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COVER STORY

24-11-2000

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Briefing

One hundred days of torment

Veerappan, who abducted Rajkumar more than a hundred days ago, continues to hold the Kannada actor - and also two State governments - hostage. There is growing concern also about the brigand's still unfolding Tamil extremist and pro-LTTE links.

A HUNDRED days have passed since Muthuraj Puttaswamiah, known to his army of fans as Dr. Rajkumar, was kidnapped by the gang of Gopinatham Muzhukkam Veerappan. The story of Rajkumar's apparently endless captivity is starting to resemble one of the bizarr e plots favoured by the popular film industry of which he was a central part. Like all reel-life heroes, Rajkumar's torments at the hands of villainy, in this case real-life, are legion. The 73-year-old Kannada movie icon has been forced to survive on a spartan diet of sambar and rice, served without the customary curd and interspersed only occasionally by more exotic forest cuisine like venison. He must walk long distances each day through the dense Thalavadi forests in the Satyamangalam area, a nd at night he must sleep in an improvised tent, vulnerable to rain and swarms of mosquitoes.

Far away in Bangalore, Rajkumar's sons have sought to empathise with their father by refusing to shave their beards, and his family members spend much of their time in fervent prayer. But the reasons for Rajkumar's continued incarceration have nothing to do with any divine displeasure. Political confusion, personal ambition, opportunism and the plain recalcitrance of his kidnappers: all these have combined to undermine efforts to secure the actor's release. In his six-decade long career, Rajkumar typica lly played the innocent do-gooder, trapped in evil machinations set in play by forces beyond his control. During his more lonely nights in the Sathyamangalam forests, it must sometimes appear to him that distinctions between reel and real life have becom e alarmingly blurred. But this is no film; and Veerappan's growing relationship with chauvinist Tamil organisations, inside and outside the forests, gives considerable reason for concern.

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JUST why is Rajkumar still being held by Veerappan? It is clear, at least in retrospect, that several important tactical errors were made by all the major players in the management of the hostage crisis. Rajkumar was kidnapped by an estimated 15 armed me n from his ancestral farmhouse at Doddagajanur late on the night of July 30. By the next morning, his wife Parvathamma reached Bangalore and delivered to Chief Minister S.M. Krishna an audio-cassette handed over by Veerappan. In his message, Veerappan as ked the Karnataka government to send an official envoy, to whom the gang's demands would then be presented. Rumour has it that the tape also contained specific ransom demands. Less than 24 hours later, Krishna was in Chennai, busily engaged in discussion s with his Tamil Nadu counterpart M. Karunanidhi. At the end of the discussions, both agreed to send R.R. Gopal, the editor of the Tamil magazine Nakkheeran, into the Sathyamangalam forests.

Gopal's choice as the official emissary has been the subject of more than a little media criticism. Critics claim that Gopal is a close friend of Veerappan, and therefore unfit to conduct negotiations with him. On the other hand, officials argue that no one other than Gopal had any leverage with Veerappan. The high profile magazine editor had first met Veerappan in April 1996, three years after Nakkheeran reporter P. Sivasubramaniam published the first-ever interviews with the forest brigand, acc ompanied by photographs. In 1997, Gopal's intervention was instrumental in securing the release of nine Karnataka forest guards who had been kidnapped to demand amnesty for the gang and its leader. On that occasion, Gopal had succeeded in bringing out th e hostages without conceding any of Veerappan's demands. Later that year, however, when Veerappan kidnapped a group of wildlife photographers and botanists, the Nakkheeran editor refused to intervene.

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From the outset, however, Gopal's initiative was ill-fated. During his first visit to the Sathyamangalam forests to meet Veerappan, Gopal found himself confronted with a ridiculous list of conditions for Rajkumar's release. Veerappan handed over ten dema nds, again taped on a cassette. These spanned everything from the release of five members of the Tamil National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Tamil National Retrieval Force (TNRF) held for terrorist activities, to the dropping of charges against another 121 undertrials, of whom all but 51 had already obtained bail, and compensation for the victims of the 1991 Cauvery riots in Karnataka. Other demands included the installation of a statue of the Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar in Bangalore, hikes in procurement pr ice of tea, and higher wages for estate workers. On top of it all, Veerappan added four more demands before Gopal left the forests. Veerappan had a political agenda, and not just cash, on his mind.

Both State governments showed a remarkable willingness to play along with Veerappan. His demand for the release of the TNLA-TNRF prisoners, Krishna and Karunanidhi promised, "would be considered favourably". Little thought appeared to have been given to the serious political implications of such a concession. Even statues of Thiruvalluvar and Kannada poet Sarvajna would be installed in Bangalore and Chennai respectively in response to Veerappan's demand, the governments agreed. Both governments acted al most as if they were negotiating with a people's movement, not a forest criminal.

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Gopal went back to the Sathyamangalam forests, to tell Veerappan his demands had been largely met. In fact, the State governments' pliant posture generated further problems. The TNLA-TNRF prisoners' advisers, sources told Frontline, saw the offici al responses to Veerappan's demands as a sign of weakness on the part of the government. Although all five of them were entitled to bail, and funds could have been secured with ease to pay the bail amounts, the TNLA-TNRF prisoners now insisted that all c harges against them be dropped.

WHEN Gopal went back to Veerappan for the third time towards the end of August, Rajkumar's release seemed imminent. Since both State governments were willing to meet Veerappan's demands, no real obstacle appeared to remain in the way of a settlement. On August 31, Gopal and Veerappan agreed that as soon as the five TNLA-TNRF prisoners were set free in the forest, Rajkumar and three other hostages taken along with him would be set free, followed by the second group of 121 prisoners. The exchange was sche duled for August 4. Fate, in the form of the Supreme Court, intervened the next morning. As Veerappan was listening to the 12-40 p.m. Tamil news bulletin on All India Radio, using a recently acquired digital radio, he heard of the Supreme Court orders pr ohibiting the release of 51 of the 121 persons jailed under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) who had failed to obtain bail. Veerappan, Gopal says, wanted to know what kalavarayatra thadai meant.

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It was Tamil for 'indefinite stay': and meant that the agreement that had been hammered out was dead. Karunanidhi contributed his own mite to the subsequent confusion. At a press conference in Chennai, he let it be known that the Supreme Court orders app lied not only to the 51 prisoners held under TADA, but also the five TNLA-TNRF terrorists. In fact, the Supreme Court had said nothing about their fate, for public interest litigation about their future was only to be moved two days later. It is possible that the Chief Minister was influenced by hostility within the State police and the bureaucracy to handing over the terrorists, and did not want a potentially damaging confrontation with the judiciary. Krishna, for his part, was facing sustained critici sm within Karnataka for having conceded too much ground. The final blow came on September 5, when the Karnataka High Court stayed the proceedings of the Justice Sadashiva Commission of Inquiry, investigating alleged human rights violations by the police in the course of operations directed at Veerappan.

Nonetheless, Gopal launched a fourth mission to engage Veerappan in fresh dialogue. On September 28, Gopal suggested that Veerappan unilaterally release one hostage in response to public hostility in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The discussions were schedul ed to continue the next day, but were scuppered when Nagappa Maradagi, Rajkumar's long-time aide, escaped from custody. The escape infuriated Veerappan, who sent men out into the forest with instructions to behead the prisoner if he was caught. Gopal say s he thought it best to leave the forest at that point rather than deal with angry and hostile interlocutors. Although the Nakkheeran editor believes Veerappan would have accepted his unilateral release proposal, and that Nagappa's escape sabotage d a deal, the facts suggest otherwise. Given Veerappan's recalcitrance up to this point, it is probable he would have held out for a better offer.

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There is at least some evidence that Veerappan's confidence in Gopal was, in any case, waning by this point. The brigand now demanded that politician P.Nedumaran, who heads the ethnic-chauvinist Tamil Desiya Iyakkam (Tamil Nationalist Movement), lead the negotiation process in the Sathyamangalam forests. Nedumaran, Veerappan said, should be accompanied by P. Kalyani, a one-time affiliate of the People's War Group, P. Sukumaran, president of the Pondicherry unit of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, and K. Balagopal, a Hyderabad-based civil rights activist. Balagopal refused a role in negotiations with Veerappan. The other three, however, seemed only too happy to pitch in. This group had strong Tamil nationalist affiliations, and Sukumaran had even served a year in jail on charges of involvement in the bombing of a television station in Kodaikanal. Gopal, travelling along with this group, again pressed for the release of the hostages, but to no avail.

FOR students of the handling of hostage crises, the Rajkumar kidnapping might one day form a textbook study of everything that ought not to be done while seeking to secure the freedom of prisoners. Most important, the prompt acquiescence of both governme nts to the demand to involve Nedumaran, whose political positions and support for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are unacceptable to most mainstream politicians in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, broadcast official desperation. State weakness was made clear at each stage. Rumour has it that the Karnataka film industry and Rajkumar's family made over some Rs.16 crores to Veerappan through Gopal at the outset of the negotiation procedure. One Tamil magazine even alleged that Gopal himself benefited from these proceeds. The Nakkheeran editor laughs off the first of these allegations, and responds with anger to the second. Even if the rumours are untrue, however, they illustrate the basic failings of the crisis resolution process. The decisio n to involve Nedumaran signalled complete official desperation. It also introduced frictions within the negotiation team, and undermined what authority Gopal had.

Karunanidhi may just have seen no problem in flirting with ethnic-chauvinists like Nedumaran, but Krishna's endorsement of the politician infuriated his own Congress(I). Krishna's handling of the affair appears to have been driven by the fear of the cons equences of physical harm to Rajkumar. Vandalism and violence broke out in Bangalore soon after news of the kidnapping came, resulting in at least one death. Educational institutions around the city remained closed for a week, and the disruption caused t o business and industry is estimated to have cost upwards of Rs.116 crores. Nonetheless, many observers believe that fears of a massive ethnic pogrom in Bangalore in the event of Rajkumar being harmed are misplaced. After the first bout of violence, litt le anti-Tamil aggression is evident anywhere in Karnataka. Public interest in the entire affair also appears to be dwindling. In Tamil Nadu, where some politicians had sought to capitalise on Tamil chauvinist support for Veerappan, ordinary people have a lso shown a marked disinterest in the hostage crisis.

It is unclear, however, what options both governments will have should the Supreme Court refuse to allow a hostages-for-prisoners swap. Sources in the Tamil Nadu police say that a commando operation was ruled out not because of technical difficulties, bu t the prospect of harm to the hostages' lives. "Even in the most professionally managed commando operations," says one officer, "there is always the element of risk. In this case, it was considered unacceptable." But even if the State governments were un willing to risk Rajkumar's life, there was no reason for an unguided negotiation process, consisting essentially of accepting all that the kidnappers asked for. With the Supreme Court having put an end to this process, both Karunanidhi and Krishna appear to be distancing themselves from the hostage negotiations. For both Chief Ministers, events over the past 100 days have become something of an embarrassment, allowing damaging political attacks.

Larger issues will also need to be addressed along with the fate of Karnataka's most famous film star. There is little doubt that the obsequious posture adopted by the two States has done not a little to legitimise Veerappan and his newfound Tamil nation alist associates. This has happened in a larger context of overt support for chauvinist organisations like the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in recent months, both from the Hindu Right and in a section of the Tamil-language press. Indeed, Veerappan an d the TNLA-TNRF have themselves been vested with fantastic, though largely imaginary, military prowess. Reports about the groups possessing assault rifles, and their tactical relationship with the LTTE, have graced the front pages of newspapers with dist urbing regularity. In fact, published photographs show that the Sathyamangalam group possesses nothing other than two 7.62 millimetre self-loading rifles, some 12-bore shotguns, and a single .303 Lee Enfield rifle.

The decision taken by Veerappan and his TNLA-TNRF allies to kidnap a high-profile public figure has, in this sense, paid off. For the last three years, neither the Tamil Nadu nor the Karnataka government had made any serious effort to engage the brigand and eliminate his armed presence in the forest. Should they fail to do so, the consequences will be felt not just in the forests, but through Tamil Nadu: and perhaps not in the very distant future. Veerappan and the TNLA-TNRF axis could emerge as a focal point for Tamil nationalist forces, propelling the growth of aggressive ethnic chauvinism. The LTTE, although it has had little to do with the drama in the forests, would without doubt benefit from such a climate. For the past several years, Veerappan's operations have been seen as something of a joke. Should their latest manifestation pass unchallenged, people in Tamil Nadu might be hard pressed to find anything comic about events that could follow.

With inputs from Ravi Sharma

A desperate alliance

Caste solidarity, pressure from cadres and a need to secure his own position have perhaps drawn Veerappan closer to forces of Tamil nationalism.

NOT so many years ago, any suggestion that the forest brigand and smuggler Veerappan would one day present a dramatic political and ideological challenge to the state itself would have attracted laughter. To most people Veerappan was, variously, a peasan t criminal pitted against the state, a murderous villain who survived on the incompetence of Indian policing, an alarming sign of the nexus between crime and politics - or even a cocktail party joke. In the hundred days since one of modern-day India's be st-known criminals pulled off his best known crime, all that has changed. The brigand-smuggler's association with Tamil chauvinist organisations, and his new political rhetoric, have transformed the significance of the phenomenon of Veerappan. Little in substantive terms, however, has become known about his new allies: their real ideology, their background and history, and their political and other agenda.

In some ways, the drama unfolding in the Sathyamangalam-Thalavadi forests began in the mid-1980s. Tamilarasan, a dropout from the Government Engineering College in Coimbatore, had a long history of Left activism in the South Arcot area. According to a fe ature on Tamil Nadu's revolutionaries, carried in the millennium issue of Nakkheeran, Tamilarasan worked to "put an end to the rift between Vanniyars and Dalits in 15 villages in the Jayamkondam-Ariyalur belt". He "made Vanniyars bring rice and dhal to Adi Dravida settlements, cook food there and eat it. Similarly, he took Adi Dravida peasants to Vanniyar settlements, made them cook food there, and eat it". These activities, Nakkheeran said, did much to put an end to tension between Dalits and the Vanniyar caste.

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Tamilarasan, however, saw little future for himself in the organised Left. By the mid-1980s, he was firmly committed to a curious mix of Tamil nationalism and violent direct action. This was in part the consequence of his association with a Sri Lankan Ta mil, Nagarajan, who had been expelled from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after a dispute with its supremo, V. Prabakaran. In 1985, they together formed the Tamil National Liberation Army (TNLA). The TNLA was committed to the belief that Ind ia was constituted of separate nations and races. It sought to bring about not only a revolution by peasants and workers in Tamil Nadu, but the separation of the State from the Indian Union. For similar ideological reasons, the TNLA also supported the LT TE's war in northern Sri Lanka.

By 1986, with an estimated 15 committed cadre and some 70 sympathisers in the area, the TNLA was in a position to begin acting on its ideology. On March 15 that year, the Rockfort Express plunged into the Marudaya near Ariyalur after the TNLA blew up a b ridge across the river, leading to the death of 25 train passengers. Shortly afterwards, TNLA terrorists attempted to blow up another bridge, this time across the Coleroon near Thiruvaiyaru, to protest against Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's visit to the a rea. In December, the organisation robbed a branch of the Indian Overseas Bank at Ulkottai, in Tiruchi district. Many of these activities were funded by the revenues from a 100-acre cashew cooperative that Tamilarasan had set up on a plantation leased fr om the government. Interestingly, these revenues in later years led to furious disputes within the TNLA over the sharing of spoils.

Its founder, however, did not live to see the disintegration of his organisation, and the blood feuds that lay ahead. On September 1, 1987, Tamilarasan, along with his associates Jagannathan and Dharmalingam, robbed the State Bank of India branch at Ponp arappi, the TNLA chief's home town. During the course of the daylight robbery, the bank's manager was shot dead, causing an uproar in the small town. As Tamilarasan and his group attempted to escape, a mob began throwing stones at them. For reasons which are unknown, the group does not appear to have fired back at the mob. All three were stoned to death not far from the bank. For the next five years, the TNLA disappeared from South Arcot's political map. Although police officials monitoring the organisa tion believed that it had died a natural death, they could not have been farther from the truth.

DEIVASIGMANI, who inherited control of the TNLA, preferred to use the name Lenin. Clearly lacking the theoretical and tactical insight of the great Russian revolutionary whose name he took, Deivasigmani believed that armed struggle was the means through which the TNLA would be able to expand its base, and build the foundations for a revolution. In 1992, TNLA cadre attacked police stations at Puthur and Annamalai Nagar, both in South Arcot district, in search of weapons. Two further attacks followed in N ovember and December 1993, again in South Arcot district. Although the attacks were successful in terms of securing weapons, these did little to give the TNLA a real mass base. The war on the police soon fell apart. On March 29, 1994, as Deivasigmani was transporting explosives for a planned assault of the Muthandikuppam police station, he accidentally blew himself up.

On the face of things, Lenin's reign at the apex of the TNLA had indeed seen an expansion of its authority. After his death, the organisation began holding impromptu courts to settle disputes between villagers. A fee was charged for this service, and the TNLA made a minor fortune in the process. Some of these funds were deployed to secure public support. Poor students' school fees were paid for, while libraries and night education camps were set up in some villages. Outright crime also funded these acti vities. After the TNLA robbed cash and jewellery from a cooperative bank at Vayalur, near Tiruchi, one member of the organisation, Natarajan, threatened to pass on information to the police if he was not given a third of the loot. He was eliminated short ly afterwards. Local businesses, for their part, were forced to pay protection money. Ramakrishnan, who ran a cement factory near Perambalur, was eliminated for his failure to do so at Pennadam, on June 3, 1996.

But Lenin's death was, in fact, to lead to the disintegration of the TNLA. Koovagam Ramasamy, elected president in Deivasigmani's place, and its working president, Ilavarasan, soon found themselves at odds with each other. Funds from the cashew plantatio ns, over which the TNLA acquired something of a monopoly by the simple expedient of intimidating competitors, were one source of friction. Ramasamy wished to use the cash to pay for welfare projects to win mass legitimacy. Ilavarasan thought these revenu es would be better spent on acquiring weapons. Matters came to a head over the auction of a 144-acre plantation at Vallam, during which the rival factions of Ramasamy and Ilavarasan distributed abusive pamphlets about each other. Through 1997, the Ramasa my-Ilavarasan feud claimed the lives of six TNLA cadre, notably that of Ramasamy himself, on June 8 that year. Ilavarasan was arrested less than two months later. Over a hundred of the TNLA's cadre were to be booked in the wake of this arrest, under the National Security Act and the Goondas Act.

In the midst of this war, no one paid much attention to Singaram Senguttavan, a young recruit who had joined the TNLA after Tamilarasan's death and began using the alias Maran. Perhaps they should have. On July 13, 1997, while their senior colleagues wer e busy exterminating each other, the Maran faction of the TNLA carried out a daring attack on a police station at Andimadam, near Jayamkondam. The TNLA-Maran stole bolt-action rifles, revolvers, 150 rounds of ammunition, and a VHF (very high frequency) r adio set. A string of robberies followed. Police reprisal for these actions was harsh. For almost three years, the TNLA-Maran was forced into retreat. No major actions were documented by the group until their contact with Veerappan was made, and the kidn apping of Rajkumar brought the organisation back on to the front pages of newspapers.

No one is entirely certain just how Maran first made contact with Veerappan, and to what end. In a recent interview to the Tamil magazine Junior Vikatan, Maran's father Singaram said his son's first overture to Veerappan had been rejected by the b rigand. "I myself am in a bad situation now," Singaram quoted Veerappan as having said, "So I cannot protect you. Later, I heard they had somehow joined hands." It is possible that Maran's group, under severe police pressure and with its cadre decimated, had chosen to shift out of the Tiruchi area in order to save the remnants of their organisation. Caste solidarity may have been one element in bringing about the alliance. The entire leadership of the TNLA, including Maran, belong to the Vanniyar commun ity, as does Veerappan. Another possibility is that Veerappan, himself under pressure for cadre and funds, may have welcomed the TNLA's personnel and their weapons to secure his own position.

THE proposition that the Veerappan-TNLA alliance was born of desperation is borne out by the case of the Tamil People's Liberation Army (TPLA). Set up by Ponparappi Rajendran, who broke away from the TNLA because of his opposition to the armed robbery wh ich claimed Tamilarasan's life, the organisation rapidly developed formidable expertise in the manufacture and use of crude pipe bombs. In August 1996, it blew up a bus belonging to the Seventh Day Adventist School at Vepery, Chennai, to protest against a decision by school authorities prohibiting the conversational use of Tamil on their premises. A year later, it set off explosions at the State Election Commission office and the Russian Cultural Centre. The TPLA's principal bomb-maker, Rajaram, was how ever eliminated by the police. Unable to find fresh recruits, and bereft of mass support, Rajendran has since set up an obscure overground political organisation.

Clearly, Maran had no intention of meeting Rajendran's fate, as a virtually unknown figure on the farthest margins of mainstream politics. With the last of his cadre, he made a retreat to the Satyamangalam-Thalavadi forests to bide his time. It is also c lear, in retrospect, that Veerappan was desperately searching for allies. After the kidnapping of a group of six wildlife photographers and botanists from the Bandipur wildlife sanctuary on October 7, 1997, the smuggler had been unable to carry out any m ajor action. Three years down the line, he too was facing the very real prospect of the death of his organisation. The relationship he forged with Tamil ultra-nationalist organisations would give him not only access to cadre and weapons, but also a langu age with which he could appear on the national political stage. Veerappan would reinvent himself as a representative of Tamil nationalist sentiment.

By 1998, it is now clear, Veerappan's alliance with the Tamil nationalist fringe organisation was firmly in place. That December, Sathyamurthy, Manikandan and Muthukumar took part in an attack on a police station at Vellitiruppur, near Erode. Veerappan a nd his deputy Sethukuli Govindan are also known to have participated in this assault. Sathyamurthy, Manikandan and Muthukumar, whose release has been demanded in return for Rajkumar's life, were all members of the Tamil Nationalist Retrieval Force (TNRF) . No information is available on which members of the TNRF are now with Veerappan, but officials estimate that only two or three members of the organisation are in the forests. What is clear, however, is that this small group has had a not inconsiderable impact on Veerappan's ideological stances, in however crude a manner, and in shaping his agenda.

Relatively little is known about the TNRF's history and origins. Observers say that the organisation, initially made up of some 30 cadre, predominantly from the Vanniyar community, was set up in the late-1980s. A Tamil nationalist response to events in S ri Lanka, the TNRF professed commitment to the creation of a greater Tamil homeland, incorporating Tamil Nadu and the Tamil-majority areas of Sri Lanka. Unlike the TNLA, however, it had no Marxist pretensions. A flirtation with the LTTE followed, and at least three TNRF members are known to have been trained in the terrorist organisation's camps in Sri Lanka. One of those three, P. Ravichandran, is serving life sentence for his role in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Most of the TNRF's cadre were arrested in the crackdown which followed the 1991 assassination, and the organisation disintegrated under pressure. It was unable to execute any action, political or armed, for seven years following Rajiv Gandhi's killing.

WHAT implications will the release of the TNLA and TNRF cadre have - in the unlikely event that it comes? It is evident from their history that neither organisation has been able to command anything resembling mass support at any point during their exist ence. Nor, despite the media hype about their activities, has their ability to attract recruits for an armed struggle been significant. In some senses, they have existed as caste armies, not political organisations. Despite the TNLA's stated commitment t o the cause of Dalit-Vanniyar unity, not one of its leaders was from any caste other than the Vanniyar caste. The TNRF's cadre too was almost exclusively Vanniyar. Veerappan, for his part, has not recruited any Dalit to his gang's ranks. Key TNLA and TNR F members, ranging from Maran to Ravichandran, were from relatively affluent backgrounds, not the ranks of the rural poor whom they sought to represent.

Nonetheless, it is also evident that these Tamil extremist organisations have gained not a little from the Rajkumar adventure. Their claims, variously, to speak for the rural poor or for Tamil nationalist sentiment have gained unprecedented media access. At least a section of politicians, sadly, have connived to give these claims respectability and legitimacy. It is possible that the Rajkumar affair will end with Veerappan and his Tamil nationalist allies being humiliated, having been unable to secure a ny of their key demands. It is also clear that, other than a tiny section of the middle class intelligentsia, there is no popular support in Tamil Nadu for the fantasies of the TNLA and the TNRF. At the same time, India's most violent chauvinist movement s have been born of political flirtations of the kinds seen during the Rajkumar affair. Had the Supreme Court not intervened in officially-sanctioned efforts to meet Veerappan's demands, the consequences could well have proved calamitous.

As and when Rajkumar is released, the governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka will have the choice of meaningful action against his kidnappers, or of retreat into an unspoken compromise with them. The course of action they then take will have far larger consequences than the fate of a single former film star.

The judicial intervention

THE Supreme Court concluded its hearings in the "Veerappan associates" release case, on October 31, a month after it began, and reserved its order, leaving unanswered the question of how to secure the safe release of Rajkumar and Nagesh from Veerappan's custody without appearing to succumb to his demands. The Bench, comprising Justice S.P. Bharucha, Justice D.P. Mohapatra and Justice Y.K. Sabharwal, said that their prima facie conclusion that the governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu had acted in panic without thinking about the repercussions stood reinforced. They again castigated the two State governments for their inability to apprehend the bandit for more than a decade.

The Bench was hearing the appeals challenging the August 19 order of the Designated Court, Mysore, giving consent to the special public prosecutor (PP) to withdraw the TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act) charges against 51 persons suspected of having links with Veerappan. The Mysore Judge's August 28 order directing their release on bail is under challenge in the appeals filed by a retired Deputy Superintendent of Police, Abdul Karim, father of a Sub-Inspector, Shakeel Ahmed, who was killed in August 1992, allegedly by Veerappan.

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Related public interest petitions from B.L. Wadhera, advocate, and one Adarsh Ganesh were also before the court.

In its interim order on August 29, the Supreme Court disallowed the release of the Veerappan associates on bail or otherwise pending further orders from the court. The order also restrained the Tamil Nadu government from releasing from jail five detenus, held under TADA and the National Security Act (NSA). Veerappan had demanded their release. Even though the State governments can, under Section 321 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), withdraw prosecution in the public interest, they should explai n the rationale of such a step in accordance with the guidelines framed in the Supreme Court's judgments earlier.

It is this aspect which is now before the court. The court said it was principally concerned with the way the PP made the application (under Section 321 of the CrPC) and how the designated court had allowed the dropping of the TADA charges without applyi ng its mind to find out whether the PP was satisfied with primary documents and material shown to him by the government. Prima facie, the Bench felt that the applications made by the PPs (both in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu) gave "no primary material to produce a valid order" (by the courts concerned).

Can the court go into the legality of the State governments' decision to negotiate with Veerappan to secure the release the hostages? Responding to the submission of Kirit N. Rawal, the Additional Solicitor-General appearing for the Centre, that the cour t might not do so, the Bench pointed out that while it was not concerned with those aspects, it could look into the manner in which the applications under Section 321 of the CrPC were made. "We would be dishonest if we didn't say briefly what we have see n," the Bench said.

Solicitor-General Harish Salve, in response to a query, clarified to the Bench that the Karnataka government had decided to drop the TADA charges against the accused in custody and also those who were absconding, including Veerappan. This is a significan t revelation, as it begs the question whether Veerappan's conditions included dropping of charges against absconding accused. Has the Karnataka government decided to pardon Veerappan for all purposes? The Bench, therefore, observed that prima facie the order of the Designated Court in Mysore allowing dropping of charges against Veerappan and his 160 associates was not sustainable under law.

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The Centre's role in the entire drama came in for closer scrutiny by the Bench. Raval contended that the Centre could not interfere in matters concerning law and order unless the States asked for it. This was seen as evading a direct reply to the questio n on the steps taken by the Centre for the last 10 years to help the two State governments to nab Veerappan. When Raval explained that it was not as if the Centre was enthusiastic about what had happened, he seemed to hint that the only option available to the Centre was imposition of President's Rule, which he clearly said could not be contemplated. The Bench observed that it was not suggesting anything, but said there were certainly steps which the Centre could take.

"It is very law abiding to say that law and order is a State subject and the Centre cannot interfere. However, in the present case, we have a nucleus of a small pocket of territory which the governments have failed to penetrate. If that is so, it goes be yond the law and order problem as you may see the birth of an independent state within the two States," the Bench observed.

While it seemed the Bench indeed wanted the Centre to play a role, it was not clear how precisely it wanted it to intervene. The Bench also expressed its anguish over reports of Veerappan establishing links with secessionists.

Raval pointed out that if anything happened to Rajkumar, the two States would have to deal with more than a law and order breakdown. The Bench disagreed with his suggestion that the two States could be asked to apply their mind afresh to the situation an d come back to the court.

The court's concern over the soft state syndrome has seriously weakened the case of the 51 TADA detenus, whose release Veerappan is demanding and the Designated Court has approved. These detenus have been in jails for long. They have reportedly decided to stand trial, rather than be swapped for Rajkumar's freedom. The Supreme Court is not against their release per se, but has only pointed out certain procedural irregularities in this process, which have become glaring in the context of Veerappan's dema nds. Therefore, it makes sense for the detenus to keep a distance from Veerappan, and express their disapproval of his pleading their case. The Karnataka government has welcomed the detenus' stand, but can it convince the Supreme Court that the detenus' case for release should be judged independently of Veerappan's demands?

Even if these detenus, who have no terrorist links, are ultimately convicted, they have already completed the prison terms that could be imposed on them as punishment for their alleged offences. Hence, their plea for release can be considered from a hum an angle.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has decided not to intervene in the proceedings of the Supreme Court. The full commission, headed by Chairman J.S. Verma, recently reiterated its stand. Tamil Nationalist Movement leader P. Nedumaran and the t wo human rights activists involved in negotiating with Veerappan had appealed to the NHRC to intervene. In a memorandum to the commission, they had said, "It (NHRC) would be able to highlight the human rights violations that the present case involved and the need to uphold the common order of the TADA court (dropping TADA charges) to enable the detenus' release on bail." If the NHRC impleaded itself in the case, it would give an opportunity to the apex court to allow resumption of the stalled NHRC panel inquiry into human rights violations by the Special Task Force of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, constituted to nab Veerappan. However, the NHRC said "there is no occasion for the commission to seek intervention. Moreover, it is reasonable to assume that the viewpoint of the NHRC is sufficiently well-known and also known to the State governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu."

The commission was approached earlier also, but had declined to intervene, saying the case was pending in the Supreme Court and was also before the Karnataka High Court.

The NHRC added a caveat: "There is no material available to us to indicate, nor the media reports give any such indication that either or both of the State governments have relied on the viewpoint of the NHRC for the purpose of deciding to withdraw the p rosecution against the 51 detenues."

A flawed hunt

In the absence of clearly evolved tactical procedures or operational protocols, the police forces of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have been unable to launch a sustained programme to engage Veerappan.

TWO questions figure frequently in discussions on the Veerappan affair. If journalist R.R. Gopal is able to hop in and out of the Sathyamangalam forests and meet the brigand at will, how come the police seem clueless about his location? And why has Veera ppan not been caught, despite the seriousness of his crimes and the crores of rupees spent to locate him?

It is easy to answer the first question: Veerappan wants to meet Gopal and sends his men to escort the journalist to his hideouts. He does not, obviously, extend similar courtesies to the police. But the second question is infinitely more complex, and an answer to it is far more difficult to find.

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Official excuses by both the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka police for the failure to apprehend Veerappan would, if typed out, run into hundreds of pages. But it is clear that there has been a lack of political will to back the hunt. That, in turn, has meant t hat the police forces have not been able to launch the kind of sustained and creative operation needed to arrest or eliminate Veerappan. That has meant Veerappan, with the backing of villagers and tribal people and some politicians, as well as his superb knowledge of the forest terrain, has found it easy to get away with murder.

The two State governments have rarely seen reason to back a long-term programme to engage Veerappan. Both former Karnataka Chief Minister J.H. Patel and current Home Minister Mallikarjun Kharge have said, at various points of time, that they did not care about Veerappan as long as he did not operate inside Karnataka. The M. Karunanidhi government in Tamil Nadu, for its part, more or less gave up the hunt for Veerappan since he committed no major crimes over the last three years. Put simply, the fact tha t he had murders to account for, and was instrumental in the destruction of forest resources, was not in itself considered serious enough to merit the commitment of time and resources.

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Why trouble trouble, both governments evidently believe, till trouble troubles you? The attitude has suited some politicians, at least some of whom have found both Veerappan's caste credentials and cash useful in order to pursue their own political agend as. Villagers too have good reason not to cooperate with the police. Since there has been no sustained official commitment to anti-Veerappan operations, the brigand poses a more real and credible threat than the state apparatus. Right from the Tamil Nadu government's Operation Vanamalai in 1989, to Operation Tusker and Operation Victor in 1999, officers have been shifted out mid-stream. Trained personnel and intelligence funds have both been thin on the ground.

The absence of clearly laid down tactical procedures and operational protocols is another problem. The current Tamil Nadu Special Task Force (STF) chief, M. Balachandran, and his Karnataka counterpart, Harshavardhan Raju, have for example favoured large cordon and search style combing operations, apparently premised on the assumption that Veerappan's group will at some point be engaged by chance. Such operations have rarely had success elsewhere. More important, the experiences of past STF chiefs have n ot informed institutional thinking. There has also been little effort to involve and equip the Forest Department in anti-Veerappan operations. Poorly armed and motivated forest guards see no reason to risk their lives to patrol the area with any seriousn ess of purpose.

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Non-structured tactics and poor operational preparedness have cost lives. In April 1990, Karnataka police personnel were ambushed near Hogenekal during a patrol launched on receipt of information on Veerappan's presence. The brigand had positioned himsel f on an embankment waiting for the patrol to arrive. Four policemen were killed. The police personnel had clearly not been trained in counter-ambush procedures or precautions. Again, in August 1992, T. Harikrishna, Superintendent of Police, Karnataka STF , responded to information on Veerappan's whereabouts by driving to the location in a convoy of four cars. Unsurprisingly, the convoy, visible from miles away, was ambushed. Harikrishna and five other personnel were killed.

It is interesting that the only time proper coordination took place and received political backing, the results were quick in coming. The STF team of Tamil Nadu's Walter I. Dawaram and Karnataka's Shankar Bidri succeeded between in 1983 and 1994, in redu cing Veerappan's cadre from over a hundred to just five. In fact, experts say, there are no exceptional technical problems in the hunt for Veerappan. Each time the forest brigand purchases candles, matches or raincoats, clues become available on his wher eabouts. The gang is thinly armed. And if Veerappan possesses forest operation skills, so do thousands of Indian police and paramilitary personnel who are trained to operate in similar terrain in the northeastern region or Jammu and Kashmir.

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At least some observers believe that the only solution lies in recruiting Army commandos, as well as using high-tech equipment like motion sensors and airborne heat-seeking and radar devices. None of this, however, seems to be the outcome of any consider ed thought on the resources actually needed. It is worth remembering the experience of the Border Security Force (BSF), pumped into the forests in 1993 as a result of similar panic. The BSF, without local knowledge or the necessary tactical skills, spent a year beating around the bush, lost one soldier, and made an unceremonious withdrawal 11 months after its deployment. Army commandos, similarly, are neither trained for what is essentially a police operation, nor meant for such deployment.

