Only Subscribed user can access the archives

Get full access to our 16 year old archives

Subscribe Now

Already subscribed? Sign In

COVER STORY

31-08-2001

fl181700-Cover

Briefing

DRUG TRIALS AND ETHICS

cover-story

A Frontline investigation comes up with new revelations on funding, business connections and conflicts of interest in the Johns Hopkins-linked drug trials at Kerala's Regional Cancer Centre.

R. KRISHNAKUMAR in Thiruvananthapuram

A NON-MEDICAL scientist with a potential anti-cancer "drug" discovery, and links with a "start-up" company. A university holding a patent for the experimental drug. A businessman willing to invest a couple of million dollars in the new company for further development of the drug through trials in human beings. An international contract research organisation that scouts worldwide for opportunities to do clinical research using the drug. An institution in a Third World country willing to conduct trials on its patients for them. These are among the ingredients of what has now come to be known as the "Johns Hopkins-RCC drug trial controversy" in Kerala.

18170041jpg

It was on July 30 that the Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University (JHU) revealed to the media in the United States that the clinical trial of the "experimental anti-cancer drug" developed by one of its faculty members, conducted at the Regional Cancer Centre (RCC) in Thiruvananthapuram, did not have its authorisation. The JHU went on to say that the trial did not have the approval of any of its Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) that ought to have considered whether it would be safe to conduct human trials of the drug.

In an interview to a U.S. newspaper on July 31, the faculty member, Dr. Ru Chih C. Huang, a Biology Professor at the JHU since 1965, said that she was unaware that the university had a requirement to seek internal approval of experiments conducted abroad. She added that she had gone ahead with the clinical trial because it already had the approval of a "similar panel" in the RCC.

"I will never do this again this way. But certainly I did not hurt the people in that country in any way, and I think this will prove to be an effective anti-cancer drug," Huang, who did not respond to an e-mail message sent by Frontline, is quoted as saying in The Baltimore Sun.

But perhaps the most significant statements reported in the newspaper as having been made by Huang are that her "study was funded by $2 million from 'Biocure Medical of Minnesota"' and that "Hopkins holds a patent on the drug and could profit if the company can bring it to market as a cancer treatment".

On a request for confirmation, one of the correspondents of The Baltimore Sun wrote to Frontline that the information about the source of funding (Biocure Medical of Minnesota) and the patent (held by the JHU) was obtained by him from Ru Chih Huang in the course of a telephonic interview. The correspondent said that Huang had described the company as a "start-up" and that she had expressed the hope that "Hopkins could make a profit if the drug is brought to the market in four or five years".

Responding to a request for clarification, a spokesperson for the JHU and its Executive Director, Communications and Public Affairs, Dennis O'Shea, wrote to Frontline: "Yes, Hopkins does hold a patent on the M4N drug that was used in the study. This patent was assigned to the university by the researcher in routine compliance with the university's technology transfer policy. Such patent assignments are standard operating procedure with any discovery or invention made at Johns Hopkins. The assignment of the patent to the university had nothing to do with the clinical trial in India and it did not in any way alter the researcher's obligation under university rules to submit the proposed trial to an institutional review board."

O'Shea also said that while the patent application had been filed on October 15, 1999, before the trials, the patent had not been granted until April 10, 2001, well after the trial was completed. Replying to a question on the source of funding for the study, he said that "the source of the funding of the trial remains a focus of the investigation" ordered by the university in the wake of the controversy in India. O'Shea added that the JHU investigation "is being conducted as expeditiously as possible, given the complexity of the facts involved" and that there was no deadline for its conclusion.

However, a report published last year in the JHU newspaper, The Gazette Online, gives a clear indication of the funding that Huang's study would have received. On July 3, 2000, the online newspaper (Volume 29, Number 40) reported that a Singapore-based businessman planned to make "a multi-million-dollar investment in a groundbreaking new start-up company that will further develop basic cancer treatment research conducted at Johns Hopkins".

THE BALTIMORE 18170043jpg

The report said that real estate businessman Ang Tiong Loi had signed a letter of intent on June 27, 2000 "to invest in a new company dedicated to developing a group of naturally occurring compounds isolated from creosote bushes that have shown some early signs of promise as cancer treatments" in the experiments conducted by Huang and some other members of her laboratory.

THE first-ever human trials of two chemicals, tetra-O-methyl nor-dihydro-guaiaretic acid (M4N) and tetraglycinyl nor-dihydro-guaiaretic acid (G4N) - originally isolated from the creosote bush Larrea tridentata at the JHU laboratory by Huang and her co-workers - were conducted between November 12, 1999 and April 8, 2000 on oral cancer patients awaiting surgical treatment at the RCC (Frontline, August 17). From available indications, including statements made by a few patients and Dr. V.N. Bhattathiri of the RCC who first brought the issue to public attention, the majority of the 25 patients on whom the trial was conducted had not realised that the injections they received were not part of their treatment but belonged to an experiment to understand the effectiveness of the chemicals in treating some forms of human cancer. Although the RCC claimed that there was no harm done to the patients and that the injections had substantially reduced the extent of the tumours, there was no evidence of continuous monitoring of the patients, most of whom were sent home after the drug-injected tumours were surgically removed.

The Gazette Online report indicates that the letter of intent was signed in June 27, 2000, about two months after the trials at the RCC were completed. It quotes the university's Director of the Office of Technology Transfer, Nina Siegler, as saying that "one of the first objectives of the new company will be to design and conduct FDA (Food and Drug Administration)-approved clinical trials of these substances." This puts a question mark on the approval status of the RCC trials, which had already been completed.

George Lee, a U.S.-based representative of Ang Tiong Lee, is also reported in The Gazette Online as saying that although the new company is a business venture, it intends to keep the price of the drug "as low as possible". According to Siegler, the expectation was that the drug could be manufactured "fairly inexpensively" since it was a modification of a natural product. She says: "That still has to be confirmed, as does the product's potential as a cancer treatment, but we are hopeful that if this works out, we might be able to price any resulting drugs in a way that makes them available to all the people of the world and still makes returns for the university and the investor."

18170044jpg

The July 2000 report in the JHU's online newspaper also said that the university, which holds the patent rights, will grant an exclusive licence to the new company to use those inventions and that "there will be contracts between the university and the company for Hopkins to continue work on new drug analogs and clinical development".

Siegler also said that "most of the money will go into clinical trials, not into corporate overhead" and will be "dedicated to seeing if the compound can work in a variety of human cancers", although it would not be "fair" to call it a "virtual company". She also announced tentative plans of the JHU to hire a contract research organisation to help implement clinical trials that received the approval of the FDA.

18170045jpg

An earlier report in The Gazette Online said that in the latter half of 1998 the JHU had signed an agreement with one of the largest pharmaceutical contract research organisations with offices in about 28 countries, including India. The move was aimed at finding clinical research opportunities for the university's corporate-sponsored clinical drug research. There are indications that the organisation's Indian arm was involved in the drug trials at the RCC.

However, it is yet to be known whether 'Biocure Medical, Minnesota', the company Huang referred to in her interview with The Baltimore Sun, is the same as the one proposed through the letter of intent and whether the $2 million funding that she said her study had did indeed come from Ang Tiong Loi. The JHU newspaper report also mentions Ted Poehler, Vice Provost for Research at the university, as saying that the arrangements for the "new start-up" had come with "unusual speed" and that there were "a number of parties, including Ang" who were very impressed with the work Huang and her team had done until then, and "how far they have been able to take it".

18170046jpg

Significantly, The Gazette Online had also reported that businessman Ang knew Huang "both through family connections and through her reputation in Asia" and that he had decided to support the business because he believed in the programme and in Huang. However, the stand of the JHU now, after the RCC trials set off a controversy, is that "the source of the funding for the trial remains a focus of its investigation".

According to RCC Director Dr. M. Krishnan Nair, Huang first approached his institution with the proposal to conduct clinical trials of the new chemicals in June 1998, much before the application for the patent was filed.

In a press statement issued on August 3, following the JHU's denial that it had authorised the clinical trials conducted at the RCC, the cancer centre's Finance Manager (Projects) K.R. Bhaskaran Nair said: "A section of the media has reported that the M4N clinical trials at the RCC were not funded by the Johns Hopkins University. The RCC denies this baseless news report. There is very clear documentary evidence that RCC had received funds from Johns Hopkins University for the clinical trials conducted under the leadership of Dr. Ru Chih Huang (Ordering bank: First Union National Bank, New York; Ordering customer: Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore). This statement is being issued to remove the wrong impression that people may have because of the news report."

18170047jpg

Dr. Parvesh Parikh of the Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, who constitutes the one-man commission appointed by the State government to inquire into the controversy, also said that he was in possession of documents that proved that funds had been sanctioned with the authorisation of JHU authorities and that the documents had been signed by the "treasurer" of the university.

After the signing of the letter of intent on June 27, 2000, a few months after the first trials for M4N and G4N (the latter not mentioned in the JHU statements) chemicals were conducted, did Dr. Huang go ahead with the project on her own, without the knowledge of her university, as the JHU statements indicate? Did she obtain funding from sources other than Ang Tiong Loi? If the RCC was to receive only Rs.25 lakhs a year for coordinating the trials in its clinic and in three other hospitals in India, who funded the study at the JHU laboratories until then? Where did the rest of the $2 million from 'Biocure Medical, Minnesota' go?

These are a few of the gaps in the Hopkins-RCC jigsaw puzzle, which remain to be filled by the JHU inquiry. It is unusual that the study by Huang did not attract attention within the JHU because she was a Biology Professor at the university's Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, where hardly any drug research is done. Moreover, she is a non-medical scientist who tested the experimental anti-cancer chemicals earlier only in mice and, ever since the controversy erupted, has been asked by the JHU not to take part in any other human trials. The JHU also asked Huang to cease all activities regarding her current work and stick to basic research in her laboratory.

18170048jpg

The gaps in the jigsaw assumed a serious dimension on August 10 when counsel for one of the patients, who had earlier approached the Kerala State Human Rights Commission, produced "RCC documents" before the Dr. Parvesh Parikh inquiry commission. Counsel demanded that the death of two patients within less than 50 days of their participation in the trial in early 2000 was caused by the injections that they received. The relatives of a 60-year-old woman patient who was suffering from "terminal malignancy" told mediapersons, after they deposed before the commission, that the doctors had asked their willingness to include the patient in a new project of the contract research organisation (with which the JHU had signed an agreement in 1998) that would provide her free of cost five doses of the experimental drug, worth Rs.10,000. They said that the woman's condition had worsened before the fifth injection.

Dr. Parikh said the commission would inquire into the deaths and go through the entire sequence of events relating to the trials. The commission is expected to submit its report in three weeks. Meanwhile, the inquiry ordered by the Central government is also progressing.

The changing creed

R. KRISHNAKUMAR cover-story

In the global context of unethical practices in research involving human participants, the demand for strict monitoring and laws governing such work becomes more relevant everywhere.

THE most significant outcome of the Johns Hopkins-Regional Cancer Centre drug trial controversy could be an increase in public awareness in India about clinical trials and the effect of unseen, market-driven forces that threaten the safety of the patients involved and taunt the objectivity of investigators and the scientific integrity of drug trials.

18170091jpg Larrea tridentata

Unlike in India, awareness about the extent to which academic research has become interlinked with the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries and other commercial interests and the benefits and risks involved in such alliances is well-established in developed countries like the United States.

Daniel J. Kevles, Professor of History at Yale University (whose research interests include the interplay of science and society, history of modern biology and scientific fraud and misconduct) explained in an e-mail message to Frontline: "Since the 1970s in the U.S., the growth of biomedical research in academia has outpaced the growth of federal funding for its activities. University administrators have increasingly felt the need to turn to private, including industrial biotechnology, sources for support. For this reason, among others, they have fostered close relationships between biomedical firms and the laboratories on their campuses."

The most striking example for well-known academic-research institutions in the U.S. having such links with industry is perhaps the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) itself. Spurred by the fear of being left behind in the race for research funds and top-notch faculty and students, the institution, once dedicated to pure research, is now in the forefront of universities trying to forge partnerships with business.

After the cancellation of federal funds following the death of a "healthy volunteer" participating in an asthma study at the JHU on June 2, the university has remained in media focus with regard to the growing involvement of clinical investigators and research institutions with business. According to a report in The Baltimore Sun, the university had filed more patent applications in 1999 than all but two other major research centres in the U.S. Moreover, in recent years the JHU had helped launch 18 companies, and the volume of corporate-sponsored research at its medical school had nearly quadrupled in the last 10 years, the report said.

The point in The Baltimore Sun article is in its title - "The changing creed of Hopkins Science". It spoke of how the university's culture was being transformed as it embraced business opportunities, allowed its scientists to be consultants and paid scientific advisers to corporations and to own patents for discoveries developed in its laboratories using corporate funds. Significantly, it focusses on the risks that this new creed brings in its wake, "for the integrity of research, for the safety of patients participating in experiments and for the university's most valuable asset - its reputation".

The report quotes JHU officials as saying that the university's defence against bias in corporate-sponsored research is "disclosure" - the rule that volunteers in drug studies be told when the JHU has a financial interest. There is no bar on scientists conducting research when, for example, they have more than a certain amount invested in the company sponsoring the work, a situation that could bring forth many an ethical dilemma. "Instead, Hopkins officials say they 'manage' financial conflicts of interest by taking steps to discourage abuses - requiring scientists to place stock in escrow and to disclose to patients and publications their financial ties in drug trials," The Baltimore Sun report said. However, such a disclosure was conspicuous by its absence in the trial conducted on patients at the RCC by the JHU Biology Professor, Dr. Ru Chih C. Huang.

The JHU provides but one example of the conflicts of interest that face academic institutions in the developed world. Almost all the major universities today face the problem of having to rise above such conflicts of interest and yet are unable to resist the need to relax rules and to lend its name for almost purely commercial ventures. Recently, when the main academic "rival" of the JHU, Harvard University, thought aloud about relaxing its strict conflict-of-interest rules, there was a hue and cry in the U.S. It prompted The New England Journal of Medicine, widely regarded as one of medicine's most distinguished and influential journals, to write one of its best-known editorials - "Is Academic Medicine for Sale?" - urging Harvard to encourage other universities to adopt stronger conflict-of-interest guidelines instead of trying to soften its own rules.

All over the world one can find instances of commercial ties and financial requirements leading to unethical practices in research involving human participants, mainly to satisfy the market's need for speedy, cost-effective development of drugs and medical devices. This has also increased the demand for strict monitoring and laws regarding human research, especially in developed nations like the U.S.

On April 18, a U.S. presidential commission, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, constituted to suggest ways to improve ethical conduct of international clinical trials, recommended a series of steps "to reduce the potential for exploitation of research participants in developing countries, ensuring that studies are responsive to the health needs of the country, and ensuring that post-trial access to successful research products are improved".

18170092jpg

According to a press statement issued by the commission soon after its report was presented to President George Bush, its chairman (and president of Princeton University) Harold T. Shapiro said that the potential for exploitation of participants from developing countries by researchers and sponsors from prosperous countries "is cause for a concerted effort to ensure that protections are in place for all persons participating in international research".

Significant in the context of the JHU-RCC drug trial controversy is the recommendation of the commission that efforts to enhance research collaboration must account for the capacity of the ethics review committee in developing countries to review research, and the need for U.S. researchers and sponsors to ensure that their research projects are conducted "according to ethical standards applied in the U.S".

The research collaborations are also to comply with some basic requirements for the protection of human research participants, such as prior review by ethics review committees, minimisation of risk and having a reasonable risk-benefit ratio, voluntary informed consent by each participant and an equitable distribution of the burdens and benefits of the research.

Prof. Kevles agreed that this was indeed a new area of conflict of interest - of comparative requirements of ethical research conducted in developed and developing countries. "Human trials tend to be more strictly regulated, and thus more costly, in the U.S. than in developing countries. It is therefore tempting to conduct trials in the Third World," he said.

"THE Hopkins-RCC drug trial controversy is a wake-up call for India," said Dr. K. Mohandas, Director of the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology. "India is an amalgam. We have the best of institutions and the worst. We have no uniformity of standards in our institutions and the regulatory mechanisms are not often very effective. But because of that we cannot keep away from doing clinical trials, because then we shall not be able to develop our own research and shall be completely sidelined by the rest of the world," he said.

Dr. C.R. Soman, chairman of the activist organisation Health Action by People, said that if the 'Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical Research on Human Subjects' formulated by the Indian Council of Medical Research's (ICMR) Central Ethics Committee on Human Research (CECHR) was accepted and adopted at least by the medical colleges in the country, India could be said to be truly ready for clinical trials. The ethics committee is headed by Justice M. N. Venkatachaliah, former Chief Justice of India.

Dr. Soman said that along with the concerns raised about clinical research involving scientists from reputed academic institutions which have commercial ties, multinational pharmaceutical companies are flooding the Indian market with a spate of "new molecules", "a whole range of chemicals". "But the majority in the medical profession is supremely ignorant of this, and drug manufacturers get away with everything. The majority of the doctors are unaware of even the different phases of drug development, or the principles behind the requirement for informed consent," he said.

Dr. Soman said the situation was compounded by the emergence of contract research organisations, "sort of event managers", who took up contracts to organise clinical trials and provide related services from the pre-clinical stage to the marketing of the drug for the pharmaceutical companies. He said: "All they require of the general Indian physician is to dot the 'i's and cross the 't's, and the majority of doctors mechanically do it with no intellectual input from their part."

However, Dr. Soman said, this did not mean that all companies were engaged in such operations. He said that out of self-interest many of them might be meticulous in following ethical norms while conducting clinical trials or introducing drugs into the market. "But there are a lot of imposters."

18170093jpg

Dr. Mohandas said: "We really don't know what exactly is happening in the country. We don't know whether testing of drugs or clinical Phase I and II research (to gather data on the safety and efficacy of a drug respectively) is taking place on a large scale even in institutions or clinics not equipped to conduct such experiments. In the absence of a mechanism for monitoring and supervising clinical trials, we do not know the magnitude of the problem. There was this instance when a banned drug, which was used for the treatment of malaria, was tried out as a method of sterilisation in women, and there was a major public campaign by some doctors and activists. It definitely is there, but how big is the problem, we don't know."

However, cardiologist Dr. G. Vijayaraghavan, formerly of Kuwait University, cautioned that it should not be argued that clinical trials conducted on human beings should be stopped forthwith. "What we need to consider is the reason why, despite the widespread conduct of clinical trials all over the developed world, there is not much room left for complaints there," he said. "The answer lies in building up and strengthening institutional checks and balances. Unlike the happenings at the RCC, there are any number of examples of faults and ethical pitfalls in clinical trials being detected effectively by institutional review boards or other monitoring agencies sufficiently early and of even drugs or trials being withdrawn without affecting the faith that a patient has in his physicians," Dr. Vijayaraghavan said.

He added: "Monitoring has to be strengthened at the institutional level based on the well-laid-out principles enunciated in the Helsinki Declaration, the guidelines issued jointly by the Council for International Organisation of Medical Sciences and the World Health Organisation, the ICMR guidelines and so on. Each institution has to establish clear principles to evaluate research on human subjects and specific measures to protect human subjects from possible harm."

Already, according to Dr. Mohandas, there are moves in the right direction. The ICMR is planning to set up training centres in several parts of the country to provide support to institutions and professionals on the ethical issues involved in human research. International workshops are also being organised at the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute and three universities - in South Africa, Mexico and in the U.S. at Harvard - on ethical guidelines in health research with special reference to international research. The seminar held in Sree Chitra had participants from 15 countries, the majority of them from the Third World. Dr. Vijayaraghavan said: "As long as institutions learn to insist and ensure meticulously that ethical safety guidelines are followed, developing countries like India need not be afraid of international collaborations in human research, pharmaceutical companies or contract research organisations."

Claims and contradictions

There are several unsettled questions that remain at the Johns Hopkins end and the Indian end with regard to the procedural and other aspects involved in the drug trials.

THERE are further twists to the controversial anti-cancer drug trials at the Regional Cancer Centre, Thiruvanantha-puram, and the business links associated with the Johns Jopkins University's (JHU) joint study with the RCC.

18170111jpg

The purpose of the study was to prove in cancer cells the activity that was discovered by the JHU Biology Professor, Dr. Ru Chih C. Huang, and her associates in viruses. The objective was to prove in human trials the inhibition of growth in tumour cells that the JHU team had observed in studies conducted in animals.

Dennis O'Shea, JHU spokesperson, claimed that the university had never "directly" funded the study. However, his claim was contested by the RCC project leader, Dr. Manoj Pandey. According to Pandey, the RCC had received two cheques, signed by JHU treasurer William E. Snow Jr, worth $19,400 and was awaiting the third. Dr. M. Krishnan Nair, RCC Director, is also reported to have stated in March that the project is funded by the JHU. He said that the RCC was to receive Rs.25 lakhs and the amount could later be increased to Rs.1.25 crores. Interestingly, Pandey claimed that the JHU received permission from the U.S. government to import the tissue of Indian cancer patients for study.

O'Shea told the journal Science: "I am not saying we know where these funds came from. Just because Johns Hopkins cuts a cheque it does not necessarily mean that it approved the project being funded. Making sense of the financial transactions is a task for the new investigative panel."

O'Shea's remark that the study was not directly funded by the JHU assumes significance in the light of Huang's comments to Science. She told Science that the funding for the project came entirely from private sources, including the JHU and a Minnesota-based company, Biocure Medical LLC. The company was set up with the objective of designing and conducting clinical trials of compounds derived from nor-dihydro-guaiaretic acid (NDGA).

According to Huang, the supporters of the project have committed about $2.5 million to conduct pilot trials in four places in Asia. Dr. Krishnan Nair had stated that Phase II trials were also to be carried out at, besides RCC, the K.J. Hospital, Kanpur, and the Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, under the RCC's supervision.

The catch was that let alone the Food and Drug Administration of the U.S., even the JHU's Institutional Review Board (IRB) had not approved the trial although Huang had submitted the protocol for the clinical trials to the IRB early this year. More pertinently, according to a press release issued by the Press Information Bureau (PIB) on behalf of the Union Health Ministry in the wake of the controversy, the approval by the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) seems to have been granted only in February this year, months after the experiments were conducted.

The PIB press release said that the RCC was granted permission on February 2, 2001, to import M4N (tetra-O-methyl nor-dihydro-guaiaretic acid) from the JHU to undertake a study to evaluate its efficacy in advanced oral and cervical malignancies on the basis of pre-clinical and other relevant data submitted by the RCC Director.

"It is not a retrospective sanction. The proposal came to us only then. We do not know if the trials had been going on earlier," said S. Ramteke, Deputy DCGI. On the other hand, Dr. Krishnan Nair had claimed that the initial application for the trial had been submitted to the DCGI on September 12, 1998, and the Ethics Committee of the RCC had granted its permission for the conduct of the study on November 10, 1999. Meanwhile, according to Dr. Krishnan Nair, discussions were held with the DCGI and, based on his verbal consent, the study was commenced.

The DCGI refused to comment on Dr. Krishnan Nair's claim and said that a central committee had been constituted to investigate the issue. When asked about the granting of sanction after two years of trials, DCGI Ashwini Kumar said: "Clinical trials of new molecules, experimental drugs and so on are new to our country. The systems are still evolving. We shall know whether the trials had been going on since 1999 only after the investigating team submits its report."

Meanwhile, the three-member team constituted by the Union Health Minister to inquire into the controversy was in Thiruvananthapuram waiting for Dr. Pandey to return from the U.S. The committee was expected to submit its report by August 16.

The normal procedure for obtaining approval for clinical trials (Phase I, II and III) is to submit the toxicological data collected from animal experiments to the DCGI. The toxicological data are sent by the DCGI to the Indian Council of Medical Research's (ICMR) Toxicology Committee for evaluation and, if found to be safe, the DCGI gives sanction for Phase I trials.

However, Ranjit Roy Choudhury, chairman of the ICMR Toxicology Committee, said the committee had not received any proposal from the RCC for trials or any data regarding the proposed trials. He added that of late the DCGI did not refer all cases to the committee. Choudhury said that with many new drugs coming into the market, imported and otherwise, the DCGI had begun to refer the data to its expert committee or a chosen set of experts rather than to the ICMR committee.

Regulations with regard to Good Clinical Practices (GCP), Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) are still in the draft stage. However, N.K. Ganguly, Director General of the ICMR, said that the basic regulations governing clinical trials were put in place by the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and several clinical trials on new drugs and molecules had been carried out in India in conformity with the Act. Moreover, the ICMR had brought out a base document on Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical Research on Human Subjects in September 2000.

The ICMR document makes clear the legal provision for clinical trials: "The proposed trial should be carried out only after the approval of the DCGI as is necessary under Schedule Y of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act. The investigator should also get the approval of the Ethics Committee of the institution before submitting the proposal to the DCGI. All the guiding principles should be followed irrespective of whether the drug has been developed in this country or abroad or whether clinical trials have been carried out outside India or not."

The DCGI is being evasive when he tries to make a distinction between an experimental drug for a research project and a new drug and says that the regulations for experimental studies do not exist. The Drugs and Cosmetics Act is clear on the definition of a new drug as part of the Rules framed under the Act and it includes any new chemical entity (NCE). Schedule Y of the Act states: "For new drug substances discovered in other countries, Phase I trials [the kind being carried out at the RCC] are not usually allowed to be initiated in India unless Phase I data from other countries are available. However, such trials may be permitted in the absence of Phase I data from other countries if the drug is of special relevance to the health problems of India." Since even Phase I data from the U.S. were not available, on what basis did the DCGI give its approval in February 2001?

According to informed sources in the ICMR, the RCC had applied for a financial grant for the study from the ICMR during 1998-99. The ICMR raised some objections about the proposal and rejected the application. The exact grounds on which the proposal was rejected are not known, according to them. Four and a half years ago, the ICMR had rejected an application for financial grant to conduct a study on foetal tissue transplantation in patients of retinitis pigmentosa under an India-U.S. collaborative research programme at the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad. The application was rejected on the grounds that undertaking such clinical trials on Indian subjects for an experimental procedure, which were not done on U.S. subjects, was not ethical and hence not acceptable.

In a statement issued then, the ICMR said: "The ICMR stands by the decision unless documentary evidence is provided by the principal investigator that the conduct of such experiments in human beings will be done (or has already been done) on subjects of both countries collaborating in the project, the proposal cannot be considered ethical." Hence, the ICMR may have turned down the RCC's request for financial support because in the RCC- JHU drug trial case too no parallel studies on U.S. subjects were proposed to be done.

'Clinical trials should promote health care'

Dr. M.S. Valiathan, now Honorary Adviser to and formerly Vice-Chancellor of the Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), was for 20 years Professor of Cardiac Surgery and simultaneously Director of the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram, the premier institution under the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India. It was under his directorship that one of the earliest institutional ethics committees in the country, with a retired High Court Judge as its chairman, was established at the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute. The institute needed to ensure strict ethical compliance in order to be commercially successful when it became the first such institute in India to engage in the development of biomaterials and medical devices including the Chitra heart valve. In an e-mail interview he gave R. Krishnakumar, Dr. Valiathan spoke about the various aspects of clinical trials in the context of the RCC-Hopkins drug trial controversy. Excerpts:

18170121jpg Is India really ready for clinical trials?

Whether India is ready for clinical trials is a vague question. Many institutions are ready and have, in fact, been conducting clinical trials quite well and as per international norms. For example, domiciliary treatment of tuberculosis at TRC (Tuberculosis Research Centre), Chennai. Readiness must be assessed for institutions, not countries.

Do you think that India is increasingly becoming a favoured destination for human trials? What are the reasons for this?

Yes, the developing world including India is becoming a favoured destination for clinical trials. You may recall the recent U.S. House legislation which puts restraints on U.S. drug firms conducting clinical trials in the developing countries. The reasons for the popularity of the developing world are the following:

(a) Large population (b) Low cost (c) Legislative vacuum or infirmities (d) Ignorance about the legal and ethical issues of human trials among the public and even health care professionals and (e) Craze among the developing countries to link up with Western institutions unthinkingly and at any cost.

What do you think is a more serious problem today in India - unethical practices involving the kind of first-time trials of chemicals in human beings (as it happened at the RCC) or trials of new or me-too drugs by pharmaceutical companies? Is the latter a pardonable offence?

A serious problem arises when medical investigators and companies go about clinical trials without paying the slightest attention to the Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical Research on Human Subjects issued by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR). The ICMR document emerged through the effort of the Justice Venkatachaliah Committee which held extensive consultations at the national level. I cannot understand why this document is ignored by investigators and companies. Between the rules of the Drugs Controller General (India) and the ICMR guidelines, the issues of the trial of new chemical entities and that of me-too drugs are fully covered.

Cannot Indian institutions, researchers and doctors say no to unethical trials and still "survive"? What do you think are the incentives that make institutions agree to unethical practices?

Indian institutions can certainly survive the refusal to take part in unethical trials. The reasons for institutions adopting unethical conduct are no different from those which tempt individuals to become corrupt.

Is there a general lack of awareness among Indian medical professionals about ethical requirements? How effective are Indian guidelines and laws?

Yes, there is a serious lack of awareness of ethical guidelines among health care professionals - not doctors alone, administrators, politicians, media, etc. Apart from the ICMR guidelines, the DBT (Department of Biotechnology) has set up a separate set of admirable guidelines on human genome research which is in its infancy in India. Therefore, one cannot claim that we have no guidelines. Of course, guidelines are not laws, but legislation on the basis of guidelines will emerge soon. However, it is a fact that in practice the guidelines are not often observed. This is no more than another illustration of our scant regard for laws and guidelines in India.

Is getting "informed consent" a difficult task in the case of a majority of patients here? What has been your experience? In that case should such people be made "participants" in drug trials at all? Is getting "volunteers" a difficult task here?

It is not difficult to get informed consent - on the basis of my Kerala experience. It is true that when patients are illiterate and uneducated (not the same thing) and look upon doctors as gods, informed consent would become difficult. Getting volunteers by giving financial incentives is, of course, unethical. Ultimately, the inclusion criteria for subjects, including their ability to give informed consent, should be determined by the principal investigator and his colleagues. Incidentally, the rights of the subjects in a trial are spelt out in the ICMR guidelines.

There is a new breed of contract research organisations which act as a sort of "event managers" for the drug companies, organising clinical trials. Do you think they are good or bad for the Indian scene?

Clinical trials are essential for making progress on many fronts - drugs, devices, vaccines, diagnostic kits, etc. If the trials are restricted too rigidly, there would be little scope for innovation; if unrestricted, there would be chaos and human exploitation. One has to adopt the middle path by sticking to the national guidelines and keeping oneself posted on what is happening in biomedical research at the international level. The human trial should be planned on the basis of an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) between the firm which developed the product and the medical institution, which would obviously take the approval of its own ethics committee and other approvals as necessary. There is no place for third parties or middlemen in this exercise.

What should the country be cautious about and what needs to be done at the practical level when trials involve researchers and resources from developed countries and multinational companies? Are Indian companies and research institutions comparatively better in the matter of sticking to ethical rules?

As I mentioned earlier, clinical trials are necessary insofar as they promote the interests of health care. The problem is a mismatch between the interests of the group which developed the product and those evaluating it in human subjects. Firms in India and abroad who spend millions on developing products would want to maximise profits; ethics in business is a controversial subject. On the other hand, the evaluating institutions need money and must also protect the interests of patients and subjects. Medical investigators who are approached to take up clinical trials therefore face serious ethical dilemmas. This is true as much in the affluent countries as it is in India. In the last few years, this issue has become pressing because medical investigators have themselves promoted firms. It is now mandatory for authors of papers for top journals to indicate any direct or indirect links they may have with the firms/industry where the product/process being reported on were developed. In fact, the affiliation is published with the paper.

Lastly, it is no use blaming institutions and firms in affluent countries for exploiting us. We are grown up and should look after our own interests. If we are upright and do a thorough job no one stops us in this and all would be well.

A judicial jolt

THE continuance of Jayalalithaa as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu has come under a question mark following the categorical ruling of the Supreme Court against public servants convicted of corruption holding public offices. "It is necessary that the Court should not aid the public servant who stands convicted for corruption charges to hold public office until he is exonerated after conducting a judicial adjudication at the appellate or revisional level," said Justices K.T. Thomas and S.N. Variava on August 2, while quashing the appeal of an officer of a nationalised bank who was dismissed from service after being convicted and sentenced to imprisonment by a lower court on charges of corruption.

The two-member Bench made it clear that the Court would not condone corruption among public servants. "When a public servant was found guilty of corruption after a judicial adjudicatory process by a court of law, judiciousness demands that he should be treated as corrupt until he is exonerated by a superior court," it laid down. A lower court had convicted Jayalalithaa and sentenced her to imprisonment in October 2000 for acts of corruption during her Chief Ministership from 1991 to 1996. And the law categorises Ministers, Members of Parliament, Assembly Speakers and legislators as public servants.

Jayalalithaa was convicted and sentenced to two years' and three years' imprisonment in the Jaya Publications and Sasi Enterprises cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Indian Penal Code. Under Section 8 (3) of the Representation of the People Act (RPA), she was disqualified from contesting the elections to the State Assembly in May 2001. But her party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), swept to power. Governor M. Fathima Beevi installed her as Chief Minister. Public interest petitions challenging the Governor's action will be heard by the Supreme Court in September. Jayalalithaa has appealed to the Madras High Court against the orders of the Special Judge convicting and sentencing her.

The Supreme Court's unequivocal observation shocked the AIADMK, which had already been unnerved by its verdict on July 31 confirming the conviction of K. Ponnusamy, a member of Jayalalithaa's Cabinet in the previous term. He was convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act for possessing wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income when he was a public servant from May 1993 to May 9, 1996. Justices Thomas and Variava said: "Both the trial court and the High Court were right in convicting the appellant."

In the light of the Supreme Court's observations in the bank officer's case, B.R. Kapur, an advocate, filed a public interest petition, arguing that since Jayalalithaa was a public servant, the apex court's judgment was fully applicable to her and her continuance as Chief Minister was "illegal". He prayed that the Supreme Court restrain her from continuing as Chief Minister.

IN its order on August 2, the Supreme Court dismissed the bank officer's appeal for suspending his conviction. The officer was convicted and sentenced to one year's imprisonment by a lower court. The Punjab and Haryana High Court suspended his sentence but declined to suspend the conviction.

Quoting several judgments, Justices Thomas and Variava observed: "The legal position, therefore, is this: though the power to suspend an order of conviction, apart from the order of sentence, is not alien to Section 389 (1) of the Code (of Criminal Procedure), its exercise should be limited to very exceptional cases. Merely because the convicted person files an appeal in challenge of the conviction, the court should not suspend the operation of the conviction. The court has a duty to look at all aspects including the ramifications of keeping such conviction in abeyance ..."

The Bench added: "The legal position can be laid down that when the conviction is on a corruption charge against a public servant, the appellate court or the revisional court should not suspend the order of conviction during the pendency of the appeal even if the sentence of imprisonment is suspended. It would be a sublime public policy that the convicted public servant is kept under the disability of the conviction in spite of keeping the sentence of imprisonment in abeyance till the disposal of the appeal or revision."

While the Supreme Court has held now and in its earlier rulings that conviction and sentence formed two separate compartments, Justice Malai. Subramanian of the Madras High Court held on April 11 that "conviction and sentence are inseparable twins". He gave this new interpretation to the Code of Criminal Procedure when Jayalalithaa filed writ petitions seeking a stay on her conviction to enable her to contest the elections. Justice Malai. Subramanian said: "It can be safely held that conviction and sentence are inseparable twins under the law. The moment the sentence is suspended, conviction is deemed to have been suspended. Otherwise, the framers of the Code would have taken care to provide for stay of conviction or suspension of conviction also."

The High Court judge, however, dismissed Jayalalithaa's plea for suspending the conviction. Had the conviction been under Section 409 of the Indian Penal Code, he said, the court would not have hesitated to suspend the conviction if that was necessary to enable her to exercise the democratic right of contesting the elections. "But since the conviction was also for an offence under Section 13 (1) (c) and (d) read with Section 13 (2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, this court is unable to exercise its discretion in her favour," he explained.

Besides ruling that conviction and sentence were separate, Justices Thomas and Variava laid down:

"Corruption by public servants has now reached a monstrous dimension in India. Its tentacles have started grappling even the institutions created for the protection of the republic... When a public servant who is convicted of corruption is allowed to continue to hold public office, it would impair the morale of the other persons manning such office.

"Consequently that would erode the already shrunk confidence of people in such public institutions besides demoralising the other honest public servants who would either be colleagues or subordinates of the convicted person. If honest public servants are compelled to take orders from proclaimed corrupt officers on account of the suspension of conviction, the fallout would be one of shaking the system itself."

WHAT will be the effect of this judgment on the corruption cases against Jayalalithaa?

N. Natarajan, Senior Advocate, pointed out that for the past 20 years the Supreme Court had been taking a serious view of problems such as criminalisation of politics, corruption, breach of trust and nepotism by political and bureaucratic public servants.

In State (Delhi Administration) vs V.C. Shukla, the Supreme Court held in 1980 that the term 'high public or political office' used in the Special Courts Act "contemplates only a special class of officers or politicians who may be categorised as follows: (1) officials wielding extraordinary powers entitling them to take major policy decisions and holding positions of trust and answerable and accountable for their wrongs; (2) persons responsible for giving to the State a clean, stable and honest administration; (3) persons occupying a very elevated status in whose hands lies the destiny of the nation."

The apex court added: "The rationale behind the classification of persons possessing the aforesaid characteristics is that they wield wide powers which, if exercised improperly by reason of corruption, nepotism or breach of trust, may mar or adversely mould the future of the country and tarnish its image... It is, therefore, not only proper but essential to bring such offenders to book at the earliest possible opportunity."

Natarajan said that the Supreme Court's consistent stand against condoning criminalisation of politics or corruption by highly placed public servants was reiterated by the Election Commission of India's Order (No.509/Disqln./97 - J.S.I) dated August 28, 1997 that dealt with the issue of criminalisation of politics and participation of criminals in the electoral process as candidates. (It was under this Order that Jayalalithaa was barred from contesting the elections. The returning officers of four constituencies where she filed nomination papers rejected her papers on the ground that she had been disqualified under Section 8 (3) of the RPA.)

Natarajan stressed that for more than two decades the Supreme Court had been wanting to eliminate corruption in high places. Section 8 (3) of the RPA, he said, reflected the will of the people. This section stated that "a person convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years (other than any offence referred to in sub-section (1) or sub-section (2)) shall be disqualified from the date of such conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for a further period of six years since his release."

This legislative mandate was clearly emphasised by the recent judgment of the Supreme Court, Natarajan pointed out. "The view of the Supreme Court, once expressed, binds the entire nation."

Natarajan observes: "The controversy that arose in the aftermath of the Madras High Court judgment whether the issue of conviction and sentence were one and the same or they are two different aspects is of no significance when we look back at the controversy in the light of the current Supreme Court judgment. One has to lay emphasis on an interpretation of this nature more, if not totally, for the welfare of the nation and the benefit of the people. The Supreme Court's judgment reflects the correct position and emphasises the avoidance of criminalisation of politics."

Asked if Jayalalithaa cannot hold office if she were to be acquitted by the Madras High Court but the Supreme Court stays the acquittal in an appeal, Natarajan said, "Hypothetically answering the question, as mentioned in Section 8 (3) of the RPA, the disqualification mentioned therein will start running as long as the conviction is in existence. No doubt, if the acquittal is given by the High Court, one may say the conviction will be wiped out. One may claim that since the conviction is not there, Section 8 (3) of the RPA will not apply. But in my opinion (that) situation may not arise if an appeal to the Supreme Court is preferred. In a matter like this, in view of the avowed policy of the Supreme Court, it will definitely stay the operation (of the order) of the High Court and settle the matter finally in the appeal. What is agitating the Supreme Court for the past two decades is criminalisation of politics, corruption, nepotism and breach of trust among highly placed bureaucratic and political public servants."

A shock for the TDP

The Telugu Desam Party loses ground to the Congress(I), the Left parties and the newly formed Telengana Rashtra Samithi in the elections to Mandal and Zilla Parishads in Andhra Pradesh.

THE aura of invincibility that the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) had created for itself as against a weak and faction-ridden Congress(I) in Andhra Pradesh has faded in the Mandal and Zilla Parishad elections held in July. Belying expectations that it would ride high on the crest of the second-generation economic reforms initiated by Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu and improve upon its performance in the Assembly elections, the TDP yielded ground to the Congress(I) even in the coastal Andhra region, considered its home turf.

18170401jpg

Initially the TDP had seemed unshakable, for it had secured a clear mandate in the 1999 Assembly elections by winning, along with its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party, 192 of the 294 seats. It had also won two Assembly byelections, in Badvel and Giddalur, earlier this year. Moreover, its government had weathered the storm that was set off by the steep hike in electricity tariffs in 2000 and the way it handled the protests against it.

The setback in the local bodies elections came as a shock to the TDP as it had campaigned as aggressively as it would in a round of general elections. Of the 1,094 Zilla Parishad territorial constituencies (ZPTCs), the TDP won 514 and the Congress(I) 444. Making an impressive debut within 70 days of its launch, the Telengana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) won 84 seats. However, its performance did not match its claim that it would wrest the majority of the 441 seats in the Telengana region.

An analysis of the performance of the TRS shows that it won most of the seats in an area comprising the four North Telengana districts of Nizamabad, Karimnagar, Warangal and Medak, where the naxalite People's War Group (PWG) has considerable influence. It drew a blank in Khammam, a stronghold of the Communist parties, won two seats in Mahabubnagar and one seat in Ranga Reddy district.

The BJP put up a dismal performance - it won just 13 ZPTCs and seven Mandal Parishads. Party leaders attributed the debacle to the confusion among the party's rank and file about the alliance with the TDP in about 40 seats and 'friendly contests' in 140 others. Although the Communist parties together won only 24 ZPTCs, they improved upon their performance in the Assembly elections, in which the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had won two seats and the Communist Party of India none.

THE indirect elections to the 22 posts of Zilla Parishad chairpersons witnessed horse-trading and the use of money power to encourage defections. The ZPTC members elect the chairpersons by a show of hands and the quorum for holding elections is 50 per cent of the members.

The TDP won 12 Zilla Parishads (Srikakulam, East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna, Guntur, Prakasam, Anantapur, Kurnool, Mahabubnagar, Warangal, Adilabad and Ranga Reddy), the Congress(I) eight (Vizianagaram, Visakhapatnam, Nellore, Chittoor, Cuddappah, Khammam, Medak and Nalgonda) and the TRS two (Nizamabad and Karimnagar).

The most glaring examples of political skulduggery were provided by the elections in Ranga Reddy, Warangal, Karimnagar and Medak districts. In Ranga Reddy district, two Congress(I) ZPTC members stayed away from the elections and helped the TDP-BJP combine capture power. In Warangal district, where the TDP did not enjoy a majority, manipulations ensured the presence of three Congress(I) members to make up the quorum and help it capture the chairman's post. In Karimnagar district, all the five ZPTC members of the BJP and one of Congress(I) defied their party leadership and helped the TRS win the chairmanship.

