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COVER STORY

26-10-2001

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Briefing

WAR ON AFGHANISTAN

A Western coalition strikes with full fury at the supposed perpetrators of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Taking the impact is a nation that has already been ravaged by decades of strife.

THE world has seen these images before with a mixture of despair and dread: a clear night sky scarred by the tracks of lethal projectiles streaking towards undefended targets. Cities being roused from sleep by deafening explosions, learning at daybreak that a familiar urban landscape has changed beyond recognition. Civic amenities that are a part of daily life vanishing as the sources that provide them are attacked with deliberate precision.

These images are now accompanied by the bewildering thought that the land taking the full fury of the new wars of Western imperialism is one that has already been devastated by decades of strife. Recognising the moral indefensibility of attacking a country already suffering a humanitarian crisis of immense dimensions, aircraft of the United States were between dropping deadly payloads of explosives on Afghanistan, alternating with food, medicines, blankets and other relief supplies. And as the smoke began to rise from bombed-out sites in Kabul, Kandahar and numerous other cities, the fog of war descended heavily across the world.

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The pilot of a bomber aircraft that had participated in the strikes reported that his mission had proceeded like a "finely-oiled machine". Another said that his bombing run over Afghanistan had been easier even than a routine training sortie. But the triumphalism that was seen in the bombing of Iraq and Yugoslavia seemed missing, as also the exultation that comes from raining death and destruction on defenceless people from behind the protection that high technology affords. The official perspective on the raids on Afghanistan in Western circles was that they were essentially directed against Osama bin Laden, his Al Qaeda network and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. But it has been reliably reported that one of the two functioning power stations in Afghanistan was hit in the first round of air strikes, as also the country's main radio broadcast centre.

The strikes began just after nightfall on October 7. As day broke after several rounds of air and missile strikes, news agency reports from Kabul indicated that a large number of civilians had been killed. The Taliban claimed that it had shot down an enemy aircraft but the U.S. Defence Department denied that any of the 15 bombers and 25 strike aircraft used in the operations had suffered damage. The United Kingdom for its part confirmed that its role in the first day's military operations had been confined to launching a number of Tomahawk cruise missiles from submarines. Although the location of these submarines was not revealed, it seems a reasonable surmise that they were operating within Pakistani territorial waters.

Rioting had meanwhile broken out in a number of cities in Pakistan. In Peshawar and Quetta, marches held to express solidarity with Afghanistan turned violent and had to be dispersed by the police. Islamic groups staged noisy demonstrations outside the Pakistan Army's General Staff Headquarters in Rawalpindi, condemning the military leadership's endorsement of the air strikes against a neighbouring country. And in Islamabad, protestors set off for the American Centre in tumultuous waves, defying prohibitory orders and facing down repeated police warnings to clear the streets.

Pakistan's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf lost little time in taking to the air waves to explain matters to his restive nation. The operations would be brief and relatively painless, he claimed, since the U.S. and British forces had a well-defined objective and ample information available to choose the most appropriate targets. But even as he provided this broadly phrased endorsement of the Western powers' battle plan for Afghanistan, he held out a warning to the Northern Alliance - a disparate coalition of armed groups representing Afghanistan's ethnic minorities - that it should not "take advantage" of the situation on the ground. He also responded to an imaginary threat of military action from India by declaring that Pakistan forces were on the highest state of alert and were prepared to repel any adventurism from across the border.

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With all the aura of confidence that he projected, Musharraf had taken ample measures to protect his flanks. Two of the most prominent leaders of the Islamic Right in Pakistan had been placed under house arrest hours before the air offensive began. And a major reshuffle within the top ranks of the Army saw two associates being promoted to the rank of four-star General and the Director-General of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lieutenant-General Mahmood Ahmed, being dispatched into retirement. These were read as a measure of abundant precaution by the embattled President, despite all his protestations that they were part of a routine rearrangement of responsibilities in the military hierarchy.

First reports emerging from Afghanistan seemed to indicate that the Northern Alliance was not quite heeding Musharraf's warning. And with initial battle damage assessments indicating serious damage to the military infrastructure of the Taliban, the Northern Alliance's accelerated ground offensive was yielding it instant dividends. Spokesmen for the military coalition were declaring that it had the strategically vital town of Mazar-e-Sharief within its sights. And a march on Kabul was being talked of as a feasible military option.

THE worldwide reaction was sharply polarised. France, Germany and Italy endorsed the military operations and offered to contribute their own forces if that would help lessen the burden of international law enforcement that the U.S. and the U.K. had manfully shouldered. The Russian government, which has found itself at odds with most major Western military operations in the recent past, provided its unequivocal backing.

Within the Islamic world, Iraq showed little hesitation about issuing a prompt and strongly worded denunciation of the military strikes, which it said would destabilise the entire region. Iran, a traditional adversary of the West, expressed its muted disapproval, characterising the air strikes on Afghanistan as "unacceptable". Malaysia had a deeply argued and reasoned critique. Although it endorsed the general idea of a campaign against terrorism, it was not convinced that this purpose would be served by the conventional instruments of warfare.

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For the rest, the reaction from the Arab world was one of deep unease and trepidation, made more profound by the fact that many of the more wealthy and powerful Arab regimes - Egypt and Saudi Arabia notably - are traditional military allies of the U.S. and hence partly culpable for its actions.

There is still no indication of the range of targets and the time-frame for the ongoing military operations. The U.S.' principal need now is to capture or physically eliminate Osama bin Laden. Operating on the premise that the Al Qaeda network will wither away when its head is severed, the U.S. is running a vast military operation with a rather narrowly focussed objective. There are a number of ways in which this aim could be accomplished. The aerial bombing could coerce and intimidate the Taliban regime in Afghanistan into handing over bin Laden. Alternatively, it could shift the territorial advantage towards the Northern Alliance, which would be more cooperative in the task of locating bin Laden and assisting in his capture. If neither of these works, then the Western bombing campaign is designed to establish complete mastery over the air, so that commandos trained for special operations could then be dispatched at little risk on a mission to search out and capture the fugitive Saudi millionaire.

Military strategists were warning early in the campaign that the possibility of eliminating all risk of casualties were slim. The Taliban army was essentially made up of a number of infantry units, with a limited quantum of heavy artillery and some armoured contingents. Heavy bombing runs targeted at command and control centres would be of limited utility in disabling the Taliban's military strength. Since it was organised as a number of dispersed infantry units, the Taliban army was not seriously dependent on centralised command and control.

AN overarching constraint for the U.S. and the U.K. would be to maintain the political consensus that has enabled them to rush into armed action. This is by no means assured, since the consent of various countries has been explicitly withheld and the U.S. has just seemingly managed to win commitments from traditional allies that dissent will not be made public. Indeed, the military operations may have been delayed by at least a week to enable the U.S. to line up these reluctant allies.

Saudi Arabia remains outside the military effort in every sense. It has declined permission for the U.S. to utilise the Prince Sultan air base for flying sorties against Afghanistan, though the unauthorised use of the command and control facilities there cannot be ruled out. Oman was part of the initial mobilisation, since it hosts a large contingent of British troops and went ahead with a set of pre-scheduled military exercises with the U.K. shortly after the September 11 attacks. However, it has not rushed forward to own up any part of the responsibility for the air strikes against Afghanistan. Uzbekistan initially expressed willingness to offer its military bases for forward deployments of U.S. troops and aircraft. It later suffered some qualms and reportedly asked for an "order of battle", detailing the U.S.' military objectives and the possible time frame for their achievement. Following a visit by U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld a compromise was worked out, permitting the U.S. to use the Uzbek military bases for humanitarian purposes, such as search and rescue operations.

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Russia's initiative in aligning itself closely with stated U.S. military and political objectives played a key role in the coalition-building effort. President Vladimir Putin is believed to be disgruntled with the Taliban regime which he considers to be instrumental in keeping the conflict in Chechnya raging. Known to be rather resentful of U.S. military expansionism to its west, Russia has now with seemingly little reserve consented to share intelligence on Afghanistan and tolerate a U.S. military presence in the Central Asian republics just south of its borders. In going this far, Putin is believed to have overruled the judgment of his top military officials and brushed aside the objections of the communist and nationalist parties. Russia's approval cannot for this reason be taken for granted indefinitely.

IN the four-week period of preparation for battle, the U.S. worked along three dimensions. First, there was a massive deployment of military force within striking range of Afghanistan. Second, diplomatic initiatives were launched across a broad front to line up commitments of moral and material support for the military operations. And finally, an enormous intelligence gathering effort was set under way, using every possible source - Pakistan, Russia, the Central Asian Republics - to evolve a menu of targeting options for the initial air campaign.

These were arduous tasks which taxed the meagre political skills of the George Bush administration in the U.S. There was first the matter of cultural sensitivity which is now considered as much a part of the new wars of Western imperialism as military strategy. 'Infinite Justice' was the code name first conferred on the mobilisation in the war against global terrorism. Islamic countries, whose support the West was anxious to enlist, pointed out that justice - especially in its infinite variant - is an attribute of the singular and indivisible divine being and not something that can be delivered by B-52 bombers flying at 30,000 feet.

These objections were heeded and the codename 'Enduring Freedom' devised - indicating a mandate for military action that is not quite infinite yet sufficiently open-ended. But whatever reassurances may have been conveyed by the renaming were undermined by the assertion by Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. Deputy Secretary for Defence, that the objective of the new wars would be among other things, to "end the states" that support terrorism. This outburst of bellicosity created unwelcome difficulties for the coalition-building effort, but it was allowed to hold the field as an official declaration of U.S. government policy for close to a week.

Israel was emboldened in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks to capitalise on the heightened sense of vulnerability in the U.S. and brutally suppress all manifestations of Palestinian resistance. Alarmed at the negative repercussions for his coalition-building effort, Secretary of State Colin Powell issued a directive to Israel - to stop its provocative military actions and resume negotiations with Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat. Yet Prime Minister Ariel Sharon repeatedly refused his Foreign Minister Shimon Peres permission to meet Arafat. He relented only after a virtual ultimatum from the U.S.

On October 4, Sharon shocked the world and his few allies by denouncing the U.S. for its "appeasement" of Arabs. Israel, he warned, would not allow itself to be converted into a testing ground for this policy as Czechoslovakia was prior to the Second World War. Rather, Israel would continue its own struggle against terrorism, if necessary in isolation from the rest of the world. Sharon was soon chastised by Powell, but U.S. perceptions of the Palestinian intifada are still far removed from reality. An influential section within the U.S. strategic establishment believes that the intifada has run out of steam and is only being kept alive through the tacit connivance of the Palestinian Authority. This then leads them to the belief that the Authority is part of the problem and not the solution. Disbanding it and destroying its infrastructure, in other words, would bring the unrest in the occupied Palestinian lands quickly under control.

This perspective was firmly proven wrong when the first anniversary of the intifada - dating from Sharon's provocative visit to the Al Aqsa mosque last year - led to an upsurge of Palestinian protest. Consistent with his record for brutish behaviour, which seemingly won him the Prime Minister's job in February, Sharon responded with a massive application of force. The spiral of violence in Palestine shows no signs of abating. And it is by now established political practice in Israel that every time it faces a security dilemma it shifts further to the Right. In fact, Israeli obduracy is the one factor that will likely force the U.S. to abandon its consensual approach, adopt a more unilateral attitude and turn its attention to a broader range of targets.

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It has been no secret that the U.S. strategic establishment has been deeply divided over how to tailor its response to the September 11 attacks. A pragmatic section represented by Powell has focussed on objectives that are achievable within a defined time frame. But since the narrow objective of capturing bin Laden would also involve a broader assault that could undermine the foundations of the Taliban regime, other sections within the U.S. State Department are believed to have attached a possible corollary: encourage a political transition in Afghanistan and ensure a representative government that would live at peace with the neighbourhood and the world.

President Bush seemed specifically to disavow the latter objective when he said that the U.S. was not into "nation building". But it is perhaps a symptom of the malaise of power without accountability that the U.S. establishment should have traversed the entire spectrum from "ending" states to "building" nations in a short span of four weeks.

The Powell brand of pragmatism requires that Israel accept restraints on its policies of unilateral action. Not without a hint of disingenuousness, Bush recently became the first Republican President of the U.S. to endorse the notion of a Palestinian state. But for the September 11 attacks, he said, the U.S. had been prepared to announce its support for a Palestinian state at the U.N. General Assembly session which was to start towards the end of the month.

Unwilling to accept any obligations of restraint on Israel, the powerful Zionist lobby in the U.S. has since the beginning of the crisis been pressing for an ambitious and broad-ranging military campaign. In fact, it is known that an alternative blueprint for the war, which has been competing with Powell's for President Bush's attention, has been submitted by Deputy Defence Secretary Wolfowitz. This conceives, in line with the original codename that was conceived for the campaign, of an "infinite war" - a war of multiple objectives that would be waged without frontiers.

The 'infinite war' blueprint proposes aerial assaults, special commando operations and targeted assassinations. Afghanistan would merely be the first phase of the campaign, which would rapidly take in Iraq, the Bekaa valley in southern Lebanon, Iran and Syria. Wolfowitz and his cronies, who are believed to enjoy the support of Defence Secretary Rumsfeld, believe that the September 11 attacks have given the U.S. an unmatched opportunity to crush terrorism once and for all.

Public opinion is being primed for a larger war by a relentless stream of analysis and propaganda in the right-wing press, particularly the journals that are known to be closely associated with the Jewish lobby. Powell's pragmatic and consensual approach has been ridiculed in these circles, and Wolfowitz extolled as the more far-sighted strategist. However the campaign in Afghanistan goes in terms of its defined objectives, the U.S. could soon be impelled to broaden the front of its military offensive by the inherent logic of the situation it confronts.

In evident preparation for a phase of global warfare, a serious effort at thought control is underway through the U.S. media. A case in point is the recent debate - unedifying in normal circumstances - of what constitutes cowardly conduct. For American philosopher and novelist Susan Sontag, no description was more inappropriate to the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington than "cowardice". Courage, she argued, is a morally neutral term. And "cowardice" is a term that is more suitably applied to those who fire missiles at undefended targets from a safe distance of thousands of miles, rather than to those who put themselves at mortal risk while carrying out a lethal mission.

The theme was taken up by the presenter of a talk show entitled "Politically Incorrect" on a major American TV channel. Not known to be given to the reading habit, Bill Maher merely took the title of his show, and its stated purpose of reflecting the unorthodox and unpopular view, rather too literally. "Cowardice" as an epithet could be disputed in its application to the September 11 attacks, he said. The term in fact was probably a more accurate description of military operations which targeted innocent civilians through cruise missiles fired from thousands of miles away.

Maher's reward was a prompt withdrawal of sponsorship and a temporary suspension from the air waves. Following this, the broadcast company that hosted his programme, issued a public apology. And the presenter himself was obliged to don the robes of penitence when he next appeared on TV.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer denounced the Maher programme at a press briefing.

A country protected on two flanks by oceanic expanses, which has not suffered a direct assault on its territory for close to two centuries, tends to forget what courage really is and to misapply both the term and its opposite. Myths manufactured by the media and entertainment industries tend to ingrain the facile use of these words as a habit, posing a major impediment to understanding. Still secure in these myths and the delusion that it is "the indispensable nation", the U.S. is now embarking on a course of global military action that is only likely to shatter the foundations of its already shaky hegemony.

Echoes in Pakistan

Although Pakistan has been rewarded well for its support to the West in its anti-Taliban campaign, the Musharraf government has reasons to worry about the ramifications of its decision.

THE worst fears of Pakistan seem to be coming true. Although there was little information coming from the war zone itself, the violent protests in major towns on the border with Afghanistan and even in Islamabad the day after the U.S. launched its first attacks on Afghan targets rattled even those who had anticipated them. Hardliners who are opposed to the military appeared to be in a minority, as President Pervez Musharraf pointed out in his press conference hours after the war began. However, it is anybody's guess if the military government would succeed in coming to grips with the situation or be reduced to the status of a silent spectator.

Musharraf had geared up for the protests on the streets and possible resistance from within the establishment. In a swift move that almost coincided with the bombing of Afghanistan, he replaced the chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), promoted one of his favourites as a full-fledged General, and appointed Lt. Gen. Mohammad Aziz Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Committee. The moves led to convulsions within the Army. The ISI chief, Lt.Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, and the Deputy Chief of Army Staff, Lt.Gen. Muzaffar Hussain Usmani, whose seniority seems to have been overlooked in the round of promotions, reportedly sought premature retirement. Although Musharraf was at pains to emphasise that the changes had nothing to do with the developments in Afghanistan, doubts remained.

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WITH the identification of Osama bin Laden and his associates in the Al Qaeda as the main culprits behind the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Pakistan was under palpable tension. Within hours of the military government's endorsement of the "evidence" shown by the Bush administration about bin Laden's involvement, the United States' chief campaigner, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, was in Islamabad, leaving no option for Musharraf but to take the next logical step in the build-up to the anti-terrorism war. He stood shoulder to shoulder with Blair on October 5 and put the Taliban militia on notice that it should either turn bin Laden in or be prepared for its demise. It must have been a sad moment for Musharraf and the commando that he is by training; the President could barely hide his feelings. It was evident that all the patting and good conduct certificates from Blair did not help in relieving his tension.

In plain words, Blair made the General declare war on the Taliban. It was no mean achievement, considering the fact that Pakistan happens to be the only country in the world that continues to recognise the Taliban regime. Islamabad had not been perturbed enough by the decision of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to snap ties with the militia.

Diplomatic circles in Islamabad suggest that Pakistan is under pressure from the U.S. to end its engagement with the regime in Afghanistan. What the U.S. expects from Pakistan became evident when Secretary of State Colin Powell hinted, in an interview, at the possibility of the complete isolation of the Taliban. But Islamabad appeared to have stuck to its ground though it pulled out its diplomatic and non-diplomatic staff from its embassy in Kabul and consulates in different parts of Afghanistan.

The spin-doctors of the Pakistan Foreign Ministry sought to give a credible explanation for the country's continued engagement with the Taliban. They argued effectively that the Afghan embassy in Islamabad served as a window to the world for the Taliban to let the militia know what the international community expected from it and vice-versa. Further, they said, the United Nations and other organisations were engaged in humanitarian operations in Afghanistan with Pakistan as the base and a complete isolation of the Taliban regime could result in confusion and chaos. There are over 25 million people in Afghanistan and the Taliban controls over 90 per cent of the territory.

There is merit in the explanations offered by the Pakistan Foreign Office but the reasons for its engagement with the militia are altogether different. Pakistan has invested virtually everything on the Taliban militia. As Musharraf admitted in one of his television interviews, Islamabad has paid a huge price for its association with the Taliban but it has no regrets about it. Islamabad seriously believed that its engagement with the Taliban gave a certain "strategic depth" to its foreign policy. So it would not let the Taliban regime sink without ensuring the protection of its own interests in a post-Taliban scenario.

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The depth of Pakistan's relationship with the Taliban was evident in the street protests that broke out in Pakistan within hours of the blitzkrieg on Afghan sites. Although it was clear from the arrest on October 7 of top Jamiat-i-Ulema Islami leader Mullah Fazalur Rehman that the government had anticipated trouble, it was perhaps surprised by the magnitude of the protests. So it must have been a difficult decision for the Musharraf regime to ditch the Taliban.

During his whistle-stop tour, Blair, on behalf of the U.S. and its allies, gave Musharraf a grand assurance that the international community conceded the legitimate concerns of Islamabad vis-a-vis Afghanistan. He told Musharraf that Islamabad would be allowed to play a dominant role in shaping a post-Taliban government in Afghanistan.

The king is alive and long live the king. This seems to be the new mantra of the U.S. and its allies in their operations against the Taliban. Zahir Shah, the dethroned King of Afghanistan who has been living in exile in Rome for the past 28 years, is now touted as the best bet to preside over a post-Taliban regime in Kabul. The assumption is that only a Pashtun (a majority ethnic group in Afghanistan) can take on the well-entrenched Taliban. Zahir Shah is not only a Pashtun but much more. There are glowing accounts in a section of the Western media of the good old days of Afghanistan under Zahir Shah. Fransesc Vendrell, the United Nations Special Representative who has been trying to bring about reconciliation in Afghanistan for the past two years, recently extolled Shah's virtues and explained how popular the King was in every part of Afghanistan.

In all fairness to the King, it should be pointed out that in the past two years he has been calling for reconciliation and the formation of a broad-based government in Afghanistan. But his appeals had no takers. Now that the only superpower has turned to the King in its war against the Taliban, representatives of the world's big powers are making a beeline for Rome for an audience with him.

The Northern Alliance, which has been fighting the Taliban, entered into a pact with Zahir Shah for convening what is known as the Loya Jirga, the 250-year-old Grand Council of tribal, religious and ethnic leaders, to decide the future of Afghanistan. The Council, headed by Zahir Shah, has the authority to form a new government. As expected, the grand plan of the U.S. to install a new set-up in Kabul under the patronage of Zahir Shah has raised the hackles of Afghanistan's neighbours, especially Pakistan.

The military regime has serious reservations about installing Zahir Shah at the helm with the Northern Alliance as a dominant partner. Iran and China share these reservations to a large extent. They believe that the new regime would be a puppet of the U.S. and could seriously jeopardise their interests in the region. Islamabad's refrain is that it would not like a 'hostile' regime in Kabul and that the Northern Alliance is a "sworn enemy" which is propped up by its enemies such as India and Russia. There have been allegations that these two countries provide military and material support to the opposition alliance.

