist have been scuttled. But we learn that the Pr ime Minister is carrying a sculpture and a painting by Anjolie Ela Menon to gift to Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea Clinton. It is obvious that a carrot and stick policy is being used to coerce and corrupt the artists.

Even what happened at the NGMA shows that while one cannot sup with the devil without dirtying one's hands, it is possible to come clean in the end. This is what happened when on August 31 the Director of the NGMA suddenly said she would not allow the wo rk of one of the better works in the show - Surendran Nair's

"An actor rehearsing the interior monologue of Icarus". This abrupt decision was taken on instructions from the Secretary in the Department of Culture, P.V. Vaidyanatha Ayyar. Ayyar said that as public servants they would be called upon to explain how th ey had allowed a canvas, which depicted the national emblem in a less than reverential manner, to pass.

Both Surendran Nair and Rekha Rodwittiya threatened to withdraw all their works from the show. The matter came to such a pass that the Director finally stated, a few hours before the show, that if necessary she would take down the work with her own hands . At that point all the artists decided to withdraw their works from the exhibition rather than have a good work removed in an authoritarian manner. This happened some 15 minutes before the show was to open.

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On September 6, the eminent artist Ghulam Sheikh offered his resignation from the advisory committee to the NGMA. In his letter to the Director, Sheikh pointed out that "the unilateral decision to remove a painting from an approved and authorised show on unsubstantial legal, moral or aesthetic grounds indicates an unfortunate absence of sensitivity to artistic vocabulary", and on account of "the lack of concern the NGMA authorities have shown towards the advisory committee", he could no longer continue to be a committee member.

The Director of the NGMA no longer answers questions officially. All questions on the matter are directed to a Joint Secretary in the Department of Culture who is seldom available. Coming as it does in the wake of an exhibition in Canada being removed un der pressure from the Indian High Commissioner (article on page 61), one may see a period of interference in civil society by the state and its instruments as never before. But the resistance to it will also be much broader than before and from all quart ers as the carrot is no longer sweet enough to bear the constant attacks with the stick.

It is obvious that such tactics cannot succeed in the long run. But they can destroy our culture that has been so assiduously developed during the long struggle to free ourselves from colonial rule. The Sangh Parivar largely kept aloof from the struggle and even divided the forces fighting for independence at crucial moments in the country's history. It obviously has no stake in the culture of independent India, so it is not pained to see it being destroyed in its attempt to regiment Indian society alon g its own sectarian lines.

However, the cultural tradition of poets such as Subramanya Bharati, Rabindranath Tagore, Nazrul Islam, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Kumaran Asan; writers such as Munshi Prem Chand, Rahul Sankrityayan, E.M.S. Namboodiripad and Vaikom Muhammad Basheer; artists suc h as Gaganendranath Tagore, Ram Kinkar Baij, Chitta Prasad, Zainul Abedin, Nandalal Bose and Bhabesh Sanyal, is not likely to bow before the stick. The artists have written a letter to the NGMA authorities in which they have stated that they will exhibit their work at the NGMA only if the authorities back down and allow the whole show to be exhibited without exception. So we can look forward to a long and relentless struggle in the arts, which will no doubt give substance to the words in the concept not e of this exhibition of young artists if they stick to their word.

A dangerous game

The process of seeking a direct settlement with terrorist groups has marginalised the prospect of a meaningful debate on autonomy, which could have propelled a real dialogue on the democratic aspirations of Jammu and Kashmir's diverse communitie s.

TWO years ago, Abdul Majid Dar's friends have it, the Hizbul Mujahideen commander received divine directions to a initiate dialogue with the Indian government. The crush of pilgrims in Mecca had led the Saudi Arabian police to suspend movement in the hol y city. Stuck right in front of the Kaaba, the structure at the heart of the Haj pilgrimage, Dar had a vision of the devastation he had inflicted in Jammu and Kashmir. At that moment, Dar's associates claim, he decided to meet interlocutors who might bri ng about negotiations to end the carnage. After putting his plans to his wife, a doctor in the United Arab Emirates, the Hizb's operations chief began to plan the peace process that finally began in July this year. Dar himself is not available for commen t, so there is no way of finding out just how seriously he himself takes this god-did-it narrative. What is clear, however, is that the work of an invisible hand is indeed evident in the events Dar set in play. But there is nothing supernatural here: the hand is that of the United States of America.

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Dar's chosen mediator, Fazl-ul-Haq-Qureishi, has given the first real idea of what the Hizb's vision of a negotiated settlement to the crisis in Jammu and Kashmir might constitute. In a September 1 interview to an Internet news portal, the People's Polit ical Front leader said he had submitted to the Union Government formal plans for a quasi-independent Jammu and Kashmir. "The model," Qureishi said, "envisages a semi-sovereign status for Jammu and Kashmir, and joint control exercised by both India and Pa kistan". It is not clear whether Qureishi was speaking for the Hizb or his own organisation, which appears to be developing independent political ambitions. But the fact that the statement came from Qureishi suggested to most people that it had the suppo rt of at least a section within the Hizb leadership.

Masood Tantrey, the Hizb's valley commander and its official spokesperson, formally disassociated himself from Qureishi's pronouncements three days later. "We have made enough concessions by agreeing to (a) tripartite solution," Tantrey's statement read, "and there is no scope for further compromise. Now all of us should accept only that settlement which is agreed through the tripartite solution." It was lost on none, though, that Qureishi's announcements closely mirrored proposals made by other Kashmir -based figures on the Islamic right. On May 9, just a month before Dar came out with his ceasefire declaration, the then chief of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and Jamaat-e-Islami leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, announced that his organisatio n was "not for the division of the state, and if in the talks the parties reach a consensus to divide the State, we will accept that".

Geelani's proposals, as in the case of those made by Qureishi, have their origins in proposals put out by the Kashmir Study Group (KSG), a United States-based organisation. Farooq Kathwari, who owns the upmarket Ethan Allen, set up the KSG after his son was killed in an accident during training in Afghanistan as a recruit for the Islamic Right's jehad in Jammu and Kashmir. With the backing of prominent Indian establishment figures, the KSG put out proposals in September 1999 for the creation of a new Kashmiri state which would be a "sovereign entity but one without an international pers onality" (Frontline, October 22, 1999). The new state, the KSG report said, "would have its own secular, democratic constitution, as well as its own citizenship, flag and a legislature which would legislate on all matters other than defence and fo reign affairs. India and Pakistan would be responsible for the defence of the Kashmiri entity, which would itself maintain police and gendarme forces for internal law and order purposes".

Almost unnoticed, Kathwari's proposals for a new state created by sundering Jammu and Kashmir along communal lines, gathered momentum. The furniture tycoon met high-level officials in New Delhi and Srinagar this March, including Chief Minister Farooq Abd ullah. In the build-up to the Kargil war, Pakistan's then Foreign Minister Niaz Naik mirrored the suggestions in the KSG Report, calling for a series of tehsil-level referendums to settle the State's future. Reports in the Pakistan press suggest that Nai k and the Indian government's back-channel negotiator during the Kargil war, R.K. Mishra, also held discussions on the plan. Finally, the Jammu and Kashmir government's Regional Autonomy Commission (RAC) called for the sundering of the State along commun al lines. Sources close to the official charged with the implementation of the RAC Report, Riyaz Punjabi, say that he has watered down some of its more explicitly communal proposals, but its final contours remain to be seen.