In a signal 1999 essay, "Terrorism, Institutional Collapse and Emergency Response Protocols", Punjab's former Director-General of Police, K.P.S. Gill, pointed to a nation-wide malaise in dealing with crisis like kidnapping. "Fire-fighting responses to cu rrent crises," he noted, "tend to cancel each other out and often, in fact, prove counterproductive. To take a parallel, if one were to create a large number of random and unstructured defences on a battlefield, with no clear idea of the emerging pattern of engagement, of the imperatives of the terrain, of the relative strength of forces, and of the defined objectives of battle, we would find that these defences eventually become a hindrance to our own manoeuvres, rather than a shield against enemy atta ck. This is precisely the case that has arisen out of the innumerable, ad hoc, entirely unstructured and often contradictory actions and policy initiatives."

Significantly, the confusion and chaos that have characterised official management of the latest crisis show that security institutions have learned none of the lessons of the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight IC-814 from Kathmandu in 1998. Among the m ajor problems that had been pointed to then were clear protocols and guidelines to officials to deal with emergencies. Officials were thus left, in Gill's words, "trying to reinvent the wheel, with no guidelines, no reference to a historical context, and no structured system of emergency response." The National Security Guards, meant to provide an armed response to a hijack crisis, took a full three hours and 23 minutes after the first information of the hijack had been received to show up at Amritsar a irport. And when negotiations began, no properly trained hostage negotiators and psychologists were involved.

Many countries have well-designed procedures to deal with emergency situations brought about by terrorism and organised crime. The United States counter-terrorism policy, for example, lays down four principles, two of which are clearly relevant in India. No concessions are to be extended or deals made with terrorists and they must be brought to justice for their crimes. Another essential feature of the U.S. counter-terrorism response is the degree of institutional consensus that prevails. The U.S. judic iary has ordinarily handed out maximum sentences, and even waived substantive provisions of law to punish what is designated as terrorist crime. Indian States, by contrast, have no protocols or procedures to deal with emergencies. Desperate and flawed ef forts, like those involving Gopal, therefore become central components of official responses.

If the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments are indeed serious about dealing with Veerappan, the path they need to take is none too difficult to imagine. The STFs responsible for the task need to be properly equipped and trained in jungle tactics. The wo rk of intelligence gathering needs professional handling and proper funding. Most important, the organisation will need political support, and individual officers will have to be given the time they need to execute their task. No Army involvement or high -tech equipment is needed for these tasks, for the police forces in both States have a mass of technical resources and skills. But if experience is any guide, both governments are likely to forget Veerappan the minute his high-profile hostage is freed. W ith Veerappan now affiliated with ethnic-chauvinist terrorist groups, the price of such negligence will be higher than either State can afford.

'The government is not honest'

cover-story

'Cho' S. Ramaswamy, the outspoken editor of the Tamil magazine Thuglak, has been highly critical of the manner in which the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments have handled the abduction. He has especially criticised Chief Minister M. Karu nanidhi for agreeing to Veerappan's demand that Tamil Nationalist Movement founder P. Nedumaran be sent to the forests to negotiate the release of Rajkumar. T.S. Subramanian met 'Cho' Ramaswamy for an interview. Excerpts:

How do you see the handling by the governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka of Veerappan's abduction of Rajkumar?

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Veerappan has been made the Chief Minister of both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu Chief Ministers are his PAs (personal assistants). Whatever he orders, they... get it done as good, faithful, obedient PAs. Where is the handling of this?

I have no complaints about negotiations having been started. The State governments have every right to negotiate instead of trying some commando action because if something happens to Rajkumar, there can be problems for Tamils in Karnataka. I concede all that. But the way they started the negotiations, they created history.

They said every demand will be conceded. That was the beginning of the negotiations. Is this negotiation or surrender? There have been many hostage crises. Governments have negotiated and States have bargained. But nobody has started negotiations saying that whatever you ask for will be given. At that moment, the two State governments lost all credibility, and whatever little bargaining power they had was lost.

All of Veerappan's demands have not been conceded - for instance, those relating to an immediate solution to the problems of the Manjolai tea estate workers and the victims of the Chinnampatti incidents, and the payment of minimum wages to workers in tea estates in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu...

You are trying to be not only charitable but liberal because the two State governments themselves have claimed that all demands have been conceded. In interviews the two Chief Ministers have said that there is nothing left to be conceded. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister in particular has said it.

What happened in secret I do not know. They have not taken the people of the State into confidence. Not all the cassettes that Veerappan produced have been released. And I refuse to believe that money has not been paid to him. The Hindu initially reported, the day after the kidnapping, that Veerappan had demanded Rs.50 crores. From the next day, there was no word about it. Veerappan must have told these governments that his demand for money should not be publicised because he is trying to have an image now, the image of a fighter for Tamil causes.

The Supreme Court stayed the release of 51 associates of Veerappan jailed in Mysore under TADA. There are reports that they are not really associates of Veerappan.

They may not be associates of Veerappan but are they guilty of offences punishable under the law or not? The State government has to apply for the court's permission for the withdrawal of the cases. It has been done earlier also. But the court has got ev ery right to say whether the withdrawal is for the public good, whether it is the best course available to meet the ends of justice. The law gives the court not only the right but the duty to ensure that the withdrawal is for public good.

I had written initially in Thuglak, disagreeing with the Supreme Court when it criticised the government of Karnataka, particularly the court's observation that the government should either govern or quit. I said it was not the business or the pre rogrative of the court to do that. The State government may either decide to negotiate or take some commando action in such a situation and people will judge it when the opportunity arises. If the people disagree with the decision, they will throw out th e government. But the court cannot do it, it cannot advise the people to do it. At the same time, I said the court has got every right to go into the question of whether the withdrawal of the cases will be for the public good or not. Although I was initi ally critical of the Supreme Court's strictures in the course of its hearings against the Karnataka government and then the Tamil Nadu government, I now feel that there is one forum there where the voice of the public is heard.

What are your views on Nedumaran being sent to negotiate with Veerappan?

It is common knowledge and even admitted by Veerappan's group that Tamil extremists trained by the LTTE are with him in the forests. Nedumaran is a great champion of the LTTE and its activities. Now the demand of those in the forests, that is, the Tamil extremists, is that some of the detainees in Tamil Nadu prisons should be released. Again, the detainees have LTTE sympathies or links with the LTTE. LTTE sympathisers and trainees are sitting in the forests, they are demanding the release of LTTE sympat hisers in prisons, and an LTTE sympathiser and an advocate is sent to talk to them!

The State government is sponsoring a meeting of LTTE sympathisers, trainees and activists in the forests. There cannot be a more irresponsible act on the part of the government. The LTTE is a banned organisation, the killers of a former Prime Minister of India. They have nasty designs.

Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi said that Veerappan insisted on Nedumaran being sent.

The Chief Minister is not at all clear in what he said about Nedumaran. He said that Nedumaran is not an official emissary. In the same breath, he said Nedumaran has become an emissary because he has accompanied the emissary. And then the Chief Minister said that the government sent Nedumaran as an emissary because Veerappan demanded it. Do you want me to take this gentleman's words seriously? Veerappan will demand so many things. Supposing Veerapan demands that Stalin (Karunanidhi's son and a legislato r who is the Mayor of Chennai) should be sent, will he be sent? Supposing Veerappan demands that Karunanidhi should resign and quit politics, and that he will release Rajkumar the next moment, will that demand be met? What is this, conceding demands and sending emissaries?

The appointment of the second emissary (Nedumaran) looks like a burlesque. When Sonia Gandhi said that Nedumaran was not the choice of the Karnataka government, Karunanidhi denied it, Krishna obfuscated it and the emissary declared that he was not an emi ssary at all! Why all these contradictions?

In the first instance itself, Veerappan did not ask for any particular emissary. When was this emissary decided upon? Because he is a friend of Veerappan? Who represents the State then? Who is the friend of the State then? Mr. Gopal has openly said even earlier that he will not help the police in locating Veerappan though he was very much in the know of things. So you know his sympathies. I say that for him his word of honour to Veerappan is much more important than all the lives taken by Veerappan, and he (Gopal) is sent to negotiate. He says that unless everything is conceded, Veerappan will not budge. The Chief Minister repeats it. He says he is waiting for the "signal" (from Veerappan). I have heard these words only in Tamil movies, the assistants waiting for the "signal"from the boss.

Veerappan is supposed to be deep inside the forests... 40 km inside. But everyone walks in and walks out of the forests. When somebody becomes the emissary of the government, the forests somehow clear themselves and make way. Truth is the casualty. I am waiting for the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister to utter one truthful statement on this issue.

Do you think that in sending Nedumaran Karunanidhi did not foresee the political consequences?

Did he not foresee the consequences when he appreciated Veerappan for his Tamil extremism? He congratulated him on that. Why did he make that statement? Because he has got a lurking sympathy for extremism in various forms. It comes out openly when he is in the Opposition. He corks it in a bottle when he is in power. The same thing has happened with regard to his sending Nedumaran. For all you know, Veerappan may have asked for Nedumaran. But the State need not have conceded it. Did Veerappan assure the government that if Nedumaran was sent, Rajkumar would be sent back along with him? Or has Veerappan gone back on that word? If that was why Nedumaran was sent, why did the government first say that he was not a government emissary and then said that he w as a government emissary? Because they are not honest about it, particularly the Chief Minister.

'Our efforts are sincere'

cover-story
Interview with R.R. Gopal.

In the background of the October 31 order of the Supreme Court reserving judgment on the appeals challenging the consent given by the Designated Court, Mysore, for the withdrawal of the TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act) cases ag ainst some associates of forest brigand Veerappan, T.S. Subramanian and Praveen Swami met Nakkheeran R.R. Gopal in Chennai on November 3. Since Veerappan's abduction of Kannada film actor Rajkumar and three others on July 30, Gopal has made five trips to the bandit's den in the forests as an emissary of the governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to negotiate the release of the hostages. Veerappan has been insisting on the release of the 121 TADA detainees in Mysore and the f ive Tamil extremists belonging to the Tamil National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Tamil National Retrieval Force (TNRF) in exchange.

The hostage crisis was thus diceyly poised, when a controversy broke out when Tamil Nationalist Movement founder P. Nedumaran accompanied Gopal on his fifth mission in October. During the interview, Gopal's replies were in Tamil excepting some words and sentences in English. Excerpts.

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The Supreme Court has reserved its orders on the release of the TADA detainees in Mysore. If the apex court declines to release them and the five Tamil extremists, how will the hostage crisis end?

Why should we think negatively? Why can't we believe that they will release Rajkumar? Since the case of the 121 detainees is strong, let us believe that they will be released.

Supposing the Supreme Court does not permit the release of the 121 detainees, is any solution possible?

Our ultimate goal is to somehow obtain the release of Rajkumar. The Supreme Court has taken a tough stand. They (the Judges) are angry. They have raised so many questions. All this has been conveyed to Veerappan and they (Veerappan and the extremists) ar e also listening to radio news bulletins. Although the Supreme Court may talk like this, we told them, the final orders may be favourable to them. So we told them to release Rajkumar without delay.

What was Veerappan's reaction?

We took P. Nedumaran, P. Kalyani and P. Sukumaran to convince him. We told them to release Rajkumar and not wait for the Supreme Court judgment which would take time. And it is taking time.

There were reports that Veerappan promised to release Rajkumar if Nedumaran was sent on the mission. Why did he go back on his word? Is he being manipulated by the TNLA and the TNRF?

From the very beginning, when I first met Veerappan on this mission, I said I noticed "a lot of changes" in him - in his approach, the way he spoke and so on. He always talks about his movement. He consults his comrades on every issue and then decides.

This hostage crisis should have ended during my third mission itself. On the fifth day of that visit, it was agreed that we (the governments) should hand over the five Tamil extremists and Veerappan in turn would release the four hostages (Rajkumar, S.A. Govindaraj, Nagappa and Nagesh). This was agreed upon on August 31. But there was a bolt from the blue on September 1. The radio news bulletin at 12.40 p.m. announced that the Supreme Court had indefinitely stayed the release of the TADA detainees in My sore. The mission was proceeding speedily when it hit a roadblock. A speedbreaker can be crossed, but here was a wall.

So I was sent for the fourth time to tell Veerappan that the problem had arisen from the stay granted by the Supreme Court and to convince him to release Rajkumar and others. I said my going without a "process" by the Supreme Court was a waste. But the t wo Chief Ministers wanted me to go. My work is only five per cent. Their work is 100 per cent.

The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister (M. Karunanidhi) also told the press, 'Gopal declined to go but I pushed him'. So I went for the fourth time. On the first day, negotiations were under way to release one person first and thereafter the others. I told them t o do it "ad hoc" because the attitude in the two States would change for the better. They said it could be considered the next morning. But that night, Nagappa escaped.

This was a very, very big setback. They took Nagappa's escape as an insult, a humiliation - that somebody could run away when talks were going on. So the negotiations had to be restarted from scratch. It required a big effort to see that it did not lead to other consequences, that Veerappan did not vent his anger on the other three hostages. The mood became "harsh". I had to quell all that.

Veerappan said Nagappa could not have escaped, that he must be hiding somewhere and that he could be brought back in the morning. Later on seeing his footprints they confirmed that he had escaped. They went after him, saying they would behead him if he w as found alive. Supposing he had been caught and was beheaded, imagine what would have happened to my mission. Nagappa was the man helping Rajkumar a lot.

Why did he escape then? He had volunteered to go with Rajkumar when the abduction took place.

He had been in the forests for 60 days. He could have suffered from depression. I am not blaming him.

For the fifth mission, they asked that Nedumaran, Kalyani and Sukumaran be sent. All of us went because these people could pacify them. The fifth mission was like restarting the process. They said they would negotiate if all four of us came. All four of us together explained the extant situation in a "healthy" manner to them. We functioned like a team and spoke like a team.

A small happiness for us was that we could obtain the release of Govindaraj.

Were you upset by the failure of the third, fourth and fifth missions?

No, I am not upset at all. It is only taking time. The matter on hand is no simple, ordinary issue. There is a lot of difference between Veerappan abducting nine Karnataka forest personnel in 1997 and the kidnapping of Rajkumar now. For nearly two years, after these two (Tamil extremist) groups joined Veerappan, he had planned it in a very big way and abducted him....because of the Cauvery waters and other issues. So it is a big issue for the two governments. It was discussed at the international level. The efforts to obtain the release are going on all right. I am not upset.

There are rumours that you have handed over Rs.10 crores to Veerappan as ransom money.

This is a rumour that is being deliberately spread.

There are rumours that Rajkumar has been released and that he is in a hospital.

You know how absurd it is to say that Rajkumar is being kept in a hospital. How will you not know when he is in a hospital? There are people who do arm-chair writing. One report said that Rajkumar came out in a convoy of six cars. How can we go in six ca rs and not get exposed? If we are exposed, a block will be created somewhere. We have gone into the forests five times so far. Our whereabouts could not be found. That is the reason for the smooth running of the missions.

Was there any difference of opinion between you and Nedumaran?

There was nothing like that.

Was there any difference between your approach and his approach?

Nothing. This is also a deliberate rumour. He is an elderly person whom I respect. Nedumaran is a respectable man. From the beginning, we have been saying that the ultimate goal of myself and Nedumaran is the release of Rajkumar. There is definitely no d ifference of opinion over this.

What will be the consequences of the TNLA and the TNRF teaming up with Veerappan? TNRF members like Mahesh and Ravichandran were trained by the LTTE.

Mahesh and Ravichandran are not inside the forest.

Yes, Ravichandran is in prison. How did the two groups link up with Veerappan? What are the consequences of their coming together?

How they reached Veerappan is a big question. I cannot talk about what the consequences would be. What we need is Rajkumar's release.

What do you think of former Special Task Force Commander Walter I. Dawaram's claim that he had reduced the strength of Veerappan's gang from 150 persons to five?

Why did Dawaram spare the lives of the five people? A former Chief Minister, who banks on his support, says that if she had continued in power for five more years, the police would have killed those five also. So there is only politics in this. We asked for the pictures of these 145 persons and their addresses. There is no reply till now.

It was during Dawaram's tenure that Veerappan became a hero. That is the (fundamental) matter. I mean that when AIADMK was in power and Dawaram was in charge (of the STF), Veerappan became a hero. This is all action and reaction. Veerappan knows the fore sts like the back of his hand. He knows every "nook and corner" of the 6,000 sq. km. forest. He knows where to hide.

Was your mission a burden or an advantage?

It is not a burden. But depression sets in. When we are doing it so sincerely and when I see that politicians and very big journalists are deliberately planning to sabotage our mission, I get depressed. I ask only one thing of these people who talk and w rite big; have they suggested any alternative to our efforts? They will only find fault with us. Yet, the two Chief Ministers, especially Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, two or three officers here (Tamil Nadu), two or three officers there (Karnataka), friends like Rajnikant (film actor), all of them are cooperating with us on this issue.

Is it an advantage in any way?

I don't think it is advantageous. As a journalist, I look upon it as an opportunity. No journalist in India has got an opportunity like this. Some people say even in the world. But this is an opportunity that is being chased by death. The entire Nakkh eeran team is doing it sincerely. I have never gone into the question of whether it is advantageous or disadvantageous because even today, we can have our meal only when the Nakkheeran issue comes out.

Have the two groups totally indoctrinated Veerappan?

It is not as if they have changed him. He has also changed himself. There is a lot of difference between the Veerappan I saw in 1997 and the Veerappan I am seeing today. He says that he belongs to a movement, that he is a militant and so on. This is a gr eat change.

You have said that Veerappan is the captain of the team.

Not like the captain of a team. He is the leader of the Veerappan group. There is the TNLA headed by Maran. Then there is the TNRF. It is not as if he is the captain of all the three groups.

A communist forever

the-nation
VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN in New Delhi

SPEAKING to mediapersons a few days before his retirement, Chief Minister Jyoti Basu pointed out that Communists did not retire. They retained their political conviction throughout their lives, he said. He added that this was true in his case too and tha t he would continue to help his party in a manner his health permitted.

Basu, who served as Chief Minister for the longest term in India's democratic history, made it clear that the sole reason for his decision to retire was indifferent health and that he would continue political activity as a Polit Bureau member of the Comm unist Party of India (Marxist) in whatever way possible.

Jyoti Basu's retirement evoked a variety of responses from political circles in New Delhi. The Bharatiya Janata Party and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners such as the Trinamul Congress and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) perceive a decline in Left politics in West Bengal and the country as a whole with Basu's retirement. His statement that he would pursue his political activity in whatever manner possible was ridiculed by some of them as the wishful thinking of a senior citizen.

Speaking to mediapersons, BJP leader and Rural Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said that Jyoti Basu's retirement was bound to weaken the Left further, particularly in West Bengal. Trinamul Congress leader Sudip Bandopadhyaya said Basu's retirement , coming as it did hardly six months before the West Bengal Assembly elections, meant that the veteran Marxist wanted to run away from an electoral battle that he was sure to lose.

Congress(I) leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said that Jyoti Basu had retired only from the Chief Minister's office and as a politician the Congress(I) would treat him as it had treated him in the past: "Opposing most of his policies but agreeing with some such a s the opposition to the communal BJP." Nothing, added Azad, had happened to change this view.

The reactions from other non-Left parties, including the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), have been different. Ranjan Yadav, RJD leader, said that Jyoti Basu's decision to retire from chief ministership and to continue in politics opened up new vistas for secular and people-oriented social and political intervention in the country.

Many independent political observers hold a similar view. Speaking to Frontline, political analyst Hariraj Singh Tyagi pointed out that Jyoti Basu was the only leader who commanded as much respect as Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee at the nati onal level and that he should now use it to develop Left politics in a more creative and proactive manner. Jyoti Basu's "respect-inspiring personality" could be used by the CPI(M) and other Left parties not only to advance the causes that were dear to th em but also to forge a broad unity of non-BJP, non-Congress(I) parties, he remarked.

According to a senior Janata Dal(S) leader who wished to remain anonymous, Jyoti Basu's presence in national politics is required now more than ever before, particularly after the CPI(M)'s recent special conference in Thiruvananthapuram gave a call to ot her political parties to regroup and form a third alternative. The conference had noted that "the forces which had fallen into disarray in the last three years are regrouping again, in the background of the threat posed by communalism and the attacks on the people's economic interests."

Does this mean that the only Communist leader in the country who was offered the Prime Minister's position would spend more time in New Delhi? The responses from the CPI(M) make it clear that there is no specific proposal from the party in this regard.

Speaking to Frontline, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Prakash Karat said that Jyoti Basu's main priority would continue to be West Bengal, although it will not be in the area of governance. "He would devote time to strengthen the political campaign ag ainst the anti-Communist, anti-Left forces in the State during the elections, which are due in six months." He added that Jyoti Basu would continue his work in the national capital as the Polit Bureau member of the party, which would certainly involve ef forts to build a third alternative by mobilising workers, peasants, the middle class, women, youth, students and the working people and building a powerful movement for social transformation. "This concept of building an alternative to the communal BJP a t the Centre and of effecting a change from the policies pursued by the Congress(I) is a paramount task of the party and Jyoti Basu will certainly contribute in that area, but that does not mean a specific individual role has been assigned to him," Karat said.

Jyoti Basu had earlier announced that he would retire on September 15 but subsequently decided to continue in office for some more time on the request of CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet. The party's request and Basu's concurrence came in view of the sustained campaign carried out by the Trinamul Congress, the principal Opposition party in West Bengal and a constituent of the NDA, against the "atrocities of the CPI(M) and its government". Defence Minister George Fernandes had toured some parts of West Bengal in the company of Trinamul Congress leader and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee on a "fact-finding mission" and made some statements against the Left Front government.

The Trinamul Congress had for long sought the dismissal of the West Bengal government on the grounds of deteriorating law and order. Although the Centre had not acceded to the request, there was a perception within the Left Front that the BJP and its ass ociates in the NDA planned to launch an operation on the lines of the one that was conducted by the Congress(I) government in Tripura in the early 1990s to throw out the Left Front government led by Nripen Chakraborty. The Tripura strategy involved the u nleashing of violence by extremist and lumpen groups in order to create law and order problems, blaming them on the State government, dismissing it, installing a new administrative machinery controlled by New Delhi and then using it to influence election s. The thinking in the CPI(M) and the Left Front at the time was that a leader of Jyoti Basu's stature had to be in the Chief Minister's office to handle the situation.

According to Prakash Karat, the CPI(M) is of the view that the NDA will not repeat the strategy in West Bengal. By all indications, this perception has facilitated Basu's retirement. "We want to give the new Chief Minister six months to lead the governme nt and show that the government is not dependent on Basu's personality alone, as our opponents like to say," Prakash Karat said.

The Jyoti Basu difference and legacy

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IT is no surprise that a major section of the Indian press and media has treated the self-determined retirement from office of one of the most illustrious political leaders and statesmen India has produced in the past century with ill-concealed bad grace and dismissivism ("a long innings with quite a low score," and so on), if not hostility. This attitude is an expression of the widespread ideological tendency of anti-Communism and anti-progressivism rather than a reflection of anything Jyoti Basu might have done or failed to do as the longest-serving Chief Minister of independent India and as a major national political figure. Put bluntly, the negative attitude of much of the media has reflected a crude prejudice against the ideology, politics and mov ement of the Left of which Basu has been, for decades, the best-known national symbol, administrator, and popular leader. Even the high-minded act of bowing out on account of age and in the face of intense pressure to carry on as Chief Minister for at le ast a while longer - a rare moral example of self-abnegation in mainstream Indian politics - has not been given its due in the media or, for that matter, in the public space.

A byword for intellectual, political and personal integrity and for a straightforward but cool and imperturbable style in politics, Basu made a profound, long-term difference to the large, populous and strategically important State that has always been h is first priority and commanded his best effort. However, those who remember him mainly as Chief Minister of West Bengal between 1977 and 2000 are likely to underestimate his long experience in the crucible of struggle: as a trade union organiser, as a p opular agitator, and as a revolutionary fighter - starting, as was typical for his generation, as a freedom fighter and courageously facing and overcoming state-sponsored repression and intolerance in independent India as well. They are likely also to un derestimate the inner resources of one of the most attractive and gifted Opposition political figures India, or indeed any country, has seen over the past half century.

Some others in the Communist party and movement - most importantly, an E.M.S. Namboodiripad, a B.T. Ranadive, an M. Basavapunniah - have distinguished themselves as exponents and developers of Marxist theory. Some others - most importantly, a P. Sundaray ya, a Promode Dasgupta, a Harkishan Singh Surjeet - have contributed specially to party-building and organisational affairs. Basu's metier lay in another domain - where theory, vision, polemic, and the ideological characteristics and organisationa l resources of a revolutionary movement encounter the challenge of working with the masses and winning them over. Basu's genius lay in this interesting and quite difficult interface where many an ideal, many a leader, and many a political ambition has fa iled to achieve notable success.

It will take some time for his unprecedented long innings as Chief Minister of West Bengal to be evaluated objectively and in its various facets, and to be understood for the quantitative and qualitative difference it has been able to make. Suffice it to mention some of the major achievements.

In the first place, Left Front rule has been responsible for momentous changes in the West Bengal countryside. Over the 23 years of Basu's helmsmanship, it implemented a basic land reform, established India's first comprehensive system of democratic dece ntralisation, and extended rural electrification and irrigation. Agricultural production came out of the impasse in which it had been trapped for decades before Left rule, and in the 1980s and 1990s West Bengal showed the highest rates of agricultural gr owth among the 17 most populous States of the country. As a consequence of the new institutional changes and agricultural growth, nutrition levels improved and rural poverty declined in the State. In fact, West Bengal, followed by Kerala, has the best re cord among all Indian States with respect to rural poverty reduction over the past two decades.

Secondly, despite the concerted propaganda efforts in the media to give the Basu government a bad name, West Bengal is a living example of democracy at the grassroots. There have been elections to panchayat institutions every five years since 1978, panch ayats have taken on responsibilities that were earlier vested with the district-level bureaucracy, and the divisible outlay for the districts tends to be close to 50 per cent of State Plan outlays. Elected members of panchayats are overwhelmingly from la nd-poor and landless households. The West Bengal experience with local government was the primary impetus for the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Indian Constitution, which made regular elections to local bodies, rural and urban, mandatory in all States.

Thirdly, West Bengal's industrial experience under Left Front rule has been far from the 'wasteland' alleged in supercilious, sneering and motivated media assessments. The industrial picture in the State has been a complicated and mixed one over the last forty years, with signs of decline and stagnation of traditional industry and problems created for industrial and finance capital by an exceedingly strong trade union movement and working class struggles. The theme of 'flight of capital' has been talked about, but it has been very hard to substantiate, document and study objectively. Since the adoption of a new industrial policy since 1994, the State government has worked hard to attract investors. Some successes have been scored, there have been disap pointments (as with the joint sector giant Haldia petrochemical project), and a complex industrial scenario with bright spots as well as chronic problem areas is unfolding, as is happening in several other States.

But the difference Jyoti Basu has made to politics and society must not be assessed merely, or even mainly, with respect to West Bengal. The limitations of the Left at the national level, especially in Hindi-speaking India, stand out but West Bengal's Le ft Front has been a bulwark of the struggle against Hindutva in Indian politics. The 30-plus MPs from West Bengal have formed the foundation of a coherent and influential Left presence in Parliament. The Left in Parliament has been able to contribute the most consistent defence of secularism, democracy, federalism and national unity, and the most outspoken and radical critique of the policies of stabilisation and structural adjustment. Take away the Left and saffron would have a much stronger role in na tional politics than it does today, with its mixed bag of opportunist allies. The anti-democratic and disintegrative consequences of such - unmitigated and unmediated - ascendancy of the Hindu Right would be too disturbing and tragic to contemplate.

END OF AN ERA

After leading the State for 23 years, Jyoti Basu steps down from the post of West Bengal Chief Minister.

TWENTY-THREE years after taking power as the elected Marxist head of government in West Bengal, Jyoti Basu, the architect of the world's longest-serving coalition government of Left parties, relinquished office on October 28. He was succeeded by Buddhade b Bhattacharya, the Deputy Chief Minister. Bhattacharya was sworn in Chief Minister on November 6.

Announcing his retirement at Writers' Buildings, which houses the State Secretariat, Basu, a Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said the party had cleared his long-pending request for permission to lay down office on health gr ounds. "It has been a good innings. Though I shall not remain Chief Minister, I will be very much in the CPI(M). The retirement issue has been pending with the party for a year. I am happy they have finally realised that I am not keeping good health," a relaxed Basu told newspersons in his office at the State Secretariat.

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Anil Biswas, secretary of the State unit of the CPI(M), said Basu's retirement was discussed at a meeting of the party's State Secretariat and the proposal was presented at a Left Front committee meeting for formal endorsement. Biswas said that there was no difference of opinion on the question of respecting the wishes of the senior leader. There was unanimity also about Buddhadeb Bhattacharya succeeding Basu, Biswas told Frontline.

Basu, 87, one of India's most respected politicians, had earlier expressed his desire to step down from the Chief Minister's post on September 2. However, following a personal request by party general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet, he reportedly agre ed to continue in the post until the CPI(M)'s special party conference, which was held in Thiruvananthapuram from October 20 to 23.

After sending his resignation letter to Governor Viren Shah, Jyoti Basu said at a press conference that age-related problems were making it increasingly difficult for him to bear the burden of the Chief Minister's responsibilities. "I have not been keepi ng well for the past few years. I have been in active politics for over 60 years and have headed the West Bengal government for nearly 24 years at a stretch. At 87, you can well understand the kind of mental and physical strain I am exposed to. That is w hy I asked my party leadership to relieve me from the Chief Minister's responsibilities," Basu said.

Basu said that his departure would not create any problem for the functioning of the government. "Ours is not a bourgeois party. We believe in the democratic process. We have always endeavoured hard for the uplift of the working class. A true communist w ill never hanker for power. And especially when everyone in our party and our Front partners have unanimously chosen Buddhadeb Bhattacharya as my successor, I do not foresee any problems in the functioning of the Left Front once I have stepped down. Budd ha has been doing a stupendous job as both Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister. I am convinced he will be an equally successful Chief Minister," Basu said.

The Left Front unanimously elected Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, who was appointed Deputy Chief Minister 11 months ago in order to ease Basu's workload, the next Chief Minister. He was sworn in on November 6. Anil Biswas said there was no better candidate than Bhattacharya to succeed Jyoti Basu, who himself settled the question by choosing Bhattacharya as his deputy.

Some constituents of the Left Front, particularly the Forward Bloc, felt that with the Assembly elections due early next year, Basu chose the wrong time to retire. They said that as Basu had led the Front to five consecutive election victories since 1977 and helped institutionalise the system of coalition politics, he should have considered retirement only after ensuring a record sixth term for the Left Front in office.

The Front constituents have requested Basu to be the chairman of the Left Front Committee. Basu has not yet responded to this. Veteran CPI(M) leader Sailen Dasgupta, the present chairman of the Left Front, has expressed his willingness to step down and t ake up the post of the Front's convener.

However, Basu is of the opinion that younger leaders in the party should step out of his shadow to meet the new challenges and run the party organisation and the government.

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IN the coming months, the Left Front will have its hands full dealing with the situation created by the Trinamul Congress' campaign against it. Emboldened by its victories in the Panskura Lok Sabha constituency and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC ), the supporters of Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee have unleashed a wave of violence in Midnapore, Hooghly and Bankura districts. Apparently, their intention is to create a situation that will warrant the imposition of President's Rule in the State.

However, for the Trinamul Congress and its ally the Bharatiya Janata Party, capturing power in the State will not be an easy job. The Trinamul Congress' violence in certain pockets of South Bengal has to a great extent been countered by a resistance move ment inspired by the Left Front.

The Congress(I) is not expected to pose a threat to the Left Front in the 2001 elections. The appointment of Pranab Mukherjee as the State Congress(I) president has only divided the party further, and Congress(I) workers have been caught between two cent res of command - former president A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, and former working president P.R. Das Munshi.

The BJP is also in a bad state because of internecine quarrels. Moreover, Mamata Banerjee seems to be expecting that a section of the BJP will join her party. Indeed, the process seems to have started already. Recently, Congress(I) leader and former Mini ster Motahar Hossain and Paras Datta, former vice-president of the State BJP, turned up at a Trinamul-sponsored rally in Calcutta and declared that Mamata Banerjee was their leader.

FEW people become legends in their lifetimes. Jyoti Basu has the distinction of being one such. Basu, who was labelled anti-national and jailed for over a year after the India-China war in 1962, went on to acquire the stature of a national leader. He was unanimously elected the United Front's prime ministerial candidate in 1996. However, in accordance with the decision of his party, Basu turned down personal requests made by leaders such as V.P. Singh, Indrajit Gupta, Mulayam Singh Yadav and H.D. Deve G owda to accept the post.

After early education in Calcutta, Basu went to England to study law. While in London, he became a communist and abandoned his plans to become a lawyer. He returned to India in January 1940 and joined the Communist Party of India. Basu was elected an org aniser of the seven-member Bengal Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of India at its first legal conference in 1943. He worked among port and dock labourers. In 1944, the party asked him to organise a trade union for the workers of the Bengal-As sam Railways.

Basu was first elected to the Bengal Legislative Assembly in May 1946 from a railway electoral constituency. He defeated the Congress candidate Humayun Kabir. When the Communist Party of India was banned in 1948, he was arrested.

A leader of mass movements, Basu played a prominent role in organising major agitational programmes such as the resistance to a hike in tram fares in 1953, the teachers' agitation in 1954, the resistance to the Bengal-Bihar merger proposal in 1956 and th e food movement in 1959. The CPI's participation in these agitations helped spread its base in the State, and with it grew Basu's stature as an organiser. He was in the forefront of Statewide demonstrations and protest rallies against the Congress govern ment's failure to check an alarming rise in prices of foodgrains and the illegal foodgrain trade. The Opposition parties, led by the Communist Party of India, launched a movement against the government over the issue of food shortage. The government atte mpted to crush the movement. In the violence that followed, 33 people were killed and nearly 3,000 were injured.

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In the first general elections held in January 1952, Basu won from the Baranagar constituency in north Calcutta, defeating his main opponent Harendranath Roy Chowdhury, a Congress Minister and a rich landlord. The CPI won 29 of the 87 seats it contested. In 1957, the party's strength rose to 46 in a House of 280. Basu got re-elected from Baranagar.

In 1967 the Congress lost power in West Bengal, and a coalition of the United Front (U.F.), formed with the CPI(M), the CPI, the Forward Bloc, the Bangla Congress and the RSP, came to power. Although the CPI(M) won the largest number of seats, it accepte d Ajoy Mukherjee of the Bangla Congress, a breakaway group of the Congress, as Chief Minister. Basu was elected Deputy Chief Minister. However, the U.F. did not last long and Ajoy Mukherjee resigned following differences among the U.F. partners. The Forw ard Bloc, the CPI and the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) refused to stay in the Front led by the CPI(M). The government fell and President's Rule was imposed in March 1970. Mid-term elections were held in 1971. In the elections, the CPI(M) emerge d as the single largest party, with 113 seats in a House of 280, and formed the United Left Front with the RSP. Basu staked his claim to form the government, but his claim was rejected. The Congress, the CPI and the Bangla Congress formed a coalition gov ernment with Ajoy Mukherjee as Chief Minister. However, the government fell when a no-confidence motion, moved by the CPI(M), was passed by the Assembly.

