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COVER STORY

03-08-2001

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Briefing

DEADLOCK AT AGRA

The India-Pakistan peace process comes to a halt at the Agra Summit, unable to overcome the compulsions of political reality, chiefly relating to the vastly different positions on Kashmir.

THE high road to peace between India and Pakistan meandered into a dead-end at Agra. When the momentum towards the Agra Summit began with the late-May exchange of letters between Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and the Pakistani military ruler and soon-to-be President, General Pervez Musharraf, the extravagance of hope began its tussle with the compulsions of reality. The optimists were always treading rather thin ground, since the two countries lacked even a common vocabulary to deal with their mutual relations. Finally, Agra showed that despite the common linguistic heritage of the two sides, mutual intelligibility is still a problem.

'Failure' was a word that External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh was disinclined to use the day after. His understanding was that the invitation extended by Pakistan to the Indian Prime Minister for a visit later this year remained in place. The dialogue would continue, he asserted, and the confidence-building measures that had been unilaterally announced by India prior to the summit "would be fully implemented".

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To the extent that both the positive elements identified by Jaswant Singh require reciprocal arrangements on both sides, his optimism needs to be tested against Pakistan's posture after the failure of the Agra Summit. Although it is unlikely that Pakistan would immediately rescind its invitation to the Indian Prime Minister, the Musharraf regime's commitment to the confidence-building measures announced by India is far from certain. Pakistan's insistence on discussing the 'core issue' of Kashmir before all else is only likely to impede progress on other fronts. If the Musharraf regime were to go along with India's proposals on easing the restrictions on travel between the two countries - both by liberalising visa norms and opening more land transit points, including along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir - it would need to justify its actions to the domestic constituency that demands progress on Kashmir before any other bargain is struck with India.

This uneasy stasis in bilateral relations is unlikely to persist. The Islamic warriors who have found a favourable environment on Pakistani soil are likely to push it into an upward spiral of mutual belligerence by their actions on the ground. They have already served notice of their intentions by executing a series of terror strikes in Kashmir during the Agra Summit. And the main militant groups have already denounced India for the failure of the Summit.

At stake for Pakistan is a principle that it has come to regard as essential to its identity. After spending years in the futile quest of wresting Kashmir away, it is now willing to settle for an acknowledgment from India that the territory's final status still constitutes an area of 'dispute'. This is a verbal concession that India is simply unwilling to make, for reasons equally fundamental to its identity. Jaswant Singh put it at a media conference two days before Musharraf's arrival in Delhi: "It is quite often said by our neighbour that Kashmir is the core issue. I have often said it is not the core issue, but the core of Indian nationhood. We do not believe in denominational nationhood. We believe in civic nationalism."

These locutions from a ranking member of the Bharatiya Janata Party - an unapologetic exponent of 'cultural nationalism' - may sound a trifle implausible, but Jaswant Singh fortunately has the legacy of more enlightened Indian political traditions to draw upon. The liberal consensus in India, if the BJP's own affiliates on the religious Right were to be excluded, supports a broad-ranging discussion with the new political forces in Kashmir under the overall framework of constitutionalism. A trilateral dialogue on issues that touch at the core of the State's sovereignty is clearly ruled out. Making any concession to the Pakistani negotiating stance would have put this consensus at risk.

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The stakes for Pakistan are, in many senses greater. The military does not pretend to have a popular mandate, though it has as the custodian of ideological purity, the authority to bargain with India. Politically, Musharraf is stymied by the Islamic jehad groups which have flourished on the patronage of the military. Economically, he is hamstrung by the dictates of multilateral donors, which have eroded Pakistan's fiscal autonomy to an unprecedented degree. Pakistan's economic adjustment programme is about to begin biting deeply, and in dealing with the political consequences Musharraf cannot afford to leave his flanks vulnerable to an attack by Islamic hardliners.

The elaborate diplomatic choreography of the days leading up to the Summit provided adequate indication of what the tone of the discussions would be. Rather than attend to the serious business of setting out the agenda for discussion, both sides chose repeated recourse to the device of declaratory diplomacy. India on its part announced a series of unilateral measures permitting easier movement across the borders. As a means to stabilise the military situation along the LoC, it announced - again seemingly without consulting the other side - that the Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO) would be visiting Pakistan for discussions with his counterpart.

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Pakistan chose not to respond to the unilateral concessions from India and after a phase of initial disorientation, politely sought the postponement of the DGMO's visit until after the Summit. Further, it served repeated notice that its focus was on a different part of the canvas of bilateral relations, once issuing an official statement on the alleged 'repression' in Kashmir, which had the Indian Foreign Office seething in rage. Further concerns were raised by Musharraf's statements to a Dubai-based newspaper just two days before his scheduled arrival in Delhi, debunking the Simla and Lahore accords as irrelevant and rejecting any proposal to freeze the LoC as an international border.

THE rain that soaked Delhi the day Musharraf arrived lent itself to various interpretations. There was first the natural tendency to interpret the weather as a happy augury for the future of relations between the estranged neighbours. The rain relented just enough to allow for a reception to the Pakistani General that surpassed any courtesy rendered a visitor from that country. There was a pointed gesture from Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis, who represented the military chiefs at the ceremonial reception. Tipnis' decision to confine himself to a cordial handshake, rather than the salute mandated by protocol, was read, perhaps accurately as a riposte for (then Army chief) Musharraf's failure to receive Prime Minister Vajpayee on his arrival in Lahore in 1999. The message seemed to have registered with Musharraf, who invariably responded to the crowds thronging his public appearances with a mixture of a salute and wave.

At every public engagement, the visiting General was businesslike and purposeful. After a visit to Mahatma Gandhi's samadhi at the Raj Ghat, he placed on record his belief that the principle of non-violence was a matter of central importance to India and Pakistan.

Musharraf's arrival statement spoke of his conviction that the political leadership in India and Pakistan could engage in frank and meaningful discussions on the Kashmir issue. This caused a minor frisson of diplomatic anxiety, but as the day wore on, there were a number of events that contributed to an elevation of the mood.

India's official spokesperson, Nirupama Rao, provided a fairly upbeat assessment of the first half of the day's events. Declining to clarify whether an agenda had been set, she described the arrival of the Pakistan President as "the beginning of a process - the commencement of a journey". Ironically, these were precisely the words that she was to reprise on a distinctly gloomy note after the Summit concluded on July 16.

That metaphor of a journey had been invoked earlier on the day of Musharraf's arrival by Jaswant Singh just as he entered into his brief consultation with the visiting dignitary. In obvious reference to the apparent repudiation of the Simla and Lahore accords just days earlier, the External Affairs Minister said that it was necessary in embarking on this new course, to appreciate the significance of all the previous journeys that had been completed in neighbourhood relations.

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From the Pakistani side, there was a quick effort at addressing this particular grievance, with Foreign Secretary Inamul Haq explaining that Musharraf's remarks had been misinterpreted. He had not indicated at any stage that the Lahore and Simla accords were dead. Rather, he had only meant to say that there had been no work towards building on these accords.

An evening tea at the Pakistan High Commissioner's residence saw the participation of a sizable contingent from the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) of Jammu and Kashmir. Anointed by successive Pakistan regimes as the authentic voice of the Kashmiri people, the Hurriyat won an assurance from Musharraf that its participation would be sought in any approach towards resolving the issue.

THE highlight of President K.R. Narayanan's banquet later that day was his bold appropriation of the metaphor of the unfinished agenda of Partition. Originally attributed to Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the phrase was recently recycled by Benazir Bhutto in reference to the Kashmir issue. P.V. Narasimha Rao, then the Indian Prime Minister, responded with extreme alacrity, vowing that the eviction of Pakistan from its side of Kashmir was indeed the unfinished agenda of Partition. President Narayanan has now sought to establish a new orthodoxy: that stable and friendly relations between the neighbours were what Jinnah intended by using the term.

From Musharraf's side, there was a concession that Kashmir was not an issue that could be resolved militarily. This was read as a substantive gesture. And the symbolic bow to the greatness of India's traditions was far from typical of a Pakistani Head of State.

Yet, for all the emotional froth that was built up, nobody quite knew where the dialogue would be heading until the moment it began in Agra on the morning of July 15. And from then on, information about the progress of the talks was a zealously guarded commodity. Early that evening, the Indian Foreign Office put out a non-committal and rather vacuous summary, suffused with the full quota of cliches. The two leaders were then scheduled to meet for a further round of sequestered discussions at 6-30 p.m., with parallel deliberations taking place at the ministerial and official levels.

Both sides proved reluctant to reveal details of the discussions. Major-General Rashid Quereshi, military spokesperson for the Pakistan President, provided his own account in equally cursory fashion, saying that there had been an element of "understanding" and "some positive movement". It was inferred from this that there was a serious effort at both the apex- and the delegation-level talks to grapple with the issue of Kashmir.

It was clear though, that there had been no dramatic reordering of the conflicting priorities that were freely ventilated during the preceding phase of declaratory diplomacy. Between Pakistan's insistence that a clear recognition of the centrality of Kashmir is necessary before discussions could take place on other issues and India's belief that such a concession would only reward the sustained sponsorship of terrorism from across the border, it seemed there was little meeting ground.

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Perhaps with the extravagance of unbridled hope, the observers were keenly looking for signals from the meagre information that was being made available. The one-to-one dialogue between Vajpayee and Musharraf went far beyond the 15-minute time-frame that had been laid down in the original programme. The two leaders spent 90 minutes in sequestered discussions before the delegations from the two sides were brought in. This was read as a suggestion that they had been able to work out a set of principles that would govern a common approach to the resolution of differences on Kashmir.

In the course of the day's discussions, Musharraf extended an invitation to Vajpayee to visit Pakistan. It was further inferred from India's rather quick acceptance of this invitation that there has been an agreement to raise the level of the dialogue on Kashmir. Under the Islamabad accord of 1997, India agreed to discuss Kashmir with Pakistan, as part of a broader dialogue process, referred to as the "composite" or the "two plus six" negotiating brief. Kashmir and "peace and security" constituted the first two among the issues that were to be discussed, followed by six other matters that Pakistan has traditionally insisted are of lesser importance. But the Foreign Secretaries from the two sides, who were designated to discuss the issue of Kashmir, never managed to go beyond long-held positions. By offering implicitly to institutionalise the dialogue on Kashmir at the level of the political leadership, India, it seemed, was holding out the promise of a mechanism to discuss this issue, though over an unspecified time-frame.

As credible information from both sides dried up, observers were left to infer on its progress from the numerous and often conflicting accounts that were rendered by the television crews that had physical proximity to the Summit venue. It was assumed, as much from the inputs received at Agra as from statements made prior to the Summit, that the Pakistan side retained several reservations about India's conception of a "mechanism". The Pakistani suggestion that a "process" of resolving Kashmir be instituted was, by all accounts, part of the discussions. This would require a number of time-bound commitments from the Indian side that would necessitate the entry of a third party into the negotiations at an early date. Pakistan's designated third party in these negotiations, it was again inferred, was the APHC, which India has refused to deal with except as part of the Indian constitutional process.

Later in the evening, Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Sushma Swaraj, perhaps taking her ministerial designation too literally, afforded some relief from the information famine. Speaking to a Doordarshan news crew, she explained that at the delegation-level talks, India had renewed its insistence that Pakistan should put an end to cross-border terrorism, account for Indian prisoners of war (POWs), and initiate meaningful discussions on reducing nuclear risks in the subcontinent. This was for the assembled media personnel a rare nugget of news. But for more seasoned observers, it seemed to suggest a serious lack of forward movement. Pakistan has always pleaded that it has no control over militant violence in Kashmir, which it described as "indigenous" in its origins. And its reluctance to bargain away its nascent nuclear weapons capability, which it argues is a necessary deterrent against India's superior conventional military strength, part of the pre-Summit state of knowledge.

It was learnt on reasonable authority at the end of Day One, that the two delegations intended working through the night on the phraseology of an agreed statement that would bridge the massive gaps in perception and interests. Musharraf needed a concession on Kashmir to justify his opposition to the Simla and Lahore accords. India was insistent that an "Agra declaration", if at all one was forthcoming, could not sacrifice the legacy of earlier agreements. Yet both sides seemed equally keen that the Agra Summit had to show a positive outcome. Musharraf had to placate the restive community of Islamic warriors at home and India had to ensure that political turbulence in Pakistan did not further endanger its internal security. Day Two of the Summit, by all accounts, promised to be a serious challenge for both the verbal craftsmen and the political statesmen on both sides.

It was clear when the two leaders began their slated one-to-one dialogue just before 11 a.m. on July 16 that a major effort would be needed to restore the possibility of a sustained engagement between their countries. All elements of symbolism were cut out as Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf narrowed their focus to the substantive elements of a joint statement that would accommodate, without seeming to gloss over, the wide divergences on Kashmir.

The day's deliberations began against the background of a statement issued the previous night by Major-General Quereshi. By reaffirming the Pakistani position that a resolution of the Kashmir issue was an essential prerequisite for movement on any other matter of bilateral interest, Quereshi was obviously seeking to dispel the notion that the Pakistan side had relented in some measure on its "core concern". This impression had arisen just hours prior, as a consequence of the account of the day's negotiations conveyed by Sushma Swaraj.

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A more conclusive rebuttal of Swaraj's remarks - which held the field as the Indian position until her own formal denial - was delivered by Musharraf at his breakfast meeting with leading Indian journalists. "She talked about everything - trade, prisoners of war, cross-border terrorism," said the Pakistan President, in reference to Sushma Swaraj's remarks, "but ladies and gentlemen, we spent most of our time discussing Kashmir."

The burgeoning controversy over her remarks compelled Swaraj to issue a clarification. "I am not a saboteur," she said to a group of journalists at the Agra Summit media centre. In a more broadly elaborated disavowal carried by various television networks, she admitted that Kashmir had indeed been discussed and that her sole purpose the previous day was to highlight the issues that were of priority to India.

Most observers were by then convinced that Swaraj's disclaimer of any intention to "sabotage" the talks was unnecessary. Rather, they were inclined to read the Information Minister's remarks as a sign that little progress had been made. It was becoming increasingly clear that the Indian and Pakistani delegations went in to their talks with unbridgeable differences, and these persisted through the first day of the Summit.

Musharraf made a brief concession to humour - rare in the environment of gloom that was beginning to shroud the Summit by the morning. Referring to India's insistence that Kashmir should be kept off the bargaining table, he mentioned that he had his own compulsions. If he did not insist on the primacy of Kashmir, he wryly admitted, he might as well seek to buy back his ancestral house in Delhi - at the Naharwali Haveli - and take up permanent residence there.

The most that President Musharraf was willing to concede was at the verbal plane. It was necessary to acknowledge mutually that Kashmir was the primary cause of friction between the two countries, but then if India was averse to the word "dispute", he could as well settle for "issue" as a description.

As the two leaders resumed their negotiations on the morning of July 16, a leading satellite television channel began broadcasting a recording of President Musharraf's breakfast meeting, complete with his opening remarks and the vigorous discussion that followed. This recording was reportedly obtained in accordance with a prior contractual arrangement with Pakistan TV, the only media organisation that had access to the breakfast encounter.

By this time it was becoming increasingly evident that the talks had made little headway. Musharraf's locutions at his breakfast meeting, it was assumed, reflected the Pakistan delegation's negotiating approach. This made it rather easy to appreciate why progress towards bridging basic differences was meagre. Unfortunately, little information was forthcoming from the Indian team until early on the evening of July 16, when the text of Vajpayee's opening statement at the opening day's meeting was released.

Vajpayee was revealed to have assured Musharraf that all outstanding issues between the two countries would be dealt with: "We look forward to a detailed exchange of views on all issues including that of Jammu and Kashmir. You are fully aware of our views on this subject and we have heard yours.... We are willing to address these differences and to move forward. But for this, it is important to create a conducive atmosphere. The terrorism and violence being promoted in the State from across the borders do not help to create such an atmosphere."

India had not by any accounts retreated from this affirmation of its basic position that cross-border terrorism must end for meaningful progress on Kashmir. Although the Indian delegation has revealed little and insists that the record of discussions will remain confidential, it can be inferred from the length of time the talks went on that there were some conditions specified as essential prerequisites for even a verbal concession on Kashmir: credible efforts by Pakistan to rein in the Islamic warriors, who have found a hospitable environment on its soil, and a measurable decline in the level of violence. This would logically have then raised the need for a "mechanism" to monitor progress, which was also reportedly placed on the negotiating table, though without a semblance of agreement.

By lunch time on July 16, the pessimists had gained the decisive upper hand. But then came the information that Musharraf had rescheduled his departure from Agra to visit a Sufi shrine in Ajmer. Substance had prevailed over symbolism, with the General preferring to utilise his time in continuing his discussions with Vajpayee. By early evening, deliberations were still under way and the first glimmers of an Agra declaration began to emerge. By 4-30 p.m., it was being authoritatively reported, though without attribution, that a declaration would be issued within a matter of two hours.

The dominant reality, however, was that speculation continued to hold the field in an environment of complete opacity about the status of the talks. Musharraf's change of schedule was the first positive signal to come out on the day, which opened with India and Pakistan perilously close to a breakdown of mutual communications. Yet, after working all through the previous night to arrive at an acceptable phraseology, the two delegations were nowhere nearer bridging their differences in perception even as the clock was stopped to allow the Summit to run on indefinitely. By 9 p.m., the pessimists were back in the foreground, though a last-ditch effort to salvage the cause of a joint declaration was made by the rumour that Musharraf had decided to extend his stay until the next day.

There was a point reached at the talks when both sides decided that verbal craftsmanship alone would not take them far. Differences could be only momentarily papered over. Were the two leaders to respond to the inevitable demands for clarification from their domestic constituencies, the underlying differences would break through the facade of concord. The Agra declaration, if one were issued, needed to go beyond clever turns of phrase and institute credible mechanisms. Failing that, it would be rapidly consigned to the same receptacle that houses its most recent predecessor, the Lahore Declaration.

By 9-15 p.m. on July 16, it was officially notified through the television networks that there would not be a joint declaration. Shortly afterwards, the Pakistan delegation announced a press conference by Musharraf at Jaypee Palace Hotel, the headquarters of the Indian delegation. As tired and frustrated media personnel set off in a virtual stampede, few seemed to have the inclination to think through the plausibility of a Musharraf press conference at a venue that was under a heavy Indian security blanket. It transpired instead that Musharraf was paying a farewell call on the Indian Prime Minister and would seek to conduct a press conference afterwards. All that the assembled mediapersons saw was the spectacle of his motorcade driving into the hotel premises and leaving just over an hour later. The Pakistan President left shortly afterwards, leaving several unanswered questions and much speculation in his wake.

It was revealed by Jaswant Singh the following day that Musharraf's request for a press conference could not be granted because his security routine prescribes a minimum notice period of 90 minutes for any public engagement. This was clearly an effort to put to rest any suggestion that the Pakistan President had been sent back with a parting gesture of gross discourtesy. At the same time, the mere fact that he sought to pay a farewell call on the Indian Prime Minister and then spent over an hour with him, is read as a sign that the dialogue is not dead, that it can indeed resume later this year.

So near, yet so far

cover-story
Of what went wrong at Agra. AIJAZ AHMAD Frontline

PRIME MINISTER Atal Behari Vajpayee's letter to President Pervez Musharraf had invited him to walk "the high road to peace and prosperity". In turn, Musharraf lamented the fact, as he put it, that "We are so close to each other, yet so far from each other" and repeatedly stressed the historic opportunity to set aside the "negative solutions of the past", while his visit to Naharwali Haveli, his ancestral home and birthplace in Daryaganj, was billed as something resembling the return of a native. In his welcome address, President K.R. Narayanan reminded his audience that Akbar, the symbol of peace and toleration in the otherwise tortuous history of Indian statecraft, was buried at Agra and prayed: "May his spirit pervade the conference chamber tomorrow." And, indeed, Agra was chosen as the venue for the Vajpayee-Musharraf Summit for its symbolic value as the historic home of Indo-Islamic culture, with the sublime and soothing presence of the Taj Mahal as the backdrop for the parleys. In his reply to President Narayanan's welcome address, Musharraf was to declare that there was no military solution to the Kashmir issue - a theme to which he was to return several times in various forums.

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As Musharraf's plane touched down and temperatures dropped to give Delhi its coolest day and greenest look of the monsoon season, even the gods seemed to be smiling on this mission for peace. The Chief of the Air Staff A.Y. Tipnis' failure to salute Musharraf at the ceremonial welcome at the Rashtrapati Bhavan was in bad taste, but Musharraf himself won countless hearts when he began his own itinerary in the city with a visit to the Raj Ghat where he and his elegant wife were shown showering rose petals on Mahatma Gandhi's samadhi. He then went on to write in the visitors' book: "Never has the requirement of his ideals been so severely felt than today, specially in the context of India-Pakistan relations. May his soul rest in peace." He thus became the first Pakistani head of state to visit the Raj Ghat, and no one could help being moved by the fact that he had launched his visit to India with a glowing homage to the self-same Gandhi who is regarded by mainstream India as an apostle of peace and non-violence but is anathema to Pakistan's extremists and super-patriots from whom Musharraf is increasingly distancing himself.

In the course of the day, he had the wit to meet individually and separately with Home Minister L.K. Advani and Foreign-cum-Defence Minister Jaswant Singh, both prime ministerial aspirants and clearly the most powerful members in the Vajpayee Cabinet. When Jaswant Singh protested against the contempt he had shown for the Lahore Declaration in particular and even, at times, for the Simla accord, Musharraf took to denying that he had ever dismissed those agreements. He repeated the denial several times over the next couple of days, clarifying that his government was bound by those agreements and his only point was that neither agreement had secured the peace and both countries now needed to re-assess the causes for that failure. The list of indictments that Advani delivered to him in the course of 20 minutes was the first volley in India's insistence during the Summit on "cross-border terrorism" which ranged from Kashmir to the Bombay blasts to Sikh extremism and beyond.

This was the list that was to be expanded and emphasised in Vajpayee's own opening statement at the start of the Agra Summit, which was inexplicably released by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) the next day. This act deliberately aggravated a situation which had been aggravated already the night before by Sushma Swaraj, the unbridled Minister for Information and Broadcasting, who had equally deliberately omitted any mention of Kashmir as even one of the subjects that had been discussed between the two heads of state. The omission made life difficult for Musharraf and forced the Pakistan delegation to issue a strong statement asserting that Kashmir had been discussed extensively.

If India's tough line was first stated in Advani's meeting, the luncheon that Vajpayee hosted that first day had an embarrassing moment for Musharraf, when Farooq Abdullah strode up to him and introduced himself, quite accurately, as "the elected Chief Minister" of Jammu and Kashmir. In return, the well-publicised invitation to leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) for the tea party at the Pakistan High Commissioner's residence that evening was Pakistan's way of expressing its uncompromising stance. Strictly speaking, the Pakistan High Commissioner was well within his rights to do so, considering that he had invited a very broad spectrum of Indians, ranging from leaders of the CPI(M) to Agnishekhar of Panun Kashmir. The decision of the ruling National Democratic Alliance to boycott the party in protest against the presence of the Hurriyat leaders, whom the government rightly considers Indian citizens and often confers with, was at best unseemly.

On two counts, however, Pakistan's handling of the affair was somewhat ham-handed. One was that the host government had apparently requested Musharraf not to hold that highly publicised meeting, and Pakistan should have been graceful in this matter in the larger interests of cordiality at the Summit. Second, if the Hurriyat leaders had to be invited, Pakistan could greatly improve its own image if Musharraf had also explicitly invited people like Farooq Abdullah and Dr. Karan Singh, thus indicating that he was interested in a dialogue with the whole range of political and religious spectrums in the Indian part of Jammu and Kashmir.

Before the tea party, though, General Musharraf also held an hour-long informal meeting for exchange of views with an assorted group of journalists, academics, ex-diplomats and politicians - all billed as 'intellectuals' - at which Frontline was represented by its Editor, N. Ram, and the present writer. Here, one could see at close quarters a no-nonsense soldier who was also affable, articulate, impatient for solutions, ready to discuss other issues but focussed overwhelmingly on Kashmir, and in his own way open and flexible, relatively unmindful of the niceties and precisions of diplomatic language. The impatience was evident even in his suggestion that a "framework" be set for negotiations toward a final solution along with a "time-frame" in which, he thought, the matter could be settled within a year. Quite aside from the personal attitude, at least three aspects of his remarks were significant. One, his quite genuine belief, an example of which we shall see below, that, as he put it, "The road ahead needs compromises from both sides. By this I don't mean one-sided compromises... We know the internal problems of India and the internal problems of Pakistan. We need to rise above those problems. This needs boldness, courage, statesmanship."

Second, although he spoke at great length about Kashmir, it was significant that he began with the vision of an "economic association" in South Asia. Every other region of the world was moving in the direction of such associations, he said with the single exception of our region. In the context of this economic cooperation, he then went on to state his enthusiastic support for the projected Indo-Iranian gas pipeline to be laid through Pakistani territory. "We will adhere to international norms" in facilitating it and providing the requisite security, he said.

Third, it was very striking that in the course of an hour, much of which was devoted to the Kashmir issue, Musharraf did not ever mention either the Hurriyat or the United Nations Resolutions, the two stock themes of Pakistan's public pronouncements on the issue. He was to then repeat these significant omissions in his later breakfast meeting with India's senior Editors and mediapersons on the second day of the Agra Summit, where too the emphasis was on flexibility. When forced to address the question of the U.N. Resolutions by a question from the floor, he pointed out that India too had accepted them but then went on to say that the Resolutions too could be "discussed" - not "implemented", as Pakistan's historic position has it. "We must not allow the past to dictate the future," he said, repeating a line that seems to have become a favourite with him.

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Simply dismissing earlier inflexibilities, Musharraf declared at the meeting that "one could negate certain solutions", that "a number of possible solutions" can be considered and that "I am willing to look at any option" - apparently including the so-called 'third option' of an independent Kashmir. Indeed, his flexibilty was so great that a seasoned journalist like Shekhar Gupta of The Indian Express, who was present at the meeting and then spent much time and energy on New Delhi Television's Star News programme dissecting the event, seemed positively agitated by the speed with which Musharraf was moving and offering various options; no seasoned politician would offer so much so soon, he kept saying in disbelief and in the tone of a reprimand, as if the ill-famed "architect of Kargil" had landed in Agra as an architect of peace and the Indian government simply did not know what to do with the pressure of these concessions.

Those of us who had met Musharraf earlier in Delhi noticed that same tendency to brush aside older inflexibilties in pursuit of a dialogue. The emphasis, rather, was on flexibility. My English is not very good, he said lightly, so if India has problems with the phrase "Kashmir dispute", let us just call it an "issue" or a "problem". On his insistent formulation that "Kashmir is the core issue", he again said: "Let us find another word, another adjective. What I mean is that this is the issue on which we have fought wars." The manner was warm and charming, the logic impeccable. One knew, however, that as a competent staff officer he must have done his homework and this seemingly casual de-escalation from "dispute" to "issue" was performed with deliberation, since he too must have known that the status of Kashmir as "disputed territory" has been sacrosanct in the Pakistani lexicon whereas "territory" need not even figure much in the resolution of an "issue" or a "problem". He was offering a significant concession and expected India to reciprocate by accepting, in this less charged language, that Kashmir was indeed the main problem, which he could then take back to Pakistan as a concession he had gained. India's refusal to do so contributed substantially to the subsequent collapse of the Summit, as we shall see.

AS the Summit began to unfold, one could not help comparing its context with that of those earlier and famous summits which had given us the Simla accord and the Lahore Declaration. Indeed, the fact that it was the first Summit to be held in India in the period where electronic media has become so dominant and invasive meant that it could not be allowed to be compared with those other very many occasions when Indian and Pakistani heads of state have met without producing any spectacular results; this one had to be spectacular if it was to succeed at all in the eyes of TV cameras and the roving commentators who need to manufacture an excitement every half an hour. Within this context, then, the contrast between this Summit and those other two could not be sharper. Some reminder of those earlier summits is also necessary because Pakistan's discomfort with those agreements as "insufficient" has often been portrayed as "rejection" or "repudiation", a charge that re-surfaced at Jaswant Sigh's press conference on the day after the Summit even though Musharraf had been publicly re-affirming Pakistan's adherence to those agreements. The charge of "rejection" is facetious but we should also understand Pakistan's discomfort.

The Simla Summit had taken place under the shadow of India's total victory in Bangladesh and Pakistan's vivisection with some 90,000 of its soldiers held in India. Indian super-patriots tend to complain that Indira Gandhi conceded too much and that she should have rather imposed India's will in Kashmir, once and for all. That is actually not how the Simla accord is viewed in Pakistan. In their version, India demanded - and obtained - from Pakistan the same language on what now came to be known as the Line of Control (LoC) which Pakistan had conceded to China in the settlement of their boundary dispute. It is significant that what has been a most quiescent Sino-Pakistan border also has the official status of a Line of Control, and it simply assumed that the peace shall not be disturbed and the line shall be simply treated as if it was a final border. Indian insistence on that language was designed to obtain precisely that result, and that is why India as well as the Western powers always insist on the "sanctity" of the LoC which the respective forces must not cross; and that is why infiltration of even irregular combatants across this line can be designated as "cross-border terrorism".

Be that as it may. Pakistan considers that agreement as one that was extracted from it in a moment of defeat, even though it kept the peace for some two decades. It began to be violated only with the onset of full-scale insurgency in Kashmir around 1988-89. It does not reject the agreement officially but resents it and, in what it regards as its right to support "the struggle of the Kashmiri people for liberation", it does not feel constrained to respect the LoC entirely. Musharraf's achievement is that since India's recent declaration of something resembling a ceasefire, the LoC has been quieter than at any point in recent memory. Nawaz Sharif certainly gave India no such respite.

The Lahore Summit, meanwhile, was held under the shadow of the great political destabilisation caused by the nuclear explosions at Pokhran and Chagai which had suddenly elevated Kashmir, in American eyes in particular, as a "nuclear flashpoint." The Summit was held, in other words, under direct foreign pressure and simply to prove to the U.S. that there was no perceptible immediate threat of a nuclear conflagration in South Asia. It was not a response to conditions prevailing in Jammu and Kashmir which could have put India in a serious dilemma, or to the kind of internal crisis that prevails today in Pakistan. The euphoria at that time was quite disproportionate to the actual gains made by either side, and the great haste was denounced in Pakistan by senior civilian officers and military commanders alike. Musharraf was one of the dissidents at the time and when he says today "I am a realist and cannot push reality under the carpet" he is referring to his perception that the Indian version of the "composite dialogue" strategy was accepted in Lahore in such a way that, as he sees it, the "reality" of Kashmir was "pushed under the carpet". That is the imbalance he now seeks to correct, which is why he keeps harping on his demand that the "composite dialogue" not replace the "centrality" of the "core issue" of Kashmir.

THE Agra Summit was different in many ways. There was certainly foreign, notably U.S., pressure but, unlike Lahore, that was not the main factor. Nor was it held under the shadow of a spectacular event like Pakistan's defeat in Bangladesh or the nuclear explosions. Unlike Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who had come to salvage what he could from a military defeat, and unlike Nawaz Sharif who displeased his military commanders with his inordinate effusiveness, Musharraf has come to India with great strengths. He commands absolute political and military power in institutional terms, has built a very great and extensive consensus behind himself (including the whole spectrum of the Islamicist establishment, minus a couple of jehadi groups which rely heavily on Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, anyway), and he has put in place a quasi-democratic electoral process which is most likely to bestow legitimacy upon him by the end of next year.

Moreover, he has been preparing for (virtually demanding) this Summit for well over a year, feeling that he is in a strong position because the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir continues unabated and all the alternatives to negotiations with Pakistan which India has attempted - ceasefire with the Hizbul Mujahideen, the unilateral ceasfire of its own, the K.C. Pant mission - have failed. His one great weakness is the state of Pakistan's economy, but any idea that the national economy there is on the verge of collapse is nonsensical; for one thing, and thanks mainly to its geo-strategic location and size, Pakistan is too important for the Big Powers - the U.S., China, even Russia - for them to allow the kind of instability that comes with economic collapse. He is willing to talk of two-sided compromises and even offer some adjustments in Pakistan's historic postures for a variety of reasons.

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First, he feels strong enough to do so provided that India reciprocates. Second, his government understands that the size of the Indian economy and the sophistication of Indian military capabilities is such that it would be suicidal for Pakistan to enter into an arms race, whether in the conventional or the nuclear arena. Third, with the exception of the jehadi groups and popular movements in a few districts of central Punjab, he commands an immense majority in favour of peace; if he can get some reciprocal concessions from India he can expand that majority in the process and make himself more popular. Fourth, it is in the interest of his personal power - and he believes it to be in the interest of his country - that jehadi elements in the population at large and in the military establishment be isolated and controlled, which he cannot do in a full sweep without showing movement on the Kashmir issue. Fifth, this interest in containing the jehadi elements gets an enormous boost thanks to the pressure from not only the U.S. but also China and even Russia, not to speak of Iran which feels threatened by the Sunni orthodoxy of the Pakistani (and Afghan) jehadis. These and many other such factors are impelling him to conceive genuinely of a compromise solution, and it is myopic of India not to seize the opportunity or to learn how to deal with a strong but flexible ruler of a weak neighbour. When Musharraf says that India is a great, powerful country which should act in such a way as to preserve the honour and dignity of weaker neighbours, he is indeed recommending to us what should be a cardinal principle of our policy.

That the desire for peace is just as strong among broad cross-sections of Indians became clear from the way his very image got transformed in the popular perceptions by the end of the first day. It was of course in the nature of things that the guest got a lot more media coverage than the hosts. There is of course the cultural difference wherein Pakistanis are a lusty, flamboyant lot whereas officious primness comes as if naturally to their Indian counterparts, who appeared aloof, even sullen, throughout the Summit.

But there were also matters of substance as well as of personal style, so that Musharraf was able to project himself as a forthright man, as clear in his objectives as in his flexibility. By the end of his first day, which he spent in Delhi, most people had simply forgotten the familiar language of "the architect of Kargil" and "Know Your Enemy No 1", to be replaced by genuine excitement and even expectation of a genuine breakthrough, which got translated into outright euphoria by the end of the first day at Agra.

RICH in rhetoric, symbolism and even opportunity, the Agra Summit kept lurching from exhilaration to impasse, disinformation to breakthrough, hope to high drama to exhaustion, before collapsing in the most disgraceful manner possible, so disgraceful indeed that none of what had been achieved could be salvaged. Soon after mid-day on the second and last day, television channels showed Abdul Sattar, the seasoned Foreign Minister of Pakistan, telling mediapersons that a "declaration" was "probable". For some 10 hours, solemn commentators on the various channels pondered over the difference between "declaration" and "statement". Around four o'clock, Musharraf's departure for Ajmer was finally cancelled, and the channels construed the cancellation as a harbinger of a breakthrough. By 10 p.m. or so, as rumours of an impending collapse swirled around, despondency began to set in, and the dimmest sliver of hope was attached to the fact that Musharraf had gone for a quick farewell visit to Vajpayee but had stayed well over an hour. Suddenly, close to midnight, all that one could see on the TV channels were the tail-lights of the speeding cars and vans that were taking the Pakistan delegation to the airport. In a hurriedly organised press conference, the MEA issued a one-line statement and refused to take questions. The Pakistanis spoke only after arriving back in Islamabad.

What had gone wrong? First of all, the utter lack of preparation, especially on India's part. Clearly India had extended the invitation without knowing what it wanted, and when Musharraf started demonstrating his flexibility, New Delhi was bewildered. He could do so, we were told by ponderous media pundits, because he was an absolute ruler, whereas a democratically elected Prime Minister could not take any such steps without holding consultations. But virtually the whole government was there in Agra, in addition to the Prime Minister himself: Home, Defence, External Affairs, Finance, Commerce, Information, what have you. Moreover, what worth is Vajpayee's unique status if he cannot take a decision, and why was an agendaless Summit organised between two men, assisted by their respective teams, if one of those men could not think on his feet and respond quickly? Why did we not anticipate what was coming? Why was a situation allowed to develop in which Pakistanis were briefing the media and Musharraf himself was constantly talking to the broadest spectrum of opinion-makers, aside from his four sessions with Vajpayee, while Indian officials gave no briefings, except the wilfully disastrous one by Sushma Swaraj who simply hijacked the prerogatives of the MEA? How did it come about that a deadlock that lasted for roughly 12 hours was perceived by all the commentators as the prelude to a great and imminent breakthrough?

Musharraf obviously spent his last hour or more in Agra pleading with Vajpayee to give him a little glimmer of hope to take back to the peace lobby in Pakistan. Why invite him and then treat him with such imperious arrogance that even ordinary civilities are dropped, even though he had been most deferential and respectful toward all our leaders, from the late Mahatma Gandhi to the current President and Prime Minister? Would there be any justification in criticising him, as we undoubtedly shall, if he goes back and tells his people that India is simply not prepared for peace and is preparing for even larger military operations in Kashmir?

This is bizarre behaviour on the part of a government that has run so thoroughly out of options. Ceasefires and restraints have come and gone. The Hurriyat has been irretrievably alienated, for the forseeable future at least. Even autonomy cannot be negotiated with Farooq Abdullah because he cannot negotiate on behalf of those who have the gun. Shall we now resurrect the pitiable Pant?

Jaswant Singh's three points in explaining the failure of the Summit the next day were singularly unhelpful. First, he alleged that Pakistan had a "unifocal" agenda only to discuss Kashmir; but at the end of the first day his own colleague, Sushma Swaraj, had given a long list of subjects that she said Musharraf had discussed with Vajpayee. Second, he wrongly alleged that Pakistan had rejected the Simla accord and the Lahore Declaration, despite Musharraf's repeated public clarifications. Third, there was the singular emphasis on "cross-border terrorism" which seems to underlie India's own "unifocal" plank. It is significant that while Musharraf was in Delhi and Agra, pitched battles were fought between the Indian armed forces on the one hand, the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Harkat-ul-Ansar on the other, the two jehadi outfits with bases in Pakistan who have rejected Musharraf's peace initiatives. Can he control them so very quickly? When India declared a policy of restraint within Kashmir, Musharraf responded with withdrawal of Pakistani forces from the LoC and significant cuts in the defence budget. Is it reasonable for India to demand that he put an end to Pakistan's historic support to the insurgency without also responding to the concessions he seems to be offering?

That the Summit took place is itself an advance. It will now open the way for other meetings, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September and help re-start the SAARC process. Musharraf's invitation to Vajpayee and the latter's acceptance of it is in place; may the return visit come soon and lead to more such visits. "Islamabad is closer to Delhi than to Karachi," Musharraf reminded India on the desired frequency of visits. Not the least gain of the Summit has been that Pakistan's viewpoint was expounded from Indian TV channels for tens of hours by some of their most competent spokespersons.

But there is also an overwhelming fear. Budging not an inch from their own positions, Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh have been very vociferous about India's resolve to extinguish 'terrorism'. Having run out of other options and having then spurned Pakistani overtures, the government may well step up its military operations in Kashmir itself, with predictable mass misery for the Kashmiri people.

Mixed feelings

There is a sense of satisfaction, though tinged with disappointment, in Pakistan. The satisfaction is over the fact that both sides are back on the track of engagement, and the disappointment is over the missed opportunity to assert their commitment to the normalisation of relations.

SO near and yet so far. It is no doubt a cliche, but the temptation to use it is too strong in the context of the summit-level dialogue between India and Pakistan.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and the Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf almost agreed to signing an agreed declaration at the end of their two-day, marathon parleys at the historic city of Agra. And, if reports are to be believed, there was consensus on at least two of the three drafts prepared by the Foreign Office officials of both sides, after burning the proverbial midnight oil. However, ultimately, the two sides could not even arrive at a mutually acceptable joint declaration. A tragedy, to say the least, for the mass of more than one billion people in both the countries.

Perhaps no summit in recent times had generated so much hype and hope. And there were good reasons for the heightened expectations on either side. For it was no ordinary Summit by any yardstick. Two neighbours, with their newly acquired status as nuclear powers, had at last agreed to end their 18-month-old "no-contact, no-dialogue" stance and sit down at the negotiating table to resume a stalled dialogue process.

The manner in which the invitation to visit came from Vajpayee and the military ruler readily accepted it generated hopes of a new beginning in the troubled history of the two nations. The flood of statements from the capitals of both Pakistan and India, at least in the first few days after the invitation, gladdened those who had been campaigning for a resumption of dialogue.

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Just the sheer number of the "firsts" that are associated with the Bharat yatra of Musharraf makes it all the more ironical. When historians record the saga of Indo-Pakistan relations, the Agra Summit will undoubtedly figure prominently for more than one reason. It was the first ever visit to India by a Head of State of Pakistan in "normal circumstances". As Dr. Riffat Hussain, a distinguished academician and head of the Department of Strategic Studies at the Quaid-e-Azam University, told Frontline, "never in the history of the two countries had India extended an invitation to a Pakistani Head of State for a dialogue to discuss all outstanding issues including the contentious Kashmir dispute."

All the visits of Pakistani leaders at the highest level in the past were warranted by extraordinary circumstances. The 1972 visit of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, which led to the Simla Agreement, best illustrates the point.

And again never was any leader of Pakistan on a visit to India as powerful as Gen. Pervez Musharraf. He not only presides over every institution of government but did not face the handicap, unlike others, of having to look behind their back constantly in their engagement with the Indian establishment.

Look at his first day's engagements in New Delhi. Some of the things he did were unthinkable, for former rulers of Pakistan, at least for the civilian ones. He not only paid a visit to the Samadhi of Mahatma Gandhi but, in his message scribbled in the visitors' book kept at the monument, underlined the relevance of the philosophy of non-violence espoused by Gandhi. It was almost on a par with what Vajpayee did when he visited Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore during his much-publicised bus ride in February 1999. Once again, it was for the first time that the national anthem of Pakistan was played on the forecourt of Rashtrapathi Bhavan. In his speech at the banquet hosted by President Narayanan, the General had the courage to acknowledge that there could be no military solution to the Kashmir dispute. It was the same Musharraf who justified the jehad (holy war) in Kashmir in the early months of his rule.

It must be said to the credit of Musharraf that he did make an attempt on the home ground to take everyone on board before his mission to Agra. He initiated the process of consultations with a broad spectrum of Pakistani society. Despite the grumbling by the two mainstream political parties - the Pakistan Muslim League and the Pakistan People's Party - it was clear that Musharraf did travel to India with the blessings and backing of practically the entire nation. The quarrel of even these two political parties had more to do with the manner in which Musharraf grabbed the office of President rather than his decision to respond to the invitation from Vajpayee.

Before leaving for India, Musharraf did make an attempt to tackle even the fundamentalist and jehadi elements. He did what could have been unthinkable for a civilian set-up. Musharraf used the occasion of Prophet Muhammad's birthday celebrations to deliver a stern warning to the extremist fringe. He asked the extremist elements to scale down their "anti-India rhetoric" and forget their dream to see the flag of Islam fluttering on the Red Fort. He did achieve a degree of success in taming the forces that were opposed to the very idea of normalisation of ties with India. Jamaat-e-Islami, the best-organised right-wing religious party in Pakistan, is a case in point. The organisation, which fought pitched battles with the police in Lahore in February 1999 in protest against the visit of Vajpayee, extended "unconditional support" to Musharraf. Barring the Lashkar-e-Toiba, no other Pakistan-based militant outfit made much noise against the Summit.

There was consensus at least in Pakistan that with Musharraf (a military ruler) at the helm of affairs in Islamabad and Vajpayee (the head of a BJP-led government) in command in New Delhi, this was the best opportunity to take forward the initiative for the resolution of all outstanding issues between India and Pakistan.

THEN the big question is what went wrong? It is difficult to come to a definite conclusion, but there is evidence to suggest that "unpreparedness" on the part of New Delhi could have partly contributed to the process. Weeks before Musharraf and his entourage landed in India, the position of Pakistan on every issue was crystal clear. In his every interaction prior to the visit, Musharraf made it amply clear that he had one and only one agenda - Kashmir. Going by the initial accounts of all that transpired on July 15 and 16 at Agra, the Vajpayee establishment had not done its homework. Look at the case of the military government. The Indian Prime Minister chose to invite him for a dialogue knowing full well his views on the contentious subject of Kashmir, and when he actually sat down at the negotiating table, New Delhi had nothing to offer.

What was the calculation of the BJP-led government in extending the invitation to the military ruler? Did it think that it would put the General on the back foot and in the process put him in a hot spot on his home ground? Just days before the visit, New Delhi made "non-issues" into issues and in the process, perhaps unwittingly, played into the hands of the military regime. The Hurriyat invitation issue is a case in point. No doubt, the Pakistan government went back on its promise, or a gentleman's agreement, to keep the Hurriyat away from the General. But the way the BJP government reacted was totally unwarranted, to say the least. The major portion of the blame for creating the storm in the tea cup has to be shared by the Vajpayee government.

The so-called confidence building measures (CBMs) in the name of "unilateral positivism" from New Delhi were baffling. They gave room for suspicion, with good reason, in Islamabad as to what were the actual designs of New Delhi in rushing with the announcements a few days before the Summit. New Delhi's claim was that they were meant to create the necessary atmosphere, but what they actually created was the feeling in Islamabad that they were part of a "propaganda exercise" to impress the international community. Such was the indecent haste that India did not even bother to inform Islamabad about its decision to send its Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO) before going to the press. The Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi is called to the office of the Foreign Secretary a day after the Ministry spokesperson casually announces the decision in the course of a routine press conference. What is worse, the DGMO calls up his counterpart in Islamabad to tell him that he is boarding the next available flight to discuss the most contentious issues that have dogged relations between the two countries for 53 years. All this, and the cussedness on the part of New Delhi over the "high tea" hosted by the Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi in honour of Musharraf, did not certainly help create the necessary confidence on the eve of the Summit. The question whether they were CBMs or ICBMs (inter-continental ballistic missiles) asked by a senior official in the Pakistan Foreign Ministry brought out the irony of the situation.

And then there was the brusque manner in which Union Home Minister L.K. Advani brought up the subject of the extradition of Dawood Ibrahim and the persons who hijacked an Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar, even before Musharraf could settle down for serious business.

Next comes the decision of Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj to brief the electronic media on the progress of the talks at the Summit, without mentioning the subject of Kashmir. She is a seasoned Minister and could not be unaware of the reaction that such a choice of words could invite from the Pakistani side.

DOES this mean everything is lost? Fortunately that is not the case. This is evident from the mood in Pakistan, at both the establishment and non-establishment levels. There is a sense of satisfaction, though tinged with disappointment, in Pakistan. The satisfaction is over the fact that both sides are back on the track of engagement, ending the estrangement of about two years. The disappointment is over the missed opportunity at Agra to arrive at a mutually agreed declaration asserting their commitment to efforts towards the normalisation of relations.

Dr. Maqbool Ahmad Bhatty, President, Association of Retired Ambassadors, and vice-president, Islamabad Council of World Affairs, perhaps best summed up the three-day visit of Musharraf to India. He said: "The outcome of the Summit dialogue is better than the worst expected and worse than the best expected. We do hope that there would be hope for further one-to-one meetings between Musharraf and Vajpayee when they meet on the sidelines of the United Nations Security Council meeting in early September."

Bhatty said that the very fact that both the leaders of the subcontinent had struck some rapport in the course of their one-to-one meetings gave reason for hope in the future. "The very fact that Vajpayee has accepted the invitation to visit Islamabad is an indication on the part of both to continue the process of engagement and dialogue. Besides the possibility of a visit by Vajpayee to Islamabad, the two leaders could also hope for a meeting at the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit-level meeting as and when it is held." At the same time Bhatty conceded that in view of the expectation generated during the day about the possibility of a joint declaration, there was a certain amount of disappointment.

The former Ambassador noted what he termed as two or three important developments during the India visit. To begin with, both the leaders have succeeded in having a personal interaction. Besides, the leaders on both sides have managed to establish a rapport. He made a reference to the banquet speeches made by Musharraf and President Narayanan, and said the tone and tenor of the speeches were very positive. Bhatty said the very fact that both sides came so close to signing a declaration was an "encouraging sign". "It is how you look at it. The glass is half full or half empty. We can certainly look forward to a brighter future, now that the ice has been broken. All this has happened in a span of less than two days and it is certainly not bad," he said.

A worthy initiative

COMMENT cover-story

The very fact that India and Pakistan advanced the hand of friendship to each other is noteworthy: it could well herald a new era in South Asia's tangled history.

PRAFUL BIDWAI

A MAJOR diplomatic initiative does not "fail" merely because it does not result in a joint declaration. The Agra Summit must not be judged harshly or hastily and declared a failure just because the draft declaration foundered on the commas and the full-stops. However one analyses the fine print of all the disparate statements made by India and Pakistan about Agra, there can be little doubt that the two nations attempted something new there. The very fact that they advanced the hand of friendship to each other is noteworthy. This could well herald a new era in South Asia's tangled history and put on the agenda what has so far been almost unthinkable: peace, tranquillity and cooperation between India and Pakistan as they proceed to resolve outstanding disputes.

The Agra Summit was not Lahore-II, nor a repetition of any of the earlier attempts at an India-Pakistan rapprochement. It took place in qualitatively different circumstances and has a unique significance. The Lahore meeting between Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif happened amidst tight police rule and the arrest of thousands of Sharif's opponents, especially from the religious parties. Division within the Pakistani political class was palpable as Vajpayee and Sharif embraced each other. This did not hold true of Agra. This Summit evoked little active or street-level domestic opposition, despite the reservations of the Pakistan People's Party and the Muslim League.

More important, the Agra Summit attempted something far more ambitious than Lahore: rather than mere confidence-building measures (CBMs), it sought to address some of the root causes of the mutual hostility, suspicion and mistrust that mark India-Pakistan relations and even their domestic politics.

Indian and Pakistani leaders came to Agra with their own conflicting priorities. Indian leaders wanted to get a series of agreements in place on nuclear restraint, conventional CBMs, trade liberalisation, economic cooperation, people-to-people contacts and so on. Very importantly, they also wanted to get Pakistan to withdraw its support to 'cross-border terrorism' in Kashmir - should Kashmir at all be given central place in the talks. For Pakistan, the top priority was to get India to accept the centrality or primacy of the Kashmir 'dispute', or as Musharraf diluted it in the morning of July 16, 'the Kashmir issue'.

In the event, the two sides agreed to accord Kashmir exceptional status as the central or main issue at stake between them. They could not agree on language and on a consensual formulation on ending 'cross-border terrorism' as a means of and one step towards resolving the Kashmir problem. They nevertheless agreed to resume their dialogue, with summits every year between the two heads of government, and Foreign Minister-level meetings every six months.

At the end of the day, the effort to produce a joint statement failed because diplomats from the two sides could not unshackle themselves from the stereotypes and the stated positions. But they could try again - and succeed. At any rate, it would be puerile to blame Musharraf's breakfast meeting with editors for the impasse that ensued in the afternoon of July 16. Unconventional as it was, the General's initiative did not represent a hardened stance, but just the opposite. He strained to indicate flexibility and a willingness to enter into a 'partnership' with India and turn this historic 'event' into 'historic gains'. Terms like 'partnership' and 'fruitful cooperation', and tributes to 'people-to-people contacts', and 'the high road to peace and prosperity', do not come easily to Indian and Pakistan leaders. 'Partnership', until now, was reserved for others, especially the United States. The fact that they are being used now reflects a change of climate.

This climate offers India and Pakistan a historic opportunity to unshackle themselves from one of the main fetters upon their potential development as healthy, pluralistic, open and democratic societies. The fetter is the mutual hostility that has attended their relations since their birth. Hostility has been a major input not just into their military preparations, but into the way they define their nationhood, the way their leaders envisage their future, the way their political systems decide on what is the 'acceptable' level of force to be used against their own people, as well as their adversary, and the privations they are willing to inflict on their own people by undermining their social, economic and civil and political rights.