QUREISHI'S conversion to the Kathwari plan is not the only sign of the U.S. role in the ongoing processes in Jammu and Kashmir. On September 4, just as Tantrey was busy attacking Qureishi's proposals, in Islamabad Hizbul Mujahideen chief Mohammad Yusuf S hah was offering journalists riveting insights into the U.S. role in the dialogue process. Shah, who prefers to use the nom de guerre of Syed Salahuddin, said he had given to a U.S.-based businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, a detailed account of the Hizb's reason s for terminating its ceasefire. Ijaz, Shah suggested, had been acting as a personal representative for U.S. President Bill Clinton. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained nuclear physicist, he is chairman of the New York-based Crescent Equity I nvestment Bank and a member of the influential Council for Foreign Relations.

It is now well known that Ijaz was in India around the time Dar was in Jammu and Kashmir. Ijaz was flown in through Kathmandu on a special Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) aircraft (Frontline, June 9, 2000). The U.S. businessman, who is personally close to Clinton and a major campaign finance donor to the Democratic Party, arrived in Srinagar in the second week of May. Escorted by RAW minders, he was whisked through passport control at Srinagar's Humhama Airport without the mandatory entries bein g made, and driven to a State guest house under escort. Later, he was briefed by 15 Corps Commander Lieutenant-General Kishan Pal and Director-General of Police Gurbachan Jagat, a privilege rarely granted to foreign nationals other than high-level diplom ats. Finally, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah hosted a dinner for the visitor at his residence on Srinagar's Gupkar Road on May 10, attended by a small group of State Cabinet Ministers.

Abdullah himself has gone on record to say that he did indeed meet both Kathwari and Ijaz, but little is known about the specific role of the U.S. in preparing the ground for the ongoing peace process. One important event, however, appears to have been t he visit of U.S. Senator David Bonier to Srinagar in April. In Srinagar, Bonier is believed to have flatly told Geelani and top APHC leaders including its current chairman Abdul Ghani Bhat to drop their opposition to any negotiations not involving Pakist an. Geelani subsequently flew to New Delhi for discussions with Pakistan High Commissioner Ashraf Qazi Jehangir. Similar plain talking was possibly done in New Delhi, for on May 7, Union Home Minister L.K. Advani had for the first time spoke of the prosp ect of talks with terrorist groups, saying he was working "to create a climate in which if any section of the Kashmiri people wishes to discuss issues with the Government of India, discussions can take place".

Key players in the dialogue process are far from unanimous on its future, or even its contours. Deep fissures are evident even within the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Hizb's parent organisation. Following bitter criticism by Geelani of the Jamaat's Amir (chief), Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, the organisation's Majlis-e-Shoura (supreme council) met to consider the former APHC chief's future. Although Geelani refused to withdraw his attack on Bhat for supporting the ceasefire, the Majlis, at the end of a three-day meetin g on August 29, chose neither to censure him nor to remove him from the APHC, where he serves as the Jamaat's representative.

Events in the Majlis-e-Shoura surprised more than a few observers. Only weeks earlier, Bhat, who has been one of the principal advocates of a ceasefire and a negotiated peace, appeared to have secured the organisation's unequivocal support. Bhat defeated Geelani's nominee, Ashraf Sehrai, in elections for the Amir's post held by the Jamaat's general house of representatives, the 90-member Majlis-e-Numaindgan. The outcome of the Majlis-e-Shoura, however, illustrates that Bhat is in no position to risk a s plit in the Jamaat, or to marginalise the hardliners decisively. Instead, something of a compromise between the two factions emerged, with Bhat accepting Sehrai as a deputy, and Geelani, who heads the Jamaat's political wing, taking on Ghulam Qadir Lone, a moderate, as his second-in-command. The feud within the organisation appears to reflect larger schisms within the Hizb itself, for Dar has been unable to gain endorsement for his initiative from several key field commanders.

Developments at the other end of the political spectrum are not dissimilar. Mainline Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) activists were stunned by the support their cadre gave to the controversial former Jan Sangh chief Balraj Madhok during his September 1 visi t to Jammu. Madhok charged Advani with "bringing shame to the nation" by engaging in a dialogue with the Hizbul Mujahideen. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Advani, he said, "should quit and hand over Jammu and Kashmir to the Army". The newly-form ed Jammu and Kashmir Nationalist Front, Madhok announced, would launch a campaign to sunder the state into three. Madhok shared a platform with a spectrum of Right-wing leaders in the State, notably the Ladakh Buddhist Association's Tsering Samphel. Samp hel has been at the cutting edge of a Buddhist-chauvinist agitation in Ladakh this summer, which has on at least one occasion almost provoked violence.

If the Hindu Right is under pressure in Jammu, so too are its Islamic counterparts in Kashmir. The APHC, for one, has found itself under collective assault from revanchist organisations like the Jammu Kashmir Islamic Front, threatening to execute securit y guards assigned to its leaders. The Hizb, for its part, has been forced to threaten to engage in a new wave of hostilities that is pan-Indian in character, a posture obviously designed to ward off pressure from Pakistan-based jehadi organisation s. Hizb commanders have also been seeking to make a communal issue of census operations, which are being undertaken in Jammu and Kashmir after two decades.

As the September 1 bombing which injured former State Minister Maulvi Iftekhar Husain Ansari illustrates, just weeks after the Hizb ceasefire, it is back to business in Jammu and Kashmir. While high-political plans for a resolution of Jammu and Kashmir's bloody war may seem conceptually attractive, their principal impact so far has been to deepen the conflict between religious communities. Through the State, peoples and politicians have begun to position themselves in the event of a partition, however f ar it might yet be in the future. Tragically, meaningful debate on autonomy, which could have propelled a real dialogue on the welter of democratic aspirations of the State's diverse communities, has been marginalised by the process of bringing about a d irect settlement with terrorist groups. Many had advertised the Hizb ceasefire as the beginning of a new time of peace. It may turn out, instead, to be just a false dawn.

Whither economic reforms?

India's Economic Performance and Reforms: A Perspective for the New Millennium by Subramanian Swamy; Konark Publishers, 2000; pages xi + 339, Rs. 400.

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BY now there are quite a few books on India's economic reforms, and presumably there are several more in the pipeline. Usually these tend to be collections of papers written by different authors. Typically the papers outline the reforms undertaken in spe cific sectors since 1991 and the unfinished agenda. However, because they are written by different authors, a holistic view is missing, no matter how good a job the editor does through an introductory chapter. Hence a single-author volume like the presen t one has advantages. The proposition in Subramanian Swamy's book is the following: If the reforms continue and India focusses on exports (of processed agricultural products, textiles, services, information technology, and so on), a 10 per cent growth in GDP (gross domestic product) is possible.

The book has four chapters - dealing with the initial conditions (1950), the phases of growth and the results (1950-90), the economic reforms since 1991 and future projections. There is also a mathematical appendix. Since I happen to consider this a good book and agree with the argument, let me first mention the four minor criticisms I have. First, the preface should have been worded more carefully. Some assertions (about East Asia and World Trade Organisation-compliant agricultural subsidies), although not strictly incorrect, are too sweeping and may divert attention from the academic merit of the rest of the book. Secondly, the Indian Penal Code dates to 1860, not 1870 (page 5). Thirdly, there is no need for the appendix table on human development in dices taken from the Human Development Report (HDR). It gives figures from HDR 1999 although the Report for 2000 has now been published. It does not belong, is pasted on and looks like an after-thought. Fourthly, the mathematical appendix has technical p roblems.