During the 1972 elections, held under President's Rule, the Congress resorted to rigging and large-scale violence and the CPI(M) boycotted the Assembly.

In the 1977 elections, Basu was elected from Satgachia in South 24 Parganas district with an overwhelming majority. Since then, he has won from Satgachia in all the elections. After the 1977 elections, the CPI(M)-led Left Front came to power. The Left Fr ont government, headed by Basu, took office in June 1977.

A party document of that time said: "The CPI(M) in West Bengal has the advantage of having as heads of the party and the government two of the ablest veterans of the Indian communist movement, who have worked together for nearly 40 years, and are both me mbers of the Polit Bureau - Jyoti Basu, 64, suave, sombre and graying, is one of the Chief Ministers in the present-day India who wears the stature of the Prime Minister; Promode Dasgupta, 69, the silver-haired party builder, is the chief of the CPI(M) i n West Bengal and also in charge of the CPI(M) affairs in the other eastern States."

On his first day in the Chief Minister's office, Basu told his Cabinet colleagues: "We will implement our programmes not from Writers' Buildings alone, but from the fields and factories where our strength lies and with the help of the people."

He pledged to carry out a 36-point programme with emphasis on land reforms, law and order and panchayati raj institutions. "The emphasis on land reform is not any exercise in charity, but is essentially a productive move on the basis of hard evidence of superior production performances on the part of the working peasants. Of the total agricultural land distributed through land reforms in India, nearly 20 per cent has been contributed by West Bengal," Basu said.

Twenty-three years later, looking back at Left Front rule under his leadership, Basu said after his resignation: "The rural and agrarian sector is the backbone of the economy of the State. Therefore, the government in the last 23 years gave priority to p rogrammes and schemes dedicated to the improvement of the rural economic scene, based upon the active participation of the people in this process. The democratically elected panchayat and local bodies are the prime movers in rural development."

A pragmatist, Basu has shown great interest in the rapid industrialisation of the State. In the last few years he invited foreign capital to West Bengal. But he has always been cautious in this regard.

Leaders of Left Front constituents say that Basu can look back with satisfaction. They believe that Basu had played a great role in building his party in the State into a disciplined, cohesive unit.

The birth of Chhattisgarh

The new State of Chhattisgarh is formed amid much suspense, and now Ajit Jogi, its first Chief Minister, has multiple challenges ahead.

THE new State of Chhattisgarh was born with the swearing-in of a new Governor and a new Chief Minister in Raipur, the capital, in the early hours of November 1. Dinesh Nandan Sahaya, a Samata Party leader and a former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, was sworn in Governor by the Acting Chief Justice of the State, Justice Ramesh Surajmal Garg, who was appointed a day earlier, before a huge gathering. This was followed by anxious moments until the new Chief Secretary, Arun Kumar, invited Ajit Jogi, wh o had been elected unopposed as the leader of the 48-member Congress(I) Legislature Party (CLP) on October 31, to be sworn in Chief Minister, at 12.58 a.m. Present on the occasion were Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh and All India Congress C ommittee observers Ghulam Nabi Azad and Prabha Rao.

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Jogi's assumption of office would have been a smooth affair but for the precarious state of the Congress(I) in the 90-member Chhattisgarh Assembly. The Bharatiya Janata Party has 36 members and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) three. Within the CLP, Jogi's supporters are fewer than those of the other aspirants for the post. Of the 41 party MLAs who attended the CLP meeting, only two-thirds seemed to have supported Jogi, and that too after considerable persuasion by Digvijay Singh. The seven MLAs who boycot ted the meeting belong to the faction led by the former Union Minister Vidya Charan Shukla.

BORN in 1946 at Bongri-Gorela village of Bilaspur division, Jogi, a former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, entered politics in the mid-1980s during the Rajiv Gandhi administration. A strong contender for the post of Madhya Pradesh Chief Mini ster in 1993, Jogi then had the backing of Congress(I) Working Committee (CWC) member Arjun Singh. Since then he has tried to project himself as the leader of the State's tribal people, albeit with limited success. Jogi's claim to represent the Scheduled Tribes has often been questioned by his critics, who allege that he belonged to the Satnami caste, a Scheduled Caste. Jogi took the civil services examination in 1970 under the general category.

Jogi has often criticised Digvijay Singh's style of functioning, and therefore it came as a surprise when the latter canvassed support for him. Perhaps, Digvijay Singh was helpless as party president Sonia Gandhi clearly told him when he met her in New D elhi on October 29 that she was in favour of Ajit Jogi becoming the Chief Minister of the new State. Digvijay Singh, initially projected his loyalist and Madhya Pradesh Minister Satyanarayan Sharma as the new Chief Minister, claiming that it was not nece ssary for Chhattisgarh to have a tribal person as the first Chief Minister. (In fact, the Congress(I) never promised to make a tribal leader the Chief Minister.) The names of former Uttar Pradesh Governor Motilal Vora, who hails from Durg in Chhattisgarh , and Mahendra Karma from Bastar were also mentioned as possible candidates, in order to check the rise of Ajit Jogi.

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Digvijay Singh is known to enjoy considerable influence among Congress(I) MLAs of Chhattisgarh as he had a major role in selecting candidates in the last Assembly elections. Yet he found it difficult to ensure smooth sailing for Ajit Jogi, as directed by the high command. Some of the MLAs present at the CLP meeting called to elect the leader questioned the high command's move to 'impose' Ajit Jogi and in the process the narrowness of Jogi's support base was exposed. His detractors believe that he would not have had the backing of more than three or four MLAs, had there been a contest.

The problem of finding a suitable candidate for the post was compounded by the absence of a charismatic leader. The "political vacuum" tempted regional satraps to enter the fray. V.C. Shukla, a strong claimant for the Chief Minister's post, admitted that he had the support of only 19 MLAs. Of them, only seven stayed away from the CLP meeting; the rest concurred with the majority decision to elect Jogi, in the absence of an alternative. (Ajit Jogi, who is not a legislator, has to be elected to the Assemb ly within six months from the constituency vacated by one of his supporters.)

While Digvijay Singh managed to convince the majority of CLP members to back Ajit Jogi, the absence of V.C. Shukla and his supporters at the meeting raised questions about the exercise of seeking consensus. Ghulam Nabi Azad was right when he said that th e MLAs were told to ignore media reports about Sonia Gandhi's preference and indicate their choice freely. But the message sent out by Digivjay Singh was unmistakable: though he is a leader in his own right, he had to keep Sonia Gandhi in good humour and not earn her displeasure over the issue of the leadership of a State which is not under his domain. The MLAs understood Digvijay Singh's compulsions, and mostly fell in line.

The cracks in the supposed consensus, however, came into the open when Digvijay Singh, accompanied by Ghulam Nabi Azad and Prabha Rao, went to meet V.C. Shukla at his residence in Raipur, soon after the election of Ajit Jogi, to placate him. Shukla's sup porters, who had gathered in large numbers at his sprawling farmhouse, heckled Digvijay Singh for "betraying" their leader. Digvijay Singh, who received a few bouts from the mob, tried to give it back to his attackers before he and the AICC(I) observers were escorted inside. The incident rattled Digvijay Singh. V.C. Shukla apologised to Digvijay Singh and the others for the incident maintaining that although his followers were angry he believed that outsiders were involved in the attack.

V.C. Shukla told Frontline that Sonia Gandhi's move to impose Ajit Jogi on the CLP betrayed her lack of "political sense". He claimed that the new government would not be stable but stated that he would continue to be in the Congress(I). Shukla la unched the Chhattisgarh Rajya Sangarsh Morcha last year as a sort of pressure group to demand statehood and assumed that as the leader of this movement he had a natural claim to the Chief Minister's post. His detractors in the party, who included his eld er brother and former Chief Minister Shyama Charan Shukla, who wanted to become the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh himself, however, lost no time to mobilise themselves against his bid to form the government. He bargained for a ministerial position for h is son, who is an MLA.

After failing to convince Sonia Gandhi, whom he spoke to before the crucial CLP meeting, V.C. Shukla tried desperately to stop Ajit Jogi's ascent to power. He sent feelers to Defence Minister George Fernandes and Minister of State for Railways Digvijay S ingh who had arrived in Raipur to witness the formation of the new State, to use their influence with the Governor to delay the invitation to Ajit Jogi. Soon the local unit of the BJP got interested in a possible topple game and sounded out Union Home Mi nister L.K. Advani and Minister of State for Law Arun Jaitley, who were in Raipur on October 31-November 1.

However, when it became known that V.C. Shukla could not gather the signatures of the MLAs on his side to be presented to the Governor, the manoeuvre suffered an irreversible setback. Advani pretended to be unconcerned with the local BJP unit's efforts t o stop the Congress(I) from assuming power, but a move to make V.C. Shukla Chief Minister with the outside support of the BJP was at one stage considered a possibility, before it was given up in view of the lack of support to V.C. Shukla within the Congr ess(I). He did not obviously have the one-third support to effect a legally valid split in the party. Any attempt to split the Congress(I) on the lines adopted by the BJP in Uttar Pradesh or Goa was considered too risky. Bereft of any issue, the BJP is n ow banking on the infighting in the Congress(I) to win the Assembly elections, which could follow if the Ajit Jogi government falls. The BJP is presenting the view to the electorate that there is a larger Christian conspiracy behind Sonia Gandhi's choice of Ajit Jogi, a Christian, as the Chief Minister.

A heavy agenda awaits Ajit Jogi, who may face considerable challenge in constituting his Council of Ministers. Tackling the drought situation in Sarguja and its neighbouring districts, apart from the Naxalite menace in the southern districts, would prese nt a major test for his administrative abilities. For the moment, the focus seems to be on creating a modicum of facilities for the political representatives in Raipur and in Bilaspur, the seat of the High Court. The apportionment of services has proved to be a painful exercise, with several Madhya Pradesh government personnel unwilling to join the new State cadre.

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Chhatisgarh, which comprises 16 districts of the undivided Madhya Pradesh, contributed 28.58 per cent of the State's revenue. Madhya Pradesh's expenditure on the region had always been commensurate with the population share: the population share of the n ew State in the undivided M.P. was 26.47 per cent, whereas the government expenditure incurred on the territories constituting the new State was also around 26.03 per cent. The truth is that Chhattisgarh was not only exploited by the rest of Madhya Prade sh, but by the Centre. Forests and mineral wealth, which abounds in the region, is under national control regimes.

One implication of the division of the State is that Chhattisgarh has a low tax base compared to the rest of Madhya Pradesh. Over 40 per cent of its income will be from non-tax revenue, such as royalties on minerals and income from forests. For the rest of Madhya Pradesh, non-tax revenue will now be 23 per cent.

Going beyond the Narmada Valley

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The Narmada Bachao Andolan wins wide support as it decides to continue its campaign against the Sardar Sarovar Project, even as the government resumes work on the project.

LYLA BAVADAM

IF inaugural ceremonies are meant to be symbolic of a good start, the events of October 31 certainly do not augur well for the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP). In order to kick start the Rs.18,000-crore project, which was stalled for six years by a lawsuit, the Gujarat government planned a function at the dam site at Kevadia in Bharuch district. The Keshubhai Patel Cabinet was present in full strength, and there were some Union Ministers and more than three lakh people to watch Union Home Minister L.K. Adv ani activate a remote control device that operated a concrete dumping trolley.

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The State government had chosen the date with care: it was the 126th birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who had dreamt of harnessing the Narmada to meet the State's irrigation and power needs. But it did not make available even basic faciliti es like drinking water for the crowd of people who had been trucked in from far-flung villages. To slake their thirst, the villagers raided nearby sugarcane fields and demanded water from homes in Kevadia. When sought to be restrained by the authorities, the crowd went berserk, throwing stones, burning government vehicles, including five cars of Ministers, and manhandling police personnel. Eyewitnesses said that two State Ministers were roughed up.

In stark contrast to the Kevadia fiasco was a rally organised by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) on October 23 in Badwani, in the heart of the submergence zone in Madhya Pradesh. Black flags, signifying protest and outrage, mingled with the light blue f lags of the NBA as more than 3,500 people from Bagud, Piplud, Pipri, Dadada, Kendia, Kadmal and Bhavaria converged on Badwani in the west Nimad region. The villagers of Nimad, a prosperous region, have chosen the path of resistance to the Supreme Court's verdict allowing the construction the Sardar Sarovar dam. Thousands of people from villages and hamlets have fought for a place in the public conscience following the verdict. Determined not to leave their houses and lands for "an ill-conceived project, " they shouted: "Narmada ghati par haq hamara, chahe jo kahe kanoon tumhara" (We don't care what your law says, Narmada Valley is ours).

The rally represented the first public reaction to the "betrayal of justice". In a show of anger, the people locked the local rehabilitation office of the Narmada Valley Development Authority. The Supreme Court's had ordered the governments of Gujarat, M adhya Pradesh and Maharashtra to draw up a relief and rehabilitation plan within four weeks. With no master plan ready to identify and acquire land for rehabilitation of those displaced by the dam, the order came as an insult added to injury.

Later, the rallyists buried in front of the Sessions Court, a copy of the majority judgment passed by Chief Justice A.S. Anand and Justice B.N. Kirpal in favour of the dam, describing it as "the most illogical, atrocious, anti-democratic and anti-people verdict ever in the history of the Supreme Court". The protest had the support of local politicians and trading community.

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Leader of the NBA, Medha Patkar, who went on a three-day fast in Bhopal from October 25, described the October 18 ruling as "an inhuman crime". She said: "I feel disappointed... seeing the limitations of this judgment." In her 15-year fight for people wh o would be displaced by the project, she has cited several reasons, ranging from low economic gains from the dam to immense and environmental damage and serious emotional trauma for the predominantly tribal inhabitants of the region, for her opposition t o the dam. Displaying the same spirit, tenacity and courage that has seen the NBA through its non-violent civil actions, Medha Patkar continues the never-say-die approach that has become her hallmark.

She said: "This is a judgment that people will have to judge for themselves. It is a judgment that is an outcome of the State governments misleading the court. It does not reflect the reality of the project. We have proved that the State governments have violated the Tribunal Awards, that there are affected families with absolutely no relief and rehabilitation. The judgment reposes unjustifiable faith in the state machinery. It is symbolic that the state and the judiciary have chosen to stand by those w ho have monetary capital and not by those who have resources capital. In this battle of 15 years in which even the World Bank withdrew in the face of truth... the people will have to decide how to take this forward. The court is bound by law but the peop le are bound by their lives and their actions."

Author Arundhati Roy described the verdict as "an event in which the highest court in the country actually condones and encourages the violation of the human rights of Indian Citizens".

The judgment sparked spontaneous protests across the country. Rallies were held in all metropolitan cities. October 23 was observed as Black Day. Support came also from abroad. Patrick McCully, campaign director of the California-based environment and hu man rights organisation International Rivers Network said: "The ruling is utterly illogical and an insult to democracy and justice. The Sardar Sarovar Project is one of the world's most controversial dam projects and would forcibly displace more people t han any other infrastructure project in the world except for China's Three Gorges Dam."

In a letter, Dr. P. Bossard of the Berne Declaration reiterated the organisation's support for the NBA, saying: "As the Narmada Bachao Andolan documented in all detail, the Sardar Sarovar Project will not achieve its purported benefits... We support the NBA in its continued resistance..."

People from a section of society voiced their support for the anti-dam campaigners. In an open letter, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer wrote, "I appeal to the judicial conscience of the highest court and the equity sense of the Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maha rashtra Cabinets not to put one stone more on the dam until the last and the least human who is rendered homeless, consequence on Narmada Dam, is given shelter in dignity. If a review of the judgment is necessary, I am sure the Judges on the high Bench w ill unhesitatingly do what the refugees of 'Dam Development' need as an aspect of social justice. Development is never at the expense of distress inflicted on the poor, as Mahatma Gandhi has taught us and the Constitution in its vision cautions us."

Support also came from Thomas Kocherry of the National Fishworkers Union, Jnanpith Award winner and president of the Denotified and Nomadic Tribes Right Action Group Mahasveta Devi, Admiral L. Ramdas, former Chief of the Naval Staff, columnist Praful Bid wai and Sarvodaya leader Mahendrabhai Jain.

On October 27, a delegation led by former Union Finance Minister and former Vice-Chairman of the Planning Commission Madhu Dandavate met President K.R. Narayanan and raised the issue of rehabilitation. The team included former Delhi High Court Chief Just ice Rajendra Sachar, former Union Finance Secretary S.P. Shukla, socialist leader Surendra Mohan and expert on water resources Himanshu Thakker. The President assured the delegation that he would take up the issue of displacement and resettlement of the affected people with the authorities concerned.

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The NBA's writ petition, filed in 1994, was mainly against raising the height of the dam beyond the existing level of 88 metres on the grounds that hundreds of villages would be submerged and millions of people displaced. It is feared that several thousa nd tribal people will lose their livelihoods as irrigation canals and housing for construction workers come up and other dam-related activities begin.

Work has already begun to raise the dam height to 90 metres in line with the Supreme Court judgment. (The court has cleared the construction of the dam up to a height of 138 metres in stages.) Even the two-metre increase in height is in violation of the Narmada Tribunal Award. The three State governments concerned, which have been able to relocate just 20 to 25 per cent of the affected people between 1979 and 2000 maintain that they do not have enough land to rehabilitate the people who will be affected by the present increase in the height of the dam. This fact is at the core of the NBA's campaign.

If, after a six-year legal battle, the highest court in the land has cleared renewed construction of the dam, what course of action is left for the NBA?

Medha Patkar described the verdict as a "pile of contradictions," primarily because "it allowed the dam construction to go ahead overlooking clear evidence submitted to the court by the Narmada Bachao Andolan and the government of Madhya Pradesh, which s hows that the rehabilitation of people affected by the dam at its present height is far from complete. But, apart from ignoring most issues raised by the NBA, the verdict has sanctioned the violation of the Tribunal Award and the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution. The judgment expressed full confidence in the existing system and mechanisms in overseeing the rehabilitation work, whose callousness and complete failure had forced us to approach the court in the first place." She said that the NB A rejected the "confused, illogical verdict of the court" and that it would file a review petition.

Meanwhile, the NBA has begun rallying people. "We will certainly go back to the people. They are ready to fight a battle even beyond this verdict," Medha Patkar affirmed. Within two days of the ruling, Medha Patkar returned to the Narmada Valley to find the people in a mood to assert their rights. Dalsukbhai, one of the project affected people, said: "The judgment is a betrayal. People feel that the court is hand in glove with the state." Ragmanibhai, another affected person who has braved state repress ion in the past in the anti-dam struggle, said, "We will not succumb to this. We have been fighting governments, now we will fight against the judgment too."

The villagers have realised the need to become more proactive and decided to continue their peaceful struggle through non-cooperation. They have decided to demand detailed information from their respective State governments on rehabilitation. They insist that notice boards be erected in villages and that the local authorities regularly post details of relief and rehabilitation on them. The NBA has planned a People's Hearing in Delhi to seek answer from the administration, the President, and representati ves of civil society.

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Medha Patkar says that the verdict has added another dimension to the campaign. While at one level the battle has been about displaced people, loss of livelihood and damage to the environment, at another level it has been about the wider issue of develop ment policies. "The ramifications of the judgment will go well beyond the valley of Narmada," Medha Patkar said. She added: "The judgment has overtly given the go ahead to the development policies followed during the last 53 years, under which the people of the country have been exploited and displaced, marginalised and 'destitutionalised'. This has happened especially to the lower sections of the population - Adivasis, Dalits, minorities, the harnessers and protectors of natural resources, farmers and the fisherfolk, small artisans and the self-employed. Their plight has worsened with economic liberalisation. While governance has gone from bad to worse, democratic institutions have become defunct. The system, therefore, needs a jolt and the giant forc es need to be challenged with the strength of people's power."

The struggle in the Narmada Valley has now become rallying point for many more people. As Dr. Ravi Kuchimanchi, an anti-dam campaigner, says in a poem: "In the case of Governments vs People It's the Court that had lost."

To trial after 15 years

After an investigation that lasted 15 years, the Canadian authorities arrest three persons for the crash of the Air-India plane Kanishka off the Irish coast in 1985.

THE family members and friends of those who perished in the Air- India Flight 182 (Kanishka) crash off the Irish coast in 1985 had perhaps given up hopes of ever seeing the culprits being brought to justice. But a new chapter in the story has begun with the arrest of three persons, two of them charged with eight counts of murder or conspiracy to murder and one held without being charged with any offence (at the time of writing, on October 31).

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Since the arrests were made, tensions have risen perceptibly among Canada's Sikh community. In fact, Prakash Singh Badal, Punjab Chief Minister, who had planned a visit to British Columbia in the first week of November, announced the cancellation of his visit.

The families of many of the victims had given vent to their frustration over the slow pace of investigations by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canadian government's reluctance to institute a Royal Commission of Inquiry. Over the last fe w years, particularly on the anniversary of the tragedy and, in 1997, during the general elections, the RCMP kept on reassuring them and the general public that it was close to filing charges in the case. It took two years for the Crown prosecutors to st udy the documents before giving the go-ahead.

If the families of the victims and the Indian community in Canada were worn down by the tediousness of the investigation, the coming courtroom battle is sure to be equally stressful. The agony of the tragedy will be brought back through the media. The tr ial, by experts' estimate, will last at least three years and cost millions of dollars. The investigation itself has cost the government no less than Cdn. $25 million. The strength of the full-time Air-India Task Force, which initially consisted of 20 me mbers, was raised to 60. The investigations stretch beyond North America to Europe and India.

There are no easy answers as to why the investigation took so long. The RCMP was not ready to present in court a foolproof case. The police hope to have more than 100 witnesses from across the globe and present evidence that ranges from forensic details to wiretaps and video surveillance. There could be many witnesses from India but the key person will be Ammand Singh, who was the A. Singh, along with L. Singh, later said to be Lal Singh, in whose names the tickets for the flight to Narita were booked. They never checked in. Ammand is reportedly held in jail under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act. Both were suspects in the alleged plot to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi during his trip to the United States as Prime Minister. Both later fled the U.S. and came to Canada. There was also the prospect of the prosecution facing tough teams of defence lawyers: one of the accused is a multimillionaire businessman who enjoys a lot of support in the Sikh community across Canada, especially in B ritish Columbia. The 53-year-old Ripudaman Singh Malik is one of the three main suspects along with Inderjit Singh Reyat, the alleged bomb-maker, and Talwinder Singh Parmar, the founder of Babbar Khalsa, who is now dead.

The police denied that they moved in quickly because they learnt that Malik planned to go to Pakistan, a generous host to those engaged in insurgency in India. The police said that a flight ticket to Pakistan being found on Malik's desk was "coincidental ", and claimed that the date for executing the arrests had been fixed months earlier.

Nicknamed 'The Rupee Man', Malik remained a shadowy figure in the community; he attracted attention only after a series of stories connected with the operations of the Khalsa Credit Union, a 16,000-member body he controls, the Satnam Education Trust, whi ch runs two Khalsa schools, and the Satnam Trust, which is engaged in charitable work, were published in the media. He made his pile through his clothing import company, Papillon, and a shop in the Vancouver tourist location of Gastown. Malik is said to own real estate worth more than $10-million and other assets. The extent of this wealth has surprised many in the Sikh community.

The police allege that Malik colluded with Parmar and Reyat to plot the two Air-India planes. Reyat is serving the last few months of his 10-year sentence for the death of two baggage handlers in Narita airport near Tokyo after a bomb that was meant to b e put on Air-India Flight 301 from Tokyo to Bangkok went off when the luggage was pulled out. The bomb at Narita, sent on a Canadian Pacific Flight 003, went off a little less than an hour before the bomb on Flight 182 did, when the flight was in mid-air . Both the planes should have been on the ground during the blasts, but Flight 182 had taken off from Montreal more than an hour late.

The police believe that the plotters did not intend to kill people but wanted to destroy the planes in order to send a strong message to the Indian government a year after Operation Bluestar - the Army action in the Golden Temple at Amritsar in June 1984 .

The Air India plane crashed on June 23, 1985 over the Atlantic. But in between Operation Bluestar and the downing of the flight, the RCMP monitored the activities of key members of the Babbar Khalsa International and the Sikh International Youth Federati on (SIYF), both deemed terrorist organisations by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). In the aftermath of the bombing, the Sikh community was agog with rumours and, according to Salim Jiva, a reporter with The Vancouver Province, wh o wrote a book, The Death of Flight 182, loose lips were waxing aloud.

Agents of the CSIS had already penetrated the Sikh community. Tara Singh Hayer, publisher and editor of the Punjabi weekly newspaper Indo-Canadian Times, was also alleged to have become an informer after first supporting the Khalistan cause. His v itriolic editorials against the Babbar Khalsa and the SIYF earned him many enemies. In August 1988, he was shot at by a 17-year-old Sikh youth. He survived, but was paralysed and confined to a wheel-chair. Hayer, however, drove his car, fitted with speci al driving gear. In November 1998, Hayer fell to a gunman's bullet while alighting from his car in his garage. His killer is still at large (Frontline, December 18, 1998).

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But the police have charged Ajaib Singh Bagri, 51, along with Malik, with the attempted murder of Hayer in 1988. Bagri is related to Parmar through marriage and served as his lieutenant before the Khalsa founder went to Pakistan and then moved to India i n 1992. The Canadian authorities learnt that Parmar was shot dead in a "police encounter", thus giving currency to speculation that he was an Indian agent who came to Canada with the specific goal of carrying out the Air-India bombing in order to discred it the Khalistan movement.

One Sikh commentator has claimed that many people who came in contact with Parmar found him to be untrustworthy. The commentator also found it strange that Parmar would return to India after he, along with Reyat, was charged with the bombing of Air-India flight in late 1985, but the charges were dropped. The police again charged Parmar with engaging in terrorist activities, but the court threw out the charges.

In fact, the commentator focussed on the theory mooted by the CSIS that the bombing was an act by the Indian government. This theory came in the open in the book Soft Target, written by Brian McAndrew and Zuhair Kashmeri. The theory has been widel y discounted by the police, though pro-Khalistani Sikhs still use it against India. Experts have quoted the Jain Commission, set up by the government of India to enquire into the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, as mentioning Parmar as one of the Sikh sepa ratists who plotted to kill him.

In February 1988, Reyat was arrested in England where he had moved from Duncan, British Columbia. He was extradited to Canada a few months later. Reyat was convicted for the killing of the baggage handlers at Narita. Months later Parmar went to Pakistan. The police explanation was that Parmar was free to travel as he had no criminal charges against him. Reyat has said that he was offered the cash reward of $1 million, posted by the Mounties on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the bombing in 1995 for information leading to conviction, but he refused it.

The police say that they have evidence to link Reyat to Malik because the businessman helped Reyat's wife Satnam Kaur financially. She collected a pay cheque for working at the Khalsa School in Surrey while receiving welfare payments at the same time. Sh e was charged and fined.

The third person arrested, Hardial Singh Johal, was a keen activist in the Khalistan movement, and the police say that he helped store the bombs. Johal was, however, released the following day, without being charged with any offence. Johal later became t he president of the Ross Street gurdwara, then a hotbed of the Khalistan movement but now under the control of moderate Sikhs.

With the control of the Ross Street gurdwara and the Guru Nanak gurdwara in Surrey - both having large memberships - and smaller gurdwaras in the Vancouver and surrounding areas passing into the hands of moderates, the Khalistan movement got a big financ ial jolt. The tables-and-chairs issue that erupted a few years ago (a dispute over whether Sikhs could partake of ritual meals at a gurdwara while seated on tables and chairs rather than being seated on the floor as tradition prescribes) was one ploy by the fundamentalist groups to create trouble and regain power in the gurdwaras.

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Pro-Khalistan groups control almost all gurdwaras in Ontario. The moderates have failed to wrest power despite their best efforts, and the tussle goes on. The World Sikh Organisation (WSO) does not proclaim Khalistan as its goal but rather the right of t he people to self-determination as enshrined in Article 21 of the United Nations charter. The WSO does not advocate militancy; it prefers lobbying and other non-violent methods to achieve its goals.

Ram Raghbir Singh Chahal, the international president of the WSO, said that since the Air-India crash investigation had started the "entire Sikh community has suffered under a cloud of suspicion. Sikhs are justifiably hopeful that the 15-year ordeal migh t finally be brought to a close." President of the WSO's Canadian chapter, Inderjit Singh Bal, who recently visited India after being denied a visa for several years, said: "It is preposterous that the RCMP has gone so far as to blame their 15-year lack of results on the silence of the Sikh community."

At the celebration of 300 years of the Khalsa in 1999, the WSO put up had a banner proclaiming Khalistan though WSO leaders do not generally speak out publicly on the subject. Observers say that Bal has softened after finally being given a visa to partic ipate in the Khalsa celebrations in Punjab, through the efforts of the newly opened Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) unit based in Mississauga.

Like a flickering flame, the Khalistan spirit keeps burning in Canada. The appeal that the "Land of the Pure", as Khalistan means, once had on the masses has weakened. The cause helps keep some of the old guard in positions of religious power, but the ne w generation of Canadian Sikhs has shown little interest in Khalistan. Younger Sikhs are more into bhangra music and other "dark" areas of alternative culture, which has become a matter of serious concern in the community. But youth groups are seized of the matter and projects such as the Kesri Ribbon are helpful in delivering social messages to the young and at the same time saving many from going astray.

The estate of conceptual art

Some questions about representation and substance.

"WITH the philosophical coming of age of art", the philosopher Arthur Danto writes in After the End of Art, "visuality drops away, as little relevant to the essence of art as beauty proved to have been." It is a startling claim (not least because Danto thinks that art has a 'transhistorical' essence); but philosophical coming of age or no, what counts as visual art these days does seem to bear him out.

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The picture of the young men here (Figure 1), who seem to have lined themselves up to one side of a hall or gallery, documents a piece of what for lack of a better word may be called conceptual art. The picture appeared in the January 2000 issue of Ar t Forum, the premier American art magazine. The accompanying review describes the work itself - which is titled 465 personas remuneradas, by a young Spanish artist named Santiago Sierra - as "a kind of performance": which took place on the ope ning night of a show mounted at a gallery said to be among the "most prestigious exhibition spaces for contemporary art" in Mexico City, housed in the Museo Rufino Tamayo. The review goes on to say that "visitors to the space after that night were greete d by the projection of a roughly three-hour videotape of the event, which had been recorded by a surveillance camera looking down on the gallery. For the opening Sierra had the museum hire 465 people, a number calculated to create an arbitrary density of five people per square metre of gallery space, through an employment agency. The artist stipulated that the museum request young, dark-haired male mestizo workers; these 'actors' were then told that they would be participating in a political thea tre piece and instructed to arrive at the gallery on opening night."

I quote to save the bother of describing, of course; but also to put on display certain things said. The videotape is described as "striking, at times even funny", and the way it shows what it does - an art gallery "crowded with dark-haired men gathered in groups, looking at each other in search of answers, or simply looking bored" - is said to be "loaded with social, political and cultural meaning". The young mestizos - Mexicans of mixed Spanish and Amerindian ancestry - are described as "at once prota gonists and outsiders" and, as everyone presumably expects, they "often act and look displaced".

It turns out, however, that those on view are not quite protagonists: they were only "used as art performers", we discover, "most likely without their full understanding". In "their appearance and sheer number they are reminders of the country's c heap labour force" and the "mestizo condition"; and even though they were earlier credited with "bringing the city streets into the museum with them", we now find that the persons we see have been "art-objectified, have become commodities: yet now of a d ifferent value, in a different system - the economy of conceptual art."

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Let us rehearse this transmogrification. An important factor, apparently, is that the Museo Rufino Tamayo is "a public institution central to the country's intricate cultural bureaucracy"; and we already know of the gallery's cachet. "The piece highlight s the exclusiveness of art circuits the world over", we are told: and informed further that "such cultural barriers are perhaps greatest in Third World countries". Such circumstances then - the social exclusiveness of the world of art, the Museo Rufino T amayo's being the preserve of a 'cultural bureaucracy'; and these factors coupled, apparently, with the fact that "ultimately, public money paid these workers-turned-actors" - all this, taken together with their having been used as 'art-performers' witho ut their full understanding, is supposed to have 'art-objectified' these mestizo men.

The reviewer concedes that "one might question the Spanish artist's use of young Mexican mestizo workers as his primary material". Is Sierra "merely reproducing a ruthless socioeconomic system that should instead be fought", he asks (on all our behalf, p resumably); and what, he goes on, are "the ethical implications" of Sierra's "manipulation of these workers"? But though "there is great deal of risk in the piece" - and "despite the ethical problems it would obviously pose to the strict Marxist" - our t ough-minded exegete concludes that "465 personas remuneradas raises crucial questions about the uneasy polarities - the museum and the city streets, intellectuals and workers, art and politics, culture and power - that are found all over the world ".

I have quoted at such length in order to try and bring out how 465 personas remuneradas might, possibly, be understood as a work of art. I had begun by labelling the work conceptual; but one would probably find epithets like "neoconceptual" or "co nceptualist" - or even "postconceptual" perhaps - thrown around in a discussion of it. On Danto's account of things it was with conceptual art that the 'philosophical coming of age' of the visual arts began; it might be useful to examine in some detail h ow our work was taken as art just now.

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We may put aside 'the ethical problem' first: there is not much of one. Duping the young mestizos in this way is about as morally heinous as peddling snake oil. Had one of the young mestizos come back to the gallery on some night after (wearing a rented suit, say) and seen himself on the videotape, he would no doubt be embarrassed, and excusably angry to have been made a jape for the pure-blooded 'hidalgos' and commissars of culture who might be there: for whose diversion, apparently, the Museo Rufino T amayo arranges its entertainments. But should our mestizo collect himself, and reflect on what he finds, he might well begin to wonder how such as these came to be his 'betters' at all.

Let us turn to the matter of 'art-objectification' next. Have the men - as a consequence of being duped and filmed without their full understanding - have they therefore become commodities in or for an art world? As workers - in the world around t he art world of 465 personas remuneradas - they may be commodities; or treated as such only, and as no more, by those patrons of the Museo Rufino Tamayo who serve as overseers, let us say, in the 'ruthless socioeconomic system' which the work is s upposed to 'reproduce'. And it may be that these mestizo men could be so used only because they are powerless within that system: but they have not therefore been 'commodified' or 'objectified' any more than they already were. Saying so is plausible, at all, only if the work does in fact reproduce Mexico's 'socioeconomic system'; but, far from doing so, it seems a byproduct, merely, of the smooth functioning of that system.