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ON the domestic front, Musharraf appears to have overcome the initial problems posed by pro-Taliban elements opposing his offer of "unstinted" cooperation to Washington. He had successfully convinced the U.S. of the need to tread cautiously if it wanted to avoid a blow-back and the birth of many more Osamas. As a result, the U.S. seemed to have realised the dangers involved in utilising Pakistani soil for any military action against Afghanistan. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that Washington decided to hasten slowly partly because of the prevailing sentiments in Pakistan.

Musharraf seems to have extracted the maximum possible mileage from the West in return for his support for its anti-Taliban campaign. This is evident from the lifting of sanctions against the country, the rescheduling of debt repayments, and the generous offers of aid to Afghan refugees. The United Kingdom, which has been engaged in a slanging match with the military government for the last two years for a variety of reasons, has overnight announced complete normalisation of relations with Islamabad. The U.S.-Pakistan defence cooperation is being revived.

But the real question is whether the situation will remain the same, now that the U.S. campaign against the Taliban has moved into a crucial phase. Pakistan wants the action to be a short affair but Washington is talking in terms of a protracted war. How long will Musharraf be able to contain the hardliners if the conflict is prolonged? Can Pakistan escape the consequences of the anti-terrorism war, particularly in the context of its goals and objectives in Kashmir?

A Sheikh and the money trail

cover-story
PRAVEEN SWAMI

THE gossamer web linking Jammu and Kashmir terrorists with the September 11 attacks on the United States is starting to stand out in stark relief. Early this month, German authorities came across information that Ahmad Omar Sayeed Sheikh, a close associate of Jaish-e-Mohammad commander Masood Azhar, may have played a key role in the September 11 attacks. Azhar, informants told the German internal security service, may have sent a draft for $100,000 to Mohammad Atta, one of the men who crashed an aircraft into the World Trade Centre in New York. The draft, sources say, was sent in the summer of 2000 employing a pseudonym. Atta is thought to have returned $15,600 through the hawala channel just before the attack. An Egyptian national, Atta is believed to be among the central figures responsible for conceptualising and executing the attacks on the U.S.

Officials of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation are now looking into Atta's possible links with Sheikh. Sheikh, along with his long-time mentor Azhar and a third terrorist, Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar, had been released from jail in December 1999 in order to secure the freedom of 155 passengers and crew on Indian Airlines flight IC 814, which was hijacked by terrorists to Kandahar. A graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Sciences, Sheikh became involved with Islamist fascist groups while a student, and went on to be a key member of the United Kingdom-based armed action group al-Hadeed. After his release in Kandahar, Sheikh did not return to the U.K. and stayed on in Pakistan in an Inter-Services Intelligence-provided safe house in Islamabad.

In October 1994, Sheikh had organised the abduction of one American and three British tourists from a low-budget hotel in New Delhi to press for Azhar's release. The hostages were driven to a safe house near Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, where police officers located them on October 31 that year. Sheikh and his accomplice, Pakistani national Abdul Rahim, were arrested after a brief shootout, in which an Uttar Pradesh Police commando was killed. The four hostages were brought out unharmed. The kidnapping was the second in a series of three kidnappings of foreign tourists to secure Azhar's release.

After his release, Sheikh spent time making contact with several terrorist organisations in Afghanistan and Taliban head Mullah Mohammad Omar. While Azhar went on to form the Jaish-e-Mohammad, focussed on Jammu and Kashmir, Sheikh concentrated on building international contacts for the Islamic Right through his old network in the U.K. Although he had received arms training at the Salam Fassi camp at Miranshah, Pakistan, in 1993, guns were no longer part of his job. Osama bin Laden, say Indian officials who have monitored Sheikh's career, played a key role in this career move. Indian intelligence believes that Sheikh, who helped set up a website propagating jehad, was also tasked to help create a secure, encrypted web-based communications system.

Little is so far known about how Sheikh may have passed on funds to Atta. The Jaish-e-Mohammad has two known accounts with the Allied Bank, at Binori in Karachi (account number 1697) and Khayabeya in Rawalpindi (account number 1342-0). These accounts, run using the names of Khadri Mohammad Sadiq and Bahsud Ahmad, have been used to deposit funds raised from West Asia, the U.K. and the U.S. Before his arrest in 1994 in Srinagar, Azhar had visited several countries in Africa, West Asia and the U.K. on fund-raising missions. It is unlikely, however, that either of these accounts was used to handle funds meant for Atta.

If the information made available to German intelligence on Sheikh turns out to be correct, it might throw light on how the September 11 attacks were funded. According to Time magazine, Atta received at least two wire transfers of funds from Egypt, on September 8 and 9. U.S. investigators have said they believe Atta handled funds passed on from Mamoun Darkazanli, a Syrian businessman who ostensibly controlled a bank account in Germany held by Mustafah Ahmad, bin Laden's head of finance. No one is, however, talking about where the funds deposited in this account came from. The role of Sheikh and others like him could hold the key to this so far unanswered question.

There is also the possibility that the September 11 attacks were, so to speak, self-financing. The U.S. has ordered some 5,000 banks to check accounts that may belong to 27 entities, made up of 13 terrorist groups, 11 individuals and three charities. One New York-based bank announced in late September that it had frozen $3.8 million in suspect accounts, while banks in the United Kingdom have frozen an estimate $68 million. Some experts believe these funds were made up mainly from earnings from bin Laden-controlled legitimate businesses. If this is true, it would make little sense for Sheikh to be passing on funds to Atta.

"As things stand," says one senior Indian intelligence official, "the information is still very speculative. While there is no doubt that Sheikh was close to bin Laden, the precise nature of that relationship and of his financial activities still have to be discovered." Curiously, there seems to have been little international pressure on Pakistan to hand the terrorist over. Last month, the U.K. served a letters rogatory on India, asking for information on Sheikh in relation to the 1994 kidnapping of its nationals. It is unclear why it has taken that country so long to initiate the legal proceedings, and why the U.S. has chosen not to act so far. These mysteries, like the many others that have come to attention since September 11, could give rise to some interesting answers in the weeks to come.

Action and apprehension

The Bush administration finally hits at Afghanistan but is apparently concerned about the international community's reaction to its action.

OPERATION Enduring Freedom has begun. The intensive bombing of "highly selective targets" in Afghanistan by the armed forces of the United States and the United kingdom is not expected to be called off before the Taliban militia and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, Al Qaeda, get the message.

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Although the George W. Bush administration was critical of Bill Clinton for the manner in which the Democratic President handled reprisals, the fact is that the Republican administration has also not acted in a very different manner. It stuck to the routine - the unleashing of cruise missiles from the air and the sea, coupled with the conventional bombing runs involving smart munitions.

In his address to the nation soon after the military operation was launched, President Bush said: "These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime." The President warned that the Taliban "will pay a price".

Apart from military and civilian utilities, the U.S. and the U.K. targeted the training camps of Al Qaeda, though for the record it was said that Osama bin Laden was not personally targeted. The military strikes had two components. The firepower was directed against Taliban and perceived Osama bin Laden strongholds in Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad. On the other hand, in order to give the much-needed advantage to the Northern Alliance, strike aircraft and conventional heavy-duty bombers targeted Taliban reinforcements in areas such as Tahar, Konduz and Mazar-e-Sharief.

It was evident that the Northern Alliance was acting in concert with the grand "coalition" forces of the U.S. and the U.K. Not only had there been a free flow of intelligence information from the ground, but the Northern Alliance was reportedly given a boost with the supply of weapons. According to one report, the morale of the Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan was low, with the local commanders in a difficult position trying to convince their men to stay on and fight.

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The strikes came from places like the Arabian Sea off Pakistan and also Missouri, from where the B-2 Stealth Bombers operated. In the first three hours, at least 70 Tomahawk cruise missiles were unleashed from surface ships and submarines. The B-52s and B-1s rolled out of the bases in Diego Garcia, carrying missiles and munitions. An assortment of strike jets, including F-16s and F-15s operating out of the decks of two aircraft carriers, also joined the operation.

Although the Republican administration took its time, there were pockets of domestic opinion that were losing patience. Bush made sure that he had a "coalition" and, in the first hours after the strikes against the Taliban, was anxiously waiting for the world's response. At the time of writing, responses were available only from the West, and none of the Arab "allies" or the friends of the U.S. had rushed in with words of support.

This is why the President does not wish to stop with his telephone calls to world leaders either before or after the strikes. He has deputed Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell to get in touch with world leaders, including leaders of Pakistan and India. The process will be completed prior to the start of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum meeting in Shanghai in the third week of October. But domestic opinion has been on expected lines. Members of Congress threw their weight behind the President and public opinion was already in his favour.

Meanwhile, the administration, led personally by the President, is making two points: enough warning was given, and the intention is not to hurt the people of Afghanistan. Moreover, to show sympathy to the people of Afghanistan, the U.S. and the U.K. pointed out that the military strikes were carried out to soften the ground for airdropping food, medicines and other essential items. Transport planes were dropping packets of food and other items in Afghanistan.

THE Republican administration had its reasons for taking time. It was not because enough firepower was not assembled in the Gulf region, the Arabian Sea, and the forward bases, including Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Rather, the United States understood the War against Terrorism as a multi-pronged effort, the military effort being only one of its components.

Moreover, the U.S. is fully aware of the fact that some of its allies are Arab or Islamic states, many of whom are not convinced of the culpability of bin Laden in the September 11 incidents. Some regimes are even wary of the political and social implications of endorsing the agenda of the U.S.

Heading the list of such nations is Pakistan, whose leader has, in the eyes of many people, taken a major political risk in siding with the U.S. One argument is that President Pervez Musharraf may not have been given a choice in this campaign. Another is that it is an opportunity for Musharraf to bounce back into the limelight after being at the receiving end for a long time.

And Pakistan came through at the critical moment. When the U.S. and the U.K. unleashed their military wherewithal on the Taliban militia and Osama bin Laden, Pakistan was a full-fledged actor - its air space was used and it had passed on vital intelligence information. At the same time, its President was making the point that the operations should cease sooner than later. After all there are not too many targets to go after and the Taliban militia is hardly considered a potent military force.

Pakistan's cooperation in the War against Terrorism came with a price both for itself and for the U.S. To the former, it is one of not only distancing itself from a close ally but also in allowing the U.S. to use its facilities in the military action. For the Bush administration, it is one of coming up with a "package" of goodies, irrespective of whether a "deal" has been made or not.

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The Bush administration not only understood the compulsions of Musharraf but was willing to soften the role of Pakistan. The apprehension was about not only destabilising the military regime in Islamabad but destabilising a country with nuclear weapons. This may be the reason why much of the action was launched from bases far away from Pakistan.

For a President who enjoyed a high popularity rating of 90 per cent in the first three weeks of the crisis, it is not a question of sustaining the rating. In a time of crisis the White House will make the obvious point that it is not a popularity contest. Yet, from a long-term perspective, George W. Bush needs to ensure that the people of the U.S. do not get distracted from the challenges ahead. However, somewhere down the line there must also be the thinking that although Bush Senior had a rating of 89 per cent at end of the Gulf War in 1991 it got him nowhere in his re-election bid in 1992.

The initial reaction of the people of the U.S. to the terrorist attacks of September 11 was one that wanted to lay waste to Afghanistan. However, the administration, led by the President, quickly and forcefully made the point that it was ridiculous to chase tents worth $10 each with cruise missiles worth a million dollars each. From the beginning the accent was on patience.

Before the operation began, the Bush administration was also seriously looking at alternatives. Washington would have loved to see the Taliban cracking under pressure, that too, without a shot being fired. It had plans on other fronts too, though it maintained that the U.S. was not in the business of nation-building. No one is under any illusion about the extent to which the Bush administration would have to be involved economically if the anti-Taliban forces manage to put together a coalition.

While it gives some attention to the former king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, the Bush administration is also getting close to the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. In fact, it is possible that the U.S. is more than just flirting with the rebel group. However, Washington is also wary of the Northern Alliance. Apart from a sense of unease over the latter's relationship with the Russians, the U.S. is apprehensive about the group's ability to deliver the goods and also its involvement in drug trafficking.

Washington is seeing if a coalition of sorts could be assembled in a post-Taliban Afghanistan. Of course, the refrain is that only the Afghan people can choose their destiny. Yet, in calling for a broad-based government, there is also the realisation that it might have to include the Taliban as a component. There is also the hope that perhaps a few "moderates" will quit the Taliban and give legitimacy to the evolving scheme of things.

Washington's dealings with Afghanistan are not confined to the political and strategic aspects. There is also the humanitarian angle. Already the U.S. is the largest provider of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan - nearly $200 million - in spite of the fact that it keeps a stranglehold on the Taliban through the United Nations sanctions regime.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks and the tightening of the noose around the Taliban, the Bush administration has allotted about $320 million in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. However, the aid is just to help the "poor souls" in that country; it is also to drive home the point that the U.S.' anger and pique is not directed against the people of Afghanistan.

If the first phase of the War against Terrorism is focussed on bin Laden, the Taliban and Afghanistan, the Bush administration has promised countries like India that the "war" does not end with the Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan but will include such areas as Jammu and Kashmir. Washington seems to be keen on allaying the fears of New Delhi on many fronts, mainly because it realises that Pakistan is hardly an ally to be relied upon in the fight against terrorism.

The terror trajectory

PRAVEEN SWAMI cover-story

The U.S., India and the global linkages of Islamic terrorist groups.

"The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis did. There will be pipelines, an Emir, no Parliament, and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that".

- U.S. diplomat quoted in Ahmad Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia.

AMERICA'S war on terrorism, President George Bush proclaimed before Congress last month, would not end until "every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated". Less than a month after that dramatic pronouncement, it has become clear that Washington's sponsorship of and support to fascist organisations of the Islamic Right is set to continue unchanged.

Few people in India are aware of this country's three-year-old role in the war on Afghanistan-based terrorism that the U.S. now claims it will initiate. Shortly after the Taliban came to power in 1996, Indian intelligence, along with its Russian counterparts, threw its weight behind Ahmad Shah Masood's Northern Alli-ance. Technicians were flown in to service the Northern Alliance's fleet of Russian-built helicopters, and advisers were made available to train troops in anti-armour techniques. Intelligence sources say that spares and high-altitude warfare equipment worth upwards of $10 million were supplied to the Northern Alliance through the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Masood himself is believed to have died last month in an Indian-run hospital facility at Farkhor, close to the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border.

While now U.S. and British troops are believed to be liaising with the Northern Alliance, there is no sign that the West wishes to join the covert front that Russia, the secular Central Asian States and India had formed in the face of the Taliban offensive. The reasons are simple. Central Asia has one of the world's largest oil reserves. Historically, the U.S. has sought to prevent Russia and Iran from controlling these resources. As early as October 1996, Chris Taggart, boss of the U.S.-based oil giant Unocal, let it be known that "if the Taliban leads to stability and international recognition, then it is positive". What he meant became clear soon. A year after the Taliban took Kabul, a 1997 World Bank study on oil in Turkmenistan concluded that new routes through Afghanistan to Karachi in Pakistan would be more profitable than the existing Russian pipeline networks.

Until the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam led America to oppose Osama bin Laden and his Taliban allies, Western oil corporations were competing hard to win the support of the new fascist regime in Kabul. Oil corporations are believed to have paid for the setting up of a mobile telephone network in southern Afgha-nistan to compensate for the country's war-ravaged communications infrastructure. Although India repeatedly made the U.S. aware of the role the Taliban and its sponsors in Pakistan played in aiding terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, Washington simply chose to ignore the evidence. Even the Taliban's appalling human rights record did little to move the U.S. In 1998, during a visit to Srinagar, noted lawyer Niloufer Bhagwat engaged a group of U.S. diplomats led by then-Ambassador Richard Cele-ste. "I told them no civilised government could ever recognise the Taliban," she recalls. "A member of Celeste's delegation replied that in many parts of the world, women didn't want to be emancipated!"

More bitter lessons were to follow. After the December 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight IC 814, U.S. intervention was sought to secure the extradition by Pakistan of Maulana Masood Azhar and Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar, the two terrorists freed by India in return for the release of the hostages on board the flight. In the event, both were allowed to stay on in Pakistan. Azhar went on to form the Jaish-e-Mohammad-e-Mohammadi (Army of the Prophet), taking on board the bulk of the Harkat-ul-Ansar's cadre, while Zargar reactivated his moribund al-Umar organisation, which is believed to have played a key role in recent acid attacks on women in Srinagar. Even when all the five hijackers of IC 814 - Ibrahim Akhtar Alvi, Shaqir Ahmad, Sunny Ahmed Qazi, Shahid Akhtar Sayeed and Mistri Zahoor Ibrahim - surfaced in Pakistan, the U.S. showed no inclination to censure Pakistan.

The current U.S. policy needs to be read in this context. For all its stated determination to eradicate terrorism, the U.S. appears to have no intention to sever its links with forces of the Islamic Right which have served its interests. Pakistan, recruited as a key ally in the hunt for bin Laden, is a case in point. Intelligence officials believe that bin Laden, who suffers from renal problems, has been undergoing dialysis in a Peshawar military hospital. His movement in and out of Pakistan would have required authorisation from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), if not of President Pervez Musharraf himself. Key bin Laden aides, including Aiman al-Zawahiri, were instrumental in setting up support organisations for the Afghan Mujahideen from 1984 onwards, and they have been able to operate from Peshawar in a more or less unrestricted fashion. It is also known that for several years now Pakistan's conventional troops have been deployed in Afghanistan in aid of the Taliban.

Nonetheless, the U.S. believes that it needs Pakistan for its larger strategic objectives. The deal appears to involve allowing groups of the Islamic Right to operate unchecked, so long as they do not target U.S. interests. After Lieutenant-General Javed Nasir was sacked as Director-General of the ISI in 1994, allegedly for his Islamist sympathies, he went on to form the Tabligh-i-Jamaat (TiJ). The TiJ emerged as a key sponsor of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). While much of the HuM's cadre has now been amalgamated into the Jaish-e-Mohammad-e-Mohammadi, hundreds are known to have fought in Bosnia, Chechnya, Tajikistan and the Philippines. Other groups, such as Maulana Sami-ul-Haqq's Jamait Ullema-i-Islami and the Lashkar-e-Toiba, are also known to have deployed thousands of cadre for similar causes. These groups share a wide network of training facilities and training camps active in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most of these camps are impromptu facilities run for short periods of time, with minimal infrastructure. Therefore, military attacks against them may be difficult, and have little effect.

While U.S. officials like to see bin Laden as a single-point sponsor of this training of terrorists, the truth is more complex. Afghanistan is estimated to produce three times more opium than the rest of the world put together. Some 90 per cent of this heroin is grown in Taliban-controlled areas. Notwithstanding periodic crackdowns on the narcotics trade, the Taliban is believed to impose a 20 per cent tax on the heroin produced within Afghanistan. Part of these funds are used to support the organisation's own campaign against the Northern Alliance, but a good deal makes its way to allies around the world. Saudi Arabia is another key source of funds. In a bid to buy the regime legitimacy in the face of competition from figures like bin Laden or Omar Bakri Mohammad and his al-Mouhajiroun terrorist organisation, quasi-official organisations in Saudi Arabia pump funds to the Islamic Right, for example to groups such as the Jamaat Ullema-i-Islam and Jamaat Ahl-e-Hadis. Within Pakistan, running the jehad is hugely profitable.

Put simply, then, the U.S. wants Pakistan to eliminate bin Laden and, if necessary, replace the Taliban. Pakistan will also be called on to contain other groups of the Islamic Right that are hostile to the U.S. It, however, has no desire to confront Talibanism per se. The ideological premises of this policy were laid bare at a meeting on February 9, 2000, held by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright with Senators on relations with Pakistan. If, Senator Sam Brownback argued, "we further move Pakistan away from us, our ability to be able to deal with them, and [sic.] we actually strenghen the very hand we seek to weaken, that of the really militant fundamentalists in Pakistan". The underlying argument is only too evident. Militant fundamentalists in Pakistan who target countries other than the U.S. are acceptable. Really militant fundamentalists, those that threaten the U.S. itself, are not. Little, it would appear, has changed.

WHAT might the U.S.' need for allies on the Islamic Right be? Russia's engagement with the Islamic Right in Chechnya and Dagestan offers some insight into U.S. thinking. Military action against Chechen terrorists has been used by the West as a stick to beat Russia with, notwithstanding the organic links of these groups with those the U.S. now claims to oppose. Chechen terrorist leaders like Shamil Basayev or Ameer Khattab are able to operate by pilfering from the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline and through narcotics trafficking. The bulk of their funding, however, comes from groups of the Islamic Right in in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The Riyadh-based al-Haramein Islamic Foundation, Russian intelligence believes, has funnelled funds to Chechen terrorist groups, and helped gather both recruits and weapons through Pakistan. Hundreds of cadre from Pakistan, Afghanistan and West Asia are known to have fought the Russian forces in Chechnya and Dagestan.

Elsewhere too the Islamic Right has served U.S. strategic interests. There have been regular attacks against Western targets in Yemen since December 1998, when 16 tourists were kidnapped in the wake of U.S.-British attacks on Iraq. What few people know is that prior to 1998, the Jaish-e-Mohammad, which carried out the attacks, operated with tacit U.S. patronage. Then known as the Islamic Jihad, the organisation was set up by Tariq-al-Fadhli, one of bin Laden's close associates in the Afghanistan war. The organisation was set up to oppose the pre-unification secular politics of the communist regime in power in the Socialist Republic of Yemen. In Indonesia, the Islamic Right is represented by the Lashkar-e-Jihad, which again is led by an Afghan war veteran, Ustad Jaffar Umar Thalib. Again, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines is believed to be financed in part by Pakistan-based organisations.