The results gave a shot in the arm to the Congress(I) which had virtually thrown in the towel even before the fight began. The party was in bad shape on the eve of the elections. Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee president M. Satyanarayana Rao was functioning without an executive committee, and the 90-member Congress(I) Legislature Party was divided with 41 members supporting the demand for a separate Telengana state.

18170402jpg

The party's policy of decentralising the process of choosing candidates - the "select and elect" process, as Satyanarayana Rao termed it - seemed to have paid off. However, the policy was dictated more by convenience than by conviction, since the Congress(I) did not have the organisational machinery to select about 1,100 candidates.

In contrast, the TDP launched an elaborate, high-profile exercise of deputing observers to assess the party's strength, holding district- and Assembly constituency-level meetings to shortlist prospective candidates, and naming the chosen ones from Hyderabad. Taking no chances, Chandrababu Naidu travelled by helicopter across the State and addressed 69 meetings. K. Chandrasekhar Rao, the TRS chief, who was earlier part of the TDP's think tank, too hired a helicopter for his campaign.

The Congress(I) attributed its good performance to the agitations it had organised on several issues, such as the hike in power tariffs, suicides by weavers and the plight of farmers.

CHANDRABABU NAIDU was, as usual, circumspect while commenting about the reasons for his party's poor performance. He said that the results fell short of the TDP's expectations. Asserting that the economic reforms would continue, he refused to accept arguments such as that there existed an anti-establishment sentiment among the people or that it was a vote for a separate Telengana.

The Chief Minister said that the government could not effectively publicise its development programmes and that the verdict was a mixed bag as several local factors influenced the electorate. An analysis of the results shows that the TDP performed well in a backward district like Adilabad in Telengana, where it won 36 out of 52 ZPTC seats. However, the party did not win any seat in the constituencies of eight Ministers and several MLAs belonging to the TDP. Party leaders conceded that the power tariff hike and related developments did have some bearing on voter preferences.

Confirming the fears of the Congress(I), the results in Telengana showed that the TRS affected its prospects more than those of the TDP. The TRS won 19.27 per cent of the votes polled. It caused an erosion of 9.74 per cent in the Congress(I) vote and 5.91 per cent in the TDP vote.

Although the TDP would have preferred to fight the polls on local issues, the campaign was dominated by larger political and economic issues. The party's manifesto spoke mainly about transferring power in all the 29 areas laid down in the 73rd Constitution Amendment to panchayats, empowerment of women through four lakh DWCRA (Development of Women and Children in Rural Area) groups, the Janmabhoomi programme and water conservation efforts (Neeru-Meeru programme).

The Congress(I) set an altogether different agenda by reiterating its promise to supply power free of cost to farmers. Rejecting the Congress(I)'s proposition, the TDP has demanded a national debate on the issue of supply of free electricity to farmers. It has alleged that the Congress is indulging in doublespeak depending upon whether it is in power or not. Leaders of the TDP say that the average charge paid by farmers worked out to 23 paise a unit of power. Opposing any further concession to farmers, they said that the government is already spending about Rs.2,100 crores by way of subsidies to the agriculture sector.

18170403jpg

Another issue that dented the TDP's prospects was the question of remunerative prices for farmers. Chandrababu Naidu used his clout with the Centre to persuade it to lift 70 lakh tonnes of rice from Andhra Pradesh. However, by the time the relief arrived, many farmers had sold their stocks to middlemen or rice millers at rates lower than the minimum support price. The Congress(I), on the other hand, successfully highlighted the farmers' case by organising demonstrations and protests.

The Andhra Pradesh unit of the CPI(M) said that it was a verdict against the TDP's governance. State secretary B.V. Raghavulu said that the TDP had alienated almost all sections of people. "The large gap between the publicity hype and practice undermined the government's credibility," he said.

Raghavulu said that the negative effects of the economic reforms had become evident after five years. People were unhappy with the high power tariffs, wrong billing and the food coupons introduced at the behest of the World Bank for drawing rations from fair price shops. "The poorer sections felt possessive about the ration card as it gave them a feeling of security. Now there is scope for the misuse of coupons," Raghavulu said.

Thousands of workers lost their means of livelihood when earth excavating machines were used on a large-scale for the Neeru-Meeru programme. This issue also played a role in the elections. The increase in the number of the nouveau-riche in villages, mainly contractors who benefited from the Rs.3,000-crore World Bank-aided Andhra Pradesh Economic Restructuring Project to build primary health centres, to undertake Janmabhoomi works and to deepen waterbodies, have given credence to the widespread belief that corruption is rampant.

Soon after the results were declared, faction feuds started within the Congress(I). The first salvo was fired by Satyanarayana Rao after the party lost the Ranga Reddy Zilla Parishad chairman's post to the TDP. He accused some 'big leaders' of sabotaging the party's prospects in Ranga Reddy and Kurnool districts and apprised All India Congress Committee (AICC) president Sonia Gandhi about it. Apparently, his target was former Congress Working Committee (CWC) member K. Vijayabhaskara Reddy.

The anti-Vijayabhaskara Reddy group staged a demonstration in front of Gandhi Bhavan, the APCC headquarters, when AICC general secretary R.K. Dhawan was addressing a meeting. The demonstrators demanded disciplinary action against Vijayabhaskara Reddy and his son and District Congress Committee(I) president K. Suryaprakash Reddy. Vijayabhaskara Reddy's followers, including several MLAs, hit back at Satyanarayana Rao and CLP leader Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy by demanding action against them for encouraging a "crowd" to stage a demonstration against a senior party leader.

Meanwhile, as the Congress(I) is busy tackling its internal problems, other parties are bracing themselves for the elections to the 21,000 gram panchayats and the Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad, which are scheduled for August.

Karnataka's agony

other

Karnataka is in the grip of the worst drought in 15 years. A large number of agricultural workers and their families have been migrating to Maharashtra looking for means of sustenance.

PARVATHI MENON in northern Karnataka

TWENTY-THREE of the 28 districts in Karnataka are facing drought conditions of varying degrees of intensity. With more than 146 of the 175 taluks recording deficient rainfall as of July 29, this year's drought, according to the State government's Drought Monitoring Cell, is the worst in the last 15 years (1985 and 1992 recorded deficient rainfall). The failure of the monsoon has affected agricultural production, rural employment, fodder availability and drinking water availability in villages and towns. The State government has mobilised funds for drought relief operations from its own resources, even as it has been pressing the Centre for assistance.

18170421jpg

The prolonged dry spell was broken by a few days of rainfall in late July in the northern and interior districts, where drought conditions had become particularly acute. But the respite was brief, and the showers, though fairly heavy in districts such as Bijapur, Gulbarga and Raichur, gave little more than an illusion of relief to agriculture and those dependent on it. The rain was too little and it came too late. By the time three survey teams from the Central government visited many of the drought-affected districts in July, the drought had inflicted irreversible damage.

It was not merely the shortfall in rainfall in the first two months of the monsoon season - from June 1 to July 29 - that has been a matter of concern. Taluks numbering 118 have recorded continuous dry spells that lasted more than four weeks. During this period, the reservoir levels in all the major dams of the State - Linganamakki, Supra, Krishnarajasagar, Tungabhadra, Kabini and others - were lower than the average levels at the same time over the last 10 years. The reduction in the levels range between 11.53 per cent and 37.43 per cent.

Kharif sowing has been affected in most regions. According to estimates provided by the State government to the Central team, only about 31 per cent of the 69 lakh hectares targeted for kharif sowing this year, which comes to 21.61 lakh ha, was covered by July end. In some districts there has been virtually no kharif sowing. For example, in Bijapur district, the percentage of area sown to the area targeted for sowing is just 0.7, while it is 3.86 per cent in Raichur district, 1.65 in Bangalore Rural, 3.81 in Kolar and 3.97 in Mandya.

Such calamities highlight two aspects of the State's economy which official policy over the years has failed to change. The first is the dependence of most of the State's agriculture on rainfall. Rain-fed cultivation continues to be the back-bone of agriculture. The State has the second largest arid zone in the country, next only to Rajasthan. Although the annual average rainfall in the State is 1,139 mm, the 11 districts of the interior north receive just 600 mm. Karnataka also has a relatively small area of land under assured irrigation. Out of a total cultivable area of 121.09 lakh ha, only 25.48 lakh ha, or roughly 21 per cent, comes under assured irrigation. The second aspect is uneven regional development, which has been part of the State's development experience since its formation. Successive State governments have acknowledged the problem but have not addressed it. Bijapur, Raichur, Gulbarga, Bellary, Koppal and the other districts that comprise north Karnataka constitute a large zone of economic and social under-development. This area trails behind the rest of the State in respect of all major economic and human development indicators. Natural crises such as drought only accentuate the hardship and scarcities that this region and its people face even in non-crisis years. Thus a State that has won international accolades for being a forerunner of the infotech revolution has a huge area of under-development in its own backyard.

In Bijapur, for example, for a large number of agricultural families migration has become an escape route from the hardship imposed by this year's drought. Migration is a normal practice in Bijapur during the off-season months, and the flow of landless labourer families in search of work is usually to towns in Maharashtra such as Nashik and Pune. The reverse flow begins in May, in time for sowing operations for the kharif crop that begin in May-June. A farmer who owns about 3 ha of land in Shivanagi village in Bijapur taluk, B.G. Hanami, said that 500 families had left the village in search of work. "There has been virtually no kharif sowing in our village," he said. "For agricultural workers, there is neither work, nor water to drink. Another thousand people will leave soon."

Shivanagi could be any village in Bijapur taluk. A brief burst of rain during the last two days of July had moistened the dark soil. But the fields lay barren, except for the occasional green patch that a local irrigation source had created. With little work in the villages, groups of men, young and old, throng the tea shops, or gather around the road culverts of the villages, chatting. "In normal years my family of six goes to Pune for six months," said Chidananda Harijan. "We do road and building construction work and earn Rs.90 for a husband-wife couple. We will leave soon, as there is no work or drinking water here. We have to walk one kilometre to get drinking water." The scarcity of fodder has led to an increase in instances of cattle sales. "I sold a cow I had bought at Rs.5,000, for just Rs. 800," said Hanumantha Rai. "Last year fodder cost Rs. 150 a cart load. It is Rs. 600 this year." Rai owns a little more than a hectare of land and he is planning to leave for Nashik. Bijapur district faces a severe fodder shortage. According to the district administration, the price of fodder shot up by a factor of five in the last 10 days of July. The administration therefore banned the transport of fodder to Maharashtra.

18170422jpg

The precariousness of rain-dependent agriculture is nowhere more evident than in Bijapur. Sowing either did not happen or was delayed owing to the delay in the onset of monsoon, and in many areas cultivation had to be abandoned owing to extended dry spells. This has led to widespread unemployment, which in turn has intensified migration from the district. The absence of green pastures had put pressure on existing stocks of fodder, pushing up fodder prices, and increasing instances of distress cattle sale. Banks have stopped lending, and private moneylenders have stepped in. They charge usurious rates.

In Devarahipargi village of Sindgi taluk, a group of women who had gathered around a small shop run by two women of the village spoke about the burden that this year's drought had brought to their already difficult lives. "We will soon go to Maharashtra, but even there we are not getting work these days," Fatima, a mother of four, said. "Government help, did you say? We don't see a shadow of the government in our village," she declared. "The difference this year from the last year is that there has been no work," said Dilshan, a young mother, who has been travelling seasonally to Maharashtra for as long as she can remember. "Fodder used to cost Rs. 175 a cart, and it now costs between Rs.800 and Rs.1,000. Now that the banks will not lend anymore, we are dependent on moneylenders for everything. It is a difficult life for the poor."

The State government has asked for a Central grant of Rs.904 crores for drought relief. Chief Minister S.M. Krishna led an all-party delegation of Members of Parliament and legislators from Karnataka to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and pressed for an early grant of the relief. The Prime Minister assured the delegation that it would release Rs.29.36 crores, the second instalment of its share from the Calamity Relief Fund. He also promised to release one lakh tonnes of foodgrain free of cost to the State to be utilised for "Food for Work" programmes.

In the districts, however, the wait is for rain. After all, the sowing time for the rabi crop is round the corner.

A hysterical campaign

How, in the post-demolition phase, the Shiv Sena used its party newspaper Saamna to spread disinformation and incite violence in Mumbai.

The first part of this series (Frontline, August 3, 2001) dealt with the official apathy which greeted repeated Intelligence Bureau warnings of violence breaking out as a consequence of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

The second part (Frontline, August 17, 2001) studied the Mumbai Police's covert monitoring of the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party in the build-up to the demolition. Notings by the Mumbai Police's Special Branch suggest that the Sena, in fact, played second fiddle to the Sangh Parivar.

Now, no one can stop the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. An ocean of millions of Ram devotees is surging to Lord Ram's Ayodhya. Our brave Shiv Sainiks are also joining in.

- 'Towards Ayodhya' in Saamna, December 5, 1992.

AS with most things to do with the Shiv Sena, there was a considerable gap between its polemic on the Babri Masjid and its real involvement in the campaign to demolish the mosque, and the act of demolition itself. After the demolition, however, it moved rapidly to cash in on the event. The Sena's eyes were fixed firmly on coming to power in Maharashtra.

On December 5, 1992, the Sena-run newspaper Saamna carried a rambling editorial defence of the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign, claiming that the "construction of the temple is the building of our nation". Much of the text was dedicated to attacking Muslims. "Even after giving Muslims their half of the nation," the editorial argued, "they are still acting with audacity. This is a shame to this country." "How much are we to indulge Muslims?" it asked. "Those who burned the Constitution of this country after the Shah Bano case - the Imam Shahabuddin (sic.) and his progeny - have gone to the courts in the Ram Mandir dispute." A favourable decision from the Supreme Court, the editorial concluded, was unlikely. The only option was to "raise the entire organised power of the nation" behind the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

Saamna proclaimed the Sena's commitment to the movement the same day, reporting that party cadre led by Moreshwar Save, a Member of Parliament, had left for Ayodhya by the Ganga Jamuna Express the previous morning. The Sena group was fairly small. Save was accompanied by Ramdeo Pawar of the Aurangabad Shiv Sena, Ramchandra Khatri, the Haryana Sena chief, Mohan Paliwal, the Madhya Pradesh Sena chief, Jaybhagwan Goyal from New Delhi, Pawan Kumar Gupta from Punjab, and Pawan Pande, the sole Sena MLA in Uttar Pradesh.

The group was to arrive in Ayodhya on December 5, and Saamna made no claim that they were accompanied by a large number of cadre. On December 6 Saamna reported the departure of former Chief Minister Manohar Joshi, along with second-rung leaders like Ganesh Naik, Nandu Satam, Sudhir Joshi, Madhukar Sarpotdar and Datta Nalwade. This group reached Ayodhya only after the Masjid was brought down.

Nothing in Saamna's December 6 reportage suggests that it expected the Babri Masjid to be brought down during the course of the day. The timing of the departure of Joshi's group too suggests that Sena chief Bal Thackeray believed that the confrontation at Ayodhya would be protracted, designed to extract the largest possible amount of political mileage for the Hindu Right. The December 5 editorial did, of course, say that Thackeray had ordered his "staunch Hindu Shiv Sainiks to come back with victory in the battle for the temple, without making any boasts". But eyewitness accounts substantiate the proposition that the Sena did not believe anything dramatic would happen on December 6.

"I didn't see Save or any other Sena leader in Ayodhya that morning," recalls Maharashtra Times journalist Pratap Asbe, who had reason to be looking out for Sena leaders. "Joshi showed up the next day, but only briefly. There were hardly any people with him."

'Hundreds of temples in Pakistan and Bangladesh razed', read Saamna's headline on December 8. Its editorial that day, the first after the demolition, made no claim that Sena cadre had carried out the outrage. Instead, it focussed on supposed Muslim aggression in and around Mumbai. "Mosques in the entire country, including Mumbai," the editorial read, "have become arsenals. The Muslim bastis (slums) in Mumbai and Maharashtra, which have come up as mini-Pakistans, are wailing for the Babri Masjid, blocking roads and attacking Hindu temples. Why should we tolerate this?" "Muslims who have come out on the streets and are creating havoc with violence and committing sacrilege against Hindu deities and temples are traitors," Saamna continued. "They have no religion, God or nation, and no culture either. Although they have lived here for generations, they are now committing incest with their mother."

The Sena's claims of attacks on temples in Mumbai were far from true. A scrutiny of the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry's report shows that not a single temple had been attacked. There had been a handful of incidents of what the Commission described as "private fire", but these did not claim any life or even cause injury. The Sena's intent was, clearly, to cash in on the climate of hatred generated by the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign and build support for its impending pogrom against the city's Muslims. The Hindu consolidation thus brought about was to serve an unconcealed political agenda. "The government for the past 45 years," Saamna's December 8 editorial proclaimed, "pandered to Muslims and gave second-class treatment to the Hindus. There was an explosion against this in Ayodhya. The demolition of the Babri Masjid is the misfortune of the Congress, and the good fortune of the Hindus."

It was only on January 10, well into the second phase of the Mumbai riots, that the Sena appears to have gathered the courage to claim responsibility for the demolition. Saamna Executive Editor Sanjay Raut responded that day to the present Union Minister Pramod Mahajan's claims that the demolition had been carried out by agents provocateurs in the pay of Congress(I) heavyweight Sharad Pawar. "To say that Pawar's men demolished Babri (Masjid) is an insult to the martyrs of Ayodhya," he wrote.

Raut cited the Uttar Pradesh-based Hindi newspaper Amar Ujala, later censured by the Press Council of India for its communally-biased reportage, as saying that despite requests from the Ram Janmabhoomi trust president Mahant Ramachandradas Paramhans, Save and the "armed kar sevaks" with him did not give up their determination to "act in Sena style". Raut proceeded to cite another local newspaper as saying that the first hammer blow on the Masjid's dome was by a Sena member. "Once the Shiv Sainiks from Vidarbha and Pune attacked the mosque," Raut quoted the newspaper as saying, "kar sevaks from other areas of the country also joined in the attack."

Such claims are highly specious if read against the fact that it took Saamna over a month to make them, as well as Pratap Asbe's independent testimony and the Special Branch documents. What had happened in a month's time to embolden the Shiv Sena to such a degree? The second phase of the Mumbai riots began on January 6, 1993, four days before Raut's ravings. For reasons it alone may understand, the Maharashtra government has not submitted to the Liberhan Commission the articles published in Saamna during this period. Many of them are highly inflammatory, calling brazenly for Hindu mob attacks against Muslims. Others target Muslim police officers, who were perceived as obstacles to the Sena's communal campaign. Frontline had published excerpts from several of these articles in August 2000 after Thackeray's arrest (Frontline, August 18, 2000).

Consider the Saamna editorial of January 11, 1993, written a day after Raut's claim of responsibility for the demolition. Headlined 'Burning pyres', the editorial claimed that "Hindus have been burned alive in Jogeshwari, and that is why they have taken to the streets. Dawood Ibrahim's man (Assistant Commissioner of Police) A.A. Khan has tried to shoot these people. There is no justice, for fanatic traitors go scot-free while the terrorist Khan fires at Hindus. The people and the police have been fired at from mosques with Pakistani weapons."

"The Muslims in India are behaving as if they are Pakistani citizens," the editorial continued. "It is as if there are two countries within this one. Hindus, open your eyes and see what is going on! Your funeral pyres are burning." Another January 14 editorial was even more explicit. "Our tolerance has limits. All this was started by the traitors," it said. "The Hindus went back four steps and then displayed their strength. That's when the traitors put up white flags on their armed strongholds. Why should we die without fighting? And at the hands of traitors like (police officers) Khan and Ghafoor?"

By mid-January Saamna was actively engaged in guiding the course of violence. A January 21 article recorded activities by the Sthaniya Lokadhikar Samiti (Local People's Rights Committee), the Shiv Sena's labour wing. "The whole of Behrampada reverberated to a Maha Aarti performed at the Ganesh Temple this afternoon," the article read. "The Sthaniya Lokadhikar Samiti announced that Behrampada (a Muslim ghetto) would henceforth be called Rampada." The article also quoted a local activist of the Samiti, Bamanrao Mahadik, as saying: "Pull out all the Bangladeshis and Pakistanis from Behrampada. They are the ones who are ruining our country. It is time to send these green hordes back to their country."

Thackeray's own tone became increasingly hysterical. On January 23, he authored an editorial titled 'Keep the fires burning'. "I have nurtured a new, fiery generation of Hindus in the form of the Shiv Sena, and Saamna has been instrumental in this task," Mumbai's would-be Fuhrer wrote. "Hindus woke up in Hindustan after December 6 (1992), and it is time we all burned like a torch. Anti-national traitors should be burned to ashes in this flame".

Some 20 criminal cases were filed against Saamna and Thackeray for their role in the riots of 1992-1993. Prosecution for sanction was granted in only six cases, and in 1996 the BJP-Sena alliance government led by Manohar Joshi withdrew all but two of them. Two First Information Reports - No. 420 of 1993 and No. 459 of 1993 - charged Thackeray and Raut with inciting communal hatred and seeking to spread disaffection among police personnel. These two cases, for reasons which no one has quite explained, escaped Joshi's effort to protect the Sena boss.

In July 2000 the Democratic Front government dug out the files from the inner recesses of the Maharashtra Home Department, and arrested Thackeray. The charges against him were, however, thrown out by the Chief Judicial Magistrate who heard the case. The State government's appeal against the lower court's controversial decision is still pending in the Bombay High Court.

Will the Justice Liberhan Commission find the time to reopen investigations into the communal pogrom in Mumbai? As things stand, such a wide-ranging initiative seems unlikely. For one, the Commission is confronted with an enormous mass of primary evidence on the demolition of the Babri Masjid, leaving it little time or opportunity to address the violence which the event provoked. It has, so far, shown little interest in figures peripheral to the event, such as Thackeray.

The Maharashtra government, on its part, has made little effort to engage the Commission's interest. The fact that only an incomplete set of the relevant Saamna articles has been made over to the Commission, along with patchy intelligence and police records, seems to show that Maharashtra's bureaucratic establishment is less than enthused by the prospect of a judicial review of its conduct a decade ago.

But no further investigation is needed to launch action against the Shiv Sena, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party. What is needed is political will. As the documents published by Frontline have made clear, the evidence is on record, neatly organised in official files.

Even Justice B.N. Srikrishna's investigation into the Mumbai riots added little to what was already known about the pogrom of 1992-1993. Evidence even Justice Srikrishna chose not to address is available, including amateur radio operators' recordings of Mumbai Police personnel using anti-Muslim language in their wireless transmissions and organising attacks against the community in several neighbourhoods.

The Democratic Front now in power in Maharashtra has shown more willingness to act than any of its predecessors. One recent signal has been the prosecution of former Joint Commissioner of Police Ramdeo Tyagi, charged with the murder of nine unarmed Muslims at the Suleiman Bakery in Dongri.

It will take a lot more than the prosecution of some individual policemen, though, to address the issue. Nothing other than action against the communal fascist architects of the carnage will heal the scars of 1992-1993.

An unsettled peace

Efforts to revive the Northern Ireland peace process fail as the Protestent Unionists and Catholic Republicans harden their positions on decommissioning of arms by the Irish Republican Army.

IT has been a long, exhausting and spiteful summer for Northern Ireland - packed with political theatre, angry recrimination, and frequent violence. The violence spilled over to London recently when a powerful car bomb exploded in a busy suburb. The incident has cast a long shadow over efforts to revive the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The three-year-old agreement, fragile at the best of times, was thrown into turmoil in July when the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) chief David Trimble resigned as head of the provincial government protesting lack of progress on arms decommissioning by the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the armed wing of Sinn Fein. (Sinn Fein shares power with Unionists under the Good Friday Agreement.)

18170471jpg

Hopes of an early breakthrough received a blow with the London blast, suspected to be the work of the Real IRA, a small but motivated group of Republican extremists who broke away from IRA when the latter joined the peace process. It accuses the IRA of "betraying" the Republican cause and has threatened to step up its violent campaign to wreck the agreement which, it believes, has not benefited Republicans.

Meanwhile, the IRA has made what it calls a "hugely historic" gesture by telling General de Chastelain, head of the decommissioning body, that it is willing to put its weapons "completely and verifiably beyond use". But it has not stated how it proposes to do so; nor has it committed itself to a time-frame. However, Unionists argue that the IRA has made similar statements in the past, and they are not prepared to take it on its face value any more unless it sets a deadline for de-weaponisation. Hardliners among the Unionists have dismissed the "gesture" as "delaying tactics to gain more concessions". Trimble, under pressure from his hawkish party colleagues, says he wants to see decommissioning start before he returns to the government.

THE Weston Park Hotel is a stately countryside mansion set in sprawling wooded grounds on the Shropshire-Staffordshire border. It is so jealously protected that parking costs 100 pounds. This is meant to discourage visitors from bringing in their vehicles. It was in this salubrious setting, away from the pressures of local politics, that British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern spent almost a whole week from July 9 to 14 trying to save the Northern Ireland peace process.

But their hope that political rivals from Belfast might be more amenable to persuasion in Weston Park's quiet and picturesque ambience was quickly dashed and the much hyped "make-or-break" summit broke up without an agreement amid familiar recrimination. This was the second such "summit" in less than a month to fizzle out. Moreover, it reflected the hardening of positions on both sides - the Protestant Unionists and Catholic Republicans - on arms decommissioning.

Ending sectarian violence in Northern Ireland was a key element of the Good Friday Agreement, signed in 1998, among others, by the UUP, the Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP). The three joined a power-sharing administration on the understanding that the IRA would give up its weapons as a guarantee of its commitment to non-violence. The Unionists are angry that three years and numerous assurances later, there is no progress on this matter.

The Sinn Fein, speaking for the IRA, says that it remains committed to decommissioning. However, it demanded that the British government must first honour its part of the bargain by recasting the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) to the satisfaction of Catholics and by scaling down the British security presence in Northern Ireland, especially the provocative watch towers in the predominantly Republican areas. The Sinn Fein is not satisfied with the changes already made to the RUC which, it says, continues to have an anti-Catholic bias. On the other hand, the British government is under pressure from the Unionists not to give in to the Sinn Fein. The Unionists claim that already too many concessions have been made to the Sinn Fein at their cost.

18170472jpg

The simmering tension over the issue came to a head on July 1 when Trimble resigned as head of the power-sharing executive to force the IRA to start disarming. Trimble's resignation followed increasing pressure on him from hardliners in his party who threatened to challenge his leadership if he did not take a tough stand. They argued that because of his "soft" approach the party was losing ground and pointed to the results of the general and local elections held in June in which the hawkish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which is opposed to the Good Friday Agreement, made significant gains at the expense of the UUP. Trimble's party lost a number of seats to the DUP in what was seen as a vote of no-confidence on his policies, especially his handling of the decommissioning issue.

A similar shift away from moderate politics was reflected in the performance of Republican and Nationalist parties. The Sinn Fein with its hard line on decommissioning outperformed the more moderate SDLP and thus strengthened its resolve to persist with its uncompromising position. The Sinn Fein's good performance came at a time when the threat to its supremacy from the more extremist Republican groups such as the Real IRA looked real. In a sense, the election result sealed the fate of moderation and forced both sides to adopt more threatening postures. This was reflected in the comments made by the different players after the Weston Park summit. Trimble said: "We have tried very hard in the course of this week to bring it home to the republican movement that it is their inescapable duty to fulfil the promises they made. It is also their duty to put weapons beyond use in their terms of the agreement." His party colleague and hardliner Jeffrey Donaldson said: "We are not prepared to consider anything until there is actual decommissioning. That is our bottom line." On the other hand, the Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, who was the party's chief negotiator at the summit meeting, accused the government of failing to address the Republicans' concerns on policing and demilitarisation.

Despite such seemingly irreconcilable positions after a series of talks in recent weeks, apart from the two "summits", the British government did not give up. It decided to prepare a package of proposals in consultation with the Irish government and put it before the political parties on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. The package, offering a number of concessions to Republicans on policing and security in the hope of persuading them to relent on the decommissioning issue, was presented to the two sides on August 1 with a five-day deadline to give their responses. However, with decommissioning remaining the sticking point, no agreement has been possible so far despite an extension of the deadline.

Despite its widely perceived pro-Republican tilt, the Sinn Fein believes that the British government's peace package falls short of its demand for radical police reforms and scaling down of the British security apparatus in Northern Ireland. It claims that it remains committed to decommissioning but would not act under the pressure of deadlines and ultimatums. On the other hand, the Unionists resent what they see as attempts to "appease" the Republicans. They also believe that the kind of sweeping police restructuring and security changes that the Republicans demand are not justified by the situation on the ground, with the police warning of a "murderous" new phase of terrorist campaign by the Real IRA.

The Unionists' view is supported by independent observers who warn that any compromise on security is fraught with risks. The Times, in an editorial, said: "To secure peace compromises are always necessary. But after Ealing (the bomb blast), Ministers must remember that, when confronted by an implacable foe, it can be deadly to allow security to be compromised too far." Until the bomb blast, there was a great deal of optimism that behind-the-scenes efforts by London and Dublin in recent weeks were about to deliver peace. But the explosion changed the situation dramatically. The publicly-stated resolve of both sides to go ahead with the peace process in order to "shame" the extremists has not been matched by their actions.

Under the provincial Constitution, the political vacuum created by Trimble's resignation must be filled by August 12 (when the six-week deadline from the date of his resignation ends) and if the deadlock continues - as it seems likely - there are only two options: to suspend the Assembly or call elections. (By August 9, the Assembly looked headed for a suspension to buy more time for negotiations.) Meanwhile, there are fears that a prolonged period of political uncertainty would help extremists consolidate themselves. Already there has been a considerable rise in violence since the latest crisis erupted and the writing on the wall does not bode too well for the future. Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid has warned that only the anti-peace elements stand to benefit from a political vacuum. "We have to show politics works," he said, arguing that political and economic stability arising out of peace is the best antidote to violent extremism.

18170473jpg

There is a growing view that even if a patchy compromise is achieved now in order to avert a collapse of the political institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement, it might not last. A fresh look at the Good Friday Agreement, it is argued, would not be a bad thing in the light of the experience of the last three years. The immediate objective of the accord was to end hostilities and a lot was left for the two sides to improvise upon as they learned to work together in a power-sharing executive. That "improvisation" has not worked is clear, and given the continuing lack of mutual trust it is doubtful whether it is going to work. Although Trimble might have his own reasons to call for a review, even detached observers believe that a minor "surgery" is better than subjecting the agreement to repeated bouts of near breakdown.

Provocation and retaliation

It is a tense stalemate on the Israel-Palestine front as the contending sides continue to swing at each other and slug it out.

AFTER ten months of intense confrontation, Israel and Palestine today resemble punch-drunk prize-fighters. They are still prepared to step up to the line, even though their energies and applicable fighting skills are being fast depleted. Neither side is ready to throw in the towel, and while one of the sides would like the referee to step in and stop the bout, it will not stop fighting till the referee does so of his own accord.

18170491jpg

Here, the operative phrase in respect of Israel is "applicable fighting skills". Israel has the huge military power, in terms of organisation and expertise as much as in numbers, to take on the entire Arab world and not just the puny Palestinian forces. But these forces were organised mainly for large-scale conflict and not the kind of mass movement-cum-guerilla war that the Palestinians are currently waging. Only in recent weeks has Israel begun to adapt more effectively to the situation confronting it by trying to use their formidable forces with precision. But even the change in tactics carries problems of its own - the inability to erase the notion of an overkill being one of them - because the course of this contest is determined so much by the world's perception of what is permissible and what is not.

If one were to apply the traditional concepts of warfare, Israel should be able to win this war within three or four days. Independent military analysts are not about to argue with the Israeli military's apparent assessment that they could finish off all organised resistance from the Palestinian side within this sort of a time-frame. So if war is to be considered only a matter of routing the enemy's forces and conquering its territory, there is no question about who will emerge the winner. There are brazen hardliners in Israel who believe that their government and military should wage an all-out war in the traditional sense. Some of them also think that they have an answer to the question of what should be done after a victory on the traditional lines.

These hard right Israelis believe that ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian territories should follow on as a natural consequence to the re-conquest of these territories. Fortunately, although they might have a wider circle of sympathisers, the majority even within the right wing in Israel recognises that this is not a realistic option in the modern world. The acquisition of territory and the expulsion of the original inhabitants were considered as the legitimate, or at least the real, objectives of wars till the middle of the last century. Nowadays the world is not very comfortable with the notion that one people should be allowed to conquer another.

If ethnic cleansing is not a realisable option, could Israel at least resume the role of the overlord that it enjoyed till the Oslo Accords? Israel for all its other faults is a democratic society and the democratic urges are strong enough to restrain the country from such a policy. As the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin would say after his epiphany, "apartheid is not a Jewish virtue". Even if these democratic restraints are overcome, it would not be long before Israel's overlord status was challenged by yet another Intifada. Israel just cannot take up the other option of absorbing the Palestinians into a greater Israel as equal citizens since their country would soon cease to have a Jewish majority.

What Israel can do short of a re-conquest, some people have suggested, is that it can destroy the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) and ensure that its President Yasser Arafat and his cohorts are sent into exile. Israel can probably do so physically, but then which are the forces best organised to replace Arafat's authority as the leaders of the Palestinian society - the Islamic movement? This is surely not an objective that Israel would like to achieve. Since none of these objectives are desirable from Israel's point of view, it has no reason to wage a full-scale war on traditional lines. But there are limited objectives that can be gained in the current situation, and Israel is fighting to attain them.

According to many commentators in the region, including within Israel, nothing would suit Prime Minister Ariel Sharon more than the continuation of the stalemate. He has made his long military and political career on his reputation as a conqueror and usurper of land for the Jewish people. In insisting that he will resume negotiations only when there is a total end to violence, Sharon has set a practically impossible norm for the Palestinians to meet. Since the Palestinians are not likely to meet them, even if they were so inclined, Sharon will not talk and he will keep the land. In practical terms, Sharon is already implementing the policy of "unilateral separation" that Israeli leaders, from the Left as well as the Right, have spoken of for some time.

Unilateral separation is a policy whereby the Palestinians would be forced to live in a space apart from the Israelis so that the spheres of their separate existence touch upon each other to the minimum extent possible. While the Israeli Left is inclined to achieve such a unilateral separation with a redeployment of troops so as to increase the space with the Palestinians, the right wing thinks that the separation that is already in effect is sufficient. Israel proper is separated, though not insulated, from the Palestinian territories by the Green line (the border as it stood prior to June 4, 1967). Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, though embedded within Palestinian territory, are separated from it by the network of roads that bypass Palestinian populated areas.

Under such conditions of separation all that Israel has to do in the current situation of unrest is to ensure that the Palestinians cannot cross the spatial divide to attack Israelis in the space they have carved out for themselves. The task given to their security services is to prevent Palestinian incursions into this space either by a suicide bomber or the setting up of ambushes or road-side bombs on the roads between Israel and the settlements or between settlements. Any Palestinian militants who cross the spatial divide are to be killed, and if they are not interdicted the Palestinians living in territories earmarked for them can be subjected to punitive action. At present Israel is trying to fine-tune its ability both to interdict Palestinians trying to cross the spatial divide and to strike back with the least diplomatic damage.

A point at which the tracks of interdiction and punishment converge is marked by the policy of assassinations. About 40 Palestinian militants, whom Israel would describe as the lynchpins of the attacks against it, are believed to have been killed since the current round of Intifada was triggered in September 2000. Usually the allegations that Israel levelled against those targeted and killed was that they were either bomb-makers or people who had recruited, trained and transported suicide bombers to the site of their attacks or people who had organised and carried out ambushes. On July 31, however, Israel seemed to have upped the ante when it fired missiles into a building in Nablus and killed six Hamas activists including two rising stars of the political wing of the Islamic movement (two children were also killed).

Israel claimed that the two politicians killed in the attack were the active heads of a terrorist cell operating from Nablus. This claim was met with some scepticism because Hamas has traditionally kept its political wing separate from its military arm and the two men were known for their political and social work. When Israel killed these two men it gave rise to the presumption that Israel was broadening the interpretation of the phrase "involvement in terrorist activity" to include not just those who actually planned and carried out such attacks but also those whose political line encompassed all forms of militancy. This presumption was strengthened when missiles were fired on a convoy of cars near the office of Marwan Barghouti, secretary-general of the Fatah in the West Bank.

Since Israel has charged a slew of figures in the hierarchies of different Palestinian factions of "promoting terrorism", up to and including Arafat, there was reason to fear that this assassination policy had now transformed into an all-out policy of liquidating the Palestinian leadership. As it was, the assassination policy stood condemned by the international community including Israel's staunch ally, the U.S. Israel defied international opinion and said it would continue with a policy that it preferred to describe as one of legitimate self-defence through "interception operations" against would-be suicide bombers and the like. However, Israel seemed to have silently recognised the fact that the international community was alarmed and would not tolerate a widening of the scope of this policy.

In the first week of August, Israel published a list of seven men whom they wanted the P.A. to arrest. In a context where the assassination policy was being implemented, the message behind the publication of the list was unmistakable. If the P.A. did not take these men into custody they would be targeted for killing. On the obverse side, there was reason to think that in the future Israel would restrict its policy of assassinations to the men on the list or others like them who were directly involved in terrorist operations. Yet, as the death of the two boys in Nablus showed, these operations cannot be precise and if the toll of innocents killed in such attacks mounts - as it surely will - Israel will be under pressure to desist from this form of action as well.

The tactical problem for Israel (as distinguished from the ethical and diplomatic problems involved in the international condemnation of these extra-judicial killings) was that its policy of punishment was not achieving its objective. By punishing the Palestinians Israel was not preventing them from trying to launch fresh attacks. On the contrary, such punishments were either creating more martyrs whom young Palestinians would be encouraged to imitate or more angst within the Palestinian community, and therefore a killing rage against Israel. There is a debate going on within Israel as to whether it is Arafat's inability or unwillingness that is preventing him from stopping incitements (that is, the exhortations from various sources to attack Israel) or militant activity. The import of this debate is lost when it is viewed from the Palestinian perspective.

Why should Arafat or anyone else prevent their youth from striking back at Israel when the latter's forces have entered their territories to kill and harass them, the Palestinians ask. To an extent the suicide bombings and drive-by shootings might have been instigated by Palestinian rage at some attacks launched by Israel against their people. But there are also some Palestinians who apparently believe that terror tactics will produce results. They can see that it is hurting Israel as investors and tourists keep away and as the constant state of mobilisation exhausts financial and psychological reserves. Their own economy is hurting even more, but the Palestinians believe that they have more collective resilience than the Israelis. The Islamists are the staunchest proponents of this view.

While some in the Palestinian leadership do seem to recognise that the resort to terror tactics is counter-productive since it creates a moral equivalence between their methods and the Israeli occupation, they are unable to convince their people. To an extent this inability appears to stem from the fact that the Palestinians are so conscious of their victim-hood that they are unable to acknowledge the fact that the international community (or the West, which is really what matters) is unable to perceive their plight in the same manner. They are unable to argue their case for outside intervention - through the deployment of international observers, for instance - with conviction because in the Western perception their resort to terror tactics eclipses Israel's excesses.

Of late the Palestinian official media have begun to float the idea of a change in tactics. A resort to non-violent forms of protest is likely to provide more dividends than the continual resort to the gun and the bomb, it has been argued. But no leading political figure has yet come forward to press for a definitive change in tactical approach, probably because they fear they will be accused of softness or even cowardice by the Palestinian street. A swift change in tactical approach would appear necessary because Israel believes its policy of attritting hardcore militants is beginning to work. If the Palestinians change their tactics only after a large number of militants have been killed, Israel could say that the change in tactics did not proceed from a change of heart but out of necessity.

Such an Israeli argument will have potency when a basic objective of the Palestinians is to get the West on its side, bereft of any suspicion of their intentions. The West, especially the U.S., will not give the Palestinians full support so long as it is not convinced that the Palestinians are not willing to live peacefully with Israel and so long as it suspects that the switch to non-violence is only a temporary tactical measure. Even if the P.A. were somehow able to make the Palestinian people conform to the path of non-violence, there are enough fanatics amongst the Israelis, especially amongst the settlers, who would provoke the Palestinians into retaliation. But before Arafat can ask his people to opt for the path of non-violent struggle, he will need to show them that it will produce some kind of benefit, such as the posting of neutral observers in the territories.

Israel under Sharon's leadership believes that any concession to the Palestinians at the current juncture, even the posting of neutral observers, would be tantamount to rewarding violence. The Palestinians are so fed up of promises being broken by Israel, and have invested so much into the current uprising, that they are unwilling to stop their violent campaign unless they can see that their future will be different. Both sides are therefore still willing to slug it out, and the referee - the international community and the U.S. in particular - does not appear inclined to step into the middle so long as the fighters are swinging at each other.

A wake-up call

ROHAN GUNARATNA world-affairs

To cope with the threat from the LTTE, Sri Lanka needs to revamp its security and intelligence systems. This is the lesson from the July 24 attack at Katunayake, the worst in the history of aviation terrorism.

THE daring attack by a 14-member suicide squad of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on Colombo airport and the adjoining Air Force base on July 24 exposed the Achilles' heel of the country's national security structure. The attack, which made a mockery of Sri Lanka's security and intelligence community, questioned the government's capacity to develop intelligence, forecast threats, protect critical infrastructure and prepare appropriate force structures to disrupt LTTE operations. It was symbolic of the sharp decline in the capability of the Directorate of Internal Intelligence (DII), which is responsible for anti-terrorist (protective) intelligence as well as counter-terrorist (offensive) intelligence.

18170521jpg

The timing of the attack on Sri Lanka's most protected security complex outside the north and the east coincided with the anniversary of the anti-Tamil riots of July 24, 1983, triggered by the LTTE's killing of 13 Sinhala soldiers. It was usual for the LTTE to launch attacks to commemorate significant anniversaries. Furthermore, the LTTE has a history of carrying out attacks on civil and military aviation.

In two waves, LTTE strike teams penetrated the high-security complex at Katunayake at 3-30 a.m. and destroyed a total of 11 aircraft and damaged three. Three passenger aircraft - two A 330s and an A340 - of Sri Lankan Airlines and eight Air Force military aircraft - two Israeli built Kfirs, a Ukrainian MiG-27, two Mi-17 helicopter gunships and three-Chinese K8 advanced training aircraft - were destroyed. Two other passenger aircraft - an A320 and an A340 - were badly damaged.

After five hours of fierce fighting, the 14 LTTE suicide bombers who had entered the complex were either killed or blew themselves up after they ran out of ammunition. Six airmen and one commando were killed. Although there were no civilian fatalities, eight security forces personnel and 18 civilians were injured. The injured civilians included a TV journalist who was shot in his leg and a Russian engineer working for a private airline. The Sri Lankan Airlines, 40 per cent owned by Emirates, the airline, suffered an estimated loss of $350 million.

In the history of aviation terrorism, the LTTE attack is considered the worst. The second highest number of aircraft destroyed or damaged in any single terrorist attack is four. The attack staged by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in Dawson's Field, Jordan, in September 1970 destroyed four passenger aircraft. Although international pressure following the attack led to the expulsion of the group from Jordan, the PFLP also attacked the Lod airport, Israel (May 1972), attempted to blow up oil installations in Singapore (January 1974), and was responsible for the OPEC kidnapping, Austria (December 1975) and the Entebbe hijacking, Uganda (June 1976). The LTTE's attack against civil aviation is a clear act of terrorism. The injury to the Russian classifies it as an act of international terrorism.