The constant stoking of hostility has caused a major drain on resources away from the minimum needs of the people. It has also been an important aggravating factor in the growth of communal and sectarian politics. Above all, it has provided grist to the mills of intolerance. It has helped 'externalise' the true causes of their internal problems.

For Hindutva in India, rivalry with Pakistan provides repeated validation of the Two-Nation Theory and of the communal proposition that Muslims and Hindus have altogether different 'psyches'; intransigent, 'fanatical', 'violence-prone' Muslims can never live in harmony with 'peaceful and tolerant' Hindus. Contrariwise, for Pakistan's Islamicist jehadis, India-Pakistan hostility provides both cause and proof of irreconcilable differences: the 'incompatibility' of pluralism and Nizam-e-Mustafa, or the peaceful coexistence of the pious and the kafir.

The failure of the Agra Summit to produce a joint declaration is a temporary setback to the cause of combating the 'hostility-forever' mindset so favoured by the communalists. Representatives of the communal Right can barely hide their glee. (Some privately congratulate Sushma Swaraj for distorting the content of the talks.) And yet, they are profoundly mistaken to underrate the three factors that made the Agra Summit possible and influenced its far-from-trivial gains.

These are, first, the substantial growth of a popular constituency for peace in India and Pakistan; second, the support that Vajpayee received from the secular forces on inviting Musharraf; and finally, changes in the balance between the Pragmatists and the Cynics in India's foreign policy establishment. The peace constituency has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade in both India and Pakistan. This is reflected in the multiplication of people-to-people initiatives - in terms of magnitude, scope, numbers and reach. There are at least 20 such non-governmental organisations, including the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (India) and Pakistan Peace Coalition, the Pakistan-India People's Forum for Peace and Democracy, South Asians for Human Rights, the Association of the Peoples of South Asia, Hind-Pakistani Dosti, the Women's Initiative for Peace in South Asia, even Soldiers for Peace. Along with growing people-to-people interaction, there have been seminars, workshops, and mutual visits involving students, journalists, trade unionists, social scientists and human rights activists. These have increasingly broken down the barriers of prejudice. All these groups hold that peace is possible and desirable, indeed imperative.

Among the most significant of these was the July 12-13 Pakistan-India People's Solidarity Conference held in New Delhi, sponsored or endorsed by more than 200 organisations. The Conference was the culmination of a long process of dialogue and deliberation on a range of issues. It demanded a negotiated settlement to the Kashmir problem, involving the people of all regions of Jammu and Kashmir. It declared that the only sensible way of reducing the nuclear danger in South Asia is to ensure that nuclear weapons are never deployed. It adopted a simple, yet far-reaching, Declaration which drew out and developed the logic of India-Pakistan rapprochement and peace.

There is simply no doubt that the Vajpayee and Musharraf governments have had to take this peace constituency into account and pay some heed to it. It is significant that Jaswant Singh, while criticising Pakistan's initial response to India's unilateral relaxation of visa restrictions, underscored the centrality of 'the people': how can the 'people's' concerns be 'peripheral', as Pakistan termed the step?

Vajpayee received flak from the hawks in the foreign policy and defence establishments, and from within the Sangh Parivar and the Shiv Sena for inviting Musharraf. The National Democratic Alliance's boycott of the July 14 tea party is related to this. Prominent among his critics have been diehard Pakistan-baiters such as Sanghi intellectuals and former ambassadors to Islamabad (who carry a baggage of prejudice from their bitter personal experience). It is no accident that certain individuals close to the Advani camp, K.R. Malkani, for instance, were openly dismissive of the Musharraf visit and left the Summit doomed to failure.

THE Vajpayee initiative received strong support from leaders of the secular parties of the Left and the Centre, who refused to boycott the July 14 tea party and who saw the Agra Summit in broad-minded terms as a worthy cause precisely because of its potential to defuse India-Pakistan hostility and strengthen the sentiment for reconciliation and peace. Vajpayee specifically urged them to support him and help isolate the "grumblers from the Right" in his own Parivar. He also interacted with a section of the liberal intelligentsia, which reinforced his Summit initiative. Vajpayee himself seems to have been influenced by a desire to leave a positive 'legacy'. Deeply impressed by the enduring popularity of the Lahore bus, he probably wants to be remembered for contributing to a resolution of India-Pakistan tensions and the Kashmir issue rather than for his Hindutva. The overwhelming support he received from secular politicians, the intelligentsia, and much of the media has certainly helped him.

This is related to the third factor. This is the ascendancy of the Pragmatists over the Cynics - the two broad tendencies that divide the policy-making and -shaping elite in New Delhi. The Cynics, who regard Pakistan as irredeemably recalcitrant and hostile, and prefer a hardline approach, have had to yield ground to the Pragmatists. In recent weeks, their 'proactive policy' in Kashmir has run out of steam. The Cynics wanted the government to take a tough stand on Kashmir, which they believe could be 'sold' to the Bush administration, which is more favourably disposed towards India than Pakistan. The Cynics believed nothing could and would come out of Agra.

The Pragmatists thought differently: India cannot indefinitely sustain hostility with Pakistan. This is dangerous, especially in today's nuclearised situation, which certainly worries the world greatly. Pakistan's internal problems, compounded by the Afghan imbroglio, may be worse than India's. But India cannot be indifferent to them, leave alone rejoice over them. A destabilised or 'failing' Pakistan is not in India's interest. Besides, argued the Pragmatists, India-Pakistan rivalry is a hurdle to South Asian cooperation. So India had much to gain from Agra. Jaw-jaw is always better than war-war. India made a big mistake by targeting Musharraf for too long, and insisting on an end to 'cross-border terrorism' as a precondition for talks, say the Pragmatists. It was okay to do so six months after Kargil. But a correction has been in order. Agra provides that, and more.

Admittedly, the line of demarcation between the Cynics and the Pragmatists has not always been clear. Many cross it for reasons of expediency. But in recent months, the Pragmatists have gained over the Cynics. That too has helped Vajpayee. Equally, a large number of people stand outside the Cynic-Pragmatist divide. They are fed up with the hostility with Pakistan and its accompanying rhetoric; they want a break so that both countries would be able to return to the real priorities of food security, shelter, healthcare, education, employment...

The forces that made the Agra Summit possible in the first place and which strengthened the drive for India-Pakistan reconciliation are deeply rooted in this society. They are not about to disintegrate. They must strongly push for a resumption of the Vajpayee-Musharraf dialogue. There is a whole rich agenda to be addressed. It would be positively dangerous to postpone some parts of it. What we need now is a popular campaign and grassroots mobilisation for India-Pakistan peace.

Mixed feelings

There is a sense of satisfaction, though tinged with disappointment, in Pakistan. The satisfaction is over the fact that both sides are back on the track of engagement, and the disappointment is over the missed opportunity to assert their commitment to the normalisation of relations.

SO near and yet so far. It is no doubt a cliche, but the temptation to use it is too strong in the context of the summit-level dialogue between India and Pakistan.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and the Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf almost agreed to signing an agreed declaration at the end of their two-day, marathon parleys at the historic city of Agra. And, if reports are to be believed, there was consensus on at least two of the three drafts prepared by the Foreign Office officials of both sides, after burning the proverbial midnight oil. However, ultimately, the two sides could not even arrive at a mutually acceptable joint declaration. A tragedy, to say the least, for the mass of more than one billion people in both the countries.

Perhaps no summit in recent times had generated so much hype and hope. And there were good reasons for the heightened expectations on either side. For it was no ordinary Summit by any yardstick. Two neighbours, with their newly acquired status as nuclear powers, had at last agreed to end their 18-month-old "no-contact, no-dialogue" stance and sit down at the negotiating table to resume a stalled dialogue process.

The manner in which the invitation to visit came from Vajpayee and the military ruler readily accepted it generated hopes of a new beginning in the troubled history of the two nations. The flood of statements from the capitals of both Pakistan and India, at least in the first few days after the invitation, gladdened those who had been campaigning for a resumption of dialogue.

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Just the sheer number of the "firsts" that are associated with the Bharat yatra of Musharraf makes it all the more ironical. When historians record the saga of Indo-Pakistan relations, the Agra Summit will undoubtedly figure prominently for more than one reason. It was the first ever visit to India by a Head of State of Pakistan in "normal circumstances". As Dr. Riffat Hussain, a distinguished academician and head of the Department of Strategic Studies at the Quaid-e-Azam University, told Frontline, "never in the history of the two countries had India extended an invitation to a Pakistani Head of State for a dialogue to discuss all outstanding issues including the contentious Kashmir dispute."

All the visits of Pakistani leaders at the highest level in the past were warranted by extraordinary circumstances. The 1972 visit of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, which led to the Simla Agreement, best illustrates the point.

And again never was any leader of Pakistan on a visit to India as powerful as Gen. Pervez Musharraf. He not only presides over every institution of government but did not face the handicap, unlike others, of having to look behind their back constantly in their engagement with the Indian establishment.

Look at his first day's engagements in New Delhi. Some of the things he did were unthinkable, for former rulers of Pakistan, at least for the civilian ones. He not only paid a visit to the Samadhi of Mahatma Gandhi but, in his message scribbled in the visitors' book kept at the monument, underlined the relevance of the philosophy of non-violence espoused by Gandhi. It was almost on a par with what Vajpayee did when he visited Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore during his much-publicised bus ride in February 1999. Once again, it was for the first time that the national anthem of Pakistan was played on the forecourt of Rashtrapathi Bhavan. In his speech at the banquet hosted by President Narayanan, the General had the courage to acknowledge that there could be no military solution to the Kashmir dispute. It was the same Musharraf who justified the jehad (holy war) in Kashmir in the early months of his rule.

It must be said to the credit of Musharraf that he did make an attempt on the home ground to take everyone on board before his mission to Agra. He initiated the process of consultations with a broad spectrum of Pakistani society. Despite the grumbling by the two mainstream political parties - the Pakistan Muslim League and the Pakistan People's Party - it was clear that Musharraf did travel to India with the blessings and backing of practically the entire nation. The quarrel of even these two political parties had more to do with the manner in which Musharraf grabbed the office of President rather than his decision to respond to the invitation from Vajpayee.

Before leaving for India, Musharraf did make an attempt to tackle even the fundamentalist and jehadi elements. He did what could have been unthinkable for a civilian set-up. Musharraf used the occasion of Prophet Muhammad's birthday celebrations to deliver a stern warning to the extremist fringe. He asked the extremist elements to scale down their "anti-India rhetoric" and forget their dream to see the flag of Islam fluttering on the Red Fort. He did achieve a degree of success in taming the forces that were opposed to the very idea of normalisation of ties with India. Jamaat-e-Islami, the best-organised right-wing religious party in Pakistan, is a case in point. The organisation, which fought pitched battles with the police in Lahore in February 1999 in protest against the visit of Vajpayee, extended "unconditional support" to Musharraf. Barring the Lashkar-e-Toiba, no other Pakistan-based militant outfit made much noise against the Summit.

There was consensus at least in Pakistan that with Musharraf (a military ruler) at the helm of affairs in Islamabad and Vajpayee (the head of a BJP-led government) in command in New Delhi, this was the best opportunity to take forward the initiative for the resolution of all outstanding issues between India and Pakistan.

THEN the big question is what went wrong? It is difficult to come to a definite conclusion, but there is evidence to suggest that "unpreparedness" on the part of New Delhi could have partly contributed to the process. Weeks before Musharraf and his entourage landed in India, the position of Pakistan on every issue was crystal clear. In his every interaction prior to the visit, Musharraf made it amply clear that he had one and only one agenda - Kashmir. Going by the initial accounts of all that transpired on July 15 and 16 at Agra, the Vajpayee establishment had not done its homework. Look at the case of the military government. The Indian Prime Minister chose to invite him for a dialogue knowing full well his views on the contentious subject of Kashmir, and when he actually sat down at the negotiating table, New Delhi had nothing to offer.

What was the calculation of the BJP-led government in extending the invitation to the military ruler? Did it think that it would put the General on the back foot and in the process put him in a hot spot on his home ground? Just days before the visit, New Delhi made "non-issues" into issues and in the process, perhaps unwittingly, played into the hands of the military regime. The Hurriyat invitation issue is a case in point. No doubt, the Pakistan government went back on its promise, or a gentleman's agreement, to keep the Hurriyat away from the General. But the way the BJP government reacted was totally unwarranted, to say the least. The major portion of the blame for creating the storm in the tea cup has to be shared by the Vajpayee government.

The so-called confidence building measures (CBMs) in the name of "unilateral positivism" from New Delhi were baffling. They gave room for suspicion, with good reason, in Islamabad as to what were the actual designs of New Delhi in rushing with the announcements a few days before the Summit. New Delhi's claim was that they were meant to create the necessary atmosphere, but what they actually created was the feeling in Islamabad that they were part of a "propaganda exercise" to impress the international community. Such was the indecent haste that India did not even bother to inform Islamabad about its decision to send its Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO) before going to the press. The Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi is called to the office of the Foreign Secretary a day after the Ministry spokesperson casually announces the decision in the course of a routine press conference. What is worse, the DGMO calls up his counterpart in Islamabad to tell him that he is boarding the next available flight to discuss the most contentious issues that have dogged relations between the two countries for 53 years. All this, and the cussedness on the part of New Delhi over the "high tea" hosted by the Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi in honour of Musharraf, did not certainly help create the necessary confidence on the eve of the Summit. The question whether they were CBMs or ICBMs (inter-continental ballistic missiles) asked by a senior official in the Pakistan Foreign Ministry brought out the irony of the situation.

And then there was the brusque manner in which Union Home Minister L.K. Advani brought up the subject of the extradition of Dawood Ibrahim and the persons who hijacked an Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar, even before Musharraf could settle down for serious business.

Next comes the decision of Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj to brief the electronic media on the progress of the talks at the Summit, without mentioning the subject of Kashmir. She is a seasoned Minister and could not be unaware of the reaction that such a choice of words could invite from the Pakistani side.

DOES this mean everything is lost? Fortunately that is not the case. This is evident from the mood in Pakistan, at both the establishment and non-establishment levels. There is a sense of satisfaction, though tinged with disappointment, in Pakistan. The satisfaction is over the fact that both sides are back on the track of engagement, ending the estrangement of about two years. The disappointment is over the missed opportunity at Agra to arrive at a mutually agreed declaration asserting their commitment to efforts towards the normalisation of relations.

Dr. Maqbool Ahmad Bhatty, President, Association of Retired Ambassadors, and vice-president, Islamabad Council of World Affairs, perhaps best summed up the three-day visit of Musharraf to India. He said: "The outcome of the Summit dialogue is better than the worst expected and worse than the best expected. We do hope that there would be hope for further one-to-one meetings between Musharraf and Vajpayee when they meet on the sidelines of the United Nations Security Council meeting in early September."

Bhatty said that the very fact that both the leaders of the subcontinent had struck some rapport in the course of their one-to-one meetings gave reason for hope in the future. "The very fact that Vajpayee has accepted the invitation to visit Islamabad is an indication on the part of both to continue the process of engagement and dialogue. Besides the possibility of a visit by Vajpayee to Islamabad, the two leaders could also hope for a meeting at the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit-level meeting as and when it is held." At the same time Bhatty conceded that in view of the expectation generated during the day about the possibility of a joint declaration, there was a certain amount of disappointment.

The former Ambassador noted what he termed as two or three important developments during the India visit. To begin with, both the leaders have succeeded in having a personal interaction. Besides, the leaders on both sides have managed to establish a rapport. He made a reference to the banquet speeches made by Musharraf and President Narayanan, and said the tone and tenor of the speeches were very positive. Bhatty said the very fact that both sides came so close to signing a declaration was an "encouraging sign". "It is how you look at it. The glass is half full or half empty. We can certainly look forward to a brighter future, now that the ice has been broken. All this has happened in a span of less than two days and it is certainly not bad," he said.

A worthy initiative

COMMENT cover-story

The very fact that India and Pakistan advanced the hand of friendship to each other is noteworthy: it could well herald a new era in South Asia's tangled history.

PRAFUL BIDWAI

A MAJOR diplomatic initiative does not "fail" merely because it does not result in a joint declaration. The Agra Summit must not be judged harshly or hastily and declared a failure just because the draft declaration foundered on the commas and the full-stops. However one analyses the fine print of all the disparate statements made by India and Pakistan about Agra, there can be little doubt that the two nations attempted something new there. The very fact that they advanced the hand of friendship to each other is noteworthy. This could well herald a new era in South Asia's tangled history and put on the agenda what has so far been almost unthinkable: peace, tranquillity and cooperation between India and Pakistan as they proceed to resolve outstanding disputes.

The Agra Summit was not Lahore-II, nor a repetition of any of the earlier attempts at an India-Pakistan rapprochement. It took place in qualitatively different circumstances and has a unique significance. The Lahore meeting between Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif happened amidst tight police rule and the arrest of thousands of Sharif's opponents, especially from the religious parties. Division within the Pakistani political class was palpable as Vajpayee and Sharif embraced each other. This did not hold true of Agra. This Summit evoked little active or street-level domestic opposition, despite the reservations of the Pakistan People's Party and the Muslim League.

More important, the Agra Summit attempted something far more ambitious than Lahore: rather than mere confidence-building measures (CBMs), it sought to address some of the root causes of the mutual hostility, suspicion and mistrust that mark India-Pakistan relations and even their domestic politics.

Indian and Pakistani leaders came to Agra with their own conflicting priorities. Indian leaders wanted to get a series of agreements in place on nuclear restraint, conventional CBMs, trade liberalisation, economic cooperation, people-to-people contacts and so on. Very importantly, they also wanted to get Pakistan to withdraw its support to 'cross-border terrorism' in Kashmir - should Kashmir at all be given central place in the talks. For Pakistan, the top priority was to get India to accept the centrality or primacy of the Kashmir 'dispute', or as Musharraf diluted it in the morning of July 16, 'the Kashmir issue'.

In the event, the two sides agreed to accord Kashmir exceptional status as the central or main issue at stake between them. They could not agree on language and on a consensual formulation on ending 'cross-border terrorism' as a means of and one step towards resolving the Kashmir problem. They nevertheless agreed to resume their dialogue, with summits every year between the two heads of government, and Foreign Minister-level meetings every six months.

At the end of the day, the effort to produce a joint statement failed because diplomats from the two sides could not unshackle themselves from the stereotypes and the stated positions. But they could try again - and succeed. At any rate, it would be puerile to blame Musharraf's breakfast meeting with editors for the impasse that ensued in the afternoon of July 16. Unconventional as it was, the General's initiative did not represent a hardened stance, but just the opposite. He strained to indicate flexibility and a willingness to enter into a 'partnership' with India and turn this historic 'event' into 'historic gains'. Terms like 'partnership' and 'fruitful cooperation', and tributes to 'people-to-people contacts', and 'the high road to peace and prosperity', do not come easily to Indian and Pakistan leaders. 'Partnership', until now, was reserved for others, especially the United States. The fact that they are being used now reflects a change of climate.

This climate offers India and Pakistan a historic opportunity to unshackle themselves from one of the main fetters upon their potential development as healthy, pluralistic, open and democratic societies. The fetter is the mutual hostility that has attended their relations since their birth. Hostility has been a major input not just into their military preparations, but into the way they define their nationhood, the way their leaders envisage their future, the way their political systems decide on what is the 'acceptable' level of force to be used against their own people, as well as their adversary, and the privations they are willing to inflict on their own people by undermining their social, economic and civil and political rights.

The constant stoking of hostility has caused a major drain on resources away from the minimum needs of the people. It has also been an important aggravating factor in the growth of communal and sectarian politics. Above all, it has provided grist to the mills of intolerance. It has helped 'externalise' the true causes of their internal problems.

For Hindutva in India, rivalry with Pakistan provides repeated validation of the Two-Nation Theory and of the communal proposition that Muslims and Hindus have altogether different 'psyches'; intransigent, 'fanatical', 'violence-prone' Muslims can never live in harmony with 'peaceful and tolerant' Hindus. Contrariwise, for Pakistan's Islamicist jehadis, India-Pakistan hostility provides both cause and proof of irreconcilable differences: the 'incompatibility' of pluralism and Nizam-e-Mustafa, or the peaceful coexistence of the pious and the kafir.

The failure of the Agra Summit to produce a joint declaration is a temporary setback to the cause of combating the 'hostility-forever' mindset so favoured by the communalists. Representatives of the communal Right can barely hide their glee. (Some privately congratulate Sushma Swaraj for distorting the content of the talks.) And yet, they are profoundly mistaken to underrate the three factors that made the Agra Summit possible and influenced its far-from-trivial gains.

These are, first, the substantial growth of a popular constituency for peace in India and Pakistan; second, the support that Vajpayee received from the secular forces on inviting Musharraf; and finally, changes in the balance between the Pragmatists and the Cynics in India's foreign policy establishment. The peace constituency has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade in both India and Pakistan. This is reflected in the multiplication of people-to-people initiatives - in terms of magnitude, scope, numbers and reach. There are at least 20 such non-governmental organisations, including the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (India) and Pakistan Peace Coalition, the Pakistan-India People's Forum for Peace and Democracy, South Asians for Human Rights, the Association of the Peoples of South Asia, Hind-Pakistani Dosti, the Women's Initiative for Peace in South Asia, even Soldiers for Peace. Along with growing people-to-people interaction, there have been seminars, workshops, and mutual visits involving students, journalists, trade unionists, social scientists and human rights activists. These have increasingly broken down the barriers of prejudice. All these groups hold that peace is possible and desirable, indeed imperative.

Among the most significant of these was the July 12-13 Pakistan-India People's Solidarity Conference held in New Delhi, sponsored or endorsed by more than 200 organisations. The Conference was the culmination of a long process of dialogue and deliberation on a range of issues. It demanded a negotiated settlement to the Kashmir problem, involving the people of all regions of Jammu and Kashmir. It declared that the only sensible way of reducing the nuclear danger in South Asia is to ensure that nuclear weapons are never deployed. It adopted a simple, yet far-reaching, Declaration which drew out and developed the logic of India-Pakistan rapprochement and peace.

There is simply no doubt that the Vajpayee and Musharraf governments have had to take this peace constituency into account and pay some heed to it. It is significant that Jaswant Singh, while criticising Pakistan's initial response to India's unilateral relaxation of visa restrictions, underscored the centrality of 'the people': how can the 'people's' concerns be 'peripheral', as Pakistan termed the step?

Vajpayee received flak from the hawks in the foreign policy and defence establishments, and from within the Sangh Parivar and the Shiv Sena for inviting Musharraf. The National Democratic Alliance's boycott of the July 14 tea party is related to this. Prominent among his critics have been diehard Pakistan-baiters such as Sanghi intellectuals and former ambassadors to Islamabad (who carry a baggage of prejudice from their bitter personal experience). It is no accident that certain individuals close to the Advani camp, K.R. Malkani, for instance, were openly dismissive of the Musharraf visit and left the Summit doomed to failure.

THE Vajpayee initiative received strong support from leaders of the secular parties of the Left and the Centre, who refused to boycott the July 14 tea party and who saw the Agra Summit in broad-minded terms as a worthy cause precisely because of its potential to defuse India-Pakistan hostility and strengthen the sentiment for reconciliation and peace. Vajpayee specifically urged them to support him and help isolate the "grumblers from the Right" in his own Parivar. He also interacted with a section of the liberal intelligentsia, which reinforced his Summit initiative. Vajpayee himself seems to have been influenced by a desire to leave a positive 'legacy'. Deeply impressed by the enduring popularity of the Lahore bus, he probably wants to be remembered for contributing to a resolution of India-Pakistan tensions and the Kashmir issue rather than for his Hindutva. The overwhelming support he received from secular politicians, the intelligentsia, and much of the media has certainly helped him.

This is related to the third factor. This is the ascendancy of the Pragmatists over the Cynics - the two broad tendencies that divide the policy-making and -shaping elite in New Delhi. The Cynics, who regard Pakistan as irredeemably recalcitrant and hostile, and prefer a hardline approach, have had to yield ground to the Pragmatists. In recent weeks, their 'proactive policy' in Kashmir has run out of steam. The Cynics wanted the government to take a tough stand on Kashmir, which they believe could be 'sold' to the Bush administration, which is more favourably disposed towards India than Pakistan. The Cynics believed nothing could and would come out of Agra.

The Pragmatists thought differently: India cannot indefinitely sustain hostility with Pakistan. This is dangerous, especially in today's nuclearised situation, which certainly worries the world greatly. Pakistan's internal problems, compounded by the Afghan imbroglio, may be worse than India's. But India cannot be indifferent to them, leave alone rejoice over them. A destabilised or 'failing' Pakistan is not in India's interest. Besides, argued the Pragmatists, India-Pakistan rivalry is a hurdle to South Asian cooperation. So India had much to gain from Agra. Jaw-jaw is always better than war-war. India made a big mistake by targeting Musharraf for too long, and insisting on an end to 'cross-border terrorism' as a precondition for talks, say the Pragmatists. It was okay to do so six months after Kargil. But a correction has been in order. Agra provides that, and more.

Admittedly, the line of demarcation between the Cynics and the Pragmatists has not always been clear. Many cross it for reasons of expediency. But in recent months, the Pragmatists have gained over the Cynics. That too has helped Vajpayee. Equally, a large number of people stand outside the Cynic-Pragmatist divide. They are fed up with the hostility with Pakistan and its accompanying rhetoric; they want a break so that both countries would be able to return to the real priorities of food security, shelter, healthcare, education, employment...

The forces that made the Agra Summit possible in the first place and which strengthened the drive for India-Pakistan reconciliation are deeply rooted in this society. They are not about to disintegrate. They must strongly push for a resumption of the Vajpayee-Musharraf dialogue. There is a whole rich agenda to be addressed. It would be positively dangerous to postpone some parts of it. What we need now is a popular campaign and grassroots mobilisation for India-Pakistan peace.

Summit atmospherics

cover-story

Lahore and Kargil still fresh in popular memory, disinterest seems to have been the dominant mood as Musharraf the military man went about his engagements.

PURNIMA S. TRIPATHI in Agra and New Delhi

PRESIDENT Pervez Musharraf's visit to India was meant to be history in the making. The drama that preceded his arrival did not dissipate the excitement in the capital. New Delhi wore a festive look - the main thoroughfares through which his cavalcade was to pass were freshly painted, the roads were lined with potted plants, and the flags of the two countries fluttered everywhere. Nature too seemed to be celebrating the historic event. There was a light shower accompanied by a cool breeze, bringing the temperatures down substantially.

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When the General arrived at the Rashtrapati Bhavan for the ceremonial reception, in a cream-coloured sherwaani and achkan, the people of India anticipated a repeat of the welcome at the Wagah border, the warm hug that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharief exchanged. But this occasion turned out to be different. There was a slight awkwardness in the movements, there was too much formality. The hand that General Musharraf extended to President K.R. Narayanan had the firmness of a soldier; it lacked the warmth that Nawaz Sharief had conveyed to Vajpayee. Vajpayee too, on his part, stopped with a handshake.

The reception too had some firsts to its credit. For the first time, Pakistan's national anthem was played on Rashtrapati Bhavan premises, after the General inspected the guard of honour, because it was the first-ever visit by a Pakistan President to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. This was followed by a visit to Raj Ghat, the first by a Pakistani leader. And, as the man whom Indians best remember for the Kargil intrusion, saluted and offered floral tributes to the Father of the Nation, the bitter memories of Partition and three wars seemed temporarily forgotten.

Interestingly, there was a lot of discussion about how he went about meeting Indian leaders. People were heard saying that his body language was still that of the military leader, not that of a political leader, espeically when he was inspecting the guard of honour. The rigidity in his demeanour was too obvious until he reached his ancestral home at Naharwali Haveli in the Daryaganj locality of Delhi. Here he appeared to be nostalgic, and it was as if he was looking for traces of the past. During his meeting with his childhood maid, Anaro Begum, one had a glimpse of a heart that was full of emotions. He affectionately hugged Anaro and asked her: Amma, shanti ke liye dua karo (Amma, pray for peace).

IT was perhaps the burden of history that was weighing down on Begum Sehba Musharraf during her first public appearance in India. At an interactive session organised by the Women's Initiative for Peace in South Asia (WIPSA), activists of the organisation, from both Pakistan and India, were effusive in their entreaties for peace and friendship between the two countries. Begum Musharraf, however, remained non-committal, not even mentioning the word peace. When journalists persisted with their questions, she burst out, saying: Aman ki baat pooch kar meri jaan mat lijiye (please do not make my life difficult by asking about peace).

The lunch hosted by President Narayanan in honour of General Musharraf, and the "high tea" hosted by the Pakistan High Commissioner turned out to be important events. While the lunch was noted for the distinguished gathering, the tea party hogged the limelight because of the invitation extended to leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, which became controversial. The Bharatiya Janata Party and other constituents of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) boycotted the tea, but the People's Front was well-represented. The Congress(I) had a token representation. There was a stampede at the party, with people literally falling over one another. At one point Begum Musharraf was escorted out as she was jostled around in the crowd.

AGRA, the Summit venue, was a different scene altogether. The bonhomie witnessed in Delhi was missing. The city was cleaned to a sparkle, road dividers were freshly painted, pot-holed roads were repaired and there was tight security at every nook and corner. The massive deployment of security forces gave the town a curfew-like look, with roads deserted, people forced to stay indoors and shops ordered closed. Here too popular expectations were high, but a pall of cynical scepticism hung above them. Humko unse wafa ki hai ummid, jo jaante nahin wafa kya hai (we are expecting loyalty from someone who does not know the meaning of the word)," summed up the public mood.

The people found it difficult to believe that the General who masterminded the Kargil War could actually be talking about peace and friendship. "Somebody who was busy plotting against India even as his political master (Nawaz Sharief) was hugging the Prime Minister of India, can he ever be trusted?" was the common refrain. They refused to be impressed by the optimism exuded by the General on Day One in Delhi.

The visit, despite the media hype, was described by many people as an "exercise in image building" which the General was undertaking to gain greater acceptability in Pakistan for his new role as President.

"This is a sheer waste of resources. Over Rs.1 crore has been spent on the preparations for the summit meeting but nothing is going to come out of it," said an Uttar Pradesh State Electricity Board employee, standing by the road, watching security personnel walk past on the deserted road.

The scepticism was all the more pronounced in people from the lower rungs of society. The fact that the high-powered visit derailed normal life upset many. Agra had turned into a ghost city, with only security personnel or media people on the roads. The security personnel did not allow anyone to venture out in areas either falling on the route of the dignitaries or near the two hotels, Amar Vilas Palace and Jaypee Palace respectively, where Musharraf and Vajpayee were staying. The area around the Taj, which witnesses brisk business on a normal day, wore a deserted look too.

It was as if the city knew it all beforehand. Even before Musharraf hardened his posture on the second day of the Summit, a sense of deja vu was evident in Agra. "After all, the same excitement was witnessed at the time of Vajpayeeji's Lahore yatra too. But what happened? The Kargil War. How can we trust the man who planned Kargil?" said a shopkeeper selling the famous Panchhiwala petha (a trademark sweet of Agra) in the city's main market, Sadar Bazaar. Standing near him was Aley Nabi, an elderly rickshaw-puller, who had been deprived of his daily earnings by the security arrangements. For Aley Nabi and many others like him, peace and friendship between the two countries sounded too good to be true.

WHILE the General argued his case with the Indian Prime Minister, Begum Musharraf prayed at the shrine of Sheikh Salim Chisti at Fatehpur Sikri, near Agra, for the fulfilment of her husband's mission.

The Musharrafs' visit to the Taj Mahal, however, was more relaxed. The General was struck by the beauty and grandeur of the monument of love, and he used expressions such as "exquisite" and "unique" to describe it. The Begum described it as "exhilerating". The General was also heard saying that he wished he could stay longer to look at the Taj.

In Delhi, the Raj Ghat witnessed a confrontation between the security personnel and Shiv Sena activists when the latter tried to purify the place with Ganga jal (water), saying that it had been rendered impure by the General's visit. Dozens of Shiv Sainiks were beaten up by the police. And, at Naherwali Haveli, construction workers were busy rebuilding a house that was demolished before the visit, for security reasons. The house belonged to two youngsters.

The view from the Valley

Recent political events in Jammu and Kashmir show just how difficult it will be to translate any fruits of the dialogue into political progress on the ground.

THERE is something curiously unreal about summit-time Srinagar. The city's hotels are packed with an assortment of visitors, bound together by the same sense of breathless anticipation as delegates at a UFO-watchers' convention. Pilgrims on their way to the shrine at Amarnath mingle with professional peace negotiators and seminar-circuit wanderers; journalists chat with casual tourists about the prospect of taking a bus from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad on their next vacation. On weekends, traffic snarls the boulevard along the Dal Lake, and it is almost impossible to find a quiet patch of grass to lounge on. Peace, all seem to be certain, is about to descend on the land that tourist brochures refer to as Paradise on Earth.

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But this collective dream is a little like the balloons sold along the boulevard by migrant workers from Bihar and Madhya Pradesh: all it will take is one sharp prick to burst the hope.

Not two hours' drive from Srinagar, it becomes evident that the war in Jammu and Kashmir continues, oblivious to events in Agra. At the office of Kulgam Superintendent of Police Alok Kumar, the main subject of discussion is the withdrawal of troops from the Ahrabal-Shopian belt to guard the Amarnath yatris. That has meant terrorist cadre have been able to consolidate their position along the northern face of the Pir Panjal, provoking increasingly bitter fighting. The story is much the same through rural Jammu and Kashmir. In June, the figures show, an average of 7.2 terrorists died in fighting each day, along with 1.8 soldiers and 1.9 civilians who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The number of terrorists killed in the four weeks since the Ramzan ceasefire was withdrawn is the highest for any month since 1988.

If recent levels of engagement continue in areas like Poonch, July shall break even these record levels of violence, no matter how good a time Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf have in Agra. Part of the reason for the escalating violence is that the Indian security forces are working hard to reassert their presence in the post-ceasefire period. But, more important, Far Right groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba seem determined to assert their differences with a dialogue process from which they see no benefit to themselves. In the latest of a series of aggressive pronouncements, the Lashkar's supreme leader Hafiz Mohammed Sayeed warned on July 12 that his organisation rejected "any peace process other than that already being realised by jehad". "General Musharraf must decide beforehand," he continued, "whether his visit to India is meant to gain Allah's pleasure, or to please the United States."

Pressure from Pakistan's influential Islamic Right, many analysts believe, will ensure that Musharraf will be unable to secure a de-escalation of violence unless actual territorial gains on Jammu and Kashmir are realised. Much of the flexibility that Musharraf spoke of in recent weeks has given way to increasingly hawkish rhetoric. Former Pakistan Interior Minister Shujahat Husain, for example, recently called for the General to "negotiate handing over Jammu and Ladakh to India, retain Pakistan administered Kashmir (PAK), Gilgit and Baltistan and grant independent status to the Kashmir valley". Husain was seen as fronting for Musharraf, to gauge responses to these U.S-authored ideas for partitioning Kashmir. A June 30 meeting of Islamic clerics, however, flatly rejected these or any other ideas that would leave India in control of any part of the State. Musharraf promptly dropped all talk of independence.

WHAT, then, has optimism about the Agra dialogue founded itself on. Many ordinary people in Jammu and Kashmir are delighted by gestures like India's July 11 offer to open the Line of Control (LoC) at Ranbir Singh Pora in Jammu and Uri in Kashmir. Vajpayee appeared to suggest that all those crossing the LoC through these new points could bypass notoriously cumbersome visa formalities. Srinagar residents wishing to visit relatives across the LoC would, should the new regime be put in place, have to travel just 55 km to Baramulla, and another 46 to Uri, before negotiating the last 18 km to Kaman Post, India's last position on the LoC. From there, after crossing the now-demolished Red Bridge, Muzaffarabad lies just 18 km away.

Easy movement across the LoC would hold out obvious advantages. Data obtained by Frontline shows just 45 visitors from Pakistan were granted visas to visit friends and relatives in Jammu and Kashmir between January and June. Last year, the figure was 101, up from 69 in 1999, 48 in 1998, 61 in 1997 and just 14 in 1996. As things stand, visa requests in Pakistan are forwarded to the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) and the Criminal Investigation Department in Jammu and Kashmir for verification, a time-consuming procedure. As important, an easy visa regime would allow Kashmiri fruit farmers easy access to markets in Pakistan. But it is far from clear whether such free movement is imminent. Sources say the I.B. has already asked that the right of free movement be restricted to men above 65, women and children, and that adult men continue to be subject to proper verification on security grounds.

More important, Pakistan seems deeply uncomfortable at the thought of such free access. For one, the setting up of passport checkpoints on the LoC would give it at least some symbolic legitimacy as an international border, something Islamabad is unwilling to accept. More important, levels of human development in PAK are far lower than those on the Indian side of the LoC, something its regime clearly has little interest in advertising to residents of the Valley. There is also considerable political discontent in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, a fact illustrated by the decision to bar pro-independence candidates from contesting the July elections in the Azad Kashmir legislature. The Lashkar-e-Toiba, for its part, has said India has no right to allow or debar movement across the LoC, and has said it will use force to destroy any border checkpoints that are set up.

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Musharraf's growing conviction that territorial settlement must precede any movement on reducing levels of violence is also founded on sound military sense. Should India be able to secure a significant de-escalation before final status negotiations, it would clearly be that much less willing to make concessions in Jammu and Kashmir. When right-wing Pakistani commentators point out that the jehad has been an effective instrument of policy, they are not merely engaging in wishful thinking. Most Indian intelligence estimates suggest that sustaining current levels of insurgent activity costs between Rs.250 crores and Rs.300 crores a year. At least part of this modest outlay comes not from Pakistan's defence budget, but narcotics revenues from Afghanistan and donations from Far Right organisations in West Asia. India, on the other hand, commits well over 10 times this level of expenditure on its conventional force in response to the covert offensive it is confronted with.

SHOULD Musharraf and Vajpayee succeed in overcoming these multiple obstacles, recent political events in the State show just how difficult it will be to translate their dialogue into political progress on the ground. While the right axis within the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) has expressed delight at the prospect of meeting Musharraf for tea and dialogue in New Delhi, others have been less delighted. The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) has charged the APHC with failing to fight for real representation in the dialogue process. "We have not sacrificed 80,000 lives," JKLF's Yasin Malik said in London, "to have a cup of tea with General Musharraf." On July 13, Malik's deputy Javed Mir said his organisation would boycott the APHC's scheduled hour-long interaction with Musharraf.

Underlying the JKLF's position is the apprehension that it, and other pro-Independence organisations, would be marginalised by the APHC's Pakistan-backed right axis in any future dialogue. The fear is shared by other minor bodies within the APHC. On July 11, one APHC General Council member, Aga Syed Hassan, demanded a renewed discussion on APHC chairman Abdul Ghani Bhat's decision to reject a meeting with the Union government's official interlocutor on Jammu and Kashmir K.C. Pant. Hassan, who heads the Shia Anjuman-e-Sharie Shiyan, said Bhat had made a unilateral decision. The Shia leader is doubtless concerned about whether the interests of his community will be secured in the event of final status negotiations involving the APHC. Although Abdul Ghani Lone, one of the key centrists in the APHC, has on record supported interaction with Musharraf, he is understood to share the fears of the JKLF.

Political fissures within the APHC make it profoundly unlikely that any unified and focussed political process can emerge within Jammu and Kashmir, at least in the short term. In addition, most commentators have failed to notice that there exists within the State a democratically elected government, which is certain to insist that the APHC put its claims to represent political opinion in the State to some kind of test. In addition, political formations representing Jammu and Ladakh will insist that their interests be secured. While both Pakistan and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh may be delighted with a solution which sunders the six Muslim-majority districts of the Kashmir valley from the rest of the State, it is unlikely that such a solution would not be challenged by the secular Opposition through India, and the National Conference within the State. As these contesting forces play themselves out, violence shall almost certainly continue.

At least some critics believe that the assumption that Kashmir is the key to peace is misguided. "The error of those who seek a resolution of the conflict in Kashmir," wrote former Punjab Director General of Police K.P.S. Gill and security analyst Ajai Sahni in April, "is the inordinate focus on the transient geographical location of a conflict, to the exclusion of its ideological and material source, its strategic motivation and political intent." "The fact is that the core issue is not Kashmir," they continued. "It never was. It is the fundamentalist ideology, and the two-nation theory, that excludes the very possibility of people of different faiths, cultures or ways of life co-existing within a single political order. The core issue, consequently, goes to the very heart and basis of India's existence as it does of Pakistan's. The conflict between India and Pakistan is an irreducible conflict between democratic liberalism and a polity based on an exclusionary religious absolutism."

Both Musharraf and Vajpayee are children of the two-nation theory, and its principal beneficiaries. Pushed and prodded by the United States of America, which has shaped the terms and pace of the India-Pakistan engagement since the Kargil war, both now seek a settlement that would perpetuate the existence of their competing fundamentalisms. But history may well show itself unwilling to be written either at their hands, or that of Washington.

After the storm

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN the-nation

Chief Minister Jayalalithaa calls off her offensive in the face of threats from the Central government.

TAMIL NADU Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, who rushed into battle last month apparently to settle scores with her political bete noire, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, has since emerged a chastened figure. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre, angered by the Chennai police arresting two Central Ministers, Murasoli Maran and T.R. Baalu, who belong to the DMK, an NDA constituent, pushed her on to the backfoot with its "graded response". First it recalled Governor M. Fathima Beevi, then sent an NDA team and a Home Ministry delegation to Chennai, and as the next measure sent a warning to her government.

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The Jayalalithaa government soon tried to make its peace with the Centre by releasing Maran and Baalu. However, the Ministers demanded that the cases against them should be dropped as well. The State government yielded again.

As for the 78-year-old Karunanidhi, who was arrested in a post-midnight raid on his Chennai residence on June 29-30, Jayalalithaa had no choice but to release him. However, her All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government claimed that it released him on "purely humanitarian grounds" and considering his advanced age. The case against him would remain, it asserted.

Two days after Karunanidhi's release, his son M.K. Stalin, Chennai Corporation Mayor, was let off on bail by the Principal Sessions Judge, Chennai, S. Ashok Kumar. Also let off on bail were former State DMK Ministers Ko.Si. Mani and K. Ponmudi.

What soon gained importance in the context of the polemical battle between Jayalalithaa and Karuna-nidhi was the State government's setting up of a Commission of Inquiry headed by A. Raman, a retired High Court Judge. The government did so after the Centre insisted that action be initiated against the police officers who committed "excesses" while arresting Karunanidhi and those who roughed up Maran and Baalu. The Commission was to inquire whether any excess was committed by the police while arresting Karunanidhi, Maran and Baalu and whether any police personnel were assaulted and obstructed from doing their duty during the arrest of Karunanidhi and thereafter.

Karunanidhi declared that the DMK would boycott the inquiry commission, asking: "Do you need a mirror to look at the wound on your palm?" He said the world had seen on television how the police had pushed and manhandled him. "Where was the necessity for the midnight arrest?" he asked. In reply, Jayalalithaa alleged that while Karunanidhi claimed in public that he was willing to face any inquiry, "he always runs away from it".

Stalin, Karunanidhi, Ko.Si. Mani, Ponmudi and others are among the 14 accused in an alleged financial scam to the tune of Rs.12 crores in the construction of nine flyovers in Chennai. The Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Depar-tment (CB-CID) registered the case on June 29. The arrest of Karunanidhi just a few hours later, around 1-30 a.m.; his being pushed and shoved by the police; a police officer yanking his arm; another police officer holding Karunanidhi from behind in a vice-like clasp and rocking him back and forth; Karunanidhi gasping for breath; and other unedifying scenes of police behaviour were shown on Sun TV all through the day on June 30. (Sun TV is managed by Kalanidhi Maran, son of Murasoli Maran who is Karunanidhi's nephew.) The video footage caused considerable negative reaction at the popular level against the Jayalalithaa government. Maran had objected to the police arresting Karunanidhi without a warrant. The police roughed him up later when he tried to get into the car that carried Karunanidhi to the Judge's residence. Baalu also came in for some rough treatment from the police.

What brought the Vajpayee government directly into the picture was the arrest of Maran and Baalu under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including the one for obstructing a public servant (police) from doing his duty. The NDA government saw these arrests as an affront to the federal structure. Union Law Minister Arun Jaitley charged that the police had searched Maran's home when there was no case against him; that the State police had arrested two Central Ministers without any legal justification; and that the media had been targeted with journalists being arrested and an invalid police notice served on Sun TV. Jaitley said ominously: "Each of these facts I have mentioned is a serious violation of the constitutional guarantees. The government will decide what action requires to be taken in the matter."

The State government's retreat began soon afterwards. It ordered the release of Maran and Baalu, claiming that "the investigating officer in charge of these cases felt that their continued detention in judicial custody was not required for investigation of these charges."

But Maran and Baalu would not leave the jail before the cases against them were dropped. The Jayalalithaa government acceded to this demand as well, but saying it was dropping the cases out of deference to a request from the Centre, and more specifically from Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, and "the need to maintain cordial relationship with the Centre." But the Prime Minister's Office said that Vajpayee had never made any request to the State government to consider dropping the charges against the Ministers. The AIADMK government, meanwhile, assured the police personnel that due care could be taken to protect their interests.

After his release, Maran remarked that it was "fascist rule" in Tamil Nadu. He said the Centre was "closely watching" the events and would "hasten slowly". The Centre would act with responsibility when it comes to the issue of "pressing the nuclear button of Article 356", Maran added, in an implied threat regarding a possible dismissal of the State government.

Baalu said that the atrocities committed by the State police against Maran and himself would be taken to the Privileges Committee of the Lok Sabha.

After releasing Maran and Baalu, the State government gave out another signal of peace by hinting that it would not oppose Karunanidhi seeking bail. But the DMK president threw the ball back in the government's court by declining to seek bail. At this point, the AIADMK's allies, the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India (CPI), intervened. TMC president G.K. Moopanar, CPI(M) State secretary N. Sankaraiah and CPI State secretary R. Nallakannu jointly told Jayalalithaa that it was necessary to release Karunanidhi considering his health although the investigation in the case against him may continue. Thereafter, Jayalalithaa ordered Karunanidhi's release on "purely humanitarian grounds" and "taking into consideration his old age", a government press release said. "However, the case against him will continue," it added. A frail-looking Karunanidhi came out of the Central Prison, Chennai, on the evening of July 4 to a rousing welcome, after spending five days there.

At a press conference a couple of hours later, Karunanidhi broke down when he showed how he was not able to raise his right hand beyond a point because a police officer had yanked it. He said "the barbaric behaviour of the police" was not a problem that concerned him alone. It concerned the security of not merely the six crore people of Tamil Nadu but a hundred crore people in the country. "The country can neither bear nor tolerate another Emergency," stressed the former Chief Minister who had opposed Indira Gandhi's imposition of the Emergency in 1975.

Stalin was freed from the Central Prison, Madurai, on July 7 after Judge Ashok Kumar granted him bail. As he drove 500 km to Chennai, DMK cadres greeted him enthusiastically along the way.

PMK switches sides, again

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN the-nation

WHEN the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) quit the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to join the front led by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in February 2001 during the run-up to the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, wags in Chennai said that the PMK would do an about-turn once the elections were over. The joke has more or less come true. On July 7, PMK founder Dr. S. Ramadoss announced that "we have permanently broken our ties with the AIADMK" because of the "humiliation" he suffered at the hands of AIADMK general secretary and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa since she assumed power in May.

Ramadoss alleged that Jayalalithaa had backed down on her promise to nominate his son Dr. R. Anbumani to the Rajya Sabha. (Biennial elections to the Upper House from the State are to be held on July 23.) He was also hurt that Jayalalithaa ignored him although he had worked hard to ensure her victory and the defeat of the NDA led by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Ramadoss also alleged that Jayalalithaa upset the PMK's chances in the elections to the Pondicherry Assembly by forging a secret pact with the Congress(I) and the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC). The Congress-TMC combine returned to power in the Union Territory.

Jayalalithaa denied having promised the PMK a Rajya Sabha nomination. Her version: "During the Assembly elections, Dr. Ramadoss never asked for a seat for his party in the Rajya Sabha. I also did not promise to give him a seat."

Ramadoss, who pulled out two PMK Ministers from the Union Council of Ministers before he joined the AIADMK-led front, seems keen on getting his party back into the NDA government. While NDA convener George Fernandes has expressed his "personal opinion" that there is nothing wrong in re-admitting the PMK, the BJP's national president Jana Krishnamurthy and State general secretary L. Ganesan are opposed to the idea. Jana Krishnamurthy observed that the NDA was not a passenger train for people to get in and get out as and when they liked. Ganesan said it was "not proper" to re-admit the PMK as it would not add prestige either to the NDA or to the PMK.

Dalit Panthers convener R. Tirumavalavan has welcomed this position. If the PMK is re-admitted, the Dalit Panthers might walk out of the NDA as there is a history of animosity between the two parties. While the PMK essentially represents the interests of the Vanniyar community, a caste Hindu group, the Dalit Panthers is a Dalit party. The Dalit Panthers walked out of the AIADMK-led alliance when the PMK joined it.

Avoiding a direct reply, DMK president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi said that the party would elicit Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee's stand on the issue of re-admitting the PMK. The DMK executive council would take a decision on the basis of that, he said. Karunanidhi would not like to forget in a hurry how the PMK walked out of the NDA and ruined the DMK's chances of returning to power. Local body elections in the State are slated for October and that might prove to be the bottomline. Although these elections are held on a non-party basis, the DMK would be happy to tap the PMK votebank.

The AIADMK-PMK estrangement began on May 14 when Jayalalithaa was sworn in Chief Minister. Ramadoss alleged that he was invited to the function just an hour before it was to begin. He did not attend the swearing-in ceremony. Later, when he sought a meeting with Jayalalithaa, he was made to wait for four days before he got an appointment, he said. And the meeting lasted only five minutes. Now she had backed out on her promise to make Anbumani a Rajya Sabha member, Ramadoss complained.

The rift, however, became evident on June 9 when he praised Karuananidhi for his offer of 25 Assembly seats and two Lok Sabha seats to the PMK in the 1996 elections. He regretted that the PMK did not accept the offer. On July 3, he called on Karunanidhi at the Central Prison in Chennai, where he was kept after the post-midnight arrest on June 30. Ramadoss issued a statement describing the "flyover scam case", the case relating to which Karunanidhi was arrested, as a frame-up.

Judicial flak

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN the-nation

THE "flyover scam" case initiated by the Jayalalithaa government against former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, his son and Chennai Corporation Mayor M.K. Stalin and 12 others has taken a beating on various fronts. Principal Sessions Judge S. Ashok Kumar, who had first remanded Karunanidhi, Stalin and others to judicial custody in the case, later went to the extent of calling the registration of the case itself a conspiracy. The case was filed, he observed, with an ulterior motive of throwing the accused behind bars.

What was more damning was the admission by P. Padmanabhan, investigating officer of the case, before Judge Ashok Kumar on July 3 that none of the 14 accused in the case received any pecuniary benefits. Padmanabhan is a Deputy Superintendent of Police in the Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID) which registered the case. He admitted that no material object or document was seized from any of the accused.

On a complaint from Chennai Corporation Commissioner J.T. Acharyalu on June 29, the CB-CID registered a case alleging a financial scam of Rs.12 crores in the construction of nine flyovers in Chennai. The CB-CID named 14 persons as accused in the case with Stalin as the first accused and Karunanidhi as the second. Within a few hours of the registration of the case, officers and men from the CB-CID arrested Karunanidhi. He was produced before Ashok Kumar around 4-30 a.m. and was remanded to judicial custody at the Central Prison, Chennai, till July 10. Some hours later, Stalin surrendered before the Judge.

Padmanabhan admitted that other than Acharyalu's complaint, the first information report and some files belonging to the Chennai Corporation, the CB-CID did not possess any document before the arrests were effected.