India is not the only country in the neighbourhood to have felt the consequences of U.S. sponsorship of the Islamic Right. Hezbollah terrorists active in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China, for one, are believed to tap funds from the Taliban's narcotics network. Pakistan-backed organisations of the Islamic Right such as the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Tabligh-i-Jamaat and the Jamaat-ul-Muderessin have also had considerable success in Bangladesh, and terrorist groups like the Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami are known to have operated from that country, recruiting cadre for campaigns in Jammu and Kashmir as well as India's northeastern region. Massive funding of reactionary Islamist groups in Nepal by organisations of the Right based in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have enabled these groups to acquire considerable influence. The districts of Rupandehi, Banke, Kapilvastu and Bardiya, all bordering India, have seen over 275 mosques and madrassas being built over the last two decades, primarily with Saudi funds.

On October 1, at the end of a 40-minute meeting with President George W. Bush and U.S. National Security Adviser Condo-leezza Rice, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh emerged to state that fighting terrorism directed at India "was India's responsibility". The language suggests that reality is at last tempering the breathtaking foolishness that passed for Indian foreign policy in the wake of the incidents on September 11. While Jaswant Singh's ego might have received some massaging given Bush's unscheduled appearance at the meeting, the fact remains that he came away with no meaningful assurance of U.S. support. The record suggests that none will be forthcoming. Even the October 1 attack on the State Assembly building in Srinagar has not led the U.S. to any frontal condemnation of the role of Pakistan in supporting and sponsoring terrorism in India, or for that matter elsewhere in the world. Now, the Union government needs to consider where India's interests lie; and pursue them irrespective of what the U.S. might desire.

Masood Azhar, in his own words

cover-story
PRAVEEN SWAMI

In India, Mohammad Masood Azhar's name first hit the headlines after the December 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight IC 814, when he was released from jail in return for the lives of people who were held hostage on the plane. More than a year later, after the bombing of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, his name has resurfaced. Who is this man Union Home Minister L.K. Advani is demanding that Pakistan extradite? After his arrest in 1994, Jaish-e-Mohammad commander Azhar provided fascinating insights into the world of Pakistan's religious right. Masood provides a graphic account of the use of seminaries as factories that produce cadre for the wars in Afghanistan, Jammu and Kashmir, and several other regions. Frontline has obtained a copy of one of Azhar's interrogation reports, which reveals the story of the making of the man running one of the most-feared terrorist organisations in Jammu and Kashmir.

"I WAS born at Bhawalpur on July 10, 1968. My father worked as the headmaster of the government school in Bhawalpur. I have five brothers and six sisters. My father had Deobandi leanings, and was extremely religious. One of my father's friends, Mufti Sayeed, was working as a teacher at the Jamia Islamia at the Binori Mosque in Karachi. He prevailed upon my father to admit me in the Jamia. Accordingly, after Class VIII, I studied at the Jamia Islamia and passed the almia (Islamic) examination in 1989.

A number of Jamia Islamia students were under the influence of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) leaders who had been students there. I was also influenced by the work of the HuM in the Afghanistan jehad. Jamia Islamia had on its rolls Arab nationals, Sudanese and Bangladeshis, apart from Pakistanis. All of them believed in the Deobandi ideology, and many were recruited for the Afghan jehad. I was also sympathetic to the cause, and when I met Maulana Fazal-ul-Rahman Khalil, the Amir of the HuM, he invited me to participate in tarbiat (training) at Yavar, in Afghanistan. Partly because of my poor physique, and also because of my literary skills, I did not complete the mandatory 40 days of training. Rahman-ul-Rahman instead asked me to bring out a monthly magazine for the HuM.

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From around August 1989, I started bringing out Sada-i-Mujahid (Knock of the Mujahideen). I used to bring out about 2,000 copies and most of these were distributed free at public meetings, Friday prayers and so on. We used to carry news of our activities in Afghanistan, our functions, and the opening of new offices. By 1990, the HuM had offices in almost all important cities, including Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore, Gujranwala, Islamabad and Lahore. The HuM in theory allowed anyone to join, if they completed arms training in Afghanistan, were not affiliated in sectarian organisations like the Jiye Sindh Movement or the Mohajir Quami Movement, and had a full beard. However, we did not recruit Shias, or even non-Deobandis.

In 1993, 400 United Arab Emirates nationals and other militants were arrested by the Pakistan government at Peshawar. Because of international pressure, they were expelled from Pakistan. Some of the Arab governments, expecting trouble, did not want them back in their own countries. As such, a majority of them went to Sudan and Somalia, where they joined the ranks of the Ittehad-e-Islami. These people continued to correspond with us, describing the plight of the Muslims in Somalia. They told us that Pakistani troops under United Nations forces had been placed at the central positions of trouble, guarding the life and property of Americans. If one American vehicle moved, its armed guards were Pakistanis.

As such, the Ittehad-e-Islami was in a dilemma about when they should engage the Americans, who are the biggest enemies of Islam, because they also faced their brothers. In the attack on the Adib Radio Station by Pakistani troops, many persons of Ittehad-e-Islami lost their lives. As such, the Pakistanis, who until now were champions of Islam, found themselves unwelcome. I published these letters, and also organised for a team of journalists to meet these militants in Nairobi. After our return, a number of news stories appeared, condemning the role of Pakistani troops in Somalia. I also brought out a booklet on the issue, and distributed 5,000 copies.

Meanwhile, in January 1993, I was asked to come to Islamabad where I accompanied Maulana Rahman-ul-Rahman and Maulana Farooq Kashmiri to Bagh, Abbaspora and Rahim Yar Khan to meet the families of our militants who died in Kashmir. Sajjad Afghani also accompanied us on this trip. It was then he was told to take up command of the organisation in Kashmir. He was told to go via Bangladesh, since there was heavy snow on the India-Pakistan border. I travelled along with Sajjad Afghani by an Emirates flight to Dhaka. While Sajjad Afghani was handed over to some people for his crossing into India, I returned to Karachi.

After the formation of the Harkat-ul-Ansar by merging the Harkat-ul-Jehad Islami (HuJI) and HuM, a number of messages were sent to the chief commanders of both outfits in Kashmir to join hands. We did not, however, receive any confirmation of our orders. In January 1994, it was decided that I should visit the Kashmir valley. In the event, we learned that our orders had been implemented, but my travel plans went ahead as planned so I could ascertain the ground position, boost morale of our cadre, and resolve any differences between HuJI and HuM. I arrived in Delhi by a Bangladesh Biman flight that arrived from Dhaka early on the morning of January 29, 1994. I used a Portuguese passport, and the duty officer at Indira Gandhi Airport commented that I did not look Portuguese. However, when I told him I was Gujarati by birth, he did not hesitate to stamp my passport."

(Masood Azhar was arrested in February 1994, after travelling to Srinagar from New Delhi.)

AN AUDACIOUS STRIKE

The attack on the State Assembly building in Srinagar, the worst single terrorist strike ever in Jammu and Kashmir, shows up the chinks in the armour and points to the lack of a coherent official agenda of action to counter the terror campaign.

ON October 1, Srinagar Senior Superintendent of Police B. Srinivas spent his lunch hour showing a colleague the security arrangements around the Assembly building. "Just another 10 days before the government moves to Jammu," Srinivas recalls having said. "I just hope we manage to see the summer through." Minutes later, a white four-wheel drive utility vehicle packed with an estimated 80 kilograms of plastic explosive blew up just outside the Assembly complex gate. Thirty-eight people died in the blast and the exchange of fire that followed, making it the worst single terrorist attack ever in Jammu and Kashmir. It could have been worse had the attack begun half an hour earlier - the State's political system could have largely been decimated.

Early that afternoon, telecommunications engineer Ravi Qazi had decided to visit his now-abandoned ancestral home in Habbakadal, in downtown Srinagar. Just short of his destination, three men in police uniforms stopped his vehicle and pushed Qazi out. His driver, Ali Mohammad Machloo, was told to take the vehicle to the nearby Fatehkadal area where a fourth man took over the wheel. Four milk containers packed with explosives were loaded on to the vehicle. Traffic on the main road leading to the Assembly complex is closed while Assembly proceedings are in progress, and the bombers had chosen their time well. The Assembly had adjourned at 1-30 p.m., and traffic was just being allowed on the road that passes by its main gate.

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Investigators believe that the three uniformed terrorists waited a few hundred metres from the Assembly gate, below Jehangir Hotel as the driver blew up himself and the vehicle at 2-03 p.m. Following the massive explosion, which killed eight policemen and over a dozen civilians unfortunate enough to be walking down the road, the troops guarding access to the Assembly took cover. During the melee that ensued, the three waiting terrorists entered the complex. Once past the gate, however, their plans began to unravel. The group ran past the low, wooden Assembly Hall and made their way into the more impressive-looking structure behind it. The building, however, houses only offices.

This one mistake saved the life of Assembly Speaker Abdul Ahad Vakil, Legislative Council chairman Abdul Rashid Dar, and four legislators who had stayed on after proceedings had been adjourned. The office staff were less fortunate. At least 10 of them were killed and dozens of others injured. Police personnel and Border Security Force (BSF) troops, however, responded rapidly. They sealed all exits blocking the terrorists' escape routes. Director-General of Police A.K. Suri, Deputy-Inspector General K. Rajendra Kumar and Srinivas personally led the subsequent evacuation, facing fire from the three terrorists still holed up in the building. Two BSF personnel were killed in the fire, while Srinivas suffered injuries when a grenade went off under the armoured vehicle he was using.

WHO carried out the Assembly bombing, and why? Both Pakistan and secessionist groups in Jammu and Kashmir have claimed that the incident was engineered by the Indian authorities, following the pattern of propaganda unleashed after the massacre of Sikh villagers at Chattisinghpora village last year (Frontline, April 14, 2000).

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The claim largely rests on the accounts of a section of Assembly employees, who held protests outside the building on October 3. Mohammad Ashraf, one of them, told journalists that many of his colleagues had been shot by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) while the employees tried to escape from the building. His version was backed by National Conference legislator Sadiq Ali, who was inside the complex during the attack. Ali claimed to have been told that security personnel had orders to fire "at any room where they believe terrorists are hiding".

But these claims seem to be based on weak foundations. Ashraf's account, for example, rests largely on what he claims he was told by Arifa Sheikh, a colleague. Arifa Sheikh, Ashraf said, had hidden under a sofa while the attack was in progress. From this position she claims to have seen bullets hit officials inside the room. It is mystifying how Arifa Sheikh could have determined while hiding under a sofa whether the fire came from police personnel or terrorists.

Speaking of his own experience, Ashraf claims to have begged security personnel to evacuate Abdul Gani Wagay, but says they stood by while his colleague was shot. The factors for Ashraf's survival under presumably identical circumstances is unclear. Most important, survivors such as Ali's own guard, Nazir Ahmad, say that the terrorists were shooting people in cold blood.

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That two of the three associations of employees of the Jammu and Kashmir government are affiliated to the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) renders such allegations more than a little specious. Facts appear to suggest that the Jaish-e-Mohammad did indeed execute the operation, and then in the face of pressure from Pakistan, backed down. The first claims of Jaish-e-Mohammad's responsibility for the attack were made by an overseas caller to staffers of the Mountain Valley and the CNS news agency, two Srinagar-based organisations. Both organisations, like many such in Srinagar, routinely receive calls from spokespersons of terrorist groups, and are unlikely to have carried such a claim if it had come from an unknown caller. The Jaish even identified the suicide squad driver as Wajahat Husain, a Pakistan national.

International pressure seems to have forced the Jaish to withdraw claims of responsibility it made early on. On October 1, United States State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher announced that his country "very strongly condemn the attack in Kashmir". Predictably, Pakistan joined the condemnation. Interestingly, however, Jaish cadre within Jammu and Kashmir have been scrambling to claim responsibility for the attack. On October 2, Tooba, the Jaish radio control station, broadcasting to cadre in the Srinagar area, announced that an operative code-named Umar Bhai had participated in the operation. Umar Bhai, the control station operator said, had reported that over 100 senior officers had been killed in the operation. The terrorist claimed to have escaped the retaliatory action, and said he was now hiding in a Srinagar neighbourhood.

FROM its very formation, the Jaish-e-Mohammad has placed suicide attacks at the core of its operational tactics. Masood Azhar, its founder, was released by the Indian government in December 1999, hostages-for-prisoners swap that followed the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight IC 814 (Frontline, January 21, 2001). Azhar had been sent to India to bring about the unification of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami into the new Harkat-ul-Ansar. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) handlers of the IC 814 hijackers believed that Azhar's return to Pakistan would infuse new life into the Islamic Right. But events did not go according to plan. On January 5, 2000, speaking at the famous Binori Masjid in Karachi, a key seminary of the Islamic Right, Azhar attacked the U.S. as an enemy of Islam, provoking official protests.

From the point of view of pro-U.S. elements in the Pakistan intelligence establishment, things went from bad to worse. In February, Azhar announced the formation of the Jaish-e-Mohammad. Shortly afterwards, Azhar visited Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, further alienating the U.S. The visit, intelligence sources say, was facilitated by Nazimuddin Shamzai, the head of the Binori Masjid, who led the recent delegation of Pakistani religious leaders to Afghanistan. Both Azhar and Omar were Shamzai's students. Worse, Azhar tied up with the ultra-Right Sipah-i-Sahiban Pakistan, dedicated to the sectarian battle against the country's Shia minority. Sipah-i-Sahiban chief Azam Tariq not only provided security for Azhar during his political visits, but announced that he would place 100,000 cadre at his disposal for a jehad in Jammu and Kashmir.

Shortly afterwards, the pro-U.S. faction of the ideologically-fissured ISI ensured that Azhar went to jail. However, six weeks later, the religious chauvinist faction bailed him out. Azhar was put in charge of the Jaish-e-Mohammad. The bulk of the Harkat cadre, particularly those operating in Jammu and Kashmir, defected en bloc to the new outfit. Fazl-ul-Rehman Khalil, the head of the pre-unification Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Azhar's main intra-organisation rival, was punished by demotion and was placed under the operational command of his one-time Naib Amir (deputy chief) Farooq Kashmiri. The action was taken, sources say, because Harkat cadre in some areas refused to hand over charge of assets and office space to Jaish-e-Mohammad. Khalil is reported to have gone underground in the wake of the U.S' decision to declare the Harkat an international terrorist organisation.

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The Jaish announced its arrival in style. In April 2000, 14-year-old suicide bomber Afaaq Ahmad, a resident of Khanyar in downtown Srinagar, blew himself up outside the Army headquarters in the city. In December that year, another suicide bomber, code-named Abdullah Bhai and identified as 24-year-old Mohammad Bilal from Birmingham in the United Kingdom, carried out a near-identical attack in the same area.

On an average one suicide attack has taken place every month after the Jaish-e-Mohammad introduced the fidayeen (suicide squad) culture to the State. Security experts believe that the organisation succeeded by recruiting from amongst criminals. Srinagar's Superintendent of Police (South) says: "Some are indoctrinated to believe they will receive divine forgiveness if they participate in suicide attacks. Others from poor backgrounds are told that their families will receive large amounts of money."

IT is hard not to miss the connection between ongoing U.S. policy and the Srinagar bombing. In an effort to cement Pakistan's backing in the matter of its moves on Afghanistan, the U.S. excluded all but one terrorist organisation active in Jammu and Kashmir from the list it released for sanctions. The one organisation named, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, was defunct, killed off ironically enough by the ISI. The message to other organisations active in the State was clear: they would not be touched. After a two-week lull following the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, terrorist groups in the State reactivated their networks. On September 28, the Lashkar-e-Toiba carried out simultaneous attacks on two Army patrols in Kupwara and Handwara. The next day an Army convoy was ambushed near Baramulla and five soldiers were killed.

Indian government officials have recently been proclaiming that they have gained U.S. support for their battle against terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. They point, for example, to Boucher's October 2 statement saying that India "is a key partner in (the) global coalition against terrorism, and we do believe that terrorism must be ended everywhere". But this polemic is clearly at odds with the nuts and bolts of U.S. policy. The fact remains that the U.S. continues to reject India's fundamental position on Jammu and Kashmir. In July 2001, Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca stated the U.S. position succinctly. "Our position," she said, "is that the issue of Kashmir should be resolved between India and Pakistan, taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people." That makes it clear that the U.S. does not believe the wishes of the Kashmiri people are now respected by India, or represented by the State government.

Rocca's blunt re-assertion of long-standing U.S. policy renders absurd India's current claims to be building international pressure against Pakistan. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's recent letter to U.S. President George Bush warned that India was beginning to "lose patience". The fact remains, however, that officials seem to have no coherent agenda for action. Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, speaking to legislators of both Houses of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly on October 3, promised solidarity but little else. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, for his part, complained about New Delhi in the course of an emotional speech that preceded Advani's address. "You must learn to distinguish between friends and enemies," the Chief Minister told Advani. Like Advani, however, the Chief Minister had nothing to say about his government's dismal record in office, either in the matter of managing security or in bringing about development.

Union Minister of State for Home I.D. Swami's less-than-prudent remarks about cross-border attacks on terrorist training camps illustrate just how bankrupt his government is with regard to options. Figures show just how alarming the situation has become. September 2001 saw 496 terrorist attacks, up from 281 during the same period last year. While record numbers of terrorists have been killed this year, both the State and Central governments have failed to act against their financial networks, overground supporters, or allies in the bureaucracy and the police. There has also been renewed recruitment of cadre from within the State, particularly from among teenagers. And each of the Union government's recent political initiatives, ranging from negotiations with the APHC to the Hizbul Mujahideen, have come to naught. "The Prime Minister's Office," says Kulgam MLA Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami, "doesn't seem to understand that conducting politics is different from running a grocer's store. It's not just about buying and selling." The sad fact is that New Delhi has no Jammu and Kashmir policy: and does not seem likely to author one any time soon.

A controversial ban

The Centre bans the Students Islamic Movement of India for "anti-national activities" but fails to justify the action with credible evidence against the organisation.

ON September 27, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre announced a ban on the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, for its "anti-national and destabilising activities", for "making controversial remarks questioning the country's sovereignty and integrity" and for its "links with militant outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Hizbul Mujahideen".

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As in the case of the Naga truce offer in the Northeastern region, the unilateral ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir and the Agra Summit, the government's move appears to have been ill-timed. It sparked off a political controversy, exposing the government to charges of selective persecution with an eye on the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. The ham-handed manner in which the U.P. government handled the violence that broke out in Lucknow following the ban only served to strengthen this impression.

The Opposition parties have uniformly accused the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of turning a blind eye to the communal activities of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, while targeting Muslims in order to instill fear among them to consolidate its Hindu votebank.

According to a clarification issued by the Home Ministry the immediate provocation for the ban was the pro-Taliban stance of SIMI in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. It said SIMI activists had distributed leaflets and posters lauding Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden as the "ultimate jehadi", and warned that any U.S. attack on Afghanistan would amount to an attack on Islam. They also called upon all Muslims to be ready for jehad.

The notification banning SIMI described its activities thus:

1. SIMI is in close touch with militant outfits and is supporting extremism/militancy in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere.

2. SIMI supports claims for the secession of a part of the Indian territory from the Union, supports groups fighting for this purpose, and is thus questioning the territorial integrity of India.

3. SIMI is working for an international Islamic order.

4. During Ikhwan conferences, the anti-national and militant postures of SIMI were clearly manifest in the speeches of the leaders who glorified pan Islamic fundamentalism and used derogatory language for deities of other religions and exhorted Muslims to jehad.

5. SIMI has published objectionable posters and literature, which are calculated to incite communal feelings and which question the territorial integrity of India.

6. SIMI is involved in engineering communal riots and disruptive activities in various parts of the country.

The notification further said that the activities of SIMI were "detrimental to the peace, integrity and maintenance of the secular fabric of Indian society and that it is an unlawful association."

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Following the ban, there was a nationwide swoop on SIMI activists, and hundreds of them, including its president Shahid Badr Falahi, were arrested from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. SIMI offices across the country were sealed and "incriminating" documents seized.

THE crackdown, although peaceful, left Lucknow on the boil. The Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's parliamentary constituency and the capital of Uttar Pradesh witnessed widespread riots. The police opened fire on protesting Muslims, killing four and injuring many. Curfew was clamped on several areas. Although the situation was brought under control without further loss of life, the episode has taken an ugly political turn, with the ruling BJP and the Opposition parties accusing each other of trying to gain political mileage.

In the opinion of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the ban was meant to divide the people along communal lines so that the BJP could consolidate its Hindu vote bank. "It is a move to divert people's attention from the government's failures," said S.P. president Mulayam Singh Yadav. This view was echoed in the remarks of BSP leader Mayawati. The S.P. demanded that the government convene an all-party meeting and place all facts available with it on this issue before the meeting. The BSP said that the fact that other political parties were not taken into confidence before the ban was slapped smacked of a conspiracy. "It is a politically motivated move, otherwise we would have been told about it at the all-party meeting which was held earlier in the day," Mayawati said. The Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) echoed this opinion.

The Congress was guarded in its reaction as two of its own Chief Ministers, Digvijay Singh of Madhya Pradesh and Ashok Gehlot of Rajasthan, had demanded it. The party, however, described the ban as "ill-timed in view of the vitiating international situation" and demanded a similar ban on the Sangh Parivar affiliates, which were also indulging in vitiating the communal atmosphere. This demand was made also by the CPI, the CPI(M), the S.P. and BSP.