The attack was intended to cripple Sri Lanka's economy by affecting tourism and foreign investment and to degrade and destroy the air capability of the Sri Lankan military. Although no tourists were injured, the attack could affect tourism at least by a quarter and set back both domestic and foreign investment. The attack destroyed a third of Sri Lanka's commercial fleet and a fourth of the Air Force's jet fleet. The latter fact is likely to affect the Air Force's capability to destroy LTTE targets, provide air support for forward troops, airlift troops and supplies, and evacuate the injured among the security forces.

Within a week of the attack, Sri Lankan Airlines grounded 300 members of the cabin crew. In effect, they are being pushed for retirement. On July 31, as many as 600 employees who had opted to leave under the voluntary retirement scheme were asked to stay at home. The next day the airline issued a circular providing the option of retirement to anyone except the Sri Lankan technical crew - the pilots. Although the employment of 120 Sri Lankan pilots is secured, the 90 foreign pilots are likely to be affected. Twenty-eight foreign pilots, mostly Filipinos and Bulgarians, are likely to be given three months' notice and three months' pay. Sri Lankan Airlines also closed down several of its offices overseas and drastically reduced the number of international flights.

Both the Sri Lankan Airlines and the Air Force will have to wait for a year to replenish the losses. The Air Force's losses are significant because the LTTE is now poised to attack Jaffna. As there is no secure land route to Jaffna, the government is dependent on the air bridge and the sea route. Furthermore, the Kfirs and MiG-27s have provided the much-needed fire support for forward troops.

While the Kfirs is a modern multi-role fighter with a weapons platform equipped with a computerised bombing system for accurate delivery, the MiG-27 is capable of conducting night operations. The Kfirs and the MiGs can be launched only from the Katunayake airbase and not from the other bases at Anuradhapura, Hingurakgoda, Trincomalee, Vavuniya or Ratmalana. The losses will leave Sri Lanka's No. 10 jet squadron with 10 Kfirs and the No. 5 squadron with five MiG 27s and a MiG trainer. The two Mi-24s destroyed were among the No. 9 attack squadron's 18 helicopter gunships equipped with electronic equipment to mount night operations.

In sum, the LTTE attack achieved its multiple objective of demonstrating the failures of the authorities concerned in terms of both force protection and strategic and tactical intelligence. Suicide attacks in the past in Sri Lanka have demonstrated that a suicide team can breach the best possible security. (In the past 10 months there has been 31 suicide attacks in Israel.)

Protective security - target hardening - against a suicide squad has been of limited value. Without tactical intelligence relating to the time, modus operandi and location of the attack it is almost impossible to prevent a suicide attack against a civilian or military target. To develop sound, timely and usable intelligence, the government needs full-time intelligence professionals dedicated and committed to penetrating the LTTE organisation in the Wanni and LTTE cells in the South.

The response of the Sri Lankan state to the LTTE attack was cosmetic. As the runway itself was not damaged, at 3 p.m. the same day Air Force jets took off on bombing missions. Two Kfirs and two MiG-27s bombed LTTE ground targets at Vishwamadhu, 17 km southeast of Kilinochchi and in Trincomalee, south in Koonativu area. Bombing for the sake of swift retaliation is an unprofessional response to a terrorist attack. Without precise target intelligence, aerial bombing has proved to be counter-productive.

The government appointed two committees of inquiry. In the past, such committees, appointed with a view to pacifying public opinion in the short term, have amounted to a massive waste of time and, more important, of resources. The reports of the committees, which are likely to recommend the dismissal of the base commander and a few airmen, will have no immediate, mid-term or long-term impact on improving Sri Lanka's security. President Chandrika Kumaratunga should have called for the resignation of Cyril Herath, the Director-General of the DII.

Cyril Herath, a retired and honest police officer, was brought back as head of the security and intelligence apparatus in 1998. Nearing 70, and out of government service for over a decade, he lacked an understanding of the LTTE. The LTTE that he knew in the 1970s and the early 1980s had transformed itself totally by the 1990s. While heading the security and intelligence community, Cyril Herath also held the post of Chairman of the National Development Bank. Intelligence being the most effective weapon against terrorism, his holding a second and non-intelligence post demonstrated the government's lack of understanding of the nature of the LTTE. To foreign security and intelligence agencies closely monitoring the LTTE, the Sri Lankan government did not appear serious and professional in fighting a ruthless enemy organisation.

18170522jpg

In contrast, the LTTE assigned high priority to intelligence and counter-intelligence. It invested 40 per cent of its war budget in developing and managing both a civilian and a military intelligence organisation. All LTTE attacks were either intelligence driven or intelligence led. The organisation had one of the most successful agent-handling programmes. It had agents within the four armed services and in two of the three intelligence directorates. Although the LTTE meticulously studied the aspects of success and failure with regard to every operation, the Sri Lankan security forces and the intelligence community continued to repeat their mistakes. Accountability and transparency mean little to political appointees and to their masters. Being a political appointee, Cyril Herath is likely to continue to hold both posts.

In many ways, the Sri Lankan government is reaping the whirlwind of its actions. Since the People's Alliance (P.A.) came to office in 1995, the political appointments that were made to gain control of the security and intelligence community has emasculated the country's military, security and intelligence capabilities. Mediocre officials who wanted to curry favour with P.A. politicians branded some of the able personnel in government as supporters of the previous United National Party (UNP).

As a result, 60 per cent of the senior officers, 40 per cent of the middle-level officers, and 20 per cent of the junior officers of the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB), the forerunner of the DII, were either asked to retire or sent on uniformed postings. Consequently, the government lost its ablest intelligence minds trained by British, Israeli and other reputable agencies. Almost all the officers were non-political, experienced intelligence professionals who had risen through the ranks, committed to serving Sri Lanka's interests.

After replacing Zerny Wijesuriya, an internationally-respected career intelligence officer who headed the NIB, with an investigator, the government gradually dismantled the critical branches essential to fight terrorism. The most devastating was the removal of both the head and the deputy head of counter-terrorism. With the head of the training branch removed, neither the novices to intelligence posts nor the political appointees who were brought in could be trained properly.

The new Defence Secretary, Chandrananda de Silva, also a political appointee but with no training or understanding of security and intelligence matters, spearheaded the purge. Despite having been Defence Secretary for half a decade, de Silva has failed to learn the basic principles of defence management. By satisfying his political masters by implementing political decisions, he has survived but at the cost of gravely damaging Sri Lankan national security. By interfering in crucial matters, he has affected the performance of both the intelligence community and the military.

By compromising national security for political gain, the government has lost all the military gains except Jaffna. With the threat to Jaffna mounting, the government is likely to lose Jaffna before President Kumaratunga ends her term. Furthermore, the LTTE has grown rapidly between 1995 and 2001. It has also developed an artillery capability that can engage the security forces head-on.

The most devastating impact of politicising the security and intelligence community has been the government's failure to detect the formation of LTTE cells in Colombo. In Sri Lanka, the Police Department has primacy in the matter of both investigation and counter-terrorist operations in the South. But with the politicisation of the Defence Ministry and the Police Department police officers with a proven track record of fighting LTTE infiltration were shifted to administrative posts. For instance, Lionel Gunatillake, head of the Criminal Investigations Department, was transferred as Director, Welfare.

There was no reward or incentive for police officers who handled anti-terrorist operations successfully. Unless an officer knew a politician he or she was not rewarded and did not become eligible for a special promotion. At best one had to be politically correct, not operationally skilled. Those who silently marked time ended as heads of departments and divisions, while the best were labelled rebels and sidelined.

While Prabakaran rewarded his successful intelligence operatives, the police system failed to develop incentives and rewards to recognise and promote talent and intelligent hard work. A highly trained and skilled combat officer like Nimal Lewke, previously of the Special Task Force, continues to work as the Director of the Police Hospital. On political grounds several able officers, including Chandra Wakista of the Terrorism Investigations Department, were suspended for their previous efforts to combat the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).

With the anti-terrorist community becoming demoralised, the LTTE had a field day in the South, recruiting even a few services personnel. Gradually the threat to Colombo increased. Soon, politicians who played little games with security were going to pay a heavy price. The LTTE infiltrators built support cells, facilitating the entry of suicide squads to mount strikes at the very heart of the South, including Colombo.

The fact that the government has failed to detect the LTTE support cell that hosted the suicide team that attacked the Katunayake airport and airbase demonstrates the grave lack of high grade intelligence. Unless the support cell that provided the intelligence, housing, food, transportation and communications to the suicide team is detected, the LTTE may send another suicide team to conduct an equally devastating attack. The LTTE has over a hundred psychologically and physically war-trained suicide bombers. As long as a support infrastructure is allowed to function in Colombo, the LTTE will be able to mount operation after operation.

The act of reducing the period of training of soldiers has done the gravest damage to the national security of Sri Lanka. This writer argued in Sri Lanka's Ethnic Crisis and National Security that by reducing the training period of the average soldier the nation will produce a soldier who cannot fight.

The politicians were interested in numbers and the civilian bureaucrats in the Defence Ministry failed to understand that quality and not quantity was the key in the fight against terrorism.

Today, the LTTE cadres are better motivated than the average Sri Lankan soldier. The only way the Sri Lankan soldier can be made a superior fighter is by increasing his or her training period.

The LTTE attack at Katunayake demonstrated, in addition to the lack of a contingency plan, the grave lack of training/retraining and commitment of the average airman. Three of the aircraft were damaged by 'friendly fire'. One commando was killed by 'friendly fire'. Prabakaran emphasised on training to the point that he is quoted as saying: "During training, you can fire 1,000 rounds, but when launched into battle, one round should kill one enemy." In the LTTE, retraining, known as 'touch-up training', is a must.

The bureaucrats in the Defence Ministry do not understand the importance of professional training. This has prevented repeated attempts by both Sri Lankan and foreign specialists to professionalise the security forces and the intelligence community. Two of the world's leading experts in terrorism and guerilla warfare, Dr. Bruce Hoffman from the U.S., and Dr. Chaliand from France, flew into Sri Lanka in 1998 and 1999 respectively. Both visited both the north and the east. Against the advice of the Sri Lankan military, Dr. Chaliand risked his life and physically examined the forward defences south of Elephant Pass. He said it was only a question of time before the LTTE breached the defences south of Elephant Pass and in the Wanni.

Dr. Chaliand's recommendations were sent to President Chandrika Kumaratunga through French Ambassador Elizabeth Dahan. After 11 camps were overrun in the Wanni in late 1999 and the defences south of Elephant Pass were breached in early 2000, Dr. Chaliand was invited to return again. However, the Defence Ministry said it had no funds to pay for his passage.

Dr. Hoffman advised the government not to undertake Operation Jayasikuru, the over-ambitious project to open a land route from Vavuniya to Jaffna. As 90 per cent of the Sri Lankan troops are engaged in defensive operations, he also said that the Special Forces component should be increased to at least 30 per cent. He was surprised that the government had no working think tank to debate options and come up with the best workable solutions to address the military problems that plagued the country.

One of the leading defence organisations in the United States, MPRI, headed by General Harry Soyster, the former head of the Defence Intelligence Agency, offered to revamp and restructure the Sri Lankan national security apparatus. Once again, the Defence Ministry in Sri Lanka scuttled the plan by stating that it was not favourably disposed to the idea.

The LTTE threat is a severe military threat. There are only two military officers serving in the Defence Ministry, the apex organisation coordinating the security forces and the intelligence community. In the United Kingdom, 50 per cent of the officers in the Defence Ministry are services personnel. Sri Lanka cannot be an exception and cannot wait - without paying a price.

The first step towards developing an efficient organisation would be to retire the political appointees and obtain expertise in specialist training. Thereafter, in order to encourage the creation of innovative national security leaders, the government should build merit-based security forces and an intelligence organisation. In such a structure only the very best should be appointed to lead the national institutions.

It would also be necessary to develop a coherent national security policy and a military doctrine which Sri Lanka still does not have. Without bringing about personnel and structural alterations and laying a solid foundation, it will be impossible to get out of the current rut of defeat after defeat. Without such radical changes, Sri Lanka is unlikely to build robust military, security and intelligence capabilities to challenge the rapidly growing LTTE threat in the immediate, mid and foreseeable future.

Dr. Rohan Gunaratna is Fellow, Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, Scotland, and author of Sri Lanka's Ethnic Crisis and National Security.

LTTE strikes in Southern Sri Lanka

ROHAN GUNARATNA world-affairs

October 1995: LTTE destroys oil storage complex, Colombo

January 1996: LTTE bombs the Central Bank, Colombo

October 1997: LTTE bombs the World Trade Centre, Colombo

January 1998: LTTE damages the Temple of the Tooth

December1999: President Chandrika Kumaratunga narrowly escapes human bomb attack

2000: LTTE rebuilds agent handling network in the South

July 2001: LTTE attacks Colombo airport and main airbase.

Towards elections in Fiji

SHUBHA SINGH world-affairs

As Fiji gets set to go to the polls on August 25, a look at the line-up and the issues.

SOME 15 months after an armed gang ousted the government of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry in the South Pacific island-nation of Fiji, the country is holding elections to choose a new government. On May 19, 2000, a group of armed men barged into the Parliament building in the capital Suva and took Mahendra Chaudhry and his entire Council of Ministers hostage. Their demand was the ouster of a government headed by a person of Indian descent and their slogan was Fiji for the Fijians. However, a court order later held the dismissal to be illegal and paved the way for fresh elections to take place on August 25, 2001.

18170551jpg

With 23 political parties in the fray, it will be difficult for any single party to get a majority in the House of Representatives. It is a coalition that would form the new government, for the Constitution provides that the two major ethnic groups, the Fijians and the Indians, would need each other's support to form a government.

It was the second time that a government was overthrown in Fiji. In 1987, the government was ousted through a military coup led by the third ranking officer of Fiji's Army, Lt. Col. Sitiveni Rabuka. Rabuka drew his support within the Army and aimed to restore the defeated Alliance Party headed by Ratu Mara that represented the traditional Fijian hierarchy. He claimed to stand for Fijian values and tradition. The armed group led by George Speight, a failed businessman, included some members of an elite commando group, the Counter Revolutionary Warfare group, but they did not have the backing of the armed forces. Although the Speight gang spoke of Fijian rights, the mercenary action brought out strong strains of provincialism and tribal factionalism that had remained latent in Fijian society.

The armed gangsters had claimed that Mahendra Chaudhry was not protecting the rights of the ethnic Fijians, but once the hostages were released the Fijian chiefs of the western provinces come out in opposition to them. The western province is the heartland of the sugarcane growing area which is the mainstay of Fijis economy. It is also the region where the main tourist resorts are located. As both races began feeling the effect of the prolonged political crisis, Fiji seemed to be sliding into a state of civil strife after the hostages were released. While Mahendra Chaudhry was held captive, the crisis was labelled an Indian versus Fijian problem. After his release, a new interim Cabinet was to be appointed under the agreement reached with the hostage takers. By that time the tussle within the Fijian ranks came out into the open, with different tribal groups suggesting different candidates for the Cabinet. The Fijian community has traditionally remained a cohesive group, where their chiefs govern the tribes. But inter-tribal differences began to crop up, as anyone with a grievance began looking for redress. The law and order situation deteriorated as ethnic Fijians took over airports, hotel resorts and even police stations demanding a better return for the land they had leased for these facilities. Speight and his close advisers were finally arrested and an Interim Government was appointed under Laisenia Qarase, a former banker. Qarase's Cabinet included several Ministers who had openly supported Speight's actions.

Several months later a Fiji High Court Judge ruled on a writ petition that the dismissal of the Chaudhry government was illegal. A Court of Appeal later pronounced that the abrogation of the Constitution was illegal, and held that Parliament was not dissolved but merely prorogued on May 28, 2000. The Appeal Court went into several claims that had been made by various parties. The Interim Government had stated that the 1997 Constitution had failed to protect the rights of the indigenous Fijians and that the new, preferential system of voting had distorted the people's choice in the previous elections (in 1999). In its affidavit the interim administration had listed these two reasons for the indigenous Fijians feeling that their rights had been eroded under the new Constitution. The court found that there was no erosion of the special rights of the Fijians. It said that given the provisions under the 1997 Constitution, any attempt to change the law in relation to land rights of the Fijians and other indigenous rights by stealth was impossible since any changes required ratification by the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC), the supreme body of Fijian tribal chiefs.

The court analysed the voting system introduced for the last elections in 1999 and concluded that even with a "first-past-the-post" system, the same government would have come to power. It felt that the claims that indigenous Fijians did not understand the electoral system were largely unsubstantiated. The Interim Government had the burden of proving to the court that it was in firm control and that the people had truly acquiesced to it. The court held that the government did not produce any direct evidence of acquiescence and stated that "passive acceptance was not persuasive evidence of acquiescence". The Interim Government had suppressed public demonstrations of dissent and there were numerous affidavits filed by individuals and organisations expressing disapproval of the interim regime. The Court of Appeal agreed with the High Court that the constitutional doctrine of necessity did not validate the Interim Government.

18170552jpg

Under the Court of Appeal order, Mahendra Chaudhry's government was to be restored. But Chaudhry was then facing a challenge to his leadership within his party, from his deputy Dr. Tupeni Baba. He recommended to the President that Parliament be dissolved and fresh elections be held. Elections were then scheduled for August 25 and the Qarase government remained in charge. Since that time, Dr. Tupeni Baba and several influential Fiji Labour Party (FLP) members (both Indians and Fijians) left the party to form the New Labour Unity Party (NLUP).

The election scene has turned combative as the 23 political parties battle it out among themselves. The hardline Fijian parties have been accusing one another of not looking after the interests of the indigenous community. The two Labour factions are at loggerheads. Dr. Baba claimed that the re-election of Mahendra Chaudhry would lead to another coup as the country was not ready for an Indian as Prime Minister. The Daily Post in an editorial then strongly condemned Tupeni Baba for using what it called the racial card. It said: "Baba's remarks are totally irrelevant, uncalled for, shallow and perhaps unfortunate. For someone campaigning to be Prime Minister such a prediction has not given voters the confidence they are looking for. Instead, such statements create doubt, fear and apprehension in the minds of voters and perhaps in his ability as a leader. No doubt, Baba was targeting a certain group of voters."

Interim Prime Minister Qarase, a political novice, floated a new political party called Sogosogo Duavata ni Lewenivanu (SDL). All other political parties in the country have called for Qarase's resignation so that a neutral government could conduct the elections. Many of them have also charged Qarase with making fresh appointments to statutory boards and key positions just before the elections. Qarase had constituted a Constitutional Review Commission that was disbanded by the President on the direction of the High Court. However, Qarase has been declaring in his campaign speeches that he would reconstitute the Commission to ensure that political power remains with the Fijians if he were elected. Qarase has said that the Constitution should be changed to ensure the ethnic Fijian's political supremacy in the country.

Deep and bitter tribal divisions within the Fijian community have come out in the open, shattering the myth of cultural unity among the Fijians. Class and regional considerations have begun to factor in Fijian political considerations. The highly individualistic style of the Indian leaders does not allow a show of unity among the community. The main political parties consist of the SVT party (Soqosoqo no Vakavulewa ni Taukei) that was formed in 1990 after the coup as the party of the ethnic Fijians with the blessings of the Fijian chiefs. But factional fights within the party deprived it of much of its Fijian support, though it remained the single largest party in Parliament under Rabu-ka's leadership.

The Fijian Association Party had broken out of the SVT in the 1990s led by the anti-Rabuka faction, mainly members of Ratu Mara's Alliance Party. It is headed by Adi Kuini Speed, the wife of Dr. Timoci Bavadra who headed the short-lived government that was overthrown by Rabuka in 1987. The VLV party (Veitokani Ni Lewenivanua Vakaristo) was formed on the eve of elections, by Fijians opposed to Rabuka in 1999. It is a party of moderate Fijians.

The National Federation Party, which was formed to take up the cause of the Indian cane farmers against the Colonial Sugar Refining Company in the mid-1960s, was in the forefront of Fiji's decolonisation movement. Leadership struggles remained a feature of the party and it lost its claim to be the main political party of the Indians in 1984 when the FLP was formed to oppose the economic policies of the Alliance Government. The SVT and the NFP, the two main political groups in Parliament, had sunk their differences in 1997 to work for the acceptance of the new Constitution. The decision to contest the 1999 election cost them dearly as the SVT had to tone down its pro-Fijian rhetoric and the NFP got affected by the Rabuka government's scandal-ridden record in office.

George Speight, currently imprisoned on Nukulau island, was allowed to file his nomination papers after obtaining approval from the Magistrate's Court. The Prosecution Office filed an appeal and the High Court rebuked the Magistrate's Court saying that it had no authority to allow terrorists charged with treason to file nomination papers. However, Speight's nomination still stands on the ground that he has not been convicted of his crime. Any candidate is debarred from standing for election if he or she is convicted for a crime that can attract a sentence of over two years. One of the daily newspapers, however, wrote with reference to the acceptance of Speight's nomination papers that it "was wrong in principle, morally corrupt and hypocritical in many ways. It goes against the grain of logic and should not have been entertained in the first place. Many people have not forgotten the terror, violence, fear and humiliation brought by the actions of the mercenaries. The sense of immediate fear and humiliation comes flooding back." He is the Conservative Alliance party's candidate.

18170553jpg

In the 1999 elections, the FLP had won 37 of the 71 seats on its own. Mahendra Chaudhry formed the People's Coalition with 58 seats. But as in the case of all new and inexperienced governments, its teething problems took up a large part of the time, especially as the People's Coalition comprised of small parties with their own agendas. Under the Constitution adopted in 1997, any party with more than eight MPs has a place in the Cabinet. The Senate or Upper House is an appointed body. The House of Representatives has 71 members, of which 46 are reserved seats to be elected on communal basis: 23 by ethnic Fijians, 19 by Indians and three by general electors and one by the Council of Rotuma. The remaining 25 are open seats contested on a common roll. Under the preferential system of voting adopted in the 1999 elections, voters choose the political party's order of preference votes (above the line) or their own preference (below the line).

Preferences are negotiated well in advance and lodged with the Election Office. The preferential lists of the other parties show that the candidates of Chaudhry's FLP and Qarase's SDL will require the mandatory 50 per cent votes to win, for they stand low on the preferential list of the other parties. There is the likelihood that three major groups would emerge: the pro-Fijian group headed by interim Prime Minister Qarase, the Chaudhry group and the moderates led by Tupeni Baba. Fiji is expected to elect a coalition government. It is the kind of coalition that would emerge after the polling that will determine the country's future direction, both in economic and racial terms.

To build on reforms

GLYN FORD world-affairs

The Labour government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, in its second term in office, has many challenging tasks ahead.

THE historic second landslide victory in the June parliamentary elections for the Labour Party has given Tony Blair an opportunity that no Labour Prime Minister in Britain has had before - a second term of office. For the first time a Labour government can build on its work and set in place radical reforms to realise its long-term ambitions. The government is clearly determined to get cracking with its challenging legislative programme, much of it controversial.

18170581jpg

Tony Blair knows that the electorate expects Labour to use its second term to deliver on its promises to improve public services and he knows it will not be easy. So reform of the public services - particularly health and education besides crime-busting - is at the heart of the government's ambitions.

The last four years saw a Labour government with a tough approach to economic management. This has brought down debt and given Britain the lowest unemployment figures for decades, freeing up more money for public services. So the new Parliament will continue to increase steadily spending on schools and hospitals and maintenance of law and order in order to create the first-class services that everyone wants to see. The billions of pounds of extra funding should, in time, deliver the badly needed additional numbers of teachers, nurses and doctors. But this increase in funding is to be matched by radical reforms. The key to these reforms is to give power and resources to the front line; to create greater diversity; to establish high minimum standards; and to build the services around the needs of the people using them - the patient in hospital, the child in school and the victim of crime.

Estelle Morris, the new Secretary of State for Education and Skills, will take charge of the radical overhaul to modernise secondary schools and raise standards. More comprehensive schools will be encouraged to become specialist schools. The government is determined to see through its controversial plans to involve private or voluntary organisations to sort out failing schools.

But some public service unions are not happy with the proposals. They believe the government is placing too much emphasis on using private companies to provide public services. But the involvement in any way of any private management in public services is being labelled 'privatisation' when it is no such thing. What the government is giving is a vision of how public services can be improved to bring hospitals and schools up to scratch. It is investing in health and education for the future - not selling off and privatising schools and hospitals. Health Secretary Alan Milburn stated that the plans were not about the 'privatisation' of public services. He said, "While the National Health Service (NHS) will forge a new relationship with the private sector, it is just that, a relationship, not a takeover." The government knows that it cannot promise an overnight transformation of the health service but it needs to deliver progress. It is to press ahead by overhauling adoption laws, abolishing community health councils and giving family doctors greater powers over their budgets. It also wants to see a much more decentralised decision-making structure in the NHS. This makes good sense when you consider that with a million people working in the NHS, the system is far too large and complex to be run efficiently from the centre.

David Blunkett, the new Home Secretary, has the job of steering through legislation bringing in tougher sentences for persistent criminals, providing new powers to seize the assets of major criminals and effecting a shake up of police training. Chief Constables will be expected to cooperate with neighbouring forces and spend their money more wisely. Judging their performance in comparison with other police forces may well be the incentive needed to improve police efficiency. Much of the rest of David Blunkett's programme is concerned with practical ideas to improve the criminal justice system. The big exception is the controversial proposal to abolish the 'double jeopardy' rule in murder cases, under which someone acquitted would face trial again if new evidence emerged. Some lawyers believe it is wrong, in principle, that the stigma of guilt would remain even after a person has been found innocent.

On the economy, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown has said that the government must build upon the foundations of its hard-won economic stability to create a more prosperous and competitive Britain and a more prosperous and competitive Europe.

He confirmed that the Labour government believes in principle that British membership of a successful single European currency would offer clear benefits, particularly in regard to trade, costs and currency stability, and that it would help Britain create more productive investment and greater trade and business in Europe. The commitment to a referendum on joining the Euro was promised in the Labour party's election manifesto. But Gordon Brown dampened speculation about an early referendum. He made it clear that while the government believes the single currency can bring real benefits to Britain, it is important to join when it is in the national interest to do so. The government and business must now work together to put a powerful argument for Britain being in Europe - creating a stronger Britain on the basis of a strong and secure relationship with Europe.

Tony Blair has promised in the past that the Labour government keep in step with the people and the country. He must now deliver on the public's priorities of the economy, health, education and law and order. "Good public services are the vital infrastructure for rising prosperity in our country," he said recently. During its previous term the Labour government laid the foundations for this prosperity and it is now time to deliver it.

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

Strengthening ties

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The Moscow Declaration issued at the end of a historic summit meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il pledges strategic cooperation between the two countries and opposes the U.S. plan to build a National Missile Defence system.

THE historic summit meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il concluded in Moscow with the release of the "Moscow Declaration" on August 4. The document pledged to continue the strategic cooperation between the two countries and strongly opposed the Bush administration's plan to build a National Missile Defence (NMD) system. Both leaders described the summit meeting as a "historic landmark in efforts to strengthen peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region and the world".

18170591jpg

The North Korean leader had reached Moscow after travelling by an armoured 21-compartment train for nine days. Most of his journey was on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Kim has shown a marked preference for travelling by rail. The two visits he made to Beijing were also by rail. Some commentators said that Kim wanted to replicate the trip made by his father, the late President Kim Il Sung, to Russia in 1984. Kim Il Sung went to Moscow by train, travelling in the same manner and visiting the same cities.

There were reports in the Russian media that although President Vladimir Putin had offered to put his official plane at the disposal of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il preferred the longer and time-consuming route. The Russian public seemed to have taken a liking to the North Korean leader despite some of the inconveniences his travel itinerary had caused. Travel plans of many Russians were upset as passenger traffic was disrupted on the busy route Kim took.

Before leaving for Moscow, Kim told the Russian news agency Itar-Tass that the stories appearing in the Western media about his country's missile programmes were a lie. Kim insisted that the missile programme was a peaceful one and that the claims of the United States were "nothing but a lie to hide its intention to dominate other countries". U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who was in Moscow a week before Kim's arrival, said in the Russian capital that the alleged proliferation of North Korean ballistic missiles threatened the security of both the U.S. and Russia.

It is apparent from the outcome of the Moscow summit that the assertions of Condoleezza Rice did not cut much ice in Moscow. Rice said that the U.S. had "laid out for Russia and most of the world a path of cooperation", which Moscow had refused. Only a few countries like India have fallen for the U.S. bait of "cooperative relationship" in return for support for the NMD.

President Putin, during his visit to Pyongyang in 2000, had focussed on the missile issue and said that the North Korean government had assured him that it would observe a moratorium on the testing of long-range rockets until 2003. This was a restatement of Pyongyang's commitment to suspend the testing and export of missiles while seeking to improve ties with the U.S. Ties with the U.S. had improved to such an extent that President Bill Clinton even contemplated a visit to North Korea before he quit office.

Moreover, the South Korean government recently stated that North Korea had been neither developing nor producing missiles with a range of 1,300 km since Pyongyang signed the Geneva framework agreement in September 1999. Officials in Moscow, like their counterparts in several capitals, feel that North Korea does not have the wherewithal to go in for an expensive missile programme at such a critical juncture of its existence.

During his talks with Putin in Moscow, the North Korean leader reiterated that his country was no "rogue state" that threatened global security. One of the arguments put forward by the proponents of the NMD was that countries such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq, classified by the U.S. as "rogue states", would develop the capability to hit the U.S. mainland with missiles in the near future. However, there are not many takers for this argument even in the U.S. "North Korea asserts that its missile programme is peaceful in nature and does not present a threat to any nation respecting North Korea's sovereignty," the Moscow Declaration stated.

The Declaration also reaffirmed the commitment of both countries to uphold the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Both countries are united in their stand that the NMD programme is aimed at undermining the ABM. "The 1992 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is the cornerstone of strategic stability and the foundation of further reduction of strategic offensive arms," the statement said. During his talks with Putin, Kim reiterated the North Korean demand for the withdrawal of the 40,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. He described it as a "pressing problem".

The presence of the U.S. troops with nuclear weapons in the Korean peninsula is considered by several observers as a destabilising factor in the region and a disincentive for the reunification of the two Koreas. Russia said that it "understood" the North Korean insistence on the withdrawal of the U.S. troops. Although Moscow backed the "reunification" of the Koreas, it said that it would not interfere in the process.

Blatant attempts by the U.S. to derail the reunification process have led to the stalling of the dialogue between North and South Korea. There are signs that Washington is wary of the long-term consequences of Korean reunification. Senior officials in the Bush administration have been trying to convince South Korean President Kim Dae Jung to take a tougher stand in his dealings with the North. South Korean cooperation is important for the North, which is passing through a bad economic phase. Moreover, nationalist sentiment is also growing in South Korea. Many Koreans feel insulted by the continuing presence of U.S. Army bases and troops on their territory more than 50 years after the Korean War.

Meanwhile, Russia has expressed its intention to strengthen its ties with both Pyongyang and Seoul. Earlier in the year, Putin had visited South Korea. Moreover, Russia believes that having good relations with both countries will help speed up the reunification process. A subject that received high priority during the North Korean leader's visit to Moscow was the linking of the Trans Siberian Railway to the inter-Korean rail line. Such linking would help Russia boost its trade with South Korea and help South Korean products reach European markets in a short time.

Currently, Moscow has more financial dealings with Seoul than with Pyongyang. North Korea owes around $6 billion to Moscow by way of the debts it has to repay the former Soviet Union. Moscow hopes to recoup some of this money by helping North Korea modernise its industrial and engineering base, which the Soviet Union had helped build in the 1950s and the 1960s. Currently, trade between Russia and North Korea is worth only about $105 million. Manpower is North Korea's main item of export to Russia; it was worth an estimated $50.4 million in 2000. North Korean workers are mainly employed in lumber camps in Russia's inhospitable Far East.

Moscow's warm relations with the North symbolises Putin's determination to drop completely the pro-Western trappings that characterised Russian foreign policy in the early post-Soviet days. The "dynamic rapprochement" with Beijing is another example of this change in policy. Moreover, relations with other countries having Communist governments, such as Cuba and Vietnam, have also improved dramatically since Putin took over. Putin has been stressing that there are no "rogue" countries in the world, despite Washington's insistence to the contrary.

The long haul

AMIT BARUAH world-affairs

The message from Hanoi: in order to make any enhanced engagement with ASEAN meaningful, beyond its `Look East' policy, India needs to have a focus on the East.

SLOWLY, but surely, India is moving closer to the goal of a separate summit with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN).This diplomatic goal appears within reach after the recently concluded ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Hanoi, which saw Foreign Ministers from the ASEAN-10 discussing the issue.

18170601jpg

Also, this time, Thailand joined a growing consensus within ASEAN for a separate summit meeting with India, leading Malaysia to refer the whole issue to its Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad. There was little doubt that the resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan played a role in creating a better environment at the meeting, a point that was appreciated by Malaysia as well.

At the last ASEAN informal summit in Singapore, Malaysia had opposed such a summit meeting. During Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's visit to Kuala Lumpur in May this year, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said India's interaction with ASEAN was at a sufficiently high level. The present decision to refer this whole issue to Mahathir could mean that some kind of a decision on enhancing the level of interaction with India will be taken by the time the ASEAN Heads of Government meet in Brunei for their summit meeting in November. Although India was represented by the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, K.C. Pant, the absence of External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh was noted at the ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference (PMC), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC) sessions.

Clearly, at a time when India is pushing hard for a summit meeting with ASEAN, the External Affairs Minister, who had attended the last three meetings (1998-2000), should have been present. Indian officials had to explain that the Minister had good reason not to be in Hanoi, as his presence in New Delhi was necessary during the Parliament session.

Addressing a press conference after the Ministerial Meeting, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien hoped that a "clearer position" would soon emerge on the issue of holding an ASEAN-India summit.

Taking advantage of the multilateral setting, Pant went into some detail on India-Pakistan issues - explaining the recent Agra Summit and India's desire to build good relations with Pakistan. At the 23-nation ARF meeting, as part of a general review of the international situation, Pant said it was "appropriate" for him to make a reference to the Musharraf-Vajpayee meeting. "Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf visited India from July 14 to 16. The invitation extended to him by India was in keeping with our consistent desire to build a relationship of durable peace, friendship and cooperation with Pakistan, as indeed with all our neighbours. General Musharraf was received with full protocol honours and he met with a cross-section of Indian leadership and society," he said.

Pant continued: "India's approach during the discussions was that a narrow, segmented and unifocal approach would not work... we remain steadfast in our commitment to resume the composite dialogue and the Lahore process with Pakistan... we will continue our abiding quest for good-neighbourly relations with Pakistan. President Musharraf has extended an invitation to Prime Minister Vajpayee to visit Pakistan, which has been accepted. A similar invitation has also been extended to our External Affairs Minister which, too, has been accepted. We will thus start afresh while maintaining our basic approaches to Pakistan."

Pant was severe on terrorism and the Taliban. "The spread of the Taliban's ideology of medieval malevolence, obscurantism, fundamentalism and intolerance has the potential to unleash violence and divisiveness in other areas... it is necessary for all of us to join hands to fight the scourge of international terrorism. It is also time for the ARF to take up the issue as part of its discussions on transnational crime," he said.

WHILE referring to several other issues, Pant specifically spoke of the South China Sea, where China has disputes with several countries over the Spratly Islands. "India is happy to see that all countries who are parties to disputes in the South China Sea have maintained restraint and are attempting resolution through peaceful dialogues. The South China Sea is an important shipping route for all of us, and absence of conflict is necessary to ensure freedom of navigation. We are also happy to hear about the progress made on concluding the Regional Code of Conduct (for the South China Sea)," he said.

Since 1998, the meetings of the ARF had been preoccupied with the Indian (and Pakistani) nuclear tests. But the issue took a backseat at the present conference. India's engagement with the United States has given a different colour to its nuclear posture. Even activist nations such as Australia mentioned issues like Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) only in passing. They no longer raise a hue and cry on the tests. The ARF Chairman's statement (not a consensus document, it is open to changes) on this occasion said that the Indian side opposed the reference to expressions of "welcome" for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

In the end, the formulation in the ARF Chairman's statement read: "The Ministers discussed issues relating to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery as well as the implications of missile defence systems. They noted expressions of support for the NPT as the cornerstone of the global non-proliferation regime. The Ministers also took note of the call for all states to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and to accede to the NPT..." In Manila in 1998, the ARF Chairman's statement on the issue, read: "The Ministers... expressed grave concern over and strongly deplored the recent nuclear tests in South Asia, which exacerbated tension in the region and raised the spectre of a nuclear arms race... they asked the countries concerned to refrain from undertaking weaponisation or deploying missiles to deliver nuclear weapons."

AT the ASEAN-India PMC, New Delhi proposed a meeting of Trade Ministers later this year. It made several proposals for the development of the Mekong region."There is much scope for expanding and deepening our cooperative agenda, for there is much that is common between India's goals for economic development and those of ASEAN. The possibilities for functional cooperation between us are limitless. India is hopeful that our enthusiasm and our efforts will result in tangible goals for all of us," Pant said at the ASEAN-India PMC.

While India made specific proposals for interaction with ASEAN, there was, as can be expected, some overlap between these and the suggestions for greater cooperation with the MGC grouping.

The Second Annual Ministerial Meeting of the MGC, which was set up in Vientiane, Laos, in November 2000 and comprises India, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, was held after the ASEAN PMCs concluded. While enthusiasm for the fledgling organisation remains, the grouping is short of funds. One of the suggestions that came up at the meeting on July 28 was that the grouping approach international aid organisations for help in developing its infrastructure. Before the meeting, India was asked by some member-countries to contribute funds. India suggested that all member-countries contribute "seed money" for cooperation in the areas of tourism, culture, education and transport and communication.

The Second Meeting of Foreign Ministers adopted the "Hanoi Programme of Action", effective from July 2001 to July 2007, to promote cooperation in certain identified areas. The Ministers decided to assess the present status of the transportation networks in the region; foster cooperation in cross-border facilitation, infrastructure development, maritime and inland water transport, civil aviation and human resource development; and enhance the implementation of ambitious road and rail projects.

There is little doubt that the MGC needs to focus on specific areas if it is to prove viable in the coming years. Member-countries need to quickly move to a visa-on-arrival arrangement if they are serious about promoting tourism among themselves. China is closely watching the MGC and India's involvement in the grouping, especially since it is a Mekong country that is part of other multilateral Mekong cooperation efforts but not the MGC. The Chinese have a significant presence in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia and are involved in several projects in these countries.

It was also evident on the sidelines of the MGC meeting that China is interested in joining the MGC. A reference to the issue was made by the Chinese side to India informally, but the latter feels that it is time to build up the organisation before the issue of new members can be taken up, a point made by the Foreign Minister of Myanmar.

Some analysts have been questioning the motivations behind the MGC, which apparently came about after a visit by the then Thai Foreign Minister, Surin Pitsuwan, to India. Following Surin's talks with Jaswant Singh, the idea was discussed with other Ministers last July in Bangkok, before the organisation was finally launched. These analysts believe that the former Thai Minister is close to the Americans and therefore the proposal had the blessings of Washington.

While Washington may not be averse to the idea of India playing a greater role in South-East Asia, New Delhi, along with other MGC members, now has the responsibility to ensure that this grouping attains the goals it has set for itself. If India believes there is a strategic dimension to the MGC, then there is all the more reason for New Delhi to keep this grouping relevant and live.

If the MGC fails to take off, India's standing in South-East Asia will suffer a setback. "Looking East", clearly, is not enough. India needs to have a focus on the East. This "focus" is necessary not just for the MGC, but also on the rest of ASEAN if India wants to ensure that any enhancement of engagement with the regional organisation becomes meaningful.

Resisting imperialism

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

Cuba reiterates its decision to stand up to U.S. moves to throttle its economy and to endanger the lives of its people.

CUBANS took to the streets in a big way on July 26 to celebrate the anniversary of the beginning of the 1959 revolution. In one of the biggest demonstrations witnessed in Havana in recent times, more than a million people participated in a two-and-a-half kilometre-long march. July 26 was also designated as a "day of combat", to protest against the continuing U.S. economic embargo and efforts to destabilise the socialist government. Emotions have been running high in Cuba after the harsh sentences meted out to five Cubans in early June by a Miami court on trumped-up charges.

18170621jpg

President Fidel Castro participated in the march, disproving reports in the U.S. media that he was not in good health. Fidel had fainted briefly while addressing a rally on June 23. He recovered almost immediately and made another speech after a couple of hours.

The five Cubans - Rene Gonzales, Fernando Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernan-dez, Ramon Labanimo and Antonio Guerrero - were found guilty on charges of trying to penetrate U.S. military bases even though they had acquired no military secrets. They were sentenced on flimsy legal grounds and might end up spending the rest of their lives in prison. The only "crime" they committed was that they warned the Cuban government about the nefarious activities of the anti-Cuban terrorist groups that are active in Florida. The U.S. government has also charged them with conspiracy to murder. They have been falsely implicated in the shooting down in Cuban airspace of a plane owned by a Miami-based Cuban exile group in 1996. The pilot of the plane, who was killed, was part of a right-wing exile group, funded by the U.S. secret services and the cash-rich Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) founded by the late Jorge Mas Canosa.

Mas Canosa, a mafia-don-like figure who lorded it over the Cuban emigre community until his death a few years ago, was a creation of the Ronald Reagan administration. In the 1980s, the U.S. government funnelled so much funds into the CANF that it almost vied with the pro-Israeli Jewish groups for influence in U.S. politics. But the CANF's influence has diminished considerably in recent years. The Elian Gonzales episode in 2000 exposed the sinister and manipulative side of the CANF and other right-wing Cuban exile groups to the U.S. public and the international community.

However, the election of George W. Bush as President gave a fillip to the ambitions of the anti-Cuban groups in Florida. Many in the U.S. attribute the flawed victory of Bush in the presidential sweepstakes to the electoral outcome in Dade County, Miami. Dade County is the stronghold of the anti-Castro Cuban exile community, commonly referred to as the "Miami mafia". It was in Dade County that Bush managed to pip the Democratic presidential candidate in the Florida vote count, which eventually decided the fate of the election.

18170622jpg

The Republican administration has suitably rewarded the Cuban exile community. The economic blockade has been tightened and U.S. citizens wishing to visit Cuba have been warned of punitive action. The new U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere, Otto Reich, is known to be close to the Miami mafia and has a record of involvement in their dealings. He was closely involved in the counter-revolutionary war waged against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Contra leaders.

The Cuban Adjustment Act, with which successive U.S. administrations have tried to throttle Cuba, has been further strengthened. President Bush recently announced plans to strengthen the blockade by enforcing limits on cash payments that Cuban-Americans may send to their relatives in the island. Bush has promised additional support to the anti-Cuba groups of Florida. Washington is also giving more incentives to the smugglers of human cargo from Cuba and, in the process, is boosting illegal immigration.