The Judge found fault with the CB-CID for the delay in sending the FIR to the court and the failure of the police officials to mention the exact time of filing the FIR. He was annoyed that the police did not heed his specific directive that Karunanidhi should be first medically examined at the Government General Hospital, Chennai, before being taken to the prison and that Stalin should be lodged only in the Chennai Central Prison. Karunanidhi was "a 78-year old man suffering from various ailments. Is your heart made of muscle or mud? What was the pressure on you?" he asked the police.

Judge Ashok Kumar minced no words again on July 4 when he heard the bail application of R.S. Sridhar, one of the accused. He reminded Public Prosecutor S. Gomathinayagam that the arrests of Karunanidhi and others made on June 30 had violated the Supreme Court's "requirements" regarding how an arrest should be carried out. The Investigating Officer had admitted that no accused had received any monetary benefit from the construction of the flyovers. The case was registered without making detailed inquiries or even a preliminary investigation. The Judge, therefore, told Gomathinayagam that under the circumstances, if the prosecution opposed Sridhar's bail plea and arguments were made on merits, "I might have to pass orders on merits which might hurt you and embarrass the government. That might also throw more light on certain things."

Gomathinayagam again got an earful on July 6 during a hearing on the bail applications of Stalin, and two other accused Ko.Si. Mani and K. Ponmudi, who were Ministers in the Karunanidhi government. Judge Ashok Kumar said he would dismiss all the bail applications if the Public Prosecutor could delineate the role of each accused and the pecuniary advantage he received. How would the prosecution be prejudiced if the accused were let on bail, he asked.

The Judge said that Acharyalu had made "a hasty complaint" for he had been appointed Corporation Commissioner only a week earlier. He, therefore, could not have known what had happened in 1998, 1999 and 2000 when a traffic improvement committee and a high-level steering committee were set up to ease traffic and the construction of flyovers was given to contractors. Nor could Acharyalu have known how the accused received financial benefit. The Commissioner had not consulted the engineers and councillors involved in the project.

The Judge disapproved of the manner in which the complaint was made, the FIR registered and the arrests carried out. The complaint was sent directly to the CB-CID bypassing procedures. The Judge said, "The complainant cannot choose his own investigating officer." When Gomathinayagam reminded him that he had, after all, remanded Stalin to judicial custody, the Judge replied that if he had not done so, "thousands of motives" would have been attributed to him.

At the end of the arguments, the judge granted bail to Stalin, Ko.Si. Mani, Ponmudi and four others. The State government filed criminal revision petitions in the Madras High Court, asking for expunction of some of Ashok Kumar's observations. The State government argued that the Judge had exceeded his jurisdiction when he went into the merits of the case while hearing the bail applications. His examining of the complainant and the investigating officer was illegal, it said. It objected to the Judge's remark that the FIR had been lodged with an ulterior motive.

The case had its echo in the Madras High Court. Justice Narayana Kurup faulted the Jayalalithaa Government, when it was on "a sticky wicket", for taking major policy decisions such as ordering the arrest of political rivals and bureaucrats. The 'sticky wicket' was a reference to quo warranto petitions in the Supreme Court, questioning under what authority she was holding office as Chief Minister when she had been disqualified from contesting the election. Justice Kurup asked, "Is it not proper and prudent to keep tempers cool ?"

He made these remarks when he and Justice A. Ramamurthy heard a petition from advocate K. Kanagaraj seeking a directive to the officials of the Central Prison, Chennai, to allow him to meet Karunanidhi detained there. Till the Supreme Court disposed of the matter, was not the position of the Chief Minister similar to that of a caretaker government, the Bench asked. It added, "We do not think that in a democracy there is any place for political vendetta."

Protests and threats

Violent agitations continue in Manipur against the extension of the ceasefire agreement between the Central government and the NSCN (I-M) to all Naga-inhabited areas, and this delays the process of formation of a popular government in the State.

WITH most of Manipur's legislators taking shelter in Delhi fearing attacks by angry student and youth groups protesting against the agreement between the Union government and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah) over the extension of ceasefire, the process of formation of a new government in the State, now under President's Rule, has been stalled. President's Rule was clamped on the State when the coalition government led by the Samata Party's Radhabinod Koijam collapsed in early June. The State Assembly was, however, kept in suspended animation, leaving scope for political parties to form a new government.

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None of the parties, including the Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP), the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Samata Party, is willing to take the risk of forming a new government at the moment, although these three parties vied with one another earlier to capitalise on the fall of the Koijam government. In a spontaneous upsurge of anger against the agreement on the extension of the ceasefire to the Naga-inhabited areas in Manipur, Meiteis (Manipuris) targeted politicians belonging to all parties. Meiteis are angry that the politicians in the State were busy quarrelling among themselves and plotting for power, instead of seeking to protect the State's integrity. The legislators apprehend a fresh outbreak of violence similar to the one on June 18, when riots broke out in Manipur within hours of the announcement of the ceasefire agreement in Bangkok. Fourteen persons were killed in a police firing on the protesters.

The protesters were opposed to the extension of the ceasefire to the Naga-inhabited regions in the States neighbouring Nagaland - Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Considering the extension of the ceasefire as a major victory for the NSCN(I-M) in its struggle to achieve the goal of a "Greater Nagaland" comprising the Naga-dominated areas in all the northeastern States, angry Meiteis torched the Assembly building, the Chief Minister's office, the Assembly Speaker's residence and the bungalows of legislators in Imphal.

The situation in Manipur is still not normal. Not satisfied with the Centre's assurance that the ceasefire extension agreement will be reviewed in its entirety, Manipuris are continuing with bandhs and demonstrations, defying prohibitory orders. Many areas, especially in the Imphal valley and in the hilly regions, more particularly in the Naga-inhabited districts of Ukhrul, Senapati and Chandel bordering Nagaland, curfew is still on. The tension is heightened by the fact that the Nagas living in these areas have hoisted the NSCN(I-M) flag to assert their separate identity. Clashes among Nagas, Meiteis and Manipuri Kukis have been reported from the Naga-inhabited areas. All Members of Parliament and Members of the Legislative Assembly from Manipur, 24 of them belonging to the BJP, have threatened to resign from Parliament and the Assembly if the extension of the ceasefire beyond the Nagaland border was not withdrawn by July 31. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and his Arunachal Pradesh counterpart Mukut Mithi also lodged strong protests with the Centre opposing the extension of ceasefire to areas in their States.

The Union government, which was initially reluctant to reconsider its new agreement with the NSCN(I-M), has now agreed to do that. After a two-hour meeting in Delhi on July 8 with leaders representing all political parties in Manipur, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee declared: "We shall review the ceasefire agreement including the words, 'without territorial limits' incorporated in the agreement, so as to ensure that all doubts about preserving the integrity of Manipur and the other States in the north-east region are removed." The legislators from Manipur were reportedly happy with the outcome of their talks with the Prime Minister and Union Home Minister L.K. Advani.

The Union government later decided that its interlocutor, former Union Home Secretary K. Padmanabhaiah, will meet NSCN(I-M) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah shortly to "review" the "bilateral" ceasefire agreement. The Centre has reportedly assured the Manipur legislators that it will complete the review before July end. The year-long ceasefire will expire on July 31. In his report submitted to the Prime Minister after a three-day visit to Manipur, Union Minister of State for Home I.D. Swami observed that the situation in Manipur was so alarming that the review of the agreement was necessary in order to bring peace in the northeastern region.

Padmanabhaiah is expected to meet Muivah in Amsterdam with a request that he withdraw his demand for the extension of the ceasefire beyond Nagaland. Muivah, who is facing trial in Bangkok on two separate charges of entering Thailand by using forged travel documents and attempting to flee the country using a fake passport, is reported to have been provided an Indian passport by the Government of India so that he could leave Thailand with a genuine travel document and meet Padmanabhaiah in Amsterdam. Muivah is currently on bail on condition that he should not leave Thailand until the trial is over. Given the fact that Muivah maintains that "wherever Nagas live is Nagaland", the Vajpayee government is not sure how the leader of the outlawed Naga organisation would respond to Delhi's request. It will be difficult for Vajpayee to go back on the accord.

According to reliable sources, Vajpayee himself had assured Muivah way back on September 30, 1998 that there would be a territorial extension of the ceasefire. Muivah met Vajpayee in a hotel in Paris where the latter stayed during his tour of Western Europe. The meeting was arranged by the then Government of India interlocutor Swaraj Kaushal. But, on his return from Paris Vajpayee went back on his word, annoying Kaushal who had held several rounds of talks with Muivah in Bangkok, Zurich, Amsterdam and Paris. After the Paris talks, Padmanabhaiah replaced Kaushal as the interlocutor.

Meanwhile, Advani, after a meeting of the consultative committee of the Ministry of Home Affairs on July 6, indicated that Parliament may adopt a resolution in its coming session to freeze the territorial borders of the northeastern States. This is likely to set at rest the apprehensions of the people of Manipur and Assam that an extension of the ceasefire with the Nagas in terms of territory would be a step in the direction of conceding the NSCN(I-M)'s demand for a "Greater Nagaland" with parts of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh included in it.

With most of the legislators unwilling to return from Delhi in the near future, Manipur is virtually under the control of insurgent outfits. Organisations such as the People's Liberation Army (PLA), the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), the People's Revolutionary Party of Kanglaeipak (PREPAK), the Kanglaeipak Communist Party (KCP) and the Manipur People Front (MPF) have come into the open and they lead the agitation. Taking advantage of the public mood, they have reportedly intimidated the legislators into leaving the State.

Apart from these insurgent groups dominated by Meiteis, Kukis living in the Naga-dominated areas of Manipur have been actively opposing the ceasefire extension.

The militant All Manipur Students Union (AMSU), which spearheads the anti-truce movement, has threatened to raise the demand for the secession of Manipur from India if the Centre does not revoke the ceasefire extension agreement by July 31. AMSU has warned that it will demand a reversion to Manipur's pre-merger status if the deadline is not met. The threat was issued by AMSU leader Sougaism Rakesh shortly after the leaders of the All Assam Students Union (AASU) released a statement demanding the immediate withdrawal of the agreement. AASU said it would snap its ties with AMSU if the latter launched a secessionist movement. Both AASU and AMSU belong to the North-east Students Organisation (NSO), an umbrella organisation of regional student forums.

The Centre's move to review the ceasefire agreement has evoked sharp reactions from political parties and important organisations in Nagaland. Taking strong exception to the move, the Nagaland People's Council (NPC), a regional political party, said that it would "wait and see how the extension of ceasefire with the NSCN(I-M) is reviewed." Party president Huska Sumi said, "Any change in the hard-bargained ceasefire accord, covering all Naga-inhabited areas of the northeast, would only jeopardise the ongoing peace initiative." The Naga People's Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR), a leading non-governmental organisation (NGO), expressed the apprehension that "any backtracking from the truce might derail the entire peace process".

Bitter rivals in every sense, the NSCN(I-M) and the Khaplang faction of the NSCN have, however, struck a rare note of unanimity on the issue of carving out a "Greater Nagaland".

On the Veerappan trail

The operations to catch Veerappan gain new vigour after the Jayalalithaa government takes charge in Tamil Nadu, but the forest brigand remains as elusive as ever.

DESPITE changes in structure, command and strategy, the special task forces (STFs) of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, which began a new operation on June 20, are nowhere near catching forest brigand Veerappan, whom they have been pursuing for the last eight years. The top echelons of the STFs are still hopeful, but the commanders have set for themselves no timeframe to complete the task.

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An important element of the new strategy is to have close interaction with the tribal people who inhabit the Thalamalai, Kadambur, Satyamangalam and Bargur forests and the people living in the peripheral villages, and give them a sense of security by ensuring the continued presence of troops and senior officers at the several camps that have been set up inside the jungles.

In order to give the force a new look, changes have been made right across the ranks - Walter I. Dawaram, the retired Director-General of Police (DGP), who headed the STF earlier, has been named Joint Chief of the STFs. Twenty-two police stations of Tamil Nadu that are located in the vicinity of areas known to be frequented by Veerappan have been brought under the direct control of the STF.

The intelligence network, which holds the key to finding Veerappan's whereabouts, is also being strengthened. A senior STF officer said: "What is needed is accurate intelligence and a small and dedicated team. Without information even a 10,000-strong police force will grope in the dark." It is with the intelligence aspect in mind that the STF has begun to win the confidence of the tribal people and the villagers. They are not just offered money, as in the past, but the authorities are trying to address their day-to-day problems, which mainly pertain to civic needs, appointment of teachers in schools, the issue of ration cards and permission to gather minor forest produce (MFP).

Since June 20 STF personnel have interacted "in a qualitatively improved manner with nearly 50,000 tribal people and villagers from 206 villages." Their problems have been categorised as immediate, short-term and long-term. Immediate problems are those that can be solved by the STF itself, short-term and long-term ones are those that would require the intervention of government departments such as Revenue, Forest, Electricity, Transport and Civil Supplies.

A senior STF officer said: "We cannot and do not want to usurp the role assigned to other government departments. Since we penetrate the jungles we will become the nodal agency, the point of contact for the people inhabiting them. We have already passed on their requirements to the respective District Collectors, who in turn have sent their teams to address the problems. No government can redress all their problems overnight. It is bound to take time."

When Frontline sought the reactions of the tribal people and villagers in the Thalamalai, Bargur and Kadambur forests about the STF's measures they appeared a little sceptical, having been for years harassed by the police; they nevertheless welcomed it. But whether they will provide information on Veerappan is to be seen. The villagers in fact said that they hardly had the time to think of Veerappan, preoccupied as they are with more pressing matters.

Madappan, a tribal person who was busy making wooden snares to trap jungle fowl near the Garikekandi bridge that spans the Palar river and connects Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, seemed to sum up the collective perception. He said: "The police want us to give information on Veerappan. How can we do this? The police are here today, gone tomorrow, Veerappan will always be here. Can the police protect us always?" But, according to a senior STF officer, this is the view that the STF is trying to correct. He said that "in a bid to give them confidence we are now ensuring a stronger and continuous police presence in the jungles. Further, to give the operations continuity, senior police officers will be stationed deep in the jungles until the operations are over." The STF hopes this strategy will pay off, at least in the long run, with people volunteering information.

The reasons that have prevented the STFs from catching the brigand are simple yet insurmountable. His excellent knowledge of the terrain, his Padayachi caste tag, the support (either out of fear or out of sympathy) of the residents of 200-odd villages (populated in sizable numbers by the Padayachi/Vanniyar community) on the periphery of the forests, support from the tribal people and from locally influential politicians, lack of long-term sustained and coordinated efforts by successive governments in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and in recent times support from members of extremist organisations such as the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army and the Tamil Nadu Retrieval Force, have all contributed to Veerappan's relative security. He has eluded the BSF, which was first deployed between 1993 and 1995 and then again in 2000, the Karnataka STF, which has been looking for him since 1993, and the Tamil Nadu STF, which has been deployed almost continuously since 1995.

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Other reasons have been the apparent lack of political will and the lack of coordination between the STF personnel of the two States. Further, there is a feeling that Karnataka (Tamil Nadu has also been guilty of this) is slack in its responses to emergencies. Successive governments in Karnataka, including the present one led by S.M. Krishna, have been obsessed with the view that Veerappan is a Tamilian who operates in Tamil Nadu and so the effort to catch him is primarily the business of the Tamil Nadu government. A former STF chief said: "Karnataka has been a weak link in the operations. It maintains that he is not in Karnataka without undertaking a thorough combing operation. The forests that Veerappan roams do not respect any State boundaries. Veerappan has crossed into Karnataka, as he did when he abducted Kannada film actor Rajkumar."

Veerappan's periodic acts of taking hostages, chiefly granite quarry owners, have also proved highly efficacious. They have not only brought him the much-needed respite when cornered by the police, but also a bounty with which he could buy himself friends. According to police sources, the Rajkumar kidnap episode last year netted him at least Rs.12 crores, the amount having been paid by the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments and the Rajkumar family. Most of this money, again if police sources are to be believed, has been stashed away by Veerappan with some politician-friends.

Given the STF's history of failures, it is hardly surprising that the changed strategy has been greeted with scepticism. Major changes began to be introduced with the June 1 decision of the Jayalalithaa government to revamp the Tamil Nadu STF. The changes were long overdue. During the last days of the previous dispensation in Tamil Nadu under M. Karunanidhi the Tamil Nadu STF was in limbo, with the then Joint Task Force Commander Inspector-General of Police (IGP) T. Radhakrishna, who was nursing a broken big toe for most part of his tenure, not actively participating in the operations. The morale among the troops was anything but high.

Nevertheless, Jayalalithaa's decision to appoint Dawaram to head the joint STF operation, and to bolster the Tamil Nadu STF with the services of IGP K. Vijaykumar, has not only indicated her strong support for the anti-Veerappan operations but boosted the morale of the forces. The changes also indicate that Jayalalithaa, during whose previous tenure most of the members of the Veerappan gang were wiped out, has been more enthusiastic in tracking down Veerappan than her political rivals. The Tamil Nadu STF feels it will now receive full political support to its operations.

THE breaking away of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), a party that has never supported the operations against Veerappan, from the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)-led alliance is an added bonus since there will be no opposition, however small, to Jayalalithaa's moves to strengthen the STF as it goes about its task. The Karnataka government in May appointed IGP Kempiah as its STF chief.

While Dawaram is known to act as tough as he talks (he was accused of committing human rights violations during his previous stint as STF chief), Vijaykumar, who was on deputation with the BSF, has had some experience with the STF. In 1993, when he was part of the Tamil Nadu police's Special Security Group, he trained personnel for the STF. Both officers believe in the 'hands-on theory', preferring to be in the jungles with the troops rather than work from the confines of an office.

Besides the 700-odd-strong Tamil Nadu STF, which has been bolstered by men from the Tamil Nadu Reserve Police and a commando unit, and a slightly smaller Karnataka STF corps, the operations against Veerappan have since last December acquired the services of nearly 700 men from the BSF's 117 Battalion. Seven companies of the 117 Battalion have been set up along the Palar and M.M. Hills on the Karnataka side and Satyamangalam, Varattupallam and Gundripallam on the Tamil Nadu side.

In the last seven months, the BSF, along with the STF, has combed the forests located within Tamil Nadu and about 70 per cent of the forests on the Karnataka side. However, many officers have questioned the need for the BSF's presence. Its deployment after the release of Rajkumar in December was more of a political necessity, with the Centre forced to accede to the requests of the two States to intervene in the matter.

Those in the know are cynical about the BSF's usefulness in the context. Dawaram said: "It (the deployment of the BSF) is all nonsense, a stunt. There is no need for a big army to catch Veerappan. I don't understand what the BSF can do. They don't even know the language." The BSF personnel too are not happy about the whole affair. An officer said: "We are a trained fighting force. Here nothing is happening. Why is the Central government using us to catch a poacher? It is a waste of time and money."

But having been airlifted to and deployed in Veerappan country, the BSF unit finds itself in a no-win situation. It has no mandate to operate independently, and any decision to withdraw from the operation would attract ridicule. Meanwhile, the brigand who held the governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to ransom with the sensational abduction of Rajkumar, has been spotted just once since he fled his hideout in December. That was in February, when the intense operations almost paid off when an intelligence gathering party of the Tamil Nadu STF accidentally came within sighting distance of the poacher and his gang at Chemmanthimalai (in the Western Ghats), northwest of the Kerala border town of Walayar.

But the poacher fled into the thick Walayar forests after a brief exchange of fire with the skeletal STF party. He left behind among other things haversacks containing bundles of soiled currency notes amounting to Rs 2.92 lakhs, a camera, three cellular telephones and a solar battery charger, an antenna, a walkie-talkie, medicines (including those for treating blood pressure, asthma and some common ailments), a diary, clothes, a mariner's compass and dry rations.

Sustained patrolling by the STF after the February sighting, of the national highway and the rail lines that lead from Coimbatore into Kerala and the heavily forested area on either side of the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border, from the Velliangiri Hills in Tamil Nadu and right up to the Walayar and Malampuzha forests of Kerala terminating at the Palakkad Gap, did not pay dividends. By all indications Veerappan, after lying low and living off the land as is his wont, was able to sneak back into the Tamil Nadu forests and then move to more familiar haunts.

Over the past decade Veerappan has been active in forests that stretch from Denkanikote and Anchetti in Tamil Nadu's Dharmapuri district to the Palakkad Gap and from Hogenekal in the east through M.M. Hills, Bandipur and Biligiri Ranga (B.R.) Hills in Karnataka, right up to the Nilgiri ranges in the west. The area, which encompasses around 18,500 sq km, is thick with vegetation and numerous ravines, river systems, peaks and valleys.

Besides the Chemmanthi- malai incident there have been a couple of other close calls. In November 1998, Veerappan was sighted "face to face at a distance of 150 metres" by the Karnataka STF, but he slipped away. In January 1999, a suspected hideout of Veerappan at Needipuram in the Kolathur reserve forests close to the Mettur dam was raided, but the brigand, who is equipped among other things with night vision binoculars, sensed the movement of STF personnel and slipped away.

According to police sources, there is a strong possibility that currently the brigand is in a safehouse protected by 'friends'. The police are trying to ascertain who these friends are. Naturally some of those who visited Veerappan in a bid to persuade him to release Rajkumar are suspected to be playing a role. Chief among them are Kolathur Mani, who hails from Kolathur in Tamil Nadu's Salem district and is a known supporter of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and the Tamil nationalist leader P. Nedumaran.

This line of thinking prompted the 'Q' branch of the Tamil Nadu Police to arrest Mani. Mani, who has made no bones about his opposition to the STF action has been advocating amnesty to the brigand. He is also ready to negotiate with the brigand on the two governments' behalf. The first information report against Mani accuses him of being aware of the whereabouts of Veerappan and also providing the poacher with logistical support. Mani's associates deny these charges.

But there is no doubt that Veerappan has powerful friends. Whether they will give him up in the face of sustained STF action will have to be to seen.

Terror in the Sunderbans

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The West Bengal police work out strategies to deal with pirates in the Sunderbans region who have for decades held fishermen for ransom.

SUHRID SHANKAR CHATTOPADHYAY in Kolkata

FOR over 50 per cent of the population of the Sunderbans, with its unique eco-system, in West Bengal's South 24 Parganas district, which is dependent solely on fishing for a livelihood, life is fraught with dangers. Apart from being vulnerable to the vagaries of nature and wild animals, the fishermen face attacks from pirates, who sometimes capture their trawlers and boats, seize their catch and hold them hostage. The ransom the pirates demand ranges from Rs.30,000 to over Rs.1 lakh.

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Kanti Ganguli, West Bengal's Minister for Sunderbans Affairs, told Frontline that the "problem is quite acute and has been there for over 30 years. The government and the administration are doing their best to combat the menace." The attacks take place on a regular basis. "The pirates become most active after July. That is the time when, after the Rath ceremony, the big trawlers go to the sea," Ganguli said.

On an average around 60,000 fishermen go out into the high seas every day. The abductions usually take place when they return with the catch. In a number of cases, the pirates hail from Bangladesh. According to a senior government official, "The riverine border shared by India and Bangladesh in this region has practically no checkpoint or Border Security Force (BSF) outpost, floating or otherwise, up to 70 km. This makes trans-border piracy all the more easy."

However, most of the piracy is carried out by local gangs. "It is very difficult to distinguish one trawler from another. Sometimes a gang of pirates may be operating from an ordinary fishing trawler so that they can get close to the unsuspecting fishermen and capture them," an informed source said. The pirates usually send a few of their hostages away with instructions to the families of the others to arrange for ransom. The money-prisoners swap usually takes place at Canning, Dakghat or Jharkahali.

Four major gangs operate in the Sunderbans. Of them the most infamous one is the Canning-Dockghat gang, headed by Nurislam Molla, who took over here after the notorious Rejjak Sardar was killed in a police encounter in June. The oldest gang, the Jharkhali Kata Jungle, which is now defunct, was formed by Bachchu Sardar. This gang was the terror of the Sunderbans for over 25 years. Five years ago, old age and infirmity forced Bachchu to retire from active crime. The gang continued to operate under the command of his second wife, Phuldasi, who was often referred to as the 'Phoolan Devi of the Sunderbans'. She died last year following a bout of diarrhoea. Although Bachchu has given up piracy, he is known to plan attacks for other gangs. "He used to be a master criminal. Apart from knowing the Sunderbans in West Bengal inside out, he is also very familiar with the Sunderbans on the Bangladeshi side and has many contacts there," said R.K. Singh, Additional Superintendent of Police, South 24 Parganas. There are also the Merrygunj gang headed by Madhu and the Madhavpur gang operated by Harangaji Parangaji and his associate Rafiq Khan.

The pirates' original homes were in the Sunderbans. They are believed to have moved their families to the heavily forested New Moore region, locally known as Purbasha, on no man's land along the water boundary of West Bengal and Bangladesh.

Piracy is concentrated at the mouth of the Matla, the Bidya and the Thakuran, near the Bay of Bengal. "The Bulchari, Dalhousie and Chulkati regions lying between the Matla and the Thakuran are also unsafe for fishing," says R.K. Singh. The pirates often take their hostages to the island of Kedodweep island, an uninhabited, densely forested tiger reserve at the Bay mouth, and Purbasha, east of Kedodweep. However, pirate attacks are not restricted to this region. They take place anywhere in the Sunderbans.

Haripada Paik, an elderly fisherman living in Raidighi, says that 35 years ago pirates demanded a ransom of Rs.10,000 and also oil, rice, cigarettes and sweets in exchange for the seized boats and fishermen. "If any of the items provided turned out to be bad, the captured fishermen would be beaten mercilessly. Pirates have even killed their captives when their demands were not met," he recalls. Those days Bachchu Sardar was the main terror of the Sunderbans. The pirates also took protection money.

In order to combat the menace, the Sunderban Fishermen and Fishwor- kers Union (SFFU), affiliated to the United Trade Union Centre (Lenin-Sarani), the trade union wing of the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI), was formed in 1982. According to Nilratan Haldar, president of the SFFU, initially neither the union nor the fishermen received any support from the local or district administration. "They (the officials) kept saying that the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) was running the racket and not local gangs." The attacks reached alarming proportions when pirates extorted over Rs.25 lakhs and killed three fishermen between August and October 1988. All fishing activity came to a halt. When they found no fishermen at sea, the pirates started marauding the land. "The same gangs started attacking market places and houses in broad daylight, and the administration still did nothing," Haldar said.

In 1989, near the island of Kalashdweep on the Matla, the Merrygunj gang captured a large number of fishermen and demanded a ransom of Rs.20 lakhs. Nirmal Das, joint secretary of the union, said: "We staged a protest outside the District Magistrate's office. Subse-quently, BSF personnel and a team of policemen from Kultuli were deployed." When the pirates realised that security forces had been deployed, they removed the captives to Kedodweep, 10 km from Kalashdweep and a two-hour journey by trawler. The BSF laid siege to the island for three days. In the shoot-out that followed, 15 of the 30 pirates present were killed; the others were not found. After this incident, the 11 fisher-men's associations in West Bengal formed the West Bengal United Fishermen's Association at the initiative of the SFFU. "We (union activists) get threatening phone calls at our office (at Raidighi), asking us to stop all union activities," Haldar said.

"Logistical problems impede police action against the pirates. The scenes of crime are normally 10 hours journey from the police stations at Raidighi, Kultuli and Gosaba. These areas are not electrified. So, even if a police station gets the news of a crime, it cannot alert other police stations for back-up," R.K. Singh said. The police launches are slower than the mechanised boats used by the pirates, and they are ill-equipped to enter the innumerable narrow creeks that provide an escape route into the dense jungles. "To put an end to piracy in the Sunderbans, we have to have adequate facilities," he said.

The situation has improved somewhat in recent times, with the administration and the police taking a more active role in combating the pirates. On February 10, Rejjak Sardar's gang kidnapped seven fishermen in the Dalhousie region and kept them prisoners in Kedodweep. Word was sent to the relatives of the kidnapped to meet Rejjak's associates in Dakghat and hand over Rs.50,000 as ransom. However, Rejjak's men were arrested, and a few days later the fishermen were released.

Rejjak's luck finally ran out. The cagey pirate, who eluded arrest for long, was killed on June 9. On that day, at 8 a.m. R.K. Singh received information that seven fishermen had been kidnapped the night before at Kuberbali, between the Matla and Thakuran rivers, by Rejjak's men. The relatives of the kidnapped were instructed to reach Monirul, a tea shop at Dakghat on June 13 with a cloth tied on their left hand and carrying Rs.10,000 each. They were told to ask for Rejjak Sardar. But on June 9 Rejjak kidnapped six more fishermen from Kuberbali. "I immediately placed launches in those parts of the Thakuran, Bidya and Matla rivers that the pirates were bound to use to reach Dakghat," R.K. Singh said. (Minister Kanti Ganguli accompanied the police in one of the launches.) "I was working on a hunch that Rejjak would return the same day through the creeks to Golabari and from there to Dakghat," R.K. Singh said. He himself held vigil at Golabari. A public boat was hired from Canning, and all ferry boats in that part of the Matla were checked. The Matla's meandering course made it easy for the police to take cover. At 11-15 a.m., as R.K. Singh anticipated, Rejjak's boat approached, heading for Dakghat. Confronted by the police, Rejjak and his men started firing from 50 metres. "Forty-five rounds were fired, and in the exchange of gunfire Rejjak was killed. His body was found the next day. Three pirates escaped, seven were caught," R.K. Singh said. On June 25, Jiyad Ali Lay, another pirate, was arrested from the house of Bachchu in Jharkhali where they had gone to seek his advice on another kidnapping expedition.

In order to deal more effectively with the pirates, 10 officers and a force of 50 have been deployed to keep vigil in the Sunderbans. Police outposts have been set up at Kaikhali on the Matla under the Kultuli police station, at Jharkhali under the Basanti police station, and at Haldibari near Kedodweep. At Haldibari, the police are working in collaboration with the Forest Department. "Three launches and a trawler have been hired and we have also asked for speedboats," R.K. Singh said.

Interestingly, the police also plan to recruit 50 local people, even petty criminals who have knowledge of the innumerable creeks, and train them in order to check the menace.

A fisherman's day out

SOMETIME in March, Harananda Moira, a fisherman living in Raidighi, was worried when his uncle's boat was missing for two days. He went to Canning to make enquiries. There he was told that the boat was last seen at Dockghat. At Dockghat, he saw some parts the boat, but did not see his uncle. He went back to Canning and telephoned the Sunderban Fishermen and Fishworkers' Union (SFFU) from a booth. When he came out, he was accosted by two pistol-wielding men. "Somebody must have informed them that I was making enquiries about my uncle. They took me to Dockghat, where I was presented before Rejjak Sardar. Brandishing a pistol in my direction, Rejjak threatened to kill me and my uncle for informing the union," Harananda told Frontline.

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Rejjak's brother-in-law, Raihan Majhi, knew Harananda. "Both of us being fishermen, we were on good terms. He saved me from Rejjak's gun. While they were fighting, I ran for my life," he said. The next day Harananda's uncle was let off, but the pirates kept the boat.

Another uncle of Harananda was not so lucky. In 1988, Prafulla Moira was killed after his family failed to pay the ransom in time.

Rejuvenated strategies

The People's War group and the Andhra Pradesh police have both renewed their strategies to wear the other out.

THE spectre of violence haunting several districts of Andhra Pradesh since last year is proof of the left extremist Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist People's War (P.W.) group's determination to consolidate its stranglehold. The violence has been mostly concentrated in the north Telengana districts. Police personnel, people suspected to be police informers and district and mandal level political leaders, particularly those belonging to the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and its ally the Bharatiya Janata Party, have become the most common targets of P.W. action teams.

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The State police, which has geared up for an all-out assault on the extremist group, has managed to inflict some stunning blows. One of the biggest losses the P.W. suffered at the hands of the police was the elimination of the six-member Kanagal dalam (squad) at Devapally village in Nalgonda district on June 9. Earlier in the day, P.W. cadres had blasted a landmine, killing a sub-inspector and a constable at Bandelamuru village in Rangareddy district, about 70 km from the State capital, Hyderabad.

Before the P.W. cadres could recover from the blow, the police in Nalgonda district struck again. This time they encircled a hillock on which a naxalite team had taken shelter. The seven-hour-long gun battle on June 19 led to the killing of eight naxalites and an 18-month-old girl, stated to be the daughter of a village resident who had gone to meet the naxalites. Among the eight persons killed was a district committee secretary of the organisation, Diwakar.

Any policeman, of course, is a marked man now. Hitherto the extremists targeted only police officers and men who took an active part in anti-extremist operations. This year, P.W. action teams have shot dead as many as 12 policemen, six TDP activists, one senior leader of the BJP (in Nizamabad district), and 17 civilians (read informers). Eleven persons, six of them members of the People's Guerilla Army (PGA) whom P.W. cadres accused of joining hands with the police and trying to kill top leaders, were also killed.

Cadres of the P.W. also abducted eight persons, most of them Lambadas (people belonging to a nomadic tribe), and took into custody six of their own colleagues and 'interrogated' them. These 14 persons were paraded before a team of journalists who were invited for a press conference in the jungle. The captives confessed to presspersons that they had planned to kill top naxalite leaders but had later surrendered themselves.

Ten of the captive men were shot dead immediately after the press team left, while four others were thrashed severely. One of them later succumbed to their injuries. What dismayed the police was that six of the slain 'coverts' (as the P.W. calls them) were underground naxalites.

THE genesis for the renewed violence lay in the alleged encounter between the police and the naxalites in the Koyyur forest area of Karimnagar district on December 2, 1999. Three "central committee" members of the P.W., Nalla Adi Reddy, Y. Santosh Reddy and Seelam Naresh, were shot dead by the police in an 'encounter' that shook the P.W., until then believed to be impenetrable and invincible. The P.W. was quick to point out that the leaders were picked up in Bangalore and shot dead in Karimnagar in a stage-managed encounter.

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It was the biggest ever loss suffered for the P.W. Its thinktank therefore decided to concentrate on the deficiencies in its well-oiled underground network. To its shock, the P.W. leadership discovered that it was a "den" keeper who had helped the police in the operation. Then on, it seems, the P.W. concentrated on breaking the informer network. Outside the organisation, it focussed on civilians helping the police. The spate of killings has to be understood against this backdrop. Within the organisation, another exercise was under way - to identify infiltrators.

Coming in the wake of the panchayat elections (11 districts went to the polls on July 12 and the rest on July 15), the twin efforts of the P.W. to check infiltrators and also mount attacks on the district- and mandal-level political leaders have led to a sharp rise in violence. Caught in the web of underground politics is the mainline political party, the TDP, which has been accusing its principal rival, the two-month-old Telengana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), of accepting support from the P.W.

A circular that the P.W. leadership issued to the cadres recently gives a rare insight into the redefined strategies and tactics of the P.W. after the Koyyur setback. Most of the field tactics that are evident in the present actions of P.W. cadres can be traced to this circular. The circular, it is believed, was put up for discussion at the special congress of the P.W., conducted during March/April and was approved by the Central Committee, the P.W.'s decision-making body.

The most amazing aspect of the circular is that it identifies and analyses the strongpoints of the 'enemy' - that is, the State represented by the police - and suggests counter-strategies and tactics to be followed by the cadres 'to advance the protracted armed struggle' for achieving the new democratic revolution. The analysis of the counter-extremist operations launched by the State police is summed up in 16 points. Amazingly, the circular admits that "the enemy had mounted an all-out offensive during last two years and had succeeded in weakening us through military offensive. The enemy succeeded in making many (underground cadres) surrender." The most important observation was that "the enemy had succeeded in attracting a section of people through reforms (initiated by the government)".

The reforms include the formation of a Joint Coordination Committee (JCC) of the governments of different States facing the extremist problem and of a Joint Operational Command (JOC), the banning of naxalite organisations, effective surrender policies, the formation of special intelligence branches (SIB) to deal exclusively with extremism, increased financial assistance from the Centre to the States, the introduction of 'draconian' laws, the formation of 'civil vigilante' groups to attack naxalite sympathisers, covert operations (infiltration of naxalite groups), the adoption of villages, the formation of grama rakshaka dalams by the police, the sale of lands that had been lying fallow after P.W. cadres hoisted red flags in them, the formation of maitri sanghams in villages, counselling for parents of underground naxalite cadres and a 'retreat' scheme in the Police Department to identify the mistakes made in anti-extremist operations.

After analysing the strongpoints of the State's operations, the P.W. leadership directed its cadres to mete out 'stringent' punishment to informers. The change in tactics indicates that the P.W. action teams would concentrate on hitting 'single targets'. (In naxalite parlance, a single target could be a policeman or an officer or a politician). Observers say that attacks on policemen, politicians and informers have increased in the Telengana districts after this circular was released.

In addition to such general instructions, the P.W.'s central leadership exhorted the cadres to take up "armed resistance as a campaign" all over the State. Its firm belief that such a campaign would lead to confusion in the 'enemy camp' and pave the way for increased safety to its underground cadres is said to be the principal factor behind the recent upsurge of violence.

How do the police try to counter the naxalite problem? The authorities assert that the people are vexed with the 'mindless' violence perpetrated by the P.W. A top intelligence officer commented on the police strategy thus: "If people are vexed with the P.W., information about the movement of the squads would naturally flow. It is only a matter of time before we eliminate the P.W. menace."

'We shall fight it out'

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Interview with H.J. Dora, DGP, Andhra Pradesh.

The Andhra Pradesh police redefined its anti-extremist operations and strategies after H.J. Dora took over as Director-General of Police on November 30, 1996. His experience in naxalite-affected areas and his unshakeable views on left-wing extremism have helped Dora check the spreading influence of the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist People's War to a large extent.

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A candidate for the post of the Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Dora spends a great deal of time interacting with officers working in extremist-affected districts. The police chief does not mince words in condemning the extremist ideology, which he refers to as an outdated one. Dora, who is on the hit-list of the P.W., spoke to K. Srinivas Reddy on the situation. Excerpts.

How do you analyse the present killing spree by naxalites?

The recent killing of 11 persons including some of the P.W. cadre, indicates the organisation's ideological bankruptcy. They (P.W. leaders) firmly believe that a reign of terror and ruthless killings would prepare people for revolution. But these killings have to be Why is the P.W. leadership so sceptical about the so-called covert operations? They know they are getting hit and now the parties and cadres are in utter confusion, so much so that they suspect even their own shadows.

Does not the formation of the People's Guerrilla Army indicate the growing strength of left-wing extremists?

This is a mistake. Earlier they had a Central Guerrilla Squad. Now they have merged all the squads to form what they call an army. But look at the developments. The woman who held the P.W. flag high during a parade coinciding with the announcement of the PGA's launch, surrendered before me two or three months later.

There is no ideological commitment among PGA members. They are also vexed with the cult of violence that P.W. leaders preach. They are coming out. Otherwise how do you explain the large number of surrenders by P.W. cadre? The P.W. leadership is worried about this. To stop this outflow, it will resort to anything, including intimidation.

What do you think the PGA will do?

It cannot do anything other than resort to sneak attacks on the police and civilians. Whatever is left of the PGA will be finished. We killed some and they (the P.W.) killed some (referring to the killing of PGA members suspected of being police informers).

The PGA now aims to militarise its cadres further. They would undergo some training somewhere. And they will resort to violence. It is part of their strategy.

What will be the police strategy?

People are vexed with the violence. There is a lot of revulsion against the spree of killings. People are with us and we shall fight it out with the naxalites. I am quite confident of tackling the naxalites.

Abandoning a reform measure

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The UDF government's move against extending beyond Standard Seven the curriculum reform programme introduced during the period of the previous government puts a question mark on the future of a system that has brought about positive changes on the school education scene in Kerala.

R. KRISHNAKUMAR in Thiruvananthapuram

"Bitzer," said Thomas Gradgrind, "Your definition of a horse." "Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth." Thus (and much more) Bitzer. "Now girl number twenty," said Mr. Gradgrind. "You know what a horse is?"

- from the chapter "Murdering the Innocents" in Hard Times.

IN that nightmare of a school that Charles Dickens created out of actual 19th century circumstances in Britain, the free-spirited new student Sissy Jupe ("girl number twenty") fails miserably to define a horse, despite her being the daughter of a man who tends and trains horses. Ironically, Gradgrind's praise is all for the young Bitzer, a utilitarian prodigy, who need not ever have seen a horse but is able to answer the stuffy, dictatorial school-owner precisely the way he wants him to. In Dickens' Coketown school, the Bitzers are the academic stars; the Sissy Jupes, who understand horses better, can take care of them and know how to ride them perhaps, are judged failures.

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Simply stated - and ignore the political overtones - this is just the kind of issue that is rocking Kerala today: whether education ultimately means coaching students to memorise textbooks or developing them into life-long learners who are confident, competent and creative in their interaction with society.

Gradgrind's facts-only classroom ("That is it! You are never to fancy!") could have easily been mistaken for what went on all along in schools across Kerala, until very recently. Only a few years have passed since a new, child-centred, activity-oriented pedagogy and curriculum began to be introduced in stages from the primary school level, creating the feeling that the spirit of Gradgrind was finally being driven out of the State's schools.

Thus, within the span of a few academic years, Kerala had seemingly achieved what was until then considered a never-never task. In one sweep, government schools had discarded everything that was "old and outdated" in at least up to Standard Seven. Teaching and learning was no longer textbook-oriented. Rote learning, written exercises, reading aloud from the textbooks, writing on the blackboard, memorising mathematical tables, traditional learning of the alphabet - all these were out. Physical punishment and traditional teaching methods came to be frowned upon. Formal examinations - with their emphasis on testing memory, they shaped the very pattern of teaching, textbook writing and classroom interaction - were no longer the point of reference for classes below Standard Eight.

Instead, the emphasis fell on activity, development of the student's natural inclination to learn, offering greater freedom, making learning more fun than work, creating natural learning experiences, reducing the stress on results; in short, on teaching children to "learn how to learn" in an enjoyable sort of way (Frontline, July 30, 1999).

The potential benefits of the new pedagogy was immediately obvious in many schools. So was the enormous burden that the new curriculum placed on the shoulders of the tradition-bound Education Department and teachers, because of the significant shift away from the customary textbook-oriented teaching and learning to a more activity-oriented, intrinsically motivated learning process.

Because the long-felt need for a qualitative improvement in school education was addressed through such a sudden and dramatic reform, the conditions for its proper implementation were not immediately available in many schools. The engaging new curriculum demanded certain minimum requirements, adequate infrastructure facilities and responsible and motivated teachers. These were made available to a large extent in six of the 14 districts in Kerala where the World Bank-aided District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) was being implemented. But in schools elsewhere in the State, the absence of these preconditions was acutely felt, despite the changes suggested in pedagogy and the curriculum.

Moreover, the government schools in which the new curriculum was sought to be implemented accounted for only about 36 per cent of the total number of schools in Kerala. The rest were private schools, where the children of the rich and the majority of middle-class people studied in the traditional way, with textbooks being the focus of schooling. The general feeling that the "experiments" were only taking place in the government schools, where mostly the wards of the poor studied, was unavoidable.

Such factors only helped widen the great divide. Although there was agreement on the need to bring about quality improvement in school education in Kerala, from the beginning there were sharp differences of opinion on whether the current curriculum revision was indeed the best way to do it. Just as there were people who hailed the new curriculum, there were those who honestly believed that the traditional methods of teaching and learning had their intrinsic merits and should not have been abandoned altogether.

Those who opposed the shift said that the new curriculum with its emphasis on joyful learning and little stress on measurable achievements would eventually produce only a "bunch of clerks and peons". They were critical of the reduced emphasis on memory, math and spelling drills, precision in the use of written and spoken language, legible writing, of the over-emphasis on the informal rather than the formal and of the new evaluation methods which replaced the traditional system of written examinations. Some opposed it for a totally different reason: they saw the new curriculum as one induced by the World Bank "to scuttle Kerala's achievements in education".

But the feedback from a variety of sources, including in-house and external review committees, and especially from the DPEP districts about the new curriculum as was being followed in classes up to the Fourth Standard was positive and highly encouraging. Wherever the necessary facilities were made available and the teachers seemed committed, the new curriculum was generating a positive response and was proving to be highly beneficial to the students. This was the reassurance that the reformers needed.

By the 2000-01 school year, the first generation of the new curriculum students had already reached Standard Seven and the curriculum committee decided to extend the new scheme to the secondary schools, even though studies were yet to be undertaken on its implementation in Standards Five to Seven. What they did not plan for was a change of government in Kerala and political intervention in a purely academic activity of curriculum planning and the revision that was to follow.

ONE of the first announcements made by the leaders of the Congress(I)-led United Democratic Front (UDF), immediately after it won the Assembly elections in May was that the new curriculum would eventually be confined to the primary classes. What followed was a series of statements from the newly inducted Education Minister, Nalakathu Soopy (of the Muslim League, a major UDF partner), which smacked of political one-upmanship and lack of understanding about the reforms, just as a new school year was beginning.

The Minister said that pending a government review of the revised curriculum ("which is all play and no work", "unsuitable for serious study and the future of students"), the government has decided not to extend it to the secondary stage. The Eighth Standard students, the Minister said, would have to revert to the old curriculum and old textbooks and old methods of learning, until a review was conducted, despite the fact that in their entire seven years of study in school, they were only accustomed to the new way of learning and the new activity-oriented textbooks.

The confusion that this announcement created at the beginning of a school year was enormous. An impression gained ground - and this was evident in all the schools that this correspondent visited - that it was only a question of time before the new government did away with the entire curriculum reform in schools and reverted to the old methods and textbooks. In the context of a large section of teachers opposing the new curriculum because of the additional workload that it placed on them, one headmaster told Frontline: "What the new government and the ill-advised Minister did was to topple a carefully prepared and forward-looking curriculum through irresponsible statements. This gave a large number of teachers, who were cursing the increased workload, a good opportunity to revert to teaching the traditional way, and to ignore the demands of the new system."

Kerala's school education was adrift, from that point. If the new child-centred, activity-oriented pedagogy and curriculum is good up to Standard Four, why is it not good enough in the higher classes? Was the curriculum mechanically extended to the higher classes (especially in the present case to the Eighth Standard) without sufficient thought to the stage of development of the upper primary and secondary students and their requirements? Was the new curriculum and textbooks perfect in all respects and beyond any criticism? If not, is going back to the old system the best way for quality improvement, which was the purpose of the whole revision exercise so far?

R.V.G. Menon, president of the People's Science Movement of the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad and a prominent member of the curriculum committee appointed by the State government, said that never before in the history of Kerala had so many university, college and school teachers, academic experts and psychologists - irrespective of their political affiliations - been involved in the planning and preparation of a curriculum and textbooks. Earlier, a three-member committee had conducted wide-ranging discussions and prepared a perspective document on how school education from the pre-primary to the higher secondary stage (from Minus Two to Plus Two) in Kerala should be. It was circulated for comments from the public. It was based on this perspective document that the comprehensive curriculum and textbooks were prepared. At every stage, a government-appointed curriculum committee had overseen the preparation of the curriculum and the textbooks, held extensive discussions and provided necessary suggestions. The textbooks thus prepared were then circulated for scrutiny by expert committees.

"A wrong impression has been created that the new curriculum is all play and fun, even in the higher classes. This is not true. It is a more ordered and formal approach, a more centralised and activity-based pedagogy in the higher classes, depending on the age and learning stage of the students," C.P. Narayanan, a mathematician and another member of the curriculum committee, said.

According to C. Ramakrishnan, another teacher and a member of the curriculum and textbook revision committee, once it was decided that school education from the Minus Two to the Plus Two stage should be considered in its entirety, the next step was to spell out what it should provide a student at the Plus Two stage. This, it was decided, ought to be based on a vision of the needs of contemporary Kerala society. "We debated and arrived at a list of competencies, attitudes and temperament that a student should achieve by the time he (or she) passed out of Standard 12," he said. "The next process," he said, "was to arrive at a consensus on what the student should learn at each stage of his physical and psychological development so as to attain the targeted level of learning by the time he is in Standard Twelve."

Explaining the laborious process that was involved in the preparation of the textbooks, he said curriculum statements, learning experiences both within and outside the class, the time required to achieve each of them, and how evaluation should take place at each stage have been diligently listed out. Guidelines on how the student should learn, who should be the teacher, what kind of extended classroom should students be exposed to, how the student, teacher and the school itself should be evaluated, what support facilities should be made available and what should be the nature and content of training for teachers, have also been spelt out.

Narayanan, who has been involved in the education sector in the State since the 1960s, said that at no earlier stage had there been such a diligent and comprehensive effort in Kerala to develop a school curriculum. Until now there were only vague general statements on the aims of school education. That was as close as the State got to a perspective on the aims of school education. Textbooks were prepared without much thought or effort. Authors had the frequent experience of being asked to provide chapters for a textbook in a jiffy, on the eve of a school year. M.N. Sukumaran Nair, another committee member, said that in his 22 years of authoring textbooks at no time had he received any direction on what the textbooks should aim at, or what the expected competencies that the students should achieve from the lessons were.

Moreover, he said, the old textbooks were but a collection of essays on particular topics, "for the teacher to teach and the student to memorise". In contrast, the new textbooks are a collection of material for activity-based inquiry, which the students, teachers and parents could use. The definite requirement was that the students should attain the stated competencies and knowledge at each stage. It need not be from the textbooks alone.

"This is the change that has happened in the Kerala education sector. It may not be perfect and would need corrections, but ask any parent and I am sure they would have noticed the change in the attainments of their children," Sukumaran Nair said.

Significantly, while earlier the entire process of schooling was textbook-oriented, under the new system it became activity-oriented. It required the creation of all the learning experiences within the classroom itself or from the surroundings. Textbooks were deliberately open-ended, asking, for example what happens when water is added to quicklime or to observe whether a man inside a speeding bus is actually moving. There were no readymade answers. The students had to do it with the help of the teachers to draw their own inferences.

The new curriculum drastically reduced the role of the textbook, the tuition master and the parent. The crucial role became that of the teacher. Textbooks did not provide answers that had to be memorised. The new curriculum required the teacher to work more in order that the students reached the right conclusions. The burden on the teachers increased manifold and a large majority of school teachers in Kerala seemed unwilling to accept it. But as many parents told this correspondent, the achievements of their children had "definitely improved" and "there was real attainment of knowledge in the classrooms".

"In my 15 years as a teacher nobody has told me till now what should be the aim of my teaching a particular lesson. But the new curriculum defines this clearly. This is a departure. Is it wrong? If so, we must correct it. Or critics can point out if the targeted competencies are not adequate. Or that they are way above the level of learning meant for a particular class. But the only criticisms that have been raised are generalisations, often far removed from reality. The fact is that nobody had seen the textbooks for Standard Eight when the UDF announced that they were sub-standard and had to be abolished. The big question is why," Ramakrishnan asks.

According to People's Science Movement president R.V.G. Menon, the old system created only doctors and engineers and "those who were jealous and angry that they did not become doctors or engineers". The new curriculum offers so much scope for improving the latent talents of the students, which would have otherwise remained dormant. But a number of parents were initially confused. Since the entire learning experience had to be in the classrooms, a parent did not understand what was going on, or what he had to do to help his child. Many viewed with suspicion the obvious enthusiasm that their children showed to go to school and thought they were up to something in school. It was as if they were trained by the old school to believe, 'if it is good, it must be carcinogenic'," the People's Science Movement chief said.

To brief parents properly the new scheme had planned for books for them too, but they were never distributed, according to the committee members. Although the responsibility for restructuring the curriculum was that of the State Council for Educational Research and Training (SCERT), the administrative control over the schools and the teachers continued to be with the State Department of Education. According to Narayanan, many officials perhaps did not like the reduced importance that the new system envisaged for them.

Training teachers was a very important component of the curriculum revision programme. Most of them were tradition-bound and training did not receive the importance that it deserved.