The CPI(M) Polit Bureau, in a press statement issued on September 28, demanded that the Central government come out with the full information on the basis of which it imposed the ban. The statement said that the activities of organisations like the Bajrang Dal were inimical to national unity, but the Centre had been silent on that issue. "The Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) strongly condemns the indiscriminate police firing in Lucknow where three young men have lost their lives. The Rajnath Singh government, given its communal bias, will try to use the prevailing atmosphere to target the minority community. All the democratic forces must strongly resist such move," it said.

The BJP, on the other hand, accused the S.P. of engineering violence. Chief Minister Rajnath Singh said that S.P. leaders provoked Muslims by spreading rumours that ulemas (religious scholars) were also being arrested. "This angered Muslims and they started throwing stones and petrol bombs at the police. They resorted to large-scale arson and burning of vehicles. The police opened fire to quell the mob," he said.

Accusations and counter-accusations apart, the "clinching evidence" provided by the government to justify the ban, however, fails to portray the organisation as a secessionist one with sinister, anti-national and seditious designs. Except for general references, there is not a single specific instance of the organisation's large-scale involvement in anti-national activities. The only instance, which the government has cited, is the bomb blast in the Sabarmati Express near Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh on August 14. The rest are just sweeping statements like "it has been found to be involved in communal riots and disruptive activities." There is also a mention of "14 cases of terrorist violence" (cases not specified) which caused "15 deaths and injury to 80 others in UP and Delhi in 2000-2001". According to the Home Ministry report, these exposed the "deep nexus between SIMI and the Hizbul Mujahideen". No evidence, however, has been cited. The Hizbul Mujahideen itself is not a banned organisation. Another charge cited against SIMI is "using the Internet" to publicise the alleged burning of the Koran in Delhi, which resulted in communal tension and riots. The Ministry says SIMI circulated on the Internet pictures of a burning Koran and this inflamed passions. Besides, it distributed provocative posters and leaflets in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Karnataka, the Home Ministry says. If indeed there was an instance of burning the Koran, then it is not disclosed whether the Ministry took any action. The Ministry further said that SIMI intended to take up the "Babri Masjid issue more aggressively in future". So are the Bajrang Dal and the VHP, but what action has been taken against them is not disclosed. Another charge against SIMI relates its links with the Muslim Students Union, a pro-Hamas union of Palestine students in India and Pakistan, and the Lashkar-e-Toiba.

The pamphlets and posters produced by the government to establish the anti-national credentials of the organisation are nothing more than a collection of poetic verses from the Koran, and elsewhere, depicting the ultimate victory of those who believe in Allah after overcoming all obstacles, including bloody ones, coupled with a few pictures. One such posters, which the Ministry says "speak for themselves", has these lines on it: "Allah ke jamaat he Ghalib rahne wali hai". It means that God's party shall triumph. This, according to believers in Islam, is a line from the Koran and there is nothing anti-national about it because God's party could mean anyone, not only those believing in Islam. Another poster, which the Ministry says preaches bloodshed and violence, has these translated lines from the Koran: "Your friend should be those who believe in God and offer prayers. Those who keep the company of God and His followers should rest assured that God's party shall triumph." Another one holds out the promise of hope in the face of adversities; yet another exhorts its followers not to be coward and not to beg for compromises, because ultimately victory shall be theirs. It defies reason how these lines could be cited as "clinching evidence" of SIMI's anti-national credentials. Interestingly, while the Ministry cited laudatory references to Osama bin Laden as the immediate and ultimate provocation for banning SIMI, it has chosen to look the other way when the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmad Bukhari, said the very same thing about bin Laden and the impending U.S. attack on Afghanistan at a huge Friday congregation on September 28.

What makes the government's intentions suspect is also the fact that these exhortations appear to be relatively tame in comparison to some of the statements made by Bajrang Dal and VHP leaders in the recent past. Some of their actions too are much more disruptive and divisive in nature: the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the Gujarat riots in the wake of the demolition, the murder of Graham Staines and his two sons by those owing allegiance to these groups and the attacks on Christian missionaries are only some of the blatant examples.

More recently, the National Commission on Minorities, in its report, blamed the RSS and the Bajrang Dal for fomenting riots in Gujarat. Who demolished the Babri Masjid is known. But political leaders of the Sangh Parivar and its political affiliates have been allowed to go scot-free because of a technical flaw in the notification which rendered their prosecution null and void (Frontline, June 8, 2001).

Replying to the Opposition demand for banning Bajrang Dal, Home Minister L.K. Advani categorically stated that there was no question of banning it because none of its activities was anti-national in nature. Rajnath Singh went as far as to say that the Bajrang Dal might be communal in nature but it was not anti-national, so there was no question of banning it. In his opinion, being communal is all right.

The Home Ministry spokesman, while explaining how the government had gone about banning SIMI in a "rational and objective manner only after gathering adequate proof over the last one year," also gave a clean chit to the Bajrang Dal. He stated that "there is no concrete material available on the Bajrang Dal that can stand judicial scrutiny". He said the government had not received any report so far, not even from the Madhya Pradesh government, citing valid grounds to impose a ban on the Bajrang Dal. Digvijay Singh, however, has demanded the banning of the Bajrang Dal along with SIMI, and had sent a fact sheet to the Centre citing 36 cases against SIMI and 18 against the Bajrang Dal. The NDA government, however, denies any such reports.

The SIMI case will be heard by a tribunal, which is to be constituted within a month. The tribunal will give its verdict on the proscription within six months. Meanwhile, several questions, such as why the crimes cited by the government could not have been tried in a court of law, without resorting to the ban on the organisation, may need credible answers.

SIMI, and its work

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PURNIMA S. TRIPATHI

FOUNDED on April 25, 1977, as a students organisation of the radical Jamaat-e-Islami, the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) today claims to be working for the uplift of Muslims in all walks of life, through the path shown by Islam.

The plight of the Muslim community, according to SIMI, is the result of its own negligence and apathy towards the divine instructions of Islam and the unrelenting tyranny of the rule of unbelief (Kufr). It is also the outcome of a conspiracy hatched by the enemies of Islam who are united in their efforts to extinguish the light of the faith, SIMI believes. "Their intention is to extinguish Allah's Light (by blowing) with their mouths, but Allah will complete his light, even though the unbelievers may detest (it)." SIMI plans to "reconstruct human life in all its aspects in accordance with divine guidance" revealed through Allah's messengers.

In order to achieve this aim, SIMI attracts students and youth (below 30 years of age) towards its ideology, and organises them. It makes efforts to build their character according to Islamic injunctions by providing opportunities to make an objective study of Islam and other ideologies. SIMI's radical views are displayed on its website. It says measures are taken to protect students from the evil effects of the defects in the present educational system. It also fights moral degeneration, sexual anarchy and insensitiveness of the decadent West.

Shaheen Force, the SIMI wing for schoolchildren seeks to "protect the children from present-day misguidance and vices" and keeps them "under the shade of Islamic culture". A separate wing seeks to channel the talents of girls for the Islamic cause.

SIMI runs special programmes for students of Arabic colleges and Islamic universities. Thousands of students receive training and other assistance in the study of languages and Islamic sciences. After the completion of their studies they get the opportunity to serve the community as an imam, qazi or khateeb. According to SIMI, the renaissance of the ummah depends on Islamic scholars because the community can attain its glory only when it will be led and guided by sincere ulema.

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The organisation has a relief wing, which runs blood banks and book banks and conducts free coaching classes, besides organising relief operations. The publication wing brings out a number of magazines in various languages - Vivekam (Malayalam), Seidhi Madal (Tamil), Rupantar (Bengali), Iqraa (Gujarati), Tahreek (Hindi), and Al Harkah (Urdu).

SIMI expressed solidarity with the Islamic revolution in Iran by organising rallies in Indian cities. It registered its protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1976 and organised 'Afghan Day' on January 11, 1980, to declare solidarity with the Afghan people and the mujahideen. On December 9, 1980, SIMI activists joined a massive demonstration against Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev in Delhi. The same year, they demonstrated against Palestine Liberation Organisation chief Yasser Arafat during his visit to Delhi for his stand on Afghanistan issue.

However, SIMI supports the struggle of the Palestinian people. When Israel invaded Beirut in July 1981 SIMI held demonstrations outside the American consulate and the Israeli Centre. It observed March 18, 1983, as 'Assam Day' to protest the Nellie massacre. In June 1985 it observed 'Shariat Day' against the interference of the judiciary in Muslim personal law. Seminars on Islamic guidelines on marriage, divorce and polygamy were conducted as part of the campaign.

On the Babri Masjid, SIMI holds the view that it had been a target of attacks by Hindu communalists even during the colonial period. After the demolition of the masjid in December 1991, it tried hard to make the Muslim community fight for the cause of the masjid. SIMI activists have vowed to rebuild the mosque and want Muslims to do it with their own hands without waiting for the government to act.

SIMI says that a common civil code would go against the freedom of religion and that any effort to adopt that would create chaos in society. It does not believe in the electoral process because in its opinion elections serve no purpose as no political party or organisation can bring about a solid and constructive change in view of their "erratic" ideologies. The only way to bring about real change is through the recognition of God and by leading a life in the light of divine guidance and thus establishing an Islamic life. It considers the parliamentary system unsuitable to bring about an Islamic revolution in the country.

"It is difficult to keep the Islamic revolutionary character during the process of election. Therefore SIMI will not participate in the election or will not give votes to anybody. During the time of election SIMI will expose the nature of socialism, secularism and nationalism and ask the people to boycott the election and march for the Islamic revolution," the website says. SIMI also exhorts its members not to serve in jobs that are in confrontation with the Sharia.

On Kashmir, SIMI is angry about the "anti-Muslim" attitude of the government and demands immediate withdrawal of the "naked aggression". It seeks a just solution to the Kashmir problem.

SIMI holds Israelis responsible for the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York. According to a press release issued by its secretary-general Safdar Nagori after the September 11 attack, "there are strong reasons to believe that the recent attacks may be a conspiracy of the Zionist Israel, which is rapidly losing world support because of its inhuman and terrorist activities in Palestine."

In a warning against any American attack against Afghanistan, it said that without clear evidence of the Taliban's involvement in the crime, an attack on that country would to an act of terrorism and an injustice that would further increase the anger and hatred against America among the Muslim ummah worldwide.

It is these views, displayed on the website, that get reflected in the SIMI pamphlets and posters from time to time.

Zooming in on the tapes

The Venkataswami Commission witnesses heated debates between audio and video experts on the veracity of the Tehelka tapes.

SINCE March 13, 2001, when the tehelka.com images of politicians and sums of money became common currency across the nation, television viewers and Internet surfers have seen many a twist and turn in the story of corruption in high places and how investigative journalism has sought to unravel it. If the first few episodes shocked viewers with stunning visuals, the news that the portal utilised the services of sex workers for the big story removed some of the sheen of its investigative venture. Later, doubts were raised about the veracity of the tapes and the "motive" behind the expose. The present focus of the K. Venkataswami Commission, which is inquiring into the affair, is the veracity of the tapes. The proceedings of the Commission recently witnessed heated debates between audio and video experts over the authenticity of the tapes.

On September 24, film-maker Milind Kapoor demonstrated to the Commission the techniques of deletion, addition and mixing of video shots. He gave a presentation using the portions of the tapes involving former Bharatiya Janata Party president Bangaru Laxman and Samata Party leader Jaya Jaitly. "The Jaya Jaitly episode was the talk of the town and the Defence Minister had to resign over this. This was the reason why I chose it," he said.

Kapoor went through five shots of about 20 seconds each to emphasise that the tapes could have been doctored. Using audio and video techniques and computer graphics, he showed how the sound or the visual is dissolved. He also demonstrated how the answers given by a person could be attributed to another by mixing sound.

The next day, lawyers representing tehelka.com, accompanied by film-maker Pradeep Krishen, asked Kapoor a series of questions - about his professional qualifications, about the types of microphones he used in order to demonstrate the doctoring of tapes, and so on. Kapoor said that although he had studied only up to the higher secondary level he had "enough professional experience" to conclude that the tapes had been doctored.

Krishen told the Commission that it was not possible to change either the sound-track or the picture alone on the original Hi-8 camera shot in 8 mm format, which was the one used by Tehelka. Counsel for Jaitly argued that Krishen was biased, for The God of Small Things, the book written by Arundhati Roy, who is married to Krishen, was published in India by India Ink of which Tehelka's chief executive officer Tarun Tejpal was a partner.

Although Krishen contested Kapoor's claim that it was possible to change the sound and the picture without affecting the quality of either, Umashanker, an audio expert who deposed before the Commission as a witness on behalf of Tehelka, said that it was possible to mix the visual of one footage and the sound of another, thereby leaving scope for the argument that the tapes could have been doctored on the editing table. When counsel for Jaya Jaitly asked him whether it would mean that audio and video recordings made separately could be mixed, Umashankar replied in the affirmative. However, his response to a query from counsel for Tehelka Prashant Bhushan removed any doubts about whether the tapes were dubbed. Umashanker said that it was easy to tell a dubbed version from an undubbed one. "There is a whole lot of jumbled sounds in the background in the original. When dubbing is done, these sounds are eliminated. A dubbed version would not have jumbled sounds in the background. This makes the end-product on the tapes sound unnatural and identification becomes easy," he said.

Most of the questions addressed to Umashanker by counsel for Jaya Jaitly and Bangaru Laxman were based on hypothetical situations. Umashanker, who gave answers from a professional point of view, consistently maintained that there was no doctoring of the five segments that he had scrutinised.

The cross-examination of the two Tehelka witnesses as well as Kapoor showed that the three agreed that given the equipment that Tehelka had used, it was impossible for it to have doctored the original tapes. A source in the Commission said: "Seen in this perspective, the only question that remains is whether Tehelka handed over the original tapes to the Commission." The question arises because all the three experts have also agreed during cross-examination that the master tape could have been edited with the help of a computerised facility. "Thus the only fact that needs to be ascertained is whether Tehelka supplied an edited or unedited master," said informed sources in the Commission.

QUESTIONS about the audio elements of the tapes were raised in the affidavits submitted before the Commission by lawyers who had been permitted by the Commission to view the 100-hour Tehelka tapes. Some of them cited instances where the audio does not match the video. Questions were also raised about sections in the tapes that were marked "inaudible" although they were perfectly audible. It has been pointed out that the tapes should have been transcribed.

Similarly, some affidavits point to specific lacunae. For instance, parts of Tape 88, which has three pages of transcripts, are totally inaudible. Tape 67 shows L.M. Mehta, one of the persons summoned by the Commission under Section 8(B) of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, being handed a small box and Mehta returning it to Tehelka reporter Thomas Mathew. However, the transcript states that Rs.50,000 and a gold chain were given to Mehta. Tapes 73 and 74 show the entry of the Tehelka team into the residence of the then Defence Minister George Fernandes at night. However, the tapes telecast on Zee television show the team entering the house in broad daylight. Images shot in bright sunlight do not figure anywhere in the 100 hours of visuals. This has prompted lawyers to suggest that there may be more tapes with Tehelka. Several factual errors have also been mentioned.

When Jaya Jaitly's counsel asked Umashanker why at times the sound was absent in the Tehelka tapes even when the video continued, he gave three possibilities: the tapes might have been damaged; the sound might have been turned off; and the equipment might not have worked properly at the time of recording.

A pracharak as Chief Minister

WITH Narendra Modi taking charge as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders can no longer convincingly portray the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as an apolitical cultural organisation. Although the RSS has not directly taken part in elections so far, it has lent the services of its pracharaks (full-time bachelor propagandists) to the erstwhile Jan Sangh and the BJP for party work. These pracharaks provided an interface between the RSS and its political arm of the day. K.N. Govindacharya, Narendra Modi, Sunder Singh Bhandari and Kushabhau Thakre were some of the pracharaks deputed to the BJP.

While Bhandari became a Member of the Rajya Sabha, and was later appointed Governor of Gujarat, Govindacharya, Modi and Thakre devoted themselves to organisational work and resisted the temptation of accepting elected office. Such detachment was a major criterion for the choice of the BJP's general secretary in charge of organisational affairs; he was entrusted with the task of choosing candidates for elections and planning and executing the party's campaign strategy.

Does not the fact that Modi is the first ever RSS pracharak to become a Chief Minister, without seeking the people's mandate, betray a sense of desperation and disregard for democratic values on the part of the BJP-RSS-VHP combine? Modi was no doubt the architect of the BJP's electoral victory in the 1995 and 1998 Assembly elections in Gujarat and is a source of inspiration for the entire BJP-RSS-VHP cadre in the State.

But the circumstances of his exit from Gujarat politics in 1995, soon after Keshubhai Patel assumed office as Chief Minister, smacked of his quest for extra-constitutional authority. Un-mindful of norms, Modi remained present at a meeting the Chief Minister had with his senior bureaucrats in Gandhinagar. It earned him the epithet of 'super Chief Minister'. Irked by Modi's frequent intervention in government affairs, Keshubhai Patel requested the central leadership to shift him from Gujarat. Modi was then brought to Delhi as general secretary and put in charge of the party's activities in Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.

But, in the 1998 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Gujarat, Modi's role in the selection of the BJP's candidates was palpable. He sidelined the 'Khajurias' (party MLAs of doubtful loyalty because they sided with rebel leader Shankarsinh Vaghela during the 1995 political crisis and were holed up in Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh, but later returned to the party). On the other hand, he rewarded the 'Hajurias' (loyalists) in the hope that it would end the faction war that brought down Keshubhai Patel's first government in 1995 and the government of his successor, Suresh Mehta, in 1996. However, in the quest for unity the party did not heed Modi's advice to deny nomination to the 'semi-Khajurias' among the BJP's 76 MLAs in the outgoing House. Now, his leadership of the government is likely to alienate the moderates.

In New Delhi, Modi's equations with senior leaders underwent a subtle change, perhaps necessitated by the group loyalties that determined one's status in the party. Thus, he was identified with Murli Manohar Joshi and then he became a staunch follower of L.K. Advani and later Atal Behari Vajpayee.

He was put in charge of the party's campaign machinery in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections in Gujarat. Modi successfully wooed committed voters on an emotional platform - avenge the fall of its earlier governments - through the RSS-VHP-BJP network of activists. He returned to the party's central office after the elections, but continued to show discreet interest in the party's affairs in the State. Modi was critical of Keshubhai Patel's leadership style.

Keshubhai Patel's style, which some people considered an arrogant one, also apparently alienated quite a few leaders in the BJP, who had earlier thought he was irreplaceable in view of the solid support he enjoyed among the Patel community. The central leadership noted that Keshubhai did not think it necessary to pay a courtesy call on the Prime Minister to greet him after the National Democratic Alliance's victory in the 1999 elections. Dwindling industrial investments and sluggish development, complaints of abuse of power by Keshubhai's close kin, and the party's debacle in the local body elections last year, all lent urgency to the demands for his removal.

Thus, when the search for a new leader to head the government began, the central leaders were not concerned about the successor's caste profile, or Keshubhai's potential to create trouble. During his last few interactions with the central leaders in Delhi, Keshubhai Patel had even threatened to quit the party if he was not allowed to have a say in the choice of his successor. But the party turned down his suggestion that one of its Union Ministers from Gujarat be sent to Gandhinagar, on the grounds that it would lead to two byelections, one to the Assembly and the other to the Lok Sabha.

The central leaders were convinced that Keshubhai Patel had squandered his mandate of 1998 and no one of his choice would be able to stop the party's slide in the State. Thus Modi, who is untested as the leader of the party and the government in the State, became their choice.

A new oarsman

Bad governance costs Keshubhai Patel the chief ministership of Gujarat. Will his replacement, Narendra Modi, a master organisational strategist with little experience in governance, deliver the goods?

THE Bharatiya Janata Party's governance in Gujarat, which is dubbed its political 'laboratory', has gone awry. Waking up to the fact that the party is losing ground in the only State where it has a legislative majority of its own, the party high command asked Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel to step down on October 2. In his place, it installed the BJP's national secretary, Narendra Modi, the first Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) pracharak to become Chief Minister or to hold a government office. He has never contested an election.

When the BJP recently lost the byelections in the Sabarmati Assembly constituency and the Sabarkantha Lok Sabha constituency, party bosses found a good excuse to get rid of Keshubhai Patel. Insiders say that they had already decided to replace him, and were waiting for an opportune moment. The Sabarmati constituency falls within Union Home Minister L.K. Advani's parliamentary constituency of Gandhinagar. A defeat there rattled the BJP's top leaders. They summoned Keshubhai Patel to New Delhi and asked him to make way for Modi.

Keshubhai Patel's initial resistance was quickly squelched. He objected to the "insulting" and authoritarian manner in which he was sought to be dismissed. His supporters, around 30 MLAs, mainly from the politically dominant Patel community, faxed a memorandum to the BJP leadership in Delhi emphasising their support to Keshubhai Patel. The letter said that Keshubhai Patel should not be solely blamed for the byelection defeats, and that if he were to be replaced, the new Chief Minister should be appointed after consulting the BJP's State unit.

On his arrival in Ahmedabad from Delhi on October 2 after tendering his resignation to party president Jana Krishnamurthy, Keshubhai Patel was in a rebellious mood. He said that he had not yet been asked to submit his resignation letter to the Governor and that it was up to the legislature party to elect a new leader. Even Keshubhai's rival, former Chief Minister Suresh Mehta, stated that he would refuse to be part of Narendra Modi's government since the latter was junior to him in the party.