A recent decision by a U.S. court ensures resident status to any Cuban who can find his or her way to the U.S. by air from any part of the world even if he or she is carrying forged documents. Senator Jesse Helms, Republican member of the U.S. Foreign Relations Committee known for his rabid anti-Cuba stance, praised the U.S. President for his "very tough line, which is certain to make Fidel Castro squirm".

In the last 15 years there have been dozens of terrorist plots against Cuba, hatched by Cuban exile groups based in the U.S. These include attempts to assassinate Castro. The most recent attempt on Castro's life was at the Ibero-American summit in Panama about nine months ago. Timely information provided by the Cuban authorities to the host country perhaps prevented an assassination. According to the Cuban authorities, the CANF was behind the plot and the CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were aware of it. The terrorists, carrying a cache of weapons and explosives, were arrested by the Panamanian authorities.

In retrospect, the arrest and sentencing of the five Cubans looks all the more appalling. Highly qualified, like more than a million of their compatriots, they were earning an honest living in the U.S. But they were arrested and subjected to inhuman treatment by the U.S. authorities. The Federal Detention Centre in Miami violated U.S. law by placing them in prison for more than 60 days before trial - the maximum time even for murderers. They were segregated from the rest of the prisoners and kept in solitary confinement for 17 months. Moreover, they were handcuffed every time they had to move somewhere. It was only a year after their incarceration that the U.S. government brought charges of conspiracy to murder against them.

Meanwhile, the CANF and other extremist organisations are continuing with their terrorist activities against Cuba. No action has been taken by successive U.S. administrations against these groups. According to the Cuban government, these groups were responsible for the death of 3,478 Cubans in the last 15 years alone. About 2,099 Cubans were physically disabled during the same period as a result of the Miami mafia's actions.

Fidel Castro has asked the U.S. administration to "rectify" the mistake of detaining the five Cubans. He said that the charges against them could never be "sustained". Castro said that the return of the five Cubans to Cuba was inevitable despite the manoeuvres of the Miami mafia. "We will make mincemeat of the accusations," Castro said, and added that the young men were innocent. The shooting down of the planes that violated Cuban airspace, Castro said, was provoked "hundred per cent" by the Miami mafia. He added that the Cuban government had evidence to prove it.

In a recent speech, the Cuban President compared the case of the five incarcerated Cubans with that of Elian Gonzales. "This time the story is not about a five-year-old child but of five young heroic and patriotic men with profound convictions," Castro said. He said that these young men would become examples for not only the youth of Cuba "but also for the youth and people of the globe". The five young men, he said, never committed any violent acts. "We propose, sustain and are willing to prove that they are prisoners, prisoners of the empire," Castro said.

The five Cubans were offered many incentives by the U.S. officials to make false confessions and implicate the Cuban government in various imagined crimes. The Cuban government insists that it has the right to gather information to defend the life of its people, until the U.S. government takes action against the terrorist groups operating from its soil. In an open letter to the U.S. people, the five Cubans emphasised "without a shadow of a doubt, that neither with our attitude nor our actions have we in any way interfered with, or jeopardised the security of the American people. What we have certainly done is contribute to exposing terrorist plans and actions against our people, thus preventing the deaths of innocent Cubans and Americans".

Delivering the Jarawas

PANKAJ SEKHSARIA the-nation

For the Jarawa tribal population of the Andaman islands, a court order brings hope of protection from the "civilised" world.

COURT cases involve complex processes, which sometimes take trajectories of their own and reach destinations not quite intended at the time of their initiation. In one such instance, an order that the Port Blair Circuit Bench of the Calcutta High Court issued recently has turned out to be to the benefit of the indigenous Jarawa community of the Andaman islands.

18170651jpg

The case had its origins in an intriguing development that was noticed in October 1997 - a drastic change in the lifestyle and attitudes of the forest-dwelling Jarawas who were previously extremely hostile to outsiders. For reasons that are not yet clear, the Jarawas voluntarily broke their circle of isolation and hostility and came out from their forest home to have peaceful interactions with the settler communities that live on the forest's edge (Frontline, July 17, 1998).

Almost overnight, the until then feared and mysterious Jarawa became a subject of intense curiosity. People travelled to the margins of the forest to catch a glimpse of the Jarawa, and a small industry was created out of this. The impression gained ground that there was not enough food in the forests to support the community. Consignments of bananas, coconuts and papayas were sent in regularly and even air-dropped into the forests.

The end of the hostility of the Jarawa also saw the increased exploitation of resources from the Jarawa forest reserve. Sand mining from the beaches on the western coast of the islands and poaching and removal of non timber forest produce (NTFP) from the forest habitats increased drastically.

All this while a few anthropologists, tribal rights activists and environmentalists kept arguing that outsiders had to be stopped from contacting the Jarawas, that providing them food was not the solution and that the violation and exploitation of their forest habitats had to be stopped.

It was in this context that Shyamali Ganguly, a local lawyer, filed a writ petition before the Circuit Bench in May 1999. The petition, a classic example of a move undertaken with the right intentions but seeking the wrong solutions, asked for the administration's help to bring the Jarawas into the mainstream and improve their lives. The examples of the Great Andamanese and the Onge (two other Andamanese tribal communities) were held out to explain how this could be done. But surprisingly, the petitioner failed to notice that both these communities are on the verge of being wiped out, primarily because of attempts to 'civilise' and take them into the mainstream, made first by the British and then by the governments of independent India. The petition also asked that the Jarawas be relocated in another area, which would then be all theirs.

At this juncture the Port Blair-based Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology (SANE) intervened. A vocal advocate of environmental protection in the islands, SANE has played a crucial role in fighting for tribal rights. "What was asked for in the petition would have meant certain death for the Jarawas," says Samir Acharya of SANE. SANE largely disagreed with the views of the petitioner, particularly in the matter of relocating the Jarawas, which it felt would be disastrous for the tribal community. Most important, it requested the court to order the removal of all encroachments, camps and outposts from the Jarawa reserve and an inquiry into whether the Andaman Trunk Road (see box) ought to be closed to traffic and alternative transport routes explored.

18170652jpg

Help also came from Survival International, the London-based tribal rights organisation, which contacted eight of the world's leading anthropologists. Their signed testimonies, which were placed before the court, unanimously said that the Jarawas should be allowed to maintain their traditional lifestyles in the forests and that any attempts to resettle or rehabilitate them would lead to disaster.

"Historic precedents involving the relocation and sedentarisation of tribal peoples (particularly in island cultures) have often led to their complete destruction ...," explained Dr. Mark Levene of the Department of History, University of Warwick, United Kingdom. Levene, a research scholar working in the area of genocide in the modern world, cited examples of such genocide in different parts of the world - of Tasmanians by the British settlers in the 19th century, of Chakmas from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in South Asia, and of Amazonian tribes in Latin America.

Dr. Marcus Colchester of the Oxford-based Forest People's Programme argued that the relocation of the Jarawas could even be termed illegal under the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) Convention 107 and Articles 7 and 10 of the United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which prohibit "the forcible removal of indigenous people from their lands..." and "any form of population transfer which may violate or undermine their rights..."

On the issue of health, Dr. James Woodburn of the Department of Anthropology in the London School of Economics and Political Science pointed out that "when a previously isolated community with low population density (like the Jarawas) comes into contact with one of high density (like the settlers), they are particularly vulnerable to diseases like measles against which they have not acquired any immunity in childhood." He also pointed out that this could be the main reason for the death of a large number of the Great Andamanese community in the 19th century and of the Onge afterwards.

It was almost as if Dr. Woodburn was looking into a crystal ball. A couple of months later, in September 1999, an epidemic of measles hit the Jarawa tribe. By the third week of October, 48 per cent of the estimated Jarawa population of 350 was suffering from disease and ill-health. The affected people were treated mainly at the primary health centre (PHC) in Kadamtala in the Middle Andamans and at the G.B. Pant Hospital in Port Blair. There were even reports that a couple of them had died in the forests. These reports could not be corroborated, but clearly the worst fears about their safety seemed to be coming true.

Fortunately, a team of doctors comprising Dr. Namita Ali, Director of Health Services, Dr. Elizabeth Mathews, Superintendent, G.B. Pant Hospital, and Dr. R.C. Kar, the medical officer in Kadamtala, did some commendable work, and not a single casualty was reported among those Jarawas who were admitted to the hospitals.

AS for the court case, a six-member expert committee established by the court in February 2000 submitted its report six months later, in August. The committee had the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Port Blair as its member-secretary. Other members included two anthropologists, Dr. R.K. Bhattacharya and Kanchan Mukhopadhyay from the Anthropological Survey of India (ASI), and three doctors, Namita Ali, R.C. Kar and Anima Burman from Port Blair.

The committee pointed out that a preliminary study by the ASI had indicated that the forest had enough food resources to provide for the Jarawas and that there was no food shortage; that they continue to be susceptible to many infectious diseases and that vigilance should not be slackened; that the maintenance of the Andaman Trunk Road and procurement of wood for the purpose regularly degraded the forests; and that illegal fishing, poaching and removal of NTFP from the Jarawa reserve were happening regularly. Many other conclusions of the committee were reflected in the order issued on April 9 in Port Blair by Justice Samaresh Banerjea and Justice Joytosh Banerjee. A detailed, 60-page written order in the matter came from Calcutta more than six weeks later, on May 28, 2001.

The court has directed the formation of an expert committee to look into the matter and given it six months from the date of its formation to come up with a plan to deal with issues related to the Jarawas. The order also made a special reference to "Master Plan 1991-2021 for the Welfare of the Tribes of the A&N" prepared by S.A. Awaradi, former Director, Tribal Welfare, in the Andaman and Nicobar administration. It indicated that the document should be taken into consideration while formulating the final policies. For the interim period, it has ordered a number of steps to be implemented on a war footing.

The court has directed the local administration to stop poaching and intrusion into Jarawa territory and to prevent its further destruction by encroachment and deforestation. It ordered issuance of an 'appropriate notification clearly demarcating the Jarawa territory'. This would greatly help law enforcement, particularly in the detection and removal of encroachments. The court also ordered that penal measures be taken against encroachers and poachers, and importantly, against those among the police and civil authorities who are negligent in this regard.

Accepting the recommendations of the expert committee, the court directed that medical aid be given to the Jarawas only when they came out of the forest and sought it and only to the extent necessary. It asked for periodic medical programmes for the Jarawas in their own territory and only to the extent necessary so that they need not come out from the forests for such aid. Significantly, the court directed that until a policy on dealing with Jarawas was finalised, no new construction or extension of existing construction should be undertaken in the Jarawa territory and no extension was to be made to the Andaman Trunk Road.

The order has been welcomed by environmental and tribal rights activists familiar with the situation in the archipelago. It is considered a very positive order, and one with great potential for safeguarding the future of the tribal people here. Ensuring its implementation is the next big challenge, and a lot will depend on how and with how much sincerity this is done.

In association with The Transforming Word Pankaj Sekhsaria is a member of the environment action group, Kalpavriksh.

Questions about a road

the-nation
PANKAJ SEKHSARIA

THE Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) connects Port Blair in South Andaman to Diglipur in North Andamans, covering nearly 340 kilometres. Across the world, road construction, particularly in rainforest areas, has been one of the biggest reasons for the destruction of forests and their indigenous residents. The story of the ATR is no different. Directly and indirectly, it has contributed to the destruction of vast areas of evergreen rainforests in the Andamans, which has severely affected the Jarawas.

Work on the road began in 1971, and it was violently opposed by the Jarawas. But the work continued and the entire stretch was completed recently. Huge amounts of money went into its construction which could have been avoided in the first place.

The ATR is a perfect example of short-sighted planning. First, it is not the best way to travel in the islands. Most of the settlements in the Andamans are situated on the coast, so the most logical and immensely cheaper mode of transport that should have been developed is marine transport.

Every year crores of rupees and large quantities of timber go into the maintenance of the road. SANE estimates that a minimum of 12,000 cubic metres of timber from the evergreen forests is burnt annually for this purpose. Compare this with the official figure of 70,000 cu m of timber that is logged in the entire islands today, and one gets a sense of the destruction caused by the ATR. There is not enough traffic on the ATR to justify such a huge expenditure.

But the question, as always, is the same: Who's listening?

Feeling young man

A close look at the work of a young Indian artist.

THE young painter Jitish Kallat is already a star in the Indian artworld: though he has been out of school for only five years or so now, his work draws praise from seasoned critics and curators, and it is sought out by the buyers who really matter (the ones with the extra inch of pocket). One might, in a moment of weakness, think that success in the market and on the exhibition circuit has followed upon success with the critics: since Kallat did get a fair deal of press when he came on the scene. But that is to get things backwards, very like; even if, as one enthusiast has it, his paintings "propose an empathy, an unselving attention towards others and the situations they inhabit" - and as such are said to provide "a salutary antidote to the tragic and all-too-widely prevalent delusion that the only significant pain is one's own". (The company of this moralist must be very improving; and our painter is no doubt a better man for knowing him.)

18170681jpg

Kallat showed his newest painting in Bangalore recently, and the pictures reproduced here are all samples of that. On the day before the exhibition opened, he had shown slides of his earlier work as well; and he had talked his audience through the pictures by tagging the odd detail with anecdote and reminiscence, making the viewer privy to things he or she would not ordinarily come to know - but which nonetheless had to be known, it seemed, if the work were to be properly understood. We will look at something tagged this way later, after we have tried to get at a particular painting; let me note now that this sort of thing - artists 'elucidating' their work by linking details there to the detail of their personal lives - that seems to have become an artworld ritual.

ALL sorts of conclusion could be drawn at this point - about artworks as commodities with a particular sort of exchange value nowadays, about the sort of consumer that beholders of art have become, and so on - but that may be safely left to the reader so minded. What one should ask after, though, is how this 'personalising' might affect artworks formally: that is to say, how it might affect the means by which works of art come to embody meaning. That is too difficult a question to address here, but perhaps what gets said will suggest an answer.

Take a look at Morning at the Break of Yawn. The picture is large; and the way in which the different kinds of motif are scaled by the painting draws the eye up towards it. This 'drawing up' has a formal effect: the heaviness of the red ground, and a certain hardness in how the joined bodies are lit, together make one attend to the pun in title in a particular way. Colour and lighting begin to work the obviousness of that pun, one could say: and this will, one expects, finally work that obviousness into whatever meaning the picture might come to embody.

That might seem rather sudden; but such are the hazards of writing about visual art, and I can only hope the reader will bear with me. Things have been put so to leave open the possibility that the painting does not, in fact, succeed in embodying meaning; and there is a real chance of that. But we shall have to look long and rather closely to decide; and it may be best to begin by noting how certain words will be used to point our looking. (Let me also apologise for having, in what follows, put perfectly ordinary words between quote-marks: talking to any purpose here seemed to require the manoeuvre.)

18170682jpg

There was talk just now of the painting scaling different kinds of motif. A 'motif' is a mark or a shape, or an aggregate of such, which seems, within a picture, to form a discrete whole - a visual 'unit' or 'element' - but only among and taken together with other such units or elements. A nice example here are the white ovals with the yellow centres in the upper part of our painting: each of these is a motif, and the thickish lines that branch to link them make the whole ensemble - of ovals and branching links - another motif (or two, in this case, if we take the ovals to be linked in two groups).

A motif may be an image: the complex shape forming the image of the Siamese twins here is one visual element among others, odd as it is to say so. It would be more natural now to talk of an area of the canvas which, because it is marked off from the rest of the surface, and is itself marked in a certain way, becomes an image; and one could regard motifs, similarly, as areas of the canvas which come at the eye whole and function as they do independently of other such.

But doing so seems to mask something important. Notice that the hands of the twins and their joining bellies mark off an area of our picture that does come to the eye as a discrete whole; but this area does not seem a visual element on a par with the linked ovals - and the shape which forms the image of the twins, and the close drawing which traces a city map, seemingly, across their joined torsos - as we try to understand the work sensuously: as we try, that is, to get at embodied meaning. There may be some point to keeping a term like "motif" then, and to thinking of motifs as visual elements that are constituted as such together, not individually, within a picture: awkward as the word is, and however much using it this way may occlude the ways in which paintings actually organise visual attention.

Motifs may be images, as we saw, but need not: though an image is a motif when seen as a shape - or a mark, or a group of such - apart from any possible referent. This is not to say that motifs are prior to images in the order of seeing: one need not see shapes or marks as motifs before seeing them as images, and in fact a shape (or a mark or a group of such) may become a motif - may become one among a set of elements mutually constituted as such - only by virtue of being an image. (So, for instance, certain marks on the image of the joined bodies here count as motifs because they refer, within the image, to anatomical details.)

18170683jpg

Let us go back now to the business of getting at what meaning Morning at the Break of Yawn might embody. Consider again the white ovals with the yellow centres: taken by themselves these motifs could be seen - since Siamese twins have to be surgically separated if they are to survive - as images of boiled eggs sliced lengthwise in half. (The detail is shown adjacent to the larger picture. It might be more apt to talk of the eggs as cooked rather than boiled; and we might suppose the work to refer, in formally apposite ways, to cooking and gestation.) But the branching links between 'curtail' the presence these motifs gain as images, one might say, and - though the linking does not erase that presence - the reference to cooking and slicing becomes oddly disturbing now: and is not merely brutal, and clumsily obvious, as it would have been had the halved eggs simply appeared, without the interlinking, above the still-joined bodies of the twins.

We talked earlier of colour and lighting 'working' the obviousness of the title's pun (into, possibly, whatever meaning the work might succeed in embodying): the disturbance caused by the slicing of the eggs both inflects, and is itself inflected by, how this obviousness is 'worked'. We had, remember, left the beholder 'drawn up' to the painting; and we should take account of one feature which will press upon the eye now, as he or she tries to grasp the work sensuously. That feature is the conspicuous graining or 'scoring' - with fine, packed lines - of the image of the twins; and since this graining is something seen in almost all the painting that was shown, one can be sure that it is meant to do a lot of formal work.

The catalogue describes this graining as "scan-lines... suggestive of television or computer monitors". That refers our image in a general way to the mass media: and perhaps we could now describe the joined bodies of our Siamese twins as presences screened in some peculiar way through this reference to the mass media. I am trying to trade on the word "screened" here. Images of the body in popular film and television appear on a screen of course; but they can do so in ways that make bodies themselves singular presences (in the fictive worlds these mass media build, so to say) and if one thinks of this making singularly present as a 'screening' - as an augmenting and eliding, at once - of the actual bodies being filmed or televised, perhaps my describing the joined bodies in our picture as 'screened' presences will not seem gratuitous.

At any rate, the formal effect of what has been termed screening is to distance the beholder's body from the somatic enormity, let us call it, that Siamese twins present. I have put it just so to bring in, as a formal factor, the bodily reaction most of us would have to seeing Siamese twins in the flesh. This reaction, which could be regarded as a 'natural' one, would be 'damped' in particular ways, one could say, by seeing their joined bodies on film or on television; and it is damped in yet another way in this work (by the 'scan-lines' that as it were re-route the image through the mass media).

But damping is not all that goes on. The damped bodily reaction is itself modulated - and newly 'amplified' even - by just how the halved eggs disturb, and by how the heavy red of the ground and the hard lighting 'work' the obviousness of the title's pun; and the eye will attend in a new way now to the glitter around the halved eggs, the hint of metal in the paint here further complicating how the slicing of the eggs disturbs. (The glitter does not come through in our reproductions; but it is an appreciable formal factor.) All this should begin to make beholders of the work aware of their own bodies in some unusual way: and they will now look, one may suppose, to have the work augment that awareness into some specifically somatic attitude - toward something or other. I seem to be hedging my bets here, and I shall say why in a moment; let me first try to give some sense and point to the adjective "somatic" above. We have affective and cognitive attitudes to things; some of these attitudes may have a specific bodily or somatic dimension - aversion, for instance, or sexual attraction - and an aversion or attraction felt, bodily, in such a way as to suspend emotion and thought could be called a specifically somatic attitude.

The somatic attitudes works of art induce in their beholders are apt to be nuanced ones, of course, and not easily named; they need not be the residue of affective or cognitive attitudes, and perhaps they are always nascently such. At any rate, beholders of Morning at the Break of Yawn will - at some stage, because of how it addresses them as bodies - expect the work to induce in them some special somatic attitude. But, and this is a delicate point, the beholder may not know the precise 'object' of an attitude - may not know just what he or she is being particularly directed to - before the attitude has been induced. Attitude and 'object' can constitute each other through works of art, and may do so in very surprising ways; that is one reason we value artworks - or used to, at least - and why it was tempting once to talk of the arts as, in Nelson Goodman's striking phrase, ways of worldmaking.

Now one could, I suppose, try to specify beforehand some 'object' for the somatic attitude one expects Morning at the Break of Yawn to induce. But my guess is that the work will not succeed in inducing a coherent attitude toward any interesting 'object' one might antecedently specify: this is why I was hedging above. Moreover, though the work addresses the body in definite ways, it does not organise our bodily response in a way that will allow any specific somatic attitude and corresponding 'object' to constitute themselves mutually through it: and this is why the work fails, finally, to embody meaning.

ONE should try to give some reason for this failure; and we do not have to look too far for that. Nothing much has been said about what has been drawn over and across the joined bodies of the Siamese twins. The catalogue identifies this as "a section of an urban map"; and I had earlier described the drawing as seeming to trace out a city-map. There is good reason to be more circumspect now, though, and to begin by talking only of a drawn motif that refers itself to city-maps. In the reproduction here the drawing does not come out at the eye quite as much as it actually does, when we have been 'drawn up' to the picture; and the way it does come at the eye then - in the 'screened' presence of the twins, and the 'curtailed' presence of the sliced eggs - that makes this drawn motif both a map and a generic image of one.

One can safely say this is because maps form a very loose class. The rough diagram drawn to direct someone from one street to another is as much a map as the urban planner's most detailed bit of cartography. Now, that our motif is both a 'handmade' map, so to say, and a generic image of a 'readymade' map - whose precision does not at all depend on the kinds of control the drawing hand can achieve - that is ultimately a social fact, arising from how the technology of visual representation, as it develops through the last 500 years or so, has in fact penetrated daily life: the drawn motif is at once diagram and image because of how the means of representation have made us, collectively, the sorts of makers and users of visual representations that we daily are.

That it is an image as well, and in just this way, endows the map with its own kind of presence. But that presence does not sort well with the 'screened' presence of the Siamese twins: because that 'screening', though it depends on the complexity of the notion of an image, does not depend at all on the distinction between a diagram and an image. (The painter seems to have been aware of the problem: and tried to evade it by colouring in a certain way the water-body in the map, at lower left, and by aligning that with the torso of the twin to the left.) The formal difficulty created by these incongruous kinds of presence is compounded by the halved and linked eggs. There, as we saw, the presence the motifs had gained as images of sliced eggs was 'curtailed' by the interlinking; this 'curtailed' presence does not sort well, either, with the kind of presence the map has; and, moreover, the fact that the sliced and linked eggs make a motif that is neither a diagram nor an image threatens, now, to dissociate their 'curtailed' presence from the 'screened' presence of the twins. (For instance, the eye now balks - as it first did not - at the texture of the yolks where the sliced eggs lie over the hands.)

All told, the picture does not coordinate the various kinds of presence its motifs come to have: it does not properly 'stage' its presences, one might say, in the peculiar 'atmosphere' resulting from how colour and lighting 'work' the pun in its title. That is why the work fails to induce in us any somatic attitude - toward any suitable 'object' - and so fails, to say it again, to embody meaning. Not too long ago this failure to embody meaning might have been pronounced a deliberate frustrating of expectation (and taken for a guarantee that what we have before us is a work of art: because artworks were supposed to frustrate any and all expectations.) But embodying meaning - however loosely or tightly one construes the phrase - is a minimal condition of being a work of art: it is not merely one among the many conventions that govern expectation, and a work that fails to embody meaning fails, thereby, to be a work of art (whether or not it is taken for one.)

We have been considering Morning at the Break of Yawn all by itself, without looking at the painting that appeared alongside: perhaps the picture should be seen as one of a particular set of pictures - which together make up a work - and it may turn out then that what we took for flaws are actually virtues. (It might seem a problem now that the pictures are presented as individual works, and offered to prospective buyers as such: but perhaps the collectors of Kallat's painting form a joint-stock company.)

Nothing in the way the pictures were hung in the gallery suggested how Morning at the Break of Yawn was to be so supplemented: but maybe the writing in the catalogue will help show how. The essay there is titled Metaphors for the Metropolis, and it was written by the poet and critic Ranjit Hoskote. Kallat's painting takes the form "of an investigation into the psychological architecture of the individual in the metropolis", we are first told; and "since the west-coast urban sprawl of Bombay forms Kallat's habitat, it should come as no surprise", we discover, that

"he offers his viewers an intimate, first-hand survey of the tactics that the imagination adopts in order to survive metropolitan experience."

A precis of these tactics follows, and then we find the large claim that

"in Kallat's paintings the external reality of overcrowded local trains, bus queues, sagging power-lines and roads permanently under construction is held in check by an inner reality of sylvan ancestries and cybernetic futures that is signified through the DNA double-helix, the isometric projection of the ancestral home, the positioning of the self as a taut figure sculpted into a posture of readiness drawn from the martial-arts movie" (emphasis added).

Oddly enough, the catalogue does not reproduce any of the painting this passage alludes to (and our reproductions all come from the catalogue). Some of the devices there do draw attention: for instance, the hunched figure of the artist himself lifting an outsize stretch of de-oxy ribonucleic acid or DNA (seemingly) whose strands are as thick as ropes. This image takes up most of the picture it appears in, and so arrests the eye: but the formal gambit so made is only defeated by the small image of railroad tracks set by (above the figure's left shoulder. Observing that an untwisted stretch of DNA looks like railroad tracks might recommend a child to the drawing teacher: but it does no credit to a grown painter.)

Let us look at how Hoskote fits Morning at the Break of Yawn into the 'programme' he has found in the show as a whole. "The metropolis is evoked", he says, "in the section of an urban map laid over the Siamese twins"; and then we are told that "the many-branched neural tree that covers another area of this painting suggests a conflict between the formal certitudes of the urban plan and the random unpredictabilities of human activity". Hoskote sees a 'neural tree' in our motif of interlinked white ovals with yellow centres, and his description simply ignores how these ovals look; but let that stand. (Talking of 'neural trees' just might get us over the formal problem of the motif seeming to be neither an image nor a diagram.) Let us grant, even, that the 'neural tree' and 'the section of an urban map' together suggest the conflict Hoskote points to: rather than recall to mind merely - if they do even that - something we are already aware of.

The difficulty now is a logical one. If 'neural tree' and 'urban map' actively suggest the conflict between 'the formal certitudes of the urban plan and the random unpredictabilities of human activity - if these motifs do make us newly aware of that conflict - how, then, does 'inner reality' here hold in check the 'external reality' Hoskote has described ? It seems proper to ask, since the urban problems Hoskote lists do seem examples of how 'the unpredictabilities of human activity' in a city might defeat the urban planners 'formal certitudes': but nothing we see in the painting will help answer the question.

One cannot, actually, see how Morning at the Break of Yawn offers any 'intimate, first-hand survey' of whatever tactics 'the imagination adopts in order to survive metropolitan experience': and if that can be said of any other work, what Hoskote has to say will not make the claim good. Consider, for instance, what he sees in Departure (Status-boarding): Hoskote has the figure "crouching on his haunches in a pool formed by his own shadow, covering his bowed head with his hands as though to ward off a whip or the sun". A picture that made warding off the sun seem anything like warding off a whip might be worth looking at: but Hoskote's "or" refers the figure's posture to actions which the painting itself does not in any way bring together (and merely referring the posture to different orders of action cannot be a tactic that helps the imagination survive experience.)

One could go on pointing at how the writing in the catalogue fails to get at how meaning might be embodied (when the pictures succeed in doing so); but the condition of writing about visual art now is generally such that these sorts of interpretive failure do not surprise. All sorts of reasons could be adduced for this state of affairs; let me point out one concomitant confusion.

Visual artists may themselves 'survive metropolitan experience' in singular ways now - perhaps cities today subject artistic imagination to peculiar sorts of stress - and their work may enact, or manifest, or record in some oblique way, how they have done so: but the fact of surviving will not, by itself, ensure that the work will enact or manifest or record that survival. So, it may be that Kallat survives his experience of Mumbai because 'external reality' is held in check by 'inner reality' in his head; but just that will not enable one sort of 'reality' to hold in check another sort in his painting.

What masks the confusion here - of ascribing something to an artwork merely because that thing can be ascribed to its maker - may be the ritual of 'personalising' that was mentioned earlier. This habit may only obscure how the embodiment of meaning is constrained by social facts: and the way Morning at the Break of Yawn was looked at above should have suggested, at least, how and why that happens. We had begun by asking how the 'personalising' of artworks - the business of linking details in the work to the detail of personal lives - might affect the embodiment of meaning; let us now look at one such detail in Morning at the Break of Yawn.

Expending so many words on a flawed work - on a painting that fails, apparently, to be a work of art - might seem perverse. But the exercise has some point because Kallat is so successful, and is made so much of by those who matter in the Indian artworld. (The bit of text quoted at the very beginning was Hoskote's praise; it comes from the catalogue. One finds listed there the 30 or so shows Kallat has had in the last five years, both in India and abroad; and that list does not include his showing at the recent Century City at the Tate Modern in London, in the section titled Bombay/Mumbai, which was curated by Geeta Kapur and Ashish Rajadhyaksha.)

Why artworlds have come to be the way they now are is an intriguing question. The philosopher Arthur Danto, in the course of giving an ameliorating answer, suggests that artworlds have achieved a state of perfect aesthetic entropy - though "achieved" may not be quite the right word - where works of art can be anything that artists and patrons want them to be (provided they embody meaning: this is the condition Danto insists on, actually, and he doesn't think that something is a work of art merely because it is taken for one). On Danto's telling this entropic state is the natural outcome of the actual development of the visual arts, and it makes for a perfect and 'post-historical' freedom. That might seem a good thing altogether: until one asks just what artists and patrons may be capable, now, of actually wanting.

DISTURBED DODA

Terrorism reaches a new high, but will the new-found official machismo help stop the fires?

THREE days before Mujib-ur-Rahman was shot dead by the Doda Police, the Lashkar-e-Toiba commander wrote the last entry in his battered green 'log book'. "August 3," Rahman recorded, "The warriors of the Lashkar-e-Toiba have killed 19 unbelievers. This is our challenge to the Indian government."

18170201jpg

It took the government just another five days to bite the bait put out by the Lashkar commander, who used the code name Abu Ali. On August 9, the Jammu and Kashmir government ordered the imposition of the Disturbed Areas Act in the districts of Doda, Udhampur, Jammu and Kathua, bringing the entire State under the blanket of the controversial piece of legislation. Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, for his part, promised drastic new legislation to help end violence in Jammu and Kashmir. The new laws, Advani said, will resemble the lapsed Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, and it will be targeted at overground supporters of terrorist violence. While vulnerable Hindu communities in Jammu are elated, they are likely to discover that this new official machismo amounts to nothing at all.

The small village of Ladder, 40 km by a dirt road from the nearest major town, is an unlikely candidate to have driven events of such long-term significance. On the morning of August 3, twenty two people from Ladder had taken their cattle up to Sharot Dhar, a high-altitude pasture a few hours' walk from the village. That night they stayed in two separate dhokes on the pasture, ten Dalits inside and outside the smaller stone shelter higher up the hill, and the upper caste Rajputs in the larger one. Around midnight, two terrorists arrived at the Dalits' dhoke. "They asked us to line up," says 14-year-old Dev Raj, "and confiscated all our belongings. They took our ghee, our blankets, and even the small ring I was given by my parents. Then we were marched down to the other dhoke."

Some of them in the Dalit-occupied dhoke smelt trouble. "I told them some of us were sleeping outside," says Tara Chand, who was inside when the terrorists arrived. "They asked me to get the others, but I used the opportunity to run off into the darkness and hide." Four others, out on the pasture, followed him. The others were lined up, with the Rajputs in two rows, inside the second dhoke. "One man, with a gun, asked Panna Lal if he knew what the gun was," Dev Raj recalls. "Panna Lal said he did; it was a gun. Then the man asked if he knew what came out of guns. Bullets, Panna Lal told him. 'Have a close look at a bullet,' the man said, and started firing." Dev Raj and four others were injured. They spent the night playing dead, hiding among 13 bodies.

More people almost died the next day. Hundreds of Hindu activists from Kishtwar arrived at the village of Atholi for the last rites of the Ladder victims. Many of them were members of Village Defence Committees (VDCs), armed with .303 Lee Enfield rifles. Egged on by their leaders, the mob began to throw stones and eventually burned down two Muslim-owned shops. At least eight rounds were fired at the Atholi Masjid after mob leaders claimed that masons who were working on the Masjid wall were building a "bunker for terrorists". A Jammu and Kashmir Police Special Operations Group (SOG) unit present there responded with warning shots, preventing further violence.

But even as the violence in Atholi ended, curfew had to be imposed in Doda and Kishtwar. Muslim chauvinists now spread rumours that the Masjid had been demolished. In fact, the broken portion of the Masjid wall had been brought down by the masons, who were working to repair a crack in the structure.

18170203jpg

MASJID AND MANDIR share the same square in Atholi: a sign of the region's syncretic traditions, now under threat. It is not hard to understand the anxieties driving Hindu chauvinism. The Sarhot Dhar massacre was the third this summer, following the killing of four village residents in a pasture above Tagood village on July 20, and the massacre of eight others near Cheerji the next night. The long series of communal killings since 1993 has, predictably, bred bitterness. Ranbir Singh lost his brother Balbir Singh in the Sarhot Dhar massacre. "I don't want violence," he says, "but my brother's wife is eight months pregnant, and I will also have to look after his son Ankit. Who will give us justice?" Very few people in Ladder bother to make any secret of their feelings. Kunj Lal lost his son, constable Rishi Kumar, in an ambush at Manjakot near Rajouri earlier this year. He now heads the local VDC. "We are not like the Kashmiri Pandits," he says. "We are ready to be killed, and to kill."

Politicians have been quick to cash in on this kind of sentiment. Janaki Nath Thakur, a Bharatiya Janata Party leader from Kishtwar, insists that his party cadre and local VDCs had nothing to do with the violence in Atholi. "The Muslims there are blowing the whole thing out of proportion," he claims. "If we wanted violence, we would have shot people, not at a mosque wall. Hindus are being killed, and then asked to maintain the peace." Muslim politicians in the area use similar language. "We have restrained ourselves so far," says National Conference block president Ziauddin Mattoo, "but our patience is not endless. If this continues, we will have take up arms." Kishtwar abounds with similar talk. Here, wealth locally generated by the Dul-Hasti hydroelectric project, billed as the most expensive of its kind, has given birth to a new elite keen to gain political power. Competetive communalism gives this new elite status and legitimacy. In January, for example, Kishtwar's historic main mosque burned down in an accidental fire. The town's emerging Muslim leadership led mobs which burnt down government buildings and liquor shops owned by Hindus claiming that the mosque had been set on fire by the Army.

18170204jpg

But it is far from clear if rural Hindus and Muslims have responded to terrorism in particularly different ways. Consider, for example, the May 10 massacre at the all-Hindu village of Sazaar, a few hours' drive from Ladder. When terrorists arrived at one of the five hamlets in the village the previous evening, local leaders asked personnel at a nearby local police post not to respond. That night, members of the Lashkar unit, evidently regular visitors to the area, purchased a goat for Rs.1,000 and roasted it nearby. The next morning, they asked for guides to help them go up the mountain. Once on the ridge above Sazaar, one man was sent down to demand that personnel at the police post surrender their weapons, failing which the remaining hostages would be executed. The policemen refused to oblige them. Seven hostages were killed, and three injured.

Hindus, then, have like Muslims sought to keep the peace with terrorist groups. Villagers at Cheerji have no real explanation as to why those killed in the August 20 massacre lined up in the darkness if they expected to be killed. Investigators believe that the same terrorist group had visited the pastures above Cheerji earlier. On this occasion, however, the Lashkar unit's visit had been preceded by a fight with a migrant shepherd, Noorani Bakkarwal, over pasture rights. Hindus in Kishtwar rent out summer pastures to nomadic Bakkarwal shepherds and Gujjar buffalo herdsmen, but as livestock holdings have grown, fights over access and prices have escalated. It is now believed that Noorani Bakkarwal persuaded the Lashkar unit to settle the dispute. Intelligence officials based in Doda also believe that Hindus are often used to haul food to terrorist groups up the mountains, since troops are less likely to be suspicious about their actions.

18170205jpg

CLEARLY, the real problem in Doda is the state apparatus' inability to provide real security to rural communities. The decision to invoke the Disturbed Areas Act has little evident link with the scale of violence. Both 1998 and 2000 saw more massacre deaths than have taken place this summer. Nor can incidents like the August 7 shootout at the Jammu railway station be cited as reasons for invoking the Act, for the city has seen far worse in past years. Official data show that the problem lies not in the absence of special powers, but in the physical absence of troops. In 1997, 11 Army battalions and almost nine paramilitary battalions were stationed in the police district of Doda, which excludes the tehsil of Ramban. The next year, despite a series of communal killings, two Rashtriya Rifles battalions were withdrawn. During the Kargil War of 1999, almost all Rashtriya Rifles battalions were pulled out, along with the Border Security Force (BSF). Three Rashtriya Rifles battalions and the BSF did not return.

Geography and recent tactical decisions have combined to create this situation in the district. Doda is spread over 11,678 sq km, only a few hundred square kilometres less than the area of the entire Kashmir Valley. Over 60 per cent of this area is made up of the single tehsil of Kishtwar. Kishtwar comprises four major areas. The northern valley systems of Wadwan and Marwah are protected by just one Army battalion. Wadwan technically falls under the command of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, but even the single company traditionally despatched there each summer did not arrive this year. As a result, Wadwan has become home to one of the largest concentrations of terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir. To the south, the Dacchan and Paddar valley systems are again unsecured. An Indo-Tibetan Border Police company based at Gulabgarh, a few minutes' drive from Ladder, was pulled out in March. This is a fact of some significance given that all recent massacres have taken place in the Paddar valley.

18170206jpg

Kishtwar is not the only area to have suffered from this unexplained unwillingness on the part of the authorities to commit troops for the maintenance of peace. The 5 Sikh Light Infantry pulled out of the south Doda area of Gandoh early this summer, leaving one of the district's worst-hit areas open for terrorist operations. Army officials now claim that this decision was taken in order to shore up defences along the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway in the build-up to the Amarnath Yatra, but the battalion was moved out in April, months before the pilgrimage. More worrying, the thinning out of troops has come at a time when terrorist groups have been able to assert their authority over civil society more effectively than at any point in the recent past. During the Ramzan ceasefire, the Hizbul Mujahideen in Kishtwar began imposing de facto taxes on the treasury at Marwah. Salaries and dues worth Rs.20 lakhs are estimated to have been diverted before the ceasefire ended. More alarming, 43 Kishtwar residents are believed to have joined terrorist groups between March and June, up from next to nothing in previous years.

Why has Doda suffered from such shabby security cover? One explanation is that terrorism in its remote mountains rarely makes the front pages. But it is also hard to ignore more cynical considerations. The withdrawal of formal cover has been mirrored by a massive proliferation in the numbers of Special Police Officers (SPOs), paid Rs.1,500 a month to work with the SOGs and VDCs. Doda now has some 7,500 SPOs, including the 1,000 additional posts authorised by Union Minister of State for Home I.D. Swami. But only 2,700 of them are actually deployed with the district police in operational roles. Although VDCs have played a valuable role in protecting villages - all of this year's attacks have been on pastures - some of them have chosen to function as a kind of private army for Union Civil Aviation Minister and Doda-Udhampur MP Chaman Lal Gupta. "He would not have secured a majority in the last election if VDCs had not intimidated Muslim voters," claims the National Conference's Ziauddin Mattoo, "they will be used again."

18170207jpg

Gestures such as the invoking of the Disturbed Areas Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act will not help bring peace to Doda. The experience of such actions in the Kashmir Valley, Rajouri and Poonch shows that they did nothing to end terrorism. For the past year, Doda has in effect been held by its SOGs and their SPOs: 93 terrorists were killed between September 2000 and August 2001 - a record for any 11-month period. Their work, however, is simply not enough. Across Kishtwar, the high mountain pastures are being evacuated to make sure that no further massacres take place. This winter, officials say, more SPOs will be recruited and trained to defend those out on the high-altitude pastures. But in the days since the Ladder massacre, not one company has moved into Doda: a sign of just how serious the Union government in fact has been in trying to tackle the problem.

Delivering the Jarawas

PANKAJ SEKHSARIA the-nation

For the Jarawa tribal population of the Andaman islands, a court order brings hope of protection from the "civilised" world.

COURT cases involve complex processes, which sometimes take trajectories of their own and reach destinations not quite intended at the time of their initiation. In one such instance, an order that the Port Blair Circuit Bench of the Calcutta High Court issued recently has turned out to be to the benefit of the indigenous Jarawa community of the Andaman islands.

18170651jpg

The case had its origins in an intriguing development that was noticed in October 1997 - a drastic change in the lifestyle and attitudes of the forest-dwelling Jarawas who were previously extremely hostile to outsiders. For reasons that are not yet clear, the Jarawas voluntarily broke their circle of isolation and hostility and came out from their forest home to have peaceful interactions with the settler communities that live on the forest's edge (Frontline, July 17, 1998).

Almost overnight, the until then feared and mysterious Jarawa became a subject of intense curiosity. People travelled to the margins of the forest to catch a glimpse of the Jarawa, and a small industry was created out of this. The impression gained ground that there was not enough food in the forests to support the community. Consignments of bananas, coconuts and papayas were sent in regularly and even air-dropped into the forests.

The end of the hostility of the Jarawa also saw the increased exploitation of resources from the Jarawa forest reserve. Sand mining from the beaches on the western coast of the islands and poaching and removal of non timber forest produce (NTFP) from the forest habitats increased drastically.

All this while a few anthropologists, tribal rights activists and environmentalists kept arguing that outsiders had to be stopped from contacting the Jarawas, that providing them food was not the solution and that the violation and exploitation of their forest habitats had to be stopped.

It was in this context that Shyamali Ganguly, a local lawyer, filed a writ petition before the Circuit Bench in May 1999. The petition, a classic example of a move undertaken with the right intentions but seeking the wrong solutions, asked for the administration's help to bring the Jarawas into the mainstream and improve their lives. The examples of the Great Andamanese and the Onge (two other Andamanese tribal communities) were held out to explain how this could be done. But surprisingly, the petitioner failed to notice that both these communities are on the verge of being wiped out, primarily because of attempts to 'civilise' and take them into the mainstream, made first by the British and then by the governments of independent India. The petition also asked that the Jarawas be relocated in another area, which would then be all theirs.

At this juncture the Port Blair-based Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology (SANE) intervened. A vocal advocate of environmental protection in the islands, SANE has played a crucial role in fighting for tribal rights. "What was asked for in the petition would have meant certain death for the Jarawas," says Samir Acharya of SANE. SANE largely disagreed with the views of the petitioner, particularly in the matter of relocating the Jarawas, which it felt would be disastrous for the tribal community. Most important, it requested the court to order the removal of all encroachments, camps and outposts from the Jarawa reserve and an inquiry into whether the Andaman Trunk Road (see box) ought to be closed to traffic and alternative transport routes explored.