Having got these criticisms out of the way, let me turn to the good points. The two strongest chapters are those dealing with the initial conditions and the future potential. The former actually begins with the British period and there is a useful India- China comparison, especially with Subramanian Swamy's expertise. The differential in agricultural performance and hence overall growth is explained by the colonial government's land revenue policy. (As a minor point, in 1950 the literacy rate in India wa s 20 per cent, not the illiteracy rate as mentioned on page 30.) Thus, in 1952, China was better poised for industrialisation. And India moved to capital goods-based heavy industrialisation. "The grafting of this model on Indian planning was done by a ph ysicist turned statistician who had little or no formal education in economics: Professor P.C. Mahalanobis, founder of the Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta. Mahalanobis, a confirmed Left intellectual, had lifted a Soviet growth model of the 1920s a uthored by Fel'dman, and introduced it into Indian planning without acknowledging the original authorship. For years, Fel'dman's model was passed off in India as "Mahalanobis' Growth Model", till MIT economist Evsey Domar discovered the truth, and laid i t bare."

The second chapter is on growth performance during the period of import substitution (1950-90) and the critique is by now fairly well established in the literature. Swamy highlights five elements that contributed to lost growth opportunities - distortion s caused by planning, lack of agricultural modernisation, high cost industry, inefficient resource allocation and lack of fiscal reform. It is impossible to disagree with this, although the critique can also be articulated in a slightly different way. Ho wever, one again wishes the wording had been more careful. "By all objective accounts, during the last 53 years the percentage of people living under the poverty line had not gone down despite nine large Five Year Plans. Unemployment had actually increas ed." The thrust of the argument is true. But as stated, the proposition quoted is incorrect. The percentage of the population below the poverty line has indeed declined. What is presumably meant is the absolute number.

This takes us to the third chapter on the economic reforms since 1991. "As a result of this economic schizophrenia, economic reforms which ran out of steam by 1996, have now become half-hearted. Reforms have yet to touch the really essential areas of Sta tes and city corporations. Deregulation measures have to date been confined to the Central government, and even here it has been piecemeal. Privatisation, financial institutional reform, and synchronisation with WTO, require changes, which however have b een put on hold. The setback to investment has been serious, causing a drop of three per cent points in the rate of investment to GDP since 1996." Agreed. The argument will be stronger if one singles out public sector investments. Incidentally, the numbe r of items under QRs (quantitative restrictions) is now 715 at the eight-digit level, not 1,429 (page 142).

Since the fourth chapter is about India becoming a global economic power in the new millennium, it is in many respects the most interesting chapter. For this to happen, India needs to have the following as objectives - an appropriate low interest rate, a competitive and predictable real exchange rate, a low and stable inflation rate, a low fiscal deficit and a viable current account deficit as a share of GDP. A 10 per cent growth rate can ensure these targets, and for such a growth rate to materialise o ne needs an investment rate of 30 per cent and an incremental capital/output ratio (ICOR) of 3. The break-up of the 30 per cent investment rate is: 22 per cent from household savings, 5 per cent from the private corporate sector and 3 per cent from forei gn savings. Although public savings do not have a share in this, this is in fact an improvement on the present dissaving. How are household savings stimulated? By abolishing all direct taxes. Buoyancy in indirect taxes will compensate for revenue losses. How will private corporate sector savings be stimulated? Through fiscal incentives. For foreign savings, one obviously needs a more open policy towards foreign investments. And public dissaving can be brought down to zero through privatisation and disin vestment. One might disagree with the nitty gritty. But an ICOR of 3 and an investment rate of 30 per cent are reasonable enough.

The chapter then moves on to the question of what needs to be done to reform agriculture. There is nothing objectionable there except the statement, "Subsidies for agricultural products like foodgrains, inputs like fertilizers and pesticides should be co ntinued." It is true that there is no WTO-driven compulsion to phase out input subsidies because India is below the threshold limit. However, there are internal arguments for reform and the Swamy blueprint also envisages market-determined output prices, with the public distribution system (PDS) replaced by a system of food stamps. There are also sections on textiles and garments (no position is taken here on the dereservation of the small-scale sector), information technology ("The new Ministry of Infor mation Technology is wholly unnecessary and antithetical to the concept of downsizing government"), services, education, infrastructure and good governance. Except for the head of good governance, familiar territory is covered under the other heads. For good governance, Subramanian Swamy says, "there should exist (1) a political leadership sufficiently educated and experienced to absorb concepts and formulations of the academia; (2) a democratic environment, based on issues; and (3) the scholars should enjoy academic freedom to fearlessly contribute ideas to the leadership." It is true that good governance is a difficult term to define, but Subramanian Swamy's prescription does not say much.

Where does that leave us? "In the year 2000, there is a substantial gap between China and India, but if India were to concentrate on producing a significantly accelerated growth in agriculture, information technology, and exports during the next two deca des, the gap in qualitative terms can be quickly bridged. Clearly, India will have to make strenuous efforts fiscally, to raise the rate of investment to reach or cross 30 per cent, as a minimum condition for commencing on closing the China-India gap. Th e task of course is within reach and it is a target for which the people would be willing to make a sacrifice. 'Catching up with China' is a worthwhile slogan for India's new millennium, along with a national commitment to grow at 10 per cent per year. B oth goals are feasible and attainable, and within India's grasp and at striking distance. The only question is whether the polity is up to it."

I am not sure whether "Catching up with China" is indeed a worthwhile slogan. In terms of purchasing power parity, India is the fourth largest economy in the world now, after the United States, China and Japan, in that order. India recently overtook Germ any. By 2010 or thereabouts, India should be in a position to overtake Japan. I am extremely sceptical about the possibility of India overtaking China in the next 20 years. However, the India-China trade-off or comparison is hackneyed and unnecessary. In the next 30 years, there is room for both countries to explore and contribute to world economic growth. Rather remarkably, an increasing number of commentators believe that in the next 20 years India's real GDP can potentially grow at 10 per cent if ref orms are carried out and can grow at a trend rate of 8 per cent even if the reform process is hesitant. The percentage of the population below the poverty line is likely to come down to less than 15 per cent, the adult literacy rate is likely to go up to 85 per cent and the infant mortality rate is likely to come down to 35 per thousand. Of course, there will be inter-regional and inter-State variations and this will lead to heightened socio-economic tensions. The inter-State aspect is missing in the bo ok.

In recent months, Subramanian Swamy has been quite prolific. This book meshes neatly with India's Labour Standards and the WTO Framework (also Konark). Both are worth reading.

A system in peril

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Kerala's public distribution system, the best in the country, is seriously affected by the shift in Central government policies on the allocation and pricing of foodgrains and increasing deficit in rice production in the State.