But they were silenced overnight. The next morning, a sullen and subdued Keshubhai Patel held his last press conference as Chief Minister. He said that he would submit his resignation to the Governor in a few hours and that Modi would be elected leader at the BJP's Legislature Party meeting to be held the next day. Suddenly, all the rebellious MLAs turned tail and swore obedience to the high command's decision. At the legislature party meeting, Keshubhai Patel and Suresh Mehta respectively were made to propose and second Narendra Modi's nomination as leader. He was unanimously elected, and later sworn in Chief Minister on October 7.

However, it seems unlikely that Modi will be able to reverse the sharp decline in public support in the State for the BJP in time for the Assembly elections, to be held in early 2003. The district panchayat elections, held in September last year, showed up the public frustration with the party. The BJP lost 23 of the 25 district panchayats and the majority of taluk panchayats. Earlier, it held control over 24 district panchayats. In the municipal elections, the party lost two crucial municipal corporations - Ahmedabad and Rajkot, which it had ruled for 13 and 24 years respectively. The BJP retained control over the other four municipal corporations, but its victory margins were heavily reduced.Thrown back by these results, the party postponed the village panchayat elections three times in the past one year. They are now scheduled to be held in December.

Why has the BJP's popularity eroded in Gujarat? After coming to power in 1998 with a thumping majority, winning 117 of the 182 Assembly seats, the BJP now feels that its only stronghold is under threat.

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The bungling and neglect with regard to relief and rehabilitation in the aftermath of the Bhuj earthquake is seen as the Keshubhai Patel government's most striking failure. "During the monsoon, people had no shelter," says Congress(I) leader Shankarsinh Vaghela, who as a BJP rebel toppled Keshubhai Patel's government in 1995 and headed a Rashtriya Janata Party government with Congress support for a brief period. Relief funds have not reached many of the earthquake-affected people. Several irregularities in the purchase of tin sheets and other housing material have been reported. "They promised eight lakh houses in 130 days. So far only around 5,000 houses have been constructed," says Gujarat Congress president Amarsinh Chaudhury.

In fact, corruption and incompetence have been the two striking features of the Keshubhai Patel government. The recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) came as a major embarrassment to the government. There was a controversy over expenses relating to the Chief Minister's foreign trip to garner Non-Resident Indian funds. The CAG report also highlighted several irregularities in the award of government contracts and purchases of items ranging from aircraft to fodder.

There were allegations that Keshubhai's family, particularly his son-in-law and sons, had to be approached if any contract was to be cleared. Moreover, his Finance and Revenue Minister Vajubhai Vala's involvement in land deals proved an embarrassment to Keshubhai Patel. A builder by profession, Vala had been given charge of the Land Revenue Department. "Patel centralised everything. He held charge of all the policy-making departments - Public Works, the Sardar Sarovar Project, Information Technology, Industry, Ports. All these are the money-making portfolios," says Amarsinh Chaudhury.

Unfortunately, Gujarat was hit by seven natural calamities since Keshubhai Patel took over. His failure to deal actively with the problems at hand made matters worse. Moreover, grandiose schemes such as the Gokul Gram (self-sufficient villages) that he initiated were not properly implemented. In a 'black sheet' of the Keshubhai Patel government's achievements, the Congress(I) listed 1,140 promises, of which the government had implemented less than 440.

The state of Gujarat's finances is also worsening. The revenue deficit is expected to touch Rs.8,374 crores, up from Rs.2,863 crores in 1998-99. While Gujarat has prided itself on being a highly industrialised State, the rate of industrial growth is on the decline.

On the law and order front, the rising number of attacks on members of the minority communities, especially Christians, instilled a general feeling of insecurity. Emboldened by the BJP's rise to power, the Sangh Parivar unleashed its communal campaigns. Since Keshubhai Patel took over, there have been around 200 attacks on Christians and the tribal people, but complaints have been registered by the police only in around 80 such instances, says Samson Christian, joint secretary of the All India Christian Council. Recently there were three attacks on Muslims, says Dr. Hanif Lakdawala, an activist of a non-governmental organisation (NGO). "There are many small incidents that have increased the general sense of fear and insecurity, not only among the minorities but even in the general public," he says. In fact, Modi's entry has made people more fearful, since he is known to be an RSS hardliner.

Can Modi, a greenhorn in governance, come up with an effective salvage operation for the BJP? At a time when dissatisfaction with the BJP is mostly on account of government neglect and incompetence, it is unclear whether Modi, whose skills in statecraft are as yet untested, will be able to deliver the goods. Rather than put the government in order, it seems that the BJP is hoping that Modi will manipulate a victory at the polls. Known for his sharp organising skills, Modi is supposed to have played an important role as an election strategist.

In fact, it was his efforts which resulted in Keshubhai Patel's first electoral victory in the State in 1995. However, when the BJP reached a compromise with Vaghela in 1995 after his rebellion, Modi was shunted off to Delhi. Later Modi fell out with Keshubhai Patel as well. His sudden return has surprised the Gujarat State unit. Several other MLAs were vying to be Chief Minister, including Suresh Mehta, Narottam Patel and Vallabh Katheria, who was Keshubhai Patel's choice as successor. Modi will have to be elected to the legislature within six months.

The 'laboratory' has a new scientist. Will he get the magic formula right and engineer a victory for the BJP in 2003? Or have voters seen through the BJP's hollow promises?

The case of the missing voters

The Election Commission discovers serious irregularities committed by the State administration in the electoral rolls of a Muslim-dominated Assembly segment in Uttar Pradesh.

The Election Commission has indicted the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of Uttar Pradesh for the illegal deletion from the voters' list of the names of thousands of people belonging to a minority community. These names made way for those of members of the majority community in the Thakurdwara Assembly segment of Rampur Lok Sabha constituency. (Rampur has a predominant Muslim population.)

The E.C. received a complaint from Begum Noor Bano, Congress Member of Parliament from Rampur, in this connection on September 10. In view of the seriousness of the charges, K.J. Rao, Secretary to the E.C., was asked to hold a detailed inquiry. The official visited Thakurdwara on September 14 and 15 and discovered "serious irregularities" in the electoral rolls, which were committed with "mala fide intentions". In his report to the Commission, he said, "the inquiry revealed a shocking state of affairs inasmuch as the names of more than 15,800 persons belonging to a particular community were deleted unauthorisedly, without following the procedures laid down in the rules and in disregard of the directions of the Election Commission and of the Hon'ble Supreme Court." He also found that "an abnormally large number of names of about 21,000 persons belonging to another community were included without proper verification or inquiry, even in those cases where the applications in Form 6 were ex facie defective, being incomplete/ unsigned or signed by the same person in many cases."

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In an unusually harsh indictment of a State government, the E.C. decided to conduct an intensive special revision of the electoral rolls in the Assembly constituency and recommended disciplinary action against the officials responsible for the irregularities. "Stern action should be taken against the District Election Officer, Electoral Registration Officer, Assistant Electoral Registration Officer and others," the report specified. Since large-scale violation of and disregard for existing rules and provisions in such a "reckless and cynical manner" could not have been possible without the involvement and active knowledge of the senior officers concerned, the E.C. has directed that S.K. Gupta, District Election Officer-cum-District Magistrate of Moradabad and at present a Special Secretary to the State government, be placed under suspension. Similarly it recommended that R.K. Singhal, Electoral Registration Officer-cum-Sub Divisional Magistrate, Thakurdwara, D.K. Sinha, the then-Tahsildar-cum-Assistant Electoral Registration Officer, Thakurdwara, and Satyendra Prakash, Naib Tahsildar, Thakurdwara, be suspended and penalty charge-sheet under the relevant rules be issued against all of them. The E.C. also directed the State government to transfer all other lower-level officials who were associated with the exercise and post officials with integrity in their places.

The E.C. specifically directed the State government to comply with its instructions by October 6, the day the intensive special revision of the electoral rolls was slated to begin. But until the time of writing this report, the State government had not taken any action in this regard. "The State government has not received the Election Commission's orders.We will certainly act upon it as and when we receive it, " an official said.

Chief Minister Rajnath Singh claimed he was not even aware of the case. Innocence personified, he told mediapersons, "I read about in the newspapers. I have no further information on this. But I will certainly look into it. I have asked the Chief Secretary to give me the details." K.J. Rao told Frontline that he had not been informed of any action against the officials concerned, but he hoped the State government would comply with the directive within the specified time.

Meanwhile, the Congress(I)'s strategy for the coming Assembly elections suffered a serious jolt with the death of Madhavrao Scindia who was to be the party's star campaigner. "He was the only one among the dynamic Congress leaders who had the charisma to attract crowds. We were depending on him a great deal to reach the voters," said Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee president Sriprakash Jaiswal. Scindia's death has left a void in the party's fortune in the State. Its campaign, which had taken off on September 18 in the form of Parivartan Yatras after initial organisational hiccups, came to a halt. These yatras, which were flagged off with fanfare from six places in Uttar Pradesh (Frontline, October 12, 2001), were supposed to culminate in a rally in Lucknow on October 4. The yatras failed to attract the crowds but Congressmen hoped that leaders like Scindia would give them some impetus and that any further shortfall would be made good by party president Sonia Gandhi's presence at the Lucknow rally. The yatra was suspended and the Lucknow rally postponed.

As for the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, other major contenders for power in U.P., the Centre's ban on the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and the combined Opposition uproar that the ban is "politically motivated" and meant to terrorise Muslims, have come as added campaign ammunition. The E.C. disclosures could not have come at a better time for these parties.

Some disturbing trends

In Tamil Nadu, where local body elections begin this month, panchayat posts are "auctioned" and Dalits are prevented from filing nominations in some villages.

ELECTIONS to fill 1.17 lakh positions in the three-tier panchayati raj institutions and 14,354 posts in the urban local bodies in Tamil Nadu will be held on October 16 and 18. Voters numbering 4.66 crores would exercise their franchise in these civic elections, the second in the State held in accordance with the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution effected in 1993. The amendments ensured reservation of seats for two distinctly disadvantaged sections - women and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. While one-third of the elected positions in each of the different categories were reserved for women, the reservation of seats for the latter groups would be in proportion to their percentage in the population (roughly 20 per cent). The first post-amendment elections were held in 1996.

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Involved in the elections are 12,609 village panchayats, 384 panchayat unions and 29 district panchayats, besides 609 town panchayats, 102 municipalities and six city corporations.

The run-up to the elections witnessed some significant socio-political developments. A new political lineup emerged in the case of the urban bodies - city corporations and municipal councils - for which elections are held on party basis. There are now three principal fronts as against the two in the Assembly elections. Two major parties have left the ruling front headed by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) - the Paattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Congress(I). While the PMK has joined the rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led front, the Congress(I) is heading a third Front in association with a few parties which have left the DMK-led front, including the Congress Jananayaga Peravai led by former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), another constituent of the AIADMK-led front, has decided to go it alone following differences of opinion with the AIADMK over seat-sharing. The Puthiya Tamilagam, headed by Dalit leader K. Krishnaswami, also left the DMK-led front and joined the Congress(I)-led alliance. The Dalit Panthers led by R. Thirumavalavan, which was also with the DMK in the May elections, has opted to contest on its own. The Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) is also in the fray, unattached to any alliance. Added to this is the problem of serious dissensions in the principal parties over the choice of candidates.

OF far greater significance, and having possibly far-reaching implications, are certain developments relating to the panchayat elections witnessed in the southern districts even before the electoral process began. These elections are held on a non-party basis. The forum of "oor (village) panchayat" (an assembly of elders and wealthy and influential persons, mostly belonging to the predominant caste group in the village) was used in a number of villages to "auction" panchayat posts such as president and ward member, with the declared objective of "avoiding conflicts". The highest bidders were declared "selected" for the posts and they alone were allowed to file nominations. The bid amount ranged between Rs.10,000 (for the post of ward member) and Rs.5.43 lakhs (for panchayat president). According to newspaper reports, the posts of panchayat president in several villages were thus "sold" in Usilampatti and Peraiyur blocks in Madurai district and Manamadurai block in Sivaganga district.

A different mode of "sale" was adopted in certain other villages. An amount was fixed as the "sale price" - Rs.1 lakh, for instance - for the president's post and one of the persons who offered to pay the price was "selected". Vagurani in Madurai district is one of the villages where the post of panchayat president was "sold" under this system. The amount collected from the "selected" persons would go to the village's common fund, mainly to be spent on temple festivals.

Such auctioning is seen as an attempt by vested interests to retain the common resources of the village in their control. When money is the only criterion for obtaining power, the poor, the women and Dalits, who are kept out of the decision-making process at the "oor panchayats", are deprived of their right to participate in the electoral process on equal terms with others. The practice will encourage corruption since those who "buy" the posts at high prices would not do it for nothing. Another pertinent point raised is that the "selections" were made in violation of the rules governing election expenses. The maximum amount a contestant for a panchayat president's post can spend is only Rs.10,000.

Madurai District Collector S. Ramachandran pleaded helplessness when reports of the auctioning of posts were brought to his notice on September 18. He said he did not know whether the administration could intervene, though he agreed that the practice went against the spirit of democracy. He said the administration could not take suo motu action in these cases; he could act only on specific complaints.

State Election Commissioner (SEC) P.S. Pandyan took a week to clarify the Election Commission's position. He explained that the auctioning "does not have legal sanctity" and said that anyone could contest the elections "regardless of prior deals". He warned against any attempt to prevent people from filing nominations and assured the contestants protection. "Only after the electoral officer of a particular local body declares the results and issues a certificate, a contestant becomes a winner," he pointed out.

The SEC felt compelled to take note of the development only when yet another, more important, aspect of the practice began surfacing. Dr. G. Palanithurai, coordinator, Rajiv Gandhi Chair for Panchayat Studies, Gandhigram Rural Institute, saw in the auctioning an attempt by the "traditional panchayat system" to re-establish its supremacy. He pointed out that this happened more in areas where a particular caste known for its deep-rooted prejudice against Dalits had a substantial presence. In villages where the posts of panchayat president are reserved for Dalits, the auctioning of posts by the dominant caste Hindu groups, which do not want Dalits in positions of power, was obviously intended to find at best "pliable" presidents. Dalit activists say Dalits, who are mostly agricultural workers dependent on caste Hindu landholders for their subsistence, cannot pay a hefty amount for a panchayat post, which may even prove to be a crown of thorns as experience in the past five years has shown them. They point out that if a Dalit is "selected" in this way, it only means that some wealthy person from the caste Hindu groups is behind him.

Caste Hindu groups adopt numerous ways to sabotage attempts to empower Dalits, one of the declared objectives of decentralisation of power. First, they challenge in courts the reservation of particular villages for Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes. When this fails, they announce a boycott of elections. By virtue of their majority status in the village, they bring pressure on Dalits against contesting the elections. In some places they resort to violence.

If these efforts also fail and elections do take place, they look for "pliable" candidates. (For instance, in a village in Kanchipuram district, a landholder was the vice-president and a worker in his field the president.) If someone who is disliked by the dominant caste manages to get elected, they do not cooperate with the person concerned. If a "pliable" Dalit panchayat president turns "hostile", he is banished from the village and his family ostracised, as it happened in the case of V. Nagar, the Dalit president of Maruthangudi panchayat in Madurai district (Frontline, September 29, 2000). In the worst-ever manifestation of caste Hindu intolerance of Dalit empowerment, Murugesan, president of the Melavalavu panchayat in Madurai district and six others were done to death in 1997 (Frontline, July 25, 1997).

Despite "repeated efforts" by the administration, elections could not be held last time in Keeripatti and Pappapatti villages in Usilampatti taluk of Madurai district because of stiff resistance from militant caste Hindu groups. (No elections could be held in four village panchayats last time.) This time also caste Hindu militants were in no mood to budge. They threatened that if any Dalit dared to contest "Melavalavu will be repeated here."

Their threat seems to have worked. Keeripatti and Pappapatti are among the four villages where no nomination papers were filed for the post of either the president or the ward member.

The director of People's Watch, Tamil Nadu, Henri Tiphagne, has filed complaints before the Collector and the Superintendent of Police, Madurai, demanding that a case be registered under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and investigation started to find out who was responsible for not conducting the panchayat elections in Pappapatti and Keeripatti. Copies of the complaints have been sent to the National Human Rights Commission and the National S.C./S.T. Commission.

How many more village panchayats reserved for Dalits will be deprived of elections is not known at this stage since the election process is not complete. Moreover, it not yet clear how many of those who won the "auctioned" posts will actually get "elected".

Political parties which are busy with their plans for the urban body elections, have showed little interest in the developments concerning the marginalised sections in rural Tamil Nadu. Only a few leaders have denounced the practice of auctioning panchayat posts. CPI(M) State Secretary N. Sankariah said that it was anti-democratic and cut at the roots of the process of decentralising power. "The objective of 'power to the people' will be defeated by this practice," he said. P. Chidambaram said that attempts to auction panchayat posts and the moves to prevent Dalits from filing nominations were indicators of the increasing trend of criminalisation, commercialisation and communalisation of politics in the State.

A victory for the NBA

The Maharashtra government agrees to formulate a master plan for the rehabilitation of people affected by the Sardar Sarovar Project, but only after NBA leader Medha Patkar goes on a hunger strike.

IN what is seen as a positive development in the matter of resettlement of people affected by the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) in Maharashtra, the State government has put together a plan that not only involves the participation of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) but also promises the formulation of the long-awaited master plan for rehabilitation and resettlement. The NBA's leader Medha Patkar and six activists ended their 10-day-old hunger strike on the issue on September 27, after the government conceded most of their demands.

The NBA, which has been spearheading the agitation of the people evacuated by the dam, seeks the implementation of the recommendations of the Justice S.M. Daud Committee as well as a review of the controversial land rights and resettlement issues. Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh assured Medha Patkar that a complete verification of the Project-Affected People (PAP) would be done before any further decision on the dam height was taken. Furthermore, he said the Daud Committee report, which was submitted over two months earlier, would be discussed at the next Cabinet meeting.

Medha Patkar, who came close to being administered intravenous fluids, welcomed the breakthrough. "This is a major step forward," she said. "But breaking this fast does not mean the end of an ordeal. The real painstaking fight lies ahead when we try to get these promises implemented."

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The NBA had demanded that the process of verification of the Project-Affected Families should be done through village-wise surveys at heights of 90 metres, 93 metres, 100 metres and the full dam height. The government said it would consult the Narmada Control Authority on a re-survey and ensure that the survey and the verification were done within two months. For this it will appoint a task force as demanded by the NBA. Representatives of the NBA and the Punarwarsan Sangharsh Samiti (PSS) will be part of the task force, which will be headed by the Divisional Commissioner of Nashik.

In addition, a letter from Principal Secretary (Rehabilitation) R.K Bhargava to the NBA states that a new planning group, which will include NBA members, will be formed to draft a comprehensive master plan for rehabilitation. Surveys would be done to take stock of the resettlement work and detect lacunae, if any. A Secretary-level overview committee would supervise the implementation of the whole programme, the letter said.

The government also told the NBA that it would not stand in the way of providing land rights to 33 affected tribal villages in Akrani tehsil of Nandurbar district - an important demand of the NBA. Until recently the government had used a High Court case pertaining to the conversion of forest settlements to legitimate revenue villages to deny land rights to the affected tribal people and other villagers. The Bombay High Court is expected to hear the matter on October 10.

The NBA argues that these so-called forest villages were formed before the promulgation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, and a proposal to designate them as revenue villages was ready by 1986-87. However, the government delayed the notification and finally issued it only in 1992. "This process cannot be cancelled arbitrarily, as the government did in 1994 by cursorily cancelling the notification of 1992," an NBA statement said.

The dharna by NBA activists and the hunger strike by Medha Patkar were part of the Andolan's protracted struggle against the governments of the three States "benefiting" from the SSP. "The Maharashtra government may have conceded the NBA's demands, but it remains to be seen whether it is just a tactic to pacify me and get me to end the hunger strike," Medha Patkar told Frontline. She believes that without the "political will, issues relating to the SSP will never be resolved". The government, she said, appeared to be making some effort, but a number of problems remained. For instance, she wondered whether there was enough land to be given as compensation. Madhya Pradesh was willing to provide monetary reparation, but that was not the solution in the case of people who had lost acres of cultivable land, she argued. "Piecemeal solutions will not do," said Medha Patkar. She wanted a master plan that looked at the larger issues. The Maharashtra government has agreed to formulate this plan but NBA activists are sceptical about it reaching fruition. After all, in its judgment permitting the project authorities to go ahead with the construction of the dam, the Supreme Court stipulated that a master plan for rehabilitation and resettlement be presented to it within 40 days of the ruling. The deadline expired last year and there has been no mention of it since. This, the NBA said, had led it to understand that the governments had no intention of looking at the larger picture.

A government official told Frontline that one of the biggest difficulties the Maharashtra government faced was in compensating for the lost of land with land: "We are in the process of purchasing land but there is not enough land available for distribution when the dam reaches its full height." There does not seem to be enough land even for those who were affected by the dam when its height reached 90 metres. According to the NBA's figures, of the 144 families displaced at the 90-metre height, only 69 have been resettled. Should the dam height be increased, as many as 1,061 families in Maharashtra could be displaced.