18170652jpg

Help also came from Survival International, the London-based tribal rights organisation, which contacted eight of the world's leading anthropologists. Their signed testimonies, which were placed before the court, unanimously said that the Jarawas should be allowed to maintain their traditional lifestyles in the forests and that any attempts to resettle or rehabilitate them would lead to disaster.

"Historic precedents involving the relocation and sedentarisation of tribal peoples (particularly in island cultures) have often led to their complete destruction ...," explained Dr. Mark Levene of the Department of History, University of Warwick, United Kingdom. Levene, a research scholar working in the area of genocide in the modern world, cited examples of such genocide in different parts of the world - of Tasmanians by the British settlers in the 19th century, of Chakmas from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in South Asia, and of Amazonian tribes in Latin America.

Dr. Marcus Colchester of the Oxford-based Forest People's Programme argued that the relocation of the Jarawas could even be termed illegal under the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) Convention 107 and Articles 7 and 10 of the United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which prohibit "the forcible removal of indigenous people from their lands..." and "any form of population transfer which may violate or undermine their rights..."

On the issue of health, Dr. James Woodburn of the Department of Anthropology in the London School of Economics and Political Science pointed out that "when a previously isolated community with low population density (like the Jarawas) comes into contact with one of high density (like the settlers), they are particularly vulnerable to diseases like measles against which they have not acquired any immunity in childhood." He also pointed out that this could be the main reason for the death of a large number of the Great Andamanese community in the 19th century and of the Onge afterwards.

It was almost as if Dr. Woodburn was looking into a crystal ball. A couple of months later, in September 1999, an epidemic of measles hit the Jarawa tribe. By the third week of October, 48 per cent of the estimated Jarawa population of 350 was suffering from disease and ill-health. The affected people were treated mainly at the primary health centre (PHC) in Kadamtala in the Middle Andamans and at the G.B. Pant Hospital in Port Blair. There were even reports that a couple of them had died in the forests. These reports could not be corroborated, but clearly the worst fears about their safety seemed to be coming true.

Fortunately, a team of doctors comprising Dr. Namita Ali, Director of Health Services, Dr. Elizabeth Mathews, Superintendent, G.B. Pant Hospital, and Dr. R.C. Kar, the medical officer in Kadamtala, did some commendable work, and not a single casualty was reported among those Jarawas who were admitted to the hospitals.

AS for the court case, a six-member expert committee established by the court in February 2000 submitted its report six months later, in August. The committee had the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Port Blair as its member-secretary. Other members included two anthropologists, Dr. R.K. Bhattacharya and Kanchan Mukhopadhyay from the Anthropological Survey of India (ASI), and three doctors, Namita Ali, R.C. Kar and Anima Burman from Port Blair.

The committee pointed out that a preliminary study by the ASI had indicated that the forest had enough food resources to provide for the Jarawas and that there was no food shortage; that they continue to be susceptible to many infectious diseases and that vigilance should not be slackened; that the maintenance of the Andaman Trunk Road and procurement of wood for the purpose regularly degraded the forests; and that illegal fishing, poaching and removal of NTFP from the Jarawa reserve were happening regularly. Many other conclusions of the committee were reflected in the order issued on April 9 in Port Blair by Justice Samaresh Banerjea and Justice Joytosh Banerjee. A detailed, 60-page written order in the matter came from Calcutta more than six weeks later, on May 28, 2001.

The court has directed the formation of an expert committee to look into the matter and given it six months from the date of its formation to come up with a plan to deal with issues related to the Jarawas. The order also made a special reference to "Master Plan 1991-2021 for the Welfare of the Tribes of the A&N" prepared by S.A. Awaradi, former Director, Tribal Welfare, in the Andaman and Nicobar administration. It indicated that the document should be taken into consideration while formulating the final policies. For the interim period, it has ordered a number of steps to be implemented on a war footing.

The court has directed the local administration to stop poaching and intrusion into Jarawa territory and to prevent its further destruction by encroachment and deforestation. It ordered issuance of an 'appropriate notification clearly demarcating the Jarawa territory'. This would greatly help law enforcement, particularly in the detection and removal of encroachments. The court also ordered that penal measures be taken against encroachers and poachers, and importantly, against those among the police and civil authorities who are negligent in this regard.

Accepting the recommendations of the expert committee, the court directed that medical aid be given to the Jarawas only when they came out of the forest and sought it and only to the extent necessary. It asked for periodic medical programmes for the Jarawas in their own territory and only to the extent necessary so that they need not come out from the forests for such aid. Significantly, the court directed that until a policy on dealing with Jarawas was finalised, no new construction or extension of existing construction should be undertaken in the Jarawa territory and no extension was to be made to the Andaman Trunk Road.

The order has been welcomed by environmental and tribal rights activists familiar with the situation in the archipelago. It is considered a very positive order, and one with great potential for safeguarding the future of the tribal people here. Ensuring its implementation is the next big challenge, and a lot will depend on how and with how much sincerity this is done.

In association with The Transforming Word Pankaj Sekhsaria is a member of the environment action group, Kalpavriksh.

Questions about a road

the-nation
PANKAJ SEKHSARIA

THE Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) connects Port Blair in South Andaman to Diglipur in North Andamans, covering nearly 340 kilometres. Across the world, road construction, particularly in rainforest areas, has been one of the biggest reasons for the destruction of forests and their indigenous residents. The story of the ATR is no different. Directly and indirectly, it has contributed to the destruction of vast areas of evergreen rainforests in the Andamans, which has severely affected the Jarawas.

Work on the road began in 1971, and it was violently opposed by the Jarawas. But the work continued and the entire stretch was completed recently. Huge amounts of money went into its construction which could have been avoided in the first place.

The ATR is a perfect example of short-sighted planning. First, it is not the best way to travel in the islands. Most of the settlements in the Andamans are situated on the coast, so the most logical and immensely cheaper mode of transport that should have been developed is marine transport.

Every year crores of rupees and large quantities of timber go into the maintenance of the road. SANE estimates that a minimum of 12,000 cubic metres of timber from the evergreen forests is burnt annually for this purpose. Compare this with the official figure of 70,000 cu m of timber that is logged in the entire islands today, and one gets a sense of the destruction caused by the ATR. There is not enough traffic on the ATR to justify such a huge expenditure.

But the question, as always, is the same: Who's listening?

On criticism and coalition dharma

politics

Interview with BJP president Jana Krishnamurthy.

Bharatiya Janata Party president Jana Krishnamurthy is faced with the difficult task of leading the party at a time when it is drifting along, bearing much of the blame for the perceived failures of the National Democratic Alliance government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee. Vajpayee's offer to resign, made at the meeting of the BJP Parliamentary Party on July 31, left the party stunned. In this interview with V. Venkatesan, Jana Krishnamurthy defends Vajpayee and explains his stand on other issues facing the party and the government.

18170181jpg

Was Vajpayee's offer to resign aimed at silencing dissent within the BJP?

Immediately after he made the offer, the NDA had a meeting. Every NDA member pressed Atalji not to resign. All of them pledged their support to him. Rather than affecting the NDA, the offer helped consolidate it.

But the offer was made at the BJP Parliamentary Party meeting.

It is a meeting where all BJP MPs are present. He could not have announced his intention to resign in any other forum. It did come as a surprise to the party. On such matters one is not expected to consult others. He did so after his personal assessment of the situation. Nothing had happened in the BJP that could have even remotely influenced his decision. The Prime Minister was present at the meeting of the party's National Executive (held in New Delhi between July 27 and 29). He went through every resolution and there was nothing in any resolution criticising him for any stand of his. The party had played its role, which he had himself stated in our Bangalore meeting.

I would consider Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Nirupam's attack in the Rajya Sabha as the main reason for his offer to quit. The reason he had stated was that he was unable to carry the NDA partners with him. It was a well-thought-out exercise. His remark that he wanted to quit because he was not keeping good health was a satirical comment. We believe he is in good health.

He is also apparently annoyed with the letter written to him by BJP National Executive member Shatrughan Sinha.

Sinha has not owned up the letter, which has appeared in a section of the press. So I can't comment on it.

At the National Executive meeting Home Minister L.K. Advani spoke about the Opposition mind-set within the BJP.

What he said was meant for the NDA partners also. The art of governance is altogether different. He is not against healthy criticism. Let there be positive thinking behind any criticism. The critics can suggest alternatives. We should have the mind-set of a ruling party.

Is the Prime Minister unhappy with the way in which some of the allies are enjoying the fruits of power and at the same time wanting to occupy the opposition space?

We feel that if any of us has a view on any decision of the government, it can be placed either at the Cabinet meeting or at the NDA meeting. That is coalition dharma. Using Parliament for openly criticising the government does not go with coalition dharma. The NDA partners have accepted this, and a committee of senior members is drawing up norms for the NDA's consideration. Every cosntituent of the coalition has promised full cooperation and agreed to abide by the norms.

Will the BJP and the Shiv Sena sever their ties?

I don't expect any break. If the Sena has reservations about the BJP in Maharashtra, the BJP too has reservations about the Sena. But we will get along with each other. Even earlier Bal Thackeray has expressed his strong views on many matters. I am not surprised by his latest remarks.

Is Thackeray hurt because the BJP did not cooperate with the Sena in toppling the Congress(I)-NCP coalition government in Maharashtra?

The BJP does not believe in toppling any government. We do not manoeuvre for it. If any alliance breaks on its own the BJP takes notice of it. If we had such a thing in mind, we could have ensured that our government did not fall in 1998 by one vote (at the Centre). We decided to face elections rather than engineer defections.

The sacking of Naresh Agarwal from the U.P. Cabinet has created fresh tension between the BJP and the Loktantrik Congress Party, which is a part of the NDA.

It won't have any impact on the stability of our government in U.P. Besides, the entire Loktantrik Congress is not with Agarwal. U.P. Chief Minister Rajnath Singh took the decision only after consulting us and considering various aspects.

In broad terms, what should be the norms governing the conduct of NDA constituents?

I would rather leave it to the committee entrusted with the task of drawing up the norms. We will offer our suggestions when its recommendations come up for discussion at the NDA meeting. Broadly, if any of the NDA constituents wants to say anything, it should use the forums available. The NDA should be utilised. If there is a Cabinet representative, any particular measure can be placed in the Cabinet meeting. Any member who has any reservation about any decision can directly approach the Prime Minister.

In parliamentary democracy, the Cabinet enjoys joint responsibility. No individual MP can have his say. Every constituent of the NDA has its own parliamentary party. It is not expected of any MP to rip anyone below the belt. No MP can claim the right to act in an independent manner outside the party limits even in Parliament. If he has evidence about any allegation, let him approach the Prime Minister and provide the evidence before him. When that is not done, there is room for suspecting the MP's motives. One motive may have been to hurt the Prime Minister personally.

But Sanjay Nirupam claims he spoke only after his party boss authorised him.

Maybe, I don't know.

Do you consider Sanjay Nirupam's apology sufficient?

His future conduct will prove whether the apology was made genuinely or to get out of a difficult situation.

At the BJP National Executive meeting, you proposed that allies who had left the NDA should not be permitted to return at will. It has apparently not found favour within the NDA. The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) is now back in the NDA, while the Trinamul Congress is on the verge of being readmitted.

My proposal was not with regard to any particular party. I generally suggested the need to evolve certain norms for the entry or return of any party into the NDA. When the PMK MPs met me, I made it clear to them that I was not against their return. Left to me, I would say that entry into the NDA should not automatically mean entry into the Cabinet. This is only a suggestion for the NDA. Whatever the NDA decides will be accepted.

Will the committee evolve norms for the return of those who had left the NDA earlier?

Yes. The PMK attended the NDA meeting before it was decided to set up the committee. The PMK attended the meeting because it was invited.

Does it mean the Trinamul Congress will have to wait until the norms are finalised?

Naturally. Every NDA constituent will say, 'let us wait for the norms'. Once the norms are finalised all the parties will be bound by them.

Is there any dissent within the BJP over the outcome of the Agra Summit?

We feel that Pakistan President General Musharraf should not have been allowed to abuse our hospitality by writing a letter to the Hurriyat (All Parties Hurriyat Conference), and then converting the informal breakfast meeting with Indian editors into a press conference. But I would not say there was any lapse on our part. We wanted to keep diplomatic norms, we never expected him to misuse our hospitality. The Agra Summit brought out the soldier in Musharraf and the statesman in Vajpayee.

Did the government bungle in tackling the Unit Trust of India issue?

The parties that accused the Finance Minister of wrongdoing and demanded his resignation did not extend the basic courtesy of allowing him to place his views in Parliament. Such intolerance by the Opposition on such a vital issue is a matter of great concern.

A focussed revival

columns

Of the decline, rise and insecurities of development economics.

ECONOMICS as a discipline has always been concerned with development. The Classical economists were essentially concerned with understanding the processes of economic growth and structural change: how and why they occurred, what forms they took, what prevented or constrained them, and to what extent they actually led to greater material prosperity and more general human progress. It is true that the marginalist revolution of the late 19th century led economists away from these larger evolutionary questions towards particularist investigations into the current, sans history. Nevertheless, it might be fair to say that trying to understand the processes of growth and development have remained the basic motivating forces for the study of economics.

18171021jpg

But what is now generally thought of as development economics has a much more recent lineage, and is typically traced to the second half of the 20th century, indeed, to the immediate post-War period of the 1950s and 1960s, when there was a flowering of economic literature relating to both development and underdevelopment. Much of this was very much within the mainstream of the discipline, and retained the fundamentals of the mainstream approach even while altering some of the assumptions. Thus, the economic dualism depicted by Arthur Lewis, the coordination failures inherent in less developed economies described by Rosenstein-Rodan, the efficacy of unbalanced "big push" strategies for industrialisation advocated by Albert Hirschman - all dealt with development policy as a response to the market failures that were specific to latecomers.

HOWEVER, all this discussion somehow receded into the background, especially during the 1980s. Development economics, even of the mainstream variety, on the whole suffered a fate similar to Keynesian economics in developed countries - of being first reviled, then ignored, and finally forgotten. It really seemed as if that particular subject was dead, at least in the metropolitan centres of economics.

But it now turns out that rumours of the death of development economics were greatly exaggerated, and what was thought to be its demise was really no more than its mid-life crisis. There is a revival in analyses which openly claim to be part of development economics, as a spate of new textbooks and the recent proliferation of such articles in the standard professional journals will indicate. This newer version of development economics is one which contains a much sharper focus on the micro; on the miniature as a representation of the larger reality.

Of course, the current "development" literature remains firmly entrenched in the methodological individualism which characterises all the mainstream economics of today. The models now being developed all tend to be based on the notion that prices and quantities are simultaneously determined through the market mechanism, with relative prices being the crucial factors determining resource allocation as well as the level and composition of output. This holds whether the focus of attention is the pattern of sharecropping tenancy or semi-formal rural credit markets or a developing economy engaging in international trade.

THIS literature also posits a basic symmetry not only between supply and demand, but also between factors of production. Thus, the returns on factors such as land, labour and capital are seen as determined along the same lines as the prices of commodities, through simple interaction of demand and supply. Where institutional determinants are recognised, they are seen as unwelcome messing about with market functioning, and "government failures" tend to be given wide publicity. An implicit underlying assumption in much of the literature remains that of full employment or at the very most underemployment rather than open unemployment.

While externalities are recognised, they are sought to be incorporated into more tractable models, thereby reducing the complexity of their effects. Similarly, while market failures are recognised, the policy interventions proposed or discussed are typically partial equilibrium attempts to insert incentives and disincentives into the market mechanism, with the objective of promoting "efficiency". And even the basic fact of uneven development tends to be translated into models of "dualism", which in turn also implies less attention to the differentiation internal to sectors and the patterns of interaction of different groups or classes within and across sectors.

FINALLY, there is a growing acceptance that "history matters". But once again, this is typically reduced to certain simple and modelable statements. Thus, a standard way in the literature of dealing with the effects of history is in the form of complementarities that cause the perpetuation of particular technologies, along the lines made famous by the example of the QWERTY typing keyboard. Other common ways of incorporating history are through inserting "social norms" as a variable, or analysing the effects of the "status quo" in creating inertia with respect to policy changes.

In some ways, the new development economics is an attempt to examine what are seen as "exotica" in terms of prevalent economic institutions in developing countries, and explain them in terms of the methodological individualism which is perceived as the correct way of analysing developed market economies. It could even be described as a sort of "National Geographic" view of development, whereby snapshots of particular institutions or economic activities are taken, the difference from the "norm" of developed capitalism is highlighted, and then these are sought to be explained using the same basic analytical tools developed for the "norm". The means whereby these economies or institutions can then become less different, or more like the developed market ideal, then becomes the focus of the policy proposals emanating from such analyses.

CLEARLY, there is still something missing, or just plain wrong, in this overall approach. And so it could be argued that even this new, apparently improved version of mainstream development economics, is not really worth saving any more than the current mainstream analysis devoted to developed economies. A better way of expending intellectual energy might instead be to try to develop alternative ways of addressing the still fascinating and relevant issues of growth, development, structural change and inequality in all economies, especially those not characterised as "developed". Such alternatives would give much greater precedence to the role of history, to the interplay of political and social forces with economic institutions and processes, and to the class interests and distributional conflicts which reflect and determine economic patterns.

But the new development economics also gives rise to certain interesting social phenomena. The recent literature is very much a product of the intellectual ethos prevailing in the academic centres of the North. Almost all of the practitioners, whatever be their country of origin, actually work in these places. To some extent this also explains the analytical approach described above: it is not only a reflection of a deep internalisation of the basic axioms of mainstream North Atlantic economic thinking, but also a niche market to which those of developing country origin tend to be relegated in the Northern academe, whatever their own intellectual skills and predilections.

But just as other people need to be loved, economists need to feel relevant, regardless of how relevant their work actually is. Thus it is that the brightest of emigre minds still concern themselves with the economic problems of their countries of origin, and rarely if ever presume to comment on economic policy debates in their countries of residence.

THIS explains the otherwise puzzling recent intervention of nine eminent Bengali emigre economists, who have been publishing articles and pamphlets during and after the recent elections in West Bengal, setting out what they call an economic agenda for the State. What is interesting in this is not the proposals themselves. Some of these, such as increasing investment in physical infrastructure and providing more and better quality health and education, are so obvious that most ordinary people would be afraid of repeating them for fear of sounding cliched. Some others put faith in already passing trends, such as relying on electronic data input services to increase urban employment. But these could be explained as the lack of immediate experience of those who reside far away and have to base their assessments on the annual family vacation.

What has been interesting about this intervention is that it shows that Non-Resident Indian development economists ultimately remain confined to policy proposals and debates in their places of origin rather than in the country in which they have chosen to live and work. It is possible to sympathise with this existential problem, which reflects the peculiar and arcane caste hierarchies of North Atlantic academe. But at the same time, this sociological tendency does end up in such economists serving as another force working for the introduction of marketist economic policy proposals in developing countries.

Towards elections in Fiji

SHUBHA SINGH world-affairs

As Fiji gets set to go to the polls on August 25, a look at the line-up and the issues.

SOME 15 months after an armed gang ousted the government of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry in the South Pacific island-nation of Fiji, the country is holding elections to choose a new government. On May 19, 2000, a group of armed men barged into the Parliament building in the capital Suva and took Mahendra Chaudhry and his entire Council of Ministers hostage. Their demand was the ouster of a government headed by a person of Indian descent and their slogan was Fiji for the Fijians. However, a court order later held the dismissal to be illegal and paved the way for fresh elections to take place on August 25, 2001.

18170551jpg

With 23 political parties in the fray, it will be difficult for any single party to get a majority in the House of Representatives. It is a coalition that would form the new government, for the Constitution provides that the two major ethnic groups, the Fijians and the Indians, would need each other's support to form a government.

It was the second time that a government was overthrown in Fiji. In 1987, the government was ousted through a military coup led by the third ranking officer of Fiji's Army, Lt. Col. Sitiveni Rabuka. Rabuka drew his support within the Army and aimed to restore the defeated Alliance Party headed by Ratu Mara that represented the traditional Fijian hierarchy. He claimed to stand for Fijian values and tradition. The armed group led by George Speight, a failed businessman, included some members of an elite commando group, the Counter Revolutionary Warfare group, but they did not have the backing of the armed forces. Although the Speight gang spoke of Fijian rights, the mercenary action brought out strong strains of provincialism and tribal factionalism that had remained latent in Fijian society.

The armed gangsters had claimed that Mahendra Chaudhry was not protecting the rights of the ethnic Fijians, but once the hostages were released the Fijian chiefs of the western provinces come out in opposition to them. The western province is the heartland of the sugarcane growing area which is the mainstay of Fijis economy. It is also the region where the main tourist resorts are located. As both races began feeling the effect of the prolonged political crisis, Fiji seemed to be sliding into a state of civil strife after the hostages were released. While Mahendra Chaudhry was held captive, the crisis was labelled an Indian versus Fijian problem. After his release, a new interim Cabinet was to be appointed under the agreement reached with the hostage takers. By that time the tussle within the Fijian ranks came out into the open, with different tribal groups suggesting different candidates for the Cabinet. The Fijian community has traditionally remained a cohesive group, where their chiefs govern the tribes. But inter-tribal differences began to crop up, as anyone with a grievance began looking for redress. The law and order situation deteriorated as ethnic Fijians took over airports, hotel resorts and even police stations demanding a better return for the land they had leased for these facilities. Speight and his close advisers were finally arrested and an Interim Government was appointed under Laisenia Qarase, a former banker. Qarase's Cabinet included several Ministers who had openly supported Speight's actions.

Several months later a Fiji High Court Judge ruled on a writ petition that the dismissal of the Chaudhry government was illegal. A Court of Appeal later pronounced that the abrogation of the Constitution was illegal, and held that Parliament was not dissolved but merely prorogued on May 28, 2000. The Appeal Court went into several claims that had been made by various parties. The Interim Government had stated that the 1997 Constitution had failed to protect the rights of the indigenous Fijians and that the new, preferential system of voting had distorted the people's choice in the previous elections (in 1999). In its affidavit the interim administration had listed these two reasons for the indigenous Fijians feeling that their rights had been eroded under the new Constitution. The court found that there was no erosion of the special rights of the Fijians. It said that given the provisions under the 1997 Constitution, any attempt to change the law in relation to land rights of the Fijians and other indigenous rights by stealth was impossible since any changes required ratification by the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC), the supreme body of Fijian tribal chiefs.

The court analysed the voting system introduced for the last elections in 1999 and concluded that even with a "first-past-the-post" system, the same government would have come to power. It felt that the claims that indigenous Fijians did not understand the electoral system were largely unsubstantiated. The Interim Government had the burden of proving to the court that it was in firm control and that the people had truly acquiesced to it. The court held that the government did not produce any direct evidence of acquiescence and stated that "passive acceptance was not persuasive evidence of acquiescence". The Interim Government had suppressed public demonstrations of dissent and there were numerous affidavits filed by individuals and organisations expressing disapproval of the interim regime. The Court of Appeal agreed with the High Court that the constitutional doctrine of necessity did not validate the Interim Government.

18170552jpg

Under the Court of Appeal order, Mahendra Chaudhry's government was to be restored. But Chaudhry was then facing a challenge to his leadership within his party, from his deputy Dr. Tupeni Baba. He recommended to the President that Parliament be dissolved and fresh elections be held. Elections were then scheduled for August 25 and the Qarase government remained in charge. Since that time, Dr. Tupeni Baba and several influential Fiji Labour Party (FLP) members (both Indians and Fijians) left the party to form the New Labour Unity Party (NLUP).

The election scene has turned combative as the 23 political parties battle it out among themselves. The hardline Fijian parties have been accusing one another of not looking after the interests of the indigenous community. The two Labour factions are at loggerheads. Dr. Baba claimed that the re-election of Mahendra Chaudhry would lead to another coup as the country was not ready for an Indian as Prime Minister. The Daily Post in an editorial then strongly condemned Tupeni Baba for using what it called the racial card. It said: "Baba's remarks are totally irrelevant, uncalled for, shallow and perhaps unfortunate. For someone campaigning to be Prime Minister such a prediction has not given voters the confidence they are looking for. Instead, such statements create doubt, fear and apprehension in the minds of voters and perhaps in his ability as a leader. No doubt, Baba was targeting a certain group of voters."

Interim Prime Minister Qarase, a political novice, floated a new political party called Sogosogo Duavata ni Lewenivanu (SDL). All other political parties in the country have called for Qarase's resignation so that a neutral government could conduct the elections. Many of them have also charged Qarase with making fresh appointments to statutory boards and key positions just before the elections. Qarase had constituted a Constitutional Review Commission that was disbanded by the President on the direction of the High Court. However, Qarase has been declaring in his campaign speeches that he would reconstitute the Commission to ensure that political power remains with the Fijians if he were elected. Qarase has said that the Constitution should be changed to ensure the ethnic Fijian's political supremacy in the country.

Deep and bitter tribal divisions within the Fijian community have come out in the open, shattering the myth of cultural unity among the Fijians. Class and regional considerations have begun to factor in Fijian political considerations. The highly individualistic style of the Indian leaders does not allow a show of unity among the community. The main political parties consist of the SVT party (Soqosoqo no Vakavulewa ni Taukei) that was formed in 1990 after the coup as the party of the ethnic Fijians with the blessings of the Fijian chiefs. But factional fights within the party deprived it of much of its Fijian support, though it remained the single largest party in Parliament under Rabu-ka's leadership.

The Fijian Association Party had broken out of the SVT in the 1990s led by the anti-Rabuka faction, mainly members of Ratu Mara's Alliance Party. It is headed by Adi Kuini Speed, the wife of Dr. Timoci Bavadra who headed the short-lived government that was overthrown by Rabuka in 1987. The VLV party (Veitokani Ni Lewenivanua Vakaristo) was formed on the eve of elections, by Fijians opposed to Rabuka in 1999. It is a party of moderate Fijians.

The National Federation Party, which was formed to take up the cause of the Indian cane farmers against the Colonial Sugar Refining Company in the mid-1960s, was in the forefront of Fiji's decolonisation movement. Leadership struggles remained a feature of the party and it lost its claim to be the main political party of the Indians in 1984 when the FLP was formed to oppose the economic policies of the Alliance Government. The SVT and the NFP, the two main political groups in Parliament, had sunk their differences in 1997 to work for the acceptance of the new Constitution. The decision to contest the 1999 election cost them dearly as the SVT had to tone down its pro-Fijian rhetoric and the NFP got affected by the Rabuka government's scandal-ridden record in office.

George Speight, currently imprisoned on Nukulau island, was allowed to file his nomination papers after obtaining approval from the Magistrate's Court. The Prosecution Office filed an appeal and the High Court rebuked the Magistrate's Court saying that it had no authority to allow terrorists charged with treason to file nomination papers. However, Speight's nomination still stands on the ground that he has not been convicted of his crime. Any candidate is debarred from standing for election if he or she is convicted for a crime that can attract a sentence of over two years. One of the daily newspapers, however, wrote with reference to the acceptance of Speight's nomination papers that it "was wrong in principle, morally corrupt and hypocritical in many ways. It goes against the grain of logic and should not have been entertained in the first place. Many people have not forgotten the terror, violence, fear and humiliation brought by the actions of the mercenaries. The sense of immediate fear and humiliation comes flooding back." He is the Conservative Alliance party's candidate.

18170553jpg

In the 1999 elections, the FLP had won 37 of the 71 seats on its own. Mahendra Chaudhry formed the People's Coalition with 58 seats. But as in the case of all new and inexperienced governments, its teething problems took up a large part of the time, especially as the People's Coalition comprised of small parties with their own agendas. Under the Constitution adopted in 1997, any party with more than eight MPs has a place in the Cabinet. The Senate or Upper House is an appointed body. The House of Representatives has 71 members, of which 46 are reserved seats to be elected on communal basis: 23 by ethnic Fijians, 19 by Indians and three by general electors and one by the Council of Rotuma. The remaining 25 are open seats contested on a common roll. Under the preferential system of voting adopted in the 1999 elections, voters choose the political party's order of preference votes (above the line) or their own preference (below the line).

Preferences are negotiated well in advance and lodged with the Election Office. The preferential lists of the other parties show that the candidates of Chaudhry's FLP and Qarase's SDL will require the mandatory 50 per cent votes to win, for they stand low on the preferential list of the other parties. There is the likelihood that three major groups would emerge: the pro-Fijian group headed by interim Prime Minister Qarase, the Chaudhry group and the moderates led by Tupeni Baba. Fiji is expected to elect a coalition government. It is the kind of coalition that would emerge after the polling that will determine the country's future direction, both in economic and racial terms.

To build on reforms

GLYN FORD world-affairs

The Labour government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, in its second term in office, has many challenging tasks ahead.

THE historic second landslide victory in the June parliamentary elections for the Labour Party has given Tony Blair an opportunity that no Labour Prime Minister in Britain has had before - a second term of office. For the first time a Labour government can build on its work and set in place radical reforms to realise its long-term ambitions. The government is clearly determined to get cracking with its challenging legislative programme, much of it controversial.

18170581jpg

Tony Blair knows that the electorate expects Labour to use its second term to deliver on its promises to improve public services and he knows it will not be easy. So reform of the public services - particularly health and education besides crime-busting - is at the heart of the government's ambitions.

The last four years saw a Labour government with a tough approach to economic management. This has brought down debt and given Britain the lowest unemployment figures for decades, freeing up more money for public services. So the new Parliament will continue to increase steadily spending on schools and hospitals and maintenance of law and order in order to create the first-class services that everyone wants to see. The billions of pounds of extra funding should, in time, deliver the badly needed additional numbers of teachers, nurses and doctors. But this increase in funding is to be matched by radical reforms. The key to these reforms is to give power and resources to the front line; to create greater diversity; to establish high minimum standards; and to build the services around the needs of the people using them - the patient in hospital, the child in school and the victim of crime.

Estelle Morris, the new Secretary of State for Education and Skills, will take charge of the radical overhaul to modernise secondary schools and raise standards. More comprehensive schools will be encouraged to become specialist schools. The government is determined to see through its controversial plans to involve private or voluntary organisations to sort out failing schools.

But some public service unions are not happy with the proposals. They believe the government is placing too much emphasis on using private companies to provide public services. But the involvement in any way of any private management in public services is being labelled 'privatisation' when it is no such thing. What the government is giving is a vision of how public services can be improved to bring hospitals and schools up to scratch. It is investing in health and education for the future - not selling off and privatising schools and hospitals. Health Secretary Alan Milburn stated that the plans were not about the 'privatisation' of public services. He said, "While the National Health Service (NHS) will forge a new relationship with the private sector, it is just that, a relationship, not a takeover." The government knows that it cannot promise an overnight transformation of the health service but it needs to deliver progress. It is to press ahead by overhauling adoption laws, abolishing community health councils and giving family doctors greater powers over their budgets. It also wants to see a much more decentralised decision-making structure in the NHS. This makes good sense when you consider that with a million people working in the NHS, the system is far too large and complex to be run efficiently from the centre.

David Blunkett, the new Home Secretary, has the job of steering through legislation bringing in tougher sentences for persistent criminals, providing new powers to seize the assets of major criminals and effecting a shake up of police training. Chief Constables will be expected to cooperate with neighbouring forces and spend their money more wisely. Judging their performance in comparison with other police forces may well be the incentive needed to improve police efficiency. Much of the rest of David Blunkett's programme is concerned with practical ideas to improve the criminal justice system. The big exception is the controversial proposal to abolish the 'double jeopardy' rule in murder cases, under which someone acquitted would face trial again if new evidence emerged. Some lawyers believe it is wrong, in principle, that the stigma of guilt would remain even after a person has been found innocent.

On the economy, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown has said that the government must build upon the foundations of its hard-won economic stability to create a more prosperous and competitive Britain and a more prosperous and competitive Europe.

He confirmed that the Labour government believes in principle that British membership of a successful single European currency would offer clear benefits, particularly in regard to trade, costs and currency stability, and that it would help Britain create more productive investment and greater trade and business in Europe. The commitment to a referendum on joining the Euro was promised in the Labour party's election manifesto. But Gordon Brown dampened speculation about an early referendum. He made it clear that while the government believes the single currency can bring real benefits to Britain, it is important to join when it is in the national interest to do so. The government and business must now work together to put a powerful argument for Britain being in Europe - creating a stronger Britain on the basis of a strong and secure relationship with Europe.

Tony Blair has promised in the past that the Labour government keep in step with the people and the country. He must now deliver on the public's priorities of the economy, health, education and law and order. "Good public services are the vital infrastructure for rising prosperity in our country," he said recently. During its previous term the Labour government laid the foundations for this prosperity and it is now time to deliver it.

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

Strengthening ties

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The Moscow Declaration issued at the end of a historic summit meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il pledges strategic cooperation between the two countries and opposes the U.S. plan to build a National Missile Defence system.

THE historic summit meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il concluded in Moscow with the release of the "Moscow Declaration" on August 4. The document pledged to continue the strategic cooperation between the two countries and strongly opposed the Bush administration's plan to build a National Missile Defence (NMD) system. Both leaders described the summit meeting as a "historic landmark in efforts to strengthen peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region and the world".

18170591jpg

The North Korean leader had reached Moscow after travelling by an armoured 21-compartment train for nine days. Most of his journey was on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Kim has shown a marked preference for travelling by rail. The two visits he made to Beijing were also by rail. Some commentators said that Kim wanted to replicate the trip made by his father, the late President Kim Il Sung, to Russia in 1984. Kim Il Sung went to Moscow by train, travelling in the same manner and visiting the same cities.

There were reports in the Russian media that although President Vladimir Putin had offered to put his official plane at the disposal of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il preferred the longer and time-consuming route. The Russian public seemed to have taken a liking to the North Korean leader despite some of the inconveniences his travel itinerary had caused. Travel plans of many Russians were upset as passenger traffic was disrupted on the busy route Kim took.

Before leaving for Moscow, Kim told the Russian news agency Itar-Tass that the stories appearing in the Western media about his country's missile programmes were a lie. Kim insisted that the missile programme was a peaceful one and that the claims of the United States were "nothing but a lie to hide its intention to dominate other countries". U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who was in Moscow a week before Kim's arrival, said in the Russian capital that the alleged proliferation of North Korean ballistic missiles threatened the security of both the U.S. and Russia.

It is apparent from the outcome of the Moscow summit that the assertions of Condoleezza Rice did not cut much ice in Moscow. Rice said that the U.S. had "laid out for Russia and most of the world a path of cooperation", which Moscow had refused. Only a few countries like India have fallen for the U.S. bait of "cooperative relationship" in return for support for the NMD.

President Putin, during his visit to Pyongyang in 2000, had focussed on the missile issue and said that the North Korean government had assured him that it would observe a moratorium on the testing of long-range rockets until 2003. This was a restatement of Pyongyang's commitment to suspend the testing and export of missiles while seeking to improve ties with the U.S. Ties with the U.S. had improved to such an extent that President Bill Clinton even contemplated a visit to North Korea before he quit office.

Moreover, the South Korean government recently stated that North Korea had been neither developing nor producing missiles with a range of 1,300 km since Pyongyang signed the Geneva framework agreement in September 1999. Officials in Moscow, like their counterparts in several capitals, feel that North Korea does not have the wherewithal to go in for an expensive missile programme at such a critical juncture of its existence.

During his talks with Putin in Moscow, the North Korean leader reiterated that his country was no "rogue state" that threatened global security. One of the arguments put forward by the proponents of the NMD was that countries such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq, classified by the U.S. as "rogue states", would develop the capability to hit the U.S. mainland with missiles in the near future. However, there are not many takers for this argument even in the U.S. "North Korea asserts that its missile programme is peaceful in nature and does not present a threat to any nation respecting North Korea's sovereignty," the Moscow Declaration stated.

The Declaration also reaffirmed the commitment of both countries to uphold the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Both countries are united in their stand that the NMD programme is aimed at undermining the ABM. "The 1992 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is the cornerstone of strategic stability and the foundation of further reduction of strategic offensive arms," the statement said. During his talks with Putin, Kim reiterated the North Korean demand for the withdrawal of the 40,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. He described it as a "pressing problem".

The presence of the U.S. troops with nuclear weapons in the Korean peninsula is considered by several observers as a destabilising factor in the region and a disincentive for the reunification of the two Koreas. Russia said that it "understood" the North Korean insistence on the withdrawal of the U.S. troops. Although Moscow backed the "reunification" of the Koreas, it said that it would not interfere in the process.

Blatant attempts by the U.S. to derail the reunification process have led to the stalling of the dialogue between North and South Korea. There are signs that Washington is wary of the long-term consequences of Korean reunification. Senior officials in the Bush administration have been trying to convince South Korean President Kim Dae Jung to take a tougher stand in his dealings with the North. South Korean cooperation is important for the North, which is passing through a bad economic phase. Moreover, nationalist sentiment is also growing in South Korea. Many Koreans feel insulted by the continuing presence of U.S. Army bases and troops on their territory more than 50 years after the Korean War.

Meanwhile, Russia has expressed its intention to strengthen its ties with both Pyongyang and Seoul. Earlier in the year, Putin had visited South Korea. Moreover, Russia believes that having good relations with both countries will help speed up the reunification process. A subject that received high priority during the North Korean leader's visit to Moscow was the linking of the Trans Siberian Railway to the inter-Korean rail line. Such linking would help Russia boost its trade with South Korea and help South Korean products reach European markets in a short time.

Currently, Moscow has more financial dealings with Seoul than with Pyongyang. North Korea owes around $6 billion to Moscow by way of the debts it has to repay the former Soviet Union. Moscow hopes to recoup some of this money by helping North Korea modernise its industrial and engineering base, which the Soviet Union had helped build in the 1950s and the 1960s. Currently, trade between Russia and North Korea is worth only about $105 million. Manpower is North Korea's main item of export to Russia; it was worth an estimated $50.4 million in 2000. North Korean workers are mainly employed in lumber camps in Russia's inhospitable Far East.

Moscow's warm relations with the North symbolises Putin's determination to drop completely the pro-Western trappings that characterised Russian foreign policy in the early post-Soviet days. The "dynamic rapprochement" with Beijing is another example of this change in policy. Moreover, relations with other countries having Communist governments, such as Cuba and Vietnam, have also improved dramatically since Putin took over. Putin has been stressing that there are no "rogue" countries in the world, despite Washington's insistence to the contrary.

The long haul

AMIT BARUAH world-affairs

The message from Hanoi: in order to make any enhanced engagement with ASEAN meaningful, beyond its `Look East' policy, India needs to have a focus on the East.

SLOWLY, but surely, India is moving closer to the goal of a separate summit with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN).This diplomatic goal appears within reach after the recently concluded ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Hanoi, which saw Foreign Ministers from the ASEAN-10 discussing the issue.

18170601jpg

Also, this time, Thailand joined a growing consensus within ASEAN for a separate summit meeting with India, leading Malaysia to refer the whole issue to its Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad. There was little doubt that the resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan played a role in creating a better environment at the meeting, a point that was appreciated by Malaysia as well.

At the last ASEAN informal summit in Singapore, Malaysia had opposed such a summit meeting. During Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's visit to Kuala Lumpur in May this year, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said India's interaction with ASEAN was at a sufficiently high level. The present decision to refer this whole issue to Mahathir could mean that some kind of a decision on enhancing the level of interaction with India will be taken by the time the ASEAN Heads of Government meet in Brunei for their summit meeting in November. Although India was represented by the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, K.C. Pant, the absence of External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh was noted at the ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference (PMC), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC) sessions.

Clearly, at a time when India is pushing hard for a summit meeting with ASEAN, the External Affairs Minister, who had attended the last three meetings (1998-2000), should have been present. Indian officials had to explain that the Minister had good reason not to be in Hanoi, as his presence in New Delhi was necessary during the Parliament session.

Addressing a press conference after the Ministerial Meeting, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien hoped that a "clearer position" would soon emerge on the issue of holding an ASEAN-India summit.

Taking advantage of the multilateral setting, Pant went into some detail on India-Pakistan issues - explaining the recent Agra Summit and India's desire to build good relations with Pakistan. At the 23-nation ARF meeting, as part of a general review of the international situation, Pant said it was "appropriate" for him to make a reference to the Musharraf-Vajpayee meeting. "Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf visited India from July 14 to 16. The invitation extended to him by India was in keeping with our consistent desire to build a relationship of durable peace, friendship and cooperation with Pakistan, as indeed with all our neighbours. General Musharraf was received with full protocol honours and he met with a cross-section of Indian leadership and society," he said.

Pant continued: "India's approach during the discussions was that a narrow, segmented and unifocal approach would not work... we remain steadfast in our commitment to resume the composite dialogue and the Lahore process with Pakistan... we will continue our abiding quest for good-neighbourly relations with Pakistan. President Musharraf has extended an invitation to Prime Minister Vajpayee to visit Pakistan, which has been accepted. A similar invitation has also been extended to our External Affairs Minister which, too, has been accepted. We will thus start afresh while maintaining our basic approaches to Pakistan."

Pant was severe on terrorism and the Taliban. "The spread of the Taliban's ideology of medieval malevolence, obscurantism, fundamentalism and intolerance has the potential to unleash violence and divisiveness in other areas... it is necessary for all of us to join hands to fight the scourge of international terrorism. It is also time for the ARF to take up the issue as part of its discussions on transnational crime," he said.

WHILE referring to several other issues, Pant specifically spoke of the South China Sea, where China has disputes with several countries over the Spratly Islands. "India is happy to see that all countries who are parties to disputes in the South China Sea have maintained restraint and are attempting resolution through peaceful dialogues. The South China Sea is an important shipping route for all of us, and absence of conflict is necessary to ensure freedom of navigation. We are also happy to hear about the progress made on concluding the Regional Code of Conduct (for the South China Sea)," he said.

Since 1998, the meetings of the ARF had been preoccupied with the Indian (and Pakistani) nuclear tests. But the issue took a backseat at the present conference. India's engagement with the United States has given a different colour to its nuclear posture. Even activist nations such as Australia mentioned issues like Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) only in passing. They no longer raise a hue and cry on the tests. The ARF Chairman's statement (not a consensus document, it is open to changes) on this occasion said that the Indian side opposed the reference to expressions of "welcome" for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

In the end, the formulation in the ARF Chairman's statement read: "The Ministers discussed issues relating to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery as well as the implications of missile defence systems. They noted expressions of support for the NPT as the cornerstone of the global non-proliferation regime. The Ministers also took note of the call for all states to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and to accede to the NPT..." In Manila in 1998, the ARF Chairman's statement on the issue, read: "The Ministers... expressed grave concern over and strongly deplored the recent nuclear tests in South Asia, which exacerbated tension in the region and raised the spectre of a nuclear arms race... they asked the countries concerned to refrain from undertaking weaponisation or deploying missiles to deliver nuclear weapons."

AT the ASEAN-India PMC, New Delhi proposed a meeting of Trade Ministers later this year. It made several proposals for the development of the Mekong region."There is much scope for expanding and deepening our cooperative agenda, for there is much that is common between India's goals for economic development and those of ASEAN. The possibilities for functional cooperation between us are limitless. India is hopeful that our enthusiasm and our efforts will result in tangible goals for all of us," Pant said at the ASEAN-India PMC.