Now for the business of raising questions: which, incidentally, seems to be a good part of an art world's work these days. Ask a young artist or a fledgling curator what they are about, and chances are that they will reply with "asking questions". Just w hat the questions are, though, they will seldom say: just as our reviewer does not. One could, charitably, take him to be suggesting that 465 personas remuneradas calls into question whatever it is that creates his 'uneasy polarities'. But does it actually do anything of the sort?

Looking at the video, after discovering how it came to be made, might make its intended viewers uneasily aware of the social differences between themselves and the persons they are watching. But producing unease is not a calling into question, at all, of the power which maintains those differences: and so creates our reviewer's 'polarities'. How that power may be exercised without restraint, by those who have a great deal of it, upon those who have none, is likely to be very visible - and visible daily - in Mexico (as it is here in India); and if there actually are people for whom 465 personas remuneradas calls that into question - any more sharply than their daily experience does - one can only suppose they spend most of their lives in a moral vacuum.

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THE work, 465 personas remuneradas, does not 'objectify' anyone, then, and neither does it call anything into question in any sharp way; we have to look elsewhere to see why it might be a work of art. (My guess is that one will have to begin with the pun in the title - "persona" in Latin names the mask actors wore on stage - and try to make what one can of the difference in register between the words "remunerated" and "paid": assuming that there is some cognate difference in Spanish.) But the wor k seems a negligible thing really (if it is a work of art at all); and I have taken so long over it only to point out how witless the goings on in art worlds can nowadays be.

The writing we have just looked at is not unusually feeble: most of what appears in art magazines now, and in the journals and books that are billed 'accessible', is just as weak. (The logical debility 'art theory' too often betrays is a more serious thi ng; but getting at that will need another essay.) So, for instance, students are likely to be introduced to conceptual art now through Phaidon's recent book on the subject by Tony Godfrey (titled Conceptual Art). In it they will be told, first, th at before Marcel Duchamp's Fountain (Figure 2) - the first supposedly 'conceptual' work ever - was thrust on the art world, "people had rarely been made to think what art actually was": a claim which will conveniently erase for them about 400 year s of speculation on the matter. They will then be informed that "a work of art normally behaves as if it is a statement"; while Duchamp's Fountain presents "a question or a challenge: Could this urinal be an artwork? Imagine it as an artwork!"

Some pages later we see how Duchamp's contemporaries did try to imagine Fountain as a work of art: with risible results. One viewer averred that Duchamp "took an ordinary article of life and placed it so that its useful significance disappeared un der the new title and point of view"; while "its lines recalled classical Buddhas" to another. (To his credit Duchamp had wanted nothing of the sort.) What these enthusiasts and our author both do is simplify beyond recognition the sorts of creature beho lders of art are: that one cannot relieve oneself in Duchamp's urinal does not make its 'useful significance' disappear; and works of visual art will 'behave as if they were statements' only toward those who do not understand them as such.

Before this Godfrey had introduced us to Joesph Kosuth's One and Three Chairs (Figure 3) which, after Duchamp's Fountain, is probably the best known bit of conceptual art. What one actually sees is said only to document the work: and it is worth repeating what is added just after.

"The 'real' work", Godfrey declares, "is the concept - 'What is a chair?' 'How do we represent a chair?' And hence 'What is art?' and 'What is representation?' It (the 'real' work) seems a tautology: a chair is a chair is a chair, much as he (Kosuth) cla imed that 'art is art is art' was tautologous. The three elements we can actually see (a photograph of a chair, an actual chair and the definition of a chair) are ancillary to it."

The passage seems to be rehearsing what happens when one encounters the 'documentation'. The beholder is supposed to lose suddenly the certainty he ordinarily feels about what a chair may be, and about what may count as an image of a chair: and then, per haps because he took himself to be in the presence of art to begin with, he is supposed to begin wondering what art and representation might themselves be. There well may be people hapless enough to let just that happen: and to them it may come as an epi phany that 'art is art is art' just as much as 'a chair is a chair is a chair'.

It would take too long to say why what Godfrey says is only silly (and why it does not bring out how One and Three Chairs might have been taken for a work of art, in America, in the 1960s).

Let us go on to another bit of exegesis. Talking of Mel Bochner (who was one of the first avowedly conceptual artists) we find Godfrey explaining as follows: "As he began planning geometric models or sculptures, his drawings became more like diagrams, of ten executed on graph paper. Eventually he began to see that, as the simple mathematical forms he was using could be conceived easily in the head, the act of drawing or diagramming was itself the fabrication. Therefore was it really necessary to make the objects?"

These drawings were shown along with many other such (Figure 4) in an exhibition titled Working Drawings and Other Visible Things on Paper Not Necessarily Meant To Be Viewed as Art: which is often accounted the first show of specifically conceptua l art. What we are meant to grasp on seeing Bochner's drawings, apparently, is why or how the diagrams there might themselves count as 'fabrications' of the objects they depict: and so render any actual fabricating unnecessary. But if to do so is to do w hat Godfrey has Bochner doing in the passage just quoted, should we not go on to ask if it was really necessary to make the diagrams? 'Conceiving' a simple geometric form 'in the head' seems to amount here to nothing more than visualising it: and if draw ing can serve as 'fabricating', can visualising not serve as 'drawing'? To resist this Godfrey will have to maintain that the physical act of drawing simple geometric forms achieves something that only visualising them does not; but may we not then reply that physically fabricating the forms will achieve something that only drawing them out does not?

Godfrey had begun by informing us that conceptual art "offers a thorough critique of art and representation"; but before we are very far into his book we may begin to wonder whether conceptual artists were capable, ever, of mounting any sort of critique. Conceptual art must have been a more intelligent activity, to begin with, than Godfrey's account suggests; but it has come to be an empty thing mostly, it would seem, in the English-speaking art world at least. (Coming back now to the passage quoted at the very beginning, consider the phrase "a number calculated to create an arbitrary density of five people per square metre of gallery space"; this may suggest, to those who seldom meet with 'technical' language, that some hard 'conceiving' has gone on: but that is only an illusion.)

17230685jpg Cogito, ergo sum

TOWARDS the end of Godfrey's book, one finds him saying that "if the paradigm for Conceptual artists in the 1960s was the philosopher, that for the artist in the 1990s has been the researcher." It is not clear that the very generic notion of research can , as such, supply a 'paradigm' for any sort of activity; but anyone curious about how conceptual art once mimed philosophy could try looking through Lucy Lippard's Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object (which brings together a good de al of what got said about conceptual art through the late 1960s).Lippard's is not a tightly organised book, so the simplest thing now would be to look up Kosuth, say, in the index, to see what he might have said.

In one of the longer extracts we find Kosuth claiming that "at its most strict and radical extreme the art I call conceptual is such because it is based on an inquiry into the nature of art. Thus", he goes on, "it is not just the activity of constructing art propositions, but a working out, a thinking out, of all aspects of the concept 'art'..."; and following this we find excerpts from an essay by Art-Language - a well-known group of early British conceptual artists - which tries, seemingly, to get at the 'categorical complexity' of the notion of art somewhat as what is called analytic philosophy once did.

Lippard confesses that she does not understand "a good deal of what is said by Art-Language" (which is telling, since she is very much an insider here), and though "the chaos inherent in their reasoning fascinates" her, she finally finds it "infuriating to have to take them on faith".

Lippard was too distracted, one supposes, to notice an elementary problem with the sort of 'programme' Kosuth and Art-Language seem to be undertaking: which is simply that examining a concept or notion we possess will not amount, always, to an inquiry in to the nature of whatever it is, in the world as we have it, that the notion gives us some purchase on. (The notions of art current in America in the 1960s may only have obscured how, for instance, 15th century Florentines understood painting as an art; though votaries of the Formalist painting of the time - who were persuaded that it was disclosing the essence of the art painting was - would have had no such doubts.)

17230686jpg Fountain

Rather special circumstances would have to obtain, then, before the 'working and thinking out' of the notion of art one happens to have can become an 'inquiry into the nature of art'. Danto does, as it happens, suggest what such circumstances might be. W ith its philosophical coming of age, art is said to enter a 'posthistorical' condition: one in which its 'developmental' history comes to an end. This is said to be a state of perfect aesthetic entropy, when art can be whatever artists and patrons want it to be. Nothing now offered to the eye as art could, as such, possibly contradict what art is understood to be - or so it seems - and it is precisely this, Danto suggests, which brings the developm ental history of art to its close: and only then could a 'working and thinking out' of the concept of art conceivably disclose the nature or essence of art. But that sort of thing is best left to philosophers now, Danto thinks: though the early conceptua l artists are honoured in his story as the midwives, so to say, who began delivering art into its posthistorical freedom. (Danto's arguments cannot be assessed here: but one has to wonder, given what goes on in the world of art today, whether or not much what artists and their patrons happen to want bears any relation at all to what art has been.)

Danto's account of things scants the antinomian intent of conceptual art in the 1960s; and Lippard's book does make poignant reading, now, with its heroes setting out against the powers of their art world (and the market those powers controlled, especial ly). That the very institutions they thought to overthrow or undermine should now command their works - having made of them a corpus, an estate to be administered - is perhaps an irony. (I should mention here that Tony Godfrey is a lecturer at Sothebys' Institute for Contemporary Art; and he does not seem surprised, at all, that the 'documentary' relics of conceptual art should fetch the prices they now do.) But artists seem to have adapted themselves to the situation (look at Figure 5 or Figure 6), and just how 'tragic' one finds this particular irony will depend on what one thinks the natural relation between art and power might be.

Conceptual art came out of a millennarian impulse, it is tempting to say, looking back on it now, arising within the peculiar microcosm the American art world was in the 1960s: an impulse which carried the Formalist doctrines dominant there to unforeseen extremes (somewhat as, for instance, the more radical among the early Protestant sects took what Luther and Calvin had said to extremes they did not intend). One wonders if historians will come, eventually, to value conceptual art as a bizarre but illum inating episode in the history of writing about the visual arts; but for now we have to simply endure, it seems, whatever a market does with it.

Big business under New Labour

other
BARBARA HARRISS-WHITE

Captive State: The Corporate Take-over of Britain by George Monbiot; Macmillan, London, 2000; pages 430, 12.99.

GEORGE MONBIOT'S Captive State: The Corporate Take-over of Britain is an appalling book which, although its subject is the British state under New Labour, must be read by anyone concerned with the modern state anywhere. Or anyone concerned with 'p olicy making' by economic units which are now so large that there are only 20 states in the world with a gross domestic product (GDP) larger than the gross output of the biggest of these corporations. For the theme of this book is the acute tension betwe en corporate capital, with fiduciary duties to shareholders, and the democratic state, with its duty to the electorate and its public.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has declared that his political project is "about active government working with the grain of the market to ensure a highly adaptable workforce, good education, high levels of technology, decent infrastructure and right conditions for high investment and non-inflationary growth... securing the flexibility that the market offers with the 'pluses' that only an active government can add".

George Monbiot, originally a zoologist and environmentalist, whose weekly column in The Guardian has brought fame to his environmental activism and appreciation for his critical investigative skills, reveals through a series of quite scandalous ca se studies (which he alleges are but the tip of the iceberg) how the object of the British state's duty has become corporate welfare. The 'pluses' and the 'active government' are by, with and for corporates. Monbiot covers 'development' (which in Britain actually means putting land use planning into practice); the private finance initiative as applied to public sector infrastructure, hospitals and prisons; the conquest of retailing by superstores; the regulation of the food chain; the perversion of univ ersities and the corporate sector's role in Britain's part in shaping the new rules of trade 'regulation' and global governance.

It is not only that behind the procedure of democratic accountability - inside one of those minority of states which is larger than a multinational corporation - corrupt, criminal and secret relations of accommodation between business and government subv ert the state's duty to its citizens/'subjects' to their great cost; it is that a great range of perfectly legal institutional means are also systematically worked on by corporate capital and its agents and that 'genius' is used by corporates to exploit the ambiguities and the deliberate or accidental loopholes that pepper the law. He shows how this process has intensified under 'New Labour' and how active resistance has been controlled, worn down and crushed. He accuses 'New Labour' of betrayal, coward ice, duplicity, irresponsibility and more besides. He concludes with a charter for trouble-makers. The book is not just a rant, it is the result of three 'stressful years' of careful investigation by the author and four part-time assistants, piecing toge ther a complex and murky jigsaw puzzle. The sooner it is in paperback and distributed cheaply worldwide the better.

WHAT I want to do in this review is draw from the case studies some more general conclusions about the politics of corporate capital which may be of interest to Indian readers. The Indian intelligentsia is well-seasoned to the relations between business and political party funding, between that funding and the purchase of votes on the one hand and post-election concessions to funders on the other. The New Labour Party still receives only 20 per cent of its funds from 'major donors', so corporate finance might be thought not to be part of a party political quid pro quo. We learn from Captive State that a little goes a long way in the Labour Party. But the politics of capital has much more to it than that.

In Britain, corporate capital is rapidly invading those spheres hitherto protected by public service. (The Canadian scholar of U.K. politics, Colin Leys, is about to publish an analysis of the way this works politically: how and why services are commodit ised, public servants are converted into labour forces, need is transfigured into demand and the state subsidises the entire process.1) Then, even as corporates subcontract to flexible production in client firms, they are simultaneously invadi ng spheres hitherto dominated by small (family) firms and individual self-employed people. In so doing, total employment is cut, so are wages and certain rights to social protection, so is the quality of services and even of goods (see Monbiot's cases of the regulation of food standards and the supermarkets' collective obsession with shelf life). Social cohesion and the quality of life are also threatened.

Further, it is in its very logic that corporate capital seeks to minimise the taxes it pays and to maximise the subsidies it receives from taxpayers. In so doing, profits are made and risks are eliminated in socially inefficient ways and using public mon ey. How can such damaging outcomes be presented as being in the public interest? Monbiot does not simply demonstrate the outcomes and infer the beneficiaries, he explains with detailed material how capital operates politically.

LET us first take what Monbiot's cases tell us about the state. First, the British state operates behind a wall (or several walls) of secrecy which it has no intention of dismantling. These walls may hide premature decisions and/or ones based on inadequa te evidence or arrived at using data apparently presented dispassionately but are in fact selective and misleading. All well known, but that is just the start.

Second, there are entrenched conflicts of interest within many departments between their regulative and their promotive roles. Corporates even provide payments to departments which regulate them. Semi-autonomous boards and groups mandated with the promot ion of corporate interests and packed with business representatives operate inside government departments. The government also gives regular briefings to organised lobbies, which helps them to be more effective as lobbyists and simultaneously helps lobby ists brief government.

Third, policy is shaped ex ante by task forces and advisory boards dominated by corporate interests and ex post by regulatory bodies in which independence from business is a rare attribute. Monbiot reveals for Britain what has long been known in t he United States: the powerful influence of networks that link university research with corporate funding, corporates with their client management consultancies (which do dirty work such as advising on downsizing within these firms and intermediation wit h the outside world) and public relations firms, and all of these with the advisory bodies which shape policy, law and public sector resource allocation. In this purchase of influence it is not only networks but also individuals within them who have cruc ial roles in shaping outcomes.

Fourth, there is an intense cross movement of senior corporate managers into government and of senior civil servants into industry, reinforcing the structural conflicts of interest with personal ones. More junior corporate employees are also being second ed into government. In this set of contra-flows, competence is seen repeatedly not to relate to reward. In the flow to government, poachers are turned gamekeepers. Corporate migrants are very precisely transferred to positions in which they have expertis e. Monbiot has lists of people whose past history in the private sector is in flagrant opposition to the policy they are subsequently publicly paid to promote.

Fifth, tendering is frequently characterised both by gluts of inside information, by deficits of information about the competence, criminal records and ultimate intentions of potential bidders and by the bidders' refusal to bid on a level playing field a ccording to a comparable set of criteria. Sixth, judicial appointments have been politicised and judicial decisions shown to be arbitrary, biased and deliberately delayed politically. The state is exposed as being capable of criminal disregard of law and procedure.

NOW let us turn to the corporate sector. According to Monbiot's evidence, the government's private finance initiative (PFI), which really means 'private finance, construction and maintenance', transfers critical infrastructure to interests different from that of the public. It is revealed as being shrouded in secrecy. It has already led to the reformulation of development projects in the direction of very large scales, often with the loss of employment, accessibility, quality of service, effectiveness a nd cost-efficiency. The PFI has led to project cycles far longer than that are guaranteeable as being in the public interest. Once contracted either in PFI or in a 'regular' development contract, corporates are in a monopoly position in relation to the s tate contracting body. From there they can and do raise costs, delay implementation, reinvent terms and conditions and enforce them, extort extra-contractual subsidies out of the state and require the state to underwrite risk. They can and do benefit fro m externalities such as land sales on development sites and have been allowed to create monopoly rents extracting resources from local people which benefit shareholders abroad. The corporates are able to outprice and outwait opposition and appeals agains t abuse of the planning law by civil society and by local government.

Capital also makes private strategic corporate payments to (local) government for advisory representation and for apparently unrelated public infrastructure, for the direct promotion of its interests and active de-promotion of conflicting interests. Paym ents to local private interests are exchanged for permissions to develop, or for 'no objection' to development, sometimes involving the creative bending of planning rules. And formal public consultation is ignored or subverted. Through the resourceful de fence of local spatial monopolies, a certain amount of collusive activity is possible even when national market shares do not qualify individual corporates as monopolies. Inside large retail units, of course, huge mark-ups more than compensate the loss-l eaders which both entrap custom and in so doing destroy small, independent competition.

BUSINESS interference in education is pervasive, beginning at the top with the funding of university departments, all the way from the direct sponsorship of research or teaching posts to control over the management of departments. University managers hav e had pressure put on them to suppress work critical of corporate practice. Corporate research funders routinely suppress the publication of results. Superficially independent research funding bodies are ordered to make research subject to the short-term interests of the corporate sector. Networks of mutual interest are consolidated among universities, the corporate sector and government. These have a long-term impact on research agendas (even on critical ones) and on the content of knowledge transferre d through universities. Through sponsorship, the provision of equipment and advertising in schools and on television, British children are being socialised into corporate citizenship.

The corporate sector has developed an unrivalled wizardry in the exploitation of ambiguities in the law. It has developed means of controlling evidence used for public regulative policy: compromised evaluations of evidence and pressure through expert com mittees and the funding of lobbies to relax regulations. Individual lobbying has succeeded in capturing subsidies to sustain unregulated and dangerous levels of production. Collective lobbying is carried out by industry groupings before and after policy formulation. (It needs more research to find out whether collective action by corporate capital is as fractured and fissile as it is in India. It is doubtful whether collective corporate politics operates so openly at two levels in Britain as it does in India - one legal and open and the other using black money.) The almost complete corporate control over sections of the media and the public presentation of information and the self censorship of criticism by media employees hardly need recapitulation.

But there is something that is not mentioned by Monbiot. His case that democracy is threatened because corporate conglomerates are run for a "handful of remote billionaires" (page 15) is only part of the story. It wafts aside the comprehensive compromise of all present and future pensioners concerned about increasingly vulnerable, uncertain and lengthy retirements. Their/your/my future well-being is inextricably linked to the shareholder values of the companies invested in by the fund managers running t he private or occupational pensions. (The fund for university employees in Britain has now become 'ethically invested' but that is another story.) The public is not a set of apathetic ostriches. Its lack of response, its tacit support, is profoundly self -interested and short-term rational. Monbiot outlines a charter for resistance and regulation; but a minimum condition for resistance backed by social force is that the state provide decent pensions, healthcare and social support for retired people. And the British state is hell-bent on doing the opposite.

So there is a nexus of interests between the 'actually existing' British state and the corporates. "Going with the grain of the market" means corporate intermediation without or with payment such that politicians who are the object of lobbies actually wo rk for lobbies. At the same time, departments of state pay industry through joint public relations initiatives which industries then use to lobby against department policy. It means public-private partnerships dominated by private interest. It means stat e protection of (local) corporate monopolies. It means state funding of corporates: relocation and development grants, direct and indirect research funds and training costs and industry subsidies. It has famously meant privatisation at undervalued prices of public assets. Corporate taxes form an inexorably lower proportion of total revenue. Dissent is monitored and democratic accountability subverted.

The mechanisms by which this profound accommodation is unfolding are many and various. Networks, friendship, obligation and 'trust' can lead to appeasement. It is not illegal to fund the government directly or to fund the electoral process. Persuasion an d lobbying are perfectly legal. Economic threats are legal parts of the cut and thrust of negotiating contracts - but with such disastrous potential consequences that bluffs cannot be called. Outpricing opposition is legitimate competition. Blind trusts to avoid conflicts of interest on the part of public officials are both desirable and necessary. It has to be emphasised that such means are not to be assumed to be 'corrupt' in the narrow legalistic sense of that word.

One of the strengths of the Captive State is its descriptions of constructive movements in response and resistance, about which Monbiot is sometimes sanguine. But he makes telling critical points about the 'politics of scale' - the thumping lack o f symmetry between the power of the units of production and that of the units of consumption. Workers both as consumers and producers find organisation increasingly stymied by competing demands on time (especially that of women), by being increasingly sc attered in space and by being process-specialised in small units. The space- and time-denying web offers information but not the real physical sites in which politics has to take place. Further, resistance is almost always ex post, even in long-dr awn-out cases because of lack of information and secrecy at the start. Counter-tactics include delay, persecution, the impoverishment of opposition, individual vilification and the discrediting and ignoring of dissenting expert opinion and of activists.

The state is shown as not only 'a channel for corporate power' (pace page 251). It is not so simple. There are of course built-in institutional checks and balances: Senate committees, the General Accounting Office in the U.S. and Commissions of In quiry, Official Audits and the Competition Commission in the U.K. (all after the event). I missed an exposure of the politics behind first, the institutionalised investigation of abuse and wrong and second, the protection (or the lack of it) of whistlebl owers.

HOW does this kind of politics map onto India? Is the corporate sector as politically coherent as it is shown to be in Britain? It certainly has a smaller role in GDP. How different is the behaviour of multinational corporations in India where the nation al economy does not tower over large corporates the way Britain's does? Are Indian corporates successfully privatising state assets at knock-down prices? Are they making rapid inroads into small-scale and family business? Would that be a go od or a bad thing? Monbiot's model is of the (global) corporation but there is also a politics of coalitions of small capital in industrial clusters and districts. Will it differ fundamentally or be a fractal scaling of big corporate politics?

Further, in India, informalisation and casualisation accentuate the disadvantages of the 'politics of scale'. How will the 'charter for trouble-makers' differ? The power relations which link the corporate sector and the Indian state to the black economy and to offshore financial centres will be yet another additional complexity because the share of the British black economy is much smaller, estimated at about a third that of India's and reputed to be dominated by small players. Add to this the complex relationships of both the Indian corporate sector and its industrial districts with the very large informal sector (83 per cent of the workforce, 60 per cent of GDP): as casualised labour, as subcontractors and suppliers, as intermediate and final markets and even as a source of finance. Spike with the fact that India's electoral democracy depends on black industrial money as well as legal donations. Shake and stir, and the heady c ocktail of the politics of capital in India may well be very distinctively different.

The International Labour Office in Geneva is currently running a global programme for Decent Work2 involving full employment (and 'making markets work for everyone'), decent terms and conditions of work, the rights to collective bargain ing and to social protection. Apart from the fact that markets cannot work for everyone - it is not their function to do so - the politics of capital as exposed in Monbiot's book make the chances of this campaign's success very slight. But to make market s work for more people than they do, to see whether and how much room for manoeuvre there is, we need to know much more about the politics of capital or 'market politics' in specific countries.

Who out there is going to write the companion volume for India?

Barbara Harriss-White is Professor of Development Studies at Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford University, but writes here in a personal capacity. 1. Market-Driven Politics: Britain in 2000, Colin Leys, forthcoming 2001, Verso, London. 2. See the programmatic statement - ILO, Decent Work, International Labour Office, Geneva, 1999.

In the name of the witch

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI social-issues

Persecution and torture of women after denouncing them as witches no longer appears to be a tribal practice. Assertion by women in matters such as political representation, gender equality and property rights is resulting in "witch-hunts", where the victims are often women of the weaker sections.

THE practice of persecuting witches may be as old as witchcraft itself. But, of late there has been a sharp rise in the number of women being denounced as witches and sentenced to gory deaths. This trend is all the more alarming because the victims have often been women from Dalit or tribal communities and the reasons for the "witch hunt" have actually been political, property-related or gender-specific. The new form of oppression is camouflaged under tribal rusticity or yokel behaviour. However, campai gns and protests against it have been on. The All-India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) and other organisations have been taking up the cause of the victims in the most affected States of Bihar, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh and in parts of north eastern India.

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In two cases that were reported in August in Tripura and in Assam, one victim was an active member of AIDWA and the other a sympathiser. In the first case, Subhadra Basumatray, 40, a Bodo woman in Tilapara village of Goalpara district in Assam and the mo ther of three sons and three daughters, had the courage to denounce rituals conducted by the kavirajs or ojhas or witch-doctors, in her village. She suffered a fractured right arm, broken ribs and badly bruised legs. She had thrice been bra nded a witch as there had been three instances of a disease affecting people in the village. On the fourth occasion, members of her family ganged up against her, for she demanded a share in the property of her late father. They got the local ojha, a woman, to declare Basumatray a witch, saying that she was responsible for the spate of illnesses in the village. On August 25, at 10 p.m., Basumatray was dragged out of her house by a group of people and beaten until 2 a.m. Intervention by her husband proved futile. He was also beaten. The villagers wanted her to confess in writing that she was a sorceress.

Brinda Karat, general secretary of AIDWA, told Frontline that Basumatray had barely escaped only because other AIDWA activists intervened. The insecurity in the matter of land rights in general and the increasing political participation and assert ion by women have encouraged vested interests who use the ojha, whose writ runs in the village, to issue fiats against assertive women. Brinda Karat said that the witch doctor, who branded Basumatray a witch, moved around freely in the village whi le the police arrested three other persons in connection with the incident. The accused have not been charged with attempt to murder although certain other sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) were invoked against them. Bodo women held a meeting to co ndemn the sway of ojhas.

In the absence of qualified medical practitioners and primary health centres, the people of Tilapara are largely dependent on the kavirajs, who are known by various names among different tribal groups and are a powerful community. Documentation on "witch-killing" among the Santhals of Bihar and West Bengal testify to the powerful position of mahans, the Santhal equivalent of the kaviraj of the northeast. (The Santhal tribe is concentrated in India in Assam, West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa; t hey live in Nepal and Bangladesh as well.)

LAXMI DEB BURMA, the AIDWA activist from Tripura, was not as lucky as Basumatray. A tea garden worker, she had actively campaigned for Left Front candidates in the panchayat elections. Members of the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT) in collusi on with other residents of the village declared Deb Burma a witch after her co-worker fell ill. Deb Burma was murdered.

Brinda Karat said that Deb Burma had actually taken her co-worker to a doctor but that woman did not go back for treatment. Her condition apparently worsened and she died. Her family was in contact with the IPFT, and this led to the elimination of Deb Bu rma. Brinda Karat said that Deb Burma's killing was an indirect consequence of the absence of an accessible and adequate health care system.

In Andhra Pradesh, she said, five incidents of women being branded witches and burnt to death were reported from Warangal district. According to State government figures, in the last two years 147 such murders had taken place, Brinda Karat said. Such cas es were on the rise in Assam, she said. In Tripura and in certain pockets of West Bengal, where such practices were prevalent, campaigns were on eliminate it. "The only women active in politics among the tribal people are those aligned with the Left move ment. Instead of calling them Communists they call them witches. That is the only difference," she said.

HOWEVER, incidents elsewhere in the country belie the claim that persecution of women after branding them witches was prevalent only in tribal communities. In Bijli village in Raipur district of Madhya Pradesh, a Dalit woman, Lata Sahu, contested against a backward-caste woman in the panchayat elections. Lata was prone to epileptic attacks. The Yadavs and Patels, who belong to the land-owning castes, got Lata's sister-in-law to condemn her as a tonahi (witch). Lata was stripped of her clothes and paraded in the village.

In another case, in Tarra village in Raipur district, a woman was hacked to death after being branded a witch by her brother-in-law after she sought a right over her deceased husband's land. In yet another case, in Gaandi village in Angara Block in Ranch i, two Dalit widows were tortured, resulting in the death of one of them, who was 75 years old. It began with the death of two children due to malaria and jaundice in September. An exorcist told the father of the children, Mahavir Baitha, that the two wi dows, Jeetan Devi and Dubhan Devi, were responsible for the deaths. In front of the son, the mother was tonsured, beaten, paraded and burnt. Earthen pitchers were broken on the heads of the two widows.

Two tribal women, from Pordha and Haripuri villages in Ranchi district, were branded as witches on September 29, paraded naked and their heads shaved. One of them was allegedly raped. An exorcist had declared the two women to be witches. One of them, a c hildless widow, owned half an acre of land. The other victim, who charged her attackers with rape, accused her husband of plotting the attack. She had apparently tried to dissuade her husband from selling the piece of land.

ACCORDING to K.S. Singh, former Director-General of the Anthropological Survey of India and author-editor of the Peoples of India Project, the advent of witchcraft in India probably coincided with the arrival of the colonial rulers. The local people had a larger view of Shamanism (the world of good and evil spirits), but with European influence it began to get identified with black magic, white magic and witchcraft. Women were regarded as healers and granted powers in Shamanism, he said. In his own obse rvation of tribal societies, mostly in Bihar, the majority of witches killed were women and some 30 per cent were men, Singh said. Entire families were wiped out in some areas. Greed for property was one of the main reasons for witch-killing, he said. Th e struggle for gender equality had also led to various forms of insecurities in village communities, according to Singh. When family members intervened, they were most often killed along with the branded women. Singh said that tribal cosmology was explic it in its reference to women being trained as witches. The Santhals, he said, were major "witch-killers" and their witches were often women. Movements against this were on in Bihar and elsewhere, but there were too sporadic to have any real effect, Singh said.

About the Santhals of Malda district in West Bengal, A.B. Chaudhuri, an officer of the Indian Police Service, wrote in his book Witch Killings Amongst Santals (Ashish Publishing House, New Delhi; 1984; Rs.150) that faced with a desolate existence and haunted by extreme poverty and helplessness, the tribe had started to look to mahans for leadership. Mahan is "one who knows", and is assisted by kavirajs. He is supposed to know tribal lore and be able to unravel the mysteries of time. A witc h is called the fuskin here, and whenever there is a drought or a famine or a disease, the tribal people run to the mahan, who would identify some hapless woman as the fuskin. In almost all cases of witch-killing, Chaudhuri noted that the a ged and the weak were identified as witches. The tribal people do not consider it a sin to kill a fuskin. Denying responsibility ends in tragedy, and the mahan's word is always final. Many a time the poverty-stricken family of the "witch" c an only succumb to his decision.

Summoning the denounced woman to the village meeting and assaulting her is a common practice, Chaudhuri noted. Even sons are known to have killed their mothers. The murder of a witch is always preceded by deaths or instances of prolonged illness in the v illage or family. Often sickness and land disputes coincided so perfectly that it was difficult to discern which was the real reason for a woman having been declared a fuskin. Chaudhuri argues in his book that the distrust in women has been accent uated by a belief that they are superior to men in matters of mantras or incantations. Should they be allowed to worship the Bongas, (the supreme deities) they would win favour quickly and their nature being destructive, they would invariably indu lge in destructive activities to the detriment of society, so went the argument.

That a definite link exists between forms of ownership of land and persecution of women is borne out in another book, Status of Tribal Women in Tripura (Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi, 1993; Rs.150) by Malabika Das Gupta. Gupta writes that with the spread of "development", tribal people in general seem to be moving in the direction of emulating the cultural and socio-economic patterns of caste-Hindu groups and losing the singular features of their own society. Communal ownership and control of land have given way to legal ownership of land by men, and 'witch-hunting' has become popular as an extra-legal method to deprive tribal women of control over land. (Tripuri women have the right to demand a share of their parents property or they can de rive a share as per the desire of their parents.)

It is most likely that cases of witch-killing and persecution of women will continue as long as economic inequities and neglect of the health care infrastructure continue. The reluctance on the part of both the community and the law-enforcers to see the killings of these hapless women as blatant murder, as was evident in the case of Basumatray, points to collusion among various elements to keep women at the lowest rung of society. To see it merely as a tribal custom would be to ignore the various influe nces on tribal life, including the political one, where the constitutional right of political participation has the potential to bring women into public life. Revivalism and resistance are but inevitable fallouts.

The revival of a tournament

The revival of the Gopalan Trophy tournament puts the cricketing spotlight on Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka.

DESPITE the scant media attention given on both sides of the Palk Straits to the recent Gopalan Trophy clash in Colombo, its revival after a gap of 17 years is a time for nostalgia and for reflection on the state of the game in Tamil Nadu and in Sri Lanka. A bi-annual tournament that began in 1952 as a contest between Ceylon and Madras has now become a contest between the Colombo District Cricket Association (CDCA) and Tamil Nadu. While Tamil Nadu is one of the major sides in the Ranji Trophy, the CDCA is as contrived and artificial as the Board Presidents' elevens that fill the gap in the schedules of international sides. First-class cricket in Sri Lanka is not played on a regional or district basis, but is played among about a dozen clubs.

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Not many people realise that the Gopalan Trophy is probably the only contest of its kind. Unlike in football, ice hockey and now rugby league, cricket does not have international contests involving regions or cities.

Great Heritage

In its heyday, the Gopalan Trophy was a passionate contest involving some of the fabled cricketers of the subcontinent. Much has been written and said about M. Sathasivam, the flamboyant figure, who is considered the patron saint of Ceylonese batting. "Satha" was jailed for the murder of his wife. Folklore has it that he was such an exalted figure that Sobers and Worrel visited him in jail, during one of their short tours to the island.

There was A.G. Milkha Singh, a cultured left-hand batsman who was Tamil Nadu's mainstay for over a decade. Sadly, Milkha Singh made his four Test appearances before the age of 20. He played energetically and manfully for Madras and his employers, the State Bank of India. In the collective consciousness, he is overshadowed by his Olympian namesake - the Flying Sikh.

Some of the others went on to greater heights beyond the cricket field. G.Parthasarathy of Madras, a wily leg-spinner and hard-hitting batsman, became a celebrated Indian diplomat. More recently, the swashbuckling Duleep Mendis, the winner of the highest individual score in the Gopalan Trophy, who went on to be the manager of Sri Lanka's rags-to-riches World Cup triumph in 1996.

The 1983 ethnic pogrom in Sri Lanka leads to a severance of ties

The ethnic violence in Sri Lanka and the ensuing crass hostility of the Sri Lankan public towards India in general and Tamil Nadu in particular, were the principal reasons for the interruption of this colourful tournament. Recently elevated to Test status, Sri Lanka dominated the last two editions of the tournament with outstanding performances from the likes of Duleep Mendis and the Ashantha de Mel. But soon after the last edition of the tournament in 1983, the ethnic pogrom in the month of July of that year put a dark cloud on the future of the tournament.