R. KRISHNAKUMAR in Thiruvananthapuram

CYRUS ROSY has lived all her 60 years in the small fishing village of Kottupuram near Thiruvananthapuram. She said that until a few years ago, every evening the local ration shop (now 'public distribution centre') had been a hub of activity, as women fis h-vendors spent their day's earnings there. They were assured of their weekly allotment of "good quality" rice, wheat, sugar and kerosene; they bought these in instalments, "as and when they could during the week". The prices were "reasonable" and lower than those charged by the private provision stores that line the main road, which leads to the local church. For the majority of the 473 ration card-holders in the village, the ration shop, ARD 510, was the first stop when they returned from work.

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Not any more, said Rosy. "I have a family of five - husband and three young daughters. We buy our weekly quota of subsidised rice, but even dogs refuse to eat it. Why should we buy such poor quality rice when we get better rice from the nearby store at 5 0 or 60 paise more a kg?"

Seeing Rosy's agitated gestures, a crowd gathered in front of the shop. A young woman said: "Our men won't be able to go to the sea if they eat this rice. We feed it to the chickens. We buy only sugar and kerosene. They sell wheat at Rs.8.90 a kg but we get it cheaper in the market."

A youth looked away from the two salesmen inside the ration shop and said loudly: "Kerosene is never measured to the litre, nor do we get our full quota." (Kerosene is a premium commodity in fishing villages.)

"Nobody wants such poor-quality foodgrain," a salesman admitted. "This shop runs at a loss. Before they changed the system, we used to sell nearly 33 quintals a week. Now it has come down to 50 kg."

Of the 473 cardholders attached to the shop, 201 belong to the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category. Despite its poor quality, several people buy the BPL rice, because it is priced much below the market price. "It is not fit for human consumption. There has been virtually no sale of rice meant for the Above Poverty Line (APL) category. The entire stock sits here and rots and when we cannot bear the smell any longer, we sell it, priced at Rs.13.90 a kg, to some hotel or the other at Rs.7.50 a kg. Rice of th e same quality is available in the local market at Rs.8.50 a kg, and the ration shop owner has to bear the loss. The sale of sugar and kerosene has also been restricted, adding to the shop owner's woes."

The ration shop at Kottupuram is a comparatively better off one, because nearly half of its customers come under the BPL category and buy foodgrains from the shop every week. Many of the retail ration outlets elsewhere in Kerala have only a negligible nu mber of people in the BPL category. A ration shop (ARD 251) owner, G. Kumaraswamy told Frontline: "Only 100 of the 700 cards allotted to my shop belong to people in the BPL category. They alone buy foodgrains. There is negligible sale of APL rice, which is supposedly 'A' grade. In the past two months no one has come to buy APL rice on which there is no subsidy."

If there was a public distribution system (PDS) that should have become a model for the entire country, it was the system that existed in food-deficit Kerala. The 14,272 retail ration outlets (as of April 2000) formed the backbone of the chronically food -deficit State's public distribution system - the most important instrument of food security for its people, and the poorer sections in particular.

The system in several other States failed to serve the population below the poverty line, had an urban bias, had negligible presence in areas with high concentrations of the rural poor, lacked transparency and accountability, suffered from large-scale le akages and failed to provide adequate nutritional support to the people. Kerala, on the other hand, had developed a commendable and near-universal public distribution system.

Kerala's PDS was evolved in the 1960s in response to the hard struggles waged by its people in the context of the extreme scarcity conditions created by its dependence on other States for food (Frontline, October 31, 1997). The Central government had failed to meet food security needs of the State, especially in the pre-Green Revolution years. Several States had imposed arbitrary restrictions on foodgrain movement, and private traders had used the opportunity to make their pile.

"Kerala is perhaps the most vulnerable among the States to any short-term or long-term foodgrain deficit at the national level," says K.P. Kannan of the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram. "This is borne out by the experience of Kerala si nce its formation in 1956 to the mid-1970s, when India experienced shortfalls in foodgrain production and consequently restrictions on the movement of foodgrains. The food problem had then become an important factor in the coalition politics of the State as well as in its relationship with the Central government. The response was the setting up of the universal PDS and because it was 'universal', it continued to get better political support."

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In fact it was the sight of the comprehensive network of ration shops that often soothed Kerala's worries about the availability of food. According to the State government, today, on an average, there is one ration outlet for every 400 households and one within 2 km of every household. The PDS covers 97 per cent of the State's population and provides rice, wheat, sugar and kerosene on a ration scale that satisfies the minimum daily cereal requirement (370 gm) of a person (as recommended by the Indian Co uncil of Medical Research). As of April 2000, there were 61,95,536 families with ration cards in the State.

Being a consumer State in respect of other commodities as well, Kerala also developed a second tier of public distribution outlets, a chain of 'Maveli' provision stores, super markets, mini super markets and 'Maveli' medical stores (see interview with Fo od Minister E. Chandrasekharan Nair). These work outside the Central Government-FCI-ration shop system; rice and wheat products, sugar, pulses, vegetables and a range of consumer goods are procured independently from the market for distribution through t hem at reasonable prices.

Kerala's PDS, especially its first tier, succeeded in all its objectives - to provide basic food items to the vulnerable populations at reasonable prices, to put a leash on private trade, to maintain price stability, to be a system of rationing during sc arcity - and thus compensated for the State's insufficiency in the production of foodgrains, especially rice, the staple food. Kerala's deficit in rice production, which was 50 to 55 per cent from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s, has now increased to 80 per cent. This accompanied by the shift in the Central government's policies regarding the allocation and pricing of foodgrains, has dealt a severe blow to the chain of ration shops. Despite additional subsidies sought to be provided by the State govern ment, the State has started witnessing the first signs of a gradual dismantling of its celebrated PDS.

"Given the fact that Kerala's fiscal deficit is growing, the contours of the emerging economics of the State's PDS are only beginning to be realised. The Kerala government may soon have to make the hard choice between continuation of the existing PDS wit h universal coverage involving unsustainable subsidies or restricting the PDS to the poor with serious implications of enhancing Kerala's vulnerability to food security," Kannan said.

The Centre recognises only 25 per cent of the State's population as being in the BPL category. But the State Government treats 42 per cent as being in the BPL category (as identified for the implementation of the Integrated Rural Development Programme, o r IRDP, schemes) and has decided to bear the subsidy burden for an additional 17 per cent. In Kerala, each cardholder in the BPL category is eligible for 20 kg of rice a month at the rate of Rs.6.40 a kg. An additional 10 kg is provided to the BPL catego ry at Rs.10 a kg, with an additional subsidy of Rs.2 provided by the State government. To people in the APL category, the State provides 20 kg of 'A grade' rice with a subsidy of Rs.2 at Rs.10 a kg (known as APL-Subsidy) and the rest of the quota of 'A g rade' rice at Rs.12.40 a kg (APL-Normal).

"The rations shops have now lost attractions of lower price and good quality of grain. Unsold stocks are building up. As of March 31, 2000, ration dealers in Kerala had a balance stock of 58,000 tonnes, most of which, even after five months, has not been sold and is rotting. The State government has now asked us to convert the APL-Subsidy rice, which we bought at a higher price, and sell it to the BPL card holders. But in a large number of ration shops, the number of BPL card holders is very small," say s N. Thanu Pillai, working president, Kerala State Retail Ration Dealers' Association.

According to the Ration Dealers' Association, which claims a membership of over 9,000, on an average a ration shop now sells only 1,400 kg of rice, 600 kg of wheat, 400 kg of sugar and 2,000 litres of kerosene a month. Before the current prices were fixe d, a shop sold 10,000 kg of rice, 2,000 kg of wheat, 800 kg of sugar and 3,000 litres of kerosene a month.