While India made specific proposals for interaction with ASEAN, there was, as can be expected, some overlap between these and the suggestions for greater cooperation with the MGC grouping.

The Second Annual Ministerial Meeting of the MGC, which was set up in Vientiane, Laos, in November 2000 and comprises India, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, was held after the ASEAN PMCs concluded. While enthusiasm for the fledgling organisation remains, the grouping is short of funds. One of the suggestions that came up at the meeting on July 28 was that the grouping approach international aid organisations for help in developing its infrastructure. Before the meeting, India was asked by some member-countries to contribute funds. India suggested that all member-countries contribute "seed money" for cooperation in the areas of tourism, culture, education and transport and communication.

The Second Meeting of Foreign Ministers adopted the "Hanoi Programme of Action", effective from July 2001 to July 2007, to promote cooperation in certain identified areas. The Ministers decided to assess the present status of the transportation networks in the region; foster cooperation in cross-border facilitation, infrastructure development, maritime and inland water transport, civil aviation and human resource development; and enhance the implementation of ambitious road and rail projects.

There is little doubt that the MGC needs to focus on specific areas if it is to prove viable in the coming years. Member-countries need to quickly move to a visa-on-arrival arrangement if they are serious about promoting tourism among themselves. China is closely watching the MGC and India's involvement in the grouping, especially since it is a Mekong country that is part of other multilateral Mekong cooperation efforts but not the MGC. The Chinese have a significant presence in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia and are involved in several projects in these countries.

It was also evident on the sidelines of the MGC meeting that China is interested in joining the MGC. A reference to the issue was made by the Chinese side to India informally, but the latter feels that it is time to build up the organisation before the issue of new members can be taken up, a point made by the Foreign Minister of Myanmar.

Some analysts have been questioning the motivations behind the MGC, which apparently came about after a visit by the then Thai Foreign Minister, Surin Pitsuwan, to India. Following Surin's talks with Jaswant Singh, the idea was discussed with other Ministers last July in Bangkok, before the organisation was finally launched. These analysts believe that the former Thai Minister is close to the Americans and therefore the proposal had the blessings of Washington.

While Washington may not be averse to the idea of India playing a greater role in South-East Asia, New Delhi, along with other MGC members, now has the responsibility to ensure that this grouping attains the goals it has set for itself. If India believes there is a strategic dimension to the MGC, then there is all the more reason for New Delhi to keep this grouping relevant and live.

If the MGC fails to take off, India's standing in South-East Asia will suffer a setback. "Looking East", clearly, is not enough. India needs to have a focus on the East. This "focus" is necessary not just for the MGC, but also on the rest of ASEAN if India wants to ensure that any enhancement of engagement with the regional organisation becomes meaningful.

Resisting imperialism

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

Cuba reiterates its decision to stand up to U.S. moves to throttle its economy and to endanger the lives of its people.

CUBANS took to the streets in a big way on July 26 to celebrate the anniversary of the beginning of the 1959 revolution. In one of the biggest demonstrations witnessed in Havana in recent times, more than a million people participated in a two-and-a-half kilometre-long march. July 26 was also designated as a "day of combat", to protest against the continuing U.S. economic embargo and efforts to destabilise the socialist government. Emotions have been running high in Cuba after the harsh sentences meted out to five Cubans in early June by a Miami court on trumped-up charges.

18170621jpg

President Fidel Castro participated in the march, disproving reports in the U.S. media that he was not in good health. Fidel had fainted briefly while addressing a rally on June 23. He recovered almost immediately and made another speech after a couple of hours.

The five Cubans - Rene Gonzales, Fernando Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernan-dez, Ramon Labanimo and Antonio Guerrero - were found guilty on charges of trying to penetrate U.S. military bases even though they had acquired no military secrets. They were sentenced on flimsy legal grounds and might end up spending the rest of their lives in prison. The only "crime" they committed was that they warned the Cuban government about the nefarious activities of the anti-Cuban terrorist groups that are active in Florida. The U.S. government has also charged them with conspiracy to murder. They have been falsely implicated in the shooting down in Cuban airspace of a plane owned by a Miami-based Cuban exile group in 1996. The pilot of the plane, who was killed, was part of a right-wing exile group, funded by the U.S. secret services and the cash-rich Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) founded by the late Jorge Mas Canosa.

Mas Canosa, a mafia-don-like figure who lorded it over the Cuban emigre community until his death a few years ago, was a creation of the Ronald Reagan administration. In the 1980s, the U.S. government funnelled so much funds into the CANF that it almost vied with the pro-Israeli Jewish groups for influence in U.S. politics. But the CANF's influence has diminished considerably in recent years. The Elian Gonzales episode in 2000 exposed the sinister and manipulative side of the CANF and other right-wing Cuban exile groups to the U.S. public and the international community.

However, the election of George W. Bush as President gave a fillip to the ambitions of the anti-Cuban groups in Florida. Many in the U.S. attribute the flawed victory of Bush in the presidential sweepstakes to the electoral outcome in Dade County, Miami. Dade County is the stronghold of the anti-Castro Cuban exile community, commonly referred to as the "Miami mafia". It was in Dade County that Bush managed to pip the Democratic presidential candidate in the Florida vote count, which eventually decided the fate of the election.

18170622jpg

The Republican administration has suitably rewarded the Cuban exile community. The economic blockade has been tightened and U.S. citizens wishing to visit Cuba have been warned of punitive action. The new U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere, Otto Reich, is known to be close to the Miami mafia and has a record of involvement in their dealings. He was closely involved in the counter-revolutionary war waged against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Contra leaders.

The Cuban Adjustment Act, with which successive U.S. administrations have tried to throttle Cuba, has been further strengthened. President Bush recently announced plans to strengthen the blockade by enforcing limits on cash payments that Cuban-Americans may send to their relatives in the island. Bush has promised additional support to the anti-Cuba groups of Florida. Washington is also giving more incentives to the smugglers of human cargo from Cuba and, in the process, is boosting illegal immigration.

A recent decision by a U.S. court ensures resident status to any Cuban who can find his or her way to the U.S. by air from any part of the world even if he or she is carrying forged documents. Senator Jesse Helms, Republican member of the U.S. Foreign Relations Committee known for his rabid anti-Cuba stance, praised the U.S. President for his "very tough line, which is certain to make Fidel Castro squirm".

In the last 15 years there have been dozens of terrorist plots against Cuba, hatched by Cuban exile groups based in the U.S. These include attempts to assassinate Castro. The most recent attempt on Castro's life was at the Ibero-American summit in Panama about nine months ago. Timely information provided by the Cuban authorities to the host country perhaps prevented an assassination. According to the Cuban authorities, the CANF was behind the plot and the CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were aware of it. The terrorists, carrying a cache of weapons and explosives, were arrested by the Panamanian authorities.

In retrospect, the arrest and sentencing of the five Cubans looks all the more appalling. Highly qualified, like more than a million of their compatriots, they were earning an honest living in the U.S. But they were arrested and subjected to inhuman treatment by the U.S. authorities. The Federal Detention Centre in Miami violated U.S. law by placing them in prison for more than 60 days before trial - the maximum time even for murderers. They were segregated from the rest of the prisoners and kept in solitary confinement for 17 months. Moreover, they were handcuffed every time they had to move somewhere. It was only a year after their incarceration that the U.S. government brought charges of conspiracy to murder against them.

Meanwhile, the CANF and other extremist organisations are continuing with their terrorist activities against Cuba. No action has been taken by successive U.S. administrations against these groups. According to the Cuban government, these groups were responsible for the death of 3,478 Cubans in the last 15 years alone. About 2,099 Cubans were physically disabled during the same period as a result of the Miami mafia's actions.

Fidel Castro has asked the U.S. administration to "rectify" the mistake of detaining the five Cubans. He said that the charges against them could never be "sustained". Castro said that the return of the five Cubans to Cuba was inevitable despite the manoeuvres of the Miami mafia. "We will make mincemeat of the accusations," Castro said, and added that the young men were innocent. The shooting down of the planes that violated Cuban airspace, Castro said, was provoked "hundred per cent" by the Miami mafia. He added that the Cuban government had evidence to prove it.

In a recent speech, the Cuban President compared the case of the five incarcerated Cubans with that of Elian Gonzales. "This time the story is not about a five-year-old child but of five young heroic and patriotic men with profound convictions," Castro said. He said that these young men would become examples for not only the youth of Cuba "but also for the youth and people of the globe". The five young men, he said, never committed any violent acts. "We propose, sustain and are willing to prove that they are prisoners, prisoners of the empire," Castro said.

The five Cubans were offered many incentives by the U.S. officials to make false confessions and implicate the Cuban government in various imagined crimes. The Cuban government insists that it has the right to gather information to defend the life of its people, until the U.S. government takes action against the terrorist groups operating from its soil. In an open letter to the U.S. people, the five Cubans emphasised "without a shadow of a doubt, that neither with our attitude nor our actions have we in any way interfered with, or jeopardised the security of the American people. What we have certainly done is contribute to exposing terrorist plans and actions against our people, thus preventing the deaths of innocent Cubans and Americans".

A shock for the TDP

The Telugu Desam Party loses ground to the Congress(I), the Left parties and the newly formed Telengana Rashtra Samithi in the elections to Mandal and Zilla Parishads in Andhra Pradesh.

THE aura of invincibility that the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) had created for itself as against a weak and faction-ridden Congress(I) in Andhra Pradesh has faded in the Mandal and Zilla Parishad elections held in July. Belying expectations that it would ride high on the crest of the second-generation economic reforms initiated by Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu and improve upon its performance in the Assembly elections, the TDP yielded ground to the Congress(I) even in the coastal Andhra region, considered its home turf.

18170401jpg

Initially the TDP had seemed unshakable, for it had secured a clear mandate in the 1999 Assembly elections by winning, along with its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party, 192 of the 294 seats. It had also won two Assembly byelections, in Badvel and Giddalur, earlier this year. Moreover, its government had weathered the storm that was set off by the steep hike in electricity tariffs in 2000 and the way it handled the protests against it.

The setback in the local bodies elections came as a shock to the TDP as it had campaigned as aggressively as it would in a round of general elections. Of the 1,094 Zilla Parishad territorial constituencies (ZPTCs), the TDP won 514 and the Congress(I) 444. Making an impressive debut within 70 days of its launch, the Telengana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) won 84 seats. However, its performance did not match its claim that it would wrest the majority of the 441 seats in the Telengana region.

An analysis of the performance of the TRS shows that it won most of the seats in an area comprising the four North Telengana districts of Nizamabad, Karimnagar, Warangal and Medak, where the naxalite People's War Group (PWG) has considerable influence. It drew a blank in Khammam, a stronghold of the Communist parties, won two seats in Mahabubnagar and one seat in Ranga Reddy district.

The BJP put up a dismal performance - it won just 13 ZPTCs and seven Mandal Parishads. Party leaders attributed the debacle to the confusion among the party's rank and file about the alliance with the TDP in about 40 seats and 'friendly contests' in 140 others. Although the Communist parties together won only 24 ZPTCs, they improved upon their performance in the Assembly elections, in which the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had won two seats and the Communist Party of India none.

THE indirect elections to the 22 posts of Zilla Parishad chairpersons witnessed horse-trading and the use of money power to encourage defections. The ZPTC members elect the chairpersons by a show of hands and the quorum for holding elections is 50 per cent of the members.

The TDP won 12 Zilla Parishads (Srikakulam, East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna, Guntur, Prakasam, Anantapur, Kurnool, Mahabubnagar, Warangal, Adilabad and Ranga Reddy), the Congress(I) eight (Vizianagaram, Visakhapatnam, Nellore, Chittoor, Cuddappah, Khammam, Medak and Nalgonda) and the TRS two (Nizamabad and Karimnagar).

The most glaring examples of political skulduggery were provided by the elections in Ranga Reddy, Warangal, Karimnagar and Medak districts. In Ranga Reddy district, two Congress(I) ZPTC members stayed away from the elections and helped the TDP-BJP combine capture power. In Warangal district, where the TDP did not enjoy a majority, manipulations ensured the presence of three Congress(I) members to make up the quorum and help it capture the chairman's post. In Karimnagar district, all the five ZPTC members of the BJP and one of Congress(I) defied their party leadership and helped the TRS win the chairmanship.

The results gave a shot in the arm to the Congress(I) which had virtually thrown in the towel even before the fight began. The party was in bad shape on the eve of the elections. Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee president M. Satyanarayana Rao was functioning without an executive committee, and the 90-member Congress(I) Legislature Party was divided with 41 members supporting the demand for a separate Telengana state.

18170402jpg

The party's policy of decentralising the process of choosing candidates - the "select and elect" process, as Satyanarayana Rao termed it - seemed to have paid off. However, the policy was dictated more by convenience than by conviction, since the Congress(I) did not have the organisational machinery to select about 1,100 candidates.

In contrast, the TDP launched an elaborate, high-profile exercise of deputing observers to assess the party's strength, holding district- and Assembly constituency-level meetings to shortlist prospective candidates, and naming the chosen ones from Hyderabad. Taking no chances, Chandrababu Naidu travelled by helicopter across the State and addressed 69 meetings. K. Chandrasekhar Rao, the TRS chief, who was earlier part of the TDP's think tank, too hired a helicopter for his campaign.

The Congress(I) attributed its good performance to the agitations it had organised on several issues, such as the hike in power tariffs, suicides by weavers and the plight of farmers.

CHANDRABABU NAIDU was, as usual, circumspect while commenting about the reasons for his party's poor performance. He said that the results fell short of the TDP's expectations. Asserting that the economic reforms would continue, he refused to accept arguments such as that there existed an anti-establishment sentiment among the people or that it was a vote for a separate Telengana.

The Chief Minister said that the government could not effectively publicise its development programmes and that the verdict was a mixed bag as several local factors influenced the electorate. An analysis of the results shows that the TDP performed well in a backward district like Adilabad in Telengana, where it won 36 out of 52 ZPTC seats. However, the party did not win any seat in the constituencies of eight Ministers and several MLAs belonging to the TDP. Party leaders conceded that the power tariff hike and related developments did have some bearing on voter preferences.

Confirming the fears of the Congress(I), the results in Telengana showed that the TRS affected its prospects more than those of the TDP. The TRS won 19.27 per cent of the votes polled. It caused an erosion of 9.74 per cent in the Congress(I) vote and 5.91 per cent in the TDP vote.

Although the TDP would have preferred to fight the polls on local issues, the campaign was dominated by larger political and economic issues. The party's manifesto spoke mainly about transferring power in all the 29 areas laid down in the 73rd Constitution Amendment to panchayats, empowerment of women through four lakh DWCRA (Development of Women and Children in Rural Area) groups, the Janmabhoomi programme and water conservation efforts (Neeru-Meeru programme).

The Congress(I) set an altogether different agenda by reiterating its promise to supply power free of cost to farmers. Rejecting the Congress(I)'s proposition, the TDP has demanded a national debate on the issue of supply of free electricity to farmers. It has alleged that the Congress is indulging in doublespeak depending upon whether it is in power or not. Leaders of the TDP say that the average charge paid by farmers worked out to 23 paise a unit of power. Opposing any further concession to farmers, they said that the government is already spending about Rs.2,100 crores by way of subsidies to the agriculture sector.

18170403jpg

Another issue that dented the TDP's prospects was the question of remunerative prices for farmers. Chandrababu Naidu used his clout with the Centre to persuade it to lift 70 lakh tonnes of rice from Andhra Pradesh. However, by the time the relief arrived, many farmers had sold their stocks to middlemen or rice millers at rates lower than the minimum support price. The Congress(I), on the other hand, successfully highlighted the farmers' case by organising demonstrations and protests.

The Andhra Pradesh unit of the CPI(M) said that it was a verdict against the TDP's governance. State secretary B.V. Raghavulu said that the TDP had alienated almost all sections of people. "The large gap between the publicity hype and practice undermined the government's credibility," he said.

Raghavulu said that the negative effects of the economic reforms had become evident after five years. People were unhappy with the high power tariffs, wrong billing and the food coupons introduced at the behest of the World Bank for drawing rations from fair price shops. "The poorer sections felt possessive about the ration card as it gave them a feeling of security. Now there is scope for the misuse of coupons," Raghavulu said.

Thousands of workers lost their means of livelihood when earth excavating machines were used on a large-scale for the Neeru-Meeru programme. This issue also played a role in the elections. The increase in the number of the nouveau-riche in villages, mainly contractors who benefited from the Rs.3,000-crore World Bank-aided Andhra Pradesh Economic Restructuring Project to build primary health centres, to undertake Janmabhoomi works and to deepen waterbodies, have given credence to the widespread belief that corruption is rampant.

Soon after the results were declared, faction feuds started within the Congress(I). The first salvo was fired by Satyanarayana Rao after the party lost the Ranga Reddy Zilla Parishad chairman's post to the TDP. He accused some 'big leaders' of sabotaging the party's prospects in Ranga Reddy and Kurnool districts and apprised All India Congress Committee (AICC) president Sonia Gandhi about it. Apparently, his target was former Congress Working Committee (CWC) member K. Vijayabhaskara Reddy.

The anti-Vijayabhaskara Reddy group staged a demonstration in front of Gandhi Bhavan, the APCC headquarters, when AICC general secretary R.K. Dhawan was addressing a meeting. The demonstrators demanded disciplinary action against Vijayabhaskara Reddy and his son and District Congress Committee(I) president K. Suryaprakash Reddy. Vijayabhaskara Reddy's followers, including several MLAs, hit back at Satyanarayana Rao and CLP leader Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy by demanding action against them for encouraging a "crowd" to stage a demonstration against a senior party leader.

Meanwhile, as the Congress(I) is busy tackling its internal problems, other parties are bracing themselves for the elections to the 21,000 gram panchayats and the Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad, which are scheduled for August.

Karnataka's agony

other

Karnataka is in the grip of the worst drought in 15 years. A large number of agricultural workers and their families have been migrating to Maharashtra looking for means of sustenance.

PARVATHI MENON in northern Karnataka

TWENTY-THREE of the 28 districts in Karnataka are facing drought conditions of varying degrees of intensity. With more than 146 of the 175 taluks recording deficient rainfall as of July 29, this year's drought, according to the State government's Drought Monitoring Cell, is the worst in the last 15 years (1985 and 1992 recorded deficient rainfall). The failure of the monsoon has affected agricultural production, rural employment, fodder availability and drinking water availability in villages and towns. The State government has mobilised funds for drought relief operations from its own resources, even as it has been pressing the Centre for assistance.

18170421jpg

The prolonged dry spell was broken by a few days of rainfall in late July in the northern and interior districts, where drought conditions had become particularly acute. But the respite was brief, and the showers, though fairly heavy in districts such as Bijapur, Gulbarga and Raichur, gave little more than an illusion of relief to agriculture and those dependent on it. The rain was too little and it came too late. By the time three survey teams from the Central government visited many of the drought-affected districts in July, the drought had inflicted irreversible damage.

It was not merely the shortfall in rainfall in the first two months of the monsoon season - from June 1 to July 29 - that has been a matter of concern. Taluks numbering 118 have recorded continuous dry spells that lasted more than four weeks. During this period, the reservoir levels in all the major dams of the State - Linganamakki, Supra, Krishnarajasagar, Tungabhadra, Kabini and others - were lower than the average levels at the same time over the last 10 years. The reduction in the levels range between 11.53 per cent and 37.43 per cent.

Kharif sowing has been affected in most regions. According to estimates provided by the State government to the Central team, only about 31 per cent of the 69 lakh hectares targeted for kharif sowing this year, which comes to 21.61 lakh ha, was covered by July end. In some districts there has been virtually no kharif sowing. For example, in Bijapur district, the percentage of area sown to the area targeted for sowing is just 0.7, while it is 3.86 per cent in Raichur district, 1.65 in Bangalore Rural, 3.81 in Kolar and 3.97 in Mandya.

Such calamities highlight two aspects of the State's economy which official policy over the years has failed to change. The first is the dependence of most of the State's agriculture on rainfall. Rain-fed cultivation continues to be the back-bone of agriculture. The State has the second largest arid zone in the country, next only to Rajasthan. Although the annual average rainfall in the State is 1,139 mm, the 11 districts of the interior north receive just 600 mm. Karnataka also has a relatively small area of land under assured irrigation. Out of a total cultivable area of 121.09 lakh ha, only 25.48 lakh ha, or roughly 21 per cent, comes under assured irrigation. The second aspect is uneven regional development, which has been part of the State's development experience since its formation. Successive State governments have acknowledged the problem but have not addressed it. Bijapur, Raichur, Gulbarga, Bellary, Koppal and the other districts that comprise north Karnataka constitute a large zone of economic and social under-development. This area trails behind the rest of the State in respect of all major economic and human development indicators. Natural crises such as drought only accentuate the hardship and scarcities that this region and its people face even in non-crisis years. Thus a State that has won international accolades for being a forerunner of the infotech revolution has a huge area of under-development in its own backyard.

In Bijapur, for example, for a large number of agricultural families migration has become an escape route from the hardship imposed by this year's drought. Migration is a normal practice in Bijapur during the off-season months, and the flow of landless labourer families in search of work is usually to towns in Maharashtra such as Nashik and Pune. The reverse flow begins in May, in time for sowing operations for the kharif crop that begin in May-June. A farmer who owns about 3 ha of land in Shivanagi village in Bijapur taluk, B.G. Hanami, said that 500 families had left the village in search of work. "There has been virtually no kharif sowing in our village," he said. "For agricultural workers, there is neither work, nor water to drink. Another thousand people will leave soon."

Shivanagi could be any village in Bijapur taluk. A brief burst of rain during the last two days of July had moistened the dark soil. But the fields lay barren, except for the occasional green patch that a local irrigation source had created. With little work in the villages, groups of men, young and old, throng the tea shops, or gather around the road culverts of the villages, chatting. "In normal years my family of six goes to Pune for six months," said Chidananda Harijan. "We do road and building construction work and earn Rs.90 for a husband-wife couple. We will leave soon, as there is no work or drinking water here. We have to walk one kilometre to get drinking water." The scarcity of fodder has led to an increase in instances of cattle sales. "I sold a cow I had bought at Rs.5,000, for just Rs. 800," said Hanumantha Rai. "Last year fodder cost Rs. 150 a cart load. It is Rs. 600 this year." Rai owns a little more than a hectare of land and he is planning to leave for Nashik. Bijapur district faces a severe fodder shortage. According to the district administration, the price of fodder shot up by a factor of five in the last 10 days of July. The administration therefore banned the transport of fodder to Maharashtra.

18170422jpg

The precariousness of rain-dependent agriculture is nowhere more evident than in Bijapur. Sowing either did not happen or was delayed owing to the delay in the onset of monsoon, and in many areas cultivation had to be abandoned owing to extended dry spells. This has led to widespread unemployment, which in turn has intensified migration from the district. The absence of green pastures had put pressure on existing stocks of fodder, pushing up fodder prices, and increasing instances of distress cattle sale. Banks have stopped lending, and private moneylenders have stepped in. They charge usurious rates.

In Devarahipargi village of Sindgi taluk, a group of women who had gathered around a small shop run by two women of the village spoke about the burden that this year's drought had brought to their already difficult lives. "We will soon go to Maharashtra, but even there we are not getting work these days," Fatima, a mother of four, said. "Government help, did you say? We don't see a shadow of the government in our village," she declared. "The difference this year from the last year is that there has been no work," said Dilshan, a young mother, who has been travelling seasonally to Maharashtra for as long as she can remember. "Fodder used to cost Rs. 175 a cart, and it now costs between Rs.800 and Rs.1,000. Now that the banks will not lend anymore, we are dependent on moneylenders for everything. It is a difficult life for the poor."

The State government has asked for a Central grant of Rs.904 crores for drought relief. Chief Minister S.M. Krishna led an all-party delegation of Members of Parliament and legislators from Karnataka to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and pressed for an early grant of the relief. The Prime Minister assured the delegation that it would release Rs.29.36 crores, the second instalment of its share from the Calamity Relief Fund. He also promised to release one lakh tonnes of foodgrain free of cost to the State to be utilised for "Food for Work" programmes.

In the districts, however, the wait is for rain. After all, the sowing time for the rabi crop is round the corner.

A hysterical campaign

How, in the post-demolition phase, the Shiv Sena used its party newspaper Saamna to spread disinformation and incite violence in Mumbai.

The first part of this series (Frontline, August 3, 2001) dealt with the official apathy which greeted repeated Intelligence Bureau warnings of violence breaking out as a consequence of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

The second part (Frontline, August 17, 2001) studied the Mumbai Police's covert monitoring of the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party in the build-up to the demolition. Notings by the Mumbai Police's Special Branch suggest that the Sena, in fact, played second fiddle to the Sangh Parivar.

Now, no one can stop the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. An ocean of millions of Ram devotees is surging to Lord Ram's Ayodhya. Our brave Shiv Sainiks are also joining in.

- 'Towards Ayodhya' in Saamna, December 5, 1992.

AS with most things to do with the Shiv Sena, there was a considerable gap between its polemic on the Babri Masjid and its real involvement in the campaign to demolish the mosque, and the act of demolition itself. After the demolition, however, it moved rapidly to cash in on the event. The Sena's eyes were fixed firmly on coming to power in Maharashtra.

On December 5, 1992, the Sena-run newspaper Saamna carried a rambling editorial defence of the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign, claiming that the "construction of the temple is the building of our nation". Much of the text was dedicated to attacking Muslims. "Even after giving Muslims their half of the nation," the editorial argued, "they are still acting with audacity. This is a shame to this country." "How much are we to indulge Muslims?" it asked. "Those who burned the Constitution of this country after the Shah Bano case - the Imam Shahabuddin (sic.) and his progeny - have gone to the courts in the Ram Mandir dispute." A favourable decision from the Supreme Court, the editorial concluded, was unlikely. The only option was to "raise the entire organised power of the nation" behind the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

Saamna proclaimed the Sena's commitment to the movement the same day, reporting that party cadre led by Moreshwar Save, a Member of Parliament, had left for Ayodhya by the Ganga Jamuna Express the previous morning. The Sena group was fairly small. Save was accompanied by Ramdeo Pawar of the Aurangabad Shiv Sena, Ramchandra Khatri, the Haryana Sena chief, Mohan Paliwal, the Madhya Pradesh Sena chief, Jaybhagwan Goyal from New Delhi, Pawan Kumar Gupta from Punjab, and Pawan Pande, the sole Sena MLA in Uttar Pradesh.

The group was to arrive in Ayodhya on December 5, and Saamna made no claim that they were accompanied by a large number of cadre. On December 6 Saamna reported the departure of former Chief Minister Manohar Joshi, along with second-rung leaders like Ganesh Naik, Nandu Satam, Sudhir Joshi, Madhukar Sarpotdar and Datta Nalwade. This group reached Ayodhya only after the Masjid was brought down.

Nothing in Saamna's December 6 reportage suggests that it expected the Babri Masjid to be brought down during the course of the day. The timing of the departure of Joshi's group too suggests that Sena chief Bal Thackeray believed that the confrontation at Ayodhya would be protracted, designed to extract the largest possible amount of political mileage for the Hindu Right. The December 5 editorial did, of course, say that Thackeray had ordered his "staunch Hindu Shiv Sainiks to come back with victory in the battle for the temple, without making any boasts". But eyewitness accounts substantiate the proposition that the Sena did not believe anything dramatic would happen on December 6.

"I didn't see Save or any other Sena leader in Ayodhya that morning," recalls Maharashtra Times journalist Pratap Asbe, who had reason to be looking out for Sena leaders. "Joshi showed up the next day, but only briefly. There were hardly any people with him."

'Hundreds of temples in Pakistan and Bangladesh razed', read Saamna's headline on December 8. Its editorial that day, the first after the demolition, made no claim that Sena cadre had carried out the outrage. Instead, it focussed on supposed Muslim aggression in and around Mumbai. "Mosques in the entire country, including Mumbai," the editorial read, "have become arsenals. The Muslim bastis (slums) in Mumbai and Maharashtra, which have come up as mini-Pakistans, are wailing for the Babri Masjid, blocking roads and attacking Hindu temples. Why should we tolerate this?" "Muslims who have come out on the streets and are creating havoc with violence and committing sacrilege against Hindu deities and temples are traitors," Saamna continued. "They have no religion, God or nation, and no culture either. Although they have lived here for generations, they are now committing incest with their mother."

The Sena's claims of attacks on temples in Mumbai were far from true. A scrutiny of the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry's report shows that not a single temple had been attacked. There had been a handful of incidents of what the Commission described as "private fire", but these did not claim any life or even cause injury. The Sena's intent was, clearly, to cash in on the climate of hatred generated by the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign and build support for its impending pogrom against the city's Muslims. The Hindu consolidation thus brought about was to serve an unconcealed political agenda. "The government for the past 45 years," Saamna's December 8 editorial proclaimed, "pandered to Muslims and gave second-class treatment to the Hindus. There was an explosion against this in Ayodhya. The demolition of the Babri Masjid is the misfortune of the Congress, and the good fortune of the Hindus."

It was only on January 10, well into the second phase of the Mumbai riots, that the Sena appears to have gathered the courage to claim responsibility for the demolition. Saamna Executive Editor Sanjay Raut responded that day to the present Union Minister Pramod Mahajan's claims that the demolition had been carried out by agents provocateurs in the pay of Congress(I) heavyweight Sharad Pawar. "To say that Pawar's men demolished Babri (Masjid) is an insult to the martyrs of Ayodhya," he wrote.

Raut cited the Uttar Pradesh-based Hindi newspaper Amar Ujala, later censured by the Press Council of India for its communally-biased reportage, as saying that despite requests from the Ram Janmabhoomi trust president Mahant Ramachandradas Paramhans, Save and the "armed kar sevaks" with him did not give up their determination to "act in Sena style". Raut proceeded to cite another local newspaper as saying that the first hammer blow on the Masjid's dome was by a Sena member. "Once the Shiv Sainiks from Vidarbha and Pune attacked the mosque," Raut quoted the newspaper as saying, "kar sevaks from other areas of the country also joined in the attack."

Such claims are highly specious if read against the fact that it took Saamna over a month to make them, as well as Pratap Asbe's independent testimony and the Special Branch documents. What had happened in a month's time to embolden the Shiv Sena to such a degree? The second phase of the Mumbai riots began on January 6, 1993, four days before Raut's ravings. For reasons it alone may understand, the Maharashtra government has not submitted to the Liberhan Commission the articles published in Saamna during this period. Many of them are highly inflammatory, calling brazenly for Hindu mob attacks against Muslims. Others target Muslim police officers, who were perceived as obstacles to the Sena's communal campaign. Frontline had published excerpts from several of these articles in August 2000 after Thackeray's arrest (Frontline, August 18, 2000).

Consider the Saamna editorial of January 11, 1993, written a day after Raut's claim of responsibility for the demolition. Headlined 'Burning pyres', the editorial claimed that "Hindus have been burned alive in Jogeshwari, and that is why they have taken to the streets. Dawood Ibrahim's man (Assistant Commissioner of Police) A.A. Khan has tried to shoot these people. There is no justice, for fanatic traitors go scot-free while the terrorist Khan fires at Hindus. The people and the police have been fired at from mosques with Pakistani weapons."

"The Muslims in India are behaving as if they are Pakistani citizens," the editorial continued. "It is as if there are two countries within this one. Hindus, open your eyes and see what is going on! Your funeral pyres are burning." Another January 14 editorial was even more explicit. "Our tolerance has limits. All this was started by the traitors," it said. "The Hindus went back four steps and then displayed their strength. That's when the traitors put up white flags on their armed strongholds. Why should we die without fighting? And at the hands of traitors like (police officers) Khan and Ghafoor?"

By mid-January Saamna was actively engaged in guiding the course of violence. A January 21 article recorded activities by the Sthaniya Lokadhikar Samiti (Local People's Rights Committee), the Shiv Sena's labour wing. "The whole of Behrampada reverberated to a Maha Aarti performed at the Ganesh Temple this afternoon," the article read. "The Sthaniya Lokadhikar Samiti announced that Behrampada (a Muslim ghetto) would henceforth be called Rampada." The article also quoted a local activist of the Samiti, Bamanrao Mahadik, as saying: "Pull out all the Bangladeshis and Pakistanis from Behrampada. They are the ones who are ruining our country. It is time to send these green hordes back to their country."

Thackeray's own tone became increasingly hysterical. On January 23, he authored an editorial titled 'Keep the fires burning'. "I have nurtured a new, fiery generation of Hindus in the form of the Shiv Sena, and Saamna has been instrumental in this task," Mumbai's would-be Fuhrer wrote. "Hindus woke up in Hindustan after December 6 (1992), and it is time we all burned like a torch. Anti-national traitors should be burned to ashes in this flame".

Some 20 criminal cases were filed against Saamna and Thackeray for their role in the riots of 1992-1993. Prosecution for sanction was granted in only six cases, and in 1996 the BJP-Sena alliance government led by Manohar Joshi withdrew all but two of them. Two First Information Reports - No. 420 of 1993 and No. 459 of 1993 - charged Thackeray and Raut with inciting communal hatred and seeking to spread disaffection among police personnel. These two cases, for reasons which no one has quite explained, escaped Joshi's effort to protect the Sena boss.

In July 2000 the Democratic Front government dug out the files from the inner recesses of the Maharashtra Home Department, and arrested Thackeray. The charges against him were, however, thrown out by the Chief Judicial Magistrate who heard the case. The State government's appeal against the lower court's controversial decision is still pending in the Bombay High Court.

Will the Justice Liberhan Commission find the time to reopen investigations into the communal pogrom in Mumbai? As things stand, such a wide-ranging initiative seems unlikely. For one, the Commission is confronted with an enormous mass of primary evidence on the demolition of the Babri Masjid, leaving it little time or opportunity to address the violence which the event provoked. It has, so far, shown little interest in figures peripheral to the event, such as Thackeray.

The Maharashtra government, on its part, has made little effort to engage the Commission's interest. The fact that only an incomplete set of the relevant Saamna articles has been made over to the Commission, along with patchy intelligence and police records, seems to show that Maharashtra's bureaucratic establishment is less than enthused by the prospect of a judicial review of its conduct a decade ago.

But no further investigation is needed to launch action against the Shiv Sena, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party. What is needed is political will. As the documents published by Frontline have made clear, the evidence is on record, neatly organised in official files.

Even Justice B.N. Srikrishna's investigation into the Mumbai riots added little to what was already known about the pogrom of 1992-1993. Evidence even Justice Srikrishna chose not to address is available, including amateur radio operators' recordings of Mumbai Police personnel using anti-Muslim language in their wireless transmissions and organising attacks against the community in several neighbourhoods.

The Democratic Front now in power in Maharashtra has shown more willingness to act than any of its predecessors. One recent signal has been the prosecution of former Joint Commissioner of Police Ramdeo Tyagi, charged with the murder of nine unarmed Muslims at the Suleiman Bakery in Dongri.

It will take a lot more than the prosecution of some individual policemen, though, to address the issue. Nothing other than action against the communal fascist architects of the carnage will heal the scars of 1992-1993.

Of Indo-Bangladesh distrust

other
A. G. NOORANI

Bangladesh, India and Pakistan: International Relations and Regional Tensions in South Asia by Kathryn Jacques; Macmillan; pages 239.

18170731jpg

THE riots in Kathmandu earlier this year over remarks that the actor Hrithik Roshan had not actually made, reflected a simmering hostility towards India among a wide section of the public which was exploited for reasons of domestic politics. Once the episode was over, few people cared to probe the latent cause. So, it is with the bloody skirmishes on the Indo-Bangladesh border last April. Only 6.5 km of the over 4,000-km boundary remain to be demarcated. But if Nepal is sore over India's refusal to replace the obsolete 1950 treaty with one respectful of its sovereignty, the issue of Kalapani and the persisting differences over the Mahakali Treaty of 1996, Bangladesh, which allowed the 1972 Treaty with India to lapse, has its own grievances.

The dispute over the sharing of the waters of the Ganga was settled after protracted wrangling by a Treaty signed on December 12, 1996; thanks only to the decisive intervention of Jyoti Basu, then Chief Minister of West Bengal. Even so, it is less favourable to Bangladesh than the Agreement of 1977 which, unlike the Treaty, contained a binding minimum guarantee clause in favour of Bangladesh. He publicly complained (on January 1, 1997): "We saw from the figures that some people are talking things which are not correct." He was given incorrect statistics by New Delhi.

Kathryn Jacques of the School of Classics, History and Religion at the University of New England in Australia has written a scholarly and objective work which, while understandably centred on relations between Bangladesh and India, also reckons with Pakistan's involvement and the overarching regional factor. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was an initiative by Bangladesh. It has languished thanks to India's apathy and to the India-Pakistan feud. As in Nepal, the domestic factor is very relevant. In each country there is a pro-India constituency which India's high and mighty approach never fails to let down. In each, there is also an anti-India constituency which exploits this.

The author notes: "Being indebted to India soon became regarded in Bangladesh as the equivalent of being subordinated by India's will, especially once the debt quickly acquired a more literal, financial tenor... Financial loans and a vastly unequal trading relationship have made Bangladesh a major debtor to India."

Here we come up with a marked and persistent trait in Indian diplomacy towards the neighbours. For nearly four decades, India contested China's claim which Zhou Enlai tersely formulated in New Delhi in April 1960: "There exist disputes with regard to the boundary between the two sides." India still denies that there is such a thing as a "Kashmir dispute" with Pakistan, Nehru's earlier repeated use of the word notwithstanding. So it was with Bangladesh - there was no "dispute" over the sharing of the Ganga waters. Bangladesh had plenty of water. Its problem was flood control.

In 1975 India completed the Farakka Barrage, across the Ganga, at a point only 17 km upstream from the boundary with Bangladesh, in order to divert sufficient water into the Bhagirathi-Hughli river, and prevent the siltation which impaired the navigability of the Calcutta port at the river mouth. As a lower riparian State, Bangladesh was vitally concerned and the issue was raised even during Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's pro-India government. His assassination in August that year during a coup made matters worse. His successor Ziaur Rahman received short shrift from India.

The author describes in careful detail how Indira Gandhi pursued a highly personalised policy based on extraneous considerations and how the Janata Party government, headed by Morarji Desai, followed a different course. Here is one passage: "The most prominent India-Bangladesh border issues, the Tin Bigha Corridor, Muhuri Char and New Moore/ South Talpatty/ Purbasha island have all tended to reinforce the traditional antagonisms, rivalries and fears existing in South Asia, the disputes being manipulated and protracted for political advantage by both Mrs. Gandhi and Ziaur Rahman. A marked contrast can be observed between the relatively minor tension associated with the issues while the Janata Party held power, and the bitterness which developed around them after the Janata collapse. Although little substantial progress was achieved in resolving the problems of border demarcation, the way in which the Desai government diplomatically addressed the issues differed particularly from the tactics used by the succeeding Indian government under Mrs. Gandhi. By simply acknowledging that the problems, along with Bangladeshi concerns about Indian territorial designs, actually existed, and furthermore, required discussion and accommodation, the Janata regime was establishing a foundation for the possible, mutually satisfactory resolution of the border issues. In spirit at least, Desai's discussions with Zia in Dhaka in April 1979 were an attempt to do so."

The Tin Bigha Corridor is no larger than a football field. The Nehru-Noon accord of September 3, 1958 provided for a straightforward exchange of enclaves between India and East Pakistan. A formal agreement was signed thereafter on September 10, 1958. Besides the exchange, Berubari was to be split horizontally and equally. But the notification in respect of Berubari was never issued by India. Under the 1974 accord between Indira Gandhi and Mujibur Rehman, India agreed only to lease in perpetuity to Bangladesh an area of approximately 178 metres by 85 metres near Tin Bigha to connect Bangladesh with its enclave Dahagram. Agreement on the terms of the lease was reached in 1982. Only in 1992 could it be implemented.

The same holds good for the two newly formed tiny deltaic islands which India calls New Moore and Bangladesh calls South Talpatty. They were discovered by a U.S. satellite in 1974 and became an issue in the maritime boundary talks in 1979. Bangladesh claims that in May 1979 Prime Minister Morarji Desai agreed with the Deputy Prime Minister of Bangladesh, who had called on him, to hold a joint survey. However, on April 9, 1980 Indira Gandhi claimed that the islets belonged to India.

They lie at the mouth of the Hariabhanga River which separates the two countries. They are mudflats with no human or animal life. In 1974 India and Bangladesh signed an agreement on the demarcation of the land boundary between the two countries. A maritime boundary agreement is yet to be concluded. It will define Bangla-desh's Exclusive Eco-nomic Zone (EEZ), sandwiched as the country is between India and Myanmar.

There is, surely, room enough for an imaginative initiative by India on the New Moore issue. India's case on the Kachhativu islands was fairly strong. Indira Gandhi, nonetheless, decided wisely for political reasons to cede them to Sri Lanka under the boundary agreement of June 27, 1974.

The author writes: "Just as the Tin Bigha Corridor issue did not become particularly divisive until after the collapse of the Janata government, neither did the other prominent territorial disputes between the two states: the rightful ownership of Muhurir Char and New Moore Island. In November-December 1979, both states clashed over which of the two should administer approximately twenty hectares of emergent charland in the Muhuri River."

Is it, indeed, difficult for India to be statesmanlike over such minor territorial issues? "Disputes over the sharing of water and over ownership of small parcels of territory, such as the Tin Bigha Corridor, Muhuri Char and New Moore Island, were symptomatic of the essentially poor relationship between India and Bangladesh and fostered further ill-will between the two states. Both states added fuel to their mutual disputes, both overreacting with aggression and suspicion. Of the two states, India was in a far better position to compromise. Bangladesh did not represent a military threat and had much more to lose than India. The disputes should have been quickly resolvable through diplomatic channels. Instead, the conduct of the issues was characterised by belligerence and insensitivity on India's part, and oversensitivity and suspicion on Bangladesh's part. The Indian government, particularly under Indira Gandhi, had great difficulty in differentiating between disputes with Bangladesh and those with rivals, Pakistan and China. A Bangladesh government which was not obviously pro-Indian, as it was under Mujibur Rahman, was automatically dubbed by India, Cold War-style, as being pro-Pakistan."

Disastrously, Indira Gandhi split the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and a group of her favourites decried the Janata Party policy as being "soft". These card-carrying hardliners did not a little to continue the course she had set. Its remnants persist. Cosmetics like the so called "Gujral Doctrine" are deceptive. We need to undertake a calm appraisal of India's policies towards Bangladesh in the past, come to grips with the issues that continue to fester, and chart an entirely new course which would establish enduring friendship with that neighbour based on genuine trust.

A wild ride of Russia

other
GOVIND TALWALKAR

Post Soviet Russia by Roy Medvedev; Columbia University Press; pages 394, $37.50.

18170741jpg

WHEN Boris Yeltsin became the President of the Russian Federation in September 1991 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union he and his aides were convinced that the privatisation of Russian industry was the only course open to them. They were in a hurry to usher in this 'revolution' which proved to be a wild ride. They described what they were resorting to as shock therapy. It proved, however, to be only a shock and no therapy.

Roy Medvedev, the Russian historian and publicist, has now come out with a book describing in detail how, in the course of 10 years, Yeltsin and his colleagues brought Russia to the verge of bankruptcy. He has substantiated his arguments with a great deal of statistics. His sources are Russian.