Textbooks were open-ended, and so if teachers were to play their role they had to be sufficiently prepared to help students arrive at the right answer. That was not happening in many cases. Teacher motivation left much to be desired. Parents and teachers were not taken into confidence before implementing the programme. Instead, either rightly or wrongly, the impression spread that the teachers were at fault, that most of them were lazy and irresponsible. "To those who were working day in and day out for the revision of the curriculum and the textbooks it was like the enemies jockey-riding their race horse," R.V.G. Menon said.

The loudest criticism was against the evaluation system envisaged under the new curriculum. For many, including Education Department officials, the reduced importance on written examinations (the conduct of which was their responsibility) was the biggest sin. Director of Public Instruction V.P. Joy observed: "The new system may have many positive aspects. But how do you ensure that a student has achieved the targeted competencies at the end of the year? Why should they be against written examinations? Instead the importance seems to be on 'continuous and comprehensive evaluation' by the teacher himself. You should certify knowledge, not ignorance." "Unless you test what the student has achieved," Joy asked, "how do you conclude he has obtained the required knowledge?"

"The question that we faced was what kind of an examination should Standard 12 students face. We were clear that it should not be a mere memory test, that it should also examine the analytical and deductive abilities of the students. The consensus was that evaluation should be a combination of both," Narayanan said.

R.V.G. Menon admits that there was some confusion on the question of evaluation. Along with continuous and comprehensive evaluation, which has become an accepted practice worldwide, the idea of a terminal examination as a kind of standard testing has been accepted in many countries. But there is lack of clarity on how this element is to be introduced in the new system in Kerala. "Evaluation techniques have not received enough importance in teacher training. It is a defect that has to be corrected. But on the relative importance of the two systems of evaluation, there is a real difference of opinion as to where one has to draw a line," he said.

It was nobody's case that the new curriculum and pedagogy as it evolved in its first few years was perfect in every respect. There was agreement on the need for correction. But, says Ramakrishnan, "Education is not politics. The changes and corrections should evolve through an academic process. Then there is scope for me as a teacher, a parent and a citizen to express my opinion. But what the new government did was to decide unilaterally and autocratically to revert to the old curriculum and textbooks in Standard Eight and perhaps to suggest the direction its expert committee should take regarding its conclusions."

Changes in curriculum should not be something synonymous with a change of government. The changes were part of a vision of comprehensive education from Minus Two to the Plus Two stage. By deciding to stick to the old textbooks from Standard Eight this year, what the government has done is to compartmentalise school education. Secondary education falls once again into the old rut of memory-based learning. And the threat is looming large on the upper primary classes as well.

According to Ramakrishnan, anyone who has cared to watch the change in the new classrooms in Kerala will no doubt have noticed that the new curriculum has made the children more confident and creative. "Whether they are getting the necessary competencies is something that has to be proved over the years. For this, teacher training is an important component. Wherever it has taken place properly, there is no doubt that the students are attaining the necessary competencies," he said.

Those on both sides of the argument in Kerala accept that quality education, however defined, should have the following minimum requirements: adequate facilities; well-trained, motivated and responsible teachers; active classrooms and an engaging curriculum. Over the decades, the old system of education had been found wanting in all four respects. Moreover, it had been failing over 70 per cent of the students enrolling in Standard One by the time they reached Standard Ten.

The fate of school education in Kerala is now to be decided by a new committee in three months, the Minister has announced. Until then, as Abdul Waheed, the principal of a government higher secondary school in Thiruvananthapuram, says, "schools will cope as best as they can, because whichever be the system, it is the teachers that will make the difference."

Despite catering to students from a relatively poor background, teachers in Waheed's school seemed surprisingly enthusiastic about the new curriculum. "We ensure that the demands of the new curriculum are met, as best as the facilities allow us. Where it lags behind, we teach the students the good old way. We believe they should get the best of both systems, and should not be made to suffer for the imperfections of any one of them," was Waheed's significant comment.

Ferment in Orissa

Even as the movement seeking statehood for western Orissa gains momentum, the State government renews its demand for special category status for Orissa.

THE demand for a separate Kosala Raj state, which remained low key for over 15 years, has gained momentum with the formation of the Kosala Party (K.P.) and the Kosala Ekta Manch (KEM). The key figure in this movement in western Orissa is the Bharatiya Janata Party legislator from Bolangir, Balagopal Mishra. The BJP's central and State leaderships, however, do not support the demand. But Mishra, has the indirect support of legislators from western Orissa belonging to all parties.

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Despite opposition from the ruling Biju Janata Dal-BJP combine, Mishra in a hard-hitting speech in the State Assembly in March, blamed the government for turning a blind eye to the growing demand for a new State, which would cover 11 of the 30 districts of Orissa. They are: Bolangir, Sambalpur, Jharsuguda, Deogarh, Bargarh, Sonepur, Boudh, Koraput, Sundergarh, Noapara and Kalahandi. Most of these districts share a border with Madhya Pradesh. The mineral- and forest-rich western Orissa has 30 per cent of the State's population.

Regional organisations, such as the Western Orissa Janajagaran Parishad (WOJM), the Orissa Sanskriti Samaj (OSS) and the Western Orissa Liberation Front (WOLF), have joined the K.P. and the KEM to intensify the movement. Under these organisations, the movement has gradually assumed militant overtones. In the past two years, the people of western Orissa have responded to the call for the boycott of Utkal Divas, observed on April 1. In May, a conference was held at Sambalpur where a deadline of October 15, 2005 was set for the formation of the new State.

Premlal Dubey, K.P. chairman, told Frontline that Kosal Raj, which finds mention in the Ramayana, was actually what is now western Orissa. He feels that the government's main concern is with the coastal region while the western region has been largely neglected. People of this backward region are victims of acute poverty and deprivation. Sale of children, a high rate of infant mortality, and deaths due to malnutrition are major features of life in western Orissa.

In 1998, the Orissa government formed the Western Orissa Development Council (WODC) which was not readily accepted by political leaders belonging to the coastal districts. As the WODC does not enjoy full financial autonomy, it cannot undertake development projects. The Council was reconstituted early this year, but it needs government sanction for every project it plans to undertake.

MEANWHILE, the renewed demand for special category status to Orissa has virtually set the cat among the pigeons as far as the ruling combine is concerned. Both the BJD and the BJP accuse each other of providing the Opposition a handle. The BJD has already issued a veiled threat to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee that the party would not hesitate to withdraw from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) if the demand for special category status is not met. Reports of the Planning Commission having turned down the demand have put the BJD in a quandary. The State BJP, although not averse to the demand, has never voiced it.

Adding to the government's miseries, the Congress(I) and the Orissa Gana Parishad (OGP) have demanded that the BJD recall its Ministers from the Central government, if it does not have the courage to withdraw support to the NDA government, if Orissa is not granted special status. Bijoy Mahapatra, a former Minister who broke away from the BJD and formed the OGP in November last year, emphasised the need for the special category status. He said Chief Minister Navin Patnaik should call a meeting of the State Cabinet, adopt a resolution and send all Cabinet members to New Delhi to press for the demand.

Provoked by the developments, State Finance Minister Ramakrushna Patnaik hinted that the BJD might withdraw support to the NDA government if the need arose. He told Frontline that special status for Orissa was not a demand of the BJD alone but of the entire people of the State. He said Navin Patnaik had written to the Prime Minister in June in this regard. In his reply, the Prime Minister assured the Chief Minister that he would consider the demand sympathetically. Ramakrushna Patnaik said: "The Prime Minister is yet to announce the decision of his government. If the Centre refuses to concede our demand we will adopt any measure we deem fit. We will not compromise the State's interests. The BJD will not cling on to power at the cost of the people's interest. We are willing to seek a referendum on the demand, if challenged."

The Finance Minister said the Centre had so far ignored the demand on the plea that Orissa was not eligible for the status as it was not a border State. According to him, Orissa meets all the criteria, including a high tribal population, a high percentage of people living below the poverty line (47.15 per cent, according to the 55th survey of the Planning Commission) and a severe fiscal crunch, necessary for the grant of such status. "Orissa is more backward than several States that have been accorded the special category status. Uttaranchal, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura enjoy special status," Ramakrushna Patnaik said. When his attention was drawn to BJP State unit president Manmohan Samal's recent statement that Orissa did not meet all the criteria, the Minister said it was his personal opinion. "Some leaders at times make statements without knowing facts."

The BJD has also warned some Union Ministers against "encroaching upon" the State's demand. The warning came after a recent statement by Union Rural Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu in Bhubaneswar that Orissa could not be given special status as it was not a border State and did not meet some other criteria. He was also quoted in local newspapers as saying: "If you want special category status, take it. But no money." BJD leaders described the statement as most unfortunate.

The BJP-BJD tussle over special category status has provided the OGP an opportunity to be in the limelight. The OGP has been organising State-wide agitations for the realisation of the demand. Mahapatra's immediate objective appears to occupy the space of an effective political Opposition. The Congress(I), faced with growing infighting, has not been able to throw an effective challenge to the government.

IF there is one answer to the question why Navin Patnaik has got away with poor performance as Chief Minister, it is that his party has met with very little Opposition.

Despite Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi's experiment with frequent changes of leadership in Orissa, the State Congress(I) has failed to attain the position of a party that has ruled the State for decades. According to State Congress(I) sources, Sonia Gandhi will soon remove Janaki Ballabh Patnaik from the post of Pradesh Congress(I) president despite the fact that there is no effective replacement in sight. Patnaik, who has served as Chief Minister of Orissa for the longest period, was replaced by Giridhar Gamang on the eve of the Assembly elections in February 1999. Gamang's tenure as Chief Minister was brief and he was replaced by Hemananda Biswal. Sonia Gandhi rehabilitated J.B. Patnaik as State Congress(I) president in December 1999. The party was divided then as now and Patnaik remained in the post despite the party's miserable poll performance.

Slavery amidst prosperity

The rescue of a farm worker from bondage in Haryana highlights the significant presence of exploitation in the States that benefited substantially from the Green Revolution.

WHEN the provisional results of Census 2001 were released a couple of months ago, demographers, sociologists and other concerned sections of society were shocked to find that the child sex ratio (for children aged up to six years) had plummeted sharply in the States that had benefited from the Green Revolution. It was apparent that the BIMARU States (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh), known for their backwardness, no longer held the monopoly for such gender-related discrepancies; the prosperous States too witnessed acute gender-based discrimination.

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In the case of the relatively prosperous States of Punjab and Haryana, there has been yet another shocking revelation - that bonded labour is prevalent in the districts close to their border. Incidentally, in these two States the per capita income is much higher than in the rest of the country.

The recent rescue of 37-year-old Bacchan Singh, a Dalit farm worker, by activists of the All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) is a stark reminder of the atrocities perpetrated on Dalits in Punjab and Haryana. Even more shocking was the attitude of the administration of Fatehabad district in Haryana, which not only refused first to believe the AIAWU members but delayed the rescue process. Cases were filed only after the release of the hapless Dalit. Bacchan Singh, who worked on the fields of Sukhdev Singh and his brothers, does not even realise that he was kept as a bonded labourer by Sukhdev Singh.

Bacchan and his wife Rani Kaur have worked on Sukhdev Singh's farm in Lamba village of Ratia tehsil for nearly 20 years. Fatehabad district has large landholdings and is close to Punjab. Bacchan's father Jaib Singh also worked in the same farm earlier. Sukhdev Singh had brought him from Amritsar. Jaib Singh had apparently borrowed some money from Sukhdev Singh and his brothers. After Jaib Singh's death, Bacchan, who had been working there since childhood, continued to be in the employ of Sukhdev Singh. He worked regularly, but was not paid wages on a regular basis; "some money" would be given when he wanted to buy rations or medicines, it was stated. Ploughing the field,often with a tractor, and doing all kinds of odd jobs for the landlord were part of Bacchan's routine. Sukhdev Singh, his brother and their two sons owned 150 acres (60 hectares) of land, three tractors and four tubewells.

Bacchan's day started before daybreak and ended after sunset. He found no time for his three children, aged between two and a half years and eight years. Rani did household work for the landowners and also gathered cowdung. Her work-day lasted 10 to 15 hours - for Rs.100 a month. The couple were not allowed to leave the farm without the permission of the landlords. The masters allegedly beat them regularly "to keep them in place".

The treatment meted out to Bacchan Singh and his family became particularly cruel recently. Bacchan Singh kept away from work on June 30 to attend the wedding of his niece. On July 3, when he returned to the farm, Sukhdev Singh, his brother and their two sons allegedly brutally beat him up. It has been stated that he was hit on the head and legs and then chained, even made to work with his left hand chained to the left leg. At night his hands were also tied. He was allegedly kept in this condition until he was rescued on July 9.

During the six days of his incarceration, Rani Kaur was not allowed to meet him. Her parents, who live in Tohana village of the same district, contacted the AIAWU and sought its intervention. Bhagwan Dass, the tehsil secretary of the AIAWU, went to Lamba with Rani Kaur's father. Sukhdev Singh and his family refused to release Bacchan Singh. They said that Bacchan Singh owed them Rs.30,000 and until he repaid the amount he would remain chained.

It was at this point that Dass and Buta Singh of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), which works in cooperation with the AIAWU, approached the district administration. They thought that going to the police would be of little help as, they felt, the law-enforcers would be on the landlords' side. They allege that the attitude of even the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM), S.K. Setia, whom they approached, was not helpful initially. He could not believe that there could be any case of bonded labour in the teshil. However, he instructed the Tehsildar to visit Lamba. The DYFI activists took the Tehsildar and also a photographer to the village. They managed to locate Bacchan Singh, who was being shifted by the landlord from place to place. Sukhdev Singh's son would not allow him to leave the farm for any reason. But when the Tehsildar arrived, he could do nothing. Bacchan Singh was produced before the SDM, in whose presence the chains were removed. The SDM saw for himself that such slavery was still existent in the country.

Even after all this, it was no easy task for the AIAWU to get a case registered under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. It took eight hours for the police to register a First Information Report (FIR).

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A case under Sections 17 and 18 of the Bonded Labour Act were registered, but another case, under Section 3 of the S.C. and S.T. (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, was registered only after several days. Under Section 17 of the Bonded Labour Act, advancement of bonded debt entails imprisonment for a term that can be extended up to three years and also a fine that may go up to Rs.2,000. Bacchan Singh, who was bleeding from the ears and nose owing to beatings and had several injuries on his body, was first treated at the Civil Hospital at Fatehabad. "Bahut jada koota mujhe (They beat me up badly)," said Bacchan Singh in a feeble voice. As he was beaten on his soles with hockey sticks, he is unable to use footwear; he walks with a pronounced limp. His hearing has been impaired and he has difficulty in speaking. Sukhdev Singh and three others were charged also under various sections of the Indian Penal Code which relate to illegal confinement and assault.

Section 18 of the Bonded Labour Act provides for punishment for extracting work under the bonded labour system. It states: "Whoever enforces, after the commencement of this Act, any custom, tradition, contract, agreement or other instrument, by virtue of which any person or any member of the family of such person or any dependent of such person is required to render any service under the bonded labour system, shall be punishable. Anybody, enforcing, after the commencement of the bonded labour system, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and also with fine which may extend to Rs.2,000 and out of that fine, if recovered, payment shall be made to the bonded labourer at the rate of Rs.5 per day for which the bonded labour was extracted from him."

Section 3 of the S.C. and S.T. (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is a substantive penal clause and its sub-sections detail various offences of atrocity and provide for different punishment. Section 3(vi) of the Act lays down that whoever, not being a member of an S.C. or an S.T., "compels or entices a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe to do 'begar' or other similar forms of forced or bonded labour other than compulsory service for public purposes imposed by the government" shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term that shall not be less than six months but which may extend to five years, and with fine. The law is clear as far as bonded labour is concerned. Here the S.C. and S.T. Act can be invoked as the perpetrators are members of the upper-caste Jat Sikh community and the victim belongs to a Scheduled Caste.

In addition, Rule 6 of the S.C. and S.T. Act lays down that whenever the District Magistrate (D.M.) or the SDM or any other Executive Magistrate or any police officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police receives information from any person or upon his own knowledge that an atrocity has been committed on any member of the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes within his jurisdiction, he shall immediately visit the place of occurrence to assess the extent of atrocity, loss of life and damage to property and report to the State government. The D.M. or the SDM or any of the above-mentioned officials are also required to initiate steps to provide protection to the witnesses and other sympathisers of the victim and provide immediate relief to the victims, among other things. The SDM of Ratia tehsil is alleged to have failed in this respect. No security has been provided to the AIAWU members or to Bacchan Singh and his family, although the local landlord community had issued several threats to them. The threats came after their efforts to arrive at an out-of-court settlement failed.

Ramkumar Behbalpuria, State president of the AIAWU, said that the bonded labour system was prevalent in that area and the adjoining districts. Some 200 cases have been identified and the affected people rescued by the AIAWU since 1994, when it came into being. Behbalpuria said that the majority of agricultural workers in the district were in debt and it was difficult to find a village where a landless resident was free from debts. Debts in some cases even go up to Rs.1 lakh. Other villages that faced the practice of bonded labour included Kamana, Bada, Hamzapur, Lamba, Airwa, Ratangarh, Chimon, Burj, Ratahera and Barpur. Often, when there was some media or public attention, landlords "sold" their bonded labourers to others and then "bought" them back when the heat was off, Bebhalpuria said. In one instance 13 persons, including four women, were rescued from a landlord. They had been made to work for long hours in the farms; they were fastened with long chains so that they could move around and work but not escape.

Sushil Indora, who represents the Sirsa (reserved) Lok Sabha constituency in the Lok Sabha, under which Fatehabad comes, did not react to the Bacchan incident. He belongs to the ruling Indian National Lok Dal (INLD). The legislators representing Fatehabad, Tohana and Ratia constituencies also belong to the INLD. The landlords in these areas owe their allegiance to these leaders. Jarnail Singh, who represents Ratia in the State Assembly, reportedly tried for an out-of-court settlement. So far only one of the four accused has been arrested.

Social activist and founder of the Bandhua Mukti Morcha, Swami Agnivesh, who met Bacchan Singh, said that action should be taken against the SDM "for dereliction of duty". He said that Bacchan Singh should have been first taken to the court, instead of the police station where he was harassed further. Under the provisions of the relevant Acts and the rehabilitation measures announced by the Central government, the victim should have been given Rs.1,000 first as immediate relief, followed by Rs.19,000. Some form of employment or shelter should also have been provided to him so that the rescued labourer did not lapse into bondage once again, he said.

Agnivesh told Frontline that it was doubtful whether the statutory vigilance committees at the district and sub-division levels existed at all, given the fact that the system of bonded labour was rampant in Fatehabad and adjoining districts. The Bonded Labour Act lays down the norms for the constitution of these committees, which should comprise social workers as well as government representatives and nominees of the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes. Apart from their advisory role, these committees are meant to provide for the economic and social rehabilitation of the freed labourers. The National Human Rights Commission, he said, had asked the authorities in all districts to constitute vigilance committees.

The bonded labour system and bonded-labour-like conditions exist in parts of Fatehabad, Sirsa, Kaithal, West Jind, Karnal, Panipat and Rohtak. While the first four districts are characterised by the presence of big landlords and landholdings, the latter three have relatively smaller landholdings. The exploitation of workers is more in the former, where it is rare to find any worker getting the minimum agricultural wage of Rs.72.12 a day. Women workers are exploited in more than one way. Rural indebtedness is therefore very high in these parts.

Evidently, in a State where social reforms did not really take off and where the benefits of the Green Revolution have been lopsided, exploitation manifests itself in its ugliest form amidst extreme poverty and caste rigidities.

A presidential gambit

President Chandrika Kumaratunga prorogues Parliament and simultaneously orders a referendum on the question of a new Constitution, but the fact that the moves pre-empt a pending no-confidence motion against the government draws flak.

IF politics were a mere board-game that people took out of the cupboard to play on a rainy day, then President Chandrika Kumaratunga deserves to be congratulated for a master move that checkmated her opponents and sent them scrambling to ponder their next move.

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But politics is real-life business. And in a country like Sri Lanka where governments are elected by popular vote, it is also about respect for Parliament and democracy. By that standard, Kumaratunga fell short of expectations when at midnight of July 10, she prorogued Parliament, clearly to pre-empt a no-confidence motion tabled against the minority People's Alliance (P.A.) government, and simultaneously announced a referendum on August 21 on the need for a new Constitution.

It was a move reminiscent of the tactics of the late Junius R. Jayewardene, the "old fox" who devised the 1978 Constitution to give himself sweeping powers as the country's first Executive President. Kumaratunga loves to hate that Constitution which is still the country's first law, but she showed that she was not above using the powers it gave her when it came to a question of ensuring her government's survival.

While the prorogation was clearly a move to side-step a test of strength in Parliament for her minority government, the referendum was the sweetener - Kumaratunga's pitch to the people that she actually hated the authority and powers vested in her by the Jayewardene Constitution which she had no choice but to use reluctantly in the face of an un-cooperative Opposition, and that she was waiting only for the people's mandate to change it.

The move represented by far the most powerful act yet in Sri Lanka's rapidly unfolding political drama, which began with Kumaratunga's sacking as a Minister of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader Rauff Hakeem in June, the subsequent walk-out from the government by MPs aligned with him reducing the P.A. coalition to a minority in Parliament, in turn prompting the Opposition parties led by the United National Party (UNP) to move a no-confidence vote against the government.

Matters seemed to be moving to breakpoint in early July, when the government was scheduled to take up the motion for the monthly extension of the Emergency Regulations. With just 109 MPs in a 225-member House, the P.A. did not have the parliamentary strength to get the Emergency extended. Spearheaded by the UNP, the Opposition claimed it had 115 members who would oppose the motion. The debate on the Emergency was poised to become the government's first test on the floor of Parliament.

There was panic in the ranks of the government, which was clearly visible in the hysterical propaganda it resorted to, painting dark pictures of chaos and civil unrest if the move for the extension of the Emergency was defeated, and accusing the UNP of being hand-in-glove with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

It was true that the ban on the LTTE would lapse if the Emergency could not be extended. But the state-run media, stooping to alarming levels of inaccuracy, warned that terrorists would roam free, prisoners would have to be released, checkpoints would have to be dismantled and the armed forces would be unable to take military action against the LTTE. Flouting a government advisory to restrain from publishing graphic photographs, the state-run Daily News devoted four pages one day to a pictorial extravaganza of LTTE bombings, suicide attacks, assassinations and killings of civilians.

That was when Kumaratunga served the first ace. Again, falling back on the powers vested in her by the Constitution - that she likes to describe as bahubhootha - she banned the LTTE under the country's tough Prevention of Terrorism Act, Section 27 of which permits her to promulgate regulations to this end. She also declared every district in Sri Lanka a "security area". She also invoked the Public Security Ordinance, from which the Emergency regulations flow, to maintain essential services and call out the armed forces. The government was thus able to put off the debate on the Emergency indefinitely.

Analysts wondered why Sri Lanka needed an Emergency at all when a state of near-Emergency could be declared through other means available to the President, and the Opposition protested that it only proved that all the hype and hysteria directed against it were misleading.

Anyway, beaten at the semi-finals, the Opposition prepared for what it believed would be the finals, the no-confidence motion. At a meeting of parliamentary party leaders, the UNP said it wanted the debate and vote on the motion to be conducted over a span of three days, between July 16 and 18. But the government said that would be inconvenient, as the national Census was due to be taken on July 17 (Frontline, July 20, 2001).

Instead it proposed August 7 to 10 as its preferred dates. It seemed like a not-so-subtle ploy to prorogue the House and dissolve it. The Constitution allows the President to prorogue Parliament for a maximum of 60 days, and bars any dissolution of the House for at least one year after a round of elections. In this case, that date would come on October 10, and pushing the debate to August would safely take Kumaratunga to the date when she could prorogue the House till she was allowed to dissolve it.

In view of this, the UNP did not consent to the dates proposed by the government. Instead, all 115 members (excluding the Speaker, who is a member of the UNP, but does not count during voting) on the Opposition benches signed a letter to the Speaker asking him to schedule the debate for a day after the Census.

Meanwhile, nervous that all this would lead only to early elections, several members of the P.A. tried to push for a national government, and Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremenayake said he had had talks with UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe on this. But according to him, the UNP backed away at the last minute.

Although the signatories to the letter to the Speaker included those who had not yet indicated their support to the no-confidence motion but only wanted an early debate, the UNP projected this letter itself as a sign of its impending victory, its supporters giggling with delight at the prospect of the upcoming battle in Parliament.

But their joy was short-lived as Kumaratunga served up her second ace. The prorogation of Parliament by itself was not unexpected, though its timing seemed to have caught the Opposition unawares, but it was the referendum that was the real stunner. There were cries that Kumaratunga had resorted to a dictatorial and anti-democratic move, but the Opposition could do little else about it, for both prorogation and the holding of a referendum are well within the powers granted to the President under the 1978 Constitution, a document that the UNP itself approved when in power.

THERE is some hair-splitting on whether the President can prorogue the House when the government has already lost its majority, but that is more a moral rather than a constitutional argument. The other point that the Opposition is trying to prove is that there cannot be a referendum on changing the Constitution. But the 1978 Constitution is clear that only a proposed legislation to amend or replace the Constitution cannot be put to the people, whereas Kumaratunga's question for the referendum is couched in the most general and political terms. The question for the referendum is: do you agree that the country needs a new Constitution, which is nationally important and an essential requirement? The wording has caused anger and confusion in the Opposition, as this is a question with which no one really disagrees. It is the contents of the new Constitution that are in question, they argued. "It is like being asked to sign a blank cheque," fumed Karunasena Kodittuwakku, spokesman of the UNP.

It is perhaps this line that the Opposition will seek to sell to the people in the referendum campaign. It is likely to argue that the move is a ploy to bring in through the backdoor the 2000 Constitution Bill that the government withdrew from Parliament last August following protests by the Sinhalese, led by the Buddhist clergy, that it gave away too many powers to the Tamils.

The UNP, which had a role in drafting the Bill, had distanced itself from it in the last minute, citing the transitional provisions that allowed the retention of the Executive Presidency till the present incumbent completes the full term of office. The UNP and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna will base their campaigns on the premise that the new Constitution is nothing but the old draft document, hoping to arouse Sinhala ire against the President.

The announcement of the referendum has struck a blow to the solid phalanx that the Opposition projected before it was announced. The Tamil political parties that put down their names in support of the no-confidence motion are now not so sure if they can oppose a new Constitution, particularly if it will mean concessions to the Tamil minority. The Tamil parties may decide that the means adopted by Kumaratunga may well justify the end, that is, a new Constitution. But for that, they will first need to know what is going to be in it. Although many of them were publicly opposed to the 2000 Constitution Bill as offering "too little", privately they acknowledged that this was as good as it could get and hoped that it would be passed.

But their decision on the referendum is certain to be influenced by the LTTE's reaction to the latest developments. As yet, it is not clear where the LTTE figures in Kumaratunga's plans to push through a new Constitution, or what implications this has for the Norwegian-backed process to get the two sides together for peace talks.

For the Tamils, and all the others who want the see powers devolved to the minorities, there will also remain the disappointment that Kumaratunga could have held a referendum on a new Constitution any time since 1994, but chose to do it only when her government's survival was threatened. Kumaratunga's campaign for the referendum is also not likely to provide any reassurance to the minorities. The main issue for her campaign is a new Constitution for changes to the electoral system to enable the formation of a stable government that does not have to depend upon an "unreasonable" minority party like the SLMC for survival.

This will mean an all-out campaign for the Sinhala vote, which in turn implies playing down on the prospects for devolution and concessions to the minorities in a new Constitution. Kumaratunga made only a passing mention of these possibilities in a televised address to the nation giving reasons for the prorogation and the referendum.

Furthermore, it is also not clear yet how Kumaratunga, if she wins the referendum, will go about changing the Constitution. A referendum is not legally binding on Parliament. For it to be morally binding, Kumaratunga has to show that at least 65 per cent to 70 per cent of the respondents backed her at the referendum.

The new document then has to get a two-thirds vote in the House even after the referendum. Kumaratunga can circumvent this requirement by turning the present Parliament into a Constituent Assembly, where constitutional changes can be brought about by a simple majority. But that too will need a resolution to be passed by Parliament, where her P.A. coalition is in a minority. Any move to form a Constituent Assembly will also be opposed by the Opposition and civil society groups as being "extra-constitutional".

Kumaratunga has promised to have the new Constitution in place within a year, and called on all other parties to form a "broad alliance" with her government to help her achieve the goal. She also hinted at what the new Constitution might be, or at least what might form its basis, when she said that the 2000 Constitution Bill had everything that the Opposition wanted, including the abolition of the Executive Presidency and the setting up of independent commissions concerning elections, the judiciary and the public service.

BUT the Constitution may not be uppermost in her mind when Parliament reconvenes on September 7 at the end of the period of prorogation. The no-confidence motion remains pending before the House, and unless Kumaratunga wins new friends between now and then, it would once again challenge her government's existence, even if she emerges from the referendum victorious.

It was in 1982 that Sri Lanka's only previous referendum was held, when President Jayewardene used it to avoid holding elections and extend the life of Parliament by a full term. His successor, President Ranasinghe Premadasa, resorted to prorogation as a means to buy time to destroy an impeachment motion that was being planned against him. This is the first time that a referendum will be held while Parliament remains prorogued.

Had Kumaratunga sought such a referendum for a new Constitution two or three years ago, when the government was drafting the 2000 Constitution Bill, she might have won praise. But now, there is no getting rid of the nagging suspicion that the prorogation and the decision to hold a referendum were both moves by a cornered government to ensure its short-term survival.

The view from the Valley

Recent political events in Jammu and Kashmir show just how difficult it will be to translate any fruits of the dialogue into political progress on the ground.

THERE is something curiously unreal about summit-time Srinagar. The city's hotels are packed with an assortment of visitors, bound together by the same sense of breathless anticipation as delegates at a UFO-watchers' convention. Pilgrims on their way to the shrine at Amarnath mingle with professional peace negotiators and seminar-circuit wanderers; journalists chat with casual tourists about the prospect of taking a bus from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad on their next vacation. On weekends, traffic snarls the boulevard along the Dal Lake, and it is almost impossible to find a quiet patch of grass to lounge on. Peace, all seem to be certain, is about to descend on the land that tourist brochures refer to as Paradise on Earth.

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But this collective dream is a little like the balloons sold along the boulevard by migrant workers from Bihar and Madhya Pradesh: all it will take is one sharp prick to burst the hope.

Not two hours' drive from Srinagar, it becomes evident that the war in Jammu and Kashmir continues, oblivious to events in Agra. At the office of Kulgam Superintendent of Police Alok Kumar, the main subject of discussion is the withdrawal of troops from the Ahrabal-Shopian belt to guard the Amarnath yatris. That has meant terrorist cadre have been able to consolidate their position along the northern face of the Pir Panjal, provoking increasingly bitter fighting. The story is much the same through rural Jammu and Kashmir. In June, the figures show, an average of 7.2 terrorists died in fighting each day, along with 1.8 soldiers and 1.9 civilians who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The number of terrorists killed in the four weeks since the Ramzan ceasefire was withdrawn is the highest for any month since 1988.

If recent levels of engagement continue in areas like Poonch, July shall break even these record levels of violence, no matter how good a time Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf have in Agra. Part of the reason for the escalating violence is that the Indian security forces are working hard to reassert their presence in the post-ceasefire period. But, more important, Far Right groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba seem determined to assert their differences with a dialogue process from which they see no benefit to themselves. In the latest of a series of aggressive pronouncements, the Lashkar's supreme leader Hafiz Mohammed Sayeed warned on July 12 that his organisation rejected "any peace process other than that already being realised by jehad". "General Musharraf must decide beforehand," he continued, "whether his visit to India is meant to gain Allah's pleasure, or to please the United States."

Pressure from Pakistan's influential Islamic Right, many analysts believe, will ensure that Musharraf will be unable to secure a de-escalation of violence unless actual territorial gains on Jammu and Kashmir are realised. Much of the flexibility that Musharraf spoke of in recent weeks has given way to increasingly hawkish rhetoric. Former Pakistan Interior Minister Shujahat Husain, for example, recently called for the General to "negotiate handing over Jammu and Ladakh to India, retain Pakistan administered Kashmir (PAK), Gilgit and Baltistan and grant independent status to the Kashmir valley". Husain was seen as fronting for Musharraf, to gauge responses to these U.S-authored ideas for partitioning Kashmir. A June 30 meeting of Islamic clerics, however, flatly rejected these or any other ideas that would leave India in control of any part of the State. Musharraf promptly dropped all talk of independence.

WHAT, then, has optimism about the Agra dialogue founded itself on. Many ordinary people in Jammu and Kashmir are delighted by gestures like India's July 11 offer to open the Line of Control (LoC) at Ranbir Singh Pora in Jammu and Uri in Kashmir. Vajpayee appeared to suggest that all those crossing the LoC through these new points could bypass notoriously cumbersome visa formalities. Srinagar residents wishing to visit relatives across the LoC would, should the new regime be put in place, have to travel just 55 km to Baramulla, and another 46 to Uri, before negotiating the last 18 km to Kaman Post, India's last position on the LoC. From there, after crossing the now-demolished Red Bridge, Muzaffarabad lies just 18 km away.

Easy movement across the LoC would hold out obvious advantages. Data obtained by Frontline shows just 45 visitors from Pakistan were granted visas to visit friends and relatives in Jammu and Kashmir between January and June. Last year, the figure was 101, up from 69 in 1999, 48 in 1998, 61 in 1997 and just 14 in 1996. As things stand, visa requests in Pakistan are forwarded to the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) and the Criminal Investigation Department in Jammu and Kashmir for verification, a time-consuming procedure. As important, an easy visa regime would allow Kashmiri fruit farmers easy access to markets in Pakistan. But it is far from clear whether such free movement is imminent. Sources say the I.B. has already asked that the right of free movement be restricted to men above 65, women and children, and that adult men continue to be subject to proper verification on security grounds.

More important, Pakistan seems deeply uncomfortable at the thought of such free access. For one, the setting up of passport checkpoints on the LoC would give it at least some symbolic legitimacy as an international border, something Islamabad is unwilling to accept. More important, levels of human development in PAK are far lower than those on the Indian side of the LoC, something its regime clearly has little interest in advertising to residents of the Valley. There is also considerable political discontent in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, a fact illustrated by the decision to bar pro-independence candidates from contesting the July elections in the Azad Kashmir legislature. The Lashkar-e-Toiba, for its part, has said India has no right to allow or debar movement across the LoC, and has said it will use force to destroy any border checkpoints that are set up.

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Musharraf's growing conviction that territorial settlement must precede any movement on reducing levels of violence is also founded on sound military sense. Should India be able to secure a significant de-escalation before final status negotiations, it would clearly be that much less willing to make concessions in Jammu and Kashmir. When right-wing Pakistani commentators point out that the jehad has been an effective instrument of policy, they are not merely engaging in wishful thinking. Most Indian intelligence estimates suggest that sustaining current levels of insurgent activity costs between Rs.250 crores and Rs.300 crores a year. At least part of this modest outlay comes not from Pakistan's defence budget, but narcotics revenues from Afghanistan and donations from Far Right organisations in West Asia. India, on the other hand, commits well over 10 times this level of expenditure on its conventional force in response to the covert offensive it is confronted with.

SHOULD Musharraf and Vajpayee succeed in overcoming these multiple obstacles, recent political events in the State show just how difficult it will be to translate their dialogue into political progress on the ground. While the right axis within the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) has expressed delight at the prospect of meeting Musharraf for tea and dialogue in New Delhi, others have been less delighted. The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) has charged the APHC with failing to fight for real representation in the dialogue process. "We have not sacrificed 80,000 lives," JKLF's Yasin Malik said in London, "to have a cup of tea with General Musharraf." On July 13, Malik's deputy Javed Mir said his organisation would boycott the APHC's scheduled hour-long interaction with Musharraf.

Underlying the JKLF's position is the apprehension that it, and other pro-Independence organisations, would be marginalised by the APHC's Pakistan-backed right axis in any future dialogue. The fear is shared by other minor bodies within the APHC. On July 11, one APHC General Council member, Aga Syed Hassan, demanded a renewed discussion on APHC chairman Abdul Ghani Bhat's decision to reject a meeting with the Union government's official interlocutor on Jammu and Kashmir K.C. Pant. Hassan, who heads the Shia Anjuman-e-Sharie Shiyan, said Bhat had made a unilateral decision. The Shia leader is doubtless concerned about whether the interests of his community will be secured in the event of final status negotiations involving the APHC. Although Abdul Ghani Lone, one of the key centrists in the APHC, has on record supported interaction with Musharraf, he is understood to share the fears of the JKLF.

Political fissures within the APHC make it profoundly unlikely that any unified and focussed political process can emerge within Jammu and Kashmir, at least in the short term. In addition, most commentators have failed to notice that there exists within the State a democratically elected government, which is certain to insist that the APHC put its claims to represent political opinion in the State to some kind of test. In addition, political formations representing Jammu and Ladakh will insist that their interests be secured. While both Pakistan and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh may be delighted with a solution which sunders the six Muslim-majority districts of the Kashmir valley from the rest of the State, it is unlikely that such a solution would not be challenged by the secular Opposition through India, and the National Conference within the State. As these contesting forces play themselves out, violence shall almost certainly continue.

At least some critics believe that the assumption that Kashmir is the key to peace is misguided. "The error of those who seek a resolution of the conflict in Kashmir," wrote former Punjab Director General of Police K.P.S. Gill and security analyst Ajai Sahni in April, "is the inordinate focus on the transient geographical location of a conflict, to the exclusion of its ideological and material source, its strategic motivation and political intent." "The fact is that the core issue is not Kashmir," they continued. "It never was. It is the fundamentalist ideology, and the two-nation theory, that excludes the very possibility of people of different faiths, cultures or ways of life co-existing within a single political order. The core issue, consequently, goes to the very heart and basis of India's existence as it does of Pakistan's. The conflict between India and Pakistan is an irreducible conflict between democratic liberalism and a polity based on an exclusionary religious absolutism."

Both Musharraf and Vajpayee are children of the two-nation theory, and its principal beneficiaries. Pushed and prodded by the United States of America, which has shaped the terms and pace of the India-Pakistan engagement since the Kargil war, both now seek a settlement that would perpetuate the existence of their competing fundamentalisms. But history may well show itself unwilling to be written either at their hands, or that of Washington.

Summit atmospherics

cover-story

Lahore and Kargil still fresh in popular memory, disinterest seems to have been the dominant mood as Musharraf the military man went about his engagements.

PURNIMA S. TRIPATHI in Agra and New Delhi

PRESIDENT Pervez Musharraf's visit to India was meant to be history in the making. The drama that preceded his arrival did not dissipate the excitement in the capital. New Delhi wore a festive look - the main thoroughfares through which his cavalcade was to pass were freshly painted, the roads were lined with potted plants, and the flags of the two countries fluttered everywhere. Nature too seemed to be celebrating the historic event. There was a light shower accompanied by a cool breeze, bringing the temperatures down substantially.

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When the General arrived at the Rashtrapati Bhavan for the ceremonial reception, in a cream-coloured sherwaani and achkan, the people of India anticipated a repeat of the welcome at the Wagah border, the warm hug that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharief exchanged. But this occasion turned out to be different. There was a slight awkwardness in the movements, there was too much formality. The hand that General Musharraf extended to President K.R. Narayanan had the firmness of a soldier; it lacked the warmth that Nawaz Sharief had conveyed to Vajpayee. Vajpayee too, on his part, stopped with a handshake.

The reception too had some firsts to its credit. For the first time, Pakistan's national anthem was played on Rashtrapati Bhavan premises, after the General inspected the guard of honour, because it was the first-ever visit by a Pakistan President to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. This was followed by a visit to Raj Ghat, the first by a Pakistani leader. And, as the man whom Indians best remember for the Kargil intrusion, saluted and offered floral tributes to the Father of the Nation, the bitter memories of Partition and three wars seemed temporarily forgotten.

Interestingly, there was a lot of discussion about how he went about meeting Indian leaders. People were heard saying that his body language was still that of the military leader, not that of a political leader, espeically when he was inspecting the guard of honour. The rigidity in his demeanour was too obvious until he reached his ancestral home at Naharwali Haveli in the Daryaganj locality of Delhi. Here he appeared to be nostalgic, and it was as if he was looking for traces of the past. During his meeting with his childhood maid, Anaro Begum, one had a glimpse of a heart that was full of emotions. He affectionately hugged Anaro and asked her: Amma, shanti ke liye dua karo (Amma, pray for peace).

IT was perhaps the burden of history that was weighing down on Begum Sehba Musharraf during her first public appearance in India. At an interactive session organised by the Women's Initiative for Peace in South Asia (WIPSA), activists of the organisation, from both Pakistan and India, were effusive in their entreaties for peace and friendship between the two countries. Begum Musharraf, however, remained non-committal, not even mentioning the word peace. When journalists persisted with their questions, she burst out, saying: Aman ki baat pooch kar meri jaan mat lijiye (please do not make my life difficult by asking about peace).

The lunch hosted by President Narayanan in honour of General Musharraf, and the "high tea" hosted by the Pakistan High Commissioner turned out to be important events. While the lunch was noted for the distinguished gathering, the tea party hogged the limelight because of the invitation extended to leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, which became controversial. The Bharatiya Janata Party and other constituents of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) boycotted the tea, but the People's Front was well-represented. The Congress(I) had a token representation. There was a stampede at the party, with people literally falling over one another. At one point Begum Musharraf was escorted out as she was jostled around in the crowd.

AGRA, the Summit venue, was a different scene altogether. The bonhomie witnessed in Delhi was missing. The city was cleaned to a sparkle, road dividers were freshly painted, pot-holed roads were repaired and there was tight security at every nook and corner. The massive deployment of security forces gave the town a curfew-like look, with roads deserted, people forced to stay indoors and shops ordered closed. Here too popular expectations were high, but a pall of cynical scepticism hung above them. Humko unse wafa ki hai ummid, jo jaante nahin wafa kya hai (we are expecting loyalty from someone who does not know the meaning of the word)," summed up the public mood.

The people found it difficult to believe that the General who masterminded the Kargil War could actually be talking about peace and friendship. "Somebody who was busy plotting against India even as his political master (Nawaz Sharief) was hugging the Prime Minister of India, can he ever be trusted?" was the common refrain. They refused to be impressed by the optimism exuded by the General on Day One in Delhi.

The visit, despite the media hype, was described by many people as an "exercise in image building" which the General was undertaking to gain greater acceptability in Pakistan for his new role as President.

"This is a sheer waste of resources. Over Rs.1 crore has been spent on the preparations for the summit meeting but nothing is going to come out of it," said an Uttar Pradesh State Electricity Board employee, standing by the road, watching security personnel walk past on the deserted road.

The scepticism was all the more pronounced in people from the lower rungs of society. The fact that the high-powered visit derailed normal life upset many. Agra had turned into a ghost city, with only security personnel or media people on the roads. The security personnel did not allow anyone to venture out in areas either falling on the route of the dignitaries or near the two hotels, Amar Vilas Palace and Jaypee Palace respectively, where Musharraf and Vajpayee were staying. The area around the Taj, which witnesses brisk business on a normal day, wore a deserted look too.

It was as if the city knew it all beforehand. Even before Musharraf hardened his posture on the second day of the Summit, a sense of deja vu was evident in Agra. "After all, the same excitement was witnessed at the time of Vajpayeeji's Lahore yatra too. But what happened? The Kargil War. How can we trust the man who planned Kargil?" said a shopkeeper selling the famous Panchhiwala petha (a trademark sweet of Agra) in the city's main market, Sadar Bazaar. Standing near him was Aley Nabi, an elderly rickshaw-puller, who had been deprived of his daily earnings by the security arrangements. For Aley Nabi and many others like him, peace and friendship between the two countries sounded too good to be true.

WHILE the General argued his case with the Indian Prime Minister, Begum Musharraf prayed at the shrine of Sheikh Salim Chisti at Fatehpur Sikri, near Agra, for the fulfilment of her husband's mission.

The Musharrafs' visit to the Taj Mahal, however, was more relaxed. The General was struck by the beauty and grandeur of the monument of love, and he used expressions such as "exquisite" and "unique" to describe it. The Begum described it as "exhilerating". The General was also heard saying that he wished he could stay longer to look at the Taj.

In Delhi, the Raj Ghat witnessed a confrontation between the security personnel and Shiv Sena activists when the latter tried to purify the place with Ganga jal (water), saying that it had been rendered impure by the General's visit. Dozens of Shiv Sainiks were beaten up by the police. And, at Naherwali Haveli, construction workers were busy rebuilding a house that was demolished before the visit, for security reasons. The house belonged to two youngsters.

Divergence of views

JOHN CHERIAN cover-story

The Pakistanis are unhappy with what they refer to as attempts to shift the focus of the talks away from Kashmir.

UNTIL the eleventh hour, there were expectations that at least a joint statement would be issued by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf at the end of their two-day Summit. The talks had after all started off well, with the "one-to-one" meeting between the two leaders lasting more than an hour.

A thick wall of secrecy surrounded the talks on July 15, the opening day of the summit, with both Indian and Pakistani officials putting a lid on the agenda. Unfortunately, Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj got into the act. Talking to the electronic media, she said that the talks were progressing well; however, she failed to mention that Kashmir figured in the talks. At the same time she laid emphasis on issues that the Pakistanis considered peripheral or non-existent. The official Indian government statement earlier in the day had described the talks as "very frank, cordial and constructive".

There were indications that the atmosphere was getting a little tense as the Summit proceeded into its second day. There was a feeling among Pakistani officials and mediapersons that some key Indian officials were not too keen to ensure the success of the talks. The impression started gaining ground after Musharraf made a courtesy call on Home Minister L.K. Advani in Delhi, before his departure for Agra. Advani had given indications to the Indian media even before the arrival of Musharraf in India that he intended to adopt a tough posture on issues relating to cross-border terrorism. It was allegedly the Home Minister who orchestrated the criticism against the Pakistan government for inviting the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leadership to a reception hosted by the Pakistan High Commissioner in honour of the visiting Pakistan President and attended by over 700 people.

Although the Pakistani side described the meeting with the Indian Home Minister as a routine courtesy call during which nothing official was discussed, the Home Ministry let it be known that Advani had sought the extradition of the notorious criminal and underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, who is said to be holed up in Karachi. According to the Home Ministry sources, the Pakistan President said that the "don" from Mumbai is no longer in Pakistan territory.

It is no secret that the Pakistanis were miffed by the attempts to shift the focus away from what they consider the "core" issue. It seems that the Pakistanis had expected trouble from the "hardliners" in the Indian government. According to Pakistani sources, that was the main reason why Musharraf decided to cut down the size of the Pakistani delegation and omitted his Interior Minister from the list. Had the Minister been in the team, Advani, the Indian counterpart, would have been a high-profile participant in the Summit. The hardline stance taken by External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir prior to Musharraf's arrival was also an indication of the things to come. He repeatedly emphasised that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and that he could not negotiate on the Indian Constitution with Pakistan.

That the Pakistanis were unhappy with Sushma Swaraj's spin on the talks became evident when they issued a statement late on the night of July 15, saying that Musharraf and Vajpayee had spent most of their one-to-one meeting discussing the Kashmir issue. Before the Information Minister had made her views known, both Indian and Pakistani officials had refrained from even listing the subjects that came up for discussions. The gloves were officially off when Musharraf, during his interaction with Indian editors on July 16, criticised the importance that Sushma Swaraj gave to issues such as the missing prisoners of war (POWs).

Musharraf's meeting with the Indian media personalities did not go well with the Indian officialdom. The bureaucrats were not amused that the Pakistan President had projected a dynamic media profile while getting his views on the "core" issue of Kashmir across to Indian and international viewers. However, there was no indication of a stalemate-like situation emerging until late on the evening of July 16.

The first concrete indication that things were going off track came when the text of Vajpayee's opening statement to the plenary of the Summit on July 15 was released. Reiterating the known positions of India, Vajpayee said India had always taken a "comprehensive view of India-Pakistan relations". In his statement, he focussed on the number of CBMs (confidence-building measures) announced by the Indian government just prior to Musharraf's visit. Vajpayee raised "certain additional specific matters". These related to the "54 Indian POWs", who India says are in Pakistani custody. Vajpayee also mentioned that "some terrorists and criminals" guilty of bomb blasts and hijacking were still present in Pakistan and should be handed back. Musharraf had earlier in the day vehemently denied that Pakistan held any Indian POW and suggested that this was one of the diversionary ploys of India aimed at shifting the focus away from Kashmir.

Given the hype that surrounded the Summit, there was an expectation that both sides would come up with at least a joint declaration. Until late in the evening of July 16, there was talk of a "historic breakthrough", with India recognising Kashmir as the "core" issue and Pakistan giving primacy to the containment of "cross-border terrorism". According to Pakistani sources, the Indian negotiating side had agreed to the wording of the draft, which said that the solution of the Kashmir conflict would lead to the normalisation of ties between the two countries.

According to the draft, the two countries were to hold annual summits and biannual meetings at the Foreign Ministers' level to discuss security and related issues. The Indian side then demanded a written commitment from Pakistan that it would curb cross-border terrorism. Pakistan in turn demanded a time-bound solution to the Kashmir problem in keeping with the wishes of the Kashmiri people. That is when the talks got irrevocably bogged down.

Pakistani officials have been indicating that if there is some progress on Kashmir, there would be an automatic scaling down of the violence in the Valley. Implicit in this is the message that they will try to control infiltration of terrorists into the Indian side and crack the whip on the "fundamentalist" backers of the extremist groups operating in the valley. A written commitment to end cross-border terrorism would have been nothing short of a mea culpa for the Pakistani military establishment.

There were clear indications that the Pakistan President wanted to go home with some sort of an agreement or understanding. Before his arrival, the Pakistani establishment had let it be known that the "gas pipeline from Iran to India" was there for the asking and that it was not tied up to the Kashmir issue. According to Pakistani sources, the other significance of the proposed gas pipeline is that it has the backing of the United States. This is important, as the previous U.S. administrations had objected to gas and oil coming in from the Islamic Republic of Iran. One of the biggest proponents of the gas pipeline from Iran is Shirin Taher-Kheli, who is now in the Bush administration.

A senior Pakistani commentator said that the Bush administration was not giving Pakistan much of a choice either. "The Bush administration is threatening to take Pakistan either to a taxidermist or an undertaker if it does not talk seriously about peace with India. Either way the consequences will be the same for the country." There were loud suggestions that a downscaling of Indian and Pakistani troop presence in the Siachen region would be a good CBM to keep the momentum going.

The former Defence Minister and the current convener of the ruling National Democratic Alliance, George Fernandes, has been loudly protesting moves to de-escalate the situation in the Siachen area, which is considered strategically useless in a conflict with Pakistan. Experts however say that it could be militarily useful against China. At the same time, Musharraf never allowed the focus to slip away from Kashmir. But, according to Pakistani sources, there were changes in their official nuances on Kashmir. He said that when Musharraf talked about the Kashmir problem during the reception at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, he did not mention the relevant U.N. resolutions that talk about plebiscite. He said that it was also significant that the Indian side did not make such a hue and cry when the Kashmir issue was given importance at the presidential banquet.

Pakistani sources also think that Musharraf's interaction with the Hurriyat leadership was of significance. They feel that the meeting has given the APHC added credibility and will force India to take seriously the Hurriyat's claims to represent the people of Kashmir. There are also indications that Musharraf is preparing to crack down on the jehadi groups in Pakistan. An agreement with India would have bolstered his position considerably.

A note of optimism

PAKISTAN Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said in a statement on July 17 in Islamabad that President Pervez Musharraf was optimistic about prospects for better relations between Pakistan and India. According to the statement, considerable progress was made in the Summit-level discussions and in evolving the text of a declaration.

The statement added that it was unfortunate that the expected consummation did not materialise. "Nevertheless, the President remains convinced that the existing goodwill on both sides can and will achieve mutually desired results."