Sasidharan, owner of a ration shop (ARD 121) in the heart of Thiruvananthapuram city, said that after the price hike, the sale of foodgrains had dropped by one sixth, of sugar by half and of kerosene by two-thirds in his shop.

State Controller of Rationing M.K. Balakrishnan told Frontline: "On a rough estimate, ration shops can break even if every month they are able to sell 20 tonnes of foodgrains, including rice and wheat, 1,000 litres of kerosene and five quintals of sugar. It is true that in most cases this is not happening."

Thanu Pillai said that 10 to 15 per cent of the retail dealers in the State had written to the local supply offices seeking either cancellation or suspension of their licences, as profitable operations had become impossible. (If a shop's licence is suspe nded for a while, the customers are to be attached to another ration shop nearby.) "But no dealer wants to take the additional responsibility of serving customers of another shop; neither has anyone applied for a new licence. On the other hand, a few ins tances of suicides by ration shop owners have been reported in the State because of increasing debt burden," he said.

According to Sasidharan, profits are a thing of the past. "The price of ration articles went up unchecked and affected sales. This in turn raised our costs, which included salary to employees, rent, printing and stationery expenses, electricity charges, licence fee charged by various government departments and transportation costs," he said.

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The Ration Dealers' Association estimates the average monthly expenditure in a shop to be about Rs.2,800 and the profit to be a meagre Rs.220. The Association calculates the average loss in a ration shop in Kerala to be about Rs.2,580 a month.

However, one of the dealers and a State committee member of the Association said on condition of anonymity: "Such calculations alone will not convey the true picture. It is an open secret that there is some element of illegal practices in the system that has kept so many ration shop owners in business for so long. Even when the system of 'universal' delivery was in existence, there was self-targeting by the cardholders, especially the rich. At the end of the week, thus, a large number would not have bou ght their quota because they wanted to buy better quality commodities. Ration dealers however would show this as 'sold', in most cases with the knowledge of officials, and then divert it to the open market for a profit."

In many rural areas, the Association leader said, dealers indulged in other manipulations, such as providing poor quality articles and recording the sales as of the best quality. "It was this vicious circle of 'mild corruption with official connivance th at did not harm anybody' that actually kept ration shops in business for so long. After the price of ration articles were hiked to near-open market levels and their quality went down, the opportunity for running ration shops as a business proposition is lost. That is the real crisis," he said.

Then was it the diversion of foodgrains and the leakages that facilitated the functioning of the PDS system in Kerala? A senior Civil Supplies Department official said that before the new policy changes were implemented, it was more or less an accepted f act that about 20 per cent of the articles that reached retail outlets that found their out of the system. "But on the other hand, it ensured that the needy got what they wanted. You cannot ignore the excellent benefits that the PDS brought into a food-d eficit State. You cannot allow such a system to be destroyed because there was some diversion or leakage in the system."

Dinesh Sharma, Secretary, Civil Supplies, said: "Compared to the kind of leakages taking place in many States, the scale of leakages from the Kerala system is negligible. Will any cardholder in Kerala say he is being denied his allotted quota of ration a rticles?" According to Kannan, the universal nature of the Kerala PDS ensured that Kerala society was vigilant about large-scale aberrations in the system. "The universal system had better political and social support. With targeting comes the danger of loss of such support," he said.

Civil Supplies officials said one instance that shows large-scale diversion from the PDS systems in other States is the arrival of ration rice from Tamil Nadu, where PDS rice is heavily subsidised by the State Government. "In Idukki district, with a larg e population of Tamilian plantation labourers, for example, ration rice from Tamil Nadu is auctioned off on a large scale. Traders who buy it are able to sell ration rice in the open market in Kerala at a much lower price than in the ration shops in the State," an official said.

According to Balakrishnan, the total requirement of rice in Kerala is estimated to be nearly 40 lakh tonnes a year. The internal production is 7.27 lakh tonnes. Eighteen lakh tonnes was provided through the PDS. Now that has come down to six lakh tonnes. The rest of the requirement is being met by the open market. "That is the kind of transfer of trade to the open market that has taken place in Kerala as a result of the new policies," Balakrishnan said.

Officials refused to confirm the Dealers' Association's claim that 10 to 15 per cent of the dealers in the State have asked the local Civil Supplies authorities to cancel and/or suspend their licences. They said that the right procedure would be to 'surr ender' the licence. However, they said, the Dealers' Association might be referring to refusal by their members to lift the stock for sometime. Asked why the dealers are continuing to run a loss-making business, Balakrishnan said: "It is a reflection of the role that ration shops have played in ensuring food security for the people in Kerala that a shop owner still has a certain position in Kerala society. In many cases, people have been in the business for a long time. Many do not know any other work. It still provides employment to at least two persons, who are paid salaries ranging from Rs.500 to Rs.2,000. Ration shop owners can meet at least their own families' food requirements from the shop."

'Centre should change its policy'

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Interview with E. Chandrasekharan Nair, Minister for Food and Civil Supplies.

Kerala's Minister for Food and Civil Supplies E. Chandrasekharan Nair says that if the current public distribution system (PDS) in Kerala is destroyed, the State will experience a serious food crisis. Excerpts from the interview he gave R. Kris hnakumar:

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What has been the impact of the Central policies on Kerala's public distribution system?

As a result of the new policies the offtake from the State PDS is coming down. One reason is the inefficiency of the procurement system, another is the poor quality of the articles. But the most vital one is the pricing policy. At one time in Kerala, whe n the prices were more affordable, the offtake of cereals from the PDS, including wheat, went up to 18 lakh tonnes a year. The offtake would have been higher if the quality was better. The first priority of the Central Government was to increase PDS pric es to such a level that now nobody goes to the PDS.

The Union government has also drawn a mythical border called the BPL (Below Poverty Line), to provide merely 10 kg of rice to just 25 per cent of the State's population. What is the big idea when the actual requirement is to provide subsidised food for 5 0 per cent of the population? What is the BJP government's priority - is it providing Internet facilities and mobile phones, however much they may be needed in the modern world, or basic food at prices that ordinary people can afford?

How does Kerala view the Centre's decision to sell excess wheat in the open market in the northern States?

So far the FCI (Food Corporation of India) used to sell at the same price in every part of the country. Now that is being changed. They say that they are going to sell wheat at Rs.6.50 a kg to private traders in the north. How can they sell at a lower pr ice to private traders who want to make a profit and demand a higher price from a State government that wants to provide wheat to the common man at affordable prices? Can wheat be sold at two prices in the ration shops in Kerala?

What should be the policy to sell excess stock? You reduce the price and sell it through the PDS. In Kerala, if needed, we can sell two lakh tonnes. Then the poor will have food. Why should you give it to the traders at reduced rates? What is the objecti ve in all this? Is it to throw away the PDS and become a traders' distribution agency? A government wants to give just seven million tonnes out of a total 50 million tonnes of stock to the PDS at a higher rate and the rest is to be distributed over a per iod to the traders at a lower rate. Can there be a more anomalous situation? Negotiations are going on. If the procurement price, the support price and the food subsidy are not continued, India will go back to its pre-Independence stage of scarcity on th e food front. It is a suicidal policy. We cannot go by the prescriptions of Western economists and destroy all that we have built up. Even in Western economies, food is heavily subsidised.