Medvedev says that too much centralisation and state ownership had brought Russia to a dead end, which necessitated a drastic change of policy. This change had to be gradual and well-thought-out. Instead, Yeltsin accepted the advice of people like Gennady Burbulis and Yegor Gaider to go in for a market economy and privatisation. Yeltsin discarded able persons from his own circle and appointed to key posts persons who had no experience in industry or administration. Medvedev gives thumbnail sketches of various personalities, which are helpful in understanding the situation in Russia. Yeltsin and others were pressured by the International Monetry Fund (IMF), the World Bank and some western economists to go on a fast track.

Burbulis was Yeltsin's chief of staff. Yeltsin was keen to preserve his power, and so was Burbulis. Yeltsin therefore appointed Gaider, a mediocre, bookish economist, Prime Minister. When others said that it would take at least four years for Russia to liberalise the economy, Gaider was insistent that one year was sufficient. Prices began to rise immediately and Moscow became a gigantic venue for the biggest sale of the century.

In the first quarter of 1992 prices rose by 800 to 900 per cent. The price of salt rose from 9 kopeck to 9 rubles a kilogram. Prices continued to increase through the year. One estimate is that the average increase was by 250 times. This greatly increased the need for currency, which was in short supply. People then had no other course but to resort to barter and pay wages in kind. Because of the rising inflation and currency famine, substantial foreign currency earnings remained hidden and found their way to foreign countries. According to one estimate, this kind of outflow amounted to $1 billion a month. Sensing danger, Yeltsin replaced his team. He did this on several occasions during the course of the nine years of his rule. It was not that all the disgraced persons went into oblivion. Some returned to power again and again.

Yeltsin opened up the market and thought that competition would improve quality and make Russian industry efficient. But there was no competitive climate. With no government protection, the industries found themselves at the receiving end. Besides, they were faced with competition from imported goods. Russian industries then had to reduce production. Many went bankrupt and many others had to lay off workers. Although the consumer industries in the Soviet Union were in poor shape, military industries were successfully competing with the West. Medvedev asserts that the former had potential, and had the political leadership been wise it could have gradually transformed and privatised a part of this sector. This could have provided a modern and efficient industrial base to Russia.

Even Hungary and Poland, which had started privatising their economies ten years earlier, were facing numerous problems. East Germany was in a better position even under Communist rule compared to other East European countries. After the unification of East and West Germany, the Eastern part received a massive dose of capital from the Western part. Even then many factories had to be closed down, giving rise to unemployment. Russia received no such investment. Gaider and others were confident that with their policy of liberalisation, Western capital would start flowing in. They also thought that the sale of state-owned industries would fetch billions of dollars to the state's coffers.

Yeltsin's government came out with the novel idea that as state property belonged to the people, everybody should get something from the sale of state industries and properties. A committee was appointed to transact this business. But there was no unanimity about methods and principles in the committee or among the officials in different parts of the Russian Federation. The committee computed that the productive capacity of the Russian Federation was 1.2605 trillion rubles. Dividing this by the number of citizens, everybody was to get 8,467 rubles. This amount was to be given in the form of vouchers. These vouchers, however, were not backed by a government guarantee. Nor were they given to individual citizens in their names. They were allowed to be bought and sold or could be used as collateral for loans. The privatised industries were not bound to accept them against shares. In no time inflation brought down the value of these vouchers, and they became worthless.

The management committee could not scientifically assess the net worth of any enterprise or property. It sold most of these for a song. Medvedev gives some examples. A shipyard in St. Petersburg sold for 150 million rubles, while a children's store brought in 701 million rubles. A gigantic auto plant of ZIL in Moscow was sold for 800,000 rubles. The Machinery Manufacturing Plant was the largest in the Soviet Union and is still the largest in Russia. It employed 100,000 persons. But to the committee the plant was worth only 1. 8 billion rubles, that is, just $2 million at the then prevailing exchange rate.

Who could buy such enterprises? Those who were in charge of industrial plants and the managers of various government properties were able to bid. Most of all, those, who had held offices in Komsomol, the Communist youth organisation in the Soviet Union, were in an advantageous position. They easily got permits and credits from the banks. Komsomol businessmen dominated the show business, also tourism and gambling. The profit from international trade also passed through their hands. Komsomol had been dissolved earlier, but this did not affect the influence of its office bearers.

When it came to selling raw materials like oil, metals, chemicals and petroleum products in foreign markets, it was Russians who dominated, as they could get the necessary licences. However,the profits did not go towards building industries and other productive enterprises. Huge amounts were spent on palatial houses with all sorts of gadgets and luxuries. These new Russians are criticised for their moral nihilism. Much larger amounts were spent on purchases of real estate in Switzerland, Germany, the United States, Portugal, France and so on. In 1994 these new Russians spent $7 billion on travel alone, which is more than the loan that the IMF gave Russia. In this atmosphere it is but natural that a shadow economy played a dominant role. Also, billions of dollars were deposited in countries known to be tax havens.

Research and investigation found that 40 per cent of these millionaires admitted that they were previously involved in illegal activities, and 25 per cent still had connections with organised crime. All over Russia, crimes of every description have gone up considerably.

It is no wonder that the foreign debt of Russia has mounted in the last 10 years. In 1993 it was $82 billion, while in 1996 it was $150 billion. In 1997 Russia's foreign debt was $900 per capita. So a substantial portion of gross domestic product (GDP) is spent on debt servicing.

The Government was terribly ignorant about the import of capital goods from the West, and it spent large amounts on plants that were not necessary. The Chinese, on the other hand, purchased outdated plants from Western countries and thus saved on costs. These plants were quite useful to the not-so-developed countries. The Russians could have followed the Chinese example.

At the same time, thousands of thriving small businesses employed hundreds of thousands of people. But this sector did not receive much attention from the government.

All this created popular unrest and a political crisis, which also resulted in a confrontation between Yeltsin and various political parties in the Duma. Ultimately, when there was a stand-off, Yeltsin went to the extent of ordering the bombardment of the parliamentary building. Medvedev gives a blow-by-blow account of the stand-off.

All these events led to an election Yeltsin won, but his base had been eroded. According to Medvedev, Yevgeny Primakov, who was appointed Prime Minister for some time, was the right person to stem the rot. But Yeltsin did not want a powerful Prime Minister. Primakov found that the political crisis was much deeper than he had imagined and that corruption was all-pervading. Yeltsin would not have a person who wanted to handle this problem, for that could have got him into trouble.

This chaotic political situation gave some strength to the communists; but they could not wrest power as they could not muster enough popular support in the elections. Medvedev writes a full chapter explaining the views of Gennady Zyuganov, the communist leader, and his programme. Zyuganov's views seem to be an amalgam of Marxism, aggressive nationalism, faith in the Orthodox Church and also visions of a special destiny for Russia.

Yeltsin became politically and physically weak and he thought it better to step down when he could strike a political deal. Thus, Vladimir Putin came in. Putin, it seems, is tackling the problems to the best of his abilities, but he faces a very daunting situation.

This account of the wild ride of Russia can serve as a warning to the Indian government, which has launched on a course of liberalisation. This course is not easy and must be undertaken with great care. A fast pace may bring in chaos, as it did in Russia.

New perspectives on Partition

other
NAUNIDHI KAUR

The Partitions of Memory: The Afterlife of the Division of India edited by Suvir Kaul; Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2001; pages 301, Rs.595.

18170761jpg

Translating Partition by Ravikant and Tarun K. Saint; Katha, 2001; pages 238, Rs.250.

THE early works on Partition concentrate on "high politics", with most of the writers emphasising the roles and political tactics of the state actors, that is the British and the Congress and Muslim League leaderships. This approach changed in the 1990s, with emphasis being shifted to oral histories - letters, interviews, diaries - of the survivors in understanding Partition. The books under review belong to the 1990s category.

They go into some of the finer points of history and depend on memory to study Partition beyond the context of the instrumental and ideological politics of state actors. Collectively, they attempt to sensitise history to the pain of Partition.

The volume edited by Suvir Kaul is a collection of essays dealing with a range of topics. The most interesting are those which emphasise the impact of Partition on contemporary India and Pakistan. Suvir Kaul teaches English in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His volume departs from the much-debated question of how Partition has constructed the identity of India and Pakistan and explores the intellectual, human and material problems it poses in the two countries even today.

The book has two essays that explore the legacies of Partition in the case of Pakistan. Richard McGill Murphy's ''Performing Partition in Lahore'' is the more interesting of these. Murphy has analysed the ceremonial exchange at the Wagah border, which takes place every day between India and Pakistan, and the Basant parties in Lahore. He stresses the 'enforced difference' between India and Pakistan that is apparent in both the ceremonies. According to Murphy, the aggressive foot-stamping in the ceremonial marches at the border dramatises the hostility between India and Pakistan in a way that is not very different from the Basant festival celebrated by Lahoris. He explains the pains that Lahoris take to emphasise that their Basant celebrations have no connection with the Hindu celebrations in pre-Partition Lahore. Both mirror for India and Pakistan the cultural and political paranoia with respect of each other.

Some of the other essays in the volume, including Urvashi Butalia's ''An Archive with a difference: Partition letters'', emphasise the role of oral history in Partition. Butalia has continued her use of non-conventional sources, which she used in The Other Side of Silence. In the present essay she has used the letters written by ordinary people who were directly affected by the miseries of Partition to those in the civil and administrative authority. They were displaced by events and decisions 'larger' than themselves. They are requests of help to the new state and its representatives.

Mukulika Banerjee's essay ''Partition and North West Frontier: Memories of some Khudai Khidmatgars'', as the title suggests, uses the memories of the Khudai Khidmatgars (KKs) or the Red Shirts to explore the culture and history of the Frontier before and at the time of Partition. Banerjee's essay is based on her interviews with the KKs. It explores how memories of the KKs function as the bulwark against the precise narratives of histories authorised by the state, narratives which would deny them a place within the received tradition of Pakistani political history. It is a study of the frontier, which Banerjee points out, is a difficult area to partition because of its very nature as a region of exchange.

18170762jpg

IT is time that archives of letters, diaries, memories and testimonies, which rely on memory, are used to understand Partition holistically. Both the volumes emphasise this point. However, it is to be hoped that such works are done keeping the constraints of 'memory' in mind. There has been considerable research to show that memory is not ever pure or unmediated. Much depends on who remembers, when, about whom, indeed to whom, and how. In his book Narrative Truth and Historical Truth: Meaning and Interpretation in Psychoanalysis (New York, 1982) Donald P. Spence argues that while listening and speaking the past gets fixed in a particular manner - once a construction gets decided on, it goes on to determine the past in a particular manner. Pushed to its logical extreme, the verbal construction that is created shapes our view of the past; indeed it, a creation of the present, also becomes the past.

Indeed, the problems with working on oral history are many, the least of which is the interpretative possibilities these sources open up with memory being considered a kind of retrieval system. In this context, it was hoped that both the volumes could have gone beyond analysing memories in fact and fiction, in not only what is in them but essentially what is lacking in them.

This is not to negate the importance of the way people choose to remember Partition. This is as important as the facts of history. The second volume, a collection of stories and essays on Partition, is based on this perspective. It makes an interesting pair with the first volume. Both show how the same event can be seen in two different ways to reach the same conclusion - the need to rethink Partition histories.

Translating Partition has stories by Attia Hosain, Bhisham Sahni, Joginder Paul, Kamleshwar, Sa'adat Hasan Manto and Surendra Prakash, besides commentaries. The essays address the contemporary debates on Partition in the social sciences and in literary criticism. The contributions are on fiction in Urdu and Hindi, the social history of the print media, feminist concern about representation, the historiography of Partition, modes of remembrance and forgetting. The stories and the secondary readings suggested at the end of the volume are concise and not exhaustive. They would be of interest especially to a beginner, especially Manto's ''Toba Tek Singh'', which underlines the sanity of the madman in times of madness, which is how Partition has been defined.

The introduction to the volume rightly points out that ''Toba Tek Singh'' is a triumph of ambivalence and a great story because it proclaims that in-betweenness of its protagonist and his triumph over those who want to fix his identity. The madman's death takes place in no-man's land, where the writ of neither nation runs.

The essays in the volume also discuss the madness in the time of Partition. They reflect on madness, which has a privileged place in the discourse on Partition. They make an important point that the metaphor of madness has been used in Partition literature to communicate a sense of incomprehension and that it denotes a refusal to understand. Partition was therefore dismissed as an aberration and the responsibility of owning up to its ugly reality was denied.

Cumulatively, the two volumes complement each other. Translating Partition concentrates on the pain and sorrow of the human condition that resulted from Partition. It presents the thematic focus of Partition literature, which shifted from the horror over large-scale killings and abduction to the retrieval of memory and experiences of exile. Its weakness is that it fails to look at the fault lines of religion, gender, caste and class that still run through our lives as legacies of Partition. Suvir Kaul's volume explores some of these important issues.

The texture of life

On the oeuvre of Assamese writer Indira Goswami, who has won the Jnanpith Award for 2000.

INDIRA GOSWAMI, who writes under the pen-name Mamoni Raisom Goswami, is a writer in Assamese who has for long been celebrated - and for all the right reasons. Professor in the Department of Modern Indian Languages and Literature in the University of Delhi, she has produced long and short fiction of the highest quality, and a truly memorable autobiographical work. The available English translations of her work do not perhaps reflect the glory of the original. But with Indira Goswami now winning the nation's highest literary honour for 2000 - the Jnanpith Award - her work will presumably begin reaching the wider audience that it richly deserves.

18170791jpg

Indira started writing early, as a school-going girl, though her intense and persistent involvement with the craft began when her husband died in an accident in 1967, only 18 months after her marriage. The pen presumably became her sword to cut a path through the enveloping gloom. From that day she has ceaselessly used her pen to overcome the adversities, of which she had more than a fair share in the early part of her life.

Indira was born in 1942, in a traditional Vaishnavite family of Assam which owned a satra (monastery) and the huge adjoining estate. The satradhikars (heads of the satras) were held in high esteem by their tenants, who were also disciples. The adhikars were supposed to be the moral and spiritual mentors of their people. But unbridled power and excessive wealth brought degeneration in their wake, and from the late 18th century onwards the moral and spiritual standards of the satras became questionable. Indira was raised in one such satra, which gave her a vantage point from where to watch the human drama that was unfolding in this unique social institution of Assam.

Indira has received many other literary prizes including the Sahitya Akademi award in 1982. Among her major novels are Nilkanthi Broja (1976), Ahiron (1978), Mamore Dhara Tarowal (1980), and Tej Aru Dhulire Dhusarita Pristha (1994) - the last-named being a novel written with reference to the Delhi riots that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984.

Indira's anthologies of short stories include Chinaki Marom (1962), Kaina (1966) and Hriday Ekti Nadir Nam (1990). There is also the autobiographical piece, Adha Lekha Dastabej (1988).

Indira's "half-written" autobiography is available in Hindi and English translations. Like most of her writings, it was serialised in a journal published from Guwahati. Its most striking feature is its utter frankness and courage - which few can match - in laying bare intimate details of experience. The candour is especially remarkable for a woman publishing in Assamese, and that too in provincial - rather than a cosmopolitan - cultural environment.

INDIRA writes in a manner which suggests that her direct experiences of social reality are woven closely into the narrative. This gives her works a touch of authenticity, even though it carries its hazards for a woman writing in an Indian language. Whenever an intimate experience is portrayed, there is a natural assumption on the part of the reader that it reflects the writer's personal experience - an inference which neglects the creative process that transforms lived experiences into literature.

Being a young and beautiful widow, Indira had to withstand much unwanted attention - the bitter story is narrated in her autobiography. Her life in Vrindavan during early widowhood is also recorded with great poignancy. Indira had, after becoming a widow, taken a school-teacher's job in Goalpara in Assam. But she simply could not stay there, and decided to proceed to Vrindavan to pursue her research on the Ramayana.

The novel Nilkanthi Broja very powerfully projects the lives of young widows abandoned in Vrindavan by their families. Indira is probably the first Indian novelist to take up this theme and reveal the cruelty, violence and pathos that surround the lives of these helpless women. Her Vrindavan experience helps shape the novel, which probably is, along with Daantal Hatir Une Khoa Howdah, her finest achievement as a novelist.

These Vrindavan widows are mainly from Bengal, and their condition is so wretched that they often face physical abuse from the pandas who function at the pilgrim town as a mafia. The widows are called "Radheshyami" as they earn their share of food from temples by chanting "Radha-shyam" all day long in Lord Krishna's honour. In spite of their pitiable economic condition, these widows often choose to starve. Whatever meagre money they are able to collect through their mendicant wanderings is deposited with the panda, to ensure that they are cremated after death. Experience has taught them that unless such an insurance is taken out, their corpses could well become the food of jackals and dogs. The insurance they purchase is illusory, since the panda, more often than not, simply pockets the money and disposes of the widow's body in the Yamuna. Indira describes this sequence of actions in man's cruelty to his own species, with typical mastery.

Her 1988 novel Daantal Hatir Une Khoa Howdah (English version: The Saga of South Kamrup, or alternatively, The Moth-Eaten Saddle of the Tusker, 1993) vividly brings out the superstitions, the abuse of power and the deadweight of oppression that widows had to confront. A part of this novel has been made into a film. The film, Adahya (that which will not be burnt out) was awarded the Silver Peacock award in the National Film Festival in 1998.

This is probably her best novel, and is considered one of the modern classics of Assamese literature. The locale of South Kamrup district is exquisitely depicted with its magnificent variety of trees, flowers, creepers, jungles, rivers and mountains, and its poverty-driven, opium-addicted people in the satra. The entire region comes vividly alive to the reader. Indira's descriptive power makes visible what even a local resident may not notice. Her colour metaphors, for example, are excitingly fresh. There is the "mushroom-coloured" sky, and elsewhere a sky of "muga" silk, which refers to an Assamese handicraft speciality. The sun is "yellow" now but bears resemblance to a "huge red pumpkin on the field" when it sets. The lips of Indira's female protagonists compare in shape and texture with "cut pieces of ripe papaya", and a woman's skin has the texture of the "bok" flower, which is found in eastern India and has no commonly-used English equivalent.

There are many possible ways of seeing the narrative of South Kamrup - as the story of widows, as a saga of the ryot-landowner conflict, as a spectacle of the relationship between man and woman with all the attendant complications of caste and social hierarchies. Indira powerfully exposes the hypocrisy of Brahmins, their greed and their lop-sided values, and the many ambivalences of their attitudes towards the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak.

Indira has also written many exquisite short stories. "The Offspring" (also translated as "The Sun") is one of the very special ones. The protagonist in this story is Pitambar, a non-Brahmin and a rich merchant. His wife is chronically ill and his chances of ever having a child by her are rapidly receding. An indigent though grasping priest kindles a hope in Pitambar that Damayanti, a poor but beautiful Brahmin widow, could bear him a child. He then functions as a go-between frequently extracting pecuniary favour from the wealthy merchant.

Acute poverty forces Damayanti to submit to Pitambar, following which she becomes pregnant. The priest arranges for their marriage so that the child (it is assumed that the child will be male) is not born with the stigma of illegitimacy. Pitambar's dreams ride high as he awaits the birth of his son. His moment of reckoning comes on a stormy night when he receives the news that Damayanti has undergone an abortion. It then unfolds that Damayanti had frequently in the past sold her body to maintain her family. But in every case, she had undergone an abortion in order to retain her caste. The aborted foetus was invariably disposed of in the bamboo grove of Damayanti's backyard.

One night Damayanti hears a noise in her bamboo grove and discovers Pitambar digging up the earth to recover and touch the flesh of the foetus - the scion of his lineage, a part of his own flesh and blood. There is no story in modern Indian literature which quite describes a comparable yearning for a child to continue the family line. Indira captures this emotion with a dreadful intensity which touches on the grotesque.

The varieties of violence, all avoidable, that humanity inflicts on itself, whether as group or individual, the pain and the misery they create, the protection and love which they are either unwilling or unable to provide but which they desperately crave - these are some of the themes that run through Indira Goswami's oeuvre. Her graphic depiction of violence and her use of startlingly fresh images are aspects that make her works unique not only in Assamese but in all of Indian literature. Her autobiography conveys a sense of the pain, the restlessness and the suffering that she has undergone in various phases of her life. Writing was her way of overcoming these. With indefatigable energy and incessant effort, she rose above the circumstances that moulded her, but never lost her profound sense of identification with those who continued to suffer in the river of pain.

Nandita Basu is Reader in Bengali Literature, University of Delhi. She has translated Indira Goswami's work into Bengali.

The water man of Rajasthan

Rajendra Singh, who has undertaken extensive water conservation efforts in drought-prone eastern Rajasthan, wins the 2001 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership.

RAJENDRA SINGH, the man who 'divined' water in the arid regions of eastern Rajasthan by building water-harvesting structures, is the winner of the 2001 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership. The non-governmental organisation Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), which Rajendra Singh leads as its general secretary, has since 1985 built some 4,500 earthen check dams, or johads, to collect rainwater in some 850 villages in 11 districts in the State. The TBS has also and helped revive five rivers that had gone dry. The award is not only a recognition of his conservation efforts but also an acceptance of the traditional wisdom of the people of rural Rajasthan.

18170811jpg

Incidentally, the honour has gone to an NGO working in rural Rajasthan for the second year in a row. Aruna Roy, whose Rajsamand-based Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) spearheaded the campaign for the right to information and transparency in development works, was the recipient of the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award in the same category.

In his reaction to the honour, Rajendra Singh said: "This is a recognition of the rural communities. The village society taught me the value of water. Prior to 1984 I knew nothing about water or its conservation methods."

Johadwala Baba (bearded man of check dams) to the villagers and Bhai Saheb (elder brother) to his associates in the TBS, Rajendra Singh said: "This is the triumph of the traditional wisdom of the people over classroom learning. It is time the governments recognised their deep knowledge of the land and the environment and made use of it for the uplift of the rural masses."

The draft of the citation for the Award, to be presented to Rajendra Singh in Manila on August 31, reads: "In electing Rajendra Singh to receive the 2001 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership the Board of Trustees recognises his leading Rajasthani villages in the steps of their ancestors to rehabilitate their degraded habitat and bring its dormant rivers back to life."

Not long ago, when a group of five youth from Jaipur, which included Rajendra Singh, landed in Alwar district's Thanagazi tehsil, the villagers viewed them with suspicion. The backward Gujjars and the tribal Meenas branded them as child-lifters and terrorists. They were not to blame, for the villages, nestled in eastern Aravallis, were going through difficult times in the 1980s. Most parts of Alwar district had been declared a "dark zone", which meant that there was very little ground water left. Rivers and ponds were drying up and most of the menfolk had left for cities in search of work. Life in the villages had come to a standstill with farming activities getting severely affected and the bovine wealth, the backbone of the rural economy, shrinking in the absence of fodder and water.

Fifteen years and many johads later, water has restored life and self-respect in Alwar. Of late, several villages in the neighbouring districts of Jaipur, Dausa, Sawai Madhopur, Bharatpur and Karauli have been revived by the TBS. Neembi in Jamwa Ramgarh tehsil of Jaipur district is one such village which caught the fancy of planners this summer as the perennially drought-prone village had water at three feet from ground in the third consecutive drought year. Neembi's residents, who spent Rs.50,000 in 1994 to construct two earthen dams with the help of the TBS, now produce vegetables and milk worth Rs.3 crores annually.

Farming activities have resumed in hundreds of drought-prone villages with the rivers Ruparel, Arvari, Sarsa, Bhagani and Jahajwali flowing again after remaining dry for decades. The villages, which were deserted by its inhabitants, have been populated once again. There is a sense of belonging among the people as the gram sabhas created by the TBS to facilitate the management of the johads have a say in the general well-being of the community as well.

The rebirth of the Arvari was something of a miracle. In 1986, the residents of Bhanota-Kolyala village, with the help of the TBS, constructed a johad at its source. Soon villages around the catchment area and along the dry river constructed tiny earthen dams. When the number of dams reached 375, the river began to flow. "We were amazed," says Rajendra Singh, recalling the revival of the Arvari, which earned him the titles of water diviner and miracle man. "It was not our intention to re-create the river, for we never had it in our wildest dreams," he remarked. The villagers who revived the Arvari were felicitated by President K.R. Narayanan with the Down to Earth Joseph C. John Award in March 2000.

The residents went on to constitute a parliament of their own. Arvari Sansad, inspired by the Gandhian concept of gram swaraj, is a representative body of 72 villages in the areas served by the river. The Arvari parliament has framed 11 major rules to fix the cropping pattern and water use. The rules permit only landless farmers to draw water directly from the river and bans the cultivation of sugarcane and the raising of buffaloes as these activities would require relatively large amounts of water.

Rajendra Singh, who was associated with Jayaprakash Narayan's Sampurna Kranti (Total Revolution) movement in his student days, has mobilised the people to stand up and speak for themselves and use natural resources in a sustainable manner.

AN air of festivity filled Gopalpura on August 1 when Rajendra Singh reached the village where he introduced his community-based water harvesting method in 1985 by building the first structure. This was two days after the award was announced, but it was the first thing he did after accepting felicitations and addressing a media conference in Jaipur. (In fact, one full day had lapsed after the news was reported, but there was no clue of Rajendra Singh. Journalists eager to get his reaction after a chase learnt that he was at Shekhawati village looking for new locations to erect check dams. Rajendra Singh came to know about his Award from the morning's newspapers.)

Gopalpura elder Mangu Ram Patel (Meena) was the happiest man, for it was a teaser from him - thein to kuch karo Rajinder, kal favte gonti ler agyo (do something Rajinder, bring spade and pick axe tomorrow and start work) - that spurred Rajendra Singh and the bunch of youth who formed the Tarun Bharat Sangh, or Young India Association into action. The following day the youth were digging and desilting the Gopalpura johad, which had been neglected after long periods of disuse. A village resident recalls that the local Station House Officer (SHO) who reached the village looking for the "outsiders" and with an arrest warrant, found Rajendra Singh with a basket of mud on his head. He made a silent retreat.

Activities of the TBS are spread over an area of 6,500 sq km, which includes also parts of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh.

RAJENDRA SINGH, 43, hails from Dola village of Meerut in Uttar Pradesh. He says the crusade he began, unwittingly, against marble miners in the Project Tiger Sanctuary of Sariska in the early 1990s made conservationists take note of his efforts. "The TBS found that even after constructing johads, the water level did not go up in the ponds and lakes around Sariska. But we soon found what was wrong. We traced the missing water to the pits left unfilled by the miners after their operations. Water collected in them, depriving the wells and lakes of water."

Rajendra Singh and his companions at Tarun Ashram, the TBS headquarters in Kishori-Bhikampura in Thanagazi tehsil bordering the sanctuary, took up the issue, which eventually led to the closure of 470 mines operating within the buffer area and periphery of the sanctuary. A public interest petition was filed in the Supreme Court. In 1991, the court issued an order against continuing mining in the ecologically fragile Aravallis. This was followed up by a notification by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in May 1992 banning mining in the Aravalli hill system.

TBS activists had to face the wrath of the mine owners. Rajendra Singh was threatened and attacked. The miners carried on a vilification campaign against them.

Vishnu Dutt Sharma, who was the Chief Wildlife Warden of Rajasthan at that time, recalls: "He was pulled out of the jeep inside Sariska by the agents of the mine owners. I saw them beating him even as the District Collector looked on. Initially my impression was that Rajendra Singh was a rascal who provoked the local people. After seeing him in this situation, I felt he was doing what I should have done - protect the forest land from mining activities."

Initially the forest authorities viewed TBS men with suspicion and banned their entry into the sanctuary. However, things changed dramatically for both Rajendra Singh and the park. The TBS constructed 115 earthen and concrete structures within the sanctuary and 600 other structures in the buffer and peripheral zones. These facilitated a rise in the groundwater levels and helped turn the area into a "white zone". So much so that the Forest Department invited the NGO to take an active part in the park's management. Rajendra Singh helped reform many poachers. Some of the reformed poachers have been recruited by the TBS as nahar sevaks (tiger protectors). Rajendra Singh also agreed to act as an intermediary between the park authorities and the inhabitants of 17 villages inside the park in the matter of their translocation.

Rajendra Singh has been instrumental in creating a people's sanctuary, Bhairondev Lok Vanyajeev Abhyaranya, spread over 12 sq km in villages upstream of the Arvari. During a visit to the wooded sanctuary last year this correspondent spotted the pugmark of a tiger. "We believe that a tiger in the neighbourhood of the village is a matter of prestige," one of the villagers, Nana Ram, said proudly.

Rajendra Singh's activities are indeed multifarious. He has set up educational institutions, mahila sangathans, forest protection committees and now a brotherhood for water conservators - jal biradiri. The TBS conducts padayatras extensively in order to reach out to the people. It has either initiated or participated in long marches. These include the Aravalli Bachao Padayatra (1993), the Gangotri Yatra (July 1994) and the Jangal Jeevan Bachao Yatra (February-March 1995). This summer's Akal Mukti (drought proofing) yatra was led by Rajendra Singh, along with a few sadhus.

A graduate in Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery and a post-graduate in Hindi literature, Rajendra Singh initiated the documentation of medicinal plants and their uses. The TBS has an Ayurveda centre and a laboratory at Bhikampura.

DURING the past 15 years, the TBS has often fought with governments in power in the State over the people's right over the natural resources available in their neighbourhood. Ever since 1987 when the Rajasthan Irrigation Department served a notice against the first johad built in Gopalpura declaring it illegal, the NGO and the Department have been at loggerheads.

The Magsaysay Award has come at a time when Rajendra Singh is battling the Alwar district administration and the Irrigation Department to retain an earthen dam built at Lava Ka Baas in Thanagazi on the tributary of the Ruparel. The johad, built at a cost of Rs.9 lakhs three months ago, was the first of the water-harvesting structures the TBS had planned to construct with the help of business houses.

"So that everyone gets a chance to contribute towards water conservation and rainwater harvesting," Rajendra Singh would say in defence of soliciting the support of the rich. Pani ka kaam punya ka kaam hai (working for water conservation is a pious act), he tells the villagers.

Caste and rights

Social activists protest against the Government of India's opposition to any discussion on caste as a form of discrimination at the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, which is already under pressure from the U.S. which wants any reference to Zionism deleted from the draft declaration.

IN the run-up to the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, voices of dissent have consolidated themselves in India. These voices belong to a number of social commentators, some well-known journalists and academics and social activists fighting for Dalit rights. They have protested against the Government of India's opposition to discussing caste as a form of discrimination at the World Conference, to be held in Durban, South Africa, from August 31 (Frontline, July 6, 2001).

18170891jpg

This has happened even as the future of the Conference has become uncertain with key participants, including the United States, some European countries and Israel, threatening to boycott it if its agenda includes talks of reparations for slavery and colonialism or a measure equating Zionism with racism.

In India, the argument that caste-based discrimination is a human rights issue has brought the dissenters together. Earlier the debate was getting diluted amid the ambiguities of defining race and caste in the correct academic terms in order to make a clear distinction between the two. Now the dissenters clarify that caste-based discrimination is above all a human rights issue and that is the reason why it should be put on the conference agenda.

This argument got a shot in the arm when the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) declined to toe the government's line on the issue and retracted its offer to associate itself with the committee set up to finalise India's approach to issues at the conference. "We shall keep our minds open till we hear all arguments. We do not mortgage our views to any particular thought," said NHRC chairperson Justice J.S. Verma.

"This is a welcome sign because it means that the issue of including caste is now seen as a rights issue," said Stalin K, member of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.

The inclusion of caste on the agenda is no longer an end in itself for the dissenters, for they realise that the chances of its inclusion are slim. "The main thing here is to get international exposure for the issue of caste," said All India Christian Council secretary-general John Dayal.

The underlying argument is that international pressure and support have helped the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the civil rights movement in the U.S., and the women's movement. Therefore the motive is to bring moral and political pressure on the Indian state to improve the conditions of Dalits. This can be done by taking up the cause at an international forum. The dissenters argue that Durban is the ideal stage for this. They hope that in the long run, raising the caste issue at a United Nations forum will draw the attention of the world community and help garner funds to fight for Dalit empowerment.

As a result there has been a change in the nature of the debate in India. It is now stressed that the government has taken an undemocratic stand in handling the question. Thus, while the government claims to be promoting the national interest by not taking up the "internal" matter of caste at an international meet, the dissenters try to expose the fallacy of the government's nationalist claims. "Patriotism is being aligned with the opposition to raising the issue of caste. This is a wrong stand. Negating that a problem exists is not the correct way of finding a solution to it," said film script-writer Javed Akhtar at a conference on 'Caste in the United Nations', organised in New Delhi by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.

While politicians in general were initially reticent, political groups are now gradually making their stand clear. The Left parties have come out openly in support of including caste as a subtext of discussion at the meet. A Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said that caste cannot be equated with race or casteism with racism. However, this did not mean that the issue should not be taken up at the international forum, he said. "Caste oppression is an affront to basic human dignity and its practice in India and elsewhere is a fit subject for a conference of the type called by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights," the CPI(M) leader said.

With the battle lines now drawn sharper than ever before, the dissenters are confident that they will be able to make their voices heard in Durban. This might turn out to be a difficult task, with the conference promising to set the agenda for disparate social issues, including the elimination of poverty, sexual violence, human trafficking, unemployment, wife-battering, fighting acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and the promotion of international investments in health, education, electricity and drinking water supply, indigenous cultures, childhood immunisation and access to the Internet.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, two hotly debated issues in the draft declaration and the final preparatory sessions have been the questions whether Zionism should be treated as racism and whether compensation should be paid to victims of slavery and colonialism.

THE final week of negotiations on the draft declaration has been marked by threats from the U.S. and Israel to keep away from the conference if the anti-Israeli language is not removed. One of the paragraphs that is unacceptable to Israel refers to a "foreign occupation founded on settlements, its laws based on racial discrimination, with the aim of continuing domination on the occupied territory, as well as its practices which consist of reinforcing a total military blockade, isolating towns, cities and villages under occupation from each other." This represents a "new kind of apartheid, a crime against humanity and a serious threat to international peace and security," says the draft text.

Although Israel has not been mentioned by name in the passage, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior expressed "deep concern" over the failure of the negotiators to remove it from the text. "This will be a major blow against Israel and not only Israel but the Jewish people, its past, its sufferings, its hope for the future," he said.

These clauses in the draft agenda were drawn up at several regional conferences called ahead of the Durban meeting. The portions concerning Israel emerged from a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) held in Iran.

The U.S., an ally of Israel, condemned the effort in 1975 to equate Zionism with racism, even as the U.N. General Assembly approved a motion affirming that notion. The U.N. repealed that resolution in 1991. The U.S. did not attend the U.N.-sponsored conferences on racism in Geneva in August 1983 and in Vienna in June 1993, disagreeing with the language of the agenda.

The Durban Conference has stirred up several issues in the U.S. congressional hearings. Black members of Congress have been saying that the government should attend the conference to demonstrate its concern over racism. They have slammed the White House, saying that the U.S. would be forfeiting by staying away an important opportunity to tackle long-simmering domestic issue of racial strife. Others, including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles E. Schumer, Democrats from New York, wrote to the White House urging Washington to insist on having the language used concerning Israel changed.

The U.S. stand will become clear when the drafts of the conference are finalised. Notably, in Geneva, the U.S. went ahead with completing the formalities of the conference under procedures established for 157 countries that have signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which was approved by the General Assembly in 1965 and which Washington joined in 1994. On August 6, the U.S. State Department prepared and presented its first country report on racial discrimination to the U.N. even as it continued with an internal debate on whether to take part in the Conference.

The submission of this report coincided with the final preparatory session of the conference, which ensured the presence of a small corps of U.S. officials at the U.N., trying to get the references to Israel deleted. This was not surprising as the real negotiations are expected to occur behind closed doors.

Indian non-governmental organisations apprehend that some closed-door negotiations may take place between Indian and the U.S. officials. "It is probable that the U.S. will agree not to include caste and India will be only too happy to help it delete any such references that are detrimental to Israeli interests," Stalin K said.

The U.S. has made it clear that it will continue to put pressure on the parties concerned to drop the anti-Israel statements from the draft. If it does not succeed there, it is likely that the U.S. will not sign up the declaration, along with some European countries that are balking at the idea of setting up "an international compensation scheme for victims of the slave trade and other transnational racist policies."

Of contempt and legitimate dissent

other

Critics of the Supreme Court's Narmada dam judgment test the limits of legitimate dissent in a contempt case with far-reaching implications.

V. VENKATESAN SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN in New Delhi

THE contempt of court case involving the Booker Prize winning novelist Arundhati Roy has invited the attention of another writer similarly honoured. Writing in The New York Times on August 7, Salman Rushdie suggested that the Supreme Court of India stood arraigned before the "court of world opinion" for the manner in which it was pursuing the charges. "Can it be," he asked, "that the Supreme Court of the world's largest democracy will reveal itself to be biased against free speech and be prepared to act at the bidding of a powerful interest group - the coalition of political and financial interests behind the Narmada Dam?"

18170911jpg

Arundhati Roy, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patkar and advocate Prashant Bhushan received contempt notices for having organised a demonstration in December 2000 against the Supreme Court's majority judgment in the Narmada case. Widely criticised by development experts and water resource management specialists for being inattentive to facts and insensitive to the needs of the project affected, the majority judgment rendered last October cleared the way for raising the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada to its full proposed height.

In April, Roy, Patkar and Bhushan filed their affidavits in reply to the contempt notice. When hearings resumed in the case on August 2, the court was urged by Altaf Ahmad, Additional Solicitor-General of India and amicus curiae, to hold the respondents in contempt for the tone and tenor of their replies. Initiated on the basis of a complaint filed by five lawyers, the scope of the contempt case has now been enlarged to embrace the subsequent conduct of the respondents. And while the Supreme Court has reserved its ruling on the original complaint, it has retained the option to initiate fresh proceedings for contempt against Patkar and Roy in particular.

The Supreme Court began its action on the basis of a petition filed by R.K. Virmani, J.R. Parashar and three other lawyers. The substance of their complaint is that on December 13 last year, they found their access to the Supreme Court premises blocked by a noisy crowd outside the gates. Finding to their consternation that the Supreme Court had become the arena for a political demonstration, they berated the assembled crowd for an inappropriate choice of venue. Upon this, the petitions claimed, they faced grievous physical and verbal abuse and the possibility of life-threatening injuries. Medha Patkar allegedly exhorted the crowd to kill the lawyers. Prashant Bhushan, counsel for the NBA, allegedly tugged one of the petitioners by the hair and promised him that his next appearance in the Supreme Court premises would be his last. And Arundhati Roy allegedly sought to incite the crowd into violence by branding the Supreme Court a "thief" and the lawyer-petitioners as its unabashed "touts".

This supposed factual narration of the events of December was appended to the petition seeking contempt proceedings against Patkar, Roy and Bhushan. At the first hearing of the case on April 26, the complainants were warned that any element of falsehood in their petition would invite a term in jail. It also emerged that the local police station had not taken cognisance of the "first information report" made out by the complainants, and that no case had been registered or investigations conducted. This rather serious legal lacuna was again raised on August 3 by the Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices G.B. Pattanaik and Ruma Pal. One of the five lawyer-petitioners, Virmani, then flew into a paroxysm of simulated rage, expressing his loss of faith in the Bench, and reproaching it for not giving him an opportunity to explain his version of events.

It is an interesting sidelight to these events that Virmani was as recently as February appointed a government pleader by the Union Law Ministry. Yet by all accounts, the court-room demeanour of Virmani and his fellow-petitioners has been consistent with the tenor of the original complaint filed by them, with its mix of lurid fantasy and reckless concoction. At the last hearing, senior counsel Shanti Bhushan, who appeared for Patkar, pointed out that the respondents have denied all the accusations made against them. Further, he argued, the petition was seriously flawed in several respects and should not have been entertained by the court registry in the first place. It did not carry the addresses of the petitioners or respondents, and though it purports to represent five persons, it has been signed by only one. Lastly, Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee, whose concurrence is required by law for the Supreme Court to take up a petition for contempt, had declined to do so for reasons unspecified.

Despite these infirmities, the petition was entertained and notices were issued. In the circumstances, Shanti Bhushan felt that the strong tone of the affidavits filed by the respondents was fully warranted.

The Bench suggested that the technical flaws Shanti Bhushan had drawn attention to could often escape detection, since an average of 62 petitions were received in the Supreme Court every day. This did not constitute an adequate basis to condone the rather strong observations made by the respondents in their affidavits. For instance, the Bench considered a paragraph in Patkar's affidavit to be on the face of things contemptuous: "The superior courts have recently shown a disturbing tendency to use the power of contempt against persons who have been criticising the courts and their judgments. A judiciary which insulates itself from criticism by using the power of contempt, is bound to become insensitive to the people that it is meant to serve. This does not bode well for the future of our republic."

Most legal experts agree that Patkar's assertions fall within the bounds of legitimate dissent, as laid down by the Supreme Court itself in recent cases. Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee makes this subtly clear in his article in a recent anthology commemorating the golden jubilee of the Supreme Court (Supreme But Not Infallible, Oxford University Press, 2000, page 351): "It is a mistaken notion that an enforced silence by the threatened use of the contempt power leads to enhancement of the public image of the judiciary when corruption within some of its ranks is the talk of the town." Sorabjee proposes the amendment of the contempt law to provide for the defence of truth and the public interest. He also advocates imposition of stiff civil and criminal penalties upon a person who fails to substantiate his or her allegations.

Patkar's assertions seem unexceptionable in this context, since they do not impute motives to any judge and are in the nature of a generalised observation on the manner in which contempt powers have been invoked. Yet as the law stands she cannot claim truth as a defence. And the court is now seemingly tilting to the view that a mala fide has been read into its decision to issue notice for contempt. It posed a rather pointed question to Patkar: "Are we muzzling dissent?" Shanti Bhushan responded that this was his client's perception, and that if it amounted to contempt she was willing to serve her time in prison. He added for good measure that a perception was growing that the judiciary was far removed from social realities and had begun to use contempt powers to stifle criticism of its judgments.

The Supreme Court Bench had a wider range of objections in the case of Roy's affidavit. In a trenchant submission, Roy confessed herself rather mystified by the conduct of the Supreme Court. On the one hand the Chief Justice of India had refused to nominate a sitting judge to inquire into the proliferating scandals in defence procurement that the Tehelka tapes had laid bare. His plea then was that the Supreme Court was over-burdened with cases and could not afford any such diversions. Yet when it came to an "absurd, despicable, entirely unsubstantiated petition" urging the initiation of contempt proceedings against critics of the Narmada judgment, the Supreme Court showed a curious alacrity. This, said Roy, "indicates a disquieting inclination on the part of the court to silence criticism and muzzle dissent, to harass and intimidate those who disagree with it." In acting with such seeming sense of purpose upon a case that had failed to interest even the local police station, the Supreme Court, said Roy, "is doing its own reputation and credibility considerable harm."

Roy has had an earlier brush with the Supreme Court's sense of offended majesty. While hearing the NBA's public interest petition against the Sardar Sarovar Project, the Supreme Court Bench had taken note of certain rather sharp comments made by Roy in her 1999 essay, "The Greater Common Good" (Frontline, June 4, 1999). The court's order - rendered without giving her an opportunity to explain herself - then held out a warning to her to curb her "objectionable writings".