Under the backdrop of a charged political environment, cricketing relations between India and Sri Lanka ceased to be a sporting contest but an orgy of sectarian hatred. The Sri Lankan umpires, under pressure from the country's politicians, conspired to deliver the island nation's first Test victory in the 1985 tour by Kapil Dev's World Champion side. Some of the more ridiculous decisions meted out by the Sri Lankan umpires was the curious case of the head umpire ruling a batsman lbw followed by the square leg umpire ruling the batsman stumped. Another was when umpire Vidanagamage rewrote the etiquette of the game by reprimanding Indian 12th man Maninder Singh for shining the ball during the drinks interval.

The two Tamil members of the Indian touring party were singled out for special treatment - K. Srikkanth by the umpires and L. Sivaramakrishnan by the crowd. Srikkanth, a frank and forthright customer, was not even spared in the side games. "Siva", who did not appear regularly in international cricket after this tour, was heckled by the raucous Sri Lankan crowd solely on the grounds of his ethnicity.

The torturous tour ended on a predictably bitter note with Kapil Dev's angry and ultimately erroneous denunciation of Sri Lankan cricket: "Sri Lanka will never win a Test match abroad." It is just as well that today, apart from Zimbabwe, India has the worst overseas Test record. Cricketing relations between the two countries in any form seemed doomed, when India boycotted the 1986 Asia Cup held in Sri Lanka on political grounds. The Gopalan Trophy was furthest from the minds of the game's administrators of India, Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu.

Tournament ignored as Sri Lankan cricket reaches great heights

The return of international cricket in Sri Lanka in 1992 sparked a chain of events which has made Sri Lanka one of the best sides in international cricket. The thoroughly memorable World Cup victory in 1996 and series of Test victories at home and abroad has made Sri Lanka a cricketing powerhouse. Its over-reliance on the genius of Muttiah Muralitharan notwithstanding, Sri Lanka is consistently ranked in the top half of the Wisden Test Championship.

Sri Lanka reaped the benefits of intense contact with the MRF Pace Academy in Chennai. Chaminda Vaas, Sri Lanka's prime fast bowler, is among the most distinguished of the Academy's products. The other Sri Lankan MRF Academy prodigies, namely Pushpa-kumara, Zoysa and Wickremasinghe, are known more for their promise rather than their performance.

However, it would seem that Sri Lanka has benefited much more from the Academy than India, whose Academy products - Vivek Razdan, Salil Ankola and Atul Wassan - are confined to obscurity. Judging by his performances in the Asia Cup, Thirunavukarasu Kumaran, another young man from the MRF Academy, seems destined to join them.

Tamil Nadu's emergence despite India's mediocrity

If Sri Lanka has emerged as a world power, Tamil Nadu has emphatically enhanced its cricketing reputation in India. During the 17-year hiatus, Tamil Nadu's cricketing fortunes have moved decidedly for the better. The 1980s and early 1990s were a lean period in Tamil Nadu cricket. K. Srikkanth was the only member of the Tamil Nadu side to command a regular place at the all-India level. The eminent off-spinner S. Venkatraghavan was in the twilight of his career. Tamil Nadu's inspirational victory in the 1988 Ranji Trophy went unrecogonised by the powers that be. Players such as Robin Singh, V.B. Chandrashekhar, B. Arun and W.V. Raman made fleeting and unremarkable appearances for India.

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In the early 1990s, international hopefuls such as Senthilnathan, S. Sharath and Sunil Subramaniam became victims of the bewildering regional selection policy. In India, each zone nominates a national selector. There was a lingering perception in Tamil Nadu cricket circles that Karnataka stalwart Gundappa Vishwanath had a strong hand in ensuring the selection of nearly a dozen Karnataka players - much to the detriment of the Tamil Nadu hopefuls. There may be some merit in this perception. There can be no question of the class of the Kumbles and Dravids of this world. But other Karnataka players such as D. Ganesh and David Johnson were selections made with a sense of adventure.

Different scene

Today's scenario is very different. At least a dozen players are serious contenders for places in the Indian team. In fact, this is probably the most internationally capped Tamil Nadu team ever. Robin Singh, S. Ramesh, T. Kumaran, S. Sriram, Aashish Kapoor and Hemang Badani have all donned the Indian cap. Apart from the stature of the players and the quality of the coaching, the facilities in Chennai are some of the best in the country. The Tamil Nadu Cricket Association is on a sound footing with A.C. Muthiah in the limelight as president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

The revival of this tournament may seem an anachronism in this age of an expanding and ceaselessly active Test fraternity, satellite television and offshore one-day tournaments. But, one of the things the great game lacks is an opportunity for regional first-class sides to lock horns. This factor, the shared passion for the game and the venerable history of the exchanges between the sides will hopefully make the Gopalan Trophy tournament a much-sought-after annual event.

The Colombo-based Nirgunan Tiruchelvam is a contributor to TheWicket.com, an online cricket magazine.

Data of questionable merit

Questions about the methodolgy adopted cast a shadow over the latest estimates of poverty by the National Sample Survey Organisation.

POVERTY, or rather the official estimates of it, is back in the news. The latest estimation of the number of poor people in India has triggered a heated debate over the methodology adopted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), which is in ch arge of the exercise. The debate is not confined to academia or to esoteric issues relating to the methodologies adopted. The data, and the controversy surrounding them, have been inextricably tied to the fundamental question of what impact the wide-rang ing economic reforms introduced in 1991 have had on poverty. After all, a decline in the proportion of the poor between 1993-94 and 2000, from about one-third to one-fourth, is not an empirical result that can be ignored by those wishing to link poverty to the nature of economic reforms.

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Partial results of the latest NSSO survey, conducted between July 1999 and June 2000, which have been highlighted in the media, indicate that poverty levels in India have declined dramatically since 1993-94, the year in which the previous full-fledged su rvey was conducted. The partial results, from the first two sub-rounds done between July and December 1999, indicate that the number of people below the poverty line in rural areas has declined from 37.3 per cent to 27.6 per cent between 1993-94 and 1999 -2000; in urban areas the decline has been from 32.4 per cent to 25.2 per cent.

Not surprisingly, the issue of statistical integrity has assumed a strong political overtone because opposing viewpoints tie their interpretations of the estimates to their respective positions on the economic reforms. Those on the side of the establishm ent argue that a sharp reduction in the number of the poor is a vindication of the theory that market-led growth has improved the living conditions of the poor. However, critics of the reforms view the latest estimates as "statistical jugglery", in line with the trend of official agencies publishing data that suit the establishment rather than the objective needs of society. They have alleged serious flaws in the methodology adopted for the latest survey; they say that the NSSO has made changes in the m ethodology without any consideration to methods of statistical enquiry.(The NSSO, the premier agency, also conducts national-level surveys on employment, consumption, nutrition and other issues.)

Experts from the NSSO and the Planning Commission have expressed scepticism about the data. At the Economic Editors Conference in early October, K.C. Pant, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, announced that a committee of experts would be constit uted to compare the latest survey estimates with those of the 1993-94 survey. However, on October 30, Arun Shourie, Minister of State for Statistics, Programme Implementation and Disinvestment, ruled out a review, claiming that "no cogent reasons had bee n advanced which should lead the government to doubt the comparability of the data."

Officially a poor person is defined as one who is unable to meet a minimum food intake of 2,100 calories in urban areas and 2,400 calories in rural areas. Since the actual calorific intake of people is almost impossible to estimate in an across-the-count ry survey, consumption expenditures serve as an estimate of poverty levels. A person whose spending on food is below the level required to purchase the minimum calorific intake is considered to have fallen below the poverty line. The sample used in the s urvey is then "blown up" to the State and national levels to estimate the number of people who fail to meet this most basic standard, people who are in abject poverty.

Although the NSSO had conducted smaller surveys based on "thin samples", where about 20,000 respondents were quizzed, the results of the latest survey were eagerly awaited because the 1999-2000 survey has been the only one since 1993-94 to use a "large s ample". The latest exercise involved canvassing questionnaires from about 1.2 lakh respondents across the country.

Until the 50th round of the National Sample Survey in 1993-94 the NSSO had been using a method by which respondents were asked to provide details about their food consumption in the previous 30 days. In the 50th round, the concept of a seven-day recall w as introduced, because of the suspicion that the longer time scale caused respondents to miss from memory certain items that he/she had actually consumed. In the 1993-94, the nationwide sample was divided into two separate samples, one using the seven-da y recall and the other the 30-day recall.

Indeed, the shorter recall period did reveal higher consumption expenditure levels and, consequently, lower poverty levels. In 1993-94, poverty levels based on the seven-day recall were about 16-17 per cent lower than those based on the 30-day recall. Pr avin Visaria, Chairman of the governing council of the NSSO, pointed out that between 1994 and 1998 poverty levels in India, based on the seven-day recall method, were lower by about 40-50 per cent than estimates using the 30-day recall.

However, what has raised the hackles of critics is the fact that the same set of respondents were quizzed about their consumption expenditures using the two methods.

Experts in statistics have argued that this kind of a survey would seriously "contaminate" the data because respondents would tend intuitively to multiply the seven-day recall by four when responding to the questions based on the 30-day recall. Field sta ff would also tend to commit the same error when compiling the results. While admitting that the "concurrent collection of data" using the two methods was "unusual and a last-minute compromise", Visaria has claimed that the investigators were instructed to collect the two sets of data "independently". He has also asserted that "these instructions are unlikely to have been overlooked".

However, doubts about the integrity of the data have been raised because for close to two months from the beginning of the survey, until August 1999, the data obtained by using the seven-day recall were collected before the same respondent was approached again with the 30-day recall method. Critics have argued that this sequencing would contaminate the results even more because the four-fold multiplication would come even more easily to the respondents. Visaria has said that instructions were issued in mid-August to reverse the sequencing by posing the 30-day recall first.

An economist well-versed with the methods of the NSSO told Frontline that respondents were likely to suffer "fatigue when approached twice with the same set of questions". This, he said, was particularly so in the case of consumption expenditure s urveys, which were long and detailed. Although the seven-day recall appears to have the advantage of imposing a lesser strain on the memory of the respondent, others argue that a longer recall also offers certain advantages, particularly because of the n ature of poverty. For instance, a shorter recall may be unable to capture the variations in the day to day consumption expenditures. This may be particularly crucial in the case of casual workers or people on the margins of society. The consumption of th e poor varies not only across seasons but also across days and weeks. On the use of the shorter recall, an economist sarcastically commented that a short recall of just a day may yield "excellent data", but this would simply miss out the variations that were an integral part of the daily existence of the poor. In any case, nothing prevents the NSSO from publishing two sets of results, based on two different methodologies. After all, NSSO's employment estimates use different yardsticks.

Visaria has justified the use of the seven-day recall by pointing out that the 30-day recall is not used anywhere in the world. Asked why the NSSO changed the methodology, Visaria said that there was a "viewpoint" that advocated this change, and that the NSSO just wanted to "try this method out". He admitted that two separate samples for the seven-day and 30-day recall "are probably better". He also said that the NSSO was willing review the changes after all the results are compiled by December.

Despite advocating caution in the use of the partial results for definitive conclusions, Visaria has invited criticism by demonstrating in a newspaper analysis that the difference in poverty levels using the two methods has fallen sharply as a result of the changes introduced in the latest survey. However, critics have been quick to point out that the difference between the two estimates could have collapsed simply because the 30-day recall is "contaminated". They allege that estimates using the 30-day recall have lost their independent standing because they are tied to the seven-day estimates because of the "multiplication" factor. Indeed, they point to the estimates based on the seven-day recall method to prove their point that poverty levels in Indi a have actually worsened (see tables). Going by Visaria's seven-day recall figures the percentage of rural poor increased from 19.1 per cent in 1995-96 to 24.8 per cent in July-December 1999 and urban poverty levels increased from 15.2 per cent to 23.4 p er cent. However, because the 1993-94 survey, the last one with a "large sample", did not use a seven-day recall, the latest estimates cannot be compared to the previous estimates.

S.L. Shetty, director of The Economic and Political Weekly's Research Foundation, told Frontline that "there is no statistical or scientific basis for the shift". He also argued that poverty levels were generally on a secular trend. "Povert y levels," he said, "do not change so drastically in such a short period."

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Shetty outlined his "broad hypothesis" that poverty ratios have worsened, pointing to a number of economic developments to "corroborate" his position. Since the reforms, per capita consumption of foodgrains has fallen and so has employment levels; these would imply a contraction in incomes and consumption.

Moreover, the curtailment of social expenditures, another facet of the reform process, Shetty says, meant a diversion of incomes by the poor to the costlier private health services, away from the public facilities. This, he argues, would have been the ca se particularly with the marginally poor households. Moreover, agriculture, by all accounts, has stagnated in the last few years, thereby impacting on employment, incomes and consumption of the poor. Shetty says that the higher growth in the services sec tor would not have benefited the poor because there "is less percolation of incomes" in this sector. "Radical changes in methodology are not acceptable in poverty statistics," he said.

A study conducted in 1999 by S.P. Gupta, Member, Planning Commission, revealed that although national income, as measured by the gross domestic product (GDP), increased at an annual rate of 6.9 per cent between 1993-94 and 1999-2000, poverty levels actua lly increased during this period, from 35.07 per cent to 37.23 per cent and employment grew by 0.6 per cent per annum. Gupta's study also indicated that poverty levels were inextricably linked to employment levels, suggesting that stagnation in employmen t was the prime cause of the high levels of poverty in the 1990s.

Academics have protested that the NSSO has made a "fundamental shift" in methodology without getting the opinion of experts. Shetty said that the NSSO ought to have consulted the "academic community at large before implementing such a major shift in meth odology."

The opportunity to answer authoritatively the fundamental question about reforms and its impact on poverty appears to have been lost because of the controversial nature of the survey. In effect, it appears that the shift in methodology will not allow for comparison with the 1993-94 data. Asked if this did not pose a problem, Visaria turned philosophical: "Comparability is after all not the only thing in life."

A missed opportunity

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board at its Bangalore session vows to fight attempts to tamper with Muslim personal laws governed by the Shariat.

ALTHOUGH much debate and some signs of change were expected at the 14th convention of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board in Bangalore on October 28 and 29, the meeting turned out to be a tame affair. Even important matters such as the "triple talaq" issue did not come up for discussion. Rather, the message from the meeting, which was attended by 90 members of the Board and 350 special invitees representing Muslim organisations from across the country, was that the Muslim community would fight any a ttempt, from within or without, to tamper with its personal laws (governed by the Shariat); that the community wanted the status quo on the Babri Masjid site, and it would not tolerate any moves to at change the basic structure and character of th e Indian Constitution.

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The Board, the highest religious authority of the Muslim community in India, discussed the standardisation of the nikahnama, the contract signed by the bride and bridegroom to solemnise a marriage, and the introduction of a contract clause in Muslim marr iages in order to provide extra protection to women. Despite the liberal bent of mind of the Board's current Chairman, Maulana Mujahidul Islam Qasmi, the years of debate within the community and the Board, and five hours' deliberations at the Bangalore m eeting, there was no consensus. A draft nikahnama prepared by a five-member, all-male sub-committee did not find favour at the convention. According to a Board member, the draft "did not fully achieve the objective of the marriage contract" and was retur ned to the committee to "introduce the necessary changes and safeguards before it was presented again for debate".

Women members of the board, such as Dr. Hasina Hashia, Assistant Professor at Jamia Millia Islamia, and Tahaniat, a representative of the Shariat Protection Committee of Hyderabad, though disappointed, hoped that the Board would soon adopt "a standard, f oolproof and conditional nikahnama". But quite a few of the women members felt that the issue of amendments to the nikahnama was back to square one.

There seems little chance now that the conditional nikahnama, where both partners, among other things, list conditions before solemnising their marriage, drafted after extensive meetings between Muslim women activists from Mumbai such as Uzma Nahid and t he ulemas (Muslim religious heads), would ever be implemented. The Board had passed a resolution at its 13th session in Mumbai in October 1999 that it would accept the proposed draft with minor changes. But later it changed its mind, appointed a sub-comm ittee and came up with its own draft, which was discussed in Bangalore.

The Board's draft did not find favour with either male or female members. Uzma Nahid, a member of the Board, has been highly critical and called it "inadequate". She is reported to have said that it was "substandard and poorly drafted, having been prepar ed in haste." She is quoted as saying: "In our nikahnama we had suggested the inclusion of an advocate during the nikah (marriage). The (Board's) draft has only mentioned this as an option, which defeats the very purpose of our suggestion. The Shariat pa nchayats (family courts) have failed to safeguard the interests of women. In 90 per cent of the cases, women could not express or explain their problems to the panchayats as they had no female member."

THE debate on nikahnama was initially triggered by the Shah Bano case, in which the Supreme Court ordered the former husband of a Muslim woman to pay her lifelong maintenance. The Muslim Personal Law Board took the stand that such an order was against th e Shariat and an interference in Muslim personal law. The court ruling was nullified with the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. Later, after a comprehensive study of women living in Muslim-dominated slums of Mumbai and other citie s, Muslim women activists gave feedback on matrimonial problems confronting Muslim women. The study helped draft the conditional nikahnama, which they submitted to the Board.

A Board member told Frontline after the meeting that it was "still resisting the legitimate demands of Muslim women, who know their Koranic rights and want to be liberated from medieval interpretations of the Koran". He added that the draft that t he women activists had submitted had nothing un-Islamic about it. "Since marriage is a contract in Islam standard contract conditions can be drawn up and signed by both partners at the time of marriage. A woman is as much entitled as a man to lay down co nditions. For example, she can lay down a condition that her husband will not take a second wife," he said. According to him, if these conditions were incorporated into a standard nikahnama it would to a large extent mitigate the problems faced by Muslim women in India.

Ibrahim Sulaiman Sait, president of the Indian National League and one of the founder members of the Board, told Frontline that it was felt during the Bangalore deliberations that "more thinking was required on the subject of nikahnama." Sait was categorical that if at all there was to be a conditional nikahnama, it should be short; otherwise it would make the issue more complicated.

The proposal for an undertaking by the bridegroom not to give triple talaq in one sitting was not discussed. Under this contract, the bridegroom would have to give an undertaking that if for some reason he had to resort to divorce he would do it over thr ee sittings spread over the period of three menstrual cycles, as has been stipulated in the Shariat.

Sait said that most ulemas in the country were in favour of such a proposal. "We have to make people understand the laws. Misuse should be avoided," he added. According to many Muslim women activists, this was easier said than done.

Another issue that was debated in Bangalore was polygamy. Most members felt that tinkering with it would be a direct interference in the Shariat. A few members felt that several Muslim countries had enacted legislation restricting the taking of more than one wife. There was also no consensus on whether a husband should seek the permission of his first wife before taking a second or additional wife.

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Many of the members did not agree with the reforms in Muslim marriage laws (such as a ban on polygamy) implemented in countries such as Morocco, Jordan, Iran, Syria, Turkey and even Pakistan and Bangladesh. According to Sait: "Turkey or any other country cannot be an example for us. We have to follow the Shariat, which is the divine law in total. Those who dilute it or give it their own interpretation are un-Islamic." When asked if Turkey's decision to ban triple talaq made it un-Islamic, Sait answered in the affirmative.

K.M. Khan, a Congress(I) Rajya Sabha member, said: "Muslim personal law has not failed in protecting women. It is the wrong interpretation that has caused problems." Khan admitted that the plight of economically weaker Muslim women had prompted the Board to apply its mind to "prepare a draft marriage certificate that was free of ambiguity and would not cause problems in the law courts."

THE Bangalore Declaration, which was released at the conclusion of the meet, criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government for deflecting public attention from real issues such as poverty and unemployment by raising non-issues such as "I ndianisation of Islam and Christianity". On the issue of the Babri Masjid, the Board, after examining the progress of the Liberhan Commission, said that it had formed a committee to monitor the Commission's proceedings and to make representations to the Board. Members criticised the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) for its recent call to build a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya. "It is in contempt of the Allahabad High Court order."

The Board set up a seven-man committee to monitor the proceedings and recommendations of the Constitution Review Panel. The committee will present the objections or concerns of the Muslim community to the panel.

A pause in Palestine

world-affairs

The mood of defiance continues in the Palestinian homeland although there is a lull in the violence for now.

KESAVA MENON in the Palestinian homeland

EVEN after a month of fighting Israel's occupation of their territories and with over 150 of their people dead and several thousands wounded, the Palestinians continue to exude defiance. The message from the street and the Palestinian leadership was that the struggle would continue until a Palestinian state is established with Al Quds as its capital. While the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only end with the just and fair fulfilment of the latter's aspirations, the question of h ow it would be achieved remains open.

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The word from the street, especially as transmitted by network snap-shots, was that the ongoing violent struggle was the sole means by which the Palestinians believe they will achieve their goals. With deaths at the hands of Israeli soldiers having becom e a daily occurrence over the past five weeks, the Palestinian masses believe that they have nothing to lose. Although the physical means at their command are negligible, the Palestinians believe that they have no choice but to resort to them. Moreover, negotiations with Israel have brought little so far and there is deep scepticism over whether further talks will achieve anything more. By continuing to fight they will at least keep their hopes and dignity alive. To stop now would be to dishonour those who have already died. It would also mean the final submission to despair.

Over most of this period, the emotional response from the Israeli public appeared to validate the Palestinian frustration. The ever-latent Israeli fear of being under siege from hostile forces and the determination to fight back rose to fever pitch. From the Israeli perspective, all the concessions they had given so far to the Palestinians and were preparing to give had produced not the slightest change in the Arab attitude towards them. Why should they give up hard physical assets in their possession, and which they believe enhances their security, when the intangible but invaluable benefit of being reciprocated with Arab benevolence was going to be as elusive as ever? Call it the basic perceptional dissonance between conquered and conqueror, but in e ffect the negative attitudes on the one side were reinforcing similar attitudes on the other.

It was only the power of self-interest and logic that prevented the situation from going out of control. There was the self-interest of U.S. President Bill Clinton who could see one of the major programmes of his eight-year administration unravel in its last months. Arab leaders who had made peace with Israel - such as Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah - knew that their own positions would be undermined if the conflict was prolonged. Those Arab leaders of a moderate bent, who ha d not followed in the footsteps of Egypt and Jordan also had reason to fear that the continuance of the intifada would radicalise their masses and strengthen the more hard-line regimes. Members of the wider international community, who have establ ished lucrative linkages to Israel and the Arab world, had reason to fear that their hopes of maintaining relationships with both sides without the strain of their mutual hostility would be lost forever.

But the efforts and prayers of these several actors might not have counted for much if the principal players involved had not realised that their own interests would not be served if they went over the brink. Israel's leaders, in giving vent to their sen se of in extremis, occasionally declared that they were prepared for a unilateral separation. By this they meant that they would abandon the more isolated Jewish settlements and military posts in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip while hanging on t o as much of the land as they could conveniently hold in the enclaves. Such a policy would leave the Palestinians in control of their towns and villages but they would be like islands in a sea controlled by Israel. No consideration would be given to the other Palestinian demands unless they returned to the negotiating table. While Israel has the military means to implement this policy, at least in the short to medium term, it is ultimately untenable since Israelis moving between the Palestinians cluster s would always be under the threat of attack. The attritional effect would be unbearable.

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat had rallied his people, who had become disillusioned with his leadership, with the call to continue the intifada until their aspirations were met. At times, the Palestinians gave the impression that th ey believed Israel had lost the will to resist. The facts that Israel was forced to come to the negotiating table in the first place by the intifada of 1987-93 and the fact of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon under pressure from Hizbollah were cit ed as proof of this theory. But this theory overlooks the fact that the Israelis have built for themselves a prosperous and comfortable society and their resistance will only stiffen as the core of their interests comes under threat. Even if the ideologi cal fervour for a Greater Israel is erased the need to cling to an outer perimeter of defence when under threat would remain.

Between Israel's threat of a unilateral separation and the Palestinian threat of a perpetual intifada lies the realisation on both sides of what is achievable and sustainable. If a durable peace is to be made, Israel will have to withdraw from mos t of the territories captured in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and compensate the Palestinians with pieces of land from within Israel for those portions of the West Bank that cannot be given back for practical reasons. (Some of the settlements straddli ng the 1967 border have become large townships.) Issues such as the return of the refugees and sovereignty over the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount are matters of principle as much as of emotion. But such issues of emotion and principle can hardly be tackle d if the hard, practical questions of land and conditions of living are not addressed first.

If the question of land is considered in isolation, then the theories of unilateral separation and perpetual intifada do not make much sense given the point where the negotiations had reached. Post-Camp David, the two sides had almost come to acce pt that in a fair settlement, Israel would withdraw from all of the Gaza Strip, most of the West Bank and offer compensatory land elsewhere. There were gaps between the respective positions but these appear niggardly, especially since they do not have th e emotional overload attached to the differences over refugees and the holy sites. But the fact is that even on these issues, the contours of practicable compromises were available only in outline or being worked on.

The pressure of international opinion might not have been directly effective in preventing either the Israelis or the Palestinians from going over the brink. But each knows that its own interest would not be served if it were held responsible for the non -achievement of an agreement that appeared so close within reach. Despite the growing scepticism of the Israeli public and the rising clamour from the anti-peace Right-wing, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had to extend deadline after deadline and let one ultimatum lapse after another. Arafat had rallied his people and made them believe in fighting for their cause but there was little sense in continuing to fight when the same outcome could probably be achieved on the negotiating table.

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From the comments made by knowledgeable Palestinians, who are not privy to Arafat's inner councils, it would appear that he has not authoritatively told them what Israel will ultimately offer. For instance, Barak said in an interview to Jerusalem Post just before the outbreak of the uprising that he envisaged an Al Quds and a Yerushalaiyim side by side (that is, a city serving as the capital of two countries). While Palestinian scepticism about Barak's statement is understandable, would they have been so dismissive if Arafat had authenticated that the Israelis were moving in that direction?

There are indications that Arafat has left a gap between what was actually obtainable from the Israelis and what his people thought was the best on offer. A people who thought that they were getting only so much would be shown that by mobilising behind A rafat they could gain that much more. By so manipulating perceptions, Arafat could ensure his sway over his people post-agreement. This is also the only way in which he can sell the inherent compromises to his people. Moreover, by achieving their goals t hrough a last convulsive struggle, the Palestinians would have the pride that they had not been given their rights but had won them.

Had Arafat however unleashed a tiger he could not control? The cycle of death, funerals, confrontations after the funerals that usually ended in more deaths, had a momentum of its own. Arafat had to show them some immediate gains before he could ask his people to restrain themselves. Neither the Sharm El-Sheikh summit nor the Arab summit soon after (Frontline, November 10) produced the show of international support that Arafat judged sufficient. It finally took the visit of Israeli Minister for R egional Co-operation Shimon Peres to Gaza on the night of November 1 for Arafat to relent and ask his people to transform their struggle into a peaceful one. Into the fact of Peres having called on him Arafat could read the tacit message that Israel took the primary responsibility to end the violence. But Arafat also held out, in his proclamations at least, for Israel to take the first practical steps by withdrawing its armour and ending the siege of Palestinian towns and villages.

As on November 4, there were signs that Israel was pulling back its armour and slightly easing off on its closure of Palestinian populated areas. For the first time, Arafat's policemen were seen trying to restrain their youth in a significant way. With t he sixth week of the uprising around the corner, it appeared possible that the cycle of death, funerals, confrontation and more deaths would break - long enough for everyone to look once more at the negotiating table.

Israel's killing fields

AIJAZ AHMAD the-nation

The structural reasons for the Palestinian uprising and the Israeli terror are connected not only with the consequences of the Oslo Accords of 1993 but also the very nature of the Israeli state and the support it gets from the United States.

IT is very difficult to write about Israel now, in the ideological climate currently prevailing in India. For several decades, when anti-colonialism was a substantial ingredient in the secular nationalism that informed even India's foreign policy, distan ce from Israel as a settler-colonial state and close relationship with the Palestinian national movement as representing the victims of that settler-colonialism was taken for granted in the polity. So was India's solidarity with the anti-imperialist curr ents in the Arab world in general - be it the war of national liberation in Algeria, the Nasserist commitments to non-alignment, or some other current of that kind.

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This aspect of Indian foreign policy was noted and admired, I might add, by Arab diplomats and intellectuals. I remember visiting a number of the Arab countries and regularly meeting a broad cross-section of the intellectuals there, in the 1960s and 1970 s. I was very young then and it was always very striking to me that Pakistan's support for Palestine was usually seen as shallow and Islamicist, whereas the Indian solidarity with the Palestinian cause was regarded as a natural and secular, non-religious response from a country that had played so seminal a role in the making of the non-aligned movement.

I was therefore very surprised when I read the statement of Jaswant Singh, during the course of his recent visit to Israel, that India's foreign policy in the past decades was held hostage by the Muslim vote bank and that the government was now going to correct that error. India's anti-colonialist past was simply being erased, and what even Arab intellectuals, from their great distance, could see as an expression of India's secular solidarity with anti-Zionist forces in Palestine was now being presented , by a suave and insufferable Foreign Minister, as an error forced by the Muslim minority in the country upon those whom the Bharatiya Janata Party is fond of calling "pseudo-secularists". Hindutva was now going to undo all that and make a strategic alli ance with its natural counterpart: Zionism.

What, then, about the current uprising in Palestine? It is said that the uprising, which the Palestinians themselves are calling "Al-Aqsa Intifada", was triggered by the visit of Ariel Sharon, the Likud Party leader, to Al-Aqsa, the holiest Muslim shrine in Palestine (known to the Jewish people as Temple Mount), with the announced purpose of demonstrating "Jewish sovereignty" over the Al-Aqsa compound. The visit was clearly authorised by the Ehud Barak government, which also provided more than 1,000 arm ed policemen to protect Sharon.

It is important to recall, though, that the Palestinian agitation did not begin with that Thursday visit. Rather, the agitation came the next day, when Israeli security forces were massed in the compound at the time of Friday prayers, in a calculated pro vocation when a large crowd was present and someone or the other could be trusted to fan the flames. That is when the Israelis started shooting. It is also worth remarking that during the first couple of days the Palestinian agitation was restricted to s logan-shouting and stone-throwing. Palestinian gunmen entered the fray only after the corpses had begun to mount, at the hands of the Israeli sharpshooters who were clearly under orders to kill. The ratio of the Palestinians and Israelis killed is still about 20 to 1.

There was, in other words, a deeper design which seems to have been prepared many months ago. Saeb Arikaat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, has said that he and Arafat went personally to Barak's house to persuade him not to grant permission to Sharon to make the visit and to warn of the possible consequences; Faisal Husseini, another senior leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), says that he too appealed personally to Barak. Barak rejected all such requests, knowing well that among Pale stinians Sharon was the most hated man. To understand the motivation, we need to understand something about Sharon and Barak, and then reflect also on the consequences of the Oslo Accords and on that monstrosity which is represented in the media as the " peace process".

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ON March 23 this year, well before the latest uprising, Professor Tanya Reinhart of Tel Aviv University, wrote in the Israeli newspaper, Yediot Aharanot: "Barak is the most dangerous Prime Minister in the history of Israel. Already in 1982 he prop osed to extend the Lebanon war to a total war on Syria. Then he explained (in a memorandum to Sharon) that the best way to do that is without sharing the plans with the government. Today he is consulting only with the heads of the army and the security s ervices. Never had the army as much grip on Israeli politics as in the times of Barak."

During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, when he wrote that notorious memorandum, Barak was merely an army general, albeit an important one, secretly suggesting that Israel create an excuse to invade Syria and destroy its army, to Ariel Sharon, th e Defence Minister at that time, who, as Noam Chomsky recently put it, "is the very symbol of Israeli state terror and aggression, with a rich record of atrocities going back to 1953." In the recent days, Barak, now the Labour Prime Minister of Israel, a nd Sharon, currently the head of the Likud Party and himself aspiring to become Prime Minister, have been negotiating the formation of a government of national unity.

To the matter of Barak we shall return in a moment, but who is Ariel Sharon? As the Israeli police and border guards train their guns at Palestinian demonstrators with orders to "shoot to kill," Uri Avnery, an authoritative veteran of the peace movement in Israel, reminds us that

the practice itself is not new. It was used first by Ariel Sharon in the first years of the occupation, when he instituted a reign of terror in the Gaza Strip. As he told me himself afterwards, he gave the order "not to take prisoners". Palestinians caug ht bearing arms were killed on the spot. Later, the practice was employed by the "Mista'arvim" ("Pretending to be Arabs") undercover units, whose slogan was "ensure death". This was discovered when the Mista'arvim killed one of their own men, mistaking h im for a "terrorist". After wounding him, they dispatched him at very close range with a shot in the head (A Lost War, October 9, 2000).

Avnery goes on to point out that - quite aside from tanks, helicopter gunships and other weapons of war of that kind - which the Israelis have deployed against largely unarmed, stone-throwing demonstrators, the deadliest introduction in this phase of que lling the Palestinian uprising is the "sharpshooter" - a particular kind of soldier with a special kind of training whose task is to zero in on specific individuals, presumably 'leaders', in the demonstration and shoot them on the spot. This, he says, is in line with the policies Sharon framed some 30 years ago; the training for the latest deployments bagan, according to both Avnery and Reinhart, in June 2000.

Sharon, in fact, was the one who, as Minister for Agriculture, first planted the "settlements" of armed Israelis in the Palestinian "territories" occupied after the 1967 war, mostly members of the Far Right. As Minister for Defence, he pressed Prime Mini ster Menachem Begin to invade Lebanon, leading to the destruction of Beirut, the most cosmopolitan city in the Arab world, and the occupation of southern Lebanon. In all his diverse ministerial assignments, he has fixed the borders of annexation for whic h the present war is being fought. And he was the one who ordered the massacres of the Sabra and Shattila camps in 1982. He fits, in other words, every conceivable definition of a war criminal. Today he is the head of Likud, the other major party in Isra eli politics which alternates with Labour as the ruling party, and he has been invited by Barak, "the most dangerous Prime Minister in the history of Israel," to form a government of national unity. How has this situation come about? For the most recent background, we can take recourse to a lengthier quotation, also from Avnery:

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Just a month ago, Barak was bankrupt; a politician at the end of his career. He had lost his majority in the Knesset, his partners had left him, the days of his government were numbered and it only managed to carry on because of the Knesset recess. The p olls predicted that he would lose the imminent elections by a large margin.

Ariel Sharon was in a similar situation. His career was nearing its end. It was clear that his Likud Party would oust him and replace him with Netanyahu, who would win the elections.

And then, as if by a miracle, everything changed. Barak started to talk about the "holy places of the nation", because of which he could not agree to Palestinian sovereignty over the holy mosques. Sharon announced that he was going to visit this Muslim c ompound. Barak took the visit under his wing and sent 1,200 police officers to accompany Sharon. The visit caused the expected explosion. The next day seven Palestinians were killed by Israeli policemen near the Al-Aqsa mosque.

The timing of the Barak-Sharon provocation was thus determined by their own political compulsions. On the one hand, Barak was expected to face and lose by a very wide margin a no-confidence motion in a Knesset session that was due in the last week of Oct ober. On the other hand, the Attorney-General had on September 27 dropped charges of corruption and bribery against Netanyahu, the former Likud Prime Minister and by far the most popular politician in Israel at the time, who was now free to reclaim the L ikud leadership from Sharon. The latter appeared in the Al-Aqsa compound the next day and the killing began the day after that.