The statement continued thus:

"President Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee share a common vision of peace, progress and prosperity for their peoples in the 21st century. The President has complimented the Indian Prime Minister for the gracious initiative to invite him for the resumption of dialogue between the two countries after a hiatus of nearly two years.

"Cognisant of the benefits of peace and cooperation between the two neighbouring countries, President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee held wide-ranging discussions on Pakistan-India relations, particularly on Jammu and Kashmir.

"They affirmed commitment to addressing each other's expressed concerns, creating an environment conducive to the establishment of peaceful, friendly and cooperative ties, for the welfare of the two peoples.

"While in New Delhi, President Musharraf welcomed the opportunity to meet with the leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. We hope India would accord them travel documents to visit Pakistan for consultations.

"Time did not permit substantive discussion on any specific issue. But valuable progress was made at Agra on evolving a structure for a sustained dialogue process, that would take up Jammu and Kashmir, peace and security, and terrorism and drug trafficking at the political level.

"Economic and commercial cooperation, Siachin, Wuller Barrage, Sir Creek and promotion of friendly exchanges in various levels would be addressed at the level of high officials.

"All these issues need to be addressed purposefully, constructively and in an integrated manner, with a sense of urgency.

"Responding to press questions, the President of Pakistan was forthcoming on discussion of any issues of concern to India. He emphasised again and again that realism requires a focus, and that progress on settlement of Jammu and Kashmir would be conducive to normalisation of bilateral relations.

"Prime Minister Vajpayee has accepted our President's invitation for a return visit. The two leaders are expected to meet in New York in September and continue efforts to promote agreement. The goodwill between them is an asset for better relations between the two countries.

"Enlightened opinion in India is no less keen than that in Pakistan to extricate bilateral relations from the time wrap in which they have been trapped for 54 years.

"Like the Indian Prime Minister, the Minister for External Affairs, Mr. Jaswant Singh, brought equal goodwill to the task of translating the convergence of thoughts at the Summit level into words.

"The two sides came very close to bringing the Declaration close to adoption and approval. In fact twice yesterday it appeared we had succeeded in arriving at a mutually acceptable formulation. It is unfortunate that the fruition of the exercise was aborted.

"The Agra Summit remained inconclusive but it did not fail. In fact, the two leaders succeeded in covering a broad area of common ground in the draft Declaration. That will provide a valuable foundation for the two leaders to reach full agreement at their next meeting.

"Compliments are due also to intellectuals, media and the common people in India as in Pakistan for their contribution to building an environment of opinion conducive to forward movement. Heartened by the prevalent goodwill, President Musharraf believes popular support will be an asset also to leaders in India who want to work for a future better than the past."

Against a people's movement

ASHISH KOTHARI the-nation

The call for a ban on the Narmada Bachao Andolan is an attempt to stifle the right to protest against unjust deprivation.

IN an act that would be laughable if it was not so full of tragic implications for freedom and democracy, several prominent politicians of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have call for a ban on the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA). There is a new penchant for self-styled champions of public order and morality to demand "bans"... ban this film or that play, ban unions, ban this organisation or that. And now this brigade has targeted what is arguably one of independent India's most refreshing and inspiring people's movements, one that has not only acquired a mass base in the Narmada Valley but touched a chord across the world. Ironically, this demand has come at the behest of an organisation that claims to be fighting for human rights, the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL).

Former Chief Ministers of Gujarat Amarsinh Choudhary, Shankarsinh Vaghela, Dilip Parikh, Chhabildas Mehta and Suresh Mehta, as also Deputy Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Jamuna Devi and MPCC president Radhakishan Malviya, a confidant of Chief Minister Digvijay Singh, were among those who signed the memorandum submitted by the Ahmedabad-based NCCL to Union Home Minister L.K. Advani.

The memorandum demanded that the NBA be banned under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1957, and was reportedly submitted with details of NBA's alleged subversive activities: foreign funding, passing on confidential reports related to important projects of the country to foreign agencies, human rights violations in the Narmada Valley, evasion of income tax, and letting loose a reign of violence against the project-affected persons and even government officials engaged in survey and rehabilitation work in the valley. NCCL president V.K. Saxena was also quoted as threatening to move the High Court if the Central government delayed imposing the ban on the NBA.

The demand, of course, is patently ridiculous. The NBA has been fighting for the rights of lakhs of people who are to be unceremoniously displaced and dispossessed of their lands and resources, by a project whose viability and desirability are under a cloud. Regardless of one's position on the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP), anyone who agrees with human rights principles would accept that people have a right to protest against what they consider to be unjust deprivation. A demand to ban such assertion, that too from a civil liberties organisation, is absurd and untenable.

It is not only absurd, it is dangerous. For implicit in this demand is the standpoint that civil dissent against the decisions of the state is inherently "anti-national" (as per the letter and spirit of the Unlawful Activities Act). There is an unwritten assumption that the state can do no wrong, and that anything it does must be in the "national" interest. Such faith in the Indian state is indeed touching. If the interests of those behind such demands were not clear, one would even be driven to tears by such blind faith.

The Sardar Sarovar Project is not about providing water to the thirsty lakhs in Kutch and Saurashtra, as its proponents have been arguing for decades. It is not about providing a life-line to the drought-hit regions of Gujarat. It is more about facilitating the unending thirst for water and electricity of the big farmers, the industries, and the cities of central Gujarat, more about satiating the greed of contractors and politicians and "experts" who are ready to sell their souls to the nearest bidder, and more about repeating a failed model of 'development'.

Time and again, dispassionate and truly expert assessment of the project plans and other available data has shown that the water from the project will hardly ever reach the drought-hit areas of Kutch and Saurashtra. Well before that, it would have been guzzled up by the already prosperous and greedy to become even more prosperous elites of central Gujarat. What is still more disheartening is the fact that the self-styled saviours of the drought-hit populations of Gujarat are not even willing to listen to simple and much cheaper alternatives that experts and activists have been advocating. Decentralised water harvesting is the key to eradicate drought and water shortages in Kutch and Saurashtra. Such schemes, when implemented by villagers themselves, have proven to be extremely effective drought-proofing strategies, as shown in a number of villages of the region. But the proponents of the Sardar Sarovar Project are not interested. Some of them are blinded by the 50-year old myth that only a Narmada dam can bring succour to the thirsty regions. Other people are interested in the power politics that can be indulged in with a big project, which are simply not to be availed of in decentralised development strategies.

The demand for the ban is also dangerous because of its implications for democracy and freedom. The freedom to express oneself, and resort to constitutionally valid means of dissent, are inherent in the democracy that India prides itself for. The NBA has distinguished itself in being, for 16 long years, a consistently non-violent movement. There have been stray incidents of violence, usually under severe provocation, but the leaders of the movement have disassociated themselves from these acts of violence and explicitly advocated only non-violent means to all those who participate in the movement. If indeed violence and subversion of national interests were the NBA's motives, India would have witnessed the kind of bloodshed that Punjab had at one point, and Kashmir and some northeastern States today do. Blood has in fact been shed in the Narmada Valley, but it has almost always been that of the victims of the SSP, who have been beaten, shot, tortured, and imprisoned by state forces. Where was the NCCL when an Adivasi woman in Taloda (Maharashtra) was shot dead by the police in a move to evict her community from lands to be given to the SSP oustees? Or where was it when 15-year old Rahmal Punya Vasave of Surung village was killed, in police action, at Akrani, during a peaceful protest against displacement? Or when Adivasi girls were raped by the police, peaceful protestors fired upon, and so on?

Indeed, it is ironical that at a time when the NCCL is calling for this ban, several thousand people in the Narmada valley are faced with the prospect of being drowned, if they stay on in their current settlements, as a result of the unjustified increase in dam height in recent months. They are on satyagraha, pointing out that such submergence was happening without proper rehabilitation being made possible, and without any valid justification for the project. This, if anything, is a gross violation of human rights; but does the NCCL recognise it as such?

The NCCL's allegation that the NBA has passed on "confidential" reports to foreign agencies exposes the real nature of this group. Any civil liberties group worth its name would argue that documents pertaining to development are not "confidential", that, in fact, the public has a right of access to all such documents. The NBA and dozens of other people's movements have always demanded such a right to information. What is so confidential about SSP documents? What confidential documents have been passed on, and to whom, in a way that threatens national security? If anything, it is the SSP authorities, and the State and Central governments responsible for SSP and other such projects, that are always ready to part with internal documents of the state to agencies such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, external donor agencies, and multinational corporations, hoping that these institutions would support the projects. It is the state that goes with a begging bowl to foreign agencies, and which is willing to bend civil rights and environmental laws to suit the interests of foreign capital. And it is this state that has consistently denied the right to information, including to those whose lives are going to be so massively disrupted by the dam. This indeed is criminal behaviour, but it does not catch the NCCL's eye. Indeed, the NCCL's missile is hopelessly misguided.

THEN there is the charge of violating financial and income regulations. The NBA has laid its accounts open to external scrutiny, but has also demanded that the SSP authorities and the Gujarat government do the same. This reciprocal challenge has not been accepted by the dam builders. So who is really behaving suspiciously? How much of the money meant for the development of Gujarat actually goes to the people who need it? These are the questions that the NCCL, if it is truly concerned about human rights, financial irregularities, and "anti-national" activities, should ask.

What is ironic about the latest demand for a "ban" is that it has been supported by former Chief Ministers of Gujarat who have for decades been unable to provide relief to the drought-hit regions of the State, unable (unwilling?) to curb the truly anti-national communal forces that terrorise the minorities, and who have been incapable of reining in the incredibly destructive industrial forces that have rendered fresh water and air amongst the rarest commodities of Gujarat.

That drinking and irrigation could have been made available within one decade, to both Kutch and Saurashtra, through decentralised means, is now established by the successful experiments that innovative panchayats and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have carried out. That alternative, decentralised, peaceful means of development of agriculture, industries, and energy, is possible and feasible has also been demonstrated by village communities and NGOs time and again. Several sensitive government officers too have shown that this is possible. It does not require grandiose and unviable projects such as the SSP to bring the people of Kutch and Saurashtra out of their misery. It requires innovative, participatory development processes. It does not require huge amounts of foreign funds, tying the country into ever-tighter knots of debt. To bring about true development it only requires small amounts, provided the people are truly involved in decentralised planning and implementation. Look at the change that villagers and one NGO, Tarun Bharat Sangh, have brought about in 600 villages of arid Rajasthan through a network of small johads (check dams). That is the kind of development that the NBA advocates.

The NCCL's demand must also be seen in the context of the increasing attacks on legitimate people's movements across the country. It is perhaps not a coincidence that these have significantly increased since the early 1990s, when the government embarked on the path to 'globalisation'. Such a path requires easy access to natural resources and cheap labour for the global forces of industry and capital. The price is paid by those people who are mostly dependent on such resources, and those who live closest to the land. The firing on Adivasis at Kashipur (Orissa), who were trying to protect their lands and forests against multinational mining interests supported by the state (Frontline, January 19, 2001); the killing of Col. Pratap Save who was leading local people against an unjustified port at Umbergaon (Gujarat) (Frontline, July 7, 2000); the shooting of several activists who resisted displacement by the proposed Koel Karo Dam in Jharkhand (Frontline, March 16, 2001); the enactment of the Madhya Pradesh Special Areas Security Act to ban all public protests and people's groups that the state considers a threat; all point to a tendency for the state to favour the elite industrial and urban sections that benefit from globalisation, against those millions who lose their livelihoods from it.

Finally, the NCCL demand shows a certain desperation. It is an outcome of the realisation that the NBA has people's power behind it. If not, why would anyone bother to ask for a ban on an organisation that the State governments, the Central government, and even the Supreme Court, have turned a deaf ear to... and which has not turned to the gun to make itself heard?

Ban the NBA. Ban the National Fishworkers Forum, comprising millions of fisherfolk asking for a halt to the commercialisation and privatisation of India's marine areas. Ban the National Alliance of People's Movements. Ban these and all other such people's movements, the true voices of the people at the grassroots. But if indeed the Indian government heeds voices like the NCCL's, it does so at the peril of being called another colonial state, over half a century after the sceptre of colonialism was supposedly vanquished from the country. And at the inevitable peril of being overthrown, as was the earlier colonial power. If on the other hand the government has an iota of wisdom and prudence left, it will ask NCCL and its supporters to go packing.

The NBA has filed a criminal suit against V.K. Saxena of the NCCL and served a legal notice to Jamuna Devi. One hopes that the courts will have the honesty and courage to prosecute these self-styled upholders of morality and expose them.

Ashish Kothari is a founder-member of Kalpavriksh, and currently coordinating the technical core group formulating India's National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan.

On the scrap heap

Unprotected by the law and largely ignored by society, scrap collectors lead lives full of misery.

JANAKIBAI SALVE'S day begins at 4 a.m. After completing the domestic chores, she goes to upmarket residential areas in the neighbourhood. That is where she works, collecting garbage from public dustbins. Around noon she begins to salvage scrap from the rubbish she has collected. She carries a load of 15 kg or more to the scrap trader's shop 4 km away. For the salable scrap in this load she gets about Rs.50. This is the income that sustains her family - husband and three children, besides herself.

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Janakibai's neighbour Chandrakala Adagale is also a scrap collector but she goes to one of the dumping grounds of the municipal corporation. Hundreds of women like her wait for municipal trucks to unload garbage collected from all over the city. She spends about six hours at the dumping ground, breathing toxic fumes amidst glass and metal pieces, to collect paper. She also earns about Rs.50 a day.

Janakibai and Chandrakala are relatively fortunate in that they have a roof over their heads. There are hundreds of scrap collectors in Mumbai, who live on the streets.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) estimates the number of scrap collectors in the city at 50,000, most of them migrants from the drought-prone areas of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Almost all of them are Dalits. Women constitute a significant proportion of this unorganised labour force. "People look at us as though we are scavengers. Why can't they see that this is the only way we can make a living? We don't beg and we help keep the city clean," says Janakibai.

Mumbai produces 6,000 tonnes of garbage a day. The methods of collection and disposal of garbage are becoming increasingly crucial for city planning. The BMC plans to increase the momentum of the "Clean Mumbai" movement by creating public awareness on segregating and recycling garbage. Privatising garbage collection is also an option that is being explored. In the absence of any legal protection to scrap collectors, the planners are under no compulsion to take them into account in any plan for garbage collection. The only way to protect their interests is to organise them, say trade unions and other non-governmental organisations.

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On May 5, sacrificing two days' earnings, Janakibai and other women who live and work in similar circumstances travelled to Pune to attend a State-level conference of scrap collectors. "We went to present our demands. All we want is some basic rights," Janakibai said. The conference, organised by the Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP), a Pune-based trade union of scrap collectors, was attended by about 6,000 people from different parts of Maharashtra - Mumbai, Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur, Solapur, Aurangabad, Nasik, Pune and so on. Most of them were members of the KKPKP, and the others belonged to NGOs in their respective towns. About 90 per cent of the participants were women. The scrap collectors presented a list of demands to the Minister of State for Self-employment and Labour.

"We were not paid to attend this conference," Janakibai says. "Unlike a political rally, we had to pay for our travel and other expenses." She said that some women walked from their villages because they could not afford transportation. "We want to be heard. We want social security benefits like pensions when we cannot work anymore. No longer will we tolerate being treated like untouchables," she says.

According to the KKPKP, scrap collectors should be recognised as unprotected manual workers and covered by the Maharashtra Mathadi Hamal and Other Manual Workers (Regulation of Employment and Welfare) Act, 1969. This Act makes it mandatory for traders and industries to contribute towards funds that could be used to provide benefits to workers. Hamal (headload) workers enjoy such benefits, thanks to a levy by their employers.

Poornima Chikarmane, a functionary of the KKPKP and Assistant Director of the Adult Education Department of the SNDT Women's University, told Frontline that scrap collectors, unlike construction workers or hamal workers, were self-employed persons. Since they do not have an employer, they are excluded from the Mathadi Act. "But this is only a technicality," Chikarmane says. "Rag-pickers deal with the same scrap trader every day. They do not scout around for the best price. Some have been going to the same shop for two or three generations." Therefore the traders could be classified as employers.

The KKPKP has proposed that scrap dealers create a fund by withholding a percentage of the price they pay to the scrap collectors and contributing an equal amount. This amount could be deposited with the Advisory Committee on the Act of 1969. Pensions, gratuity and provident fund could be paid to scrap collectors from this fund. But for scrap collectors to be covered by the Act, traders will have to be registered and will have to issue receipts. Under the Shops and Commercial Establishment Act, 1961, traders will have to protect workers if they work in their premises. Since most of the sorting of scrap is done in the premises of traders, the Act is applicable to them. "Dealing in scrap is an extremely lucrative business," Chikarmane says. Large industrial units buy scrap to produce low-cost energy or to recycle it. Scrap paper is used as a binding material. In fact, it is an 'invisible economy'. Very few scrap traders pay income tax, sales tax or octroi.

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Little recognition is given to the fact that the entire work of recycling various materials is based on the labour of scrap collectors. In effect, their work is productive in economic and environmental terms, says the KKPKP. A significant part of the recycling process is over by the time the material reaches the trader. "We know the traders make a lot of money from what we collect. But we don't know how much and so we don't know what to demand for our scrap," Janakibai says.

The union suggests that in addition to creating a welfare fund, the municipal corporations should impose a cess on citizens and that should go towards providing medical and life insurance coverage to scrap collectors. Citizens and the corporations benefit from their service, and they could do something in return, the KKPKP says.

The KKPKP admits that working out the logistics of creating a system of welfare and security for scrap collectors will be a long-drawn bureaucratic process. Nevertheless, it has worked in the case of hamal workers.

"We work until the day we die," says Janakibai. "If an accident maims us, there are very few options to earn a livelihood." In the event of an accident, the scrap collector has to use his or her own resources for treatment. Accidents do happen frequently. Rukuminibai Salve, who works at the Deonar dumping ground in Mumbai, says the tooth of a pitch fork pierced her leg while she was wading through wet garbage. A scrap collector had to be hospitalised following an asthmatic attack triggered by noxious fumes emanating from the dump. According to Chikarmane, most of the hazards can be avoided if garbage is segregated at source and scrap collectors are trained in safe collection methods.

RAG-PICKERS are often victims of police harassment. They are also often beaten and chased away by watchmen in residential areas of the middle and upper classes. They are not allowed to sit near the garbage dumps and sort out materials because the local residents would complain about the stench and the litter. "It is their rubbish which I collect and they complain," Janakibai says. The KKPKP says that municipalities should register scrap collectors and issue them photo identity cards. In Mumbai and Pune, such identity cards have been issued by NGOs and endorsed by the municipalities. "We used to be called chor (thieves) and chased away when we went to collect garbage from buildings. This card has really helped us. The watchmen do not bother us now," says Durgabai Kherbakatam, a scrap collector who lives in Pune. According to the KKPKP, while some municipalities are willing to endorse the identity cards, others feel that it may be construed as accepting scrap collectors as employees of the government.

The cities of Maharashtra have made progress in the matter of garbage collection but towns like Ahmednagar are struggling to cope with the problem. Scrap collectors' daily earnings in these towns are half of what they get in Mumbai. Girijabai Raosaheb of Ahmednagar says it is a constant struggle for her. The Ahmednagar municipality has not endorsed identity cards. She is chased out of residential neighbourhoods and the police harass her. Her average daily earning is Rs.25-30. She is the sole breadwinner in the family and there are days when she goes home empty-handed. "If we have cards like people in Pune and Mumbai, it might be easier for us," she says.

If scrap collectors cannot work owing to any injury caused by accidents at the dumping ground, their children take up the job. In order to prevent this, the scrap collectors' organisations have demanded that rag-picking be included in the list of hazardous jobs prohibited under the Child Labour Prohibition Regulation Act, 1996. Chikarmane says that when KKPKP members notice children carrying scrap, they confiscate their bags.

Scrap collectors have begun to realise that educating their children is more important in the long term than sending them for scrap collection, although this means a loss of income for the family. Janakibai says that she does not want her children to pick garbage but she does not have the resources to help her daughter complete high school. "She has finished Class VII. I will take a loan if I have to, but she must finish school."

The KKPKP, which has been working among scrap collectors for a decade now, has instilled a lot of confidence in them, says Chikarmane. Mangal Gaikwad, a member of the organisation, used to collect scrap from municipal garbage bins. Now she goes to a residential colony on a bicycle and collects garbage. She has enrolled herself in an adult education programme.

In another instance, a scrap collector was accused of carrying stolen articles. When the police asked her to empty her sack in front of them, she agreed to do so on condition that they would refill the bag if they found only scrap in it and nothing else. The police emptied the contents of the bag and did not find any stolen article. They had to fulfil the condition set by the scrap collector.

In Mumbai, the Stree Mukti Sanghatana (SMS) has been working for the uplift of women scrap collectors. It trains them in vermiculture and gardening. Jyoti Mhapsekar, president of the SMS, told Frontline that if the BMC failed to integrate scrap collectors into its garbage collection schemes or privatised the system, thousands of women would lose their jobs. Organising scrap collectors is not the only solution. "If women learn to make organic manure through vermiculture or if they can grow and tend plants, they will at least gain the skills for some other work," she says. The SMS has an arrangement with the BMC under which garbage from the city's vegetable markets are dumped at a designated spot in the dumping ground. The wet waste, dumped into pits built by the women, is converted into manure. Mhapsekar says that it is a laborious work and there may not be a worse place to work than a dumping ground. But there is an assured income from the sale of manure and plants.

THE Deonar dumping ground is the largest in Mumbai. It occupies a huge expanse of land that is almost fully covered by garbage mounds. As soon as the corporation trucks dump the unsegregated garbage, scrap collectors clamber on to the piles. Each groups of scrap collectors has a territorial division within the dumping ground, and no "trespassing" is allowed. There is also a rough division of labour. For instance, people who collect glass will not collect paper. Most scrap collectors do not have footwear, let alone any protective gear.

S.S. Bhagwat, the BMC's special officer in charge of garbage collection, told Frontline that the Corporation spent Rs.400 crores annually on garbage collection. Of the 6,000 tonnes of waste that Mumbai puts out, 4,000 tonnes is kitchen (household) waste, he says. Although the BMC has employed 25,000 workers to collect and dump garbage, the staff strength is not sufficient to meet the city's needs. Bhagwat says that the BMC is aiming to create a "zero garbage" situation in the city. It is planning to introduce door-to-door collection of segregated garbage. This, he says, is a tough task, which cannot be fulfilled without additional staff and public awareness.

Ideally, scrap collectors should be part of the collection and sorting process. However, people complain that scrap collectors take what they want from the bins and litter the place with the rest. "If we train them, it will be beneficial for us and for them," Bhagwat says.

While the unions and the NGOs may succeed in protecting the interests of scrap collectors at the grassroots level, it is the responsibility of the State government to address the larger issues.

A pile of inequities

ANUPAMA KATAKAM the-nation

THREE professors from the SNDT Women's University in Pune, in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), have published a study of scrap collectors, scrap traders and enterprises involved in recycling material in Pune. Poornima Chikarmane, Assistant Director, Adult Education Department, Medha Deshpande, Reader in the Economics Department and Lakshmi Narayan, coordinator of the Programme for the Empowerment of Women Wastepickers in the Department of Adult and Continuing Education, worked with scrap collectors in the past 10 years. Lakshmi Narayan is also the general secretary of the Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat.

"The study," they say, "is not merely an academic exercise. Its findings are one more indictment of the inequities in our socio-economic system and a tool in the struggle against injustice."

The following is a summary of the findings:

Scrap collection is the first stage in the recycling sector. It is undertaken by two categories of people - wastepickers and itinerant buyers. Wastepickers collect scrap from garbage containers and landfill sites. Itinerant buyers purchase small quantities of scrap from households, offices, shops and small establishments. Itinerant buyers are divided into two sections on the basis of their gender and tools of trade. These are bhangar feriwalas (men) and dabbabatliwalis (women). After rudimentary sorting, they sell the scrap to retail scrap dealers by weight.

Retail traders have a direct relationship with the scrap collectors. Sometimes they give working capital and tools of the trade to itinerant buyers.

Stocking is the first level of wholesale trade. But stockists are invariably retailers too. Either a single commodity or a group of commodities that have a common market are taken up for wholesale trade.

REPROCESSING enterprises utilise scrap as a raw material. In terms of size, small registered enterprises make polythene; medium, labour-intensive, small-scale industries reprocess plastic and iron; and large, automated, multinationals make paper and glass. The use of scrap reduces the cost of production.

The percentages of utilisation of scrap as a raw material are as follows: glass (40 per cent); tin and iron (70 per cent); paper (50-100 per cent); and plastic (100 per cent).

EVERY scrap collector is a Dalit. Ninety per cent of the women and 50 per cent of the men among them are illiterate. Most of them are landless agricultural workers who migrated from drought-prone districts such as Solapur, Latur, Osmanabad and Beed.

There are 3,014 registered wastepickers in Pune and they collect 81 tonnes of waste every day (an average of 27 kg for each wastepicker.)

The municipalities spend about Rs.300 to dispose every tonne of garbage collected. Logically, they save Rs.24,413 a day, thanks to the work done by wastepickers. Wastepickers thus contribute Rs.246 worth of unpaid labour every month. Most scrap traders enter the trade either because it is the family business or because they have some contact in the trade. The higher levels of the trade are dominated by caste Hindus and Muslims. Vertical mobility from scrap collection to trade is low.

The traders are almost always located in slums and operate with minimum infrastructure. The daily working capital of a retail trader is Rs.2,000 on an average. Wholesalers operate with a working capital ranging from Rs.50,000 to Rs.3 lakhs.

Tampering with a textbook

The NCERT wields the axe against a history textbook by R.S. Sharma.

THE National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), which functions under the aegis of the Human Resource Development Ministry, is in the news, for the wrong reasons again. The strong resentment within and outside the Council against its controversial decisions, such as the framing of a new curriculum for school education and the withdrawal of textbooks authored by prominent historians, does not seem to have deterred its decision-makers. Now it has tampered with the history textbook for Class XI, authored by well-known historian Ram Sharan Sharma, and transferred Pritish Acharya, a Reader in History, from the Department of Social Sciences and Humanities to Bhubaneswar for resisting attempts to introduce changes in the textbook without the consent of the author. Earlier, it appointed Atul Rawat, a regular contributor to Organiser, the mouthpiece of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a consultant for history. Rawat, who has an M.Phil. in American Studies, will be in charge of preparing draft syllabi for history for all stages of school education.

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As part of its "rectification campaign" in the field of education, the HRD Ministry has been targeting history consistently, mainly because many leading historians in the country happen to hold views that do not conform to the Sangh Parivar's perception of history. In its "integrated system of social sciences for the secondary level of education", the importance of history as a subject is going to be considerably reduced. The latest target is the Class XI textbook on ancient India, written by Sharma. The author has questioned the historicity of the tirthankaras, which is considered offensive to the sensibilities of the Jain community.

The first version of the textbook, which was prepared under a competent editorial board, was published in 1977 and a revised edition in 1980. A new version was prepared in 1990 in accordance with new syllabi under the National Policy on Education, 1986. Several reprints of this edition were brought out subsequently. However, neither NCERT Director J.S. Rajput nor R.K. Dixit, the new Head of the Department of Social Sciences and Humanities, seemed to be satisfied with the new edition. They objected to the contents of Chapter 10 on Jainism and Buddhism. Under the section, titled "Vardhamana Mahavira and Jainism", it is stated: "The Jainas believed that their most important religious leader, Mahavira, had twenty-three predecessors who were called tirthankaras. If Mahavira is taken as the last or the twenty-fourth tirthankara, the origin of Jainism would be taken back to the 9th century B.C. But since most of the earliest teachers, up to the fifteenth one, were supposed to have been born in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, their historicity is extremely doubtful. No part of the middle Ganga plains was settled on any scale until the sixth century B.C. Obviously, the mythology of the tirthankaras, most of whom were born in the middle Ganga basin and attained nirvana in Bihar, seems to have been created to give antiquity to Jainism. The earliest important teachings of Jainism are attributed to Parshvanatha, the twenty-third tirthankara, who belonged to Banaras. He gave up royal life and became an ascetic. But his spiritual successor Vardhamana Mahavira was the real founder of Jainism."

The sentences that doubted the antiquity of Jainism were unpalatable to some people. Letters poured in and the faculty, in consultation with Sharma, decided to modify some statements without altering the historicity of the facts. The altered version reads thus: "According to the Jainas, the origin of Jainism goes back to very ancient times. They believe in twenty-four tirthankaras or great teachers or leaders of their religion. The first tirthankara is believed to be Rishabhadev who was born in Ayodhya. He is said to have laid the foundations for orderly human society. The last and twenty-fourth tirthankara was Vardhamana Mahavira, who was a contemporary of Gautama Buddha. According to the Jaina tradition, most of the early tirthankaras were born in the middle Ganga basin and attained nirvana in Bihar. However, according to the available archaeological evidence, no part of the middle Ganga plains was settled on any scale and the towns and other settlements which are referred to in Jaina tradition had not come into existence until the sixth century B.C. Because of this, it has not been possible to determine the historicity and chronology of the early tirthankaras. The twenty-third tirthankara was Parshvanath, who was born in Varanasi. He gave up royal life and became an ascetic. Many teachings of Jainism are attributed to him. According to Jaina tradition, he lived two hundred years before Mahavira. Historians generally believe that Mahavira, the twenty-fourth tirthankara, was the greatest teacher of Jainism and its real founder. The Jainas, however, do not believe in any founder."

The altered version was to be inserted in the February 2001 reprint but what appeared in it was something quite different. The parts relating to the archaeological evidence and the question of Mahavira being considered the real founder were deleted. The last three sentences have been replaced by the sentence: "Mahavira is said to be the twenty-fourth tirthankara."

Frontline has in its possession a copy of the revised text that indicates the portions that both Rajput and Dixit wanted deleted.

Another portion, which was revised in consultation with the author, was one relating to Mahavira's quest for truth. It read: "He kept on wandering for 12 years from place to place... During the course of his long journey, it is said, he never changed his clothes for 12 years and abandoned them altogether at the age of 42 when he attained omniscience (kaivalya)." In the Hindi version, the reference to Mahavir "wandering" was considered disparaging. It was revised in consultation with Sharma. The revised version read as follows: "He kept on wandering for 12 years from place to place... during the course of his wandering, he meditated, practised austerities of various kinds and endured many hardships..." The reference to clothes was omitted. But in the February 2001 print, the entire reference to his "wandering for 12 years from place to place" was deleted. The words "during the course of his wandering" were substituted with "during this period". Sharma was not consulted on these changes.

Pritish Acharya objected to the changes that were made without consulting the author. Acharya was asked to make further deletions from the revised portions but he refused to do so. Dixit and Rawat reportedly went to the publication department and ensured that the portions were deleted. Acharya was transferred to the Regional Institute of Education in Bhubaneswar, which already has four persons on the social sciences faculty. Moreover, the regional institutes (five in all) focus more on science education.

Sharma told Frontline over the phone from his home in Patna that he had signed an agreement with the NCERT in 1980 regarding the textbook and that it clearly stated that any changes would be made only in consultation with the author. According to it, the NCERT reserves the right to bring out a new publication based on the material contained in the book entitled "Ancient India" and to publish it in any language. In any new publication, it says, due acknowledgement will be made to the original book and the NCERT will obtain the author's approval for the modification or adaptation of the original text. Sharma said that he had not seen the reprint but was told that certain portions had been omitted. The changes, he said, were in violation of the agreement. "The form can be changed but not the substance. I don't know of any publisher who changes the substance," he said.

IT was on similar grounds that the NCERT objected to a Class VII textbook on Medieval India, authored by Romila Thapar, and a Class XI textbook on the same period, written by Satish Chandra. In an article, "Why revising history textbooks is a right move for NCERT" (The Times of India, May 25), J.S. Rajput raised objections to these books. Romila Thapar's narrative has a section that deals with the Mughal emperor Akbar marrying a number of Rajput princesses for maintaining friendly relations with the community. This was apparently perceived as a one-sided policy that caused humiliation to the Rajputs. The NCERT Director also objected to Romila Thapar's reference to the "execution" of Guru Tegh Bahadur Singh. "Execution," he said, was an offensive word. "Will any child develop respect for the great Guru after reading the above sentence (containing the word 'execution')?"

Certain organisations, Rajput claimed, had filed a case against the NCERT for hurting the sentiments of the Sikh community. But in reality only one organisation had petitioned the Punjab and Haryana High Court against Satish Chandra's textbook and sought a stay on its publication. A two-member Bench of the court declined to grant a stay. The NCERT had filed a detailed reply, defending the books. It is argued that the legal dispute has caused inconvenience to the NCERT. Hence the need for drastic corrections. In his article, Rajput says: "Should biased history be allowed to continue at the cost of national interests?" He also laments that in the context of the revision of NCERT books, "history is the area that has resisted moderation, revision and modification".

Appointment and disappointment

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI the-nation

WHEN the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government took the reins of government in New Delhi in 1999, one of its priorities was to ensure that academic and research institutions are headed by persons who are not hostile to the ideology of the Sangh Parivar. The Ministry of Human Resource Development under Murli Manohar Joshi has been implementing this goal consistently, and most of the appointments it made have drawn criticism, mainly from secular forces. Of late, even the supporters and ideological allies of the BJP have resented some of its moves. The first sign of such resentment came when M.L. Sondhi, Chairman of the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) and a favourite of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, lashed out at sections of the bureaucracy of the HRD Ministry and at Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh loyalists for interfering in matters concerning the ICSSR. It was a case of a turf war within the Parivar rather than of an ideological strife between secular and non-secular forces as was sought to be projected in some quarters.

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A similar conflict surfaced in the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) recently following the demise of its Chairman B.R. Grover on May 10. On May 19, the HRD Ministry appointed K.S. Lal, a historian known for his adherence to the Sangh Parivar brand of history, as ICHR Chairman. Many people, including Lal, assumed that he would continue in the post for the remaining one and a half years of a three-year tenure. But that was not to be. Lal fell out with the HRD Ministry when he resisted the appointment of R.C. Aggarwal, former Director of the Archaeological Survey of India, as Member-Secretary of the ICHR. Aggarwal is an archaeologist and it was for the first time in the history of the ICHR that a person who is not a historian was appointed to the post.

Lal is the seniormost historian in the 26-member Council, which includes ex-officio members, government Secretaries, and so on. The rules governing the members' tenure are clear. Rules 8 and 9 of the Council state that persons appointed to fill a vacancy shall hold office only for the remaining period of the term of membership. This applies to the post of Chairman, for the rules state that the Chairman is a member of the Council as well. While refusing to be drawn into the controversy over the tenure, Lal told Frontline that the only thing that upset him was the manner in which information about his removal was conveyed to him by the Ministry. He said the language of his appointment letter was rather "roundabout" in stating that the appointment was temporary. "I thought I would stay on till October 2002, that is, when Grover's term expired. It is as if professionals can be treated in any manner," he said. According to Lal, he was given a letter on July 2 notifying the appointment of M.G.S. Narayanan as the new chairperson. He lamented that no one had the courtesy to inform him in advance about the change.

About the appointment of the Member-Secretary, Lal said that he wrote to Murli Manohar Joshi that an advertisement calling for applications for the post of Member-Secretary could be issued in August when the Council's term expired. It was not necessary that the Member-Secretary should be a person from Delhi, Lal had said in the letter. Lal said that the Ministry interfered with the regular work of the ICHR.

NARAYANAN, a specialist in Ancient History, was Member-Secretary of the ICHR during 1990-1992 when Professor Irfan Habib was its Chairman. He says that he is not a Marxist and that he is a believer in Hindutva to the extent that he is a Hindu and an inheritor of a great tradition. ICHR insiders do not expect any controversy over his appointment because, according to them, despite his proximity to the BJP, Narayanan is not a "hardliner". A competent historian, he is keen on the ICHR bringing out the remaining volumes of the "Towards Freedom" project - a fact that can possibly mollify the critics of the government. Narayanan told Frontline that "there cannot be history without differences".

Narayanan was Professor and Head of the Department of History in Calicut University from 1976 to 1990. He was the president of the Ancient India section of the Indian History Congress (IHC) in Hyderabad in 1978. He was the general secretary of the IHC during 1982-1985. He was Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies, Moscow University, in 1991. He has served on the Editorial Committee of the Journal of Indian History, Kerala, and on the editorial board of Indian Historical Review, ICHR.

Narayanan has published 44 research papers and authored many books, which include Cultural Symbiosis in Kerala, Aspects of Aryanisation in Kerala, and Foundations of South Indian Society and Culture.

The Nizam's jewels

The jewellery collection that once belonged to the Nizam of Hyderabad arrives in New Delhi for public display.

THE government's decision to display at the National Museum the jewellery collection that once belonged to the Nizam of Hyderabad has created much excitement in New Delhi. One of the most fabulous collections of its kind in the world, it was kept in the safe vaults of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in Mumbai owing to protracted litigation over the treasure. The date of the exhibition itself was initially a highly guarded secret. Officials of the Ministry of Culture and those of the National Museum were tight-lipped about it, for "security reasons".

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The only piece of information that was doing the rounds in the capital was that the collection would be on display at the museum's jewellery section for a month from August 14. "We cannot talk about it because of the dangers involved. We will let you know at the right time," said Vaidyanathan Aiyer, Secretary, Department of Culture. Officials at the National Museum, including R.D. Chaudhary, its Director-General, were even more evasive.

If the government's decision created tremendous curiosity among historians, art students, connoisseurs of fine jewellery and journalists, it was only heightened by the secretive manner in which the fabled treasure, valued anywhere between Rs.1,870 crores and Rs.2,500 crores, was brought to New Delhi on July 2 from Mumbai. Interestingly, even as news about the display spread, books on Nizam's jewellery "disappeared" from the National Museum library. "All these books seem to have been issued," said a member of the library staff.

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After a month's display at the National Museum, the collection is likely to be taken to the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad. According to officials in the Department of Culture, once the government's decision to display the jewellery was known, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu staked his State's claim to it, saying that it was part of Hyderabad's heritage and culture. It is learnt that Chandrababu Naidu sent six letters to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee before extracting a promise from him that the jewellery will be sent to the Salar Jung Museum. "The treasure belongs to the State of Andhra Pradesh and there is no controversy about where it should be kept. Obviously at the Salar Jung Museum, which has other relics from the Nizam era too among its exhibits. The jewellery is a part of our history and heritage," said a senior official of the Andhra Pradesh government. Officials at the Department of Culture in New Delhi, however, refused to comment on this.

The treasure comprises 173 pieces of rare value and antiquity. Among them are the uncut Jacob Diamond, one of the seven biggest diamonds in the world, weighing 184.75 carats; a seven-strand pearl necklace strung with 150 large and 230 small pearls, with a two-diamond pendant attached to it; a pair of bracelets studded with 270 diamonds, 22 fine partially uncut and unmounted emeralds weighing 414.25 carats; and a diamond-set belt made in France by Oscar Massi Pieres. There are also rings, brooches, buttons, studded swords, diamond-studded images of camels, gold ingots and so on. This explains the extraordinary security arrangements at the National Museum. Casual frisking of visitors at the entrance has now given way to a careful body search with metal detectors. A closed-circuit television system has been installed. The entire area is under surveillance by the Central Industrial Security Force.

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THE royal treasure left the palace of the seventh and last Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, in 1948, shortly after he decided on the princely state's accession to the Indian Union. He created two trusts and stipulated that the jewels should not be sold during the lifetime of his eldest son Azam Jah. At his instance, the jewellery was kept in the vaults of the Flora Fountain branch of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation in Mumbai and the trusts paid a sum to the bank for the care of the collection. The trusts decided to sell the jewellery in 1970, after the death of Azam Jah.

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Litigation began in the Supreme Court in 1979 when news broke about the trustees' attempt to auction a part of the collection (Frontline, January 27, 1995). Auctioneers from all over the world were invited to New Delhi, but the auction was stopped at the intervention of Union Education Minister Dr. Karan Singh and the late Dr. Laxmi Prasad Sihare, who headed the National Gallery of Arts. Sihare convinced Karan Singh that the jewellery collection was part of the national heritage and hence could not be allowed to be auctioned to foreigners. As the auction was about to begin, Sihare arrived with a stay order and stopped it. Litigation continued for 16 years. Sihare took over as the Director-General of the National Museum in 1984 and personally pursued the case until he retired in 1991. He passed away in 1993. The government of India won the case in 1995 and bought the jewellery from the Nizam for Rs.218 crores. The jewellery was kept with the RBI because the government could not decide where to display it.

Historians and art lovers who were associated with Sihare describe the Government's move to display the jewellery at the National Museum as a "personal victory" for him. "He has been vindicated after all these years. But for him, the nation would have lost this priceless collection as it did in the case of the Kohinoor," said a close associate of Sihare.

The death penalty debate

R.K. RAGHAVAN the-nation

Two recent instances in the United States and the United Kingdom give additional ammunition to the opponents of capital punishment.

THE recent execution of Timothy McVeigh for causing the 1995 Oklahoma explosion in which 168 persons were killed has generated a renewed debate in the United States on the fairness of the criminal justice system in retaining this form of punishment and the manner in which it is administered. More heated has been the controversy surrounding the subsequent conviction in Florida of Joaquin Martinez, a young Spanish national, for a double murder in 1997. His supporters sought a re-trial and won the case, taking advantage of the several errors proved against the prosecution. This case has given additional ammunition to opponents of capital punishment, who are convinced that state-induced deaths are barbaric and that many trials have resulted in the execution of innocent individuals, victimised by an unequal criminal justice system weighted against the poor and the underprivileged.

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In fact, the frequency of executions in the U.S. had come down markedly in the 1960s. In 1972 the Supreme Court, in the celebrated Furman vs Georgia case, struck down the death sentence as a "cruel" and "unusual" punishment that is violative of the 8th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. This moratorium, however, ended in 1976 with the Supreme Court endorsing the re-writing of the guidelines for the imposition of such penalty by some States - especially Georgia - in response to the Furman case verdict. According to one estimate, more than 700 executions have since taken place. (President George W. Bush holds the dubious distinction of having overseen 152 executions as the Governor of Texas.)

There has been another sensational development that should warm the cockles of the anti-death penalty lobby. In a July 3 speech to a group of Minnesota women lawyers, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor raised serious doubts about the fairness of the death penalty. She said: "If statistics are any indication, the system may well be allowing some innocent defendants to be executed." This was a remarkable turnaround for a Judge who, in her previous incarnation as an Arizona legislator, had taken an unequivocal pro-death penalty position.

The New York Times (July 5) attributes O'Connor's surprising stand to two factors. One is that the Supreme Court will shortly have to deal with two controversial cases. In one of these, the court will be required to rule on the constitutionality of awarding the death sentence to an accused person who is mentally retarded. In the other case, it will have to uphold or reject a defendant's plea for the quashing of the death sentence on the ground that counsel who represented him had a conflict of interest.

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THE growingly visible concern of Justice O'Connor over the fairness of administering the death penalty is striking. In her Minnesota speech, she referred to the fact that as many as six death row inmates were exonerated last year. (Incidentally, since 1973, 90 such inmates have been similarly exonerated in the U.S. just before being executed.)

A controversy rages in the United Kingdom as well, following the life sentence awarded to Barry George for the murder of BBC presenter Jill Dando on April 26, 1999. Forty-one-year-old George, an unemployed person known for his "unusual interest in celebrities and a passion for arms", has been convicted purely on circumstantial evidence. There is no eyewitness nor has the prosecution proved any motive. Ironically, while slapping the sentence on George, the Judge said: "Why you did it may never be known, since, in my view, it is probable you can give no rational explanation for what you did." The public indignation over the verdict and sentence is understandable. Jurists all over the world are also likely to be incensed. Against this background, the question is, how far is retaining capital punishment justified?

A delightful new book on the subject that has evoked great interest in the U.S. is Actual Innocence: Five days to Execution, and other Dispatches from the Wrongfully Convicted (Doubleday, New York; 2000) by Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld and Jim Dwyer. The first two founded and now run the pro bono Innocence Project at the Cardozo School of Law. (Dwyer is a Pulitzer Prize winner and a columnist for the New York Daily News.) The project seeks to obtain the release of wrongly convicted individuals through DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) testing and claims to have succeeded in respect of 37 innocent convicts. The absorbing book gives an account of the efforts to free 10 innocent persons wrongly convicted by "sloppy police work, corrupt prosecutors, jailhouse snitches and mistaken eye-witnesses", compounded by the inevitable errors in the trial system. The accent of the book is on how DNA fingerprinting has revolutionised investigations and facilitated the identification of real culprits and the elimination of innocent suspects. A remarkable statement by the authors presents the position succinctly: "DNA testing is to justice what the telescope is for the stars: not a lesson in biochemistry, not a display of the wonders of magnifying optical glass, but a way to see things as they really are."

Rightly, Justice O'Connor lashes out against U.S. States which do not permit post-conviction DNA testing. The number of exonerations based on DNA evidence has been the highest in New York (7) and Illinois (14), two States that permit post-conviction DNA testing. They also pay for such testing if the convicts cannot afford it.

IN India the campaign against capital punishment has shown occasional signs of life. One explanation for its not having been vociferous is that possibly because the death sentence is sparingly used. The "rarest of rare cases" prescription has held sway. It is difficult to foresee any basic swing in perceptions. Nevertheless, the debate in the U.S. cannot be wholly ignored. Also, India needs to expand DNA testing facilities. Understandably, there are only a few centres that undertake this. This is because the costs are enormous. But then a credible criminal justice system does not come cheap.

The saddest thing, however, is that all over the world a lot of innocent persons will still be in jail. They are those who cannot come under the scope of DNA testing only because the investigations do not involve biological evidence. This is the dismay of Scheck and others.

Ninety-nine offenders may go scot-free, but not one innocent person should go to the gallows. This is the edifice on which the jurisprudence of all civilised countries is built. This alone is the case for efficient and balanced prosecutors and dispassionate judges with a conscience that dictates their rulings.

R.K. Raghavan is a former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation.

A poor track record

V. SRIDHAR the-nation

THE report of the Justice H.R. Khanna Railway Safety Review Committee, which was released in 2000, is a scathing indictment of the state of affairs in the Indian Railways. The Railways, it said, "is saddled with a huge inventory of overaged, decaying assets," owing to the "unhealthy state of Railway finances". A prime recommendation made in the report was that the Railways should stop further expansion until it had upgraded infrastructure and assets.

At the end of fiscal 1999, the backlog of track renewals stood at 12,260 km. The accretion of overaged tracks in the rail network is taking place at the rate of 3,250 km a year. Track renewal activity has been steadily declining for over a decade. The Khanna Committee observed that the poor condition of the tracks not only was a safety hazard but impinged on the commercial performance of the Railways because it imposed speed restrictions on trains. The length of bad tracks is estimated to reach more than 35,000 km in the next seven years, if no track renewals take place. The Railways would require Rs.3,250.65 crores in order to clear the backlog at Rs. 65 lakhs per km. The committee recommended that track renewal be "dealt with on a war footing, as we consider this a basic and fundamental requirement of safety".

More than 42 per cent of the 1.20 lakh bridges in the rail network are of 19th century vintage. Although the Railways had classified 262 bridges as "distressed", this term is itself inadequate because the classification is based on visual impressions of a bridge and not on results of rigorous structural tests. The Khanna Committee recommended that all distressed bridges, those that are more than 100 years old or those made of "early steel", be subjected to rigorous examination within a year. It also said that all "distressed" bridges be "rehabilitated" within five years. The committee found that the quality of construction of the bridges "is not up to the mark"; that more than 1,560 railway had to make do with "overaged" signalling gear; and that 1,300-odd broad gauge passenger coaches and 34,000 wagons were due for replacement.

The track, rolling stock, signalling equipment and other infrastructure have to be protected by adequate maintenance and monitoring. However, sources in the railway unions say that the failure of this "back-up" continues to expose passengers to danger. There are widespread complaints about the lack of the right type of equipment at the coaching depots. Owing to the shortage of rakes, coaches are not examined and repaired fully before they start the journey again. Also, complaints regarding defects that are raised by train drivers, guards and other running staff are not properly attended to. The committee has insisted that disciplinary action be initiated against supervisors if the defect recurred within the next 72 hours. The Railways management "had done little" for train drivers and this was reflected in their poor working conditions, the Khanna Committee said. It observed that the Railways "has a large number of rail/weld fractures" that caused derailments, which account for about 90 per cent of all train accidents.

One of the key findings of the committee was the widespread use of "doctored statistics" by the management, particularly those relating to the Railways' safety record. Although data relating to major accidents were recorded well, details of minor accidents "have been swept under the carpet". It pointed out that while only 396 accidents were reported in 1997-98, 1,011 accidents went "unreported". It said: "What is conveniently forgotten is that the gravity of the consequence in any accident is fortuitous, as the basic causes for both minor and major accidents are essentially the same." It cited the case of the accident at Khanna (Punjab) in 1998, which was caused by a rail fracture, resulting in the death of more than 200 persons. Similar rail fractures have not always resulted in such tragedies. It said that the "obfuscation of facts" resulted in "distorted feedback" from the field staff. "with no follow-up action on the non-reported accidents, unsafe practices down the line are not detected until a major accident occurs."

Was it the bridge, or the bogies?

V. SRIDHAR the-nation

The Railway authorities blame nature and an overaged bridge for the Kadalundi train accident; many experts, however, say that evidence points to a systemic neglect of rail safety.

THERE is widespread apprehension that the inquiry into the recent train accident in which bogies of the Chennai-bound Mangalore-Chennai Mail fell from a 139-year-old bridge into the Kadalundi river near Kozhikode on June 22 may conceal rather than reveal the proximate causes of the accident.

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Faced with mounting criticism about its lack of sufficient concern for passenger safety, the Railways, in its first reaction, seemed to blame nature for the tragedy. Union Minister of State for Railways O. Rajagopal said on June 28 that "unusual" geological activity in the region, confirmed by the "disappearance" of some wells, could have caused the accident. Citing as yet unconfirmed reports, he said that the third pier of the bridge had sunk by two feet.

To sceptics this rang a familiar bell. An inquiry conducted by the Commissioner for Railway Safety into the 1988 rail accident at Perumon in Kerala, when several bogies plunged into the Ashtamudi lake killing more than 100 persons, attributed it to a tornado. A second inquiry, prompted by public outrage, revealed that problems in track alignment and faulty wheels of coaches were responsible for the tragedy. Curiously, the Commissioner functions under the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation, not the Railways.

Experts who support the "geological activity" theory say the large-scale construction activity and the disappearance of water-logged areas in the region had increased the percolation of water, resulting in the rise of the water table, This in turn resulted in the collapse of wells in the area. However, other experts, among them scientists from the Centre for Earth Science Studies, point out that drawing a parallel between the sinking of wells and that of bridges and their piers was inappropriate. Instead, they asserted that the well collapse had more to do with human activity than an act of nature.

The "geological activity" hypothesis was followed by the theory that a pier on the eastern side of the bridge sank as the train ran on the bridge in the north-south direction. Railway Minister Nitish Kumar was among the early proponents of this theory. However, this was contradicted by investigations commissioned by the Railways as also by other scientific opinion. A team of naval divers, which inspected the bridge on June 30, ruled that the pier collapsed under the weight of the passing train. It also categorically dismissed the theory that the pile sank. The team from the Naval Base at Kochi, led by T.N. Srikumar, observed that the top portion of the broken pier was inclined at an angle of 50 to 60 and that there were no "hit (marks) or external damage" on the pier. The naval team's inspection suggested that the accident was caused by the collapse of the bridge as the train ran on it. This appeared to be a plausible explanation, given the fact that the replacement of the bridge was overdue. Around the same time reports of an earlier breakage on the bridge, which had escaped the attention of the Railways' Civil Engineering Department, appeared in the media.