Dealers claim that ration shops in Kerala have become unviable. How true is this statement?

They have become less viable. All the ration shops together sell only around 50,000 tonnes of foodgrain, while at one time Kerala used to sell 1.5 lakh tonnes. Their plight is really sad. For years they tried to develop it as a means of living. Many shop s have become unviable. They are continuing in this business with the hope that things will improve.

What is the State's actual subsidy burden now since the offtake has come down?

We are giving 16 kg of rice at Rs.10, subsidising more than Rs.2 a kg. We are also providing the same subsidy to an additional 17 per cent of the population so as to include a total of 42 per cent in the BPL category. Together we expect the annual commit ment to be around Rs.150 crores. But it all depends on the offtake. BPL rice is sold completely, and this happens only in Kerala.

Why is that so?

Because we have a better delivery system and because of the low price. No shop has been closed down so far, even after all this.

The Ration Dealers' Association claims that 10 to 15 per cent of the ration shop owners in Kerala have sought either cancellation or suspension of their licences...

I don't have official figures on this. It is easy to blame the State government. But this is a clear case of a problem with the national policy. We might face another problem very soon. The prices will increase further if there is an increase in petroleu m prices.

Recently Kerala proposed importing food directly, especially because the FCI was providing poor quality foodgrains. Why did the State not go ahead with the proposal?

The problem in all this is that the grain merchants are a powerful lobby, and after all they are the backbone of the BJP government. The proposal is not viable now because the Government of India has increased the import tariff. But there is a logic in t he argument that we need not import because there is surplus production.

What is the State government planning to do to see that the ration shops are not closed down?

We are trying to help. We have now allowed them to buy and sell essential articles other than foodgrains, sugar and kerosene. We have also decided to give them up to Rs.5,000 by way of credit through the State Civil Supplies Corporation (Supplyco) for se lling essential and household provisions through ration shops as in the case of the Maveli stores. They can even sell vegetables. That way we are trying to give a boost to business in the ration shops.

The new policies are driving customers away from the ration shops and to the open market. What impact has this had on sales through the Supplyco outlets, the second tier of Kerala's PDS? In the context of the liberalisation policies, can the Supplyco outlets not be made to play a more prominent role as a price control and food provisioning system?

Sales through Supplyco Maveli stores and super-markets have increased correspondingly. The Supplyco turnover is nearly Rs.800 crores now. We are planning to start at least one Maveli store in every panchayat. By November-December, all panchayats in Keral a will have at least one Maveli store each.

Are there any constraints to develop this chain of outlets further, so as to provide relief against a possible disintegration of the universal coverage offered by the ration shop system?

There are no constraints, except the managerial constraints. You only have to imagine how it will be for a public undertaking to manage a chain of about 1,200 provision stores. That is the problem in expanding it further.

How much subsidy is involved in running the Supplyco outlets?

There is only a subsidy of Rs.50 crores and they function well with that. I think that is not a big price to pay if the State's interests are served, if it aids in controlling price rise. For the first time in the history of Kerala there is a negative gr owth in the cost of living index, as stated in the Economic Review.

Given the State's vulnerability to the Central government's policy changes, what is the solution to Kerala's food security problem, in the long term?

The solution is that the Central government should change its policy, or that there should be a government that will change this policy. We can try and raise the production and productivity of crops within the State, but there is only limited scope for this. Where is the land for paddy cultivation? There is a written assurance from Jawaharlal Nehru when he was Prime Minister that the Centre will look after the State's food needs; he gave this while asking Kerala to concentrate on growing the more remun erative cash crops. This was reiterated by Jagjivan Ram in Parliament. Unfortunately it is a Congress government that changed Nehru's policies and decided to take away food subsidy. The BJP government is trying to better the Congress record.

Remembering Mother Teresa

"What we are doing is nothing but a drop in the ocean. But if we didn't do it, the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. I do not agree with the big way of doing things. To me what matters is an individual. To get to love the person, we mu st come in close contact with him or her. If we wait till we get the numbers, then we will be lost in numbers. And we will never be able to show the love and respect for that person. Every person is Christ for me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is the one person in the world at that moment."

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"I have never been in need but I accept whatever people give me for the poor. I never refuse them because they have a right to give in charity. I accept whatever. I only feel angry when I see people throwing away things that we could use."

- Mother Teresa in conversation with Navin Chawla, Calcutta, March 24, 1996.

Scene One: Ten years ago, I headed the Health Department of Delhi State. Amongst the 14 hospitals in my charge was a hospital for mental diseases. I had inspected this hospital on many occasions. The first of these inspections opened me to the wor ld of the mentally disabled so vividly that I will always carry the memory of the acute patients, who could well have been described as the inmates of a jail, padlocked as they were in the most pitiable conditions. I soon discovered that in spite of my o wn will power and the abundant financial resources of the administration, I was not able to make the slightest dent in the welfare of these patients. Most of the doctors and nurses were reluctant to serve in the hospital, not only because working with th e severely mentally disabled is extremely difficult at the best of times, but also because the hospital was considered very low in the pecking order in terms of apparent prestige.

Even on my last visit at the end of that tenure, things had only marginally improved. My abiding memory is of two dozen completely naked men, crouched in terror in one corner of the hall, their clothes and blankets which they themselves had torn into shr eds, their bodies unwashed, as if they had not been bathed for weeks. More than anything else I remember the despair in their eyes.

Scene Two: Ten years later, at Motherhouse, Calcutta. "Have you ever been to Tengra?" Mother Teresa asked me that morning in Calcutta. "The government asked me to take care of mentally handicapped girls who were in jails. I said I would take them all but I needed space. So the government gave me 16 acres of land at the price of one rupee a year, just imagine, and I put up the buildings. It is a very beautiful work, go and see it."

As soon as I entered the locality of Tengra I stopped to ask for directions. No one seemed to know where Shanti Dan was. "Mother Teresa's home," I said. 'Oh, Mother Teresa' came a chorus in unison, and several hands pointed in the general direction of a large walled complex. Here I met Sister Bella. I asked if I could look around. The building, I noticed, was a new one that contained three dormitories on each of its two floors. I had long since got used to seeing spotless floors in Mother Teresa's insti tutions, but here there was an almost luxurious quality about the way everything had been arranged. The rooms themselves were bright and airy with ceiling fans, and each bed had its mosquito net. Colourful chequered bedlinen had been woven by the leprosy patients in Tirigarh. Not a pin seemed out of place. There was no sign of volunteers or paid workers. I gathered that Mother Teresa did not permit them to help here, because the patients were encouraged to keep themselves and their environment clean as a necessary part of occupational therapy. As I passed groups of patients I expected to encounter anger or hostility. Instead they greeted me with warm namastes and many waved to me.

"When they came here two years ago, they would not put on their clothes. They could not eat properly. When we tried to go near them, they would cower with fear in a corner. Now they do most things themselves. Some of these women have been in jail wards f or years on end. We have come very far in this time. It is only when they are really sick or feeling low that they go inside to lie down during the day, otherwise they sit in or tend the gardens, or do simple work in the crafts centre. See these dolls he re," said the Sister, pointing to some neatly-handcrafted items on a shelf. "These are done by some of these girls." I noticed some little handmade bags, one on every bed, and asked what they were. "Schoolbags," said the Sister with a laugh. A benefactor donated all of them along with some books - alphabets and simple story books - and items of stationery. Soon teachers volunteered to give lessons and now they really look forward to their classes. Small things make them so happy!"