Once the methodical killing of Palestinians began, Barak's popularity ratings rose from 20 to 50 per cent and the very coalition partners who had deserted him began reassuring him that they would not press the no-confidence motion for at least a month. H aving come in the limelight again, meanwhile, Sharon declared that he would join a government of national unity only if Barak forgoes the so-called "peace process" altogether. In her latest commentary, Professor Reinhart says that "in the Sharm El-Sheikh summit..., Barak got from the U.S. his green light to slaughter... There is talk about the Palestinian Kosovo, with 2,000 to 3,000 Palestinians dead. As usual, the blame for this slaughter is put in advance on Arafat, who, the story goes, wants his peop le to be slaughtered, to gain international sympathy."

The timing was thus surely determined by the political compulsions of Barak and Sharon. However, the structural reasons for both the uprising and the terror run much deeper and are connected, in the immediate past, with the consequences of the Oslo Accor ds of 1993 and, in the larger perspective, with the very nature of the Israeli state and the unconditional material and moral support it gets from the United States. Both these aspects should bear some commentary.

THE basic flaw of the Oslo Accords was simply that, as Robert Fisk, the award-winning British correspondent, has put it (The Independent, October 13): "The Palestinians were being forced by Americans and Israelis to sign a peace that would give th em neither a state nor an end to Jewish settlements on Arab land, nor a capital in Arab east Jerusalem... Many outstanding issues have been left to the final negotiations: water, the fate of the 3.6 million Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem a nd the Israeli settlements, and the extent of Palestinian sovereignty. After the agreed Israeli withdrawals have been completed, 59 per cent of the West Bank will still remain under Israeli control. Will the resulting Palestinian state be a "mini-state" with limited sovereignty?"

In other words, Arafat had written away all the gains of the 1987-1992 intifada for not much more than municipal authority over little patches of Palestinian land, while all else was left to a long-drawn process of negotiations in which the final settlement talks were postponed until six years later. Israel used this extended time to build so many Jewish settlements and security highways, dividing the West Bank into many pieces which are isolated from one another, that the Palestinian entity whic h finally results from the peace process would not be much more than a scattering of apartheid-style Bantustans.

Seven years after the Oslo Accords, Israel has security and administrative control of most of the West Bank and 20 per cent of the small principality of Gaza. As Amira Hass wrote in the prestigious Israeli daily Ha'aretz (October 18), Israel has b een able during this period to double the number of settlers in 10 years, to enlarge the settlements, to continue its discriminatory policy of cutting back water quotas for three million Palestinians, to prevent Palestinian development in most of the are a of the West Bank, and to seal an entire nation into restricted areas, imprisoned in a network of bypass roads meant only for Jews. During these days of strict internal restriction of movement in the West Bank, one can see how carefully each road was pl anned: so that 200,000 Jews have freedom of movement, about three million Palestinians are locked into their Bantustans until they submit to Israeli demands. The bloodbath that has been going on for weeks is the natural outcome of seven years of lying an d deception, just as the first Intifada was the natural outcome of direct Israeli occupation.

In speaking of "200,000 Jews" Hass is obviously referring to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank alone; another 200,000 such settlers were introduced over the years into Jerusalem itself. We might add that the whole of the Gaza Strip is ringed by an electri fied fence and the airport, the strip's main contact with the outside world, is controlled by the Israelis. A Palestinian uprising there is basically a prison riot.

Putting an end to the so-called "peace process" at this point is important for Israel because it has gained from the Oslo Accords everything it had desired. And the next stage, aimed to bring about a final solution, would require it to make some basic ch anges in its historic positions, for which there is no consent in the broad Israeli population which, barring the small number of anti-Zionists, is very much in tune with the Baraks and the Sharons.

THIS brings us, then, to the very nature of Israeli society and state. The first thing to be said here is that Israel is the only nation-state in the world which derives the legitimacy of its existence, its claim to territory and nationhood, the sanctity of its national language, its very identity as a "Jewish state", its claimed right to evict the Muslim and Christian populations of historic Palestine and replace them with a Jewish population imported from the four corners of the globe - in short its v ery raison d'etre - to a religious text, in this case the Old Testament.

Palestinians have no right to return to homes from which they have been evicted within the last half century, either because they don't exist (as Golda Meir, Israeli Prime Minister, once said) or because they are said to have left by their own accord for greener pastures (which is the official position of the entire Zionist establishment and its supporters, inside Israel and the world over). By contrast, every Jewish person living anywhere in the world has a permanent "right of return" because these are , after all, "the Biblical lands"; Palestine must therefore be re-named "Israel", and what the rest of the world knew simply as "the West Bank" must be re-named "Judea and Samaria" because those are the names used for these areas in the Old Testament.

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When Pakistanis call their country an Islamic Republic, Indians consider them - quite rightly - obscurantist and anti-secular. When the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) claims that India must be turned into a "Hindu Rashtra" and mobilises its goons to a ttack the minorities as well as their churches and mosques, Indians call them - quite rightly - fascist. Israel, by contrast, is free to be, in letter and spirit, a "Jewish state," with all the racial and religious meanings that the term implies, without coming in for any kind of criticism; it must always be considered modern, secular, democratic, beleagured by anti-semitism, "Islamic fundamentalism" and so on.

To dissent from this view of Israel is to lay yourself open, if you are not Jewish, to the charge of being anti-semitic. If you are Jewish but also anti-Zionist, like Noam Chomsky, you will be portrayed as a "self-hating Jew". Thanks to the Israeli milit ary capability which keeps the whole of the middle eastern and north African oil-producing world at bay, and thanks to the Zionist success in portraying the state of Israel as the state of the survivors of Nazi death camps, which then naturally evokes al l kinds of sympathy for it, Israel commands in the western world, and increasingly on the global scale, a matchless propaganda machinery.

Israel is quite possibly the most savage of the existing nation-states, and surely the one where "nation" is so very thoroughly identified with race and religion; even in Iran "nation" is not identified with "race". Yet it is very difficult to be believe d if one says - and documents - that Israel has been doing to the Palestinians for some half a century what the various ethnic militias in the former Yugoslavia have learned to do only within the last decade, after the breakdown of the socialist state th ere, and that in some respects the Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians bear a marked resemblance to the Nazi atrocities against the Jewish people themselves.

But there is more.

Nelson Mandela, the man who heroically led the struggle of the South African peoples against what is commonly considered the most savage racist regime in the world, once said that the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is "worse than apartheid." Comin g from Mandela, this is as severe an indictment as one can imagine. Unfortunately, the assessment is accurate.

Unlike Algeria or South Africa where the indigenous peoples managed to fight back against eviction and extermination, regaining sovereignty after heroic wars of liberation, Israel is the only successful settler colony of the 20th century, evicting the ma jority of the indigenous population, subjugating the remaining segment, and transplanting on the Palestinian land populations which originated elsewhere. The great majority of the Jewish population of Israel is descended from families that were not resid ent there 50 years ago.

By contrast, the majority of Palestinians were evicted from their homes in two waves, mainly at the time of the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and then, on a relatively smaller scale, in the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. Estima tes of the Palestinian diaspora, scattered around the world, vary greatly, from six million to eight million. Over five million of them are concentrated in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, the states bordering on the territories of the historic Palestine, or i n the territories Israel captured in 1967 (the West Bank and Gaza). A million or so live in Israel proper as internal refugees; Israel is by definition a "Jewish state," in which the non-Jew can only be a second-class citizen. In all, Palestinians are ac tually not very numerous. Yet, according to the United Nations, one in four of the world's refugees is a Palestinian.

Palestinian losses accruing from those evictions are estimated at $180 billion. U.N. Resolution 194 of 1948 affirms the right of all Palestinians either to return to their lost homes or elect to receive compensation. The same right has been re-affirmed i n Resolutions 242 and 338, and the U.N. General Assembly has re-affirmed this resolution over a hundred times. Israel has steadfastly rejected all these resolutions, however, and no Palestinian has ever been compensated for loss of ancestral property. In stead, some 90 per cent of the Israeli territory is reserved for Jewish settlement and some 70 per cent of the territories occupied in 1967 are - in addition to pre-1967 Israeli borders - already taken for establishing Israeli "settlements" or building r oads, military checkposts and so on. The so-called Palestinian Authority, to which Israel has assigned mainly municipal duties in civil affairs and whose police and paramilitary forces have been trained by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to ensure Israeli security in the face of Palestinian anger, actually controls something like 12 per cent of the area of West Bank.

This is the arrangement that is sought to be stabilised by the new plan that Ehud Barak unveiled in late October, which he proposes as the basis for a final settlement. As Noam Chomsky puts it, "This plan, extending U.S.-Israeli rejectionist proposals of earlier years, called for cantonization of the territories that Israel had conquered in 1967, with mechanisms to ensure that usable land and resources (primarily water) remain largely in Israeli hands while the population is administered by a corrupt an d brutal Palestinian Authority, playing the role traditionally assigned to indigenous collaborators under the several varieties of imperial rule: the Black leadership of South Africa's Bantustans, to mention only the most obvious analogue."

The U.S. underwrites these atrocities militarily, financially, diplomatically. Thus, on October 3, after a week of bitter fighting and killing, the defence correspondent of Ha'aretz reported "the largest purchase of military helicopters by the Isr aeli Air Force in a decade", an agreement with the U.S. to provide Israel with 35 Blackhawk military helicopters and spare parts at a cost of $525 million, along with jet fuel, following the purchase shortly earlier of patrol aircraft and Apache attack h elicopters. These are "the newest and most advanced multi-mission attack helicopters in the U.S. inventory," the Jerusalem Post adds. When asked whether these were "tools for crowd control," a Pentagon spokesman said that the U.S. weapons sales "d o not carry a stipulation that the weapons can't be used against civilians."

Meanwhile, on October 25, when Israel had settled down to its killing fields, Aluff Benn, the diplomatic correspondent of Ha'aretz, reported that Israel had asked the U.S. for an $800 million in emergency military aid, "on top of the usual militar y aid package, which will total $1.98 billion next year." This is only the tip of the iceberg, considering that Israel has been the top U.S. aid recipient for several decades.

The same applies to the arena of diplomatic and moral support, where too the U.S. defies all pressure from diverse quarters. Gush Shalom (the Israeli Peace Bloc) declared on October 9: "What is happening in Nazareth today is a pogrom, bearing all the hal lmarks which were well known to Jews in Czarist Russia." Already on October 3, Amnesty International had condemned the indiscriminate killings of civilians. "The dead civilians, among them young children, include those uninvolved in the conflict and seek ing safety," it said, adding "the loss of civilian life is devastating and this is compounded by the fact that many appear to have been killed or injured as a result of the use of excessive or indiscriminate force... We have been saying for years that Is rael is killing civilians unlawfully by firing at them during demonstrations and riots." Even Jacques Chirac, the French President, accused Sharon of "irresponsible provocation." But not the U.S., where Madeleine Albright declared that Palestinians were the ones "laying siege to Israel."

On October 7, the U.N. Security Council voted 14 to 0 for a resolution condemning Israel's "excessive use of force against Palestinians" and deploring the "provocation" of Sharon's September 28 visit to Temple Mount. The U.S. was the only Security Counci l member to abstain from the vote. The outcome was generally interpreted as assigning most of the responsibility for the violence to Israel. The conservative The Times (of London) called it on the editorial page a "stinging rebuff" (September 10, 2000). On October 19, when the U.N. Human Rights Commission passed a resolution condemning Israel for "widespread, systematic and gross violation of human rights" while describing some of the Israeli atrocities as "war crimes", the U.S. and its principal allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) voted against the resolution.

The saddest part of this mess is that Yasser Arafat, once the symbol of Palestinian resistance, has settled down to the role of a quisling, begging the U.S. for largesse and handing over his own security apparatus to the CIA; Alu Ben reported in Ha'ar etzon October 18, regarding Arafat's promise at the Sharm El-Sheikh summit to do what he could for Israeli security: its implementation will be overseen by CIA chief George Tenet and the CIA representative in Tel Aviv. This agreement will, for the fi rst time, involve CIA observers in the field in addition to CIA participation in Israeli-Palestinian meetings."

Part of the Al-Aqsa Intifada is perhaps against Arafat himself and his bunch of corrupt cronies - "the Oslo class" as the rebellious Palestinian youth calls them.

'The government is not honest'

cover-story

'Cho' S. Ramaswamy, the outspoken editor of the Tamil magazine Thuglak, has been highly critical of the manner in which the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments have handled the abduction. He has especially criticised Chief Minister M. Karu nanidhi for agreeing to Veerappan's demand that Tamil Nationalist Movement founder P. Nedumaran be sent to the forests to negotiate the release of Rajkumar. T.S. Subramanian met 'Cho' Ramaswamy for an interview. Excerpts:

How do you see the handling by the governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka of Veerappan's abduction of Rajkumar?

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Veerappan has been made the Chief Minister of both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu Chief Ministers are his PAs (personal assistants). Whatever he orders, they... get it done as good, faithful, obedient PAs. Where is the handling of this?

I have no complaints about negotiations having been started. The State governments have every right to negotiate instead of trying some commando action because if something happens to Rajkumar, there can be problems for Tamils in Karnataka. I concede all that. But the way they started the negotiations, they created history.

They said every demand will be conceded. That was the beginning of the negotiations. Is this negotiation or surrender? There have been many hostage crises. Governments have negotiated and States have bargained. But nobody has started negotiations saying that whatever you ask for will be given. At that moment, the two State governments lost all credibility, and whatever little bargaining power they had was lost.

All of Veerappan's demands have not been conceded - for instance, those relating to an immediate solution to the problems of the Manjolai tea estate workers and the victims of the Chinnampatti incidents, and the payment of minimum wages to workers in tea estates in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu...

You are trying to be not only charitable but liberal because the two State governments themselves have claimed that all demands have been conceded. In interviews the two Chief Ministers have said that there is nothing left to be conceded. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister in particular has said it.

What happened in secret I do not know. They have not taken the people of the State into confidence. Not all the cassettes that Veerappan produced have been released. And I refuse to believe that money has not been paid to him. The Hindu initially reported, the day after the kidnapping, that Veerappan had demanded Rs.50 crores. From the next day, there was no word about it. Veerappan must have told these governments that his demand for money should not be publicised because he is trying to have an image now, the image of a fighter for Tamil causes.

The Supreme Court stayed the release of 51 associates of Veerappan jailed in Mysore under TADA. There are reports that they are not really associates of Veerappan.

They may not be associates of Veerappan but are they guilty of offences punishable under the law or not? The State government has to apply for the court's permission for the withdrawal of the cases. It has been done earlier also. But the court has got ev ery right to say whether the withdrawal is for the public good, whether it is the best course available to meet the ends of justice. The law gives the court not only the right but the duty to ensure that the withdrawal is for public good.

I had written initially in Thuglak, disagreeing with the Supreme Court when it criticised the government of Karnataka, particularly the court's observation that the government should either govern or quit. I said it was not the business or the pre rogrative of the court to do that. The State government may either decide to negotiate or take some commando action in such a situation and people will judge it when the opportunity arises. If the people disagree with the decision, they will throw out th e government. But the court cannot do it, it cannot advise the people to do it. At the same time, I said the court has got every right to go into the question of whether the withdrawal of the cases will be for the public good or not. Although I was initi ally critical of the Supreme Court's strictures in the course of its hearings against the Karnataka government and then the Tamil Nadu government, I now feel that there is one forum there where the voice of the public is heard.

What are your views on Nedumaran being sent to negotiate with Veerappan?

It is common knowledge and even admitted by Veerappan's group that Tamil extremists trained by the LTTE are with him in the forests. Nedumaran is a great champion of the LTTE and its activities. Now the demand of those in the forests, that is, the Tamil extremists, is that some of the detainees in Tamil Nadu prisons should be released. Again, the detainees have LTTE sympathies or links with the LTTE. LTTE sympathisers and trainees are sitting in the forests, they are demanding the release of LTTE sympat hisers in prisons, and an LTTE sympathiser and an advocate is sent to talk to them!

The State government is sponsoring a meeting of LTTE sympathisers, trainees and activists in the forests. There cannot be a more irresponsible act on the part of the government. The LTTE is a banned organisation, the killers of a former Prime Minister of India. They have nasty designs.

Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi said that Veerappan insisted on Nedumaran being sent.

The Chief Minister is not at all clear in what he said about Nedumaran. He said that Nedumaran is not an official emissary. In the same breath, he said Nedumaran has become an emissary because he has accompanied the emissary. And then the Chief Minister said that the government sent Nedumaran as an emissary because Veerappan demanded it. Do you want me to take this gentleman's words seriously? Veerappan will demand so many things. Supposing Veerapan demands that Stalin (Karunanidhi's son and a legislato r who is the Mayor of Chennai) should be sent, will he be sent? Supposing Veerappan demands that Karunanidhi should resign and quit politics, and that he will release Rajkumar the next moment, will that demand be met? What is this, conceding demands and sending emissaries?

The appointment of the second emissary (Nedumaran) looks like a burlesque. When Sonia Gandhi said that Nedumaran was not the choice of the Karnataka government, Karunanidhi denied it, Krishna obfuscated it and the emissary declared that he was not an emi ssary at all! Why all these contradictions?

In the first instance itself, Veerappan did not ask for any particular emissary. When was this emissary decided upon? Because he is a friend of Veerappan? Who represents the State then? Who is the friend of the State then? Mr. Gopal has openly said even earlier that he will not help the police in locating Veerappan though he was very much in the know of things. So you know his sympathies. I say that for him his word of honour to Veerappan is much more important than all the lives taken by Veerappan, and he (Gopal) is sent to negotiate. He says that unless everything is conceded, Veerappan will not budge. The Chief Minister repeats it. He says he is waiting for the "signal" (from Veerappan). I have heard these words only in Tamil movies, the assistants waiting for the "signal"from the boss.

Veerappan is supposed to be deep inside the forests... 40 km inside. But everyone walks in and walks out of the forests. When somebody becomes the emissary of the government, the forests somehow clear themselves and make way. Truth is the casualty. I am waiting for the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister to utter one truthful statement on this issue.

Do you think that in sending Nedumaran Karunanidhi did not foresee the political consequences?

Did he not foresee the consequences when he appreciated Veerappan for his Tamil extremism? He congratulated him on that. Why did he make that statement? Because he has got a lurking sympathy for extremism in various forms. It comes out openly when he is in the Opposition. He corks it in a bottle when he is in power. The same thing has happened with regard to his sending Nedumaran. For all you know, Veerappan may have asked for Nedumaran. But the State need not have conceded it. Did Veerappan assure the government that if Nedumaran was sent, Rajkumar would be sent back along with him? Or has Veerappan gone back on that word? If that was why Nedumaran was sent, why did the government first say that he was not a government emissary and then said that he w as a government emissary? Because they are not honest about it, particularly the Chief Minister.

'Our efforts are sincere'

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Interview with R.R. Gopal.

In the background of the October 31 order of the Supreme Court reserving judgment on the appeals challenging the consent given by the Designated Court, Mysore, for the withdrawal of the TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act) cases ag ainst some associates of forest brigand Veerappan, T.S. Subramanian and Praveen Swami met Nakkheeran R.R. Gopal in Chennai on November 3. Since Veerappan's abduction of Kannada film actor Rajkumar and three others on July 30, Gopal has made five trips to the bandit's den in the forests as an emissary of the governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to negotiate the release of the hostages. Veerappan has been insisting on the release of the 121 TADA detainees in Mysore and the f ive Tamil extremists belonging to the Tamil National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Tamil National Retrieval Force (TNRF) in exchange.

The hostage crisis was thus diceyly poised, when a controversy broke out when Tamil Nationalist Movement founder P. Nedumaran accompanied Gopal on his fifth mission in October. During the interview, Gopal's replies were in Tamil excepting some words and sentences in English. Excerpts.

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The Supreme Court has reserved its orders on the release of the TADA detainees in Mysore. If the apex court declines to release them and the five Tamil extremists, how will the hostage crisis end?

Why should we think negatively? Why can't we believe that they will release Rajkumar? Since the case of the 121 detainees is strong, let us believe that they will be released.

Supposing the Supreme Court does not permit the release of the 121 detainees, is any solution possible?

Our ultimate goal is to somehow obtain the release of Rajkumar. The Supreme Court has taken a tough stand. They (the Judges) are angry. They have raised so many questions. All this has been conveyed to Veerappan and they (Veerappan and the extremists) ar e also listening to radio news bulletins. Although the Supreme Court may talk like this, we told them, the final orders may be favourable to them. So we told them to release Rajkumar without delay.

What was Veerappan's reaction?

We took P. Nedumaran, P. Kalyani and P. Sukumaran to convince him. We told them to release Rajkumar and not wait for the Supreme Court judgment which would take time. And it is taking time.

There were reports that Veerappan promised to release Rajkumar if Nedumaran was sent on the mission. Why did he go back on his word? Is he being manipulated by the TNLA and the TNRF?

From the very beginning, when I first met Veerappan on this mission, I said I noticed "a lot of changes" in him - in his approach, the way he spoke and so on. He always talks about his movement. He consults his comrades on every issue and then decides.

This hostage crisis should have ended during my third mission itself. On the fifth day of that visit, it was agreed that we (the governments) should hand over the five Tamil extremists and Veerappan in turn would release the four hostages (Rajkumar, S.A. Govindaraj, Nagappa and Nagesh). This was agreed upon on August 31. But there was a bolt from the blue on September 1. The radio news bulletin at 12.40 p.m. announced that the Supreme Court had indefinitely stayed the release of the TADA detainees in My sore. The mission was proceeding speedily when it hit a roadblock. A speedbreaker can be crossed, but here was a wall.

So I was sent for the fourth time to tell Veerappan that the problem had arisen from the stay granted by the Supreme Court and to convince him to release Rajkumar and others. I said my going without a "process" by the Supreme Court was a waste. But the t wo Chief Ministers wanted me to go. My work is only five per cent. Their work is 100 per cent.

The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister (M. Karunanidhi) also told the press, 'Gopal declined to go but I pushed him'. So I went for the fourth time. On the first day, negotiations were under way to release one person first and thereafter the others. I told them t o do it "ad hoc" because the attitude in the two States would change for the better. They said it could be considered the next morning. But that night, Nagappa escaped.

This was a very, very big setback. They took Nagappa's escape as an insult, a humiliation - that somebody could run away when talks were going on. So the negotiations had to be restarted from scratch. It required a big effort to see that it did not lead to other consequences, that Veerappan did not vent his anger on the other three hostages. The mood became "harsh". I had to quell all that.

Veerappan said Nagappa could not have escaped, that he must be hiding somewhere and that he could be brought back in the morning. Later on seeing his footprints they confirmed that he had escaped. They went after him, saying they would behead him if he w as found alive. Supposing he had been caught and was beheaded, imagine what would have happened to my mission. Nagappa was the man helping Rajkumar a lot.

Why did he escape then? He had volunteered to go with Rajkumar when the abduction took place.

He had been in the forests for 60 days. He could have suffered from depression. I am not blaming him.

For the fifth mission, they asked that Nedumaran, Kalyani and Sukumaran be sent. All of us went because these people could pacify them. The fifth mission was like restarting the process. They said they would negotiate if all four of us came. All four of us together explained the extant situation in a "healthy" manner to them. We functioned like a team and spoke like a team.

A small happiness for us was that we could obtain the release of Govindaraj.

Were you upset by the failure of the third, fourth and fifth missions?

No, I am not upset at all. It is only taking time. The matter on hand is no simple, ordinary issue. There is a lot of difference between Veerappan abducting nine Karnataka forest personnel in 1997 and the kidnapping of Rajkumar now. For nearly two years, after these two (Tamil extremist) groups joined Veerappan, he had planned it in a very big way and abducted him....because of the Cauvery waters and other issues. So it is a big issue for the two governments. It was discussed at the international level. The efforts to obtain the release are going on all right. I am not upset.

There are rumours that you have handed over Rs.10 crores to Veerappan as ransom money.

This is a rumour that is being deliberately spread.

There are rumours that Rajkumar has been released and that he is in a hospital.

You know how absurd it is to say that Rajkumar is being kept in a hospital. How will you not know when he is in a hospital? There are people who do arm-chair writing. One report said that Rajkumar came out in a convoy of six cars. How can we go in six ca rs and not get exposed? If we are exposed, a block will be created somewhere. We have gone into the forests five times so far. Our whereabouts could not be found. That is the reason for the smooth running of the missions.

Was there any difference of opinion between you and Nedumaran?

There was nothing like that.

Was there any difference between your approach and his approach?

Nothing. This is also a deliberate rumour. He is an elderly person whom I respect. Nedumaran is a respectable man. From the beginning, we have been saying that the ultimate goal of myself and Nedumaran is the release of Rajkumar. There is definitely no d ifference of opinion over this.

What will be the consequences of the TNLA and the TNRF teaming up with Veerappan? TNRF members like Mahesh and Ravichandran were trained by the LTTE.

Mahesh and Ravichandran are not inside the forest.

Yes, Ravichandran is in prison. How did the two groups link up with Veerappan? What are the consequences of their coming together?

How they reached Veerappan is a big question. I cannot talk about what the consequences would be. What we need is Rajkumar's release.

What do you think of former Special Task Force Commander Walter I. Dawaram's claim that he had reduced the strength of Veerappan's gang from 150 persons to five?

Why did Dawaram spare the lives of the five people? A former Chief Minister, who banks on his support, says that if she had continued in power for five more years, the police would have killed those five also. So there is only politics in this. We asked for the pictures of these 145 persons and their addresses. There is no reply till now.

It was during Dawaram's tenure that Veerappan became a hero. That is the (fundamental) matter. I mean that when AIADMK was in power and Dawaram was in charge (of the STF), Veerappan became a hero. This is all action and reaction. Veerappan knows the fore sts like the back of his hand. He knows every "nook and corner" of the 6,000 sq. km. forest. He knows where to hide.

Was your mission a burden or an advantage?

It is not a burden. But depression sets in. When we are doing it so sincerely and when I see that politicians and very big journalists are deliberately planning to sabotage our mission, I get depressed. I ask only one thing of these people who talk and w rite big; have they suggested any alternative to our efforts? They will only find fault with us. Yet, the two Chief Ministers, especially Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, two or three officers here (Tamil Nadu), two or three officers there (Karnataka), friends like Rajnikant (film actor), all of them are cooperating with us on this issue.

Is it an advantage in any way?

I don't think it is advantageous. As a journalist, I look upon it as an opportunity. No journalist in India has got an opportunity like this. Some people say even in the world. But this is an opportunity that is being chased by death. The entire Nakkh eeran team is doing it sincerely. I have never gone into the question of whether it is advantageous or disadvantageous because even today, we can have our meal only when the Nakkheeran issue comes out.

Have the two groups totally indoctrinated Veerappan?

It is not as if they have changed him. He has also changed himself. There is a lot of difference between the Veerappan I saw in 1997 and the Veerappan I am seeing today. He says that he belongs to a movement, that he is a militant and so on. This is a gr eat change.

You have said that Veerappan is the captain of the team.

Not like the captain of a team. He is the leader of the Veerappan group. There is the TNLA headed by Maran. Then there is the TNRF. It is not as if he is the captain of all the three groups.

Uncovering a scandal

The report of the Central Bureau of Investigation uncovers the seamy underside of cricketing in the Indian subcontinent, but doubts remain on whether the agency has gotten to the bottom of the whole affair.

UNION Minister for Sports Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa clearly was disinclined to brood for long over the report of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on the cricket match-fixing scandal. Since the first eruptions in April 2000, Dhindsa has displayed a p erfectly appropriate sense of urgency about uncovering the true dimensions of the malaise afflicting cricket. With the concurrence of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, he quickly moved to release the report to the public on November 1, wryly remarking at the media conference called for the purpose, that certain sections of the press evidently knew more about its contents than he himself did. A few days later, Dhindsa held a conclave with A.C. Muthiah, president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India ( BCCI). The outcome was a directive from the BCCI that Mohammad Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja, Nayan Mongia, Ajay Sharma and Manoj Prabhakar, the five Indian cricketers named for culpability, be omitted from consideration at any level of competition until furth er inquiries were completed.

The reactions of the players who had been booked traversed a wide range. After having worn the badge of honour as national team captain for longer than any other cricketer, Mohammad Azharuddin withdrew into the seclusion of his home in Hyderabad. Ajay Sh arma, who is by mutual admission before the CBI, a close friend of Azharuddin's, was similarly unavailable for comment.

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Ajay Jadeja lapsed into a sullen but brief silence. When he emerged from his cocoon, his usual cheery ebullience was replaced by an ashen-faced impassivity. But somehow his effort to rebut all the evidence that had been gathered against him and challenge the CBI to provide more specific information, failed to carry much conviction.

Nayan Mongia pleaded that he was the victim of gross injustice. The nature of the evidence against him was so weak that time would vindicate his honour, he claimed. And Manoj Prabhakar reacted in anger, claiming that he was implicated only in order to pr otect others more influential in the cricketing world. The CBI report, he claimed, reflected little more than a fraction of all the information that he had proffered before the investigation.

This range of reactions was appropriate, since the CBI essentially relied upon the admissions of guilt of Azharuddin and Ajay Sharma to build its case. These two were, by all accounts, induced to throw overboard their early claims of complete innocence, by the testimony provided by a group of bookmakers. The basis for the CBI's conclusions is constituted by the testimony recorded from 19 luminaries of the betting business - variously described as bookmakers and punters. This has in turn been matched wit h the evidence given by 14 cricketers and five officials who were associated with the game through the 1990s. Supplementary information has been provided by telephone records, principally of cellular phone calls made by the principal suspects, which test ify to their close interactions at critical moments in the execution of the match-fixing stratagems.

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THE report submitted by the CBI has set off waves of anxiety all over the cricketing world. Apart from the five Indian cricketers named and of course the hapless former South African captain Hansie Cronje, there are unsavoury accounts of the involvement of at least nine high-profile cricketers of the last decade. Players no less illustrious than Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda D'Silva of Sri Lanka, Brian Lara of the West Indies, Martin Crowe of New Zealand, Dean Jones and Mark Waugh of Australia, Salim Ma lik of Pakistan and Alec Stewart of England are now suspected of involvement in a global enterprise directed from India. With the exception of the Australians, all the overseas cricketers named have worn the mantle of national team captain at various poi nts in the 1990s. And of them, Salim Malik alone has so far been brought to book for his role in the scandal. When all the big names of the game are exhausted there are a few of the minnows who feature in auxiliary roles - prominent among them being Ali Irani, for long the physiotherapist of the Indian team, whose role it transpires, extended to being the courier and conduit for Azharuddin's monetary transactions.

Although the overseas players have without exception reacted with stout denials, there is little question that long-festering wounds have been further inflamed by the CBI report. With so much that was once the subject of whispered conversation now confir med, there is perhaps a glimmer of hope that the healing process can begin. How durable this repair job would be, naturally hinges on how complete a job the CBI has done. Has it really got to the core of the problem of corruption in sport or is it still operating at the periphery?

Match-fixing as an offence is by its very nature extremely slippery, rendering it difficult for an investigation to make any headway without the cooperation of all the actors. And the experience of the CBI in this respect has not been a happy one. It rec ords how at every stage in its inquiry, it had to face a "conspiracy of silence" in the cricketing fraternity, which includes both players past and present and officials. It took the CBI much labour to assemble various shreds of evidence into a coherent body of information which could be used to confront recalcitrant witnesses. At different stages in this process of attrition, the CBI records, some of the players and bookmakers "broke down and disclosed their involvement in the malpractices in various d egrees".

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By all accounts, a key breakthrough was the interrogation of Mukesh Gupta, alias "M.K.", alias "John"- a truly Protean character whose deposition constitutes close to a fifth of the CBI's published testimonies. Since being named in Hansie Cronje's testim ony before the Edwin King Commission of Inquiry in South Africa, Mukesh Gupta had slipped out of sight (Frontline, July 7, 2000). Some pressure from the CBI on his family did the trick. A contrite Mukesh Gupta turned up at the doorstep of the agen cy late in June to make a full disclosure.

Mukesh Gupta's entry into the world of cricket was facilitated by an effusive gesture of goodwill towards Ajay Sharma. Seemingly overwhelmed by a sterling display by the player in a 1988 club match in Delhi, Mukesh Gupta tucked a gift of Rs.2,000 into hi s hands, assuring Ajay Sharma that he would be available in case he faced "any problem in life". Just over a fortnight later, Ajay Sharma re-established contact and the nexus was cemented. Manoj Prabhakar was brought into the charmed circle during an Ind ian tour of New Zealand in 1990, providing Mukesh Gupta with the means to expand his horizons in a manner that Ajay Sharma could not afford.

Through Prabhakar's intercession, Mukesh Gupta established connections with Ranatunga, D'Silva, Malik and Crowe in quick time. Lara and Stewart and the two Australians were brought on board a couple of years later. Some of these players were willing to p rovide "information" on match conditions, team selection and morale, but demurred at the prospect of actually manipulating match outcomes. Other players, if Mukesh Gupta's testimony is to be believed, such as Lara, Ranatunga, D'Silva and Malik actually d elivered results of convenience for the Delhi-based bookmaker.

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By the mid-1990s according to Mukesh Gupta, his entanglement with Prabhakar had begun to sour because of the latter's continuing friendship with an estranged associate. At this point, Ajay Sharma renewed his contact, with a request for a trifling loan of Rs.15,000 to meet the black market premium on a car. In a reciprocal gesture, Ajay Sharma introduced Mukesh Gupta (or "M.K.") to Azharuddin. The payoffs involved for the two players were, according to Mukesh Gupta, proportionate to their relative statur e in the national cricketing scene. Ajay Sharma was given Rs.5 lakhs, while Azharuddin pocketed Rs.50 lakhs for his promise that he would endeavour to "do" a few matches for Mukesh Gupta's benefit. The introduction to Cronje then followed under Azharuddi n's auspices, during the Kanpur Test between India and South Africa in 1996.

If Cronje's testimony before the King Commission is to be believed, his first encounter with the seamy underside of cricket match-fixing came in 1995, when he was going out with Pakistan captain Salim Malik to take the toss for the final of the Mandela t rophy in Capetown. Capitalising on the privacy of the moment, Malik asked Cronje whether he had been contacted by "John" the previous day to arrive at a mutually acceptable deal on the outcome of the match. Cronje admitted to having been approached by "J ohn" - incidentally the same sobriquet used by the Indian bookie who paid off the Australians Mark Waugh and Shane Warne in 1994, supposedly for providing information about pitch conditions - but he refused to go any further in the match-fixing venture.

If "M.K." and "John" are different identities used by Mukesh Gupta, as the CBI report clearly implies, then Cronje probably had been contacted by him even before Azharuddin effected his introduction. But perhaps Azharuddin's later sponsorship of Mukesh G upta's overtures was important, since that is what finally persuaded Cronje that he could with impunity partake of the forbidden fruit. And from then on, if Cronje's testimony before the King Commission is any indication, he just could not have enough of it.