NBA activist Clifton Rozario said the government cleared 2,700 hectares of forest land in 1990 to resettle those who had been displaced. Subsequently, it cleared another 1,500 hectares. Of the 4,200 hectares, 795 hectares was not cultivable. Rozario claimed that in Maharashtra approximately 20,000 hectares would be affected by the dam. "How can 4,200 hectares replace 20,000 hectares?" he asked. He pointed out that those who were resettled in 1994 had not yet been given land titles. "It means that tomorrow the land can be snatched away from them without any explanation," he said. "The Chief Minister has promised us that the land titles will be given within the next three months," he added.

WHAT is resettlement and when is a family resettled? According to the World Bank's guidelines, the purpose of resettlement is to help a family regain its previous standard of living. By that yardstick, the resettlement and rehabilitation plans of the governments of Maharashtra and the other State governments concerned were failures, said Rozario. In Maharashtra, none of the five resettlement sites in Taloda met the standard requirement, he said.

In fact, the Committee to Assist the Resettlement and Rehabilitation of Sardar Sarovar Project-Affected People, headed by Justice S.M. Daud, exposed the Maharashtra government's failed resettlement and rehabilitation efforts. Its report brings out the inherent inadequacies in the resettlement process. These include the non-availability of land, incorrect enumeration of the project-affected Adivasis, non-granting of land rights, unequal resettlement policy and bureaucratic corruption. It places the blame for most of these on the absence of a master plan for rehabilitation.

A physical verification of the project area, it states, shows that the resettlement of those displaced at a dam height of 90 metres is yet to be completed. It is against increasing the height of the dam before families that have already been displaced are resettled. Additionally, owing to the non-availability of land, hundreds of displaced tribal people have no source of income, the report says. Members of the Committee, who visited resettlement villages, say the sites "lack almost all the basic facilities required for habitation. One of the greatest shortcomings is the non-availability of water even for cooking and drinking."

The Committee was formed after people from the 33 affected villages protested for three days in Mumbai in January demanding an independent review, within the framework of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award (NWDTA), of the plight of those who had been relocated and those who were in the submergence zone. In fact, Deshmukh announced the formation of two independent committees, to review the rehabilitation status of the persons displaced in Maharashtra and to do a cost-benefit analysis of the SSP for Maharashtra. While the Daud Committee reviewed the status of the affected people and submitted its report on July 3, 2001, the second committee remained only on paper. Now the State government has said it will constitute a study group to do a cost-benefit analysis of the project. The report is expected in six months.

FOREMOST among the Daud Committee's recommendations is the one to alter the definition of "project-affected persons" by including all those affected by every type of construction related to the dam. In addition, the committee suggests that the government undertake a fresh survey to determine the number of families that would be affected and the compensatory acreage as part of the process of granting land rights, using the unpublished official surveys of 1985-86.

The Committee, having surveyed much of the area, recommended that for the loss of agricultural income the tribal people should receive monetary compensation, in addition to land, for a period of at least 50 years. For those who have been deprived of their houses and agricultural land because of submergence but have not been placed in possession of cultivable land and house plots, it suggests a compensation of Rs.3,000 an acre a year from the date of ouster to the date on which they are placed in undisturbed legal possession of new land. "What we prescribe is far less than what the tribals are entitled to. Their loss is irreparable," the report says.

Much of the report's contents are common knowledge. Now it has been officially documented. Unfortunately, when the report was presented to the government, it was labelled "anti-dam and pro-NBA". Perhaps that explains the government's indifference to discussing it and, of course, its implementing the recommendations.

One of the critical requirements of the NWDTA is that the rights of the displaced Adivasis are ensured before work on the dam begins. It states that any individual or community facing submergence owing to proposed construction should be rehabilitated one year before actual submergence. This norm has been consistently violated, says Rozario. Once the reviews and surveys are complete and are presented to the Narmada Control Authority, if the government does not provide adequate resettlement before increasing the height of the dam, that will be in complete violation of the law, he says. Given the history of the struggle, the NBA wants to make sure every project-affected person is accounted for.

Communal calculations

The VHP and the Bajrang Dal launch a 'Trishul Diksha' campaign in Rajasthan, disrupting the peace.

KHATUN BANO, 65, and Manohar Singh, a Rajput, belong to different religions, but both revere the centuries-old dargah of Sufi saints Sultan Shah Bana and Gaffar Shah Baba at Asind town in Bhilwara district of Rajasthan. While the two still find some meaning in the composite culture of Asind, communal amity in the town has taken several knocks in recent times. And this may be indicative of the situation in Rajasthan as a whole today.

While on the one hand religious places of a particular community are being pulled down or desecrated, on the other Hindu outfits such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal have emerged in strength in areas which have had a history of amity and peace. Their rise is not being addressed seriously by the State government, though Congress(I) Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot did demand a ban on the Bajrang Dal in the context of the Central government's ban on the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).

The lack of firmness in the matter of dealing with communal elements has encouraged the proliferation of incendiary outfits. The Trishul Diksha and Jalabhishek programme of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal held on September 25 in the Sawai Bhoj temple complex at Asind was an example of communal mobilisation in the guise of a membership drive. Incidentally, the district administration also saw the belligerent acts involving the display of metallic trishuls as being part of a "membership drive".

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The programme was apparently aimed at mobilising the Gurjar population in the town barely two months after the July 27 demolition of a 16th century mosque built in the Qalandari style and located adjacent to the Sawai Bhoj temple. Evidently, communal elements used the demolition during the urs festival as an opportunity to work on the minds of the members of the majority community. Today the 31-member Sawai Bhoj Trust maintains that the urs itself was not a regular feature and that no mosque existed on the premises of the temple complex. Head priest Bhoja Ram, who is a member of the Trust, said the structure that was demolished was just a wall that Naga sadhus had built to deflect strong westerly winds. However, there is ample evidence, including a video recording made in 1997, to show that the mosque did exist at the spot prior to July 27 (Frontline, August 31, 2001).

What remains at the site now is a freshly-cemented floor and a security guard's tent. The Hanuman idol that replaced the mosque appears to have been kept aside. The complex now houses the sprawling Devnarayan temple, which was completed in April.

The demolition was not an isolated incident. Two mazaars, or burial grounds, were desecrated in Jahazpur town, 90 km from Bhilwara, in July before the Asind demolition. Another mazaar in Pander, a town near Jahazpur, was defiled on August 12, Janmashtami day. In each of the cases the administration prevailed upon the minority community to reconstruct the damaged structures in order to avoid further tension. One person, Trilok Joshi, was arrested but he was granted bail apparently after protests from the majority community. Nisar Ahmed, chairman of the Anjuman Committee, said the Jahazpur market was closed for seven days after Joshi's arrest.

A Deputy Superintendent of Police, a Circle Inspector and a Station House Officer were suspended following the Jahazpur and Pander incidents. Now the incidents are being investigated by an Additional Superintendent of Police, Criminal Investigation Department, and the district administration has washed its hands of the case.

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IT was around the time of these incidents that the VHP and the Bajrang Dal began making their presence felt in Bhilwara district and adjoining areas. While no direct link has been established between their growth and the acts of desecration, the activities of communal elements have without doubt contributed to creating an atmosphere of tension and mistrust in these areas. For instance, in Jahazpur a nominated Congress(I) councillor, Gopal Chand Khatik, floated an organisation called the Hindu Sangathan Manch, later renamed the Hindu Manch. Congress(I) members in the town participated in the events organised by the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. Members of the minority community registered their displeasure by greeting Gehlot with black badges and protests when he visited Jahazpur on September 8.

The Trishul Diksha in Jahazpur was held on September 6 when prohibitory orders were in force in the district. The administration argued that it was held "privately" and that it was not possible to curb such "membership drive" activities. Deputy Superintendent of Police Hemant Sharma explained that if Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav could address a public meeting in the area on August 26, there was nothing wrong in allowing the Trishul Diksha of the VHP-Bajrang Dal.

Sharma said that around 150 people were given Trishul Diksha at Jahazpur in the presence of Praveen Togadia, international secretary-general of the VHP, and Chander Singh Jain, Bajrang Dal regional coordinator. The process involved offering a 15 cm-long trishul to the acolytes and their reading out a pledge. The organisers had sought permission to hold the programme near the bus station but he did not allow it, said Sharma.

To Muslims in Jahazpur, the role of the administration is suspect. While a banner of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) calling Hindus to unite fluttered on a gate, the words 'Jama Masjid' written on a wall to indicate the direction of the Jama Masjid that is under construction had been effaced. "There were complaints against the writing of 'Jama Masjid', so we had it effaced," said Sharma. Detailing the efforts for peace undertaken by the administration, he said that as part of confidence-building measures peace committees and local area committees had been constituted. Ironically, the representatives of the majority community on these committees are those whom Muslims hold responsible for vitiating the atmosphere. The include, besides Gopal Khatik, influential members of the BJP, Shiv Sena and the Bajrang Dal.

THE youth among the minority community are being persuaded by their elders to show restraint. Mohammad Sher, a member of the Mohammadan Youth Club in Jahazpur, said that despite much provocation the youth had exercised restraint, heeding the calls of elders. He denied Gopal Khatik's claim that SIMI was running the Youth Club and that maulvis from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were agents of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Sharif Mohammad Chita, Congress-man and a former Municipal Council chairman, said that the police inspected the records at the two telephone booths he owned in order to check if any calls had been made to Pakistan. He resented the fact that Congress members were working along with those of Hindu communal outfits. "I can leave the party if I feel it is against Hindu dharma," retorted Khatik. "I am first a Hindu and then a Congressman." Khatik is a Dalit and is apparently trying to rally Dalits against the minority community. He supported the Trishul Diksha and claimed that it was the first step towards the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. "Trishul Diksha was being planned in all the villages, and in the smaller villages Jalabhishek of Shiva lingas would be conducted," he said. At Pander, 101 people were given Trishul Diksha on October 1; nearly 700 people attended the function.

The desecration of the mazaar at Pander held the potential for serious trouble. Maulana Abdul Qayuum, who was sleeping in his quarters in the mosque complex, told Frontline that he heard some voices and saw the gate lying open. It was raining. Fearing that something untoward might happen he went to the house of Qamar Ali nearby. At 5 a.m. he returned to the mosque and saw smoke coming from inside. After he gave the Azan (the muezzin's call to prayer), he was joined by Afzal Mithu, a resident of Pander. Inside, the minbar (cemented steps from where the Maulana preaches) had been broken and a copy of the Koran kept on a shelf burnt. Qayuum is now in Jahazpur; he feels safer there. The administration, in a move to placate all sides, got the village sarpanch to present a copy of the Koran to the mosque, but no arrests have been made so far. Later the sarpanch called a meeting allegedly in an attempt to boycott Muslim families. Now the 20 Muslim families in the town are ready to move out.

In Bhilwara town, people at the VHP office are annoyed at the transfer of the Superintendent of Police (S.P.) and the District Magistrate. The men who have come in their place are prejudiced, alleged Om Prakash Bhulia, the Dharmachari Sampark Pramukh of the Chittorgarh belt of the VHP. He said there was nothing unusual about the Trishul Diksha as it was decided at the Maha Kumbh in January to induct 30,000 Bajrang Dal volunteers.

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District Magistrate Sudhansh Pant and S.P. Srinivas Janga Rao, both of whom assumed charge on August 15, said they were keeping a watch on the situation. A few weeks ago interaction between the two communities had broken down as petty irritants began to surface, said Pant. The two of them together had helped improve the situation considerably since then, he added. Asked about the Trishul Diksha, he said he would not give permission to any such programme if it would lead to problems. However, a ban on the programme may prove counter-productive, he felt.

While the Gehlot government lacks a consistent policy when it comes to dealing with communal forces, civil liberties groups as well as non-Congress and non-BJP political parties in the State have taken the initiative to challenge such trends. On September 30, State units of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Samajwadi Party organised a Sadbhavana convention where they denounced the communal organisations. A citizens' initiative against communalism organised by the Institute of Development Studies, Jaipur, outlined the spread of communal incidents in the State.

The State unit of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) pointed out that the Tibrewal Committee's report on the riots following Union Home Minister L.K. Advani's arrest in 1990 was yet to be placed in the Vidhan Sabha. A PUCL report states that since 1998 there have been a series of incidents beginning with an "ouster campaign" of alleged Bangladeshis in Ajmer. It catalogues recent communal incidents, including a police firing on protesters in Jaipur in 1997 that resulted in six deaths; riots in Malpura in July 2000 where innocent people including women and children were massacred; communal tension in Rajsamand in August 2000 and Kotda block of Udaipur in March 2001; tension during Muharram and Mahavir Jayanti at Nasirabad in April 2001; tension over the construction of a mosque at Beaver in April 2001; and incidents in Jahazpur, Asind, Pander and Bhilwara.

The game plan of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal seems to be to exploit incidents of tension such as that witnessed at Asind. The Gurjar representatives at Asind are vehemently opposed to the reconstruction of the mosque, but at the same time they do not want to be used by the VHP-Bajrang Dal. Kuka Ram, a member of the Sawai Bhoj Trust, told Frontline that Chandra Singh Jain of the Bajrang Dal had offered to help, saying that it was a Hindu issue, and twice sought to organise the Trishul Diksha and a Jalabhishek ceremony in the main Sawai Bhoj temple. But permission was refused. They were allowed to conduct it in the complex under police watch. Volunteers went around on motorcycles mobilising people for the meeting. A large number of people turned up, apparently under the impression that it was a Sawai Bhoj temple affair and not knowing that the Bajrang Dal was behind it.

The spectre of starvation

Good rainfall has turned the landscape green in Orissa's Kashipur block, but the lives of its poverty-stricken people remain steeped in despair.

"Orissa has received a few hundred crores of rupees in aid and welfare projects in the last decade or so. But don't ask what happened to the money... 90 per cent of it was swallowed by the local politicians and bureaucrats. This State has never seen good governance, and corruption is rampant here."

- Rabindranath Tagore, a former Assistant Registrar of Cooperatives, Orissa.

"I cannot force somebody to eat one thing or another; and I can't change people's eating habits. If they prefer to eat mango kernel, which often becomes infected with fungus, what can anybody do? But I agree, poverty is rampant here."

- Bishnupada Sethi, District Collector, Rayagada.

"Just because we like the taste of mango kernel or imli ka dana (tamarind seeds), it doesn't mean that we prefer to eat that instead of rice. You people like pickles with your food; but can you eat pickles for an entire meal?"

- An unlettered woman of Dikaral village in Kashipur block of Rayagada district, Orissa.

"And, some of them even had a bank balance."

- Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, citing the result of an "investigation", which, he said, had shown that foodgrains were found in the homes from which starvation deaths were reported, and blasting the media for misrepresenting facts and spoiling the image of the country.

WHILE the rest of the country debates on whether the recent spate of deaths reported from Kashipur block of Rayagada district in Orissa can be classified as "hunger deaths" or not, many of the 31,000-odd families of Kashipur continue to exist in sub-human conditions. Chief Minister Navin Patnaik visited some of the villages concerned about a month after the deaths were reported. He made yet another round of the villages on September 14, this time accompanied by Union Food Minister Shanta Kumar.

In its April 29-May 12, 1989 issue, Frontline published a report and a set of photographs from the drought-affected villages in Koraput, Kalahandi and Bolangir districts. They presented a picture of stark poverty. Those faces, the despair in those eyes - what a visitor sees today is strikingly similar to them. The question is, has anything changed in this area in the past 12 years? The Food Corporation of India's (FCI) godowns might be overflowing but in the villages of Kashipur hungry people desperately gulp down gruel prepared with fungus-infested mango kernel or inedible mushrooms.

If at all there is any change, it is that the drought has ended, with the villages receiving good rainfall. The mountain brooks in the undulating terrain are swollen, and the foliage looks fresh and rich green. But the rain has hardly helped. Irrigation facilities are absent. Certain areas have been waterlogged and the paddy crops have turned yellow.

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As for the number of deaths, the figures given by the Rayagada District Collector and the local people differ. The villagers say that more than 70 people have died owing to hunger and malnutrition but Bishnupada Sethi puts the figure at fewer than 20. These deaths, according to the Collector, are owing to "either food poisoning or natural causes". Sethi says: "A two-year-old child in a village died because it was not getting milk. Then, in some villages, people have died from old age or other natural causes. But I agree that poverty in this area is not only abject, it is visible too."

The district's medical personnel, latching on to the technical definition of 'starvation', argue that the stomach of a starving person would be devoid of any food but in some of the cases post-mortem showed that the stomachs had some remnants of food.

Of course, technical definitions do not take into account mundane facts - for instance, that a starving person would eat anything to douse his or her hunger, be it infected mango kernel, indelible mushrooms or plain grass. In many homes, foodgrains are indeed available. But is the supply sufficient to meet the family's essential nutritional needs? About 15,000 families of Kashipur have the BPL (below poverty line) status. Each BPL family is eligible for 16 kg of rice at Rs.4.75 a kg every month. The Collector admits that this quantity is not sufficient to feed an entire family.

In homes where sufficient foodgrains - broken rice, ragi, maize or other millets - are not available, the women have no option but to use limited quantities of grain. This writer saw a woman washing hardly 200 grams of broken rice to prepare a gruel with mango kernel for a joint family of eight.

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Take the case of Almey Majhi, a 60-year-old woman in Bilamala, about 55 km from Rayagada. It is more than a month since she lost her husband Sadho Majhi, two sons and a daughter-in-law. The woman is inconsolable. She cannot bring herself to utter a single word. Nor can her surviving daughter-in-law, Sulmey Majhi, who is left with three little girls, the youngest one hardly six months. Ranjan Kumar Kar relates the story of how death knocked at her doorless hut on August 8.

On that day, the women prepared a thin gruel by boiling some millets with mango kernel. (The kernel is kept for a day under flowing water so that its bitterness is removed. It is then dried and stored either as a whole or in a powdered form. Being kept in mud huts that do not have doors or windows, this "food" gets infested with fungus in the rainy season. Such mango kernel, instead of sustaining life, can end it.) The gruel was eaten by the family and the only one who escaped the severe bouts of vomiting that followed was Almey Majhi. All the five sick members were taken to the primary health centre at Tikiri. "There was no doctor there. So the compounder gave some medicines and asked us to take them to Kashipur," said Kar.

At Kashipur, the doctor had gone away to watch a television programme and returned only in the evening. Some treatment was given in the meantime. But by then the condition of the patients had become serious. They were asked to be shifted to the district headquarters hospital at Rayagada. Sulmey was the only one to survive.

People in the village and Almey's relatives from other villages scraped together the money that was needed to transport the sick to Tikiri, Kashipur and Rayagada. When Almey's 30-year-old son died, it took Rs.3,500 to bring his body back to Bilamala. "The district administration gave Rs.20,000 to the family, but more than half of it is gone in repaying the debts incurred on transport and on completing their last rites," Kar said.

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Kar is sorry that when Navin Patnaik visited Almey's home and asked her repeatedly what he could do for her, she could not respond. "She kept crying and couldn't say anything, and missed an opportunity to get some land or a job for Sulmey."

Throughout the conversation with this writer, Almey wept quietly. There was neither shouting nor ranting. Her two little granddaughters do not leave her side for a moment. Their young sibling is at the breast of the mother, who was also in tears.

Rabindranath Tagore, who has become an activist after taking voluntary retirement from government service several years ago, points out that the tribal women in this belt work extremely hard, in the fields as well as in their homes. But a major chunk of their income is frittered away on alcohol and beedis by their menfolk. Often, men opt not to work, even when work is available.

SEEING our car and mistaking us for yet another group of 'VIPs', many villagers move forward to complain that they have not got the BPL ration cards yet. Nor do they get any employment under the food-for-work programme. Tagore explains that developmental and welfare schemes have not helped change the miserable lives of the Adivasis living in this belt.

Tagore says: "Union Food Minister Shanta Kumar said that food security is the government's top priority and announced a scheme, the Antyodaya Anna Yojana, under which the BPL families will get 25 kg of rice at Rs.3 a kg. But the problem is that many of the tribal people have mortgaged their BPL ration cards for sums as paltry as Rs.50 or even less. Even those who have the cards cannot afford to lift 25 kg, paying Rs.75, on a single day. So they will either borrow money from moneylenders (who will allow them to keep hardly 5 kg, take away the remaining 20 kg and sell it at Rs.7 or 8 a kg) or buy 3 or 4 kg and the shopkeeper will sell the rest in the open market."

In village after village - be it Dikaral, Panasaguda, Bilamala or Tikiri - the story of misery is the same. Rice is clearly a luxury and people would eat it only if they can afford it. The next best is coarse grains like ragi or even bajra and maize. Some tribal families do own land but, as the Collector points out, 70 to 80 per cent of it is high land, which yields "little or nothing".

One does not require any medical expertise to diagnose chronic malnutrition. It is evident enough in the frail bodies and gaunt faces of the adults, the distended bellies of the children, and the despair in the eyes of all of them.

The media have been squarely blamed. Sethi accuses them of being "unethical". "You cannot write on deaths in Kashipur sitting in Bhubaneswar or Rayagada as some journalists have done," he says bitterly. But media scrutiny and governmental response in the form of welfare schemes such as the food-for-work programme have brought back the smiles in at least a few villages.

For instance, in Panasaguda, where some starvation deaths have taken place, the freshly laid-out main road can easily take on four-lane traffic. This is because of the employment programme launched by the district administration under which one male and one female member of every household in the village have been pressed into service to make roads in the villages.

"We get Rs.40 a day for this work and our families are able at least to eat some decent food," says a beaming villager. By the side of the road there is a group of men sitting and smoking. In the distance and against the backdrop of the hills, several women can be seen carrying headloads of materials for completing the road. One can only hope that the wages they get will go towards meeting the nutritional and other needs of the family and not spent on alcohol.