I spent the better part of the day at Shanti Dan. The land was given to Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity on lease by Jyoti Basu, the redoubtable Chief Minister of West Bengal. He is, perhaps, the only person for whom Mother Teresa invariably prefi xed the words 'My friend' before she took his name. It was well known in Calcutta that Mother Teresa could walk into his office at any time. And I am informed that he only said "Yes Mother," and gave her whatever she wanted because it was invariably for the poor. When Jyoti Basu asked her to do something for the mentally-disturbed women inmates locked up in the Calcutta Jail, Mother Teresa asked only for land. Here, in the middle of the Tengra slums she constructed a number of buildings to house the sic k and mentally disabled women and to provide for their rehabilitation. She planted trees for fruit and for shade. Those who could use their hands in some way were encouraged to do so. As a result, some made handicrafts, others attended to the gardens, ye t others did some agricultural work. Those whose spirit had already been broken, would simply sit on the benches under the trees, and pondered their troubled past in the serenity of their present.

So, it was not a little astonishing for me that this group of 200 or so women, some of whom had spent practically their entire lives in jail, could be looked after by just four Sisters. They themselves attended to all their work, kept themselves and thei r surroundings clean, grew vegetables, and cooked their own food, and all this in peace and quiet. From the hustle and bustle of Calcutta, I had been transported into an oasis of calm. Not surprisingly, the irony of my having been able to do so little co mpared to what had been created by this little woman with her small band of dedicated Sisters, has never left me. There was no need for me to labour the point that only faith and compassion could have made this work possible.

The next day, I went back to Mother Teresa and I told her about my visit to Tengra. She nodded, not particularly surprised, and in her practical way went on to say: "Two Buddhist monks from Japan came to see me some years ago. I told them that we have a practice that on Fridays none of us eats during the day, and with the money that is saved, we buy food for the poor. I did not know that when they went back to Japan, they told other monks about it. Soon the word spread (in Japan) and many people began t o give up a meal a day and put the money aside. One day they sent me all the money they had collected. Wonderful, no? With that I was able to build another floor of the building for the girls in Tengra which you saw yesterday. Then I was able to take a h undred more women from the jail. In fact twenty-two more are coming next week. God has such wonderful ways of providing."

Navin Chawla is the author of Mother Teresa and Faith and Compassion. He is currently Chairman of the Pondicherry Power Corporation and Principal Secretary (Power, Ports, Art and Culture) to the Government of Pondicherry.

Hampering empowerment

The ill-treatment of Dalits in Tamil Nadu, especially those occupying reserved elective positions at the village level, continues, with the indifference of senior officials at the district level adding to the injustice.

INCIDENTS that occurred in Kodiyankulam in 1995, Melavalavu in 1997 and Tirunelveli in 1999 stand out in the recent record of atrocities against Dalits in Tamil Nadu at the economic, political and social levels.

The police raid on the relatively prosperous village of Kodiyankulam in Tuticorin district appeared to have been motivated by a desire to undermine the local Dalit community economically and thereby strike at what was believed to be the support base of D alit militants in the region.

The police attack on an all-party procession at Tirunelveli on July 23, 1999, held in support of striking Manjolai tea estate workers, led to the drowning in the Tamiraparni of 17 persons, 15 of them Dalits, who were beaten up and chased into the river. Indications of a design to put down any Dalit attempt at political mobilisation were evident in this.

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The most shocking among the three incidents was the murder of six Dalits, including the young president of the Melavalavu panchayat in Madurai district, Murugesan allegedly by a group of persons belonging to the Thevar community. These incidents marked t he beginning of a determined offensive by vested interests among casteist social groups in the State to frustrate efforts to empower Dalits at the grassroots level.

From the day the State government notified in June 1996 elections to local bodies after a gap of over a decade and announced that Melavalavu panchayat would be reserved for Dalits under the amended Panchayat Act, sections of caste Hindu people of the vil lage began campaigning against the move. The threat of social and economic boycott was held out against Dalits, who are dependent largely on upper caste land-holders for livelihood. When elections came, Dalits who had filed nominations had to withdraw in the face of upper caste terror and the election was rendered infructuous. When elections were held later with fresh nominations, booth-capturing necessitated a repoll. In the repoll Murugesan was elected the panchayat president but was reportedly preven ted by upper caste people from discharging his duties. On Murugesan's representation to the Chief Minister, armed security was provided to him at the panchayat office. He was, however, slain along with five others - one of them his brother and another th e panchayat vice-president - while returning to the village after a meeting with the Collector in Madurai.

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Fresh elections were held after a few months and A. Raja, also a Dalit, was elected president. Although Raja does not seem to be facing the same level of hostility from the upper caste people, he has not been able to function from the old panchayat build ing located in an upper caste area. Lack of cooperation from a substantial number of people belonging to the upper castes has reportedly made his functioning ineffective. Forty-three of the 44 persons, whose names figured in the first information report relating to the multiple murders, were arrested and released on bail after a month.

The case is now before the Special Court in Madurai, which has adjourned the trial pending disposal of three petitions filed in the Madras High Court on behalf of Dalits.

THREE years after the murders, a memorial for the slain Dalits was raised at Melavalavu at a cost of Rs.5 lakhs, making use of free labour from Dalits in and around the village. Dalits of the village, however, continue to be victims of social boycott by upper caste people.

Dalits, mostly landless agricultural workers, complain that they are denied work by local land-holders. With upper caste landlords in neighbouring villages also refusing to employ them upon pressure from their Melavalavu counterparts, many Dalit youth ar e said to have left the village in search of livelihood. Men and women thus go to places such as Madurai and Sivaganga - both about 40 km from their village. " We never mention the name 'Melavalavu' fearing denial of jobs," said 50-year-old Ponnammal. "T he best part of what little we earn goes towards transport," lamented another woman.

The Dalits complained of lack of access to shops and wells in the upper caste areas and also of non-availability to them of essentials such as rice and kerosene in fair price shops. Although there had not been frequent clashes between Dalits and non-Dali ts prior to 1997, untouchability is still practised in the village in its most cruel form, according to the Dalits.

The lesson from Melavalavu - that statutory reservation for Dalits in elected local bodies will not by itself ensure their empowerment and that what is needed is for the government to see that power really reaches the people for whom it is intended - see ms to be lost on the administration.

What happened at Melavalavu is not an isolated occurrence. Four years after State-wide elections were held for the local bodies, there are still two panchayats in Madurai district, Keerippatti and Paappakudi, both reserved for Dalits, where elections cou ld not be held owing to the tactics resorted by upper caste groups. Officials also admit that a number of elected Dalit panchayat heads, particularly women, have not been able to function effectively. There have been several instances of women panchayat chiefs being denied support from non-Dalit/male members for clearing even routine matters such as buying chairs for the panchayat office. Many Dalit panchayat presidents have complained of difficulties in organising gram sabha meetings for want of cooper ation from upper caste people.