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However, critics see ulterior motives behind the Railways' belated attempt to fix the blame on an overaged bridge. They point to other evidence, circumstantial as well as material, suggesting that the train and its bogies were to blame. Having to accept that the tracks were bad and inadequately maintained and monitored, and that the coaches were in a dilapidated condition owing to poor maintenance would suggest a systemic failure in the Indian rail network.

Vishnu Potti, Director of the Forensic Department in Kerala, who visited the accident site for a few days from June 28 and again on July 6, said that he "examined all the material involved in the accident", including the coaches, piers, girders, sleepers and rails. He "specifically noticed certain marks and damages indicating a leftward tilt." He also "did not find any hit marks indicating a derailment of the train." There was also no indication that the wheels had "dragged" prior to the accident.

Potti's observation that the train fell leftward, to the east, has been contradicted by eyewitnesses as well as by other experts. They have said that the bogies had fallen on either side of the bridge. Photographs taken immediately after the accident confirm this.

The Principal of the Regional Engineering College (REC) near Kozhikode, Dr. M.P. Chandrasekharan, was among those who went to the spot soon after the accident. He had a special reason to do this: Somrup Mazumdar and Nirmal Jyothi Bhattacharya, two final- year students of the REC, were among those who died in the accident. Chandrasekharan, a mechanical engineer, is sceptical about the bridge being blamed as the proximate cause for the accident. He disagreed with Vishnu Potti's assessment of the "cause and effect" of the accident. He said that a team of experts in structural engineering, soil mechanics and foundation engineering and mechanics from the REC had gone to the site on June 25. It noticed several coaches lying on either side of the bridge. The experts, who went in a boat, "clung to a broken cross girder slanting to the east and felt the pier with bare feet and made an approximate measurement."

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Media reports, obviously based on railway sources, suggested, even as the official inquiry was on, that the bridge collapsed because the screw piles supporting it gave way. The REC study dismisses this theory as "absurd". "Even if there was a crack on the pier, a regular axle load passing on it would not cause such a collapse," Chandrasekharan said. He pointed out that several trains had passed through the bridge, as had the first seven coaches of the Chennai Mail.

He cites evidence to show that "a rogue compartment" would have provided the "necessary impact load" and possibly an additional load from the side of the bridge to trigger the accident. He postulated that a coach overturned on a cross girder and then proceeded to hit the plate girder, providing the force to brake the pier.

Chandrasekharan said that a derailment of the "rogue compartment" was not a necessary condition for triggering the kind of collapse that the REC team has postulated. "A rogue compartment could capsize without derailing." He said that the collapse was caused by "an impact load on the third cross girder and the plate girder on the bridge." Asked if the girders would not bear the marks left by bogies that derailed or were thrown off the tracks, he said that these would "leave marks on sleepers, not girders." Girders, he said, bore not just marks, but suffered deformation.

Pictures taken by the REC team show that not only had the plate girder shifted significantly to the left of the train but the rails had unhinged from the sleepers and the plate girder. Chandrasekharan said that the impact had "torn the sleepers to shreds." The photographs also show a rail resting on a cross girder, "where it has no business to be". He also pointed to a dent on the cross girder, indicating that "a heavy object had fallen on it."

He said that broken or stiff springs, malfunctioning bearings or loose clamps and brackets in the undercarriage of a "rogue compartment" could cause a bogie to be thrown off the track. He pointed out that since the radius of a rail wheel flange is just 38 mm, a bogie needs to be lifted only by that much to be thrown off-track.

Chandrasekharan argues that if the collapse of the pier on the eastern side of the third pair of piers was the "first cause" of the accident, all the coaches would have fallen on the eastern side. He argues that the fact that some of the coaches fell to the west, against the direction of tilt of the breaking pier, implies that "the tilt of the cross girder had taken place only after some of the coaches had fallen towards the west. He also pointed out that the top plate of the cross girder had undergone "local deformation", indicating the "impact of a heavy object on it". This deformation, he said, could not have happened after the pier tilted to the east by 25 degrees and when it was not in a horizontal position.

Vishnu Potti's claim that the pier took 11 seconds to collapse, has also been rebutted by Chandrasekharan. He said the pier collapsed as a result of what in engineering parlance is called "brittle failure". Such failure happens in a fraction of a second. He pointed out that cast iron and surki concrete, the bridge's main components, do not have ductile properties.

The REC team, he said, rushed to the accident site because the college was located at Chathamangalam, just 40 km away from bridge. His team deposed before the inquiry committee because the "Railways has a bad record of having twisted facts in an earlier case." He also alleged that the Railways "try to intimidate non-technical people who (give) direct evidence and we thought that it is our duty to bring out the truth before it is obliterated."

The fact that the forensic expert and the naval team went to the site almost a week after the accident has also been criticised. Chandrasekharan said that what he saw on June 25, and what the naval team observed five days later, were "very different". "The cross girder," he said, "had disappeared by the time the Navy team arrived." The heavy flow of water under the bridge also meant that evidence was fast disappearing. In fact, it has been pointed out that a small coffer should have been constructed at the accident site to examine the material evidence.

There is circumstantial evidence, from other sources, to suggest that the bogies were not sound. Several passengers said that the train jerked and rattled abnormally. Some of them said there was a continuous grating sound, particularly in Coach S-7. Others are reported to have seen a fire at the rear of the train. Union sources in the Southern Railway told Frontline that station masters at Neeleshwaram and Kannur had sent messages to onward stations at Kozhikode and Shoranur, informing them about "defective bogies". This implies that the train was allowed to run for more than three hours between Kannur and the accident spot after the messages were sent.

There have also been serious complaints about the manner in which the official probe was conducted. Several top Railway officials dealing with civil engineering were allowed free access to the proceedings. Chandrasekharan, who made a suo motu appearance before the Commission, said that several senior officials were present during his deposition and he assumed that they were part of the Commission.

The Kadalundi accident has once again put the safety record of the Indian Railways in the spotlight. The problems that the Railway Safety Review Committee, headed by Justice H.R. Khanna, highlighted remain largely unaddressed (see box). In the Southern Railway, for instance, one-third of the broad gauge electric locomotives are more than 15 years old; more than 20 per cent of the metre gauge coaches and nearly 15 per cent of the broad gauge ones are more than 20 years old. The problem is more acute with goods wagons.

NMD and the North Korean bogey

GLYN FORD world-affairs

A Sino-European Union policy towards North Korea is crucial to debunk the arguments of the United States for a National Missile Defence plan.

THE argument in favour of the National Missile Defence (NMD) system is based on a series of misunderstandings and exaggerations. The claimed threat is neither real nor credible. Yet President George Bush is using it to underpin the United States' deployment of the NMD, which is in the interests of the arms industry and to the detriment of world peace. There is therefore a need to invalidate these arguments and remove any vestiges of threat. The latter may be possible through a joint Sino-European effort.

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The Bush administration came to office with a steely determination to push ahead with its 'Son of Star Wars' programme, the NMD, in the face of opposition from around the world. The idea is to erect over the U.S. an impenetrable umbrella of anti-ballistic missiles, giving it immunity from Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) tipped with nuclear warheads from any of the "rogue" states - Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and North Korea. While for the minority in the administration it is pay-back time for the $3 billion that the military-industrial complex chipped in to the presidential election campaign pot, others have bought the technical and political arguments for the NMD.

Yet, on close inspection, these arguments crumble. First, the claim that there is uncontrolled proliferation either of weapons of mass destruction or of the vehicles for their delivery is exaggerated. In fact, the bulk of the proliferation comes from the activities of one country, North Korea. It is the only 'rogue' state that will have the capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction by an ICBM in the foreseeable future. However, North Korea's own capabilities and intentions are over-stated, misreported and constantly rounded up to transform possibilities into inevitabilities. North Korea has the Nodong 2 rocket with a claimed range of 1,500 km, the Taepodong series of missiles and space launch vehicles with a range of up to 10,000 km and the capability to hit Washington with a 100 kg warhead, as estimated by the U.S. No other "rogue" state has such an indigenous capacity. Iran's Shehab missiles are based on incremental innovations to Nodong. Pakistan's Ghauri, and its proposed Ghaznavi, a clone of Taepodong-1, are both almost entirely dependent on North Korea for technology and expertise. Syria is standing pat on an earlier North Korean missile - the Hwasong 6 - with a range of 500 km which fulfils the deterrence needed in its stand-off with Israel. Libya has its own Al-Fatah missile, but the fact that it is buying elements of Nodong technology clearly indicates how badly it is trailing in the missile race.

And these very missiles are untested and unreliable. Both Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were distressed by the unreliability of even Hwasong 5. During the Iran-Iraq war and the second phase of the 'War of the Cities', Iran used 77 Hwasong 5 missiles, and over 10 per cent of them exploded on launch. As for Nodong its only launch by North Korea in May 1993, achieved a mere 500 km. A Syrian test proved no better, while an Iranian test in 1998 saw the missile self-destruct after 1,000 km. The only Taepodong launch was an attempt to put the Kwangmyongsong satellite into orbit on a three-stage Taepodong platform on August 31, 1998. The third stage failed and the debris was scattered across the Pacific.

It is not certain if North Korea plans to use ICBMs for delivery. The 1994 Framework Agreement signed by the U.S. and North Korea involved Pyongyang closing its Russian-built graphite-moderated nuclear reactor and stopping work on the construction of a second reactor in exchange for the U.S. putting together a consortium to construct two 1,000 MW Light Water Reactors. The reason for the U.S. enthusiasm was the suspicion that the original reactor had been tapped for weapons-grade plutonium. Both the KGB (state security police of the former Soviet Union) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the U.S. believed that North Korea had diverted enough plutonium to produce up to five crude first generation nuclear weapons. It is invariably claimed by the U.S. that these would provide the nuclear warheads for the missiles. Yet, it is evident from North Korea's previous nuclear work that its priority was the development of free-fall airdrop weapons - those delivered by plane or by "unconventional" means, that is, cargo ships. North Korea has never tested a nuclear weapon.

So what do we have? At worst there is the possibility of the North Koreans firing a couple of ICBMs at the U.S. using a missile that has neither proved reliable nor carried the required distance, tipped with an untested warhead, before being wiped off the face of the earth by the U.S. response. At best it is an unusable deterrent rather than a pre-emptive threat. Bush believes the best way to neutralise this threat is to spend at least $40 billion on the NMD! North Korea has between one and 10 Taepodong 1 missiles and two Taepodong 2 prototypes. These are currently available on the semi-open market at $6 million each. Thus, for $72 million, less than 0.2 per cent of the initial budget for the NMD, the U.S. could buy the entire lot. At the end of Bill Clinton's term, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright came very close to a deal with North Korea to buy out their missiles. Now Bush will neither play nor pay.

There is a way out. Since the visit to Pyongyang in May by Swedish Prime Minister Gran Persson, the European Union (E.U.) has developed unprecedented good relations with North Korea. Primarily because the E.U. is not the U.S., Japan or South Korea. Simultaneously, Bush has changed the Sino-U.S. relationship from "strategic partnership" to "competitive relationship". China now judges that the security environment is deteriorating with the U.S. aim, post-South Korean elections, of creating a U.S.-Japan-South Korea axis and at the same time strengthening the U.S.-Japan Defence Guidelines. China is concerned that North Korea is being used as an excuse to start the end run of a new arms race, one designed to force it to shift funding from civil to military research and development (R&D) - in the race with the U.S., China is currently winning in at least in some sectors - spending tens of billions of dollars in the development and deployment of hundreds of ICBMs to give itself a capacity to swamp the NMD and restore the status quo ante at the expense of recommencing nuclear testing.

China, therefore, sees a nuclear North Korea with intermediate- and long-range missiles as a threat to its security interests by providing an excuse for the U.S.' anti-Beijing policies. This was illustrated by China's pressure on North Korea to halt missile testing. China would like to see North Korea's export of medium- and long-range missiles negotiated away.

Thus Europe and China share a common interest. A joint Sino-European approach to North Korea might just work. It would also suit Russia, as with its intellectual or political underpinning stripped away the U.S. administration might not implement the NMD programme. It would suit Japan as it would prevent the need for its own backdoor NMD, the Theatre Missile Defence - for East Asia. It would suit South Korea as it tries to disentangle the NMD from the U.S. policy for the Korean Peninsula, that is, creating an enormous barrier towards rapprochement between the Koreas. It might even suit North Korea. While the Propaganda Department may be in the hands of the hardline fundamentalists, the Army has a much more moderate approach. In fact, it could suit everyone but the U.S. arms industry. Perhaps this is indeed the moment for a joint Sino-European demarche.

Glyn Ford is a Member of the European Parliament from the United Kingdom.

Rejuvenated strategies

The People's War group and the Andhra Pradesh police have both renewed their strategies to wear the other out.

THE spectre of violence haunting several districts of Andhra Pradesh since last year is proof of the left extremist Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist People's War (P.W.) group's determination to consolidate its stranglehold. The violence has been mostly concentrated in the north Telengana districts. Police personnel, people suspected to be police informers and district and mandal level political leaders, particularly those belonging to the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and its ally the Bharatiya Janata Party, have become the most common targets of P.W. action teams.

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The State police, which has geared up for an all-out assault on the extremist group, has managed to inflict some stunning blows. One of the biggest losses the P.W. suffered at the hands of the police was the elimination of the six-member Kanagal dalam (squad) at Devapally village in Nalgonda district on June 9. Earlier in the day, P.W. cadres had blasted a landmine, killing a sub-inspector and a constable at Bandelamuru village in Rangareddy district, about 70 km from the State capital, Hyderabad.

Before the P.W. cadres could recover from the blow, the police in Nalgonda district struck again. This time they encircled a hillock on which a naxalite team had taken shelter. The seven-hour-long gun battle on June 19 led to the killing of eight naxalites and an 18-month-old girl, stated to be the daughter of a village resident who had gone to meet the naxalites. Among the eight persons killed was a district committee secretary of the organisation, Diwakar.

Any policeman, of course, is a marked man now. Hitherto the extremists targeted only police officers and men who took an active part in anti-extremist operations. This year, P.W. action teams have shot dead as many as 12 policemen, six TDP activists, one senior leader of the BJP (in Nizamabad district), and 17 civilians (read informers). Eleven persons, six of them members of the People's Guerilla Army (PGA) whom P.W. cadres accused of joining hands with the police and trying to kill top leaders, were also killed.

Cadres of the P.W. also abducted eight persons, most of them Lambadas (people belonging to a nomadic tribe), and took into custody six of their own colleagues and 'interrogated' them. These 14 persons were paraded before a team of journalists who were invited for a press conference in the jungle. The captives confessed to presspersons that they had planned to kill top naxalite leaders but had later surrendered themselves.

Ten of the captive men were shot dead immediately after the press team left, while four others were thrashed severely. One of them later succumbed to their injuries. What dismayed the police was that six of the slain 'coverts' (as the P.W. calls them) were underground naxalites.

THE genesis for the renewed violence lay in the alleged encounter between the police and the naxalites in the Koyyur forest area of Karimnagar district on December 2, 1999. Three "central committee" members of the P.W., Nalla Adi Reddy, Y. Santosh Reddy and Seelam Naresh, were shot dead by the police in an 'encounter' that shook the P.W., until then believed to be impenetrable and invincible. The P.W. was quick to point out that the leaders were picked up in Bangalore and shot dead in Karimnagar in a stage-managed encounter.

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It was the biggest ever loss suffered for the P.W. Its thinktank therefore decided to concentrate on the deficiencies in its well-oiled underground network. To its shock, the P.W. leadership discovered that it was a "den" keeper who had helped the police in the operation. Then on, it seems, the P.W. concentrated on breaking the informer network. Outside the organisation, it focussed on civilians helping the police. The spate of killings has to be understood against this backdrop. Within the organisation, another exercise was under way - to identify infiltrators.

Coming in the wake of the panchayat elections (11 districts went to the polls on July 12 and the rest on July 15), the twin efforts of the P.W. to check infiltrators and also mount attacks on the district- and mandal-level political leaders have led to a sharp rise in violence. Caught in the web of underground politics is the mainline political party, the TDP, which has been accusing its principal rival, the two-month-old Telengana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), of accepting support from the P.W.

A circular that the P.W. leadership issued to the cadres recently gives a rare insight into the redefined strategies and tactics of the P.W. after the Koyyur setback. Most of the field tactics that are evident in the present actions of P.W. cadres can be traced to this circular. The circular, it is believed, was put up for discussion at the special congress of the P.W., conducted during March/April and was approved by the Central Committee, the P.W.'s decision-making body.

The most amazing aspect of the circular is that it identifies and analyses the strongpoints of the 'enemy' - that is, the State represented by the police - and suggests counter-strategies and tactics to be followed by the cadres 'to advance the protracted armed struggle' for achieving the new democratic revolution. The analysis of the counter-extremist operations launched by the State police is summed up in 16 points. Amazingly, the circular admits that "the enemy had mounted an all-out offensive during last two years and had succeeded in weakening us through military offensive. The enemy succeeded in making many (underground cadres) surrender." The most important observation was that "the enemy had succeeded in attracting a section of people through reforms (initiated by the government)".

The reforms include the formation of a Joint Coordination Committee (JCC) of the governments of different States facing the extremist problem and of a Joint Operational Command (JOC), the banning of naxalite organisations, effective surrender policies, the formation of special intelligence branches (SIB) to deal exclusively with extremism, increased financial assistance from the Centre to the States, the introduction of 'draconian' laws, the formation of 'civil vigilante' groups to attack naxalite sympathisers, covert operations (infiltration of naxalite groups), the adoption of villages, the formation of grama rakshaka dalams by the police, the sale of lands that had been lying fallow after P.W. cadres hoisted red flags in them, the formation of maitri sanghams in villages, counselling for parents of underground naxalite cadres and a 'retreat' scheme in the Police Department to identify the mistakes made in anti-extremist operations.

After analysing the strongpoints of the State's operations, the P.W. leadership directed its cadres to mete out 'stringent' punishment to informers. The change in tactics indicates that the P.W. action teams would concentrate on hitting 'single targets'. (In naxalite parlance, a single target could be a policeman or an officer or a politician). Observers say that attacks on policemen, politicians and informers have increased in the Telengana districts after this circular was released.

In addition to such general instructions, the P.W.'s central leadership exhorted the cadres to take up "armed resistance as a campaign" all over the State. Its firm belief that such a campaign would lead to confusion in the 'enemy camp' and pave the way for increased safety to its underground cadres is said to be the principal factor behind the recent upsurge of violence.

How do the police try to counter the naxalite problem? The authorities assert that the people are vexed with the 'mindless' violence perpetrated by the P.W. A top intelligence officer commented on the police strategy thus: "If people are vexed with the P.W., information about the movement of the squads would naturally flow. It is only a matter of time before we eliminate the P.W. menace."

'We shall fight it out'

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Interview with H.J. Dora, DGP, Andhra Pradesh.

The Andhra Pradesh police redefined its anti-extremist operations and strategies after H.J. Dora took over as Director-General of Police on November 30, 1996. His experience in naxalite-affected areas and his unshakeable views on left-wing extremism have helped Dora check the spreading influence of the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist People's War to a large extent.

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A candidate for the post of the Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Dora spends a great deal of time interacting with officers working in extremist-affected districts. The police chief does not mince words in condemning the extremist ideology, which he refers to as an outdated one. Dora, who is on the hit-list of the P.W., spoke to K. Srinivas Reddy on the situation. Excerpts.

How do you analyse the present killing spree by naxalites?

The recent killing of 11 persons including some of the P.W. cadre, indicates the organisation's ideological bankruptcy. They (P.W. leaders) firmly believe that a reign of terror and ruthless killings would prepare people for revolution. But these killings have to be Why is the P.W. leadership so sceptical about the so-called covert operations? They know they are getting hit and now the parties and cadres are in utter confusion, so much so that they suspect even their own shadows.

Does not the formation of the People's Guerrilla Army indicate the growing strength of left-wing extremists?

This is a mistake. Earlier they had a Central Guerrilla Squad. Now they have merged all the squads to form what they call an army. But look at the developments. The woman who held the P.W. flag high during a parade coinciding with the announcement of the PGA's launch, surrendered before me two or three months later.

There is no ideological commitment among PGA members. They are also vexed with the cult of violence that P.W. leaders preach. They are coming out. Otherwise how do you explain the large number of surrenders by P.W. cadre? The P.W. leadership is worried about this. To stop this outflow, it will resort to anything, including intimidation.

What do you think the PGA will do?

It cannot do anything other than resort to sneak attacks on the police and civilians. Whatever is left of the PGA will be finished. We killed some and they (the P.W.) killed some (referring to the killing of PGA members suspected of being police informers).

The PGA now aims to militarise its cadres further. They would undergo some training somewhere. And they will resort to violence. It is part of their strategy.

What will be the police strategy?

People are vexed with the violence. There is a lot of revulsion against the spree of killings. People are with us and we shall fight it out with the naxalites. I am quite confident of tackling the naxalites.

Abandoning a reform measure

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The UDF government's move against extending beyond Standard Seven the curriculum reform programme introduced during the period of the previous government puts a question mark on the future of a system that has brought about positive changes on the school education scene in Kerala.

R. KRISHNAKUMAR in Thiruvananthapuram

"Bitzer," said Thomas Gradgrind, "Your definition of a horse." "Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth." Thus (and much more) Bitzer. "Now girl number twenty," said Mr. Gradgrind. "You know what a horse is?"

- from the chapter "Murdering the Innocents" in Hard Times.

IN that nightmare of a school that Charles Dickens created out of actual 19th century circumstances in Britain, the free-spirited new student Sissy Jupe ("girl number twenty") fails miserably to define a horse, despite her being the daughter of a man who tends and trains horses. Ironically, Gradgrind's praise is all for the young Bitzer, a utilitarian prodigy, who need not ever have seen a horse but is able to answer the stuffy, dictatorial school-owner precisely the way he wants him to. In Dickens' Coketown school, the Bitzers are the academic stars; the Sissy Jupes, who understand horses better, can take care of them and know how to ride them perhaps, are judged failures.

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Simply stated - and ignore the political overtones - this is just the kind of issue that is rocking Kerala today: whether education ultimately means coaching students to memorise textbooks or developing them into life-long learners who are confident, competent and creative in their interaction with society.

Gradgrind's facts-only classroom ("That is it! You are never to fancy!") could have easily been mistaken for what went on all along in schools across Kerala, until very recently. Only a few years have passed since a new, child-centred, activity-oriented pedagogy and curriculum began to be introduced in stages from the primary school level, creating the feeling that the spirit of Gradgrind was finally being driven out of the State's schools.

Thus, within the span of a few academic years, Kerala had seemingly achieved what was until then considered a never-never task. In one sweep, government schools had discarded everything that was "old and outdated" in at least up to Standard Seven. Teaching and learning was no longer textbook-oriented. Rote learning, written exercises, reading aloud from the textbooks, writing on the blackboard, memorising mathematical tables, traditional learning of the alphabet - all these were out. Physical punishment and traditional teaching methods came to be frowned upon. Formal examinations - with their emphasis on testing memory, they shaped the very pattern of teaching, textbook writing and classroom interaction - were no longer the point of reference for classes below Standard Eight.

Instead, the emphasis fell on activity, development of the student's natural inclination to learn, offering greater freedom, making learning more fun than work, creating natural learning experiences, reducing the stress on results; in short, on teaching children to "learn how to learn" in an enjoyable sort of way (Frontline, July 30, 1999).

The potential benefits of the new pedagogy was immediately obvious in many schools. So was the enormous burden that the new curriculum placed on the shoulders of the tradition-bound Education Department and teachers, because of the significant shift away from the customary textbook-oriented teaching and learning to a more activity-oriented, intrinsically motivated learning process.

Because the long-felt need for a qualitative improvement in school education was addressed through such a sudden and dramatic reform, the conditions for its proper implementation were not immediately available in many schools. The engaging new curriculum demanded certain minimum requirements, adequate infrastructure facilities and responsible and motivated teachers. These were made available to a large extent in six of the 14 districts in Kerala where the World Bank-aided District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) was being implemented. But in schools elsewhere in the State, the absence of these preconditions was acutely felt, despite the changes suggested in pedagogy and the curriculum.

Moreover, the government schools in which the new curriculum was sought to be implemented accounted for only about 36 per cent of the total number of schools in Kerala. The rest were private schools, where the children of the rich and the majority of middle-class people studied in the traditional way, with textbooks being the focus of schooling. The general feeling that the "experiments" were only taking place in the government schools, where mostly the wards of the poor studied, was unavoidable.

Such factors only helped widen the great divide. Although there was agreement on the need to bring about quality improvement in school education in Kerala, from the beginning there were sharp differences of opinion on whether the current curriculum revision was indeed the best way to do it. Just as there were people who hailed the new curriculum, there were those who honestly believed that the traditional methods of teaching and learning had their intrinsic merits and should not have been abandoned altogether.

Those who opposed the shift said that the new curriculum with its emphasis on joyful learning and little stress on measurable achievements would eventually produce only a "bunch of clerks and peons". They were critical of the reduced emphasis on memory, math and spelling drills, precision in the use of written and spoken language, legible writing, of the over-emphasis on the informal rather than the formal and of the new evaluation methods which replaced the traditional system of written examinations. Some opposed it for a totally different reason: they saw the new curriculum as one induced by the World Bank "to scuttle Kerala's achievements in education".

But the feedback from a variety of sources, including in-house and external review committees, and especially from the DPEP districts about the new curriculum as was being followed in classes up to the Fourth Standard was positive and highly encouraging. Wherever the necessary facilities were made available and the teachers seemed committed, the new curriculum was generating a positive response and was proving to be highly beneficial to the students. This was the reassurance that the reformers needed.

By the 2000-01 school year, the first generation of the new curriculum students had already reached Standard Seven and the curriculum committee decided to extend the new scheme to the secondary schools, even though studies were yet to be undertaken on its implementation in Standards Five to Seven. What they did not plan for was a change of government in Kerala and political intervention in a purely academic activity of curriculum planning and the revision that was to follow.

ONE of the first announcements made by the leaders of the Congress(I)-led United Democratic Front (UDF), immediately after it won the Assembly elections in May was that the new curriculum would eventually be confined to the primary classes. What followed was a series of statements from the newly inducted Education Minister, Nalakathu Soopy (of the Muslim League, a major UDF partner), which smacked of political one-upmanship and lack of understanding about the reforms, just as a new school year was beginning.

The Minister said that pending a government review of the revised curriculum ("which is all play and no work", "unsuitable for serious study and the future of students"), the government has decided not to extend it to the secondary stage. The Eighth Standard students, the Minister said, would have to revert to the old curriculum and old textbooks and old methods of learning, until a review was conducted, despite the fact that in their entire seven years of study in school, they were only accustomed to the new way of learning and the new activity-oriented textbooks.

The confusion that this announcement created at the beginning of a school year was enormous. An impression gained ground - and this was evident in all the schools that this correspondent visited - that it was only a question of time before the new government did away with the entire curriculum reform in schools and reverted to the old methods and textbooks. In the context of a large section of teachers opposing the new curriculum because of the additional workload that it placed on them, one headmaster told Frontline: "What the new government and the ill-advised Minister did was to topple a carefully prepared and forward-looking curriculum through irresponsible statements. This gave a large number of teachers, who were cursing the increased workload, a good opportunity to revert to teaching the traditional way, and to ignore the demands of the new system."

Kerala's school education was adrift, from that point. If the new child-centred, activity-oriented pedagogy and curriculum is good up to Standard Four, why is it not good enough in the higher classes? Was the curriculum mechanically extended to the higher classes (especially in the present case to the Eighth Standard) without sufficient thought to the stage of development of the upper primary and secondary students and their requirements? Was the new curriculum and textbooks perfect in all respects and beyond any criticism? If not, is going back to the old system the best way for quality improvement, which was the purpose of the whole revision exercise so far?

R.V.G. Menon, president of the People's Science Movement of the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad and a prominent member of the curriculum committee appointed by the State government, said that never before in the history of Kerala had so many university, college and school teachers, academic experts and psychologists - irrespective of their political affiliations - been involved in the planning and preparation of a curriculum and textbooks. Earlier, a three-member committee had conducted wide-ranging discussions and prepared a perspective document on how school education from the pre-primary to the higher secondary stage (from Minus Two to Plus Two) in Kerala should be. It was circulated for comments from the public. It was based on this perspective document that the comprehensive curriculum and textbooks were prepared. At every stage, a government-appointed curriculum committee had overseen the preparation of the curriculum and the textbooks, held extensive discussions and provided necessary suggestions. The textbooks thus prepared were then circulated for scrutiny by expert committees.

"A wrong impression has been created that the new curriculum is all play and fun, even in the higher classes. This is not true. It is a more ordered and formal approach, a more centralised and activity-based pedagogy in the higher classes, depending on the age and learning stage of the students," C.P. Narayanan, a mathematician and another member of the curriculum committee, said.

According to C. Ramakrishnan, another teacher and a member of the curriculum and textbook revision committee, once it was decided that school education from the Minus Two to the Plus Two stage should be considered in its entirety, the next step was to spell out what it should provide a student at the Plus Two stage. This, it was decided, ought to be based on a vision of the needs of contemporary Kerala society. "We debated and arrived at a list of competencies, attitudes and temperament that a student should achieve by the time he (or she) passed out of Standard 12," he said. "The next process," he said, "was to arrive at a consensus on what the student should learn at each stage of his physical and psychological development so as to attain the targeted level of learning by the time he is in Standard Twelve."

Explaining the laborious process that was involved in the preparation of the textbooks, he said curriculum statements, learning experiences both within and outside the class, the time required to achieve each of them, and how evaluation should take place at each stage have been diligently listed out. Guidelines on how the student should learn, who should be the teacher, what kind of extended classroom should students be exposed to, how the student, teacher and the school itself should be evaluated, what support facilities should be made available and what should be the nature and content of training for teachers, have also been spelt out.

Narayanan, who has been involved in the education sector in the State since the 1960s, said that at no earlier stage had there been such a diligent and comprehensive effort in Kerala to develop a school curriculum. Until now there were only vague general statements on the aims of school education. That was as close as the State got to a perspective on the aims of school education. Textbooks were prepared without much thought or effort. Authors had the frequent experience of being asked to provide chapters for a textbook in a jiffy, on the eve of a school year. M.N. Sukumaran Nair, another committee member, said that in his 22 years of authoring textbooks at no time had he received any direction on what the textbooks should aim at, or what the expected competencies that the students should achieve from the lessons were.

Moreover, he said, the old textbooks were but a collection of essays on particular topics, "for the teacher to teach and the student to memorise". In contrast, the new textbooks are a collection of material for activity-based inquiry, which the students, teachers and parents could use. The definite requirement was that the students should attain the stated competencies and knowledge at each stage. It need not be from the textbooks alone.

"This is the change that has happened in the Kerala education sector. It may not be perfect and would need corrections, but ask any parent and I am sure they would have noticed the change in the attainments of their children," Sukumaran Nair said.

Significantly, while earlier the entire process of schooling was textbook-oriented, under the new system it became activity-oriented. It required the creation of all the learning experiences within the classroom itself or from the surroundings. Textbooks were deliberately open-ended, asking, for example what happens when water is added to quicklime or to observe whether a man inside a speeding bus is actually moving. There were no readymade answers. The students had to do it with the help of the teachers to draw their own inferences.

The new curriculum drastically reduced the role of the textbook, the tuition master and the parent. The crucial role became that of the teacher. Textbooks did not provide answers that had to be memorised. The new curriculum required the teacher to work more in order that the students reached the right conclusions. The burden on the teachers increased manifold and a large majority of school teachers in Kerala seemed unwilling to accept it. But as many parents told this correspondent, the achievements of their children had "definitely improved" and "there was real attainment of knowledge in the classrooms".

"In my 15 years as a teacher nobody has told me till now what should be the aim of my teaching a particular lesson. But the new curriculum defines this clearly. This is a departure. Is it wrong? If so, we must correct it. Or critics can point out if the targeted competencies are not adequate. Or that they are way above the level of learning meant for a particular class. But the only criticisms that have been raised are generalisations, often far removed from reality. The fact is that nobody had seen the textbooks for Standard Eight when the UDF announced that they were sub-standard and had to be abolished. The big question is why," Ramakrishnan asks.

According to People's Science Movement president R.V.G. Menon, the old system created only doctors and engineers and "those who were jealous and angry that they did not become doctors or engineers". The new curriculum offers so much scope for improving the latent talents of the students, which would have otherwise remained dormant. But a number of parents were initially confused. Since the entire learning experience had to be in the classrooms, a parent did not understand what was going on, or what he had to do to help his child. Many viewed with suspicion the obvious enthusiasm that their children showed to go to school and thought they were up to something in school. It was as if they were trained by the old school to believe, 'if it is good, it must be carcinogenic'," the People's Science Movement chief said.

To brief parents properly the new scheme had planned for books for them too, but they were never distributed, according to the committee members. Although the responsibility for restructuring the curriculum was that of the State Council for Educational Research and Training (SCERT), the administrative control over the schools and the teachers continued to be with the State Department of Education. According to Narayanan, many officials perhaps did not like the reduced importance that the new system envisaged for them.

Training teachers was a very important component of the curriculum revision programme. Most of them were tradition-bound and training did not receive the importance that it deserved.

Textbooks were open-ended, and so if teachers were to play their role they had to be sufficiently prepared to help students arrive at the right answer. That was not happening in many cases. Teacher motivation left much to be desired. Parents and teachers were not taken into confidence before implementing the programme. Instead, either rightly or wrongly, the impression spread that the teachers were at fault, that most of them were lazy and irresponsible. "To those who were working day in and day out for the revision of the curriculum and the textbooks it was like the enemies jockey-riding their race horse," R.V.G. Menon said.

The loudest criticism was against the evaluation system envisaged under the new curriculum. For many, including Education Department officials, the reduced importance on written examinations (the conduct of which was their responsibility) was the biggest sin. Director of Public Instruction V.P. Joy observed: "The new system may have many positive aspects. But how do you ensure that a student has achieved the targeted competencies at the end of the year? Why should they be against written examinations? Instead the importance seems to be on 'continuous and comprehensive evaluation' by the teacher himself. You should certify knowledge, not ignorance." "Unless you test what the student has achieved," Joy asked, "how do you conclude he has obtained the required knowledge?"

"The question that we faced was what kind of an examination should Standard 12 students face. We were clear that it should not be a mere memory test, that it should also examine the analytical and deductive abilities of the students. The consensus was that evaluation should be a combination of both," Narayanan said.

R.V.G. Menon admits that there was some confusion on the question of evaluation. Along with continuous and comprehensive evaluation, which has become an accepted practice worldwide, the idea of a terminal examination as a kind of standard testing has been accepted in many countries. But there is lack of clarity on how this element is to be introduced in the new system in Kerala. "Evaluation techniques have not received enough importance in teacher training. It is a defect that has to be corrected. But on the relative importance of the two systems of evaluation, there is a real difference of opinion as to where one has to draw a line," he said.

It was nobody's case that the new curriculum and pedagogy as it evolved in its first few years was perfect in every respect. There was agreement on the need for correction. But, says Ramakrishnan, "Education is not politics. The changes and corrections should evolve through an academic process. Then there is scope for me as a teacher, a parent and a citizen to express my opinion. But what the new government did was to decide unilaterally and autocratically to revert to the old curriculum and textbooks in Standard Eight and perhaps to suggest the direction its expert committee should take regarding its conclusions."

Changes in curriculum should not be something synonymous with a change of government. The changes were part of a vision of comprehensive education from Minus Two to the Plus Two stage. By deciding to stick to the old textbooks from Standard Eight this year, what the government has done is to compartmentalise school education. Secondary education falls once again into the old rut of memory-based learning. And the threat is looming large on the upper primary classes as well.

According to Ramakrishnan, anyone who has cared to watch the change in the new classrooms in Kerala will no doubt have noticed that the new curriculum has made the children more confident and creative. "Whether they are getting the necessary competencies is something that has to be proved over the years. For this, teacher training is an important component. Wherever it has taken place properly, there is no doubt that the students are attaining the necessary competencies," he said.

Those on both sides of the argument in Kerala accept that quality education, however defined, should have the following minimum requirements: adequate facilities; well-trained, motivated and responsible teachers; active classrooms and an engaging curriculum. Over the decades, the old system of education had been found wanting in all four respects. Moreover, it had been failing over 70 per cent of the students enrolling in Standard One by the time they reached Standard Ten.

The fate of school education in Kerala is now to be decided by a new committee in three months, the Minister has announced. Until then, as Abdul Waheed, the principal of a government higher secondary school in Thiruvananthapuram, says, "schools will cope as best as they can, because whichever be the system, it is the teachers that will make the difference."

Despite catering to students from a relatively poor background, teachers in Waheed's school seemed surprisingly enthusiastic about the new curriculum. "We ensure that the demands of the new curriculum are met, as best as the facilities allow us. Where it lags behind, we teach the students the good old way. We believe they should get the best of both systems, and should not be made to suffer for the imperfections of any one of them," was Waheed's significant comment.

Ferment in Orissa

Even as the movement seeking statehood for western Orissa gains momentum, the State government renews its demand for special category status for Orissa.

THE demand for a separate Kosala Raj state, which remained low key for over 15 years, has gained momentum with the formation of the Kosala Party (K.P.) and the Kosala Ekta Manch (KEM). The key figure in this movement in western Orissa is the Bharatiya Janata Party legislator from Bolangir, Balagopal Mishra. The BJP's central and State leaderships, however, do not support the demand. But Mishra, has the indirect support of legislators from western Orissa belonging to all parties.

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Despite opposition from the ruling Biju Janata Dal-BJP combine, Mishra in a hard-hitting speech in the State Assembly in March, blamed the government for turning a blind eye to the growing demand for a new State, which would cover 11 of the 30 districts of Orissa. They are: Bolangir, Sambalpur, Jharsuguda, Deogarh, Bargarh, Sonepur, Boudh, Koraput, Sundergarh, Noapara and Kalahandi. Most of these districts share a border with Madhya Pradesh. The mineral- and forest-rich western Orissa has 30 per cent of the State's population.

Regional organisations, such as the Western Orissa Janajagaran Parishad (WOJM), the Orissa Sanskriti Samaj (OSS) and the Western Orissa Liberation Front (WOLF), have joined the K.P. and the KEM to intensify the movement. Under these organisations, the movement has gradually assumed militant overtones. In the past two years, the people of western Orissa have responded to the call for the boycott of Utkal Divas, observed on April 1. In May, a conference was held at Sambalpur where a deadline of October 15, 2005 was set for the formation of the new State.

Premlal Dubey, K.P. chairman, told Frontline that Kosal Raj, which finds mention in the Ramayana, was actually what is now western Orissa. He feels that the government's main concern is with the coastal region while the western region has been largely neglected. People of this backward region are victims of acute poverty and deprivation. Sale of children, a high rate of infant mortality, and deaths due to malnutrition are major features of life in western Orissa.

In 1998, the Orissa government formed the Western Orissa Development Council (WODC) which was not readily accepted by political leaders belonging to the coastal districts. As the WODC does not enjoy full financial autonomy, it cannot undertake development projects. The Council was reconstituted early this year, but it needs government sanction for every project it plans to undertake.

MEANWHILE, the renewed demand for special category status to Orissa has virtually set the cat among the pigeons as far as the ruling combine is concerned. Both the BJD and the BJP accuse each other of providing the Opposition a handle. The BJD has already issued a veiled threat to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee that the party would not hesitate to withdraw from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) if the demand for special category status is not met. Reports of the Planning Commission having turned down the demand have put the BJD in a quandary. The State BJP, although not averse to the demand, has never voiced it.

Adding to the government's miseries, the Congress(I) and the Orissa Gana Parishad (OGP) have demanded that the BJD recall its Ministers from the Central government, if it does not have the courage to withdraw support to the NDA government, if Orissa is not granted special status. Bijoy Mahapatra, a former Minister who broke away from the BJD and formed the OGP in November last year, emphasised the need for the special category status. He said Chief Minister Navin Patnaik should call a meeting of the State Cabinet, adopt a resolution and send all Cabinet members to New Delhi to press for the demand.

Provoked by the developments, State Finance Minister Ramakrushna Patnaik hinted that the BJD might withdraw support to the NDA government if the need arose. He told Frontline that special status for Orissa was not a demand of the BJD alone but of the entire people of the State. He said Navin Patnaik had written to the Prime Minister in June in this regard. In his reply, the Prime Minister assured the Chief Minister that he would consider the demand sympathetically. Ramakrushna Patnaik said: "The Prime Minister is yet to announce the decision of his government. If the Centre refuses to concede our demand we will adopt any measure we deem fit. We will not compromise the State's interests. The BJD will not cling on to power at the cost of the people's interest. We are willing to seek a referendum on the demand, if challenged."

The Finance Minister said the Centre had so far ignored the demand on the plea that Orissa was not eligible for the status as it was not a border State. According to him, Orissa meets all the criteria, including a high tribal population, a high percentage of people living below the poverty line (47.15 per cent, according to the 55th survey of the Planning Commission) and a severe fiscal crunch, necessary for the grant of such status. "Orissa is more backward than several States that have been accorded the special category status. Uttaranchal, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura enjoy special status," Ramakrushna Patnaik said. When his attention was drawn to BJP State unit president Manmohan Samal's recent statement that Orissa did not meet all the criteria, the Minister said it was his personal opinion. "Some leaders at times make statements without knowing facts."

The BJD has also warned some Union Ministers against "encroaching upon" the State's demand. The warning came after a recent statement by Union Rural Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu in Bhubaneswar that Orissa could not be given special status as it was not a border State and did not meet some other criteria. He was also quoted in local newspapers as saying: "If you want special category status, take it. But no money." BJD leaders described the statement as most unfortunate.

The BJP-BJD tussle over special category status has provided the OGP an opportunity to be in the limelight. The OGP has been organising State-wide agitations for the realisation of the demand. Mahapatra's immediate objective appears to occupy the space of an effective political Opposition. The Congress(I), faced with growing infighting, has not been able to throw an effective challenge to the government.

IF there is one answer to the question why Navin Patnaik has got away with poor performance as Chief Minister, it is that his party has met with very little Opposition.

Despite Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi's experiment with frequent changes of leadership in Orissa, the State Congress(I) has failed to attain the position of a party that has ruled the State for decades. According to State Congress(I) sources, Sonia Gandhi will soon remove Janaki Ballabh Patnaik from the post of Pradesh Congress(I) president despite the fact that there is no effective replacement in sight. Patnaik, who has served as Chief Minister of Orissa for the longest period, was replaced by Giridhar Gamang on the eve of the Assembly elections in February 1999. Gamang's tenure as Chief Minister was brief and he was replaced by Hemananda Biswal. Sonia Gandhi rehabilitated J.B. Patnaik as State Congress(I) president in December 1999. The party was divided then as now and Patnaik remained in the post despite the party's miserable poll performance.

Slavery amidst prosperity

The rescue of a farm worker from bondage in Haryana highlights the significant presence of exploitation in the States that benefited substantially from the Green Revolution.

WHEN the provisional results of Census 2001 were released a couple of months ago, demographers, sociologists and other concerned sections of society were shocked to find that the child sex ratio (for children aged up to six years) had plummeted sharply in the States that had benefited from the Green Revolution. It was apparent that the BIMARU States (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh), known for their backwardness, no longer held the monopoly for such gender-related discrepancies; the prosperous States too witnessed acute gender-based discrimination.

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In the case of the relatively prosperous States of Punjab and Haryana, there has been yet another shocking revelation - that bonded labour is prevalent in the districts close to their border. Incidentally, in these two States the per capita income is much higher than in the rest of the country.

The recent rescue of 37-year-old Bacchan Singh, a Dalit farm worker, by activists of the All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) is a stark reminder of the atrocities perpetrated on Dalits in Punjab and Haryana. Even more shocking was the attitude of the administration of Fatehabad district in Haryana, which not only refused first to believe the AIAWU members but delayed the rescue process. Cases were filed only after the release of the hapless Dalit. Bacchan Singh, who worked on the fields of Sukhdev Singh and his brothers, does not even realise that he was kept as a bonded labourer by Sukhdev Singh.

Bacchan and his wife Rani Kaur have worked on Sukhdev Singh's farm in Lamba village of Ratia tehsil for nearly 20 years. Fatehabad district has large landholdings and is close to Punjab. Bacchan's father Jaib Singh also worked in the same farm earlier. Sukhdev Singh had brought him from Amritsar. Jaib Singh had apparently borrowed some money from Sukhdev Singh and his brothers. After Jaib Singh's death, Bacchan, who had been working there since childhood, continued to be in the employ of Sukhdev Singh. He worked regularly, but was not paid wages on a regular basis; "some money" would be given when he wanted to buy rations or medicines, it was stated. Ploughing the field,often with a tractor, and doing all kinds of odd jobs for the landlord were part of Bacchan's routine. Sukhdev Singh, his brother and their two sons owned 150 acres (60 hectares) of land, three tractors and four tubewells.

Bacchan's day started before daybreak and ended after sunset. He found no time for his three children, aged between two and a half years and eight years. Rani did household work for the landowners and also gathered cowdung. Her work-day lasted 10 to 15 hours - for Rs.100 a month. The couple were not allowed to leave the farm without the permission of the landlords. The masters allegedly beat them regularly "to keep them in place".

The treatment meted out to Bacchan Singh and his family became particularly cruel recently. Bacchan Singh kept away from work on June 30 to attend the wedding of his niece. On July 3, when he returned to the farm, Sukhdev Singh, his brother and their two sons allegedly brutally beat him up. It has been stated that he was hit on the head and legs and then chained, even made to work with his left hand chained to the left leg. At night his hands were also tied. He was allegedly kept in this condition until he was rescued on July 9.

During the six days of his incarceration, Rani Kaur was not allowed to meet him. Her parents, who live in Tohana village of the same district, contacted the AIAWU and sought its intervention. Bhagwan Dass, the tehsil secretary of the AIAWU, went to Lamba with Rani Kaur's father. Sukhdev Singh and his family refused to release Bacchan Singh. They said that Bacchan Singh owed them Rs.30,000 and until he repaid the amount he would remain chained.

It was at this point that Dass and Buta Singh of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), which works in cooperation with the AIAWU, approached the district administration. They thought that going to the police would be of little help as, they felt, the law-enforcers would be on the landlords' side. They allege that the attitude of even the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM), S.K. Setia, whom they approached, was not helpful initially. He could not believe that there could be any case of bonded labour in the teshil. However, he instructed the Tehsildar to visit Lamba. The DYFI activists took the Tehsildar and also a photographer to the village. They managed to locate Bacchan Singh, who was being shifted by the landlord from place to place. Sukhdev Singh's son would not allow him to leave the farm for any reason. But when the Tehsildar arrived, he could do nothing. Bacchan Singh was produced before the SDM, in whose presence the chains were removed. The SDM saw for himself that such slavery was still existent in the country.

Even after all this, it was no easy task for the AIAWU to get a case registered under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. It took eight hours for the police to register a First Information Report (FIR).

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A case under Sections 17 and 18 of the Bonded Labour Act were registered, but another case, under Section 3 of the S.C. and S.T. (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, was registered only after several days. Under Section 17 of the Bonded Labour Act, advancement of bonded debt entails imprisonment for a term that can be extended up to three years and also a fine that may go up to Rs.2,000. Bacchan Singh, who was bleeding from the ears and nose owing to beatings and had several injuries on his body, was first treated at the Civil Hospital at Fatehabad. "Bahut jada koota mujhe (They beat me up badly)," said Bacchan Singh in a feeble voice. As he was beaten on his soles with hockey sticks, he is unable to use footwear; he walks with a pronounced limp. His hearing has been impaired and he has difficulty in speaking. Sukhdev Singh and three others were charged also under various sections of the Indian Penal Code which relate to illegal confinement and assault.

Section 18 of the Bonded Labour Act provides for punishment for extracting work under the bonded labour system. It states: "Whoever enforces, after the commencement of this Act, any custom, tradition, contract, agreement or other instrument, by virtue of which any person or any member of the family of such person or any dependent of such person is required to render any service under the bonded labour system, shall be punishable. Anybody, enforcing, after the commencement of the bonded labour system, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and also with fine which may extend to Rs.2,000 and out of that fine, if recovered, payment shall be made to the bonded labourer at the rate of Rs.5 per day for which the bonded labour was extracted from him."

Section 3 of the S.C. and S.T. (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is a substantive penal clause and its sub-sections detail various offences of atrocity and provide for different punishment. Section 3(vi) of the Act lays down that whoever, not being a member of an S.C. or an S.T., "compels or entices a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe to do 'begar' or other similar forms of forced or bonded labour other than compulsory service for public purposes imposed by the government" shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term that shall not be less than six months but which may extend to five years, and with fine. The law is clear as far as bonded labour is concerned. Here the S.C. and S.T. Act can be invoked as the perpetrators are members of the upper-caste Jat Sikh community and the victim belongs to a Scheduled Caste.

In addition, Rule 6 of the S.C. and S.T. Act lays down that whenever the District Magistrate (D.M.) or the SDM or any other Executive Magistrate or any police officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police receives information from any person or upon his own knowledge that an atrocity has been committed on any member of the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes within his jurisdiction, he shall immediately visit the place of occurrence to assess the extent of atrocity, loss of life and damage to property and report to the State government. The D.M. or the SDM or any of the above-mentioned officials are also required to initiate steps to provide protection to the witnesses and other sympathisers of the victim and provide immediate relief to the victims, among other things. The SDM of Ratia tehsil is alleged to have failed in this respect. No security has been provided to the AIAWU members or to Bacchan Singh and his family, although the local landlord community had issued several threats to them. The threats came after their efforts to arrive at an out-of-court settlement failed.

Ramkumar Behbalpuria, State president of the AIAWU, said that the bonded labour system was prevalent in that area and the adjoining districts. Some 200 cases have been identified and the affected people rescued by the AIAWU since 1994, when it came into being. Behbalpuria said that the majority of agricultural workers in the district were in debt and it was difficult to find a village where a landless resident was free from debts. Debts in some cases even go up to Rs.1 lakh. Other villages that faced the practice of bonded labour included Kamana, Bada, Hamzapur, Lamba, Airwa, Ratangarh, Chimon, Burj, Ratahera and Barpur. Often, when there was some media or public attention, landlords "sold" their bonded labourers to others and then "bought" them back when the heat was off, Bebhalpuria said. In one instance 13 persons, including four women, were rescued from a landlord. They had been made to work for long hours in the farms; they were fastened with long chains so that they could move around and work but not escape.

Sushil Indora, who represents the Sirsa (reserved) Lok Sabha constituency in the Lok Sabha, under which Fatehabad comes, did not react to the Bacchan incident. He belongs to the ruling Indian National Lok Dal (INLD). The legislators representing Fatehabad, Tohana and Ratia constituencies also belong to the INLD. The landlords in these areas owe their allegiance to these leaders. Jarnail Singh, who represents Ratia in the State Assembly, reportedly tried for an out-of-court settlement. So far only one of the four accused has been arrested.

Social activist and founder of the Bandhua Mukti Morcha, Swami Agnivesh, who met Bacchan Singh, said that action should be taken against the SDM "for dereliction of duty". He said that Bacchan Singh should have been first taken to the court, instead of the police station where he was harassed further. Under the provisions of the relevant Acts and the rehabilitation measures announced by the Central government, the victim should have been given Rs.1,000 first as immediate relief, followed by Rs.19,000. Some form of employment or shelter should also have been provided to him so that the rescued labourer did not lapse into bondage once again, he said.

Agnivesh told Frontline that it was doubtful whether the statutory vigilance committees at the district and sub-division levels existed at all, given the fact that the system of bonded labour was rampant in Fatehabad and adjoining districts. The Bonded Labour Act lays down the norms for the constitution of these committees, which should comprise social workers as well as government representatives and nominees of the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes. Apart from their advisory role, these committees are meant to provide for the economic and social rehabilitation of the freed labourers. The National Human Rights Commission, he said, had asked the authorities in all districts to constitute vigilance committees.