To the evident displeasure of the Bench hearing the case, Roy has in her affidavit characterised this admonition from the highest court as "insulting". Appearing on August 3 without the aid of counsel, Roy by all accounts was both straightforward and crystal clear in her response to this expression of judicial displeasure: "I find the issuance of notice insulting to me. I stand by my affidavit. If you think it is inappropriate and contemptuous, please proceed against me."

Justices Pattanaik and Pal assured Roy that though her credentials as a writer were not in question, she was not at liberty to impute motives to the court. Nor would she be justified in assuming that any judge harboured a "personal hysteria" against her. The sole purpose of the judges was to ensure respect for the rule of law.

Extended video recordings of the December 13 demonstration have since been circulating, as also interviews with the petitioners Parashar and Virmani, which call into question their credentials. The two lawyers, for instance, have admitted that they met the Supreme Court Registrar on the day of the demonstration, seeking some action from him. They were then referred to Chief Justice Dr. A.S. Anand and later to Solicitor-General Harish Salve. While the Registrar pleaded his inability to disperse the demonstrators, the Chief Justice, according to their own claims, "advised" the petitioners to meet Salve, who in turn, suggested that a complaint be filed which could be the basis for a contempt petition. If in pursuing this course of action the petitioners embellished the events of the day with generous infusions of fantasy, they could soon be called to account. Justices Pattanaik and Pal, in reserving judgment on their plea, have kept open the option of ordering an inquiry into the events of December 13.

There is universal agreement today among legal experts that fair criticism of judicial acts is not contempt. In a landmark case in 1971, the Supreme Court said that "justice is not a cloistered virtue and she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful even though outspoken comments of ordinary men." What borders on scandalisation of court is perhaps imputing motives or mala fide on the part of the court in the performance of its duties. Even these, however, may not constitute contempt, if there is no "clear and present danger" to the administration of justice. This is the most enlightened and liberal position on contempt, as laid down in various rulings in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Curiously, the judiciary in India seems immune to these winds of liberalism. In a recent case the Supreme Court sentenced S.K. Sundaram, a Madras High Court advocate, to six months' imprisonment, for questioning the authenticity of Chief Justice Anand's age testimonials. It later suspended the sentence for five years on the condition that the accused would refrain from repeating his offence. Sundaram gave the undertaking as required but died shortly afterwards. In this case, the court arrived at its verdict without the benefit of concluding its own probe into the document that was widely circulated, showing a discrepancy in the official records on the age of the Chief Justice.

The Madhya Pradesh High Court recently sentenced civil liberties activist and trade unionist Rajendra K. Sail to six months' imprisonment, for terming the acquittal of all the accused in the murder of Shankar Guha Niyogi as "rubbish". Four journalists who reported Sail's comment were also convicted along with him. All five contemners have since secured bail and appealed against their conviction in the Supreme Court.

The case of Vineet Narain, editor of www.kalchakra.org - an occasional investigative journal published from New Delhi - is also curious. Best known for his persistent litigation in the Jain hawala case, Narain faces contempt proceedings for publishing a story alleging that a judge of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, Justice T.S. Doabia, had favoured the wife and mother-in-law of Chief Justice Anand in a land acquisition case in Madhya Pradesh. This refers to the year 1995, when Justice Doabia was serving on the Gwalior Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court.

Narain has sought to be excused from personal appearances at the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in Srinagar on grounds of personal safety. He has been unable to respond to summons from the Jammu Bench of the court because of the unsettled conditions there and the prospect of frequent disruptions and adjournments. As a final recourse he has questioned the jurisdiction of the High Court. But rather than deal with these questions, the High Court recently declared Narain a "proclaimed absconder" and ordered non-bailable arrest warrants against him. He now faces the threat of his property being confiscated and auctioned by the court and leads the precarious life of a fugitive. "Even during the hawala days, I had never faced such harassment, tension and persecution", he says. "The court's objective seems to be to harass and humiliate, rather than ascertain the truth".

Secular challenge

A major convention organised in New Delhi gives expression to widespread concerns about the communalisation of education under the National Democratic Alliance government.

EDUCATION is an essential component of the state's ideological apparatus in a class-based society. It acquires even more importance when the state moves in the direction of fascism. The changes that have been introduced by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in the sphere of education have given enough hints about the direction the Indian state is taking of late. A cross-section of concerned people, including the Education Ministers of nine States, was brought together in New Delhi by the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (Sahmat) for a three-day convention from August 4. The participants expressed concern over the communalisation of education and the Union government's failure to take State governments into confidence in matters relating to education.

18171091jpg

In October 1998, a State Education Ministers' conference in Kolkata rejected the sectarian proposals made in a document prepared by Vidya Bharati, an educational outfit run by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). In a move reminiscent of that, the Education Ministers who participated in the New Delhi convention, all of them belonging to States or Union Territories ruled by parties that are outside the NDA, and leading academics demanded the withdrawal of the controversial National Curriculum Framework for School Education (NCF), which has been designed by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT). The Ministers from West Bengal, Pondicherry, Nagaland, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Bihar, Karnataka and Rajasthan rejected the NCF which, they said, was prepared without consulting State governments. They demanded that the Central government initiate a process of consulting the States on national education policy, convene a conference of Education Ministers, and constitute a Central Advisory Board of Education. In a joint statement, the Ministers and other participants demanded the withdrawal of the University Grants Commission (UGC) circular introducing "indigenous systems of knowledge" in university-level courses. Among the other signatories were Congress Working Committee member Arjun Singh, Communist Party of India general secretary A.B. Bardhan, Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury, All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) general secretary Brinda Karat and Members of Parliament Eduardo Faleiro, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Shabana Azmi.

The participants included historians Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, K.N. Panikkar, Satish Chandra, K.M. Shrimali, Mushirul Hasan, D.N. Jha and Suraj Bhan, economists Prabhat Patnaik and C.T. Kurien, former Vice- Chancellor of the Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli, V. Vasanthi Devi, commentator and lawyer A.G. Noorani, Editor of Communalism Combat Teesta Setalvad, and Anil Sadgopal of the Central Institute of Education.

The convention condemned the Human Resource Development Ministry's attempts to steamroll the educational system and fill research institutions with persons with a certain ideological background. Similar attempts were made in the past by Sangh Parivar ideologues but they were not done so blatantly, the convention observed. It alleged that in its pursuit of a single-point agenda, the NDA government appeared least bothered about healthy criticism. The participants pointed out with concern the "stifling silence" of the BJP's partners in power over the HRD Ministry's moves to tamper with the educational system. They reiterated the need to preserve the federal polity and the secular character of the Indian republic by resisting communal onslaughts on education and culture.

Prof. Irfan Habib, former Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research, dwelt at length on the rewriting of history being attempted by the Sangh Parivar. As part of the project, the Parivar not only introduced Vedic nomenclature wherever possible but tampered with the dates of historical texts in order to emphasise their antiquity, he said. Official agencies promoted "new discoveries" of Indian history in an attempt to establish the antiquity of the Aryan civilisation and its superiority over other civilisations, especially the Harappan civilisation. Much of these discoveries lacked historical evidence, he explained. For instance, it is claimed that humankind originally evolved in the upper Saraswati region, that is, northern Haryana, and that India was the original home of the Aryans and other Indo-Europeans, he explained. In order to support the Sangh Parivar's claims it was necessary that everything "Aryan" had to be dated to antiquity; therefore, according to Prof. Habib, the Rg Veda is said to have been composed before 5000 B.C. and not circa 1500 B.C. It is claimed that bronze was "cast" in India by 3700 B.C. and writing originated in India. According to Habib, the Parivar refers to the Indus culture, which was officially named the Harappan culture, as the Saraswati-Sindhu culture, a Vedic nomenclature.

Habib said that given the low esteem that the Sangh Parivar had for Asoka and Akbar, it was possible that the new NCERT textbooks would reflect the biases. As an example for biased history writing, he cited K.S. Lal's book Growth of Muslim Population in Medieval India (1973) in which the author presents a picture of continuous decline of the Indian population owing to massacres of Hindus by Muslims. Lal, known for his ideological affinity to the RSS, does not give any statistical evidence in support of his claim. In The Mughal Harem (1988), Lal talks about the "immoral" ways of Muslims, ignoring the fact that Hindu rulers and nobles too were polygamous. Habib also cited P.N. Oak's claim in the early 1960s that the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort were originally built by Hindus and were misappropriated by Muslims later. There was a deliberate denial of Muslim culture, Habib said.

18171092jpg

Like every individual, a country too needed an accurate memory of its past, Habib observed. Unfortunately, according to him, not only history was distorted but science was assaulted. The move to introduce courses in astrology in about 30 universities was a case in point, he said.

Suraj Bhan expressed concern over the attempts at the Aryanisation of the Indus civilisation. He said chauvinistic nationalism and regionalism had caused a perceptible decline in archaeological perspectives and methods and institutional health and these posed a real threat to the discipline of history. One of the reasons for the attempt to identify the Vedic culture with the Indus civilisation was to prove that the former was one of the oldest civilisations in the world, at least as old as the Mesopotamian civilisation. The Vedic culture was glorified because the Vedas were considered the "source of Hindu social, political and economic institutions" and Hindu culture was equated with Indian culture, he said.

Prof. K.N. Panikkar explained how the ideological apparatus of the state was trying to project a new system of education that uncritically privileged the indigenous and celebrated the religious. The system of education in the post-Independence period, though essentially elitist, respected the social plurality and cultural diversity of the country, he said. That education was a subject in the Concurrent List and not in the Central List was a reflection of this diversity, he pointed out.

Panikkar said that a major compulsion behind the attempt to change the content of education was to realise the communal objective of creating a Hindu national identity and a sense of national pride. In this context, Panikkar quoted an article written by NCERT Director J.S. Rajput in the Journal of Value Education, which says: "A sense of belonging must be developed in every individual learner by focussing on India's contribution to world civilisation. It is high time that India's contribution in areas like mathematics, sciences, maritime, medicine, trade, architecture, sculpture, establishment of institutions of learning was emphasised and made known to the learners in order to develop a sense of belonging to the nation with respect and an attachment to the past." Panikkar described the discussion document that preceded the NCF as being full of unfettered nostalgia and proffering an "indigenous" curriculum.

Pointing out that training in citizenship was an integral part of value education in all countries, Panikkar said such education in the Indian context should be rooted in secularism and democracy. However, the NCF's prescription was totally devoid of such political content, he said, and argued that it was a deliberate attempt to foster a national identity derived from religious consciousness and not a secular and composite consciousness. The UGC's Hinduism-oriented courses and the kind of value education the NCERT sought to promote were both part of the wider political project of the BJP-RSS combine, he said.

The changes in the content of education, Panikkar said, were planned in a context of the unfettered entry of transnational capital. He warned that there were grand plans to privatise education and make it serve the needs of capital. According to Panikkar, industrialists Mukesh Ambani and Kumarmangalam Birla have prepared a report on educational reforms (called the Birla-Ambani report), prescribing a market-led and knowledge-driven economy. The state's role, if any, was minimal in the industrialists' scheme of things, he said. He noted that there was essentially a convergence of interests of globalisation and communalisation in that both were opposed to plurality.

Prof. Romila Thapar warned that those who refused to understand the past ended up misunderstanding the present. She criticised the NDA government for setting aside significant events in its obsession with the "Vedic capsule". Absence of rational critical enquiry characterised the policymakers in education today, she said. There was no pedagogical relevance for either yogic consciousness or the spiritual quotient. "These are frills and cannot form the core of knowledge," she said. By giving a single definition to Indian culture and society and by projecting it through the educational system, the Sangh Parivar went fundamentally against the experience of both the past and the present, she argued.

Romila Thapar felt that secularists and others had probably treated the term 'secularism" casually but today there was a need to be constantly alert because Indian society could survive only by practising secularism. The education policy could not be held to ransom by politicians and bureaucrats, she said, and demanded that the names of those who had drafted the NCF be made public. "Educational needs had to be professionally examined and professionally worked out," she said. She emphasised that the education policy should be based on a sensitive understanding of the Centre-region interface because a single syllabus for the entire nation would not work even in States with high literacy levels. Schooling and curriculum should relate not only to local needs and ethos but also to the wider needs of the country, she added.

Speaking on the impact of communalisation on institutions, Prof. C.T. Kurien, Chairperson of the Madras Institute of Development Studies, and Kapila Vatsayan, former Chairperson of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, stressed the need to recognise the principles of diversity and democracy in educational institutions. A.G. Noorani condemned the government's totalitarian outlook which, he said, was reflected in its systematic attempt to pack all institutions, including the judiciary, with "its own people".

Rooprekha Verma, former Vice-Chancellor of Lucknow University, said the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the BJP, had sought to pressure her into renaming the university after RSS leader Balasaheb Deoras. Criticising the UGC's decision to introduce astrology courses in universities, physicist T. Jayaraman demanded that the list of experts who recommended this move be made public. Vasanthi Devi said that history had become the greatest casualty in the cyber age. The communalisation of history amounted to the rejection of history, she said. Arjun Dev, former Head of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, NCERT, criticised the undemocratic genesis and character of the NCF.

In the past, criticism has failed to make the NDA government rethink its policy decisions in the matter of education. It remains to be seen whether the Sahmat convention will effect a change in the trend.

Hurdles on the road to Doha

Sharp divisions among member-nations at the recent General Council meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Geneva prevent an agreement being reached to set an agenda for the Fourth Ministerial Conference in Doha in November.

THE spirit of Seattle continues to haunt international trade negotiations under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). An informal preparatory meeting of member countries held in Geneva on July 30 and 31, failed to come to an agreement on the agenda for the WTO's Fourth Ministerial Conference in Doha from November 9 to 13. Countries were sharply divided on the fundamental question of whether to launch a new round of negotiations. The failure of the meeting, which was dubbed as a "reality check", leaves very little time for countries to evolve a consensus before the Doha Ministerial.

18171261jpg

Although the United States and the European Union (E.U.) have fought bitter trade wars over beef and banana and over regulation of genetically modified food, there is a growing realisation that the developed countries will close ranks to initiate a new round of trade negotiations. A recent article in The Washington Post, written jointly by Pascal Lamy, E.U. Commissioner for Trade, and Robert Zoellick, U.S. Trade Representative, points out that trade disputes between the economic giants are but "inevitable". This conciliatory tone laid the basis for the authors' insistence that the E.U. and the U.S. "can and must work together to launch a new global trade round in November". A significant feature of the Doha Ministerial is that it will be held under the shadow of the ongoing global recession. Developed countries are perceived to be keen on a new round to prise open markets around the world for their products and services.

A new round of trade talks would mean fresh issues on the agenda. The unprecedented popular protests prevented these from being imposed on developing countries at the last Ministerial Conference in 1999 at Seattle (Frontline, January 7, 2000). Developed countries are seeking a comprehensive new round at Doha. They want to bring on the agenda moves to lower industrial tariffs further and impose rules for the protection of investment, a competition policy framework that levels the field for foreign companies that operate in domestic markets in member-countries, trade facilitation, norms for government procurement (so that domestic companies in member-countries do not enjoy preference), rules to harmonise the overlapping commitments of member-countries to environmental and trade agreements arrived at under multilateral auspices (for example, the Kyoto Protocol), e-commerce, and the issue of labour standards.

THE WTO has been the principal target of anti-globalisation protests across the world because it is perceived as the global policeman disciplining international trade. Indeed, recent reports indicate that after the spectacular collapse of the Ministerial Conference at Seattle, the WTO has been trying to refurbish its image.

Developing countries have argued that the WTO's agenda is already overloaded. They fear that new issues are being brought to the negotiating table when unimplemented issues, arising out of earlier commitments, are piling up. The developing countries argue that "implementation issues" must be on top of the Doha agenda.

One of the key areas of concern for developing countries is the backlog of unimplemented issues pertaining to the WTO's Agreement on Agriculture in 1995. Agricultural subsidies in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), whose members are among the economically advanced countries, increased from $247 billion in 1986-88 to $326 billion in 1999. This happened even as developing countries cut the tariffs on imported agricultural commodities as part of their WTO obligations. Statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) show that agricultural exports by developed countries increased by more than 3 per cent between 1990 and 1997; such exports by developing countries grew by just 0.63 per cent during the same period. Agricultural imports into developing countries increased by nearly 4 per cent during this period compared to less than 2 per cent for developed countries. The U.S.-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy complained in a recent note to the U.S. Trade Representative that American agribusiness corporations were "dumping" their products across the world because of the "export credit, insurance and transportation subsidies" that they receive from the U.S. government at the expense of the taxpayer.

ENFORCEMENT of intellectual property rights is an emotive issue that is threatening to assume serious proportions in the Third World. At the very least, developing countries want compulsory licensing of patents so that they are able to address their public health priorities. The development and availability of drugs for the treatment of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is among the most significant issues. African governments are under pressure to ensure that the drug monopolies are not allowed to override the need for treatment of life-threatening epidemics. Although some individual companies have offered concessions, developing countries would like the WTO to provide a more durable arrangement.

On the issue of trade in services, developing countries have time and again called for more liberal provisions for the "movement of natural persons" so that they could benefit from selling labour skills, priced cheaper, in advanced countries. This has met with stiff resistance although the value of trade in the "movement of natural persons" amounted to a mere $30 billion, compared to $820 billion in the case of the services trade via commercial presence. Developing countries also favour a more transparent and equitable dispute settlement mechanism at the WTO.

Although trade in textiles is of significant export interest to developing countries, very little has been done to remove the barriers to trade. Although member-countries are to remove all restrictions by 2005, till date only a fraction of such restrictions have been removed in the developed countries.

The Like-Minded Group (LMG), an informal group that includes India, Pakistan and other developing countries, has categorically rejected a new round. Srinivasan Narayanan, the Indian Ambassador to the WTO, said recently: "We are not ready for it (a new round). We will lose more than we gain."

India also articulated its concerns in its communique to the G-77 in mid-June. Union Minister for Commerce and Industry Murasoli Maran pointed out that the Uruguay Round, which laid the basis for the establishment of the WTO, had "resulted in serious imbalance and asymmetry to the detriment of the developing countries." He also pointed out that although the WTO's General Council had decided in May 2000 that all "implementation issues" would be resolved before the Doha Conference, developed countries now insist that these issues will be settled as part of a new round.

The LMG insists that the "implementation-related concerns" are a hangover from the pre-WTO days. The group claims that developing countries have already paid heavily by undertaking obligations arising out of deviations from the standard agenda of trade negotiations under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the forerunner of the WTO. These obligations included those relating to intellectual property rights and Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIMS). Developing countries now demand that implementation issues be settled "up-front", before other issues are taken up for negotiations.

Indeed, Uganda's Ambassador to the WTO Nathan Irumba has argued that the demand for a new and extended round is flawed. "There is a systemic issue here," he said. Arguing that "the whole notion of rounds was before the WTO was created," Irumba claimed that the WTO is "supposed to be a continuous negotiating forum". Developing countries have called for a "realistic assessment"incorporating their concerns. They warn that if this does not happen, the "level of ambition will have to be lowered".

A confidential memo circulated among member-countries before the Geneva meet admitted that the "entrenched nature" of the differences among member-countries did not augur well for starting a new round at Doha. Mike Moore, Director-General of the WTO, could barely conceal his own position in favour of a new round, when he warned that another failure, at Doha, "would certainly condemn us to a long period of irrelevance". He asked member-countries "to get real" on the agenda for Doha.

Life after Agra

After all the emotional froth that preceded the Summit and the waffling that followed, equations between India and Pakistan take on the familiar ring of antagonism.

FOR all their apparent futility, bilateral engagements between India and Pakistan have in recent times managed to produce a steady stream of diplomatic cliches, which may come as welcome respite for those who have had enough of the invective that was till recently the official currency in such exchanges. "Friendly and very useful" was the official summation of the 75-minute meeting between the Foreign Secretaries of the two governments in Colombo, on the sidelines of a conference of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). By all accounts, what happened behind the scenes is that India served notice on Pakistan that it was time to end the unseemly self-congratulation over the propaganda victory in Agra and renew the focus on substantive issues. The recent killings of civilians in Jammu and Kashmir had engendered extremely negative sentiments at the public and political levels, said Indian Foreign Secretary Chokila Iyer. And there could be no terminological waffling over the nature of these heinous deeds. With the generous foreign assistance that was going into the planning and execution of these acts, no description could be more accurate than "cross-border terrorism".

18170261jpg

The future content and character of bilateral relations was entirely a matter of Pakistan's choice, said Chokila Iyer. But a minimum requirement for progress was a demonstrated commitment from that side on curbing cross-border terrorism. The status of Kashmir had little to do with bilateral relations, though Pakistan had the resources necessary to make a material difference to the situation of strife and suffering in Jammu and Kashmir. Significantly, in reasserting the well-worn list of India's demands on Pakistan, Chokila Iyer also decisively shut the door on the impression that India had been on the verge of conceding, at the verbal plane, that Kashmir was a 'dispute' or an 'issue' deserving priority over all others.

On its side, Pakistan deplored the Foreign Secretary's very public statements as "unhelpful" to the cause of better bilateral ties. But significantly, in briefings to the Pakistan media, official spokespersons were at pains to emphasise that many of the proposals advanced by India - including nuclear risk reduction, confidence building measures, facilitation of contacts between the people of the two countries and regular interactions between the military establishments to ensure the cessation of hostile activities on the international border and line of control - were under consideration. It is not yet clear whether there has been a retreat from the "Kashmir only" agenda that Pakistan brought to the negotiating table in Agra. But clearly there are some compulsions on their side now for a meaningful dialogue that is not held hostage to either side's most extreme vulnerabilities.

As in the case of most other meetings between India and Pakistan, the Foreign Secretaries went into the Colombo encounter with no agreed agenda. There was an expectation, though, that some groundwork would be done in preparation for two high-level visits from the Indian side to Pakistan - first by External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and then by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. But the progress on this count was cursory. Chokila Iyer conveyed India's acceptance of the invitation from Pakistan for the ministerial visit as also for summit-level contact. Pakistan Foreign Secretary Inamul Haq conveyed his side's sense of anticipation over the promised visits. But firm schedules, it was agreed, would need to be finalised after much further discussion.

Addressing various segments of their domestic constituencies, both Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh have been keen to deflate Pakistan's claims that Agra was a symbolic triumph for its position. Responding to criticism from Opposition benches in the Lok Sabha about a lack of preparation for the Agra Summit, Jaswant Singh sought to reverse the onus. Contrary to such impressions, he said, it was the Indian side that had made all the concrete proposals to set down an agenda prior to the Agra event. However, repeated such efforts met with a lack of enthusiasm from the Pakistan side. For Jaswant Singh, the inference that could be drawn from this was very clear: that "the Pakistan establishment until the last was not clear because (it) had not been taken into full confidence by the President of Pakistan...".

When it came to the choice of venue, the Indian side had proposed that the ceremony in Delhi be kept to a minimum, so that the two leaders would have ample time to retreat to a more congenial venue for the serious deliberations. Goa was a location that India proposed. But Pakistan, said Jaswant Singh, was insistent that the visiting President should spend a whole day in Delhi, following which the discussions could shift to Agra.

Having conceded this much on the choice of venue and the scheduling of talks, India proposed that the cloistered dialogue at the apex between the visiting Pakistan President, General Pervez Musharraf, and Prime Minister Vajpayee, must be followed by a broader discussion between the two delegations. This perfectly unexceptionable suggestion too, in Jaswant Singh's narration, seemed to take the Pakistan side by surprise. They only began making the notes for the intervention by their President as Vajpayee began the proceedings by reading out from a prepared text, laying out all the areas of concern for the Indian side.

What India confronted in Agra, said Jaswant Singh in evident exasperation, was a negotiating situation not in a diplomatic context, but in one of "military simplicism": "The President of Pakistan never fights shy of extolling the virtues of soldierly qualities. He is not at all hesitant or inhibited in putting across the attribute of soldierly directness. We all greatly admired the soldierly qualities." Pausing for a bit of banter with the Opposition on his own military service credentials, Jaswant Singh proclaimed that India too did not lack soldierly qualities. But what was required in Agra was not "soldierly directness". Rather what needed to be done was to address the complex issues involving the "mistakes of history" and the "sentiments of the peoples". Carefully, Jaswant Singh underlined that the question of Jammu and Kashmir was a question involving several "peoples" with diverse cultural affiliations and different political aspirations.

Jaswant Singh also revealed details of the negotiating record in Agra that have so far remained obscure. He has claimed that the Indian team had a draft text ready by the evening of July 15, which was put forward to the Pakistan counterparts for approval. There was a suggestion that the two delegations could sit together through the evening so that final agreement could be reached prior to the banquet that was being hosted later that day by the Governor of Uttar Pradesh. The Pakistan delegation, in Jaswant Singh's narration, simply would not accept the proposed time-frame. This, he claims, is clear evidence that they were not really sure what they wanted out of the Summit. Finally, the delegations managed to put their heads together after the banquet and work through the night, so that a draft text - with a number of bracketed items indicating lack of consensus - was ready by 4-30 a.m. on July 16. But then, Jaswant Singh claimed, the Pakistan President came up with the perfectly outlandish proposal that he would personally sit with Vajpayee to iron out the differences. This was not acceptable to the Indian delegation, and from then on the talks were seemingly doomed to failure.

Needless to say, the version that Jaswant Singh has laid out before Parliament differs in crucial respects with the account that the Pakistan side has been freely giving out. Although Vajpayee himself did not give any further elaboration on the detailed narration of the External Affairs Minister, he identified the moment that the talks began to meander into a slough of futility at a much earlier point. This happened on the first day when Pakistan refused to acknowledge that it had any means of assuaging India's concerns on terrorism. And though Vajpayee was unwilling to reveal the details of his sequestered discussions with Musharraf, he did gather the distinct impression that his interlocutor from Pakistan had no inclination to talk of any issue other than Kashmir.

Although a shared vocabulary for productive dialogue was evidently missing at the Agra Summit, in the weeks following, there has been a curious symmetry in the concerns that India and Pakistan have expressed about their domestic situations. Addressing a seminar on "arms control" in Pakistan early in August, Musharraf seemingly borrowed a favoured word from the lexicon of Home Minister L.K. Advani. "Let me assure you," said Pakistan's military ruler, that "we will be conclusive, proactive and offensive after the completion of elections and we will search targeted areas and it will be done at all costs." This locution had the distinct echo of Advani's long-standing promise that he would adopt and encourage a "proactive" strategy in dealing with terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. In the days following, Musharraf adopted an equally tough line while addressing a special meeting of provincial Governors and federal government officials to deal with the problem of terrorism: "The government will not let terrorists spread scare and terror. My government shall not be deterred by such acts and we shall chase them till the last of the terrorists is apprehended."

As certain commentators in Pakistan wryly observed, even as Musharraf and his Interior Minister, Moinuddin Haider were engaging in tough talks on arms control, a "jehadist" outfit was out in strength in Karachi, flaunting its lethal weaponry under the watchful gaze and protection of the federal law enforcement agencies. The problem clearly has acquired endemic proportions, leading to a political analyst in The Nation to propose an ingenious solution: "An order should be given for the shifting of the so-called jehadi outfits along with their trained and undertraining cadres and their authorised arms and ammunition, to territories adjacent to where they are to operate. In any case, they should be required to leave the territorial limits of Pakistan, for no so-called jehad is to be fought in Pakistan."

Clearly, the mood within Pakistan suggests that Jaswant Singh's monitory warnings are uncomfortably close to the reality: "It is Pakistan that has to resolve the inner turmoil within its society, the sectarian violence. It is Pakistan that has to realise that if it continues to promote the kind of fundamentalism that it is promoting, it is unleashing a variety of medieval malevolence that can only harm it."

Jaswant Singh continued with a rather confident prognosis of India's ability to confront this challenge. He has also in recent times been repeatedly asserting that Kashmir is a symbol of India's commitment to a civic vision of nationalism rather than a denominational one. But if the government responds to the challenge of terrorism by disabling all civic institutions and arming its military forces with sweeping powers - as it has recently done - then it only undermines this claim.

After all the emotional froth that preceded the Agra Summit and the indecisive waffling that followed, Advani's statement of August 9 in the Lok Sabha restored the equations between India and Pakistan to the familiar pitch of antagonism: "It must be appreciated, that what we are fighting is a proxy war of multiple dimensions unleashed by an inimical neighbouring country which has had no qualms in rationalizing the brutal killing of innocent men, women and children as a 'freedom struggle'." In the rancorous and partisan debate that followed, the voice of reason, as articulated by Somnath Chatterji of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was an isolated strain. What was missing in Kashmir, said the veteran MP from West Bengal, was trust and not the draconian powers that the armed forces have now been endowed with. But in the fraught atmosphere that has been engendered following the failed promise of Agra, such sage counsel is unlikely to win any adherents.

Troubled legacy

A family feud over Phoolan Devi's 'legacy' deepens the mystery surrounding her murder.

IN life, Phoolan Devi, the bandit-turned Samajwadi Party member of the Lok Sabha, defied easy explanation. In death too, she remains an enigma. The motive behind her murder, committed in broad daylight in the capital's high-security zone, continues to be a mystery, although the police claim to have caught all those involved in the plotting and carrying out of the murder of the MP from Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh. However, the ripples that the shooting created in national as well as Uttar Pradesh politics have died down with hardly anyone attributing political motives to the killing. In fact, S.P. leaders had initially held Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Rajnath Singh and Union Home Minister L.K. Advani responsible for the shooting. What now unfolds in the place of political intrigue is an unsavoury family situation of greed, treachery and betrayal. The tussle is over Phoolan Devi's property, which is estimated to be worth around Rs.2.5 crores. One now wonders whether the murder was in some way related to her property.

18170281jpg

The family drama came out in the open on the day Phoolan Devi's husband Umed Singh, himself under a cloud, called a press conference to announce the formation of a trust in her memory. Even as he began elaborating his plans for realising his late wife's "dreams" through the trust, her sisters and mother burst upon the scene, accusing Umed of trying to usurp the property by floating a trust of which he would have total control. They did not stop at that; they accused him of conspiring to kill Phoolan Devi as she had hinted at making out a will and leaving him out of it.

Speaking to Frontline, Phoolan's younger sister Munni Devi used strong words in levelling allegations against Umed Singh. She also said that he was being less than truthful in claiming that he did not know Pankaj, Uma and so on. Pankaj is the main accused in the case. He confessed to killing Phoolan Devi in retaliation for the Behmai massacre of 1981, in which Phoolan Devi, a bandit then, was accused of gunning down 20 Thakurs. Uma Kashyap was a political associate of Phoolan Devi and is the Uttaranchal president of Eklavya Sena, floated by Phoolan on the lines of the Dalit Sena of Ram Vilas Paswan. On the day of the killing, Uma Kashyap had come to Delhi from Roorkee in the car driven by Pankaj, which was later used by the killers to escape. Uma Kashyap's presence in Phoolan Devi's house when she was shot made her a prime suspect, and she has been under detention since then. It is no secret that Phoolan's marriage was on the rocks. The couple had moved for divorce twice but did not press the matter. This is also corroborated by her sisters. Munni Devi alleged that Phoolan Devi often complained that Umed used abusive language and even used to beat her. Even on the day she was killed he had abused her when she wanted to use her car to go to Parliament House, Munni told Frontline. "She was forced to go to Parliament in the assassin's car," she said. Munni Devi quoted Phoolan Devi as telling them: "Yeh to na bhaagta hai, na talaaq deta hai. Yeh hamein marwa dega." (This man does not go away, does not even agree for a divorce. He will get me killed one day).

Phoolan Devi's mother Moola Devi and her sisters and brother are of the opinion that Umed Singh married Phoolan only for money. He has already got the registration of her car transferred in his name. Some years ago, he took Rs.12 lakhs as loan from Phoolan Devi to construct a house for his first wife, and did not return the money," they said.

Phoolan's relatives thus picture Umed Singh as the villain of the piece, but he has a different tale to tell. According to him, the sisters and the mother were driven by pure greed and were making wild allegations. However, he was at a loss to explain the hurry in announcing the formation of the trust even before the terahvi (13th day) ritual was over. According to Phoolan's family members, the setting up of a project should not have been announced before terahvi. Besides, they said Umed had not discussed the composition of the trust with them.

On August 6, the supporters of Phoolan's sisters and mother and those of Umed Singh came to blows. The police had to intervene to separate the groups. An interesting development is that both Munni Devi and Umed Singh have started talking about "inheriting the legacy of Phoolan" from Mirzapur "if the people wanted them to." In other words, it is a request for the Lok Sabha ticket, and it would be interesting to watch who the S.P. leader Mulayam Singh Yadav would select as Phoolan Devi's political heir.

Still on the boil

With the leading Naga group threatening to pull out of the June 14 agreement in protest against the decision to restrict the ceasefire accord to Nagaland alone as demanded by Manipur groups, the Union government finds itself in a fix.

THE threat of renewed violence in the northeastern region has shifted from Manipur to Nagaland with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah) rejecting the Central government's decision to restrict the ceasefire to Nagaland. The group has threatened to pull out of the agreement it signed with the government on June 14 in Bangkok. The agreement, which extended the ceasefire to all Naga-inhabited areas beyond Nagaland, sparked large-scale violence in Manipur in which 17 people were killed. Manipur, now under President's Rule, remained under curfew for a month from June 16.

18170301jpg

On July 27, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced at a meeting of the Chief Ministers of the seven northeastern States that the Bangkok agreement to enforce the ceasefire in areas beyond Nagaland had been revoked, and that the words "without territorial limits" would be deleted from the agreement to restore the status quo ante. Immediately, the NSCN(I-M) leaders in exile, Thiuangaleng Muivah and Isaac Chisi Swu, issued a statement from Amsterdam saying that the government had backtracked on the June 14 agreement and that the decision to restrict the ceasefire to Nagaland was unacceptable to them. They denied Union Home Minister L.K. Advani's statement that they had agreed to the government's proposal after their talks with the latter's interlocutor, former Home Secretary K. Padmanabhaiah, in Amsterdam on July 23 and 24. Padmanabhaiah flew to Amsterdam as the situation in Manipur became alarming in the wake of the agreement, with protesters demanding that the ceasefire be confined to Nagaland. The geographical extension of the ceasefire drew protests from people in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh as they feared that the NSCN(I-M) would use the clause "without territorial limits" to legitimise its demand for a "Greater Nagaland". Padmanabhaiah's mission was to get the NSCN(I-M) leadership to agree to reducing the area of operation of the agreement to the original territorial limits of Nagaland.

Barely a few hours after he landed in Amsterdam, the NSCN(I-M) leaders made it clear that if the Bangkok agreement was "even touched", they would be forced to call off the ceasefire. The collective leadership of the NSCN(I-M), said in a statement that no final decision had been taken to review the agreement at the talks with Padmanabhaiah, clearly contradicting the Centre's announcement. The statement said: "It was understood that the implementation of the ceasefire, especially the necessity of keeping the rampant activities of all the Indian armed forces under effective control, was first and foremost before any decision is arrived at. This is the truth and the whole truth of the talks and so there is no point on the part of the Indian government to make any announcement beyond this understanding. Therefore, any announcement, declaration or statement made by the Home Ministry is unfounded and in no way acceptable to Nagas."

Advani is understood to have pulled up Padmanabhaiah for giving the impression that Muivah would agree to a revision of the Bangkok agreement.

But the damage had already been done. Protest rallies and bandhs in Dimapur, the biggest town in Nagaland, and the capital Kohima followed the Centre's declaration. It took a while for the Nagas to come to terms with Advani's remarks.

The situation in Nagaland is changing fast. The NSCN(I-M) is closing ranks and mobilising cadres in the Naga-dominated hill districts of Tamenglong, Ukhrul, Chandel and Senapati in Manipur. Informed sources said that V.S. Atem, former "chief of staff" of the underground Naga Army, has been visiting Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur. In Dimapur and Kohima, the NSCN(I-M) ceasefire monitoring cell is buzzing with activity. The convener of the cell, Phung Thing Shimrang, told Frontline that the steering committee of the NSCN(I-M) had held a series of meetings after the last round of talks between Isaac and Muivah and Padmanabhaiah. He said: "Even if we consider Advani's statement that the words 'without territorial limits' would be deleted, we take it that the Home Minister has not said that the ceasefire would be specifically restricted to the State of Nagaland. For us, our territorial limits extend to all Naga dominated areas in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh."

The security forces fear that the latest development may spark another round of turmoil in the region following a renewed offensive by the banned NSCN(I-M) in the States adjoining Nagaland. Tension has already begun to mount, with Nagas in Manipur blocking highways, enforcing general strikes and taking out torchlight rallies to register their protest. Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur have sounded a high alert to counter any mischief by the NSCN(I-M) cadres. A senior Assam government official said: "The militants may try to carry out some operations in order to prove that limiting the ceasefire to Nagaland will not serve any purpose since the Naga militants' areas of influence extend beyond the boundaries of Nagaland."

Intelligence sources in Imphal said: "We have received inputs about movement of NSCN(I-M) cadres in some Naga-dominated hill districts of Manipur. We are keeping a close watch and the intelligence machinery has been geared up. Of particular concern is traffic along National Highways 39 and 53, which pass through these hill districts."

Five Naga organisations of Manipur and the powerful Naga Students' Federation have resolved to fight the Centre's "unilateral" decision and said that if New Delhi understands only the language of violence, then the Nagas would take that path. The Naga Youth Front organised a 36-hour blockade of the two highways in Manipur from July 26. Nagas in Manipur's hill districts observed a 48-hour general strike in the first week of August, virtually paralysing life in an area of 15,000 sq km inhabited by Nagas.

Nagaland Chief Minister S.C. Jamir told Frontline that the Centre had from the outset mishandled the ceasefire issue. Jamir, who did not know what had transpired between Padmanabhaiah and the NSCN(I-M) leaders, sought from the Centre details of the meeting. "It is the government's responsibility to tell the people which is the correct voice, the NSCN(I-M)'s or the government's," he said.

Jamir said the insurgency problem ought to be treated as a national one since various insurgent groups operating in the region demanded secession. The August 5 incident in Assam's Bongaigaon district, in which eight Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel and two civilians were killed, was part of the violence perpetrated by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) to highlight its demand for a "sovereign Bodoland", he pointed out.

A truce in trouble

A WHOLE week after he was expected to take over as the Prime Minister's special envoy to the Naga peace talks, the popular Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Member of Parliament and former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno A. Sangma was still awaiting his official commission. Conceptually, he had worked out the broad principles that would frame his peace initiative not just for the areas of Naga insurgent activity, but for the entire troubled northeastern region. All residual doubts about his suitability for the mission had, in his view, been allayed. The Congress Chief Ministers in the region, who had reason to resent his rebellion against the leadership of party president Sonia Gandhi, had shed all such reservations in the larger cause of peace. With his special interest in the matter, Nagaland Chief Minister S.C. Jamir had apparently insisted at first that an intermediary with major stakes in the politics of the region would not be effective. But he had reportedly been mollified by the promise of equal status with Sangma in representing the official Indian view before the Naga insurgent groups.

18170311jpg

The statements emanating from the other side of the negotiations, however, seemed to cast considerable doubt over this rather optimistic reading. A top functionary of the NSCN(I-M) in Nagaland, A.Z. Zami, was for instance quoted as saying that the talks in Amsterdam did not progress well: "The dispute over the ceasefire jurisdiction remains. But the two sides have agreed to meet again soon."

Padmanabhaiah himself was unwilling to elaborate on the current status of the talks, since much ground still remained to be covered. He continued to work on the premise that the NSCN(I-M) would not adopt a precipitate course that would jeopardise the gains of the last four years of relative peace. And in fact, the rather cautious tone of the NSCN(I-M) spokesperson and his commitment that the talks would continue indicate that there is a strong constituency for peace in the Naga areas, which the insurgents are unlikely to disregard.

If popular sentiment in the Naga areas is conducive to the sustenance of the truce, so too is the mood within the wide global network of Naga support groups. But it is not clear that the Union government, having unilaterally rescinded the single substantive gain of the peace process in order to appease the violent resentments that had been stoked in Manipur in particular, has the intellectual resources necessary to ensure progress. The reported move to bring in Sangma as a key player, with Jamir in a role of almost equal importance, does not suggest a very accommodative stance. Sangma retains a relatively benign image, but in the NSCN(I-M) assessment his credentials are flawed by his rather strident opposition to the territorial extension of the ceasefire. And the main Naga insurgent group has for long resented the virtual power of veto that Jamir has exercised over the peace talks.

The territorial application of the ceasefire has for long been a contentious issue between the Indian government and the NSCN(I-M). This was an area of ambiguity in the ceasefire agreed upon in July 1997 between the insurgents and the I.K. Gujral government, which consolidated on the substantial work done by the late Rajesh Pilot, acting as a special envoy of the Deve Gowda Ministry. The insurgents were under the obvious impression that it applied to all the areas in which they operated. The Indian government was willing to go along with this understanding without quite stating it explicitly. In a conciliatory gesture towards the restless coalitions of ethnic groups that had made their peace with the central authority in the northeastern region, the government officially would only go so far as to say that the ceasefire applied in Nagaland.

18170312jpg

In May 1998, the Atal Behari Vajpayee government appointed Swaraj Kaushal, former Governor of Mizoram, as special envoy to the Naga peace talks. Kaushal tapped into a rich vein of goodwill that he had created in the region as counsel for Laldenga, the legendary leader of the Mizo insurgency. His views on the scope of the ceasefire were also unequivocal, as articulated in a 1998 statement: "Wherever they (the NSCN) are, we observe ceasefire, even abroad... Yes, very definitely. It covers Delhi and even Paris... After all, it is not that they will be killing each other in a particular area and discussing peace in another area. What is required is a conducive atmosphere for a discussion..."

From 1999 onwards, the peace process began to run into choppy waters. Kaushal was replaced by Padmanabhaiah, as Jamir's increasingly assertive posture began to exert its influence. With the tacit support of a group of security officials in the Union Home Ministry, Jamir began to push the argument that the attempt on his life in December 1999 constituted a unilateral abrogation of the ceasefire by the NSCN(I-M). The insurgent group, for its part, disclaimed all responsibility for the assassination attempt and hinted instead that the entire incident had been stage-managed to derail the peace process. But through a series of meetings between Padmanabhaiah and the NSCN(I-M) leadership last year, the peace process failed to make any headway. The Bangkok agreement was in that sense the first substantive suggestion that a meaningful dialogue could be initiated to resolve India's longest-running insurgency.

It is far from clear now if the Centre's move to put forward a group of established politicians from the northeastern region as dialogue partners of the NSCN(I-M) will fetch any dividends. The challenge in the region is to widen the space for the politics of reconciliation. Politicians who have made their peace with the central authority operate within the narrow democratic space that is available in the troubled region and have a vested interest in keeping other groups out. Jamir's unremitting hostility to the NSCN(I-M) shows how zealously he intends to guard the space he has won for himself as the putative leader of the Naga people. The recent upsurge of resentment among the Meiteis - the majority community in Manipur - again indicates that the democratic ethos is yet to prevail over long-running ethnic rivalries.

Other Issues

View All