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Ajay Sharma was instrumental in bringing Ajay Jadeja into the match-fixing circuit, according to the CBI's inquiries. But Jadeja clearly had a multiplicity of options in purveying his trade. One of his key contacts was a bookmaker from Chennai, Uttam Cha nd Jain alias "Topi". At key moments in India's international cricketing encounters in 1999 and 2000, the CBI has discovered, Jain was prone to contact Jadeja repeatedly over cellular telephone. Jain's explanation was that he was merely seeking informati on that would be of use in placing his substantial bets. Jadeja's rather disingenuous plea is that he was a victim of cricketing superstition and believed that speaking to Jain would bring him good luck. The CBI's own conclusion is that Jadeja provided i nformation for a monetary consideration - some of it received through hawala channels. And the provision of information, the investigation has concluded, is a practice that could quite as easily slip into an effort to rig the outcome of a match.

Nayan Mongia has been booked for his suspicious conduct during a one-day cricketing encounter with the West Indies. Although India was in with a positive chance to force a win when he went into bat, Mongia, in league with Prabhakar, seemed more intereste d in parading his defensive batting abilities. Mongia has pleaded that he was only following instructions from his team management, though his subsequent omission from the side proves that he was perhaps acting with hidden motives of his own.

In his partial disclosures, Azharuddin has conceded that he did "do" a few matches for Mukesh Gupta in association with Jadeja and Mongia. But as in all such associations, his links with "M.K." were fraught with frequent eruptions of discord. A key incid ent was the final of the 1996 Titan Cup in Mumbai, which India won reversing a string of six consecutive defeats against South Africa. "M.K." reportedly suffered a massive loss on this outcome and insisted on appropriate redress from Azharuddin. Accordin g to the concurring depositions of "M.K." and Ajay Sharma, an assurance of appropriate redress was given by Azharuddin and in fact delivered in a Test series against South Africa that followed.

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The CBI report indicates that "M.K." was not Azharuddin's only recourse. By the late-1990s, he had established a mutually rewarding association with another network of bookmakers in Delhi - Ajay Gupta, Gyan Chand Gupta and Nishit Goel. Azharuddin admitte d to having "done" a match for this troika in 1999, and to having received funds from Ajay Gupta for a shopping expedition in London during the 1999 World Cup. Ajay Sharma, in turn, appears to have been a key intermediary in establishing this nexus.

FOR all its efforts, it is probable that the CBI has only partially uncovered the dimensions of the cricket racket. Since it has had to rely almost exclusively on the confessions of the guilty, the strategy of obdurate denial could have obscured much wro ngdoing. This approach stands in marked contrast to that adopted by Justice Mallik Abdul Qayyum in Pakistan. Confronted with the same conundrum, Justice Qayyum had adopted an analytical approach of his own, studying the course of various matches and thei r outcomes, and correlating these with the performance of key players who were under suspicion.

Certain other locutions in the CBI report indicate that the agency's effort is as yet incomplete. On page six, for instance, it observes that, "Bombay took the lead in this racket since the 'odds' on which bets were placed in any match throughout India w as determined by the bookies based in Bombay". Further, it observes that "currently also Bombay remains the base around which all betting operations in India revolve".

In relation to this fairly categorical assertion, the list of suspects examined is revealing: five of the eight bookmakers interrogated are from Delhi, two from Mumbai and one from Chennai. Of the "punters" who have come under scrutiny, all nine are from Delhi. In this sense, the report fails to bear out the CBI's own assessment that Mumbai was the nerve-centre of the match-fixing operations. There are, however, ominous warnings that the Mumbai underworld, with all its global connections, could be invol ved in the cricket racket. The report says: "The underworld mafia has started taking interest in the betting racket and can be expected to take overall control of this activity, if not checked immediately with a firm hand."

Some of the CBI's most severe strictures are reserved for the BCCI, attracting murmurs of dissent from cricket officials. As of now, however, public sympathies seem loaded against the BCCI. Its actions since the scandal erupted have failed to carry the f aintest hint of sincerity or seriousness. Apart from certain questionable decisions on the award of telecast rights to major cricket tournaments, the BCCI will also have to account for its active advocacy of Azharuddin's cause, despite evidence over the years that his presence in the team - whether as player or captain - was becoming increasingly dysfunctional. Two individuals in particular would seem to have much to explain - Raj Singh Dungarpur, who held the pivotal positions of chairman of the nation al selection board and BCCI president at various times in the 1990s, and Jaywant Lele, who continues to be BCCI secretary.

The dubious role of the BCCI effectively limits its power to impose sanctions against the players who have been in breach of public trust. Measures being contemplated by the government include the revocation of all national awards that have been conferre d on the cricketers - ironically enough, four of the five offenders are recipients of the highest sporting honour, the Arjuna award. The BCCI in turn, has made it known that it could consider lifetime bans and even the effacement of the career records of all the offending players. These may seem rather more severe penalties than even a term in jail. But the provisions of the law, determined in turn by an act on gambling that is over a century old, seems totally inadequate to cover the offences involved in the cricket scandal. Effectively and in some observers' view, regrettably this leaves the BCCI as the only body that can possibly initiate corrective measures to check the rot in cricket. How credible it will be in the bargain though, is quite another question.

The revival of a tournament

The revival of the Gopalan Trophy tournament puts the cricketing spotlight on Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka.

DESPITE the scant media attention given on both sides of the Palk Straits to the recent Gopalan Trophy clash in Colombo, its revival after a gap of 17 years is a time for nostalgia and for reflection on the state of the game in Tamil Nadu and in Sri Lanka. A bi-annual tournament that began in 1952 as a contest between Ceylon and Madras has now become a contest between the Colombo District Cricket Association (CDCA) and Tamil Nadu. While Tamil Nadu is one of the major sides in the Ranji Trophy, the CDCA is as contrived and artificial as the Board Presidents' elevens that fill the gap in the schedules of international sides. First-class cricket in Sri Lanka is not played on a regional or district basis, but is played among about a dozen clubs.

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Not many people realise that the Gopalan Trophy is probably the only contest of its kind. Unlike in football, ice hockey and now rugby league, cricket does not have international contests involving regions or cities.

Great Heritage

In its heyday, the Gopalan Trophy was a passionate contest involving some of the fabled cricketers of the subcontinent. Much has been written and said about M. Sathasivam, the flamboyant figure, who is considered the patron saint of Ceylonese batting. "Satha" was jailed for the murder of his wife. Folklore has it that he was such an exalted figure that Sobers and Worrel visited him in jail, during one of their short tours to the island.

There was A.G. Milkha Singh, a cultured left-hand batsman who was Tamil Nadu's mainstay for over a decade. Sadly, Milkha Singh made his four Test appearances before the age of 20. He played energetically and manfully for Madras and his employers, the State Bank of India. In the collective consciousness, he is overshadowed by his Olympian namesake - the Flying Sikh.

Some of the others went on to greater heights beyond the cricket field. G.Parthasarathy of Madras, a wily leg-spinner and hard-hitting batsman, became a celebrated Indian diplomat. More recently, the swashbuckling Duleep Mendis, the winner of the highest individual score in the Gopalan Trophy, who went on to be the manager of Sri Lanka's rags-to-riches World Cup triumph in 1996.

The 1983 ethnic pogrom in Sri Lanka leads to a severance of ties

The ethnic violence in Sri Lanka and the ensuing crass hostility of the Sri Lankan public towards India in general and Tamil Nadu in particular, were the principal reasons for the interruption of this colourful tournament. Recently elevated to Test status, Sri Lanka dominated the last two editions of the tournament with outstanding performances from the likes of Duleep Mendis and the Ashantha de Mel. But soon after the last edition of the tournament in 1983, the ethnic pogrom in the month of July of that year put a dark cloud on the future of the tournament.

Under the backdrop of a charged political environment, cricketing relations between India and Sri Lanka ceased to be a sporting contest but an orgy of sectarian hatred. The Sri Lankan umpires, under pressure from the country's politicians, conspired to deliver the island nation's first Test victory in the 1985 tour by Kapil Dev's World Champion side. Some of the more ridiculous decisions meted out by the Sri Lankan umpires was the curious case of the head umpire ruling a batsman lbw followed by the square leg umpire ruling the batsman stumped. Another was when umpire Vidanagamage rewrote the etiquette of the game by reprimanding Indian 12th man Maninder Singh for shining the ball during the drinks interval.

The two Tamil members of the Indian touring party were singled out for special treatment - K. Srikkanth by the umpires and L. Sivaramakrishnan by the crowd. Srikkanth, a frank and forthright customer, was not even spared in the side games. "Siva", who did not appear regularly in international cricket after this tour, was heckled by the raucous Sri Lankan crowd solely on the grounds of his ethnicity.

The torturous tour ended on a predictably bitter note with Kapil Dev's angry and ultimately erroneous denunciation of Sri Lankan cricket: "Sri Lanka will never win a Test match abroad." It is just as well that today, apart from Zimbabwe, India has the worst overseas Test record. Cricketing relations between the two countries in any form seemed doomed, when India boycotted the 1986 Asia Cup held in Sri Lanka on political grounds. The Gopalan Trophy was furthest from the minds of the game's administrators of India, Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu.

Tournament ignored as Sri Lankan cricket reaches great heights

The return of international cricket in Sri Lanka in 1992 sparked a chain of events which has made Sri Lanka one of the best sides in international cricket. The thoroughly memorable World Cup victory in 1996 and series of Test victories at home and abroad has made Sri Lanka a cricketing powerhouse. Its over-reliance on the genius of Muttiah Muralitharan notwithstanding, Sri Lanka is consistently ranked in the top half of the Wisden Test Championship.

Sri Lanka reaped the benefits of intense contact with the MRF Pace Academy in Chennai. Chaminda Vaas, Sri Lanka's prime fast bowler, is among the most distinguished of the Academy's products. The other Sri Lankan MRF Academy prodigies, namely Pushpa-kumara, Zoysa and Wickremasinghe, are known more for their promise rather than their performance.

However, it would seem that Sri Lanka has benefited much more from the Academy than India, whose Academy products - Vivek Razdan, Salil Ankola and Atul Wassan - are confined to obscurity. Judging by his performances in the Asia Cup, Thirunavukarasu Kumaran, another young man from the MRF Academy, seems destined to join them.

Tamil Nadu's emergence despite India's mediocrity

If Sri Lanka has emerged as a world power, Tamil Nadu has emphatically enhanced its cricketing reputation in India. During the 17-year hiatus, Tamil Nadu's cricketing fortunes have moved decidedly for the better. The 1980s and early 1990s were a lean period in Tamil Nadu cricket. K. Srikkanth was the only member of the Tamil Nadu side to command a regular place at the all-India level. The eminent off-spinner S. Venkatraghavan was in the twilight of his career. Tamil Nadu's inspirational victory in the 1988 Ranji Trophy went unrecogonised by the powers that be. Players such as Robin Singh, V.B. Chandrashekhar, B. Arun and W.V. Raman made fleeting and unremarkable appearances for India.

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In the early 1990s, international hopefuls such as Senthilnathan, S. Sharath and Sunil Subramaniam became victims of the bewildering regional selection policy. In India, each zone nominates a national selector. There was a lingering perception in Tamil Nadu cricket circles that Karnataka stalwart Gundappa Vishwanath had a strong hand in ensuring the selection of nearly a dozen Karnataka players - much to the detriment of the Tamil Nadu hopefuls. There may be some merit in this perception. There can be no question of the class of the Kumbles and Dravids of this world. But other Karnataka players such as D. Ganesh and David Johnson were selections made with a sense of adventure.

Different scene

Today's scenario is very different. At least a dozen players are serious contenders for places in the Indian team. In fact, this is probably the most internationally capped Tamil Nadu team ever. Robin Singh, S. Ramesh, T. Kumaran, S. Sriram, Aashish Kapoor and Hemang Badani have all donned the Indian cap. Apart from the stature of the players and the quality of the coaching, the facilities in Chennai are some of the best in the country. The Tamil Nadu Cricket Association is on a sound footing with A.C. Muthiah in the limelight as president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

The revival of this tournament may seem an anachronism in this age of an expanding and ceaselessly active Test fraternity, satellite television and offshore one-day tournaments. But, one of the things the great game lacks is an opportunity for regional first-class sides to lock horns. This factor, the shared passion for the game and the venerable history of the exchanges between the sides will hopefully make the Gopalan Trophy tournament a much-sought-after annual event.

The Colombo-based Nirgunan Tiruchelvam is a contributor to TheWicket.com, an online cricket magazine.

Data of questionable merit

Questions about the methodolgy adopted cast a shadow over the latest estimates of poverty by the National Sample Survey Organisation.

POVERTY, or rather the official estimates of it, is back in the news. The latest estimation of the number of poor people in India has triggered a heated debate over the methodology adopted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), which is in ch arge of the exercise. The debate is not confined to academia or to esoteric issues relating to the methodologies adopted. The data, and the controversy surrounding them, have been inextricably tied to the fundamental question of what impact the wide-rang ing economic reforms introduced in 1991 have had on poverty. After all, a decline in the proportion of the poor between 1993-94 and 2000, from about one-third to one-fourth, is not an empirical result that can be ignored by those wishing to link poverty to the nature of economic reforms.

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Partial results of the latest NSSO survey, conducted between July 1999 and June 2000, which have been highlighted in the media, indicate that poverty levels in India have declined dramatically since 1993-94, the year in which the previous full-fledged su rvey was conducted. The partial results, from the first two sub-rounds done between July and December 1999, indicate that the number of people below the poverty line in rural areas has declined from 37.3 per cent to 27.6 per cent between 1993-94 and 1999 -2000; in urban areas the decline has been from 32.4 per cent to 25.2 per cent.

Not surprisingly, the issue of statistical integrity has assumed a strong political overtone because opposing viewpoints tie their interpretations of the estimates to their respective positions on the economic reforms. Those on the side of the establishm ent argue that a sharp reduction in the number of the poor is a vindication of the theory that market-led growth has improved the living conditions of the poor. However, critics of the reforms view the latest estimates as "statistical jugglery", in line with the trend of official agencies publishing data that suit the establishment rather than the objective needs of society. They have alleged serious flaws in the methodology adopted for the latest survey; they say that the NSSO has made changes in the m ethodology without any consideration to methods of statistical enquiry.(The NSSO, the premier agency, also conducts national-level surveys on employment, consumption, nutrition and other issues.)

Experts from the NSSO and the Planning Commission have expressed scepticism about the data. At the Economic Editors Conference in early October, K.C. Pant, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, announced that a committee of experts would be constit uted to compare the latest survey estimates with those of the 1993-94 survey. However, on October 30, Arun Shourie, Minister of State for Statistics, Programme Implementation and Disinvestment, ruled out a review, claiming that "no cogent reasons had bee n advanced which should lead the government to doubt the comparability of the data."

Officially a poor person is defined as one who is unable to meet a minimum food intake of 2,100 calories in urban areas and 2,400 calories in rural areas. Since the actual calorific intake of people is almost impossible to estimate in an across-the-count ry survey, consumption expenditures serve as an estimate of poverty levels. A person whose spending on food is below the level required to purchase the minimum calorific intake is considered to have fallen below the poverty line. The sample used in the s urvey is then "blown up" to the State and national levels to estimate the number of people who fail to meet this most basic standard, people who are in abject poverty.

Although the NSSO had conducted smaller surveys based on "thin samples", where about 20,000 respondents were quizzed, the results of the latest survey were eagerly awaited because the 1999-2000 survey has been the only one since 1993-94 to use a "large s ample". The latest exercise involved canvassing questionnaires from about 1.2 lakh respondents across the country.

Until the 50th round of the National Sample Survey in 1993-94 the NSSO had been using a method by which respondents were asked to provide details about their food consumption in the previous 30 days. In the 50th round, the concept of a seven-day recall w as introduced, because of the suspicion that the longer time scale caused respondents to miss from memory certain items that he/she had actually consumed. In the 1993-94, the nationwide sample was divided into two separate samples, one using the seven-da y recall and the other the 30-day recall.

Indeed, the shorter recall period did reveal higher consumption expenditure levels and, consequently, lower poverty levels. In 1993-94, poverty levels based on the seven-day recall were about 16-17 per cent lower than those based on the 30-day recall. Pr avin Visaria, Chairman of the governing council of the NSSO, pointed out that between 1994 and 1998 poverty levels in India, based on the seven-day recall method, were lower by about 40-50 per cent than estimates using the 30-day recall.

However, what has raised the hackles of critics is the fact that the same set of respondents were quizzed about their consumption expenditures using the two methods.

Experts in statistics have argued that this kind of a survey would seriously "contaminate" the data because respondents would tend intuitively to multiply the seven-day recall by four when responding to the questions based on the 30-day recall. Field sta ff would also tend to commit the same error when compiling the results. While admitting that the "concurrent collection of data" using the two methods was "unusual and a last-minute compromise", Visaria has claimed that the investigators were instructed to collect the two sets of data "independently". He has also asserted that "these instructions are unlikely to have been overlooked".

However, doubts about the integrity of the data have been raised because for close to two months from the beginning of the survey, until August 1999, the data obtained by using the seven-day recall were collected before the same respondent was approached again with the 30-day recall method. Critics have argued that this sequencing would contaminate the results even more because the four-fold multiplication would come even more easily to the respondents. Visaria has said that instructions were issued in mid-August to reverse the sequencing by posing the 30-day recall first.

An economist well-versed with the methods of the NSSO told Frontline that respondents were likely to suffer "fatigue when approached twice with the same set of questions". This, he said, was particularly so in the case of consumption expenditure s urveys, which were long and detailed. Although the seven-day recall appears to have the advantage of imposing a lesser strain on the memory of the respondent, others argue that a longer recall also offers certain advantages, particularly because of the n ature of poverty. For instance, a shorter recall may be unable to capture the variations in the day to day consumption expenditures. This may be particularly crucial in the case of casual workers or people on the margins of society. The consumption of th e poor varies not only across seasons but also across days and weeks. On the use of the shorter recall, an economist sarcastically commented that a short recall of just a day may yield "excellent data", but this would simply miss out the variations that were an integral part of the daily existence of the poor. In any case, nothing prevents the NSSO from publishing two sets of results, based on two different methodologies. After all, NSSO's employment estimates use different yardsticks.

Visaria has justified the use of the seven-day recall by pointing out that the 30-day recall is not used anywhere in the world. Asked why the NSSO changed the methodology, Visaria said that there was a "viewpoint" that advocated this change, and that the NSSO just wanted to "try this method out". He admitted that two separate samples for the seven-day and 30-day recall "are probably better". He also said that the NSSO was willing review the changes after all the results are compiled by December.

Despite advocating caution in the use of the partial results for definitive conclusions, Visaria has invited criticism by demonstrating in a newspaper analysis that the difference in poverty levels using the two methods has fallen sharply as a result of the changes introduced in the latest survey. However, critics have been quick to point out that the difference between the two estimates could have collapsed simply because the 30-day recall is "contaminated". They allege that estimates using the 30-day recall have lost their independent standing because they are tied to the seven-day estimates because of the "multiplication" factor. Indeed, they point to the estimates based on the seven-day recall method to prove their point that poverty levels in Indi a have actually worsened (see tables). Going by Visaria's seven-day recall figures the percentage of rural poor increased from 19.1 per cent in 1995-96 to 24.8 per cent in July-December 1999 and urban poverty levels increased from 15.2 per cent to 23.4 p er cent. However, because the 1993-94 survey, the last one with a "large sample", did not use a seven-day recall, the latest estimates cannot be compared to the previous estimates.

S.L. Shetty, director of The Economic and Political Weekly's Research Foundation, told Frontline that "there is no statistical or scientific basis for the shift". He also argued that poverty levels were generally on a secular trend. "Povert y levels," he said, "do not change so drastically in such a short period."

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Shetty outlined his "broad hypothesis" that poverty ratios have worsened, pointing to a number of economic developments to "corroborate" his position. Since the reforms, per capita consumption of foodgrains has fallen and so has employment levels; these would imply a contraction in incomes and consumption.

Moreover, the curtailment of social expenditures, another facet of the reform process, Shetty says, meant a diversion of incomes by the poor to the costlier private health services, away from the public facilities. This, he argues, would have been the ca se particularly with the marginally poor households. Moreover, agriculture, by all accounts, has stagnated in the last few years, thereby impacting on employment, incomes and consumption of the poor. Shetty says that the higher growth in the services sec tor would not have benefited the poor because there "is less percolation of incomes" in this sector. "Radical changes in methodology are not acceptable in poverty statistics," he said.

A study conducted in 1999 by S.P. Gupta, Member, Planning Commission, revealed that although national income, as measured by the gross domestic product (GDP), increased at an annual rate of 6.9 per cent between 1993-94 and 1999-2000, poverty levels actua lly increased during this period, from 35.07 per cent to 37.23 per cent and employment grew by 0.6 per cent per annum. Gupta's study also indicated that poverty levels were inextricably linked to employment levels, suggesting that stagnation in employmen t was the prime cause of the high levels of poverty in the 1990s.

Academics have protested that the NSSO has made a "fundamental shift" in methodology without getting the opinion of experts. Shetty said that the NSSO ought to have consulted the "academic community at large before implementing such a major shift in meth odology."

The opportunity to answer authoritatively the fundamental question about reforms and its impact on poverty appears to have been lost because of the controversial nature of the survey. In effect, it appears that the shift in methodology will not allow for comparison with the 1993-94 data. Asked if this did not pose a problem, Visaria turned philosophical: "Comparability is after all not the only thing in life."

Palestinian struggle

Israel's show of might against unarmed Palestinian civilians should lead to its isolation in the international community ("West Asia: Violent backlash", November 10).

The United States' stand on the issue is, however, not surprising. After the Balfour Declaration that legitimised Zionism, the Western powers, especially the U.S. and the United Kingdom, gave tacit support to the Zionist ideology, which eventually result ed in the creation of Israel. The U.S. is reluctant to reprimand Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak for the excessive use of force against Palestinians. Hence it would be foolish to expect any solace for Palestinians from U.S. mediation.

By not condemning Israeli atrocities in open terms, India has taken an opportunistic position.

Justin Jayaraj Kozhikode, Kerala RSS and minorities

The utterances of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief on Christians and the Church could have been ignored but for the fact that he enjoys the status of being the patron-saint of the Sangh Parivar and, by implication, the leader of the ruling coalition at the Centre ("An agenda of Indianisation", November 10).

The assertions and demands of the RSS supremo are against the spirit of the Indian Constitution, but this is not much of a surprise as the Parivar has no respect for the Constitution and, in fact, wants to rewrite it on religious lines. His statements vi olate the religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution as a fundamental right of all citizens, including people belonging to the minority community. They also run counter to the social norms that are based on the principle of respect for all religion s. It is not only Christians who owe allegiance to holy places and religious institutions outside their country; millions of Hindus living abroad are affiliated to ashrams and gurus located in India while being loyal citizens of the countries where they have settled.

The RSS chief's observations also attempt to undermine the contributions of missionaries to the development and welfare of Indian society.

We urge the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance to dissociate itself from these statements of the RSS chief and allay the anxieties of secular-democratic citizens and the minorities.

Dr. Ram Puniyani (Secretary, EKTA, Committee for Communal Amity) Dr. Jalinder Adsule (Director, Salokha) Dr. Uday Mehta (Committee for Rights for Housing) C.J. Leeks (St. Blaise Action Committee) Dolphy D'Souza (Voice of The Exploited) Anand Patwardhan Asad Bin Saif Dr. Jesudas M. Athyl Dilip D'Souza

* * * Sandip K. Dasverma California, U.S. Law and justice

The dilatoriness of judicial processes has been meticulously documented in "The law and its potency" (November 10).

The convictions secured in the well-publicised cases of P.V. Narasimha Rao and Jayalalitha may not yet be the end of the story. We have to wait for the decisions of the courts on their appeals. A layperson like me does not understand all the nuances of t he law; he is interested in knowing whether the administration of law and justice strikes fear in the minds of erring public servants and act as a strong deterrent. I doubt whether this has happened. Maybe more judicial activism is called for.

Kangayam R. Rangaswamy Wisconsin, U.S. GM foods

The interview with Arpad Pusztai ("GM foods and denial of rights and choices", November 10) will make people aware of the ground realities. The most vital part of the interview is the revelation that a major publishing house has contracted Pusztai to wri te a chapter on health effects, reviewing all that we know about GM.

R. Ashok Kumar Mumbai Vultures

The decline in the population of vultures in India ("Vanishing vultures", November 10) is indeed alarming. The writer has done a good job of elucidating the causes of the tragedy. The crisis must also be attributed to our neglect of these birds.

Abhijeet D. More Nashik, Maharashtra Water

This has reference to "Water power" (November 10). There is a fear that the world is headed for water shortages. Hence not only China but every country has to plan for the future.

What India needs is a good water policy. It is not clear what is holding back India from linking its major rivers.

A. Jacob Sahayam Karigiri, Tamil Nadu India and Russia

The article on India's ties with Russia ("A strategic partnership", October 27) was most appropriate at a time when Indians seem to be forgetting their historic and ever-reliable ties with Russia. The contrast between the visits of the Presidents of the United States and Russia was striking. There was no hoopla over Putin's visit.

Indians are blindly after the mirage created by the United States and Clinton. U.S. policymakers are sheer professionals. The interests of U.S. and the rest of the West are their only concern. It does not matter to them whether India is the largest democ racy in the world or not; even an autocratic or theocratic regime is all right for them as long as they help them realise their goals. This is evident from the U.S. support to some countries in West Asia and Latin America.

B. Suresh Mumbai * * *

The cover feature brought out Russia's interest in renewing its half-a-century-old relationship with India. The agreement between the two countries on setting up a Joint Working Group on Afghanistan assumes significance in the context of terrorist threat s against India. Putin's attempt to establish friendship with Pakistan should be seen only from this angle. If Putin can encourage Pakistan to keep away from Afghanistan, it will be good for India as well.

C.P. Velayudhan Nair Thiruvananthapuram Indian diaspora

"The true worth of the Indian diaspora" (October 27) presented a true picture. Dual citizenship can be granted to non-resident Indians (NRIs) but giving them representation in Parliament may not be technically correct.

A country like India should formulate its foreign policy keeping in mind its own needs and problems. It should concentrate on settling border disputes with its neighbours. Instead of making trips to the United States and other distant countries, we shoul d try to solve problems such as illiteracy, poverty and brain drain.

Neeraj Kumar Jha Madhubhani, Bihar Floods

"Deluge in West Bengal" (October 27) brought out our lack of preparedness to face floods that ravage different parts of the country year after year. Governments rush relief supplies to affected areas only after the damage is done. If only a small fractio n of the resources expended on relief is allotted to flood control measures, the crisis can be mitigated. There is a lack of coordination among the various agencies supposed to handle floods.

Aerial survey by politicians has become a ritual. Surely, our engineers, working in coordination with experts in other fields, can find a permanent solution to the problem. Measures such as afforestation in the catchment areas, desilting of tanks and dam s, strengthening of bunds and construction of check-dams can minimise the impact of floods. Rescue squads with equipment should stand by during the monsoon months to provide speedy assistance to flood victims.

D.B.N. Murthy Bangalore Medicine and ethics

Reports in the media do not make it clear what really happened in the case of the treatment given to P. Rangarajan Kumaramangalam (Update: "The experts' verdict", October 27). The best traditions of medical ethics might have come in the way of the expert s' committee finding fault with one hospital. The most disturbing fact in the report is that the patient did not receive appropriate medical advice even after three months of his illness.

G. Ramachandran Pune Compensation and crime

This has reference to the article "Compensation and crime" (October 13). It is rightly said that the killing of 19-year-old Shiv Kumari, a war widow, by her in-laws is more than a case of crime. The matter should be studied in its socio-economic context. In our society, the loss of a son who happens to be the breadwinner deals a blow to the parents in economic terms, besides causing trauma. This is not to suggest that because our society is male-dominated criminal offences should be condoned. On the con trary, the government should play the role of a caretaker and provide the compensation amount to young widows in a phased manner. The parents of the deceased can be offered pensions.

S. Wani Pimpri, Maharashtra Two-child norm

I agree with the argument of your story on the Maharashtra government's two-child norm ("The poor as a problem", October 13). Poor government servants with more than two children need liberal help from the government by way of medical benefits and so on. Denying them these facilities is like indirectly telling them to go to ruthless moneylenders and quacks.

India's granaries are overflowing; it is the largest producer of milk and fruits and the fifth largest producer of eggs in the world. How can we justify the denial of foodgrains to poor people? Can we be complacent when hundreds of thousands of people go to sleep each night (mostly on railway platforms, footpaths, garbage dumps, roadsides and so on) without having had a morsel of food?

Robin Rajan Mumbai Aruna Roy

The article on Magsaysay Award-winner Aruna Roy was thought-provoking (September 29). Aruna Roy, after joining the Indian Administrative Service, decided that her skills should be dedicated to the uplift of rural women, who are deprived of their rights. A country progresses only when women are empowered and treated on a par with men.

Aruna Roy should extend her work to a State like Kerala where despite many achievements in literacy and democratic decentralisation, violence against women remains unchecked.

Abdul Latheef Kanjirappally, Kerala Market realities

I support the views expressed in "The other side of Canada" (September 29). The fact that marketisation has brought the Canadian economy under strain is not surprising. The market is governed by its own laws and conventions. Where 'profit' is the motivat ing force, it is utopian to think of welfare and social justice. And these facts are applicable as much to Canada as to India or Russia or even the United States itself, which is directing the world to the arena of the market. In the light of the Canadia n experience, it is time the Third World thought twice before taking the plunge into the market economy.

The facts about the growing inequalities, social injustice and insecurity in Canada are interesting in the context of the status of Canada, which has been ranked first in the Human Development Index of the United Nations and ninth among the least poor co untries. A major problem is that the authorities try to reduce poverty merely by 'defining it away' instead of taking concrete steps to reduce it in reality.

The way in which poverty is increasing in absolute terms and among specific groups is alarming. Marketisation has created highly vulnerable groups, the most affected being women and children. The reason for their vulnerability is the low level of socio-e conomic empowerment. Despite considerable improvement in the condition of women in the past century, the 'space' for women in the social sphere is diminishing fast. A major share of the blame must go to the market where women are reduced to commodities - a means to sell other commodities.

The last decade of the 20th century has been a sort of 'watershed'. After the collapse of the Soviet bloc the market took over the world. Welfare regimes have been dismantled. The propagandists of the market accuse the Nehruvian model of being non-practi cal and against economic growth. In the euphoria over the market, the gains the country had made during the years of planning and regulation were washed away.

The present leadership in India does not seem to be conscious of the disastrous implications of the market economy package. Much more disheartening is the fact that except for the opposition from a small section of the intelligentsia and political activi sts, there is no mass movement against the process of marketisation.

Lokesh Pathak New Delhi

A TALE OF TWO HORSES

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Editor's Introduction

"Horseplay in Harappa," the Cover Story by Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer in Frontline (October 13, 2000), has attracted a lot of interest from readers, including scholars, in India and abroad. In the same issue, at Frontline's invitation, Romila Thapar, the eminent historian of ancient India, commented on the Witzel-Farmer article and offered a perspective on Hindutva and history.

The subsequent issue (October 27) carried letters from Iravatham Mahadevan, the leading Indian expert on the Indus Valley script, and Richard H. Meadow, Project-Director of the Harappa Archaeological Research Project at Harvard University and one of the world's leading experts on ancient animal bones. There has also been a large number of letters from general readers. Additionally, the Witzel-Farmer scholarly investigation and expos has generated a lively discussion on the Internet.

To take the discussion further and deeper, Frontline presents in this issue scholarly communications on the subject. These comprise N.S. Rajaram's letter to the editor, backed up by two scanned colour images; and invited responses from two of the world's leading experts on the Indus Valley script, Asko Parpola and Mahadevan, and from the authors of "Horseplay in Harappa."

- Editor, Frontline Frontline Cover has "the head of a horse"

The Deciphered Indus Script: Methodology, readings, interpretations

Vedic Aryans and the Origins o f Civilisation

Profiles in Deception: Ayodhya and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Frontline N.S. RAJARAM

Recently, Frontline published articles by Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer and by Romila Thapar ("Horseplay in Harappa," Frontline, October 13, 2000), the main thrust of which was that the Harappan Civilisation was ignorant of the horse beca use it is not depicted on any of the seals. On this premise they claimed that the image of the seal known as Mackay 453 given in The Deciphered Indus Script by N. Jha and N.S. Rajaram is a fabrication, with a unicorn bull made to look like a horse .

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Both Frontline and the authors overlooked the fact that the seal displayed on the cover contains a figure recognisable as the head of a horse at the top right-hand corner. The scanned images [on this page] highlight this by giving both the cover p hoto (with the arrow pointing) and the enlargement. I hope the authors will not suggest that this is the head of a unicorn bull! This is just one example of hasty conclusion due to preconception, unfamiliarity with the sources, and insufficient attention to detail.

At the same time Jha and I don't want to be dogmatic because these are artists' depictions and not anatomical specimens. So differences of opinion are unavoidable. We regard the question of the horse to be of minor significance: our book is about the Ind us script, not the Indus horse. There are more fundamental issues like the Sarasvati River data and others that need to be addressed. The broader issue, as Professor Thapar makes clear, is the Vedic identity of the Harappan Civilisation. This, I feel, ha s been amply demonstrated by our book and by several others - with and without the decipherment.

Interview with N.S. Rajaram.

Following the publication of "Horseplay in Harappa," N.S. Rajaram wrote a letter to the Editor of Frontline. In the covering note, he offered access to "the original photograph" of the 'horse seal' on which the image published in the Jha-Ra jaram book was based. Frontline accepted the offer and received from Rajaram a copy of the photograph, which was identical to the one Rajaram sent Iravatham Mahadevan in 1997. Frontline correspondent Anupama Katakam interviewed Rajar am in Bangalore on November 2 on the provenance of the image of the 'horse seal,' the 'computer enhancement,' the 'decipherment,' and other aspects of Rajaram's work and views. Excerpts from the tape-recorded interview:

Where did the image of the 'horse seal' come from?

Jha had a photograph taken of the image from Mackay's book - Mohenjodaro. This attribution is in the index of his book. Jha lives in a small town. He may not have had access to high-tech equipment, which explains the low quality of the image.

Why does he believe it to be a horse?

I looked at the original [photograph], which is very small. In Mackay's book. Of course, Frontline gave a much better picture because they have better facilities. To me it looks more like a horse. I am convinced it is a horse.

The shape of the under-belly. If you look at the unicorn bull's genital area, it is very prominent [referring to Frontline's cover]. It is not so in the horse. The tail is also quite different. And another thing is - the tapering back is a feature of all fast-running animals.

What is the significance of the 'horse'?

I feel the importance of the horse is blown out of proportion. We have a great deal of much more important evidence that we have to explain. They are making it the central issue... It was just a footnote in our book...

As far as identification is concerned, we are sure it is a horse! And we can demonstrate that horses existed.

I believe the debate should be on a whole range of issues.

What is the old-style-telephone-like object in front of the animal?

Do you find it in our book? You see what has happened is this writing [pointing to the annotation] has got scrambled in the scanning. This writing which has got scrambled resembles this telephone-like thing which they refer to as a [feeding] trough. Noth ing is behind that label. This is not in the original seal.