Dut Duriya, a Bahujan Samaj Party member from a panchayat near Tikiri, says that such welfare schemes, which are often launched at the time of distress, will not last. "This is one big show. Because of media reports people are getting phokat ka khana (free food). But for how many days can any government feed us? We want stability and dignity. Give us work and not charity," he says.

Deaths and denials

EVEN as reports of starvation deaths in the Orissa districts of Rayagada, Gajapati, Malkangiri and Kandhamal poured in, the governments at the Centre and in the State appeared to be working overtime to cover up the fact of the deaths. In response to reports of starvation deaths in many villages in Kashipur block of Rayagada district, the State Revenue Minister asserted that these were caused by the consumption of poisonous items of food. His response was based on the "investigative report" of the District Collector.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India and the Samajwadi Party demanded an inquiry by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The Congress, which initially demanded a judicial inquiry, changed its stand and sought an NHRC inquiry too.

Sivaji Patnaik, CPI(M) leader, visited affected villages such as Pitajodi, Bilamala and Panasagoda. He told mediapersons in Bhubaneswar that he found no grain in the 40 houses that he visited. The Revenue Minister had told a meeting of the State-level Natural Calamity Committee in June that food stocks were kept at the disposal of gram panchayats so that they could meet the eventuality of distress and starvation. The sarpanches of Tikiri and Kashipur told Sivaji Patnaik that they did not receive any such stock or any instruction from the government in this regard. He found no entries in panchayat records relating to the receipt, storage or issue of food stocks. A joint team of members of the Orissa Gana Parishad, the CPI and the Samajwadi Party too visited the areas. The Congress played an important role in highlighting the failure of the State government.

Kashipur block comprises 17 gram panchayats and 704 villages. Its population is 1,01,451; of this, 60,402 people belong to tribal communities, and 20,767 to the Scheduled Castes. About 25 per cent of the people depend on agriculture for a livelihood and the rest are daily-wage workers. The literacy rate is 15 per cent. The total area of cultivable land is 37,124 hectares. Of this, only 758 ha is cultivated at present and paddy is the main crop. Although the majority of the people in the block are poor, only 15 per cent of them have ration cards issued for the below poverty line (BPL) category. According to a report submitted to the State government by the Special Relief Commissioner (SRC), in most of the cases the BPL cards are mortgaged to moneylenders and liquor traders.

Last year the Kashipur panchayat was directly linked to the State Secretariat through the GRAMSAT Yojana scheme, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. On that occasion a group of tribal women complained to Vajpayee and Chief Minister Navin Patnaik that contractors did not pay them the stipulated minimum wages. Their plight remains unchanged.

The refrain of the ruling party members and bureaucrats has been that the deaths in Kashipur are not owing to starvation and that mango kernel is traditionally eaten by the tribal people living in this area. But the question is: why should people continue to eat mango kernel 54 years after Independence? It is only a sign of their poverty.

The Revenue Minister told mediapersons that he had asked the tribal people to exchange mango kernel for rice and the officials had been instructed to do what was necessary. People rushed to their respective panchayat offices with sackfuls of mango kernel but no rice was available for exchange. Many panchayat offices now look like godowns of mango kernel. The Chief Minister said that since the government had decided to provide rice free of cost, no such exchange was required.

Schemes such as the Prime Minister's Antyodaya Yojana and the Annapurna Yojana remain on paper. The public distribution system is almost non-existent. The State government has not yet submitted to the Centre the number of people in the BPL category.

In the wake of reports of starvation deaths in Kalahandi and Koraput in 1987, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited the areas and announced a special scheme to tackle poverty. The P.V. Narasimha Rao government renamed it the "KBK Plan" (Kalahandi, Bolangir, Koraput). However, successive Central governments have not sanctioned any funds for the plan, which is nothing but an amalgamation of other Central schemes meant for the districts.

Crop failure and floods have only aggravated the poverty in the region, which is basically the result of the government's failure to implement land reforms and improve irrigation facilities. Moreover, tribal people, who are deprived of their right to earn a livelihood by selling minor forest produce, are exploited by landlords, contractors and moneylenders. The reduction in public spending in order to bring down the fiscal deficit has also compounded the woes of the people.

Santosh Das is a member of the State secretariat of the Orissa unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Marathwada's distress

Government-nurtured neglect, and the backlash of economic reform policies put farmers in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra, already in the grip of drought, in deep distress.

BY this time of the year, the members of Kusumram Thorat's family should have been busy harvesting their field. But instead of reaping sheaves of grain, they are literally clutching at straws, and uprooting dry weeds. Also, the Thorat family may have to keep its field fallow during the rabi (winter time) season for "there is no money to buy seeds". Kusumram, whose husband shares 10 acres (4 hectares) with another farmer in Massa village, Kalamb taluka in Osmanabad, says: "We spent Rs.15,000 on the last kharif (monsoon) crop, but no rain fell for more than two months. We did not even get a kilogram of grain from the land." The drought that has hit 12 of Maharashtra's 30 districts has dealt a blow to small farmers and landless farm workers in 16,000-odd rain-scarce villages, who were already facing a threat to their livelihood. This year's kharif crop loss in the State, as estimated by Agriculture Minister Rohidas Patil, is Rs.5,707 crores. Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh's home turf (Latur is his home town) seems orphaned as the second year of drought in the Marathwada region kicks in.

But it is not just the drought. Farmers have also had to face the backlash of reform policies. Over the last decade, these policies have eroded agricultural profitability and increased debt, leaving peasants even more vulnerable in times of crisis.

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The immediate effects of the drought are apparent. Kalidas Bansode, a landless agricultural labourer from Gangapur village in Latur, has had work for only four days in the last two months. Normally, he and his wife would get work for at least 15 days a month and earn Rs.2,000. "Farmers don't have money to employ us. I've had to borrow Rs.500 every month from the moneylender just to buy grain. I don't know if I will ever be able to repay them," he says.

While several people have migrated to cities like Pune and Mumbai, some are reluctant to leave their fields. Even the annual migration to work in the large sugar mills of western Maharashtra after Deepavali may not prove as lucrative as in earlier years. "This year, fewer contractors will come to hire people. The sugarcane has not grown enough," says youth activist Sanjay More from Latur. Since workers are paid per tonne of cane cut, the bad crop means that their wages will be less. Some sugar mills have started using cane-cutting machines and so they do not need as many workers, he says.

Farm workers are anticipating work from the last resort - the State's Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS), which provides employment in public works programmes. However, the government is yet to start any work. "Even if it did, the contractors would get the work done by machines, falsify labour records and 'swallow' our wages." Yet the Government says that 2.35 lakh workers in Maharashtra are currently employed under the scheme, of whom 47,000 are in Osmanabad. This year the government has added a food-for-work component to the scheme, providing 2 kg of grain a week to every worker. The ration system has also collapsed, thanks to subsidy cuts. Food quotas have shrunk and prices have risen to almost the same level as market rates, making them unaffordable for the poor.

Even drinking water is in short supply. The shortage is likely to become more acute in the coming months as water sources dry out. The Majra dam, which supplies water to three districts, is virtually empty. In Latur city, municipal water is supplied only once every four days. However, Latur District Collector Rajiv Jalota hopes that the recent rain would improve the situation.

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With grazing land all dried up and the region already in the grip of an acute fodder shortage, farmers have resorted to distress sale of cattle. "Cows worth Rs.20,000 are now being sold for Rs.2,000. A pendi (bundle) of fodder which used to cost Rs.1.50, now costs Rs.12," says Pandurang Rathod from Beed district. The State government claims to have set up cattle camps with the help of non-governmental organisations. However, people from Osmanabad and Latur say that no camp has been set up in their districts. "Even if they existed, we wouldn't take our cattle there. They may catch an infection from the other cattle. The government should instead give us money directly for the purchase of fodder," says Satish Parihar from Mandwa village in Osmanabad.

Opportunities for the youth have been crushed. Many of them have dropped out of college owing to the cash crunch. "In one of the six colleges here, attendance has fallen by 10 per cent, which means that 270 students have dropped out," estimates Prof. Arun Shirke, a college teacher in Kalamb. Dattatrey Deshmukh, a first year B.A. student from Mandwa, is one of those who have not been to college for over a month. He cannot afford the Rs.250 monthly bus pass to Kalamb town. "There is no work here. So I am leaving to join my brother who is working in Pune. We have to repay our debts," he says.

It would be myopic to view the problem as that of scarcity of rain. Underlying the distress caused by the drought are changes in the agrarian economy that have made peasants more insecure than they already were. The liberalisation programme of the 1990s has hurt agriculture affecting productivity and profitability. Prices of farm inputs have multiplied following the withdrawal of subsidies. At the same time, market prices for farm produce have fallen or remained stagnant, partly due to the lifting of import restrictions. The government's attempts to cut expenditure on rural infrastructure have affected the farmers adversely. Rural credit has been shrinking, rather than expanding to meet the growing needs of farmers.

"What drought," asks A.J. Magar, branch manager of the Osmanabad district Central Cooperative Bank at Massa. "It's not just this year. There's a drought here every year, all through the year." The economic condition of the farmers is getting worse with each passing day. While costs are spiralling, they do not get fair prices for their produce, he says.

The cost of chemical fertilizers has increased fourfold, and power charges have tripled in the last 10 years due to the withdrawal of subsidies, says Ashok Dhavale, general secretary of the Maharashtra Kisan Sabha. While cultivation costs rise by 10 per cent to 25 per cent every year, the quantum of crop loans from the bank increases by only up to 1.5 per cent, Magar says.

M.G. Marwaha, executive director of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), endorses this. "The funds requirement of agriculture is not being met adequately. Credit has not increased on par with inflation. Moreover, rural banks cater to only 30 per cent of the farmers," Marwaha points out. The rest borrow from moneylenders.

Ahida Imani of Mandwa owns 4 acres of land, but has a debt of Rs.46,000. "Banks don't give enough to meet the rising costs, so moneylenders are prospering. During this drought, they know that people are desperate, so some have hiked their interest rates from the previous 120 per cent per year to 180 per cent." Others like Balaji Shinde with 2 acres of land in Gangapur village, Latur, have not borrowed at all. He used up all his savings of Rs.4,000 to buy seeds and fertilizers.

The State government dismisses the need to compensate drought-affected farmers by assuring them that the losses will be covered by the Central government's crop insurance scheme. But most farmers are extremely sceptical. "I'm still waiting for last year's compensation. Since they haven't deposited it into my bank account, I couldn't get a bank loan this year, as my previous loan remains unpaid," says Ahida Imani.

Magar says that farmers have not received last year's compensation. "Even if they do get it, it will be only 30 per cent to 50 per cent of the actual loss."

Pointing to the flaws in the scheme, Ravindra Bhausa, a Kisan Sabha activist from Jalgaon, says, "This scheme is designed for insurance companies to make money. Their method of calculating crop damage is entirely flawed. The people who have framed this scheme do not know the basics of agriculture." For example, the scheme only compensates a farmer if a drought is declared in his entire district circle. If only one or two villages in that district have lost their crop, they are not entitled to compensation. The statistics seem to prove his point. During the rabi season in 1999-2000, the premium of Rs.1.38 crores collected in Maharashtra was more than the compensation (Rs.73 lakhs) awarded. Moreover, according to the Maharashtra Economic Survey 2000-2001, only 11 lakhs of the State's 94.7 lakh farmers are covered under the scheme.

Apart from erratic insurance companies, banks and rapacious moneylenders, farmers have also to contend with traders. At the local market at Kalamb, a small group of traders have the upper hand. Farmers leave their produce on the floor and stand aside, while traders inspect the grain and bid over the price. "We have no say in the price of our own produce. It's all in their hands. There isn't much competitive bidding. They have already agreed on a price among themselves. It's all fixed," says Ramchandra Base, who came to Kalamb with the few remains from his 40-acre field. He adds that even if there was a good monsoon, he might have suffered losses. "We're not getting fair prices for our produce." Two years ago, he sold jowar for Rs.1,000 a quintal, now the rate is Rs.500 to Rs.600. Similarly, the rate of urad dal, which was Rs.2,800 a quintal, is now Rs.1,800, he points out. The solution, feels Rajiv Jalota, lies in forming marketing cooperatives to counter the monopoly grip of traders. Monopoly traders apart, prices are falling in line with world commodity prices as the economy opens up to international markets, and imports are rising.

Added to decline in profitability has been a fall in productivity. During the 1990s, the national growth rate of agricultural production came down from 3.72 per cent to 2.35 per cent. For foodgrains, the decline was even steeper - from 3.54 per cent to 1.8 per cent, according to the mid-term appraisal of the Ninth Five Year Plan. The appraisal attributes this fall to declining government investment in agriculture. The share of the public sector in agricultural investment fell from 19.1 per cent in 1979-80 to 9.4 per cent in 1996-97 to 6.3 per cent in 1997-98. This, when two-thirds of India's population is engaged in agriculture.

Whatever little rural infrastructure exists is skewed in favour of the large farmers. They get the larger chunk of bank credit and most of the irrigation facilities. For example, only 15.4 per cent of Maharashtra's farmland is irrigated. But of this, 60 per cent is used for sugarcane cultivation, which covers only 2 per cent of the land, and is mainly controlled by the rich and politically powerful farmers, points out Ashok Dhavale.

Scratch the surface and you can see that the problem does not lie with nature alone. It is government-nurtured neglect. The drought was merely the last straw that broke the farmer's back.

Shaken South

The movement of the Indian plate was the basic cause of the earthquake that struck some parts of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka on September 25.

ON September 25 an earthquake struck Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu, including the composite districts of Thanjavur, North Arcot, South Arcot and Chengalpattu, the Union Territory of Pondicherry, Nellore and Chittoor districts in Andhra Pradesh, and parts of Karnataka including its capital Bangalore. There was no major damage anywhere.

According to A.K. Bhatnagar, Deputy Director-General, Meteorology, Regional Meteorological Centre, India Meteorology Department, based in Chennai, the earthquake, which measured 5.6 on the Richter scale, occurred at 8-27 p.m. It had its epicentre in the Bay of Bengal, 50 km east of Pondicherry, located at a latitude of 11.8 N and a longitude of 80.4 E.

D.C. Mishra, Director, National Institute of Geophysical Research, Hyderabad, said the earthquake was of moderate intensity. He said it occurred at the point of contact between the deep sea and the continental shelf in the Bay of Bengal. Such zones are vulnerable to earthquakes because they are usually faulted. Faults are weaknesses in the earth's crust.

Mishra said the earthquake did not whip up tidal waves because its focus was deep in the sea and its magnitude was too low for tidal waves to occur.

Dr. L.S. Suryanarayanan, Director-in-charge, Geological Survey of India (GSI), Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry, said the focus of the earthquake was 12 km below the sea surface.

The basic cause of the earthquake was the Indian plate's movement. The Himalayas form the northern margin of this plate. According to Suryanarayanan, the reason for the movement is the heat generation inside the earth. This heat difference led to the movement of the plate several million years ago. When movements take place not only at intra-plate but inter-plate junctions, collisions occur and this leads to earthquakes.

Suryanarayanan said there were alternating hill and valley formations deep below the Cauvery delta area, which formed the basement. These were created by tectonic disturbances millions of years ago. There were structural weaknesses in the planes of these hills and valleys. "On account of these weak planes, differential movements do take place in the basement at the time of the plate's movement," he said.

Cracks had developed in the Indian plate about 80 million years ago. The entire Indian plate, along with the cracks, started moving north about 50 million years ago. The Himalayas were thrown up by this movement. About 25 to 30 million years ago, the Indian plate started hitting against the mass of the Eurasian plate, which is situated in the north.

Suryanarayanan said, "In this process of jerks which it (the Indian plate) is undergoing, earthquakes occur in weak planes, along faults and at places where major stresses are developing. The release of the strain leads to earthquakes, and further displacement follows."

THERE have been tremendous advances in the understanding of the earth and its processes in the last 50 years. Geologists had tried to understand the structure of the earth by studying earthquakes, Suryanarayanan said.

The GSI, Chennai, has sent two teams to make macroseismic surveys to study the effect of the September 25 earthquake on people, the ground, and structures such as buildings and bridges in Chennai, Pondicherry, Cuddalore, Chidambaram, Vellore, Tiruchi, Dharmapuri and other places.

Suryanarayanan said the "felt-effect" of the Bhuj earthquake was high in Pondicherry, Bhuvanagiri, Cuddalore, Chidambaram and other places. (Tremors were felt in Chennai also on that day.) The felt-effect of that earthquake was high in Pondicherry because it was absorbed, not passed on, he said. The absorption was because of the loose packing of sediments.

Asked how an earthquake had jolted Tamil Nadu, hitherto considered to be a seismically safe zone, Suryanarayanan explained that the rim of the Indian plate, which had borne the brunt of collisions and a high number of earthquakes, had totally broken. The plate proper, which was away from the margin, was considered to be less prone to earthquakes.

Now peninsular India might have to be categorised as Zone III instead of Zone II. The GSI's seismic zonation map made in the 1960s has undergone several revisions. A draft revision is being done now.

Following "predictions" that there could be after-shocks, rumours filled the air about the imminence of another earthquake. But Bhatnagar asserted that there was no scientific method anywhere in the world to predict earthquakes in respect of location, time and magnitude. In the case of moderate earthquakes, only aftershocks of mild intensity could occur and these might not cause any major damage, he said. He clarified that no forecast had been issued in this regard by the IMD. "Predictions circulated by any individual are not to be trusted," Bhatnagar said.

Officials of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPC) said the two reactors of the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) at Kalpakkam, about 55 km from Chennai, continued to operate safely at their rated capacity (170 MWe each). "There was no disturbance to the nuclear and conventional systems, and power flow to the southern grid is being maintained as usual," said K. Hariharan, Station Director, MAPS. He added: "The Indian nuclear reactors have adequate safety design features built in to take care of seismic effects." He pointed out that the nuclear power stations at Kakrapar (Gujarat) and Tarapur (Maharashtra) were not affected in any way by the January 2001 earthquake.

Afghans' misery

AFGHANISTAN is a veritable hellhole. For nearly two and a half decades now, the fate of the 30-odd million Afghan population has simply refused to change.

Since the invasion of the country by the Soviet Union in 1979, perhaps Afghanis have suffered much more than any other people around the globe. Millions of them perished in the proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union on Afghan soil. The Soviet withdrawal brought about little change in life in the country as it soon plunged into a civil war. The U.S. and its allies, who poured billions of dollars into the country and supplied loads of arms and ammunition, disappeared from the scene the moment they achieved their goal - the Soviet defeat. The "international community" lost interest in Afghanistan once the last Soviet soldier left the country. The world that made Afghanistan the theatre of a Cold War conflict has paid scant attention to the plight of its people. The international outcry when the Taliban militia destroyed the Buddha statues in Bamiyan early this year best illustrates the point.

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Ironically, the concern of the international community over the miseries of the Afghan people has more often than not just been lip-service. The callous response of Australia few days before the terror attacks in the U.S. to a group of 400-odd Afghan refugees who were waiting to enter its shores is a case in point.

As sneighbours and other vested interests played games in their endeavour to instal a regime of their choice in Afghanistan, warlords and thugs emerged all over the country carving out little empires for themselves. There are numerous tales of plunder, destruction and molestation until the Taliban emerged on the scene in 1994 and gradually began gaining control. But while the Taliban ensured a semblance of law and order, it imposed a writ of its own. The puritan militia with its mediaeval mindset enforced its own version of Islam. Women were the worst-hit. Thinking sections of the populace became enemies of the Taliban; thousands of professionals are supposed to have left their homeland in search of a dignified life.

The civil war rages on even as the country faces the worst drought in the last several decades. Today, as another war on Afghanistan has begun, the human catastrophe of a bigger magnitude is in the making. The tragedy of an Afghani is that his/her suffering is the same within and outside the country. Afghanistan has earned the dubious distinction of having produced the world's single largest refugee community for the 22nd year running. As per the estimates of the United Nations, over four million Afghans, nearly one-sixth of the population, are currently refugees - an estimated 2.5 million in Pakistan and 1.5 million in Iran. Millions of others are lining up at the borders to be allowed to cross over. About 800,000 Afghans had to leave their homeland in the period between September 2000 and August 2001.

The Amnesty International has urged the international community to take the responsibility for the unfolding humanitarian crisis. "Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan must reopen their borders and provide protection to Afghan refugees. However, they should not bear a disproportionate cost - the international community must assist," the organisation said. "The people of Afghanistan have suffered conflict and famine for decades. The international community must offer protection and relief immediately and provide adequate resources to the UNHCR for it to carry out its mandate in an effective manner," it said.

Before the current crisis at least 1.1 million Afghans were internally displaced owing to drought, armed conflict and food shortage. According to some reports, more than 100,000 people have left Kandahar, the seat of the Taliban. There are many obstacles for people seeking to flee. Many of them are too poor to obtain transport, some are too weak to move.

Pakistani security forces have reportedly sealed the border with Afghanistan with barbed wire in a number of places, despite the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) appeals not to turn back refugees. Only those with valid visas are currently allowed in; Pakistani authorities have ceased issuing permits altogether. Up to 15,000 Afghan refugees reportedly made it through in mid-September but hundreds of others have been turned back.

The Amnesty has pointed out that neighbouring states have certain obligations under international law. States are prohibited from returning anyone against their will directly or indirectly to another country where they are in danger of serious human rights abuses.