The bonded labour system and bonded-labour-like conditions exist in parts of Fatehabad, Sirsa, Kaithal, West Jind, Karnal, Panipat and Rohtak. While the first four districts are characterised by the presence of big landlords and landholdings, the latter three have relatively smaller landholdings. The exploitation of workers is more in the former, where it is rare to find any worker getting the minimum agricultural wage of Rs.72.12 a day. Women workers are exploited in more than one way. Rural indebtedness is therefore very high in these parts.

Evidently, in a State where social reforms did not really take off and where the benefits of the Green Revolution have been lopsided, exploitation manifests itself in its ugliest form amidst extreme poverty and caste rigidities.

CAMERA INDICA

other

Photography as history and memory in the 19th century.

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OVER the last decade, the history of 19th century photography in India has become a field of widening interest as well as charged debate. As historians begin to explore a variety of sources, photography has become a focus for culture studies, post-colonial analysis and lit-crit theorists who mine it for both archival and visual language possibilities. The photography produced in India in the 19th century, apart from constituting a large body of work, is also of exceptionally fine quality. Produced by both British and Indian photographers, professional as well as amateur ones, this body of work is now in the process of revival and reinterpretation.

In 1995, the British Council organised a large exhibition of photographs that toured across India, generating heated debate on a number of issues. Titled "A Shifting Focus", that exhibition was primarily drawn from one of the greatest collections of this work - the Oriental and India Office Collections, now incorporated into the British Library in London. It was seen firstly to be a highly sanitised version of the colonial experience presented from a British perspective. There was almost no mention of the 1857 uprising, very little of the Raj - no pictures which showed the nature of the relationship of ruler and ruled and other sensitive issues. It was also criticised for being an exhibition of facsimile prints. It turned out that no original prints were brought to India as the entire India Office Collection is under dispute and is claimed by India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as former India Government property, which was not repatriated after Independence. The British were apparently afraid that the originals would be seized by the Indian Government in the pursuit of this claim!

In what was a subtle nationalist response, Ebrahim Alkazi, now one of the biggest private collectors of work from that period, showed a large exhibition of original prints in Bombay and Delhi following the British Council show. Particularly interesting were original prints of the 1857 uprising from Delhi, Kanpur and Lucknow by Felice Beato which had not been seen in India before. Alkazi's accompanying textual comments were written from an Indian perspective, and the photographs were contextualised in a post-colonial nationalist historiography. If these recent events stimulated a debate on the social function of photography and its utility as an instrument of historical documentation, the two books under review further the debate and succeed in clarifying many of the underlying issues.

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A panorama of Delhi, taken from the northern minaret of the Jama Masjid. It captures on film many buildings which were destroyed between 1858 and 1860 as part of the military reorganisation of Delhi when all buildings within 500 metres of the Red Fort were demolished.

An element of overlap is provided between these two books by the work of Felice Beato, an Italian born British photographer who remains an enigma almost a century and a half after his work in India was accomplished, because there is little information about him available. Beato arrived in India in 1858, in the immediate aftermath of the 1857 uprising. He brought with him the experience gained in photographing the Crimean War. While known as a pioneer of war photography, Beato's work has a much wider sweep. He was a professional commercial photographer and made a living by selling photographs to individuals - a practice that would today be described as freelancing. He was not attached to the East India Company and was not a representative of the Queen or her government.

Beato's photographs of Delhi, Kanpur and Lucknow have become a part of the mythology of 1857 - as document, nostalgia and archive. Both these books examine Beato's work in the light of current trends. Jim Masselos and Narayani Gupta have published an entire album on his Delhi photographs which is in a private collection in Australia. Masselos is a historian who has studied and worked in India and has written on Indian nationalism.

Narayani Gupta is well-known for her work on the urban history of Delhi and teaches at Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi. Understandably, their book presents a look at Beato through essentially Indian eyes. Both their texts are filled with references to contemporary accounts of Delhi by Ghalib and Sayyid Ahmad Khan (who wrote one of the earliest accounts of the city's architecture). Masselos visited the sites of many of the Beato pictures and photographed them while he was attached to the Indian Council of Historical Research in Delhi in 1997. His contemporary pictures are reproduced along with Beato's, and the juxtapositions are part of the structure of this book.

Narayani Gupta writes an account of the way Delhi has been seen through the ages till the present - how each generation constructed a Delhi of the imagination, which became part of the cultural fabric of the city. Gupta also provides a text with each photograph which similarly places it in historical memory as well as in a contemporary urban historical context. This book is an essential addition to any library as a primary document of the events of 1857 as well as a crucial moment in photographic history.

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The Kashmiri Gate, the double gate built by militarty engineer Robert Smith in 1835. The storming of the Gate turned the tide in favour of the British forces. (Right) The house within the King's Palace in which King Bahadur Shah was confined by the British forces.

Considering the scholarly neglect it has faced, it is difficult now to appreciate how deep an imprint the 1857 uprising - the biggest single armed uprising against colonialism in the entire 19th century - left on the Imperial imagination. Indeed, the echoes of this uprising resonated through Imperial capitals right till the dissolution of empire beginning with the middle of the 20th century. The Australian Beato Albums (there are two volumes with 28 pictures each), assembled by some individual in Delhi, represent an important commemoration of this event.

Unfortunately, the reproductions, while attempting to give a sense of the originals with their sepia toning, suffer in terms of both size and detail. One of the highlights of early photography was the reproduction of prints by direct contact from very large negatives - both paper and glass. The resulting sharpness and richness of tone and detail in an original print are stunning for a modern viewer used to seeing enlargements and reproduction by offset print processes.

THIS does not, however, detract from the importance of this book. Firstly, the pictures themselves. Beato is one of the earliest photographers to record Delhi after the devastation of 1857. His pictures show a city emptied of its population and bearing the scars of the ferocious battles that preceded his arrival. In his text, Masselos discusses the entire question of the photograph being used as an instrument of Empire in the context of current theory that there is no such thing as an objective photograph which presents an external reality as a document devoid of opinion, comment and perception. He is right in placing Beato's work in the context of his practice as a commercial photographer. The pictures he made of the sites of conflict and of incidents associated with the uprising were made for a ready market. Therefore, by their choice of subject matter and site, they helped in the creation of an Imperial mythology about 1857, even as the last embers of the rebellion flickered across the plains of north India. There are images of the positions of the gun batteries on the Delhi Ridge, Metcalfe house, the Qudsia Bagh, Kashmiri Gate and Mori Gate bastions which were the sites of ferocious fighting. Also represented is the house within the fort where Bahadur Shah Zafar was held before his trial and banishment to Rangoon.

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Looking at the pictures themselves, it is hard to read the intent of the photographer. While the images, for us, speak on many levels, they are also exceptionally good photographs. The same sites, which for the British may have symbolised great courage, for instance, the Kashmiri Gate, can be seen by a contemporary Delhi-wallah in a totally different light. It becomes the site of a tragic lost opportunity, where the British forces could have been repelled had there been better organised resistance. For anyone interested in architectural or urban history, the pictures also provide the most detailed record of the city before the huge changes wrought by the British as they seized control and subjugated a populace that they claimed had forfeited their trust. This is vividly shown in the stunning panorama made by Beato from atop one of the minarets of the Jama Masjid. In its original form in the album, this is 6 feet long.

Unfortunately, in the book, it is reproduced over many pages, and in relatively small format. It still shows the urban form of Shahjahan's city, and especially the area between the Jama Masjid and the Lal Qila (Red Fort), densely populated, which was completely levelled by the occupiers to create an open ground around the fort that could easily be defended with armour and artillery.

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Many of these pictures show us the city after it has already died - it is a skeleton, empty of life, about to be amputated further. They show how decrepit and run-down the fort - much of which was levelled shortly after these pictures were taken - had become from the inside. Contemporary authors have written of the penury of the last emperor and particularly the huge extended population of Mughal descent who lived within the fort and the palace. The photographs of the palace from the Jamuna, with the river still flowing next to the walls, show the domes blasted off the beautiful marble pavilions, temporary brick additions and tattered chicks (bamboo curtains) covering the marble jalis (lattices). The pictures of the British positions on the ridge show how little greenery there was - scrub, a few trees and thorny bushes. This is in sharp contrast to the present. Much of the greenery of Delhi is relatively new, having emerged during the construction of New Delhi in the last century.

Other pictures within this album do not relate to 'mutiny' sites at all - but are essentially tourist pictures - of the Qutb Minar complex, of Jantar Mantar and the Safdarjung tomb. In these one sees the pleasure of the photographer in making fine pictures of remarkable architecture and picturesque ruins. It is difficult to impose a reading of a colonial mindset or agenda in these photographs, and Masselos rightly questions some recent, fairly simplistic, categorisations of all British photography in India as colonial, all done from the viewpoint of ownership of the land and the sites and with few natives present. We must also remember the British interest in architecture and their romance with the picturesque ruin - they were doing very similar photographs of their own buildings and sites in Britain at exactly the same time. Masselos also reminds us that the pictures were bought from the photographer as individual prints and assembled in albums by the purchasers. These albums reveal as much about the collector as the individual pictures do about the photographer. They have also been used widely in the years since they were produced to buttress the interpretations of different writers. Here, as a complete album, they are probably truer to the spirit of Felice Beato himself. The Masselos and Gupta book is about a multilayered approach to visual history and benefits greatly from such a viewpoint.

INDIA Through The Lens is a book accompanying an exhibition at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington curated by the art historian Vidya Dehejia. In effect, this is a survey of work from the 1850s till the Imperial Durbar of 1911, the high point of the British Raj.

It is structured by sections which cover different genres - the panorama, architecture and anthropology, the landscape, the rajahs. As in the Beato book, Vidya Dehejia discusses the question of the objectivity of photography as it was practised in India. Dehejia's introduction provides a general history of photography but is more noteworthy for the debunking of certain orientalist interpretations of Indian photographers and their particularly Indian viewpoint propagated by Judith Mara Guttman in her exhibition and book Through Indian Eyes. Dehejia's experience as an art historian gives her the tools to rebuff the romantic and simplistic notion that a native photographer had the ingrained vision of a miniature painter and could therefore construct his photograph with spatial ideas akin to the painters. Her essay places photography in the context of the other visual arts in the subcontinent and the British interest in them. The other contributors to the book are British or American. The texts seem to be for the general reader, and an Indian audience will notice that the approach of most of the authors as fairly typically 'Raj', written from a slightly nostalgic viewpoint.

For a photography historian, John Falconer's two essays - one on the panorama and the other on photography of architecture and ethnography, are the most valuable in this book. Both are filled with detailed and scholarly information on individual photographers, their histories and the evolution of the profession. Falconer is a specialist in this field and is the curator of photography of the Oriental and India Office Collections at the British Library. Beginning with a stunning set of panoramas, Falconer provides a fascinating history of this genre in photography, of which there are many fine examples from across India. Many of the panoramas are printed as extended fold-out pages, which give some idea of the scale of these meticulously executed works. Falconer's second essay on architecture and ethnography details the 19th century notions of documentation. One of the riches of this book is in fact the huge number of architectural photographs.

The British were obviously fascinated by the architecture they found in India and photography became the primary tool to document this, and indeed, an aid in writing the first histories of Indian architecture, which we use to this day. Falconer provides a lucid account of this. What is missing from this book though, is a critical reflection on this process as also the total absence of any references to work in the field by Indian scholars. The most notable omission perhaps is the work of Tapati Guha Thakurta, particularly her lectures and papers on the archaeological imagination in Indian art, on how the studies of Alexander Cunningham impacted on art theorists at the turn of the century primarily through photographs. In the popular imagination, the categorisation of architectural styles that the British arrived at through their process of photographic documentation - Buddhist, Jain, Hindu and Islamic in that order - remains both unchallenged and insufficiently elaborated. Falconer also touches on the use of photography to create an ethnographic archive. The photographs of Andaman tribal people have become a classic example of the classification of people through physical and racial characteristics. In fact, this is one area where there was no ambiguity about the colonial project and photography. India in fact was a developing ground for fingerprinting, police photography and many such uses of the technique for control and surveillance.

THE other contributions to the book are disappointing. Felice Beato has his own section, with a larger selection of his Lucknow photographs. Samuel Bourne is represented by his landscapes, but the selection here seems lacklustre. While Bourne's work has been the subject of heated debate, he was also one of the finest landscape photographers of his time. There are many examples here of the picturesque, and for the rulers, familiar and comforting views, he made in the 1860s of the hill stations in the Himalayas - with churches, cottages and fenced walkways, showing the simulated recreation of an English country village where the ruling elite of the Raj could holiday. Yet Bourne also made path-breaking and visually powerful views of the barren valleys of the high Himalayas. These can really only be seen as a photographer reacting with excitement and awe to a great subject, who then records it with the full command of his craft.

Lala Deen Dayal, as the only prominent native photographer, has his own section, presented under the title "Between Two Worlds". Most of his photographs here are architectural, though there are some landscapes too. Looking at these we confront the issue of an 'Indian' vision. One would be hard-pressed to say whether these pictures are any different from those made by a British photographer, indeed if the medium allows the possibility of such distinctions in terms of style.

There are sections on the Imperial durbars ending in 1911 and on the maharajas. The pictures of the durbars, while showing the pageantry with which the British sought to emulate the Mughals, seem to be added on to complete the picture. They do not have the visual charge of the sections on architecture in this book and show mainly distant views of the temporary camps and processions. More telling are pictures of King George V with native princes at the same Delhi durbar, many of which were exhibited by Alkazi.

Both these books must be welcomed as important additions to the corpus of works on 19th century photography, but The Last Empire: Photography in British India 1855-1911, by Clark Worswick published in 1976 and still in print, remains the book of record on the period with its wide range of material, its careful choice of visually exciting work, and its impeccable reproduction. The Last Empire gives a more complete sense of India under British rule, through its depiction of both the grand trappings of the Raj and its attention to the life of the more ordinary footsoldiers of Empire.

India Through the Lens, while better and more expensively printed than Beato's Delhi, suffers from a slightly heightened contrast in the reproductions. What it does do is to present a larger body of this material, which expands the visual archive available to the public. And any history of photography would have to recognise the fact that the work of this period would rank with the finest of all time.

Beato's Delhi 1857, 1997 by Jim Masselos and Narayani Gupta; Ravi Dayal Publisher, New Delhi, 2000; pages 115, Rs.1,000.

India Through the Lens: Photography 1840-1911, Vidya Dehejia (Editor); Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd. Ahmedabad, 2000; pages 315, Rs.3,000.

Images from Tripe

The works of Capt. Linnaeus Tripe, a pioneering photographer of British India, provide early examples of excellence in the art and also a record of life and times in the 19th century.

THE Victoria and Albert Museum. The study room of the Prints and Photographs section. The view of a sunny London, framed by a window, left me unmoved as I waited to lay my eyes on some photographs that I had requisitioned, taken by Captain Linnaeus Tripe (1822-1902), described by an art historian as "one of the pillars of early Indian photography".

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Within 10 years of its invention by Louis Daguerre in Paris in 1839, photography was being practised in Madras. In 1855, it was introduced as a subject in the Madras School of Industrial Art (the present College of Arts and Crafts), one of the earliest in Asia to offer the subject. Principal A. Hunter encouraged students to record agricultural practices and indigenous implements in photographs.

The Photographic Society was founded in Chennai in 1856, with Walter Elliot, the man who salvaged the Buddhist panels from Amaravathi, as the first president. The Society held annual exhibitions. Elliot, a civil servant, was a naturalist, and at least one creature, the Madras Tree Shrew (Anathana ellioti ellioti) has been named after him.

Realising the potential of the new art form, the British government had decided to train in photography some of the army officers selected to come to India. Capt. Linnaeus Tripe of 12 Native Infantry, who was in Madras in the 1850s, was one of them. His first major assignment took him to Ava in Burma (now Myanmar) as photographer to the British mission. He stayed there for a few months in 1855 and produced a number of photographs. A collection of these photographs, called 300 Views of Burma and released in Bangalore in 1857, seems to be his first publication.

Following an initiative by Governor-General Lord Canning, the government decided to appoint one official photographer in each Presidency to document monuments and edifices. The idea was to show people back home the kind of land and people being governed. The work of these official photographers documenting the archaeological heritage of the subcontinent proved a crucial factor in Lord Curzon deciding to give legal protection to monuments. When the government scouted for talent, Tripe filled that slot in Madras. With the designation 'Photographer for the Government', he equipped himself with tents and other accessories and got ready to travel.

For four years, from 1856 to 1860, Tripe operated with Madras as his base. He photographed forts and temples in Tiruchi, Thanjavur, Chidambaram, Pudukkottai and Srirangam. With abundant sunlight and limitless subjects, India proved to be a paradise for photograph pioneers like him. With his assistant C. Iyahsawmy he travelled on horseback, pitched tents near monuments and photographed them. He published his works in the form of albums, each comprising 50 to 70 plates, with introductions by scholars such as G.U. Pope and Rev. W. Tracy.

The helpful assistant at the museum placed three large, leather-bound albums in front of me. The album, titled "Stereographs of Trichinopoly, Tanjore and other places in the neighbourhood", had 70 plates. Tripe had used a piece of equipment called binocular camera, which was invented in 1849 for use in stereo-photography. The photographs were described as stereoscopic views.

The album opens with a one-page introduction, which said that Tripe completed the work "after a wearying tour through the Trichinopoly, Madura and Tanjore Districts, during the preceding four and a half months". The Rock Fort at Tiruchi seems to have fascinated Tripe. The album contains a number of views of the Fort, including one with the ruins of the main fortification in the foreground. During the Carnatic Wars the British forces blew up this fortification, known as the Main Guard Gate now, and it was repaired much later. One photograph of the Rock Fort has the river Kollidam in the foreground. There are two views of the palace at Thanjavur. Though he photographed the hill temples at Tiruparankun-dram and Tiruchi, he did not take any picture of the view from the hill-top. Maybe the equipment was too heavy to be carried up the hill or the landscape did not interest him. The standard size of his prints is 40 cm X 30 cm but the portraits are much smaller.

A second album was titled "Photographs of Elliot Marbles and Other Subjects in the Central Museum, Madras," published in 1858. It contained 51 photographs of objects at the museum in Madras. A majority of them were the Amaravathi panels, which were in those days referred to as the Elliot marbles. The album has a printed index at the end. The lower end of each page had a 3-cm-long, embossed monogram of the photographer - a circle around the letters 'LT', a stylised figure of the sun on top and the legend 'Photographer for the Govern-ment' around.

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These panels, traced to A.D. 3rd century, were once part of a Buddhist stupa at Amaravathi on the banks of the Krishna in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, and lay in ruins there. Chiselled in marble they depict, in relief, the Jataka tales. Tripe had photographed these panels before they were mounted on the walls in the gallery of the museum. Large panels, which could not be taken out, have been photographed in situ. There is evidence that some kind of artificial light source has been used. The album also has photographs of granite sculptures of Vishnu, Sastha and Ambika (Jain) and the tirthankaras, all belonging to the Chola period. The Madras museum, then known as the Central Museum, was housed in an old building called the 'Public Assembly Rooms,' at the spot where the present museum stands. The cracked walls and exposed bricks of the old building could be seen in the photographs. Tripe has recorded that he used a dry collodion process and printed on alumnised paper.

I was also able to see an album of 18 portraits. Evidently Tripe had a studio in Madras where the wealthy and the famous had their pictures taken. There is a photograph of Sir Alexander Arbuthnot and another of Mrs. Orr and her child. There is only one picture of an Indian, the ayah of an infant, who appears in a family portrait. The portraits provide excellent records of the costumes and artefacts of the day. Tripe had also made portraits outside his studio. One of them was the well-known portrait of Raja Ramachandra Tondaiman of Pudukkottai (1858) seated on his ivory throne and surrounded by four courtiers. This photograph, which appears on the jacket of Nicholas Dirks' The Hollow Crown, is from Tripe's album "Photographic Views of Poodoocottah 1858". A copy of this album is with the Asiatic Society of Mumbai.

In recent times, photographs of early British India in archives around the world have evoked a lot of interest. The Toronto Art Gallery exhibition in 1986 focussed on Tripe's works. The brochure "Linnaeus Tripe: Photographs of British India 1854-1870" by Janet Diwan documented his works. The Alkazi Collection of Photography organised an exhibition titled "The Imperial Gaze" in New York last year and there were lectures on photographers in British India, including Tripe.

BUT what the chroniclers have forgotten is the work done by Indian pioneers. G. Thomas, author of History of Photography in India, 1840-1980, records that Tripe's assistant Iyahsawmy, who was a photography instructor at the School of Arts and Crafts in Madras, was a good photographer and produced a number of impressive pictures. He exhibited many of them in annual shows in Madras and attracted a lot of attention. This fact raises some questions: Where are the pictures of Iyahsawmy? Were there other such pioneers? (Thomas' book, published by the Andhra Pradesh State Sahitya Academy of Photography in 1981, features five photographs of Tripe.)

The oeuvre of Tripe reveals him as a photographer par excellence. The compositions are impressive and remind one of the paintings of European masters. He uses the contours of buildings, the architectural and natural features and pathways effectively as elements in the composition. The shadows suggest that he chose late mornings for his shots. Most of the pictures of the monuments do not feature people. In primitive cameras, the exposure time had to be long and any moving object could create a blur. In the few shots that had some people, their stiff postures make it evident that he kept them under control. Tripe used the albumen process and relied on large calotype negatives.

The library assistant at the Victoria and Albert Museum told me that I could photograph the prints. Not being used to such generosity in similar libraries, I had not taken my tripod. So, as my friend held the pages vertically, I quickly copied some of the photographs with my hand-held camera.

Verbalising one's punctuation

other
WILLIAM SAFIRE

LIKE it or not, you are going to learn something today. Period.

That written sentence fragment, period, is another way of signalling "And that's that" or "So there." Writing the word period at the end of a sentence uses the name of a punctuation mark to emphasise the work of a punctuation mark; in this case, writing period stresses finality or inescapability.

Now take that trick a step further: Say the punctuation mark aloud. By using the mark in speech, you not only call attention to your oral emphasis, but you also make it possible to transcribe the word for that symbol to paper or to your computer screen, and lo! You have the "quote-unquote" phenomenon. The word for the thing becomes the thing itself. (The semanticist Korzybski would flip.)

Here's how it works. The NBC host Matt Lauer asks a guest, "What do people in Great Britain think about this journalist, or quote-unquote, journalist?" Or Rep. Bill Thomas of California tells a television interviewer, "There are other ways to get tax relief, not just within, quote-unquote, the president's plan." These usages of verbalised punctuation are sometimes accompanied by "air quotes", a visual signal of wiggling two fingers on each hand (recalling to some geezers the victory sign of a departed President).

The meaning of the spoken or written quote-unquote (wiggle, wiggle) is "so-called", casting aspersion on the word or phrase that follows. In American English, however, so-called is falling into disuse; it has the flavour of usage by speakers whose English is a second language. Quote-unquote - as a complete phrase, not separated by the words quoted - is now our primary derogator. A sneer is built in.

The joyously anti-capital poet Edward Estlin Cummings (who styled himself e.e. cummings, "with up so floating many bells down") pioneered the use of the verbalised mark in 1935. Few students of the third-person singular of the state of being will forget his stunning "The Isful ubiquitous wasless&-shallbeless quote scrotumtightening unquote omnivorously eternal" etc. Were that being written today, e.e.'s poetic formulation, if he thought it scanned, would be "quote, unquote scrotumtightening."

The New York Times' recording room has rules for those of us who have to phone in our copy when modems fail. "Say 'period,' 'comma' and all other punctuation," Chris Campbell inst-ructs. "Never say 'quote-unquote' unless that's exactly what you want transcribed. Say 'open quote' before the quoted material and 'close quote' after it. At the end of a paragraph, say 'graf' or 'new graf'."

Thus, I would dictate the Bible's opening as "Cap I In the beginning no comma cap G God created the heaven and the earth period new graf cap A And the earth was without form comma and void semicolon and darkness begin itals was unitals upon the face of the deep period." (I don't know why the second was is in italics, but that's how the King James Version has it.)

In the heyday of network radio (comma? Yes, after two prepositional phrases) the two words were fused to be used before the quotation. "In the 1940s, the words quote and unquote were used frequently on the radio," the lexicographer David Guralnik told me long ago. "There had to be some method of separating the words of the announcer and the person quoted. The problem came with short quotations: 'The President said, quote, Nuts, unquote.' It worked much better to say, 'The President said, quote-unquote, Nuts'."

Ronald Reagan popularised that device in his speeches in the 1980s, deriding "quote-unquote tax reforms". But copy editors soon began adopting a variant: quote-endquote, hyphenated and with the un changed to end and sometimes placed after the quoted term.

Georgia's Democratic Senator, Zell Miller, was quoted in The New York Times a month ago saying, "I was hurt and mad at some longtime friends, quote-endquote, who had been so loud and harsh and vehement in their criticism about my doing the tax cut and Ashcroft."

Some users are going all the way to quotes before the quotation, leaving out the un or end and relying on speech inflection to indicate the quotation's end. This won't work in print. As my editor says, quotes, it's confusing and I'd better not do it and at this point you don't know whether I'm quoting him or me.

My solution: For plain quotation with no sneer intended, go back to "He said, quote, those were the days, unquote." Specifically for casting aspersion - heaping ridicule on what follows - it's O.K. in informal use to write or say "what some pluralising people like to call quote-unquote aspersions."

WHEN a person's name turns into a word, that's called an eponym, from the Greek epi, "upon", and onyma, "name".

The University of California at Santa Barbara had a panel about the media (from the Greek for "really high-class buncha guys"). When CNN's Jeff Greenfield assured the crowd, "I haven't planted a skutnik here," I stopped him: I had heard of a sputnik, the Russian word for the first Soviet satellite, but what was a skutnik?

Greenfield directed me to his book Oh, Waiter! One Order of Crow! about the media failure on election night: "A skutnik is a human prop, used by a speaker to make a political point. The name comes from Lenny Skutnik, a young man who heroically saved lives after the Air Florida plane crash in Washington in 1982 and who was introduced by President Reagan during his State of the Union speech."

The introduction of heroes became a staple in presidential addresses to joint sessions of Congress. In 1995, the columnist William F. Buckley was one of the first to use the name as an eponym: "President Clinton was awash with Skutniks."

The play on sputnik aside, the word should be spelled Skutnik in deference to the original honoree. Watch for one the next time around.

New York Times Service

Of the India-Pakistan summit, 1955

other
A. G. NOORANI

Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Second Series, Volume 28 (February 1-May 31, 1955), Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund; Distributed by Oxford University Press; pages 636, Rs.500.

THIS volume appears fortuitously on the eve of the Vajpayee-Musharraf Summit in Agra. It contains Nehru's detailed minutes, recorded the same day, of his talks in New Delhi with Pakistan's Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Bogra and Minister for Interior, Gen. Iskandar Mirza, from May 14 to 17, 1955. Maulana Azad and G. B. Pant joined Nehru at times. While the minutes would help one to understand better the parleys in Agra, they must, in turn, be read in the light of Indo-Pakistan negotiations on Kashmir since 1947 and Nehru's evolving responses to the events. The entire record enables us to understand why the two countries have been in such a bitter confrontation for over half a century and are in such a messy impasse today.

Ever since Governor-General Ghulam Mohammed sacked Khwaja Nazimuddin as Prime Minister on April 17, 1953 and appointed Mohammed Ali in his place, the two launched a "peace offensive" and Indo-Pakistan relations improved markedly. The Governor-General himself came to Delhi in January 1955. At the Palam airfield on January 28 he handed Nehru "an envelope which contained a small piece of paper". It recorded his four-point proposal for a plebiscite in, and partition of, Kashmir. In 1947 discussions centred on a plebiscite. In 1948 partition nudged its way in. The two kept jostling for a while. Before long, partition had plebiscite thrown out. But, I am anticipating.

Nehru's reply of February 27 to the Governor-General contained none of the rhetoric one has heard in recent years. "It is not for lack of goodwill on either side that they (the disputes) have remained unsolved so far." There were "solid difficulties" which impeded solution. "The major problem, that of Kashmir, remains. When I read the paper you gave me on the eve of your departure from Delhi, I had mixed reactions. I liked your approach to this question in the sense that you wanted to leave out outside interference in this problem, casting the burden of solution on ourselves. I liked the approach of mutual trust." But he was against any "upset in the Jammu and Kashmir State".

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Nehru wrote the same day to India's High Commissioner in Karachi, C. C. Desai, in strict confidence: "I recognise and feel that Ghulam Mohammed is anxious to have a settlement and is prepared to go some distance for it. That is a welcome approach. But to suggest that a plebiscite should be held in Jammu and Kashmir state in the autumn of this year is manifestly not possible... Personally I really see no way out except a recognition by both parties of the status quo, subject to minor modifications. Also of course, if there is an agreement, many mutual privileges might follow. At the same time, I am very reluctant naturally to say that we will not have a plebiscite. That might appear as a breach of faith and I do not want to be guilty of that." This counsel of discretion was a constant refrain, as we shall see, whether in his letters to Sheikh Abdullah or other confidants. Nehru played with his cards close to his chest.

Ghulam Mohammed, evidently, thought he had made a dent in Nehru's stand and encouraged his Prime Minister and Mirza to visit Nehru. One Mulraj acted as an intermediary between Nehru and the Governor-General. Nehru knew him well. "He is a well-meaning person but I cannot trust his judgment."

Mulraj interacted also with another busybody, Wajid Ali. Nehru thought a "separate private approach will have to be made in regard to it (Kashmir) before any result is achieved." The back channel is as old as the official envoy. Nehru rapped Desai on the wrist for telling Ghulam Mohammed "about fate of forty million Muslims in India if (sic) any reopening of Kashmir question."

The Governor-General's proposals, as conveyed by Mulraj, were "that a large area of the Jammu province including Poonch, Riyasi, Udhampur, etc., should be transferred to Pakistan, that Skardu might be transferred to India, and that Kargil area should be attached to Kashmir and should be governed by future decisions about Kashmir, and that there should be some joint control by India and Pakistan, both political and military, of this Kashmir area. Some kind of a plebiscite of the Kashmir area, from five to twenty years hence, was envisaged... We were not very much interested in the Skardu area which was very sparsely populated and mountainous." Joint control of Kashmir was unthinkable.

The episode yields two lessons. A summit held on the basis of misunderstanding or unrealistic expectations or without any preparation is doomed to failure. Secondly, a back channel can create problems especially if run by men of great zeal and little understanding; witness Niaz A. Naik in post-Lahore talks.

The talks began in a deceptively "good atmosphere" on May 14. "Mr. Mohammed Ali referred to the Kashmir issue and said that we must settle this. He said that we, that is India, held the key, and he would like to know what we suggested about settling it." Nehru, true to form, "referred to past history". He recalled that "in the early months of the Kashmir operations, I met the then Pakistan Premier, Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan, once, I think, in Delhi and once in Lahore. We discussed this matter and I felt that we were not very far from an agreement... We had talked about a plebiscite, etc. I was prepared for that, but I had no doubt that we would have to face great difficulties and a long time would elapse before we could give effect to this, and even then it was by no means clear if there would be a satisfactory settlement. The only feasible and practical approach seemed to me to accept things as they were at that time and put an end to this war on that basis. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan did not agree to this, and there our talks ended. This was in the latter half of 1948". Why, then, did he accept, on December 23, 1948, the U.N. Commission for India and Pakistan's (UNCIP's) detailed proposals for a plebiscite? Nehru is not easy to understand; but he is not an impossible subject, either.

Nehru also ranged wide over differences on foreign policy. "Mr. Mohammed Ali asked me what then were we to do about Kashmir. I said that we had to face the situation as it was... accept present conditions as they were, that is, the status quo, and then proceed on the basis. Having accepted that, one could consider what rectifications of the border, etc., could be made to suit both parties. But the main thing was an acceptance of the principle of the status quo... When I finished, Mr. Mohammad Ali said that he would like a further elucidation from me as to what I meant by these rectifications and the consequences of our proceeding on the basis I had mentioned. He said that we might consider this further tomorrow when he said we might have a map to help us."

The next day (May 15) a map was examined. Nehru preferred "a final settlement now" in one go. When Iskandar Mirza said "No government would last twenty-four hours in Pakistan on this basis, I said that a similar difficulty would arise on both sides. In addition, we had our constitutional difficulties. I read out the part of our Constitution referring to Kashmir contained in the President's Order of the 14th May, 1954. This ran as follows: 'Provided further that no Bill providing for increasing or diminishing the area of the State of Jammu and Kashmir or altering the name or boundary of that State, shall be introduced in Parliament without the consent of the legislature of that State'."

This is a proviso to Article 253 of the Constitution (on the Union's power to conclude treaties) which was inserted in 1954 by an Order made by the President under Article 370. It is still in force.

"Mr. Mohammad Ali and Mr. Iskander Mirza again pointed out their difficulties with their people in accepting anything which completely ignored their wishes and demands. Something had to be done to make them feel that they had gained something. I was asked again to indicate our precise proposal. What was the least or the most that we would accept? I said that it was difficult for me to indicate precisely the variations in the present ceasefire line. That would depend on geographical, administrative and other factors." Nehru suggested the Kishanganga river as "a suitable line" and transfer of "the Poonch area" to Pakistan.

On the third day (May 16), Mohammed Ali asked: "What did Pakistan get out of it? This had been suggested two years ago by the P.M. of India. Unless there was some major adjustments now, the only course was to continue with the Security Council, etc., and consider the question of the plebiscite and try to come to an arrangement about the conditions governing the plebiscite... Mr. Iskander Mirza said that they had come from Pakistan because the Governor General had given them to understand that there was a broad acceptance of a new base for negotiations."

It was a fatal misunderstanding. Mirza suggested that "we should not break" the talks; but part amicably. On the last day (May 17) the visitors produced their map showing the Muslim and Hindu majority areas in different colours. "Above the northern cease-fire line, there was no colouring: it was white." Siachen was then a no-man's land. Nehru could hardly accept partition of the State on a communal basis. Azad offered to add "a bit of Mirpur" to Poonch in the transfer. A conciliatory joint communique was issued on May 18 after the visitors' attempt to revive the Nehru-Mohammed Ali Accord of 1953 on a plebiscite failed.

However, in this very volume there is a document which, in turn, leads to another that contains the clue to Nehru's change of policy. From prison, Sheikh Abdullah had asked Nehru to explain precisely what were the mistakes he had committed as Nehru had alleged in the Lok Sabha. In his reply (April 8, 1955), Nehru referred him to a confidential Note dated August 25, 1952 which he had sent to the Sheikh from Sonemarg (SWJN; Vol. 19; pp. 322-330). It is a document of cardinal importance. As mentioned earlier ("Kashmir: History and Politics", Frontline, July 31, 1988), it virtually admitted that he had set his face against a plebiscite "towards the end of December 1948". He was resolved to maintain by force "the status quo then existing".

Nehru wrote: "We are superior to Pakistan in military and industrial power. But that superiority is not so great as to produce results quickly either in war or by fear of war. Therefore, our national interest demands that we should adopt a peaceful policy towards Pakistan and, at the same time, add to our strength. Strength ultimately comes not from the defence forces, but the industrial and economic background behind them. As we grow in strength, and we are likely to do so, Pakistan will feel less and less inclined to threaten or harass us, and a time will come when, through sheer force of circumstances, it will be in a mood to accept a settlement which we consider fair, whether in Kashmir or elsewhere."

He wanted the Sheikh and his colleagues to have "a firm and clear outlook, and no debate about basic issues. If we have that outlook, it just does not matter what the United Nations thinks or what Pakistan does."

Nehru made three mistakes. Pakistan, aggrieved, could not acquiesce in a status quo established by force. Sheikh Abdullah would not continue with his support to Nehru if it cost him popular support in the State. Nehru's third and gravest mistake was in underestimating the assertiveness of the people if not, indeed, of their relevance. "It must be remembered that the people of the Kashmir Valley and round-about, though highly gifted in many ways - in intelligence, in artisanship, etc. - are not what are called a virile people. They are soft and addicted to easy living."

Events were to prove him wrong on all three points. Yet, this is the disastrous policy which won national acceptance and has been followed to this day. Forgotten was his repeated public pledges of a plebiscite, from 1947 to 1954; "not merely a pledge to your (Pakistan's) Government, but also to the people of Kashmir and to the world" (Vol. 4; p. 298; his wire to Liaquat Ali Khan on October 31, 1947).

Why the volte-face in 1948? On May 14, Indira Gandhi wrote to Nehru: "They say that only Sheikh Saheb is confident of winning the plebiscite... Personally, I feel that all this political talk will count for nothing if the economic situation can be dealt with. Because after all the people are concerned with only (one) thing - they want to settle their goods and to have food and salt." They had no soul or mind, evidently. (Sonia Gandhi; Two Alone, Two Together: Letters Exchanged between Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru 1940-1964; p. 551.)

Had he lost the plebiscite, Nehru feared he might lose his job as well. Men of such stature tend to combine in their person personal interests with national interests. He feared that the right wing, within and outside the Congress, might become powerful. These very fears prompted him to reject Zhou En-lai's proposals for a border settlement. He said as much in private as Neville Maxwell revealed. (India's China War; p. 166: "If I give them that, I shall no longer be Prime Minister of India. I will not do it"). There were bigger stakes in Kashmir. Pakistan did not make matters easy by adopting a non-confrontationist stance. Conciliation came belatedly in 1953.

On August 7, 1948, at his very first meeting with the UNCIP, a body mandated to hold a plebiscite, Nehru hinted at alternatives. One of the members, Joseph Korbel, replied that the Commission "had no right to submit a solution on which the parties had not agreed. He said that the commission believed it possible that a solution different from that envisaged in the Security Council resolution might be worked out and that the commission would be quite willing to help in this respect" (The UNCIP's First Interim Report; S/1100, p. 107).

No wonder that on January 12, 1949, a week after the UNCIP's plebiscite resolution of January 5, Nehru wrote reassuringly to Sheikh Abdullah: "You know well that this business of plebiscite is still far away and there is a possibility of the plebiscite not taking place at all. I would suggest however that this should not be said in public, as our bona fides will then be challenged" (V. 9; p. 198).

Mountbatten also began working for partition. "The partition maps were all marked up, and discussed between Pandit Nehru and the Chief of Army Staff" (H.V. Hodson; The Great Divide; p. 472). Now the bits fall into place. Nehru accepted on December 23, 1948 the UNCIP's proposals for a plebiscite; not because he was willing to hold one, but to secure a ceasefire. A recent offensive had pushed Pakistan's troops to a line beyond which neither he nor Abdullah wished to go or could have gone without triggering a war.

Why did he promise a plebiscite in 1947, a "crime" which the Sangh Parivar still lays at his door (Organiser; July 1, 2001)? For three reasons. First, contrary to Jinnah's legalistic but utterly undemocratic and immoral stand that the rulers would decide which State to accede to, the AICC (All India Congress Committee) took a principled stand, on June 15, 1947, that "the people of the States must have a dominating voice in any decisions regarding them..."

Secondly, the ruler of Junagadh acceded to Pakistan against the wishes of his people and Hyderabad stayed out encouraged by Jinnah ("A Tale of Two States"; Frontline; June 23, 2000).

With Nehru's backing, Mountbatten proposed this formula to Jinnah, in Lahore on November 1, 1947: "The Governments of India and Pakistan agree that, where the ruler of a State does not belong to the community to which the majority of his subjects belong, and where the State has not acceded to that Dominion whose majority community is the same as the State's, the question of whether the State should finally accede to one or the other of the Dominions should in all cases be decided by an impartial reference to the will of the people." Nehru repeated it to Liaquat on November 8 (V. 4; p. 320).

No critique of Nehru's policy should ignore Jinnah's criminal folly. He rejected an offer which could have ushered in peace on the subcontinent. Instead, he got the Cabinet to secure Liaquat's undertaking not to settle without Jinnah's O.K; egged on Hyderabad not to compromise; and in the bargain lost Kashmir as well. Lack of ethics was compounded with lack of good sense as well.

The third reason is that in 1947 Nehru was confident of winning the plebiscite. Earlier volumes in the series record Nehru's retreat from plebiscite and moves for partition. One would suspect that when it concerned Kashmir, Nehru had reservations on a plebiscite even in 1947. Thus, he wrote to Abdullah on November 21, 1947: "Dwarkanath writes to me that there is strong feeling in the leadership of the National Conference against a referendum. I know this and quite understand it. In fact I share the feeling myself. But you will appreciate that it is not easy for us to back out of the stand we have taken before the world. That would create a very bad impression abroad and especially in U.N. circles. I feel, however, that this question of referendum is rather an academic one at present... If we said to the UNO that we no longer stand by a referendum in Kashmir, Pakistan would score a strong point and that would be harmful to our cause. On the other hand, if circumstances continue as they are and the referendum is out of the question during these next few months, then why worry about it now?... It is all a question of the best tactical approach. I would personally suggest to you not to say anything rejecting the idea of a referendum..." (V. 4, pp. 336-7).

Nehru pleaded with the Maharaja of Kashmir (December 1, 1947): "If the average Muslim (in Kashmir) feels that he has no safe or secure place in the Union, then obviously he will look elsewhere... The present position is that in Kashmir proper, the mass of the population Muslim and Hindu is no doubt in favour of the Indian Union. In the Jammu area, all the non-Muslims and some Muslims are likely to be in favour of the Union. But this depends entirely on the policy to be pursued during the next few months" (V. 4; p. 351).

Another consideration weighed with Nehru. He knew that a pro-Pakistan constituency existed in Kashmir. It has to be defeated or marginalised by winning over the people - through the plebiscite offer. Hence his wise counsel to the Sheikh on November 1, 1947: "The people must be made to feel that the question of accession will have to be decided finally according to their own wishes. How this is to be done can be determined later. As far as I can see, it should be done under the auspices of the United Nations" (V. 4; p. 300). Mountbatten's suggestion for reference to the U.N. came later, on December 8.

With Lord Ismay's help V. P. Menon and Chaudhry Mohammed Ali, Secretary-General of Pakistan's Cabinet, arrived at a Draft Kashmir Agreement in November which Ismay discussed with Nehru and Liaquat in detail on December 28, 1947. It had no chance of success given Nehru's attitude despite Liaquat's concessions (V.4; pp. 408-9).

Once the debates in the U.N. Security Council began in January 1948, Nehru became increasingly uneasy and confused. To Krishna Menon he mentioned two alternatives: "One is the possibility of Kashmir being considered more or less independent and guaranteed as such by India, Pakistan and possibly the U.N. The other is the possibility of some kind of partition either by previous agreement or as a result of the vote. I do not fancy either of these; but I do not wish to rule them out altogether" (February 20, 1949; V. 5; p. 222).

On February 26, Mountbatten proposed that "a vote for independence should be included in the plebiscite" (V. 5; p. 232).

The Sheikh was warned on November 29, 1948 that while Nehru had "refused to discuss any details of the plebiscite at this stage, it is not easy in the circumstances just to say no to the commission so far as the plebiscite is concerned. We have to remember that an adverse decision of the Commission may prove harmful to us; so we tried to avoid this while at the same time maintaining a stiff attitude" (V. 8; p. 62). He was rightly confident that time ran in India's favour, a fact to which Pakistan was utterly oblivious (V. 11; p. 367).

Towards the end of 1949, the certitude of 1947 gave way to gnawing doubt which he confided to the British High Commissioner, Archibald Nye, on September 9, 1949: "Whilst he (Nehru) did not accept for one moment the suggestion that the majority of Muslims, because they were Muslims, would vote for Pakistan, he thought that it was true to say that the result of a free and impartial plebiscite, if one could be held, would be for the Poonch area to go to Pakistan and for the Jammu area to go to India, whilst it was doubtful which way the valley would vote. He thought further that a solution on the lines of Western Kashmir going to Pakistan, Jammu and possibly Ladakh to India and a plebiscite being confined to the valley and the area north of it (excluding Gilgit) was worthy of consideration. I (Nye) said that from India's point of view this may well be so but did he really think there was any prospect of getting Pakistan to agree to any such proposal. I pointed out that Pakistan believed, and has good reason to believe, that there was a very good chance that an overall plebiscite would give a majority to Pakistan which would justify their claiming the whole country. He admitted that Pakistan might not be prepared to agree but thought there was a possibility that a solution could be found on some such line" (V. 13; p. 225).

Which is why his Note of December 4, 1949 to Vallabhbhai Patel urged "broader" terms of reference for the single mediator from the U.N. freed from resolutions on plebiscite; one would consider "the present situation in all its aspects, and the basic facts of history, geography, language and culture of the State" (V. 14 (i); p. 198). Patel wrote on July 3, 1950: "I agree with you that a plebiscite is unreal" (Sardar Patel's Correspondence; Vol. 1; p. 317).

The best mediator to come, Sir Owen Dixon, later Chief Justice of Australia, proposed a plebiscite confined to areas where the wishes of the inhabitants were uncertain - the Kashmir Valley. The rest could be assigned to either State, as the case may be. The plan fell through because Nehru rejected his suggestion of an impartial administration in the Valley. The Sheikh must not be removed.

At an informal conference in London of Commonwealth Prime Ministers on January 9, 1951, Nehru firmly stood by the status quo (V. 15 (ii); p. 280). However, at a press conference in New Delhi on November 3, 1951, he said "I welcome a plebiscite" (V. 17; p. 424), though he had ruled it out three years earlier.

The U.S. Ambassador Chester Bowles was told on May 3, 1952 that "India would gladly discuss question of partition" provided Pakistan was agreeable to it (V. 18, p.392). Bowles was reminded on July 8, 1952 that "India had always been interested in partition possibility as outlined in Dixon Report", provided it did not affect continuance in office of the Abdullah regime (V. 18; p. 430).

The Taliban's rise

ALOK RAI other

Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia by Ahmed Rashid; Yale University Press, London, 2000; pages 274, $27.50.

THE Taliban phenomenon should be a matter of riveting interest to people in India. However as a matter of fact, Indians barely notice it, except in exceptional circumstances such as at the time of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas. Even then we fail to draw the right conclusions.

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At a dinner party during those harrowing days, when it was still unclear whether or not the threatened destruction of the Buddha statues had been carried out, I remarked with deliberate loudness on the parallels it had with the destruction of the Babri Masjid. The angry, bitter reaction of the assembled guests, disconcerting at the time, suggested that the apparent lack of interest in the Taliban was indicative of a neurotic avoidance, an active repression of something that causes deep anxiety.

And so it should. The Taliban are not only at our doorstep, they are, in important respects, us. They are not only the enemy that we must confront but also our destiny, that which we may become - unless we are very, very careful. Every day brings news from the Kashmir valley about some militant outfit or the other, some violent spin-off from the Afghan conflict, tormenting the floundering, guilty giant that is India. Every day brings news also of the fulminations and worse of the Hindu Taliban and their mullahs, Ashok Singhal and Bal Thackeray, who thereby confer credibility and legitimacy on their Islamic counterparts. But, for all the neuroses, the paranoia and the avoidance that characterise the media representation of the Taliban, hard facts about them have been rather scarce. Few journalists venture into the bitter civil war that is contemporary Afghanistan, and even those that do are far from welcome, particularly in the eyes of a regime that is deeply suspicious and secretive.

Ahmed Rashid has been covering Afghanistan for the Far Eastern Economic Review for the last 16 years. In fact, that trouble-torn part of the world has been his journalistic beat for the past 21 years. He has written other books in the interim - on the break-up of the Soviet Union, and so on - but all this while he has been accumulating material for the biggest story of them all, the Taliban.

The book under review, Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia, is the fruit of that hard-earned mastery. He was in Kandahar in 1979 when the first Soviet tanks rolled in; he saw the tanks burst into the presidential palace in Kabul in 1992; he witnessed, and wrote a memorable account of, one of the first public executions - in a football stadium, to packed stands...

Rashid is quick to disavow any valour, confessing that he mostly ducked when the bullets were flying, but without his dogged courage this book would not have been possible. And yet, the story he has to tell - of the rise and rise of the Taliban, first with the connivance and approval of the United States, and then despite some displeasure because of the Taliban's unwillingness to hand over Osama bin Laden to the mercies of the U.S. justice system; the continued support of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to the Taliban, despite international disapproval, and despite the desperate pleas of the Pakistani state itself - is even more remarkable than the story of how he comes to be telling the story.

Of course, if the bulk of the media are to be believed, there is no story to tell. The Taliban are merely the most extreme confirmation of the "clash of civilisations" thesis, wherein the essence of Islam is identified with its most fanatical fringes. The mysterious emergence of the Taliban in 1994 is thereby removed from the realm of history and human doing. Rashid's book goes a long way towards clearing that "mystery" and revealing the entirely human motives, the callous and myopic greed on the part of various players - not merely the Afghan warlords but also the great powers, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, to say nothing of Pakistan - that has produced the monster that now seems to have grown beyond the control of its makers. For obvious reasons, the "essence of Islam" explanation has a ready constituency in India, particularly among those who angrily reject the parallels between the Bamiyan Buddhas and the Babri Masjid.

The period in Afghanistan between the deposition of King Zahir Shah in 1973 and the Soviet installation of Babrak Karmal in 1979 is one in which there was considerable jockeying for influence on the part of the indigenous and international warlords. However, after the Soviet Army moved in, thereby changing the nature of the game, the U.S. promptly rallied the tribal chieftains. It bankrolled them, supplied them with arms and munitions worth billions of dollars, and the fighting moved into a new dimension altogether. These were the Mujahideen, the fractious chieftains who were based in refugee camps in Rawalpindi and who, deploying their guerilla fighters over a period of something over a decade, brought the Soviet Army to its knees. The Russians had no option but to leave, and there is reason to believe that the unlikely tribal chieftains might have been the proximate cause for the collapse of the Soviet Union.

However, the departure of the Soviets had several effects. One of these was that the U.S. promptly lost interest in the Mujahideen, those "valiant soldiers" of the U.S.' proxy war. The various tribal warlords were left to fight it out over their devastated country, with all the high-tech weaponry that the U.S. had so thoughtfully provided. The fighting moved all over the country, up and down, north and south, east and west. The various tribal groups - the Pashtuns, the Tajiks, the Hazaras and so on - fought each other indecisively in a civil war that looked as if it would never end. First Burhanuddin Rabbani was in control of Kabul, then Gulbuddin Hekmatyar shelled it into rubble, and entered in triumph into the ruined city. After that came the turn of other people to start shelling whatever little remained. This is an intricate, sordid story, and Rashid tells it in considerable detail, so that one can actually sense the violent confusion in which the Taliban first appeared - appeared like saviours, storming across the country, scattering all opposition, seemingly invincible, until they too seemed to get bogged down in an unending civil war.

So, where did they come from? During the long years of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, several hundred thousand Afghan refugees had fled into Pakistan, into refugee camps. The only education available to the generation that was born and came to maturity in these camps was in the madrassas that had been set up by various fundamentalist groups. Here a displaced generation imbibed some basic Islamic instruction - but most of what it imbibed was a sense of injury, of abandonment: "These boys were what the war had thrown up like the sea's surrender on the beach of history... They had no memories of the past, no plans for the future... They were literally the orphans of the war, the rootless and the restless... They admired war because it was the only occupation they could possibly adapt to. Their simple belief in a messianic, puritan Islam which had been drummed into them by simple village mullahs was the only prop they could hold on to and which gave their lives some meaning. Untrained for anything... they were... Afghanistan's lumpen proletariat... these boys had lived rough, tough lives. They had simply never known the company of women." Tragic byproducts of a futile war, these were savage louts, possessed only of their simple-minded dogmatic certainties, trained to deal with demurral, doubt and dissent in only one brutal fashion. Sounds familiar?