Who annotated or labelled it?

Jha must have. To keep the file number... This is the photo I received and I have checked it with the original... But I didn't have such a good print. The original seal is in Mackay's book. This [points to the image numbered M-772A, published on p. 9 of the Frontline issue of October 13] they say has been flipped horizontally. It is probably the same seal, but you see there is more damage here. But I am not going to look at this one. You see when Parpola took this photograph, it was about 30 year s later. This has been computer-manipulated. As far as I am concerned, I will go with the oldest.

In any case, it is irrelevant as they may be the same image. See, the writing is the same... As far as the trough goes - it is a distortion of the letters.

On the why and how of the 'computer enhancement'

I never said computer enhancement in my book. When they kept pressing me, I said it might have been computer-enhanced. That is what I mentioned in a particular note to these people. I had no idea. I think it was scanned by the publisher. The best way of finding out is if you look at what copy the publisher has and mine. Then you will know what went into the book. This has not been scanned by me. I xeroxed it and I either sent a smaller photograph to improve the resolution, or a contraction of it taken o n a xerox machine.

If I had this quality [pointing to a clear image of the broken seal published in Frontline], there would be no problem. My point is if 'computer enhancement' was said, it may have been said under pressure. I have never done any computer enhancemen t.

Clearly he [Jha] has, or somebody has, taken the photograph from a publication. And I either sent a photocopy of it... And I remember what I said to the publisher. I said, "see if something can be made out of this."

... I am not in a position to say 'Yes' or 'No' [about the computer enhancement]. But I can definitely say I have done no computer enhancement. In fact, I have not even scanned it. If the publisher has done it, I might have said it has been computer enha nced. I am not denying that, but I have... never done any computer work on it. The only time it may have been scanned is by the publisher. He could have done it.

Does he still think it is a horse? Does he stand by his decipherment?

Absolutely. Sure. We have done nothing...The issue they [Farmer and Witzel] have raised is that no horses were found in Harappa. But there is ample evidence that horse bones have been found at all levels at the Harappan site.The reference to the horse is only in one part of a footnote!

Our point is that decipherment is part of the historical connection between the Vedic and the Harappan. What we see as the main significance is the historical context which links Harappan archaeology to Vedic literature...

We will hold on to our identification of the horse. But I have also made the point in my letter [to the Editor of Frontline] - another example. I don't know how it ended up on the cover but anyway, these are artists' depictions and not anatomical representations. So we can only argue it, we cannot prove it. It is simply a question of people's impressions.

And at least for the last 50 years, horse bones have been found at Harappan sites and some have been found much earlier. More information will be coming now.

The main point I want to make is about the Vedic-Harappan connection. Both the Vedic and Harappan civilisations - you cannot call it saffronised if you relate it to Hinduism because both of them preceded Christianity and Islam by thousands of years! And India before that time was Hindu. My point is that I can demonstrate the Vedic-Harappan connection - that the Harappan civilisation was Vedic and full of Vedic symbolism even without the decipherment...

And we see our book on the decipherment not in isolation but [alongside] a whole lot of information that has come out beginning with the discovery of the Saraswati River. Which the Aryan invasion model does not explain.

Was he mistaken in his identification of the 'horse seal'?

Just as I gave my clarification to you, I told him [Farmer] I would check with Jha and give him the clarification. I had not located the photograph because I never imagined this would be turned into such a major [controversy]... and then I found it in my file.

I went to the Mythic Society to check the original for Farmer. And I even told him we could have made an honest mistake. But I don't think we have made any mistakes and we stand by our identification. I will not be surprised if the same picture is found in some old books.

I can tell you this: This photograph is what Jha sent me. I have not computer enhanced it. If I said that - which is possible... I might have said [it]... because I didn't have the photo at that time, which I traced later. I might have said it meaning no t that I enhanced it but it might have been done for publication.

I still stand by my interpretation.

One sees what one wants to

The Indus Valley Script: Texts, Concordances and Tables

Corpus of the Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions Dinamani

Mahadevan contributed this comment at the invitation of Frontline:

IRAVATHAM MAHADEVAN

N.S. Rajaram has been good enough to send me an advance copy of his response (published in this issue) to the article "Horseplay in Harappa" by Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer (Frontline, October 13). My attention has also been drawn to his commun ication in the matter circulated on the Internet.

Rajaram has stated in his online communication that the copy he sent me in 1997 is "exactly the same one that went into the book." This is not quite true. What I got from Rajaram was a copy, labelled in someone's hand, of the photograph of Seal 453 as pu blished by Mackay in Pl. XCV of his book and reproduced by Frontline (October 13, p.7) and not the computer 'enhancement' published by N. Jha and N.S. Rajaram in their book (p. 177). The photograph shows clearly the hind part of a bull on the brok en seal. The computer 'enhancement' creates an optical illusion which makes the animal look somewhat like a deer, which is further developed into a 'horse' by Rajaram's artist. In the interest of truth, I have made available to Frontline the origi nal communication of 1997 received from Rajaram.

Rajaram's 'Horse II,' which he sees on the front cover illustration of Frontline (October 13), is another instance of an optical illusion. I have seen the original seal with the Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi (ASI No. 63.10/363). No hor se is to be seen there. Rajaram's 'horses' only prove that one sees what one wants to.

However, I agree with Rajaram that it is time we put this 'horse business' behind us and look at the decipherment itself. I have done so. The Jha-Rajaram 'decipherment' is completely invalid. It is, in fact, a non-starter for the simple reason that the d irection of reading adopted by the authors is wrong, as demonstrated by Witzel and Farmer (Frontline, October 13, box item at p.12). The 'decipherment' makes as much sense as you would get out of this page if you try to read it from a mirror refle ction.

Of Rajaram's 'Horses', 'decipherment', and civilisational issues

other
Deciphering t he Indus Script Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions Frontline ASKO PARPOLA

India has a truly glorious past. It is sad that India's heritage should be exploited by some individuals - usually people with few, if any, academic credentials - who for political or personal motives are ready even to falsify evidence. In order to vindi cate their ideology and promote their own ends, these persons appeal to the feelings of the 'common man' who, with full reason, is proud of his or her country's grand heritage. They suggest that this grandeur is denigrated by their opponents, particularl y by foreign scholars. There is no need, however, to twist the facts in order to establish the greatness of India's past. Of all people, Indologists, including foreign Indologists, are among the first to acknowledge and admire the great achievements of I ndian civilisation.

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Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer have shown that N.S. Rajaram has no scruples in falsifying evidence to suit his claims. Thus far Rajaram has got away with this dishonesty because the scholarly community has not considered his work worthy of serious consi deration: it has been taken more or less for granted that any sensible person can see through this trash and recognise it as such. However, the escalation of this nonsensical propaganda now demands that the issue be addressed. Frontline has clearl y exposed the untenability of Rajaram's arguments. Having been invited to comment on Rajaram's 'Horse II,' I would like to point out just a few facts.

On the cover of Frontline, Seal M-18 from Mohenjo-daro has been depicted four times larger than its natural size. The Harappans were unable to see the fine details from which Rajaram presumes to distinguish the head of a horse. The psychologist He rmann Rorschach developed a projective technique to assess personality characteristics in which the individual is presented with ambiguous charts of ink blots, which he then interprets; different persons see different things in them, as they see in the v arying patterns of clouds. In like manner, Rajaram is looking for horses, and therefore sees them in patterns where they do not actually exist. In this case, his interpretation of certain details as a horse may seem to have some plausibility when an enla rged photograph taken from a particular direction with particular lighting is viewed, but the illusion disappears and the pattern intended by the seal carver is clearly distinguished when we take a look at the impression made with the seal. Rajaram's 'ho rse' is part of a composite Indus sign, the last one of a three-sign inscription forming one line. The sign consists of two elements. The upper, roof-like element occurs in several other composite signs, while the lower element has so far been found in t his seal alone.

The 'horse argument' is an important criterion in determining the linguistic affinity of the founders of the Indus Civilisation, as pointed out in my book Deciphering the Indus Script (Cambridge University Press, 1994), and by Witzel and Farmer in their Frontline article. In the Rigveda, the horse is an animal of great cultural and religious significance, being mentioned hundreds of times. Yet so far not a single representation of the horse has been found on the thousands of seals or the n umerous terracotta figurines of the Indus Civilisation, although many other animals, real and imaginary, were depicted by the Harappans. Further, Richard H. Meadow, one the world's best experts on ancient animal bones, assures us that not a single horse bone has been securely identified from the Indus Valley or elsewhere in South Asia before the end of the third millennium BCE, when the Indus Civilisation collapsed. By contrast, horse bones are found, and the horse is depicted, just a few centuries late r in the Indus Valley, in Gujarat and in Maharashtra, suggesting that by that time speakers of Aryan (or Indo-Iranian) languages had already entered South Asia, bringing with them this animal that was venerated by all early Indo-European-speaking peoples .

On the basis of new archaeological evidence from Afghanistan and Pakistan, I am inclined to think that the infiltration of small numbers of Aryan speakers to the Indus Valley and beyond started as early as the last urban phase of the Indus Civilisation, from about the 21st century BCE onwards. (These Aryans were not yet those of the Rigveda, who arrived a couple of centuries later.) The early Aryan-speaking immigrants came through Central Asia from the Eurasiatic steppes, the native habitat of the horse and the region where it appears to have first been domesticated. As demonstrated by H. H. Hock in his paper "Out of India? The linguistic evidence," published in J. Bronkhorst and M. M. Deshpande (eds.), Aryan and Non-Aryan in South Asia, Cambrid ge, Mass., 1999, it is impossible to derive the Aryan or Indo-European languages from South Asia by valid linguistic methods. In other words, it is untenable scientifically to postulate a South Asian origin for these languages.

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In my book, I have presented numerous facts suggesting that the Harappans mainly spoke a Dravidian language. The Harappans are estimated to have totalled at least one million people, while the primarily pastoralist Aryan-speaking immigrants could have nu mbered only a small fraction of this. Eventually, however, the language of the minority prevailed over the majority. There are numerous parallels to such a development. Almost the whole continent of South America now speaks Spanish or Portuguese, while t he Native American ('Indian') languages spoken there before the arrival of the European conquerors are about to vanish. This linguistic change has taken place in 500 years, and was initiated by just 300 well-armed adventurers. In 400 years, the British m anaged to establish their language and culture very widely in South Asia. To conflate the identity of the Vedic and Harappan cultures and to deny the external origin of Sanskrit and other Indo-Aryan languages is as absurd as to claim, as Dayananda Sarasv ati did, that the railway trains and aeroplanes that were introduced in South Asia by the British in the 19th and 20th centuries had already been invented by the Vedic Aryans.

It is sad that in South Asia, as elsewhere in the world, linguistic and religious controversies are the cause of so much injustice and suffering. We should remember that from the very beginning, Aryan and non-Aryan languages and associated cultures, reli gions and peoples have intermingled and have become inextricably mixed. Every element of the population has contributed to the creation of Indian civilisation, and every one of them deserves credit for it.

New Evidence on the 'Piltdown Horse' Hoax

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Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer are the scholarly authors of the Cover Story, "Horseplay in Harappa," in Frontline (October 13, 2000).

Michael Witzel is Wales Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University and the author of many publications, including the recent monograph Early Sources for South Asian Substrate Languages, Boston: ASLIP/Mother Tongue 1999. A collection of his Vedic studies will be published in India by Orient Longman later this year. He is also editor of The Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, accessible through his home page at

Syncretism in the West MICHAEL WITZEL & STEVE FARMER 17231261jpg

He who sees me everywhere and sees everything in me... Gita VI, 30

Our thanks to Iravatham Mahadevan and Asko Parpola, two of the world's leading experts on the Indus script, for their comments on N. S. Rajaram's latest "horse" fantasy. We welcome this opportunity to discuss new evidence that has come to light since our expos of Rajaram's bogus "decipherment" of the Indus or Harappan script appeared in "Horseplay in Harappa," the cover story of the October 13 issue.

Rajaram's newest 'horse': We would first like to add further detail to Asko Parpola's thorough deconstruction of Rajaram's newest "horse" discovery. As Parpola points out, the "horse" Rajaram imagines on the cover of Frontline is an optical illusion that only shows up when seal M-18 A is blown up (as it necessarily was to create the cover) to many times its actual size. The "eye" of Rajaram's "horse" (seen in Figure 1) is created by a tiny fault (probably caused by abrasion) in the ancient seal, which prior to its discovery lay in the ground for some 4,000-odd years.

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Figure 1. On the left, the cover of the October 13 edition of Frontline, illustrated with Harappan seal M-18 A. On the right, a blowup of part of the cover, where Rajaram finds another "horse." The "eye" of the "horse" is caused by a tiny flaw in the ancient seal, highlighted by the lighting coming from the right. The lighting also causes other Rorschach-like illusions that vanish when the seal or its impressions are viewed in other conditions (see Figure 2).

In the beautiful colour photo by Erja Lahdenper, especially commissioned for Parpola's Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions, the tiny fault is highlighted by the illumination coming from the right. (By convention, photos of seals are lighted fr om the right, seal impressions from the left.) Similar illusions create the impression that the "head" of the "horse" is much thicker than its "neck," that its "shoulders" are rounded, and that the "horse" has "ears" and even "feet." (As soon as you noti ce the "feet" or hooves, you realise that Rajaram's poor horse has his neck twisted around and is facing the wrong way - like the village lecher forced to ride backwards through the marketplace on an ass!) All these illusions disappear when the seal is v iewed at normal scale or in different conditions, as is evident when we compare the images in Figures 1 and 2.

Quite a bit is actually known about this seal, which was chosen for the cover because of its particular beauty. A careful drawing of the newly discovered seal was made by G.R. Hunter less than two months after the close of the excavating season in Mohenj o-daro in late February 1927. Hunter's drawing of the seal's impression is found in his classic 1934 study of the Indus script. Hunter's drawing shows what has been known to Harappan scholars for almost 75 years: that the sign is totally abstract and doe s not contain a hint of any animistic form.

All illusions of "horses" (or other creatures) in the sign also vanish when we examine photos not of the seal but of its impressions. This is clear from the crisp black-and-white photo of its impression (M-18 a in Parpola's Corpus of Indus Sea ls and Inscriptions) again photographed by the talented Erja Lahdenper. See the images (flipped horizontally to simplify comparison with the seal) in Figure 2.

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Figure 2. On the left, G.R. Hunter's original sketch (from The Script of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro and Its Connection with Other Scripts, 1934, Plate XIX) of the sign where Rajaram finds his newest Harappan "horse." We have flipped the image hor izontally to simplify comparison with the colour photo in Figure 1. On the right, a photo of the sign from a seal impression (Parpola M-18 a, again flipped horizontally). In this case, the "eye" of the "horse," created by the tiny fault, lies hidden deep in the shadow of the impression. All other optical illusions vanish as well. Note in both images the separation of the "head" and "neck" from "body" -- showing that at best Rajaram's is a poor decapitated "horse."

Parpola notes that this character is a composite sign, and that the sign's rooflike element (Rajaram's "head" and "neck") shows up in other Harappan signs. In the lower half of this page, we show one of dozens of examples of the same or similar element, which is often seen combined with the Harappan "fish sign" - apparently to modify the sign's base meaning. (On composite signs, see Parpola's Deciphering the Indus Script, 1994, especially pp. 79-82.) Following the logic of his note to Frontlin e, Rajaram might very well imagine a "horse" in the figure on the right - all that is needed is an "eye" and Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief"! See Figures 3 and 4.

As though all this evidence were not enough, we have Mahadevan's direct testimony presented in his communication published in this issue: "I have seen the original seal with the Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi (ASI No. 63.10/363). No horse is t o be seen there. Rajaram's 'horses' only prove that one sees what one wants to."

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Figure 3. The so-called Harappan fish sign - shown in the first example with and in the second without the rooflike modifying sign. Details here are from Parpola H-129 a bis. The roof element above the "fish" character is similar to the top element in the sign where Rajaram sees his newest "horse." Figure 4. The roofed fish sign with a simulated "eye" added. Through our whimsical "computer enhancement," we transform our fish into a dancing Harappan "horse"!

New light on the seal's 'computer enhancement': In "Horseplay in Harappa," we noted that Rajaram let it slip out in an online exchange that his original "horse seal" (based on a seven-decade-old photo of a broken seal impression, Mackay 453) was a "computer enhancement" produced to "facilitate our reading." Neither this fact, nor the precise location of the original in Mackay's writings, nor the fact that Mackay 453 was broken is told to the reader of Rajaram's book. After this slip, Rajaram has adamantly refused to discuss his "computer enhancement" publicly, although he has boasted to us that he has many years' academic experience in computer imaging. (But see now our postscript to this communication, reporting a recent Rajaram interview.)

New evidence on this issue has come to light since our article was published, through the good offices of Iravatham Mahadevan. In scholarly communications printed in this and an earlier issue of Frontline (October 27, 2000), Mahadevan relates that in September 1997, Rajaram sent him a copy of the "horse seal" that was different in important ways from the "computer enhancement." Rajaram, in turn, has repudiated Mahadevan's account, claiming in a note published in a nationalistic email List that "t he copy I sent him in 1997 was exactly the same one that went into the book." In the same note, Rajaram hints that Mahadevan's first letter to Frontline might be a forgery, qualifying his repudiation with the words "assuming that he [i.e., Mahadev an] did write that letter."

In the light of these remarks, Mahadevan has made available to Frontline, Witzel, and Farmer the correspondence he had with Rajaram in the fall of 1997. That correspondence, not unexpectedly, supports Mahadevan's and not Rajaram's view of reality. The copies of both the "horse seal" and "Artist's reproduction" of the supposed horse (illustrated in our original article) sent to Mahadevan are significantly different from what later went into Rajaram's book.

Comparison of different versions of the "horse seal" by Frontline graphics specialists (summarised in Figure 5) throws interesting new light on the "computer enhancement" found in Rajaram's book. Koenraad Elst, a Belgian writer and frequent defender of the Hindutva "revisionists," has recently argued that Rajaram's problems with Harappan horses have all been innocent errors1 Comparison of what Rajaram sent to Mahadevan with what is found in his book suggests a different interpre tation. We limit ourselves to two points involving the "horse" image:

1. The photocopy of Mackay 453 sent by Rajaram to Mahadevan was hardly a crisp image, but it was good enough for Mahadevan to see that the original seal was broken. Not even a Harappan expert could tell that the seal was broken from what is printed in Ra jaram's book. The so-called "computer enhancement" badly degrades the image - hiding the fact that the seal is broken and turning its break (as Mahadevan suggests) into the "neck" and "front legs" of Rajaram's deer-like "horse." 2. The copy of the "horse seal" that Rajaram sent to Mahadevan includes annotations on its lower righthand side, in part identifying the plate where Mackay 453 is found2. That information is crucial, since thousands of images are found in Mack ay's works - many of them quite tiny and difficult to distinguish. No data at all identifying the plate (or even the publication) in which Mackay 453 is located are contained in Rajaram's book. In the reproduction found in that book, the annotations are clumsily covered up - creating the illusion of what Indologists have taken to be a common icon (a "feeding trough" looking a bit like an old-time telephone) often found at the feet of animals in Indus inscriptions. (For examples of these objects, see our article in Frontline, October 13.)

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Figure 5. From bull to Hindutva horse in three steps. On the left, the original of the "horse seal" impression (Mackay 453). Comparison with dozens of seals shows that the image is that of a unicorn bull; evidence of this was shown in our original art icle. In the middle, the photocopy of Mackay 453 sent by Rajaram to the great Indian scholar Iravatham Mahadevan in September 1997. The photocopying was careless, but the image was sharp enough for Mahadevan to recognise at a glance that the seal was bro ken. Note the annotations at the lower right that in part identify the seal location. On the right, the "computer enhancement" of Mackay 453 printed in Rajaram's book. In the "enhancement," it is no longer possible to tell that the seal is broken, and th e crack in the seal is turned into the "front legs," "neck," and "head" of Rajaram's deer-like "horse." The annotations have been covered over, creating what Indologists have mistaken for a common Harappan icon - a "feeding trough" often seen at the feet of animals in Indus inscriptions. Frontline graphics specialists tell us that many pixels were removed from the image during the "computer enhancement" - but not data enhancing the illusion, like the large dot often mistaken for the "eye" of the deer-like creature.

Other images in the Rajaram-Mahadevan correspondence, which it would be superfluous to discuss here, also show that what Rajaram sent to Mahadevan was not what appeared in his book. The story of the "computer enhancement" of Mackay 453 is summarised in < B>Figure 5.

Hindutva motives behind Rajaram's work: As we showed in "Horseplay in Harappa," Rajaram's "Piltdown horse" and bogus "decipherment" of the Indus script were closely tied to Hindutva propaganda. The aim of both was to fill in "missing links" betwee n Harappan and Vedic cultures - as part of the broader goal of reducing India's rich multicultural past to Hindu monotones. Since our first online expose this summer, Rajaram has consistently portrayed the criticism directed against him by Western and I ndian scholars as a minor quibble over a single seal. The goal, as he portrays it, has been to divert attention from his supposed breaking of the Harappan code, which he claims has solved "the most significant technical problem in historical research of our time." Thus, in his communication published in this issue, he claims that the "main thrust" of our article and Romila Thapar's commentary on our piece was simply "that the Harappan Civilisation was ignorant of the horse because it is not depicted on any of the seals." Rajaram argues that he and his co-author "regard the question of the horse to be of minor significance: our book is about the Indus script, not the Indus horse."

In fact, our article showed in detail that Rajaram's "decipherment" of the Indus script is even more absurd - if that can be imagined - than his fabricated "horse" evidence. Moreover, the two are closely linked: if the seal does not depict a horse , then the method Rajaram used to read the inscription on the seal, which he says refers to a horse, is obviously bogus. This is why Rajaram insists that the seal depicts a horse long after erstwhile supporters like Elst have backed away. To change his r eading of the "horse seal" inscription at this late date would be to admit publicly what we demonstrated in our article: that the "decipherment" method has so many loopholes built into it that you can get any reading out of any text. As we showed in our article, this gives Rajaram the room to confirm his absurd Hindutva "revisions" of history.

All this reflects the real "main thrust" of our article - Hindutva horseplay in Harappa. There have been many failed but honest attempts to decipher the Indus script, most of which have been quickly forgotten. What makes Rajaram's effort worth close ana lysis is not its scholarly merit - because it has none - but the element of duplicity in his work and the ugly politics underlying it. This was the real subject of our article, which focused on the enormous abyss between Hindutva "revisions" of history a nd any sane view of the past.

The absurdities of these "revisions" may be obvious to professional historians, but due to their political ramifications they cannot be ignored. The barrage of insults and threats that we have received since our article went to press suggests that our an alysis has hit a sensitive nerve in Hindutva circles. We view this as a welcome suggestion that the mythologising tendencies of reactionary writers can be defeated with hard evidence - but only so long as scholars take their social responsibilities serio usly and are willing to combat those tendencies head on. It has been written that "history is the propaganda of the victorious." For historical scholars who ignore those responsibilities, the sense of that saying may become obvious all too soon.

Postscript

Just a few hours before our deadline for this communication, we were forwarded the transcript of an interview with N.S. Rajaram conducted by Frontline correspondent Anupama Katakam in Bangalore. This is the first time, so far as we know, that Raja ram has discussed the "computer enhancement" since he used that phrase in a note sent to the two of us and his followers on July 30, 2000. At the end of that note, he abruptly shut off discussion and declared that he would not discuss the "horse seal" is sue with us further.

In his recent interview, Rajaram makes a number of startling statements, a few of which we list here:

1. The 'feeding trough': When asked in the interview about the "feeding trough," Rajaram pointed to his annotated copy of Mackay 453 (apparently the original of the copy he sent to Mahadevan in 1997) and appeared to blame his publisher. According to his interpretation - and we quote Rajaram verbatim - the annotations "got scrambled in the scanning. This writing which has got scrambled resembles this telephone-like thing which they refer to as a trough." Graphic experts we have consulted in the pa st few hours tell us that "scrambling" like this from scanning is absolutely impossible. Elsewhere in his interview, Rajaram not only denies that he has scanned the picture, but seems uncertain whether or not his publisher has either - which makes his co nfident "scrambled in the scanning" story even less credible. The story is especially peculiar in the light of the many years of academic experience that Rajaram claims to have in computer imaging.

2. The 'computer enhancement': Rajaram's long online letter from July 30 about the "horse seal," which is now on file at Frontline, states that Rajaram and Jha "provide a computer enhancement and an artist's reproduction to facilitate our r eading." At the end of his interview, however, while showing the Frontline correspondent his copy of Mackay 453, Rajaram says: "This photograph is what Jha sent me. I have not computer enhanced it. If I said that - which is possible...I might have said [it]...because I didn't have the photo at the time, which I traced later. I might have said it meaning not that I enhanced it but it might have been done for publication." (The ellipses in these quotations are in the original transcript: we have no t removed any of Rajaram's words.) What he claims here is directly contradicted by what he says in his July 30 letter, where he states that he had examined the text at the Mythic Society in Bangalore. We also know that he had a copy since at least 1997, when he sent it to Mahadevan. At another point in his interview, Rajaram says that "I am not in a position to say 'Yes' or 'No' [about the computer enhancement]." At still another, he tells the interviewer: "And I either sent a photocopy of it.... And I remember what I said to the publisher. I said, 'see if something can be made of this.'"

No matter which, if any, of Rajaram's inconsistent stories is correct, we find it remarkable that after all these months of controversy - highlighted by frontpage stories in the Indian press - Rajaram claims to know nothing about how the photo in his boo k was doctored.

3. Defence of the 'horse seal': The most remarkable statements in Rajaram's interview concern his continued defence of his original "horse seal." He repeats his original arguments in the interview, ignoring the exhaustive analyses of the evidence that have appeared online and in print. At one point Rajaram proclaims: "As far as identification is concerned we are sure it is a horse!" To claim otherwise, as we pointed out earlier, would necessitate admitting that his "decipherment" was fraudulent a s well.

In any case, at this point Rajaram may be the last person on the earth to believe in his "horse seal" or bogus "decipherment," which was hailed as revolutionary by Hindutvavadis just one year ago. Last summer, we offered $1,000 to any Harappan researcher willing to defend Rajaram's claims. Not one has taken us up on our offer. So far as the scholarly world goes, nothing is left of Rajaram's Hindutva "revisions" of history than an as'va-s'ava - in plain English, a dead horse.

- mw & saf

1 Elst was an early enthusiast of Rajaram's "decipherment" and "horse seal," only repudiating the latter after our original expose online this summer. In his Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate (1999: 182), Elst speaks of "the apparent absence of horse motifs on the Harappan seals (except one)" - referring readers to a reproduction supposedly found "in N.S. Rajaram: From Harappa to Ayodhya, inside the front page." The reference is to a booklet published by Rajaram in November 1997, based o n a talk given in September - just a few days before his correspondence with Mahadevan. When we take Elst's advice and look at the inside cover of the booklet (Sahitya Sindhu Prakashana, Bangalore, November 1997), we find the "Artist's reproduction" of t he horse that Rajaram sent to Mahadevan, but no picture of the seal on which it was supposedly based! After being told by Mahadevan that he had a bull, not a horse, Rajaram apparently decided to play it safe for the time being and not publish the picture of his original "evidence."

2 Below the plate number and reference to Mackay 453, the annotations also contain the number 443, explaining Rajaram's occasional references in 1997 to the "horse seal" as Mackay 443 instead of Mackay 453. Mackay 443 (on the same plate) portrays a small seal of a bison with a "feeding trough" at its feet.

KING KRAMNIK

World chess gets a new champion after 15 years.

IN one of the greatest upsets in chess history, Vladimir Kramnik unseated Garry Kasparov on November 2 to become the new world chess champion.

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It all happened on a stormy Thursday evening in London in the 16-match Braingames world chess championship match. Kramnik, 25, defeated 37-year old Kasparov 8.5-6.5 with a game to spare, for an astounding surprise in this all-Russian affair. The younger Russian who was universally thought to be the underdog, ran through the 15 games without losing any and by winning Game Two and Game Ten he won the title. Thirteen games were drawn in the match, which saw the lowest number of decisive outcomes in individ ual games.

Kramnik is the 15th player in history to win the crown, which runs back as far as 1886. World champions are rare and special people in the chess world, and Kramnik joins this select band.

This match is not recognised by FIDE, the international Chess Federation, and does not come under the ambit of Elo ratings. Since 1993, when Kasparov and Nigel Short decided to play outside the purview of FIDE, two parallel world championships were held. FIDE recognised their cycle, but the chess world and the man on the street recognised Kasparov's cycle since he was the strongest player on the planet. Kasparov found takers like The Times newspaper of London to sponsor the 1993 match with Short for a prize money of 1.7 million and microchip maker Intel to sponsor the $1.5 million match against Viswanathan Anand in 1995. After several unsuccessful attempts and different opponents each time, Kasparov got his eighth match after a five-year gap and lost by two games and, importantly, did not live up to his known levels of play.

This latest match carried total a prize money of $2 million (about Rs. 9.3 crores) and Kramnik earns $1.33 million, his career best purse. Kasparov takes the rest. It was Kasparov's first match defeat to a human being. He was beaten by Deep Blue, the che ss playing computer developed by IBM, in 1997 by 3.5-2.5 in New York.

The latest match did not have the usual backstage stories which any such event usually involves. "It was a pure chess match between two friends," said American arbiter Eric Schiller. Veteran International Master (IM) Andrei Fillipowicz from Poland, who s peaks Russian, the language of the participants, was the main arbiter. For the first time in a match, players were checked with metal detectors but discreetly.

ABOUT the quality of chess played, Kramnik pressed harder each time he had white and was generally positive in his approach. Kasparov was found wanting in terms of inspiration and he let go several opportunities with white with early draws. Kramnik's ear ly breakthrough with white in Game Two against Kasparov's main defence against the queen pawn - the Grunfeld Defence - put the pressure on the senior team and it remained that way until the end. The trend was known after as early as Game Two. Kasparov ha d to find new openings to defend with black on the one side and try to break the surprise opening that Kramnik had come prepared for the match - the Berlin variation of the Ruy Lopez. He did not succeed in either both and said after Game Eight that he wa s spending as much as ten hours trying to rebuild his opening repertoire. Kasparov's chess career had been reliant on the openings to deliver the goods that he never tried plan B and plan C that most players will come up with. He was perhaps confident th at it would not be required and gave up a little prematurely.

Kramnik won the match on the psychological front too. He had prepared clearly surprise openings as black and had bone depth strike with white against Kasparov's openings. By avoiding most of Kasparov's preparation, Kramnik dictated terms in the opening a nd perhaps that demoralised Kasparov into a surprise defeat. Kramnik's poor match record was a thing of the past for he beat the greatest match player.

Kasparov's skills were seen in many games where he escaped defeat and pulled off draws with them. His play looked ordinary without the usual razor sharp openings. He did not try enough in many games and particularly in Game 13. In the coming days and mon ths he will perhaps explain what went on inside him.

Kramnik was too solid with black and deadly with white. When he won Game 10, it looked as if it was over at 6-4 as Kasparov was aimlessly pushing himself in the match. "Do you smell victory already in the match?" this writer asked Kramnik. "Not yet," Kra mnik replied. That was the key game. Kramnik drew the remaining games with ease to wrap it up after Game 15.

Kramnik is at the top of the chess world. He will be expected to defend his title in 2002 under a proposed Brain Games Network plc world championship cycle.

Kasparov may not retire but will make a bid to recapture the crown. Nevertheless, the match will leave a scar which will remain on him and his future games with Kramnik. The personal score which was 3-3 before this match went up 5-3, not counting draws.

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On the personal side, Kramnik may be a role model for aspiring players as far as his chess is concerned. But he is a heavy smoker and a drinker and represents modern-day youth in Russia. Since becoming a challenger he has given up many of these arguable vices and has concentrated on his health and fitness. He is single today but in 1996 was travelling to tournaments with Czech chess player Woman Grandmaster (WGM) Eva Repkova. Kramnik comes from a creative family. His chess epitomises perfection.

Although not rebellious like Kasparov, he takes a stand by himself and sticks to it. In 1997, when FIDE announced the controversial knock out cycle to decide the world champion, he protested to Anatoly Karpov's seeding to the finals and stayed out of the event. He played in the same event in 1999 when such seeding was removed.

Kramnik was lucky in many ways, including in the way he got invited to the match. It was a match that Anand declined to play in March 2000 when the required minimum guarantee he wanted was not entertained. Kramnik approached several players for help in t his match and it included Anand. Kramnik himself told The Sportstar in an interview this July that the names of some people from whom he will receive help will never ever be revealed. In London earlier he was assisted by his Moscow neighbour Grand master (GM) E.Bareev, his French friend GM Joel Lautier from Paris and Spanishman GM Miguel Illescas from Barcelona.

It was one of the poorest title defences offered by Kasparov since Dutchman Max Euwe lost a one-sided return match to Alexander Alekhine in the early half of the previous century. He was never close to a victory. He did not try to use the advantage of wh ite in several games. A number of reasons have been offered for Kasparov's defeat. "I was not outplayed, but out-prepared," said the loser in a carefully worded statement after the match.

Kasparov cited tiredness, disappointment at not being able to cash in on his chances and personal reasons for his defeat. But had both players cashed in on their chances, the result should have been the same.

THIS development in chess history brings several new positive things to the sport, which has not seen a new champion for long.

Chess is still in the process of proving itself as a sport. With television coverage impossible to get, the digital revolution and the growth of the Internet has given new hope for spreading the game wider. For the first time, the Kramnik-Kasparov match was available live on the Internet with live feeds of video and audio from the board and comments from British grandmasters. It is possible to follow chess in real time now from any location.

The result brings in a part of reality. There is no lifetime champion. Champions ought to lose someday. The chess fraternity did not expect that Kasparov's time had come. Many people could not believe the result. Kramnik proved everyone wrong that with d iscipline, determination and surprise he could beat Kasparov. He worked inside Kasparov's camp in 1995 as trainer. It was a big mistake for Kasparov, but it brought him success against Anand.

Kramnik is no newcomer to chess. He won the Linares 2000 tournament jointly with Kasparov earlier this year. He shot into fame in his very first Chess Olympiad at Manila in 1992 when he won the board prize for the reserve board. Unlike his Russian predec essors, Kasparov, Karpov or Spassky, he did not win the world junior because he did not play in them. His rise in stature was so quick that he was a FIDE Master with a 2600 FIDE rating! He was ranked No.1 on the junior list. Organiser Luis Rentero induct ed this teenager into the Linares Tournament in 1993, a round robin with top class players. Since then he has been a regular at super category tournaments, winning five of the last six Dortmund Tournaments, a host of PCA Rapid Tournaments, and the Dos He rmanas 1996 Tournament, to name a few.

A new young world champion is what the chess world needed. From now on, the success or failure of the two world cycles will depend on Raymond Keene of Brain Games Network plc and the mother organisation FIDE. Before the match, there was no possibility of a patch-up owing to clash of ideologies between Kasparov and the FIDE president. There should be a greater possibility of a patch-up now than before to have one cycle and one champion in the game of chess.

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