G. Ramakrishnan, member, State secretariat of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), who has served on the committee appointed by the Tamil Nadu government to study the implementation of the Panchayat Act, said that the main purpose of the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution was, besides devolving power to the three-tier local bodies, to empower women and Dalits by providing 33 per cent of elected posts to the former and proportional representation to the latter. But, he said, it was only in v illages where the democratic movement was strong and a consciousness about the rights of the under-privileged people existed, that the elected representatives were effective. In places where caste-related clashes had taken place or where caste feelings w ere dominant among the people, elected Dalit representatives, both men and women, were not able to assert themselves and function effectively.

R. Thirumavalavan, convener, Dalit Panthers of India ("Viduthalai Siruthaigal" in Tamil), who has taken up the cause of Melavalavu village and has been instrumental in raising the memorial for the slain Dalits, told Frontline that the ruling Dravi da Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) was in the forefront in running down elected Dalit functionaries.

A case of a Dalit panchayat president having been allegedly prevented from discharging his duties and forced to stay away from his village fearing for his life has surfaced, also in Madurai district. The victim is 35-year-old V. Nagar, president of Marut hangudi village panchayat, 25 km from Madurai. Until 1999, Maruthangudi was bracketed with Keeripatti and Paappakudi as village panchayats reserved for Dalits where elections could not be held owing to caste-related tension amid protests from upper-caste people against their inclusion in the list of panchayats reserved for Dalits.

In 1996, when the election was notified and nominations called for, a powerful few among the upper caste people tried to prevail upon the rest not to participate in the process. Dalit activist Muthupandi's attempt to file his nomination triggered violenc e and led to the postponement of the poll. Fresh polls were ordered for May 26, 1999. This time the upper caste-dominated electorate had its way, without however offending the law. Nagar, a farm hand, was fielded, in a clever manoeuvre, by some upper cas te people. The choice was made at a "village meeting" in which Nagar was present. "When they announced my name on their own, I asked them to give me time to consult my parents. They turned down my plea and asked me to go with certain persons to file my n omination. I felt helpless and reluctantly went with them," said Nagar, when this correspondent met him recently near Madurai. With the en masse support of the upper caste voters, Nagar defeated Muthupandi. Five others were also elected to the panchayat. Nagar said that within minutes of his assumption of office in the presence of officials on May 31, he was asked by a group of upper caste youths to sign a piece of paper. Being an unlettered person, he did not know what he was signing. When he was told that it was a letter of resignation, he said he wanted to consult the elders who had proposed his name for the election. The plea was rejected and he had to sign it, "fearing threat to my life". He later came to know that the letter stated that he propos ed, in keeping with the wishes of the majority of the people, that Maruthangudi should be re-converted into a general panchayat constituency and that he was resigning his post. Later he was asked to stay indoors. A few days later, government officials se nt word to him to call a meeting of the panchayat council to elect the vice-president. Despite his protests, Nagar said, the upper caste people insisted that he not act on the instructions.

There was no reply from the government to the resignation letter even after six months, he said. A farmhand who had to do odd jobs to earn for his family, Nagar found situation unmanageable. Six months after his election, Nagar was asked by the panchayat clerk to sign some papers as otherwise it would be impossible to pay the staff their salary, or make payments for works undertaken. Before signing, Nagar however satisfied himself that the works mentioned had been undertaken. When they came to know that he had signed panchayat documents, the upper-caste people asked Nagar to leave the village along with his wife and children.

Nagar, who is now a loadman working for a business firm far away from his village, said that he had sought police protection to move into the village and discharge his duties as president of the panchayat. A writ of mandamus was filed in the Madras High Court on August 23 seeking a direction to the Collector of Madurai to give police protection to Nagar in order to enable him to discharge his duties as the duly elected president of the Maruthangudi panchayat. The court has sent a notice to the Collector .

CONTACTED over phone, the Collector of Madurai, V. Thangavelu, told this correspondent that on record Nagar still held the post. He said that he could not act on the plea of resignation because he had to follow certain procedures under the Panchayat Act. "We cannot accept the resignation without ascertaining the facts from a meeting of the council," he said. Nagar, he said, had not cooperated in calling a meeting of the council. Later when he saw some papers signed by the panchayat president, he got the impression that Nagar was functioning as president. Regarding Nagar's complaint that he was not provided police security, the Collector said that he did not cooperate either with the police or with the administration. "He could have personally met me or the Superintendent of Police and sought protection," the Collector said.

The Collector said that he had however recommended action against Nagar on the basis of an inquiry he had conducted into charges of financial irregularity in the panchayat.

Asked whether Nagar was aware that certain charges were pending against him, his advocate, G.R. Swaminathan told Frontline that his "inference" was that there was no charge against Nagar. He said that even the administration's letter to Nagar, dat ed August 11 asking him to call a meeting of the gram sabha on August 19 and informing him of the Collector's proposal to be present at the meeting, contained no mention of any charge against him.

Jyoti Basu to stay on

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JYOTI BASU, India's longest-serving Chief Minister, has decided to continue in office for some more time, reversing his earlier decision to retire on September 15. The veteran Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader changed his mind following discussio ns with party general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjit in Calcutta in the second week of September. Speaking to Frontline, Surjit said that Jyoti Basu had wanted to retire basically because of health problems but he had been persuaded to continue in offi ce for some more time in order to complete some unfinished tasks of the party and Left Front government of West Bengal. "We appreciate his difficulties completely. But there are some developmental and other projects that require his supervision," Surjit said.

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Anil Biswas, secretary of the West Bengal State Committee of the CPI(M), announced on September 2 that Jyoti Basu, who had served as Chief Minister for 23 years, would retire and that Deputy Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya would be his successor.

Jyoti Basu's latest decision has evoked critical comments from the Opposition parties in West Bengal. The Trinamul Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress(I) have said that it had exposed the limitations and desperation of the CPI(M). "It h as revealed the extent of leadership vacuum in the CPI(M) and also how much the party is dependent on a single leader," said Congress(I) leader Pranab Kumar Mukherjee.

The Trinamul Congress, the principal Opposition, which has been waging a sustained campaign against the "atrocities of the CPI(M) and its government", described it as "an exercise in cowardice and the last-ditch attempt by the CPI(M) leadership to perpet uate an anti-people government, which is on its last legs".

Political observers correlate the postponement of Basu's retirement with the political situation prevailing in West Bengal in the wake of the aggressive anti-government campaign being carried out by the Trinamul Congress. Defence Minister George Fernande s, who toured some parts of West Bengal in the company of Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, made statements critical of the law and order situation in the State. He has also submitted a report to the Centre. The Trinamul Congress, a constituent o f the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance at the Centre, has for long been demanding the dismissal of the West Bengal government on law and order grounds. Although the Centre has not acceded to the request formally, there is a perception within the Left Front that the BJP and its associates would launch an operation similar to the one that was unleashed in Tripura in the early 1990s with a view to throwing out the Left Front government led by Nripen Chakraborty.

The Tripura strategy, points out a Left Front leader, was simple: unleash violence with the help of extremists and lumpen elements, create law and order problems, dismiss the State government after blaming it for the disturbances, instal a new administra tive machinery controlled by Delhi and then use it to influence the elections.

Observers are of the view that the CPI(M) would have preferred a leader of Basu's experience and stature at the helm to face any such eventuality.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

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