IT would be fair to say that the U.S. is not now the major backer of the Taliban, though its huge and undiscriminating, even immoral, support for the Mujahideen might be said to have, in one way or another, "produced" the Taliban. For the record, the U.S. initially welcomed the Taliban, and while official support has now dried up, they might still be the beneficiaries of some murky Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) funding. Rashid cites Zbigniew Brzezinski, former U.S. National Security Adviser, on the U.S. view of the trade-off: "What was more important in the world view of history? The Taliban or the fall of the Soviet Empire? A few stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?" Just as half a million dead Iraqi children was a price that Madeleine Albright was willing to pay for assuaging the U.S.' hurt pride, so was the destruction of Afghanistan an acceptable bargain for the U.S. But the Taliban's chief backers today are Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The U.S. has been content to try and use the Taliban, and has been more than willing to look the other way in respect of their barbaric practices, particularly in respect of women. And when the pressure from U.S. feminist lobbies became too strong, the U.S. have even expressed disapproval.

But the thing that really drives the Afghan conflict is the struggle over the oil in Central Asia. The concern with "freedom", "human rights" and so on is, as always, cosmetic. Rashid tells the cynical underlying story in meticulous, undeniable detail. It is the corporate lust for profit that drives the contest regarding who will lay and control the pipelines that will bring the Central Asian oil and gas reserves within the reach of the energy-hungry markets of the world. The two biggest players are the U.S. company Unocal and, somewhat oddly, the Argentinian Bridas. Although it has swirled up and down, and across and within, the volatile states of Central Asia, now drawing in one country, now another, now threatening to bypass one altogether by proposing an alternative pipeline route, then getting bogged down in another diplomatic quagmire, "the new Great Game", as Rashid has aptly called it, can be expected to run and run. Meanwhile the Afghans, hungry and homeless, freezing in the winter, scorched in the summer, have no option but to resign themselves to endless war, and pray to the All-Merciful that one of these days peace too becomes profitable.

There are of course many minor players with limited agendas - reports are that even India's Reliance has pipeline ambitions - but there is one other major player with an independent, powerful agenda that it is very important for us to understand: Pakistan's ISI. The ISI grew enormously in the 1980s, handling the billions of dollars that the U.S. poured into the jehad against the Evil Empire of that time. Now, while official U.S. support for the Mujahedin and their Taliban successors has dried up, the ISI has accumulated the resources and the apparatus to operate independently - independently even of the Pakistani state, it would appear. Rashid gives a detailed description of the so-called Afghan Transit Trade: this is the facility that land-locked Afghanistan is afforded by Pakistan, just as India affords it to Nepal. However, this "transit trade" has become a huge smuggling operation that provides the ISI and its Taliban clients with a virtually inexhaustible supply of money. It also, incidentally, puts into perspective the idealistic, Islamic pretensions of the Taliban ideologues. The ISI support for the Taliban is also in pursuit of its long-term objective of harassing and bleeding India - one in which it seems to be succeeding.

However, the growing symbiosis between the ISI and the Taliban is also doing terrible things to Pakistan. The influence of the Islamic fundamentalist factions is growing exponentially. The spread of the heroin-and-Kalashnikov culture, as it is called, threatens to smother Pakistani civil society. And the ability of the state to deal with it is seriously compromised because the state itself has been heavily infiltrated by fundamentalist elements. There is also the ability of the mafia actually to use their enormous revenues to buy out any opposition. The underground economy of Pakistan was estimated to have grown to 51 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 1996 - the situation could only have got worse since then. Rashid is unambiguous when he says that the greatest victim of the ISI's Taliban policy is Pakistan itself. The greed of the Pakistani elites, who are unable to see beyond their short-term ideological and monetary interests, is already wreaking havoc in the lives of ordinary Pakistani citizens, to say nothing of the Afghans, or even the hapless citizens of the Kashmir Valley. But, minus the possible hope of democracy, it is difficult for sober observers of the scene to visualise any future other than one in which Pakistan sinks into a morass of desperate violence which while it is, at one level, of its own making, will inevitably engulf its neighbours. Ahmed Rashid's invaluable book on the Taliban is also, ironically, a guide to that bleak future.

The political abuse of history

Handcuffed to History: Narratives, Pathologies and Violence in South Asia, edited by S.P. Udayakumar; Prager-Westport, 2001; pages 216, $64.95.

IT is no surprise that many of the problems that South Asian countries face today have a lot in common. This is because, on the one hand most of these countries were colonies of the British and, on the other, there is a lot of overlap in their religious and cultural norms. Some of them have been artificially divided in the name of religion but share much in common. It is this understanding that formed the basis of two symposia conducted by the University of Hawaii in 1994 and 1996. The chapters in this volume under review were papers presented in those symposia.

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The grouping of themes in these essays is logical. The focus of most of these is the abuse of history by religious nationalist movements, and some of them delve into the shared commonalities of the region - conflict and governance, history and politics, culture and philosophy, and so on.

Udayakumar correctly points out that "as communal conflicts occur in inter-group situations, a study of such conflicts should investigate the concerned groups' ideologies, process of identity development, and historical context within which political assertions of such identities manifest" (p. 6). It goes without saying that there are various versions of history and different social groups choose and project a version that suits the interests of their collective. As such, the transition of history from the chronicling of the deeds of kings by the court historians in the pay of the kings, to being an academic discipline is a process that occurred along with the secularisation process. Since in the colonies secularisation took place against the wishes of the colonial masters, it had to confront the versions propagated by them. The colonial powers popularised types of 'history' that were not only lopsided but calculated to serve their 'divide and rule' designs. The major streams prevalent then were utilitarianism, orientalism and nationalism. The overlap between the utilitarian and communal forces is too obvious to be stated. Utilitarian James Mill's major work on Indian history was prepared to train Indian Civil Service aspirants. At that time, the British were aiming to win the loyalty of Indian subjects away from the Mughal rulers who preceded them. Mill came up with the Hindu, Muslim and British periods, thus opening the doors for further communal interpretations of history. It is noteworthy that Mill could turn a convenient blind eye to the rule of Buddhist kings, since Buddhism in modern India was not a major force until 1956 when Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and a large number of his Dalit followers converted to that faith. British rulers were identified not by religion but by their national identity. This view of history had no place for the ordinary people. Of course, to each his or her own history, be it nationalist, Marxist, subaltern or of social historians.

But the political misuse of history was done mainly by 'religious nationalists', and it led to a feeling of communal consciousness. Interestingly, the pioneer of the Hindutva ideology, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was among the first to see the importance of a particular version of history for his politics. So much so that he went on to write not only Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History but How to Read and Write History - Particularly by a Hindu Sanghatanist. Undoubtedly, the Hindutva volunteers took it seriously enough to propagate the Hindu communal history from area to area through their shakhas (branches), where young boys are trained to become swayamsevaks (volunteers) for the cause of the Hindu nation. This continuous indoctrination of young minds has ensured that Hindu communal history became the 'social common sense' of society and made it the base of their political campaigns of hatred of the "other" - the major minority, Muslims.

The three major issues from the past and the present that have communalised the social consciousness in India have been dealt with in the book. One of them relates to the ancient period, "Poetics and Politics of Mahavamsha" (by Wimal Dissanayake), which connects the ethnic violence in the Sri Lankan context with the 'first comer' theory; one to medieval period, "Historicising Myth and Mythologising History: The violent 'Ram Temple' Drama" (by S.P. Udayakumar), which deals with myths from the medieval period that not only whipped up mass hysteria around the Ram temple but also led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the following anti-Muslim pogroms; and the one relating to Kashmir, the major sore point left behind by the senseless Partition of the country, "Faces of Beloved: Rerouting the Tragic History of The Kashmir Issue" (by Daanish Mustafa and Viren Murthy). The overlap in the subcontinent's problems is so much obvious in the case of the 'First Comer', used more in the context of Sri Lanka, though in the Indian context also the assertion that Aryans came from nowhere and were the original inhabitants of this land has been the major assertion of Hindutva 'historians'. The post-Partition communal scene is best seen through the formation of Bangladesh after the violent split of the erstwhile East Pakistan. The latter buried for good the 'two-nation theory', that religion can be the base of the nation state. In a way these articles, though written in different styles, are a good supplement to each other. They explore issues in depth and provide rich insights into the underlying theme which connects up the book.

Udayakumar, in his comprehensive introduction to the book, not only builds overt bridges among the essays but also gives a glimpse of the threat which South Asian countries face from the communal problem. The different quotes he has used give adequate indication of the use of past imageries in building up campaigns against the minorities.

The essay by Mark Juergensmeyer initially sounds to be a bit off track from the main theme of the book. A careful reading of the essay and the supplementary quotes from Hindutva ideologues, in particular M.S. Golwalkar, draws out the importance of this issue in the scheme of things planned by the politics of communalism. Golwalkar's beliefs show how the politics of Hindutva looks at the caste system as the benign accompaniment of Hindu society, which reached the glorious heights during the reigns of Shivaji, Harshavardhan and Pulikeshin. Hinting that it is wrong to blame the caste system as the bane of Hindu society, he emphasised that a 'glorious Hindu society' can be built without attacking this system.

Juergensmeyer's piece shows the centrality of the caste system in Indian society. Of the two theories of untouchability, the first one states that the lower classes became outcastes because of the nature of their work. The second theory, attributed to Dr. Ambedkar and other Dalit leaders who strove for liberty, equality and fraternity in Indian society, states that the untouchables were aboriginal people conquered by invading Aryans over four millennia ago. This theory is opposed by the practitioners of Hindutva politics, who suggest that in order to protect themselves from being forcibly converted to Islam some communities escaped to the jungles and became poor and therefore untouchables. This concoction of Hindutva ideologues is fast gaining acceptance in some sections of society. Juergensmeyer examines the concept of Dharma, which is very caste specific, and also outlines the efforts of the Bhakti (devotional love) saints who tried to sidetrack the caste hierarchy by building parallel communities. Bhakti saints like Kabir and Nanak defied the Dharmic (Brahminic) concepts of salvation and propagated Bhakti, which was personal and devotional and required none of the trappings of Hindu rituals and caste. He makes an important and simple observation - that none of the Bhakti saints was a Brahmin, that the large following of these saints came from low-caste untouchables, and that untouchables all along had something of a religion of their own, a nameless body of practices and beliefs for which the movements of these saints provided an expression.

In the afterword, the editor sums up the issues involved well: "The current struggle in India is not between the constitutional tenets of modern India and 'Hindu Communalism'. It is between the cultural and religious pluralism of India and ideological homogenisation project" (p. 192).

While the issues are well delineated, the social base of the issues is missing in all the essays. Despite this, the compilation is remarkable in terms of the breadth of topics covered and the depth at which the contributors have gone to make their case. It surely is a rich contribution to the efforts to understand the conflicts in South Asia.

A probe and some questions

What next for the Venkataswami Commission of Inquiry relating to the Tehelka expose?

WITH the term of the K. Venkataswami Commission which is investigating the Tehelka expose due to end on July 24, the possible political impact or effect that any interim report that the Commission may come up with will have on the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh is being keenly watched. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has much at stake in Uttar Pradesh, and for its National Democratic Alliance partner Samata Party and the party's leader George Fernandes, who had to step down as Defence Minister in the wake of the Tehelka expose, it may well be a make-or-break situation. By means of depositions made by its top leaders before the Liberhan Commission the BJP has already converted it into a forum that could be used to set the agenda for the elections.

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The Venkataswami Commission was appointed on March 24 to ascertain whether any transactions relating to defence and other procurements referred to in the Tehelka videotapes and transcripts were carried out, and if so, whether they were carried out in accordance with the prescribed procedures and considering the imperatives of national security. It was also asked to ascertain whether in any of the transactions illicit gains were made by persons in public office or other individuals or any organisation as alleged and, if so, to what extent. The Commission was required to suggest action that may be taken against persons who may be found responsible for acts of commission and/or omission in respect of transactions referred to in the videotapes. It was also asked to look into all aspects relating to the making of these allegations or any other matter that arises from or is connected with or is incidental to any act of omission or commission in respect of the transactions referred to (Frontline, April 13, 2001).

The Commission, which held its first sitting on May 31, had held its sessions at Vigyan Bhavan about six times in the first two weeks of July. About 25 persons responded to its notification inviting affidavits from the general public. It issued notice to 45 persons, who include Defence Secretary Yogendra Narain, Union Home Secretary Kamal Pandey, Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) Director Shyamal Dutta, television channels including Zee TV, Doordarshan and NDTV, besides reporters Aniruddha Bahal and Mathew Samuel and Tehelka's chief executive and editor Tarun Tejpal.

At present, the Commission is engaged in collecting facts about the case. The task relating to making some Defence Ministry documents public tops its agenda. The Ministry has expressed itself against the Commission making public the sensitive documents it had presented in support of its affidavits. However, it has not opposed making its affidavits public.

After viewing the tapes, the Defence Ministry identified 13 transactions, which it has decided to take up during the Commission's hearings. These concern deals relating to Sukhoi aircraft, night vision binoculars, T-90 tanks and Barak missiles. The Ministry has submitted to the Commission 410 files and documents. In respect of certain sensitive files among these, it has claimed privilege. In an application to the Commission, the Ministry has said that these files should not be circulated before the issue of notices. Counsel for the Tehelka has argued that no case can be presented without evidence.

ANOTHER issue before the Commission relates to the demand for viewing unedited tapes. This has come from lawyers representing various Central government and Army officials. "Two sets of tapes have been submitted before the Commission. The first is the edited version of the Tehelka recordings, which were shown by the television channels at the time of the expose. The second is the four-and-a-half hour footage, which has also been made public. Counsel for the Defence Ministry, the government and many others insisted on viewing also the rest of the 90-hour tape," Tehelka's counsel Siddharth Dave told Frontline.

Those who demanded that these tapes be shown referred to the "Tamil Nadu video war". While making a strong case for this, counsel for P. Sasi, a civilian employee in the Defence Department, drew an analogy with the controversial video footage telecast on a private channel (on the arrest of former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi in Chennai on June 30) that pointed to the possibility that videotapes can be doctored. "Therefore, it is relevant that we view the tapes. It is necessary for natural justice," he said.

However, counsel for the Commission Gopal Subramanium said that there was no need to provide tapes or transcripts until a notice under Section 8-B of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952, was issued to individuals. The Commission is required by law to issue this notice to every person whose conduct is likely to come under scrutiny or whose reputation is likely to be affected by it. The notice also puts the person on guard and ensures that he or she is given a fair opportunity to present his or her case during the inquiry. Subramanium said that individual respondents would be given enough time to protect their reputation and so they should be provided with the transcripts and a schedule.

Rejecting the demand as a "premature" one, the Commission ruled against viewing the tapes. Justice Venkataswami said in his order: "The supply of the unedited tapes that run to 100 hours is not only not practicable but also not advisable. The request for the supply of the unedited tapes, the transcript thereof and also the statements of others who have responded to notices is premature and to a certain extent anticipates issuance of notices under Section 8-B of the Act (for cross examination)."

While the conclusions of the Venkataswami Commission will take some time to come, the Army and Defence Ministry inquiries have already come up with their reports. That the Army had taken a serious note of the breaches of conduct by its officials became clear immediately after the expose on March 13, 2001. The Chief of the Army Staff, General S. Padmanabhan, had warned the "black sheep" in the force that they would not be spared and that they could not "tarnish the image of the entire force". In a message to his officers and men, the Army chief had said: "As you are aware of the media focus on shady defence deals, regrettably there are one or two black sheep among us. But they will not be allowed to tarnish the image of the entire force."

A three-man Army Court of Inquiry was set up under Lt. General S.K. Jain mainly to probe allegations of corruption contained in the Tehelka report against four serving officers - Major-General P.S.K. Choudhary, who was the Additional Director-General, Ordnance and Supply; Major General Manjit Singh Ahluwalia, Director General of Ordnance and Supply; Brigadier Iqbal Singh, Prospective Procurement Officer; and Colonel Anil Sehgal, Director in the Directorate-General of Ordnance and Supply. In order to try and restore the Army's morale and credibility, the Army Court of Inquiry conducted its investigation with remarkable speed.

The Army Court of Inquiry studied the Tehelka tapes and collected detailed defence statements from Choudhary, who was suspended. It also interrogated Tejpal, Bahal and Mathew, who responded to the request made by the court. It submitted its report indicting four Army officials. The court's findings have been submitted before the higher-ups, who will now decide whether to take administrative or disciplinary action against the officers.

The Army does not want to initiate any court martial proceedings against these officials in a hasty manner as they are being examined also by the Venkataswami Commission.

It does not want to follow a course of action that may be overridden by the Commission. One of the accused officers approached the Commission with the request that as two inquiries - the Commission's and the Army court's - were going on against him, he be exempted from presenting evidence in one of them. He withdrew his application when the Commission made it clear that such a plea could not be entertained. Justice Venkataswami said: "The officer had been asked only to bring to the notice of the Commission the facts known to him relating to the expose. There is no compulsion for him to disclose his defence at this stage."

In another directive, on March 22, the Defence Ministry formed a committee under the Joint Secretary and Chief Vigilance Officer, R.P. Bagai, which too has submitted its report to Defence Minister Jaswant Singh. The committee was asked to look into transactions relating to the procurement of weapons and find out whether prescribed procedures were followed in the deals. Bagai was asked to find whether the existing procurement procedures could be manipulated by individuals for extraneous considerations. The committee was also told to suggest appropriate modifications to the procurement system.

The Bagai Committee submitted its report to the Defence Minister by May end. Prima facie it found three civilian officials - H.C. Pant, Narendra Singh and P. Sasi - guilty of corruption. In its expose, Tehelka had videotaped Pant allegedly receiving Rs. 50,000 in three instalments, Sasi allegedly taking Rs. 20,000 and Narendra Singh Rs. 10,000. A Defence Ministry spokesperson said: "The disciplinary authority of these three officials will scrutinise the matter and decide on their punishment."

The fate of the officials as also the political bigwigs will become clear later. For now, what is under speculation is the fate of the Commission as also any political pressures it faces.

A grandiose plan

The draft of the Approach Paper to the 10th Five Year Plan strikes an optimistic note, but are the targets and projections realistic?

THE script is right, the tabulations and calculations are correct: what is sorely needed now to convert the optimistic targets into reality is a small dose of magic. This indeed could be the postscript to the Approach Paper to the 10th Five Year Plan which has unfurled a grandiose plan for accelerating the annual growth rate of the economy to 8 per cent and more during the Plan period, 2002-07.

The draft paper to the ambitious Plan was approved with minimum changes by the Planning Commission which met under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on on June 27. After approval by the Union Cabinet, the Approach Paper would be placed before the National Development Council (NDC) for final clearance. The NDC meeting is likely to be held in August.

While the Planning Commission is known to set optimistic targets, what made the situation particularly sticky was that the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) - which had made certain extremely optimistic early projections - came up with a dismal GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth rate of 5.2 per cent for 2000-01. The advance estimates put out in February had projected the growth rate to be 6 per cent.

According to the CSO, the sectors which have brought down the revised rate as compared to the advance estimates are agriculture, forestry and fishing which grew at the rate of only 0.2 per cent against the earlier estimate of 0.9 per cent; mining and quarrying which actually grew at 3.7 per cent and not 4.5 per cent as estimated earlier, and electricity, gas and water supply at 4.7 per cent against 5.6 per cent expected earlier. These figures did not come as a surprise to observers. In the face of plunging consumer demand, a global economic slowdown and investments showing no signs of picking up, the slowdown was not unexpected. The situation holds little scope for improvement. Dr. Pradeep Srivastava, Chief Economist, National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), said: "I do not see too much of an improvement this year or at least for the next 12-month period."

Srivastava further explains how the 8-9 per cent target is not a realistic one. Dividing the 9 per cent growth to sectoral levels, he explains that agriculture would have to grow at the rate of slightly less than 5 per cent and industry at 11 per cent. Since these two sectors each roughly account for a quarter of the GDP, these numbers would average an 8 per cent growth rate for half of the GDP. If the remaining half, being the service sector, grows at 10 per cent, the country would have an overall growth rate of 9 per cent.

The weakest link in such a case would be agriculture, which grew only at 3.1 per cent through the 1990s, notwithstanding a series of good monsoons. For 9 per cent growth, agricultural growth would need to be stepped up by 40-50 per cent. The gap between expectation and performance would only be a little less in the case of industry and services: industrial growth, for example, was only 7-8 per cent during the 1990s.

Second, to have the national output grow by 9 per cent, a growth of factors of production, specially capital, would be needed. Then how much would savings need to grow? A rough and ready method to answer this question uses the (average) capital-output ratio with a value in the range of 4-4.3. Given this capital-output ratio, the required national saving for 9 per cent growth comes to 36-39 per cent of GDP. This would necessitate a major step-up in domestic savings rate.

THE picture holds little optimism here. In 1995-96, the maximum national savings rate attained was less than 26 per cent. Since then it has only declined. Amongst the three main constituents of domestic savings, savings by households have stagnated around 19 per cent of GDP for a while. Savings by the corporate sector have shown some growth but not enough to offset the decline in public savings during the same period. Public savings consist of savings by public sector enterprises and the different levels of the government - Central, State and local. Government deficits have been increasing during the 1990s at all levels, and it would be foolhardy to expect a reversal anytime soon.

Raising the domestic savings rate by a whopping 50 per cent alone will not do. Even if the required savings materialises by some miracle, there would be left a final step to convert these savings into investment. This would require investment demand almost to double. Indeed, even if by another set of miracles, public investment were to triple over the next few years, private sector investment would still have to double in order to generate enough demand to soak up the enhanced savings. "Clearly, there is a high dose of fantasy underlying any claims of our GDP growing at 8-9 per cent," Srivastava said.

Indeed, "fantasy" and "hope" are the bywords in the Finance Ministry's plans. This is obvious from the calculations presented by the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, K.C. Pant, justifying the 8 per cent growth rate.

According to Pant, one of the principal causes for the low growth last year was the poor performance of 0.2 per cent growth in the agricultural sector. He said: "If this sector grows even at the long term average of 2.8 per cent to 3 per cent in the coming year, it will add 0.7 percentage points to the GDP growth performance. Since the progress of the monsoon and its regional dispersion have been good, there is every prospect of a significantly higher growth in agriculture, which would directly boost GDP growth even further." On an optimistic note, Pant continued that agriculture would cause a rebound in the industry and services sectors. He hoped that at the same time, the global economy would also do a turnaround. This could lead exports to go up and ease pressure on the industrial sector by generating demand. Additionally, public investment would then pick up which, in turn, could boost private investment activity as well and all this could contribute to higher GDP growth in the current year.

SUCH optimistic targets apart, the question remains about the need to target an ambitious growth rate. Why does the government keep on insisting that a high growth rate would bring down poverty levels by leading to employment growth? In doing so, why does it overlook the fact that the rapid economic growth rate (of the earlier reform years) has not translated itself into rapid employment growth? Such questions remain unanswered.

A comparison of the NSS Employment-Unemployment surveys for 1993-94 and 1999-2000 shows that there has been a significant decline in the crude worker population ratios resulting in a slower growth of the workforce relative to the growth in population and an absolute reduction in the number of women workers in rural India which is offset by a rise in the number of urban women workers. The drafts of the Approach Paper as also the report of the task force set up to look into Employment Opportunities sidestep this important question. Even Economic Survey 2000-2001 bypassed a discussion on trends in employment and economic growth by simply stating: "Higher economic growth in the recent past, if it has been more capital-intensive, may have resulted in lower employment intensity. However, there is reason to believe this may be more than compensated by new and expanded opportunities in the service sector, much of which would also be in the unreported unorganised sector." Not surprisingly, the report of the task force also wraps up the discussion with a one-line statement: "The low employment elasticity in the 1990s reflects the fact that employment growth decelerated in this period while GDP growth accelerated."

The government thus seems to be giving out a message that future workforce opportunities would be created in the services sector. In doing this, it clearly ignores the fate of domestic industry. The task force has now come to the conclusion that 70 per cent of future workforce opportunities would be created in the services sector. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, member of the Planning Commission, submitting the task force report to K.C. Pant, said: "Only if the GDP growth rate would touch 8-9 per cent mark would there be any significant improvement in the availability of employment opportunities... If it continues at an average of 6.5 per cent, it will not lead to any significant improvement in the country's employment situation."

Ignoring such basic questions, the draft of the Approach Paper continues to stress on policy initiatives that can reverse the declining trend of growth. While the document admits the existence of abject poverty among the masses, lack of basic amenities for a large section of the population, failure to contain illiteracy and the unavailability of adequate nutrition and health services, it leaves the implementation of the policies that can reverse the decline to non-existent political will. It hopes to push forward a number of politically difficult decisions including higher user charges, downsizing government departments and increasing railway fares. It promises to test the political will of the State governments as well as the Central government in increasing public sector savings by around 2.9 per cent of GDP. The Approach Paper accepts the fact that the economy faces the gigantic task of increasing public sector savings from 2.4 per cent to 4.6 per cent and especially government savings from a negative level to 1.7 per cent of GDP in the target growth scenario.

Dr. Pronab Sen, Adviser, Planning Commission, said: "In the last three years public sector savings have gone down. So in terms of availability of resources the action has to be in the public sector." Keeping in mind the fact that the economy is likely to move more on market-based private sector activities, an increase in the savings rate of private corporate sectors from 4.9 per cent to 5.8 per cent has been regarded as achievable. Household sector savings have been kept at the same percentage level of 19 per cent.

Sen explains that the government would have to cut losses on non-investment expenditure. The Draft Approach Paper cuts government expenditure by focussing on two areas. The first is subsidies, both direct and implicit, which are estimated to form a substantial proportion of GDP. A very large chunk of this goes towards interest payments and subsidies on food, fertilizers, kerosene and diesel. The second is the pension liability of government, which is the fastest growing component of the government expenditure. Besides, the paper proposes to reduce government employment by 2 per cent every year with no recruitment during the 10th Plan period, accelerated disinvestment, widespread imposition of user charges for all non-merit goods, levy of tax at every stage of value addition from production to the sale of goods and services, and appropriate pricing of public services.

Not surprisingly, some of these provisions have been termed anti-poor by the social sector. One such group, the Centre for Alternative Dalit Media, submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister urging him to direct the Planning Commission to re-work the Approach Paper. The memorandum stated that "only a cruel system can impose user charges and can ask for pricing of public services." It further said: "By suggesting no recruitment and leaving vacant secretarial and clerical posts, the Planning Commission seems to have forgotten its role of generating more and more jobs through better planning."

The reforms in the agricultural sector have also been criticised. Schemes such as the Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP) and the generation of funds by the gram panchayat to the extent of 15-25 per cent to get the balance funds from the government have been questioned. "In this reference, if schemes like the IRDP are primarily run by commercial banks working on commercial lines, we are afraid they would need guarantees and securities which these sections do not possess. This kind of arrangement would not help in alleviating poverty," the memorandum said.

Another criticism of the move to "downsize" government originates in the chronic under-provision of public services such as health, education, social security, transportation and the administration of justice. Critics have argued that a refocussing of priorities is what is required.

The government has, however, ignored such pleas and is going ahead with its minimum agenda which includes accelerating tax reforms to move towards full-fledged VAT (Value Added Tax) in a time-bound manner, privatisation of Public Sector Undertakings of both the Centre and the States in a time-bound manner, significant reduction in subsidies, the support to States contingent on specified reforms including governance reforms. Whether it would be able to bring together the unbeatable combination of political will and magic to realise its goals remains to be seen.

Behind the UTI mess

The Unit Trust of India lets down its US-64 investors. An analysis of how India's largest mutual fund bungled.

THE country's largest mutual fund manager has managed to push its flagship scheme, Unit Scheme-1964 (US-64), into a black hole yet again. The Unit Trust of India's (UTI) unprecedented decision on July 2 to suspend the sale and repurchase of units for six months effectively meant that two crore investors - after touting this number in its advertisements for three years, the UTI would now have us believe that there are only 40 to 50 lakh investors - have been deprived of liquidity.

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That is, they cannot encash their units by selling to the UTI. Every year, starting July, UTI announces sale and repurchase prices (it follows a July-June year). The price for this month in past years has without any logic or rationale been dubbed a 'special price' in a bid to lure fresh investor funds.

For an open-end fund (that is, one in which investors can walk in and buy or sell units), the suspension of move to spend repurchase is unprecedented. The guidelines of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), which do not apply to US-64, do allow mutual funds to close the repurchase facility under certain circumstances. But in the case of US-64 it has been closed after inept performance and possible insider trading - grounds which would not come under the SEBI guidelines.

The closing of the liquidity option is galling for small investors - over the last 37 years, millions of retail investors, pensioners and so on have reposed such faith in the UTI that most people refused to see the writing on the wall - and they are the most hurt now.

Even more galling is the fact that out of the Rs. 4,151 crores taken out in April-May 2001 (in itself an unusual event coming just before the dividend announcement), 90 per cent was by the corporate sector. One can concede some smartness on the part of such investors in reading the deterioration in the scheme and possible losses when it switched to NAV-based pricing. The NAV, or net asset value, is the market value of assets divided by the number of units held by investors.

At present the UTI has an archaic system of pricing in which where the sale and repurchase prices are delinked from the NAV. They keep rising incrementally between July and May of the next year to equalise the dividend yield for investors entering at various points of the year. So when the repurchase price is higher than the NAV, as it has been for most years since 1995, every unit bought back by an investor means less value for those who stay on in the scheme.

Since the repurchase price was substantially higher than the NAV in April and May, there was a huge incentive to trade on the basis of inside information. Part of the pull-out may be attributed to restrictions on dividend stripping.

The repurchase price has been higher than the NAV for most of the last six years, but no pullout of the 2001 magnitude happened. But the unprecedented bunching of outflows in April-May 2001 points to the prospect of quite a few corporate investors having been privy to inside information. The inside information in this case could be that the repurchase facility would be closed in July 2001. This explains the rush to the exit. The quantum of exit in these two months alone would have added Rs. 1,300 crores to the value erosion suffered by retail and staying investors.

The government has now announced a probe into this aspect. But this would be effective only if insider/informed trading (pulling out of funds in this case) -driven profits are disgorged and duly restored to the staying investors.

The profit in this case would have to be the difference between the repurchase price - which was around Rs.14.20 a unit to Rs.14.25 a unit - and the NAV which by reasonable estimates may be 25 to 30 per cent less than the face value of Rs.10 a unit.

However, a high degree of scepticism would have to be attached to the issue of whether the probe would be meaningful and whether efforts would be made to disgorge undue profits. This is warranted given the ineptitude of the UTI and the government, especially after the first bail-out in 1998-99.

INTERESTINGLY, this is the first time that the UTI has turned off the repurchase facility in July itself. In 1994-95, it turned off the tap in a staggered manner starting in October and then after a few months completely closed the facility. That was the year when the character of the fund took a turn for the worse.

The UTI and its top brass led by the then Chairman, S.A. Dave, in their greed to mobilise funds and meet 'self-set targets' (usually funds have performance as targets and let the fund mobilisation be a consequence of that) made the scheme attractive for corporate investors by announcing unsustainable dividend rates. They also did not care about the harmful effects of such flows on the interests of small investors.

In the 1998-99 Budget, a three-year tax exemption on dividend had been given to US-64 as part of a bail-out package. This made even dividends at lower rates attractive for investors in the income tax bracket of 20 per cent and above. More so for the corporate sector, and dividend stripping was its favourite activity. In dividend stripping, an investor buys, takes the dividend and then sells. His selling price may be less than his cost. But the difference is a short-term capital loss which can be set off against other capital gains to reduce tax liability.

With the dividend tax exemption, dividend stripping was even more attractive. US-64 was the favourite playground for this game owing to the UTI's opaque operations in this scheme and the pricing system which was waiting to give more money than what the investment was due.

The UTI top brass also made no bones about highlighting how the dividend even at a lower rate was attractive for high tax bracket investors and these flows were encouraged. So even after the first officially admitted crisis in 1998, no lessons were learnt and the UTI was still pursuing hot corporate money.

Now corporate investors and retail investors are vastly different on the basics of investment decisions - investment objective, risk preferences, acceptable post tax rates of return and liquidity. The corporate money that the UTI unabashedly coveted was essentially hot money steaming in and out.

Such volatile flows are difficult to manage at the best of times and even for fund managers with no fetters on their operations. For the UTI, which had the imposed responsibility of doing the government's bidding, such as trying to push up markets in the aftermath of Pokhran-II and other such uncertainties, it was doubly difficult. The task was made more problematic also by its unwillingness to sell the stocks of certain business groups. For instance, in Reliance Industries and Reliance Petroleum, it has been only steady accumulation with nominal sales every now and then. This is true for most of the UTI's stakes in family-owned businesses.

In contrast, it has had no qualms about moving in and out of stocks such as ITC and Hindustan Lever. Of its stakes, only in a few companies was it in a position to book profits. So whenever corporate funds went out, the UTI had limited manoeuvrability in generating cash to meet outflows.

Invariably it had to sell a few bluechip stocks such as Hindustan Liver and ITC, government securities and corporate bonds. This has had an adverse effect on its portfolio quality and investment performance.

The quality of investment performance can be gauged from the fact that the dividend yield (dividend amount divided by the sale price) has been less than what one would have earned in an individual capacity by investing in debt instruments or open-end mutual fund debt schemes including the UTI's UTI Bond Fund.

For 2001-02, the dividend yield is 7.4 per cent. But if you factor in the lower repurchase prices, in the last three years the total returns (dividend plus gain/loss on sale) would be less than what you get from a savings bank account. The latter is equally relevant to staying investors.

Even in absolute terms, this is unacceptable. But this has to be adjusted for risk. US-64 has a 65 per cent exposure to equities. Of all financial assets, equities constitute the highest risk class. So if you adjust for risk, what an investor has got is way below even the inflation rate. This denouement driven by volatile flows has been compounded by shallow markets and strange investment behaviour by the UTI.

The present crisis - the second one in official terms - also has its genesis in investment decisions that would not pass muster. To examine the malaise on the investing side, two instances would suffice and serve as a good proxy on the quality of fund management.

One is the dalliance with Ketan Parekh stocks. This was done in 1999-2000, ostensibly to take exposures in the New Economy (IT, media and telecom) stocks in line with the recommendations of the Deepak Parekh Committee.

The latter, set up to recommend a restructuring package when the first 'official' crisis broke out in 1998-99, had suggested that the UTI should take exposures in New Economy and FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) company stocks. But never would it have imagined that the UTI would go along with an operator of dubious repute and take big exposures in dubious stocks.

The UTI's exposures in top IT stocks such as Infosys, Wipro, Hughes Software, HCL Technologies and NIIT took a backseat to the Ketan Parekh plays. These were stocks such as DSQ Software, Pentamedia Graphics, PentaSoft Technologies, SSI, Satyam Computer, Aftek Infosys, Himachal Futuristic, Shonkh Technologies, Cyberspace Infosys and Global Tele-Systems. The UTI became a convenient dumping ground for a large quantum of these stocks which reduced floating stock in the market and made price manipulation easy.

The extent to which this dangerous dalliance went was clear when even after the Ketan Parekh crisis broke out, the UTI came to the rescue at the Calcutta Stock Exchange. The UTI and Reliance Capital picked up brokers' outstandings of DSQ Software and Himchal Futuristic, among others, in a bail-out.

This was when the shares were on a relentless downtrend (of close to 90 per cent). What the UTI expected to make out of these investments is anybody's guess. UTI had also lent Rs.50 crores to Himchal Futuristic through a debenture issue and the funds were routed to broker bail-outs.

The second instance that shows the indifferent quality of portfolio management was an investment in Reliance Industries made a few years ago. The UTI had picked up a strange instrument called compulsorily convertible warrants (a warrant by nature is to be exercised at the option of the investor and attaching a compulsory clause makes nonsense of the concept) in Reliance Industries. Apart from not only agreeing to it, the UTI exercised this instrument and took shares at prices much higher than the market price. This is one of the deals where information is public. But one never knows whether similar deals have been done by UTI. Such deals do no good to investors.

Clearly, there have been many investment decisions that were of a questionable nature and which go against rational behaviour. Whether these were done under extraneous pressure or not, the investors have paid a price. Notably, even between the crisis point in July 1998 and now, stock prices barring PSU stocks and capital goods, have shown increases ranging from 10 to 93 per cent. If in this backdrop US-64 is in a mess again it only points to poor investment management, the dip in reserves due to peculiar pricing and the adverse impact of volatile corporate flows.

The UTI has also not done justice to the most important recommendations of the Deepak Parekh Committee. These include a move towards NAV-based pricing (which would have meant more transparency), a shift towards debt instruments in the portfolio and a separate structured fund management team for US-64. The UTI claims to have implemented 18 out of 21 recommendations. But without any action on the core recommendations, the fringe ones have not had the kind of effect they ought to have had. Judged qualitatively too, the nature of compliance with some recommendations has been dubious, as highlighted by the dalliance with Ketan Parekh stocks.

With so many skeletons in its cupboard, the UTI has been happily selling the scheme as one that offers regular income, safety (it has used to good effect a survey finding of US-64 being the third safest option), anytime liquidity and the trust of two crore investors.

The scheme's portfolio has never been designed to offer a regular income. If it was doing it comfortably till the capital base ballooned during S.A. Dave's time, it was because of its early entry into many stocks. Considerably higher inflows during the 1993-95 period and subsequent years were not profitably employed. In any case, given the very nature of equities, a fund with 65 per cent exposure to this class of securities could never offer a guarantee of regular income. As the reserves have run out, the UTI has struggled in the last few years to maintain yields at respectable levels.

Even after the troubles of 1998, the government continued to turn a blind eye and allowed the UTI to sell apples as oranges. Having blatantly marketed an equity oriented scheme as an income scheme, the UTI now leaves itself open to legal action.

This aside, the Deepak Parekh panel recommendation to bring it under the ambit of SEBI seems to have been put on the backburner as far as US-64 goes. This move would have ensured better disclosures and at least made it possible for investors to get a better idea of the scheme's position. Hopefully the current muddle would force the government to push the scheme under SEBI's regulatory ambit. This would ensure that a full-fledged offer document is made with adequate disclosures aiding investor's cause.

Tamil Nadu's shame

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Your Cover Story "Tamil Nadu's shame" (July 20, 2001) gives a graphic account of the inhuman acts indulged in by the Tamil Nadu Police while arresting former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and two Union Ministers. The Jayalalithaa government had no option but to release them soon in the wake of a public outcry. Why the police acted in the manner they did remains a mystery. Were they instructed by the higher-ups to spare no one, however high and old they might be? The video clips telecast by some TV channels brought back to public memory the midnight knocks of the Emergency days. They demonstrated in no uncertain terms the power of the vibrant electronic and print media. They showed to what depths the police had descended while effecting the arrests. This was a shameful act, and the police will never be able to live it down. The least the State government can do is to mete out exemplary punishment to the police officers and others who violated human rights while effecting the arrests.

M. Fathima Beevi, who resigned as Governor, was made a scapegoat for the Jayalalithaa government's fault. It shows how a biased Centre acted in haste against a Governor who was asked to submit a report within an unreasonable deadline. The Centre expected the Governor to make a report suiting its needs so that it could act against Jayalalithaa.

The entire episode has a lesson for Jayalalithaa - that she cannot steamroller her opponents by foisting cases on them. She should now concentrate on toning up the administration and delivering the goods.

D.B.N. Murthy Bangalore * * *

An interesting feature of the arrest episode is the emergence of satellite TV channels as effective publicity media of political parties. Both Sun TV and Jaya TV played well for their respective masters, Karunanidhi's DMK and Jayalalithaa's AIADMK. When regional parties can afford to have exclusive TV channels for political propaganda, it should not be difficult for national parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress(I) to launch their own TV channels with the same end in view. The channels, if carefully planned, can bring in the funds the parties need, and they need not have to go to the public for funds or ask for government-funding for election campaigns. With companies coming forward to fund the parties by giving advertisement support to their channels, it can also be an effective way of eliminating the stranglehold of black money on politics. Moreover, the parties will have their own forums to present their views "unedited" to the public.

Madhu Agrawal Delhi * * *

The lawless manner in which Karunanidhi and the two Union Ministers were arrested only showed the sadistic attitude of the Jayalalithaa government. Karunanidhi is a respected politician and the inhuman treatment meted out to him rightly sparked protests and condemnation all over the country.

Abhijeet D. More Nashik * * *

Chief Minister Jayalalithaa seems to be in a hurry to achieve her only "goal" on getting the mandate from the people of Tamil Nadu for a second term. Unfortunately for her, this goal has turned out to be a 'self-goal'. In that process she breathed life into a man whose political epitaph had been decisively scripted by the electorate.

The National Democratic Alliance government's decision to recall Governor M. Fathima Beevi is entirely in keeping with its muddle-headed handling of various issues of national importance - the introduction of Vedic Astrology as a subject at the university level, the extension of the ceasefire accord with Naga rebels, the disinvestment of public sector undertakings and so on.

Despite the rejection of Jayalalithaa's nomination papers by the Electoral Officers and the declaration by Union Home Minister L.K. Advani that she would not be called upon to form a government, Fathima Beevi invited her to form the government. She had no alternative left in view of the near-two-thirds majority the AIADMK-led front had won. For Arjun Jaitley, the Law Minister, the Governor's action was a bitter pill. The Jayalalithaa government's post-midnight adventure on June 29 came in handy for the Centre and the Governor was shown the door on July 1. The DMK's support is necessary for the continuance of the NDA government.

Although it was claimed that the Union Cabinet's decision to recall the Governor was based on a report from the Home Ministry team, it was actually done on the recommendations of the NDA's political "fact-finding" team headed by former Defence Minister George Fernandes, who stands discredited by the Tehelka expose. He and his colleague on the panel, V.K. Malhotra, told mediapersons in New Delhi that all the political parties they met in Chennai wanted the imposition of President's Rule on Tamil Nadu. They did not, however, name the parties they met. Now that an account other than the Sun TV's is available on Karunanidhi's arrest and the incidents that followed, one hopes that the fair-minded President will advise the Prime Minister to drop Murasoli Maran and T.R. Baalu from his Cabinet.

M.V. Sundararaman Chennai * * *

Jayalalithaa has defended her government's action in arresting Murasoli Maran and T.R. Baalu on the grounds that they prevented police officers from discharging their duty and that Maran, particularly, attacked a police officer at Karunanidhi's residence. As such there is no difference between criminals forcing their way into a house to rob or molest a woman and police officers breaking into a person's bedroom without any arrest warrant or proper justification to do so. As the latter can only be treated as criminals, the question of preventing them from performing their duty does not arise. A leading forensic science expert has categorically stated that the video clips on the arrest of Karunanidhi released by the Tamil Nadu Police, which showed Maran hitting a police officer, are manipulated ones. Deterrent punishment should be meted out to those who doctored the video.

Jamuna Doss received by e-mail Aruppukottai * * *

The manner in which Karunanidhi and the two Union Ministers were arrested was unprecedented and it shocked all democratic-minded people. There has been a blatant violation of the procedure for arrest laid down by the Supreme Court. However, the way the Centre dealt with the Tamil Nadu fiasco is also not justifiable. Instead of taking action against the Chief Minister, whose government violated the norms regarding arrests, the Centre recommended the recall of the Governor, who was in no way responsible for the situation in the State. The Centre's observation that Governor Fathima Beevi failed to protect the Constitution is not acceptable.

K.A. Solaman Alappuzha Killing of Dalits

It is shameful that even after 54 years of Independence there is no let-up in the atrocities committed against Dalits ("Castes and killings", July 20). This is going on in many States. But what is equally distressing is the inaction of the governments and parties in power, and their indirect support to the people of the upper castes who commit the crime, as in the case of Uttar Pradesh.

Envy, vested interests, vote bank politics, ignorance, illiteracy, unemployment, economic inequalities and fundamentalism may be some of the reasons for this state of affairs. The existence of caste is a reality. It may not be possible to abolish it simply by enacting laws. In fact, most of the Dalits are tillers of the land, landless labourers or poor daily wage earners. Instead of organising them on the basis of caste, they should be organised as labourers and brought under a single leadership throughout the country. Whether it takes time to eradicate caste differences or not, there should be an end to the atrocities and harmony and peace should be preserved among different castes. This may need persistent efforts such as educating everyone, creating awareness, providing better employment opportunities and enacting land reforms. And governments should implement the relevant laws, punish the guilty early and extend adequate protection to the affected people.

A. Jacob Sahayam Karigiri, Tamil Nadu * * * Targeting history

This is in response to the article "Targeting history" (May 11). That you have brought to the readers' notice this very important and relevant issue is highly commendable. I have a question to put to R.K Dixit. First, he says that the books written by the world-renowned historians are "inconvenient" in terms of maintaining "secularism". I wish to point out to the Head of the Department of Education in Social Sciences that history is not written for convenience or inconvenience. It is meant to be a well-researched and documented collection of facts. And if the maintenance of secularism is the crux of his argument, I would like to ask him as to what is wrong in letting students know the whys and hows of "history" which have given birth to the concept of secularism, so that they learn to respect it better. Secondly, regarding the exclusion of history textbooks because they have not proved themselves good enough to meet the "new" needs of society, I wish to point out to Dixit that history is the only way for humans to learn their lessons as an entire race. As a student of sociology I might point out to him that trying to address the new needs of society without a knowledge of history is like building a 25-storey building without a foundation. In the same context, I cannot resist asking if some parts of history have become irrelevant in today's context, why did Murli Manohar Joshi's party dig up the Ayodhya issue, which is truly "history".

Anandhi received by e-mail State of flux

The massacre of King Birendra and his family members has left indelible marks on Nepal's modern political history (Cover Story, July 6). It happened all of a sudden even as the country's fledgling parliamentary democracy was being attacked from several fronts domestically. The country has, however, passed through this unprecedented tragedy with remarkable calm, keeping its multi-lingual and multi-ethnic society intact. For the last five decades Nepal and the Nepalese are part of the modern world even though the country's prolonged developmental efforts are yet to bear fruit. The mass murder at the palace is a wake-up call to Nepal's political leaders and civil society to take the country further towards prosperity with total national commitment with the help of a more transparent administration.

In order to avoid giving a distorted picture of unfortunate developments such as these, foreign journalists reporting from Nepal need to comprehend the nuances of the society and give a balanced account of the developments rather than pick up gossip and intelligence-inspired reports. They should not attempt to write Nepal's political history in a superficial way without understanding the underlying truth, emotions and sentiments of the people. C.K. Lal's "A society on test" threw some light on how Nepal responded to the tragedy and on what lies ahead. His article is by far the most explicit among the countless articles that have come out on Nepali society and its response to the tragedy. India's response in Nepal's hour of crisis is warmly appreciated. The pinpricks in India-Nepal relations need to be resolved and the differences among the two countries narrowed down. Two years ago, after the hijacking of the Indian Airlines aircraft to Kandahar, the findings of an opinion poll suggested that 90 per cent of Nepalese favoured a clear demarcation of the now porous India-Nepal border and round-the-clock policing and security checks on the border. It is detrimental to the security interests of both countries if the border is left unchecked, particularly at a time when international terrorism is rife.

India should help Nepal in its efforts to speed up its process of development and both could cooperate in harnessing the untapped hydel resources and share power on an equitable basis. India can win the trust of the Nepalese by boosting Indian investments in Nepal. Peace, stability and economic growth in Nepal will bolster India's own security. India should therefore take a multi-track approach to win the confidence of the political leaders of different hues and the public at large.

Rajeev Kumar Pala, Kerala A document of promise

The Third Front has come out with a comprehensive and balanced programme (July 6). It has a clear message that the People's Front wants India to stand on its own and prosper and its citizens to breathe in a free and fearless atmosphere. Of course, there are a few omissions in the programme. For instance, it does not spell out the Front's stand on the reservation of seats for women in Parliament and the State legislatures. And nothing has been mentioned in the programme about the Front's views on issues relating to Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern States, nuclear policy, environment protection and family planning. Population control is a major issue of immediate importance and needs to be addressed by all the parties and fronts with utmost sincerity.

Shakil Akthar Bhagalpur

A life dedicated to socialism

B. PRASANT obituary
Sailen Dasgupta, 1920-2001.

SAILEN DASGUPTA - freedom fighter, veteran leader and Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and chairman of the Left Front in West Bengal - died in a Mumbai hospital on July 10. He had earlier been operated upon for a coronary bypass. He was 81.

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Born in 1920 in a poverty-stricken family in a small mufassil township in the district of Barisal in what was then undivided Bengal, Sailen Dasgupta was drawn at an early age to the Anushilan Samiti, a large and organised group of activists that believed in armed struggle against the British raj and opposed the mass politics of passive resistance that characterised the practice of the Indian National Congress. In the 1930s, Dasgupta became disillusioned with the "terrorist path", and his restlessness found an outlet when he came in touch with Marxist revolutionaries like Niren Ghosh, who subsequently brought him into the fold of the Communist Party of India, in the nascent Barisal unit.

Dasgupta became a whole-time worker of the CPI soon after. He often spoke of that period, when he supplemented the small allowance he received from the Party by working the night shift in factories or production units. During this period, the young Dasgupta, who had an excellent command of English, managed to land, albeit briefly, the job of an assistant babu (or clerk) in a mercantile firm in Calcutta. But, as he would confess, he was thrown out quickly enough when he hit back, and in public, at "my boss, a fiercely racist sahib".

As a whole-time party worker, Dasgupta was given wider responsibilities in looking after the Party headquarters in Calcutta and maintaining links with the burgeoning district units, and he applied himself as well to a rigorous regime of self-education. In later years, he would speak of how he would set aside a few rupees every month from his very modest allowance and buy books on history, economics and geography, but most of all classic works of socialist theory. The books have extensive margin comments pencilled in by him, most of which attempt to relate the premises of international socialist and communist theory to the evolving reality of India. By the 1950s, Sailen Dasgupta had started to work as an important functionary of the CPI. After the CPI split in 1964, he was associated with the work of the Central Committee office of the CPI(M) in Lake Place in south Calcutta. He was also deeply involved with the work of publication of the CPI(M)'s weekly organ, People's Democracy, whose first editor was Jyoti Basu.

By the early 1970s, Sailen Dasgupta had emerged as one of the main organisers of both the CPI(M) and the Left Front in West Bengal. A member of the State Committee of the CPI(M) from 1964 and a Secretariat member from 1982, Sailen Dasgupta went on to dedicate himself fully to the tasks of building a strong organisational framework for the CPI(M) in West Bengal and, in conjunction with Jyoti Basu, Promode Dasgupta and Saroj Mukherjee, to help form and consolidate a Left Front in the State. His role in bringing together the often-disparate Left forces in West Bengal saw fruition in the massive win for the Left Front in 1977. The Left Front has, of course, famously remained in office since that year. He played a crucial role whenever differences of opinion arose within the Front. His conduct of Left Front meetings, marked by political sagacity and a generally flexible approach, shall remain models for the next generation of the Left leadership to follow.

Dasgupta was deeply concerned with the development of the rural base of the Party, seeking continually to equip the rural cadre ideologically and politically.

Dasgupta rose to become the secretary of the West Bengal unit of the CPI(M) and chairman of the Left Front when Saroj Mukherjee passed away in 1990 and he held the position till ill-health forced him to step down three years ago. He, however, continued to head the Bengal Left Front till his death. He became a member of the Central Committee of the CPI(M) in 1990 and a member of the Polit Bureau in 1991.

Jyoti Basu, with whom Sailen Dasgupta worked for decades, spoke after Dasgupta's death of how Dasgupta had worked tirelessly "both when the Party was underground and later, when it regained its status as a legal organisation". The former Chief Minister went on to call attention to "the crucial role Dasgupta played in the emergence of the Bengal Left Front".

Sailen Dasgupta was gentle and soft-spoken, a person who led a life of great personal simplicity. Among his comrades, he was renowned for his accessibility, his care and concern for individual cadre and the time he had for each of them. The Left movement in West Bengal and India is the poorer for the passing of this exceptional political-organisational worker and human being.

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