Over one million Afghan people do not have the resources to see them through to the next harvest. World Food Programme (WFP) officials say that the foodstocks in Afghanistan will last only until mid-October. Since they, and the non-governmental organisations who used to work with them, have been forced to evacuate, there is no way the stocks can be disbursed or replenished. Food distribution has come to a virtual standstill.

This year Afghanistan appealed for $229 million in aid from the world community but not even one-tenth of it came. Add to this the branding of international aid workers as zealots spreading Christianity in the Islamic Republic, with punishment as per Islamic law, and you have a recipe for disaster for the common Afghans who, deprived of any sources of income, have become heavily dependent on this dole.

An indicator will be the plight of the Afghani, not the man in the street, but the currency. In 1979-80 when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the Afghani was in the ratio of four to one Pakistani rupee, which currently equals about 60 Indian paise. In 1992 it was 16 Afghani to a Pakistani rupee. In 1993, when Afghanistan was in the first throes of a civil war, it went down to 380 Afghani to a Pakistani rupee. In 1996, it was 600:1, and this year it stands around 1,300:1.

A doctor earns about $10 a month. The salaries increase 10-fold if one finds employment with an international aid agency but even that opening is now closed following the strictures against them and their final withdrawal in the face of the present threat of war on Afghanistan.

WAR ON AFGHANISTAN

A Western coalition strikes with full fury at the supposed perpetrators of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Taking the impact is a nation that has already been ravaged by decades of strife.

THE world has seen these images before with a mixture of despair and dread: a clear night sky scarred by the tracks of lethal projectiles streaking towards undefended targets. Cities being roused from sleep by deafening explosions, learning at daybreak that a familiar urban landscape has changed beyond recognition. Civic amenities that are a part of daily life vanishing as the sources that provide them are attacked with deliberate precision.

These images are now accompanied by the bewildering thought that the land taking the full fury of the new wars of Western imperialism is one that has already been devastated by decades of strife. Recognising the moral indefensibility of attacking a country already suffering a humanitarian crisis of immense dimensions, aircraft of the United States were between dropping deadly payloads of explosives on Afghanistan, alternating with food, medicines, blankets and other relief supplies. And as the smoke began to rise from bombed-out sites in Kabul, Kandahar and numerous other cities, the fog of war descended heavily across the world.

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The pilot of a bomber aircraft that had participated in the strikes reported that his mission had proceeded like a "finely-oiled machine". Another said that his bombing run over Afghanistan had been easier even than a routine training sortie. But the triumphalism that was seen in the bombing of Iraq and Yugoslavia seemed missing, as also the exultation that comes from raining death and destruction on defenceless people from behind the protection that high technology affords. The official perspective on the raids on Afghanistan in Western circles was that they were essentially directed against Osama bin Laden, his Al Qaeda network and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. But it has been reliably reported that one of the two functioning power stations in Afghanistan was hit in the first round of air strikes, as also the country's main radio broadcast centre.

The strikes began just after nightfall on October 7. As day broke after several rounds of air and missile strikes, news agency reports from Kabul indicated that a large number of civilians had been killed. The Taliban claimed that it had shot down an enemy aircraft but the U.S. Defence Department denied that any of the 15 bombers and 25 strike aircraft used in the operations had suffered damage. The United Kingdom for its part confirmed that its role in the first day's military operations had been confined to launching a number of Tomahawk cruise missiles from submarines. Although the location of these submarines was not revealed, it seems a reasonable surmise that they were operating within Pakistani territorial waters.

Rioting had meanwhile broken out in a number of cities in Pakistan. In Peshawar and Quetta, marches held to express solidarity with Afghanistan turned violent and had to be dispersed by the police. Islamic groups staged noisy demonstrations outside the Pakistan Army's General Staff Headquarters in Rawalpindi, condemning the military leadership's endorsement of the air strikes against a neighbouring country. And in Islamabad, protestors set off for the American Centre in tumultuous waves, defying prohibitory orders and facing down repeated police warnings to clear the streets.

Pakistan's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf lost little time in taking to the air waves to explain matters to his restive nation. The operations would be brief and relatively painless, he claimed, since the U.S. and British forces had a well-defined objective and ample information available to choose the most appropriate targets. But even as he provided this broadly phrased endorsement of the Western powers' battle plan for Afghanistan, he held out a warning to the Northern Alliance - a disparate coalition of armed groups representing Afghanistan's ethnic minorities - that it should not "take advantage" of the situation on the ground. He also responded to an imaginary threat of military action from India by declaring that Pakistan forces were on the highest state of alert and were prepared to repel any adventurism from across the border.

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With all the aura of confidence that he projected, Musharraf had taken ample measures to protect his flanks. Two of the most prominent leaders of the Islamic Right in Pakistan had been placed under house arrest hours before the air offensive began. And a major reshuffle within the top ranks of the Army saw two associates being promoted to the rank of four-star General and the Director-General of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lieutenant-General Mahmood Ahmed, being dispatched into retirement. These were read as a measure of abundant precaution by the embattled President, despite all his protestations that they were part of a routine rearrangement of responsibilities in the military hierarchy.

First reports emerging from Afghanistan seemed to indicate that the Northern Alliance was not quite heeding Musharraf's warning. And with initial battle damage assessments indicating serious damage to the military infrastructure of the Taliban, the Northern Alliance's accelerated ground offensive was yielding it instant dividends. Spokesmen for the military coalition were declaring that it had the strategically vital town of Mazar-e-Sharief within its sights. And a march on Kabul was being talked of as a feasible military option.

THE worldwide reaction was sharply polarised. France, Germany and Italy endorsed the military operations and offered to contribute their own forces if that would help lessen the burden of international law enforcement that the U.S. and the U.K. had manfully shouldered. The Russian government, which has found itself at odds with most major Western military operations in the recent past, provided its unequivocal backing.

Within the Islamic world, Iraq showed little hesitation about issuing a prompt and strongly worded denunciation of the military strikes, which it said would destabilise the entire region. Iran, a traditional adversary of the West, expressed its muted disapproval, characterising the air strikes on Afghanistan as "unacceptable". Malaysia had a deeply argued and reasoned critique. Although it endorsed the general idea of a campaign against terrorism, it was not convinced that this purpose would be served by the conventional instruments of warfare.

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For the rest, the reaction from the Arab world was one of deep unease and trepidation, made more profound by the fact that many of the more wealthy and powerful Arab regimes - Egypt and Saudi Arabia notably - are traditional military allies of the U.S. and hence partly culpable for its actions.

There is still no indication of the range of targets and the time-frame for the ongoing military operations. The U.S.' principal need now is to capture or physically eliminate Osama bin Laden. Operating on the premise that the Al Qaeda network will wither away when its head is severed, the U.S. is running a vast military operation with a rather narrowly focussed objective. There are a number of ways in which this aim could be accomplished. The aerial bombing could coerce and intimidate the Taliban regime in Afghanistan into handing over bin Laden. Alternatively, it could shift the territorial advantage towards the Northern Alliance, which would be more cooperative in the task of locating bin Laden and assisting in his capture. If neither of these works, then the Western bombing campaign is designed to establish complete mastery over the air, so that commandos trained for special operations could then be dispatched at little risk on a mission to search out and capture the fugitive Saudi millionaire.

Military strategists were warning early in the campaign that the possibility of eliminating all risk of casualties were slim. The Taliban army was essentially made up of a number of infantry units, with a limited quantum of heavy artillery and some armoured contingents. Heavy bombing runs targeted at command and control centres would be of limited utility in disabling the Taliban's military strength. Since it was organised as a number of dispersed infantry units, the Taliban army was not seriously dependent on centralised command and control.

AN overarching constraint for the U.S. and the U.K. would be to maintain the political consensus that has enabled them to rush into armed action. This is by no means assured, since the consent of various countries has been explicitly withheld and the U.S. has just seemingly managed to win commitments from traditional allies that dissent will not be made public. Indeed, the military operations may have been delayed by at least a week to enable the U.S. to line up these reluctant allies.

Saudi Arabia remains outside the military effort in every sense. It has declined permission for the U.S. to utilise the Prince Sultan air base for flying sorties against Afghanistan, though the unauthorised use of the command and control facilities there cannot be ruled out. Oman was part of the initial mobilisation, since it hosts a large contingent of British troops and went ahead with a set of pre-scheduled military exercises with the U.K. shortly after the September 11 attacks. However, it has not rushed forward to own up any part of the responsibility for the air strikes against Afghanistan. Uzbekistan initially expressed willingness to offer its military bases for forward deployments of U.S. troops and aircraft. It later suffered some qualms and reportedly asked for an "order of battle", detailing the U.S.' military objectives and the possible time frame for their achievement. Following a visit by U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld a compromise was worked out, permitting the U.S. to use the Uzbek military bases for humanitarian purposes, such as search and rescue operations.

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Russia's initiative in aligning itself closely with stated U.S. military and political objectives played a key role in the coalition-building effort. President Vladimir Putin is believed to be disgruntled with the Taliban regime which he considers to be instrumental in keeping the conflict in Chechnya raging. Known to be rather resentful of U.S. military expansionism to its west, Russia has now with seemingly little reserve consented to share intelligence on Afghanistan and tolerate a U.S. military presence in the Central Asian republics just south of its borders. In going this far, Putin is believed to have overruled the judgment of his top military officials and brushed aside the objections of the communist and nationalist parties. Russia's approval cannot for this reason be taken for granted indefinitely.

IN the four-week period of preparation for battle, the U.S. worked along three dimensions. First, there was a massive deployment of military force within striking range of Afghanistan. Second, diplomatic initiatives were launched across a broad front to line up commitments of moral and material support for the military operations. And finally, an enormous intelligence gathering effort was set under way, using every possible source - Pakistan, Russia, the Central Asian Republics - to evolve a menu of targeting options for the initial air campaign.

These were arduous tasks which taxed the meagre political skills of the George Bush administration in the U.S. There was first the matter of cultural sensitivity which is now considered as much a part of the new wars of Western imperialism as military strategy. 'Infinite Justice' was the code name first conferred on the mobilisation in the war against global terrorism. Islamic countries, whose support the West was anxious to enlist, pointed out that justice - especially in its infinite variant - is an attribute of the singular and indivisible divine being and not something that can be delivered by B-52 bombers flying at 30,000 feet.

These objections were heeded and the codename 'Enduring Freedom' devised - indicating a mandate for military action that is not quite infinite yet sufficiently open-ended. But whatever reassurances may have been conveyed by the renaming were undermined by the assertion by Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. Deputy Secretary for Defence, that the objective of the new wars would be among other things, to "end the states" that support terrorism. This outburst of bellicosity created unwelcome difficulties for the coalition-building effort, but it was allowed to hold the field as an official declaration of U.S. government policy for close to a week.

Israel was emboldened in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks to capitalise on the heightened sense of vulnerability in the U.S. and brutally suppress all manifestations of Palestinian resistance. Alarmed at the negative repercussions for his coalition-building effort, Secretary of State Colin Powell issued a directive to Israel - to stop its provocative military actions and resume negotiations with Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat. Yet Prime Minister Ariel Sharon repeatedly refused his Foreign Minister Shimon Peres permission to meet Arafat. He relented only after a virtual ultimatum from the U.S.

On October 4, Sharon shocked the world and his few allies by denouncing the U.S. for its "appeasement" of Arabs. Israel, he warned, would not allow itself to be converted into a testing ground for this policy as Czechoslovakia was prior to the Second World War. Rather, Israel would continue its own struggle against terrorism, if necessary in isolation from the rest of the world. Sharon was soon chastised by Powell, but U.S. perceptions of the Palestinian intifada are still far removed from reality. An influential section within the U.S. strategic establishment believes that the intifada has run out of steam and is only being kept alive through the tacit connivance of the Palestinian Authority. This then leads them to the belief that the Authority is part of the problem and not the solution. Disbanding it and destroying its infrastructure, in other words, would bring the unrest in the occupied Palestinian lands quickly under control.

This perspective was firmly proven wrong when the first anniversary of the intifada - dating from Sharon's provocative visit to the Al Aqsa mosque last year - led to an upsurge of Palestinian protest. Consistent with his record for brutish behaviour, which seemingly won him the Prime Minister's job in February, Sharon responded with a massive application of force. The spiral of violence in Palestine shows no signs of abating. And it is by now established political practice in Israel that every time it faces a security dilemma it shifts further to the Right. In fact, Israeli obduracy is the one factor that will likely force the U.S. to abandon its consensual approach, adopt a more unilateral attitude and turn its attention to a broader range of targets.

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It has been no secret that the U.S. strategic establishment has been deeply divided over how to tailor its response to the September 11 attacks. A pragmatic section represented by Powell has focussed on objectives that are achievable within a defined time frame. But since the narrow objective of capturing bin Laden would also involve a broader assault that could undermine the foundations of the Taliban regime, other sections within the U.S. State Department are believed to have attached a possible corollary: encourage a political transition in Afghanistan and ensure a representative government that would live at peace with the neighbourhood and the world.

President Bush seemed specifically to disavow the latter objective when he said that the U.S. was not into "nation building". But it is perhaps a symptom of the malaise of power without accountability that the U.S. establishment should have traversed the entire spectrum from "ending" states to "building" nations in a short span of four weeks.

The Powell brand of pragmatism requires that Israel accept restraints on its policies of unilateral action. Not without a hint of disingenuousness, Bush recently became the first Republican President of the U.S. to endorse the notion of a Palestinian state. But for the September 11 attacks, he said, the U.S. had been prepared to announce its support for a Palestinian state at the U.N. General Assembly session which was to start towards the end of the month.

Unwilling to accept any obligations of restraint on Israel, the powerful Zionist lobby in the U.S. has since the beginning of the crisis been pressing for an ambitious and broad-ranging military campaign. In fact, it is known that an alternative blueprint for the war, which has been competing with Powell's for President Bush's attention, has been submitted by Deputy Defence Secretary Wolfowitz. This conceives, in line with the original codename that was conceived for the campaign, of an "infinite war" - a war of multiple objectives that would be waged without frontiers.

The 'infinite war' blueprint proposes aerial assaults, special commando operations and targeted assassinations. Afghanistan would merely be the first phase of the campaign, which would rapidly take in Iraq, the Bekaa valley in southern Lebanon, Iran and Syria. Wolfowitz and his cronies, who are believed to enjoy the support of Defence Secretary Rumsfeld, believe that the September 11 attacks have given the U.S. an unmatched opportunity to crush terrorism once and for all.

Public opinion is being primed for a larger war by a relentless stream of analysis and propaganda in the right-wing press, particularly the journals that are known to be closely associated with the Jewish lobby. Powell's pragmatic and consensual approach has been ridiculed in these circles, and Wolfowitz extolled as the more far-sighted strategist. However the campaign in Afghanistan goes in terms of its defined objectives, the U.S. could soon be impelled to broaden the front of its military offensive by the inherent logic of the situation it confronts.

In evident preparation for a phase of global warfare, a serious effort at thought control is underway through the U.S. media. A case in point is the recent debate - unedifying in normal circumstances - of what constitutes cowardly conduct. For American philosopher and novelist Susan Sontag, no description was more inappropriate to the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington than "cowardice". Courage, she argued, is a morally neutral term. And "cowardice" is a term that is more suitably applied to those who fire missiles at undefended targets from a safe distance of thousands of miles, rather than to those who put themselves at mortal risk while carrying out a lethal mission.

The theme was taken up by the presenter of a talk show entitled "Politically Incorrect" on a major American TV channel. Not known to be given to the reading habit, Bill Maher merely took the title of his show, and its stated purpose of reflecting the unorthodox and unpopular view, rather too literally. "Cowardice" as an epithet could be disputed in its application to the September 11 attacks, he said. The term in fact was probably a more accurate description of military operations which targeted innocent civilians through cruise missiles fired from thousands of miles away.

Maher's reward was a prompt withdrawal of sponsorship and a temporary suspension from the air waves. Following this, the broadcast company that hosted his programme, issued a public apology. And the presenter himself was obliged to don the robes of penitence when he next appeared on TV.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer denounced the Maher programme at a press briefing.

A country protected on two flanks by oceanic expanses, which has not suffered a direct assault on its territory for close to two centuries, tends to forget what courage really is and to misapply both the term and its opposite. Myths manufactured by the media and entertainment industries tend to ingrain the facile use of these words as a habit, posing a major impediment to understanding. Still secure in these myths and the delusion that it is "the indispensable nation", the U.S. is now embarking on a course of global military action that is only likely to shatter the foundations of its already shaky hegemony.

Echoes in Pakistan

Although Pakistan has been rewarded well for its support to the West in its anti-Taliban campaign, the Musharraf government has reasons to worry about the ramifications of its decision.

THE worst fears of Pakistan seem to be coming true. Although there was little information coming from the war zone itself, the violent protests in major towns on the border with Afghanistan and even in Islamabad the day after the U.S. launched its first attacks on Afghan targets rattled even those who had anticipated them. Hardliners who are opposed to the military appeared to be in a minority, as President Pervez Musharraf pointed out in his press conference hours after the war began. However, it is anybody's guess if the military government would succeed in coming to grips with the situation or be reduced to the status of a silent spectator.

Musharraf had geared up for the protests on the streets and possible resistance from within the establishment. In a swift move that almost coincided with the bombing of Afghanistan, he replaced the chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), promoted one of his favourites as a full-fledged General, and appointed Lt. Gen. Mohammad Aziz Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Committee. The moves led to convulsions within the Army. The ISI chief, Lt.Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, and the Deputy Chief of Army Staff, Lt.Gen. Muzaffar Hussain Usmani, whose seniority seems to have been overlooked in the round of promotions, reportedly sought premature retirement. Although Musharraf was at pains to emphasise that the changes had nothing to do with the developments in Afghanistan, doubts remained.

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WITH the identification of Osama bin Laden and his associates in the Al Qaeda as the main culprits behind the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Pakistan was under palpable tension. Within hours of the military government's endorsement of the "evidence" shown by the Bush administration about bin Laden's involvement, the United States' chief campaigner, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, was in Islamabad, leaving no option for Musharraf but to take the next logical step in the build-up to the anti-terrorism war. He stood shoulder to shoulder with Blair on October 5 and put the Taliban militia on notice that it should either turn bin Laden in or be prepared for its demise. It must have been a sad moment for Musharraf and the commando that he is by training; the President could barely hide his feelings. It was evident that all the patting and good conduct certificates from Blair did not help in relieving his tension.

In plain words, Blair made the General declare war on the Taliban. It was no mean achievement, considering the fact that Pakistan happens to be the only country in the world that continues to recognise the Taliban regime. Islamabad had not been perturbed enough by the decision of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to snap ties with the militia.

Diplomatic circles in Islamabad suggest that Pakistan is under pressure from the U.S. to end its engagement with the regime in Afghanistan. What the U.S. expects from Pakistan became evident when Secretary of State Colin Powell hinted, in an interview, at the possibility of the complete isolation of the Taliban. But Islamabad appeared to have stuck to its ground though it pulled out its diplomatic and non-diplomatic staff from its embassy in Kabul and consulates in different parts of Afghanistan.

The spin-doctors of the Pakistan Foreign Ministry sought to give a credible explanation for the country's continued engagement with the Taliban. They argued effectively that the Afghan embassy in Islamabad served as a window to the world for the Taliban to let the militia know what the international community expected from it and vice-versa. Further, they said, the United Nations and other organisations were engaged in humanitarian operations in Afghanistan with Pakistan as the base and a complete isolation of the Taliban regime could result in confusion and chaos. There are over 25 million people in Afghanistan and the Taliban controls over 90 per cent of the territory.

There is merit in the explanations offered by the Pakistan Foreign Office but the reasons for its engagement with the militia are altogether different. Pakistan has invested virtually everything on the Taliban militia. As Musharraf admitted in one of his television interviews, Islamabad has paid a huge price for its association with the Taliban but it has no regrets about it. Islamabad seriously believed that its engagement with the Taliban gave a certain "strategic depth" to its foreign policy. So it would not let the Taliban regime sink without ensuring the protection of its own interests in a post-Taliban scenario.

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The depth of Pakistan's relationship with the Taliban was evident in the street protests that broke out in Pakistan within hours of the blitzkrieg on Afghan sites. Although it was clear from the arrest on October 7 of top Jamiat-i-Ulema Islami leader Mullah Fazalur Rehman that the government had anticipated trouble, it was perhaps surprised by the magnitude of the protests. So it must have been a difficult decision for the Musharraf regime to ditch the Taliban.

During his whistle-stop tour, Blair, on behalf of the U.S. and its allies, gave Musharraf a grand assurance that the international community conceded the legitimate concerns of Islamabad vis-a-vis Afghanistan. He told Musharraf that Islamabad would be allowed to play a dominant role in shaping a post-Taliban government in Afghanistan.

The king is alive and long live the king. This seems to be the new mantra of the U.S. and its allies in their operations against the Taliban. Zahir Shah, the dethroned King of Afghanistan who has been living in exile in Rome for the past 28 years, is now touted as the best bet to preside over a post-Taliban regime in Kabul. The assumption is that only a Pashtun (a majority ethnic group in Afghanistan) can take on the well-entrenched Taliban. Zahir Shah is not only a Pashtun but much more. There are glowing accounts in a section of the Western media of the good old days of Afghanistan under Zahir Shah. Fransesc Vendrell, the United Nations Special Representative who has been trying to bring about reconciliation in Afghanistan for the past two years, recently extolled Shah's virtues and explained how popular the King was in every part of Afghanistan.

In all fairness to the King, it should be pointed out that in the past two years he has been calling for reconciliation and the formation of a broad-based government in Afghanistan. But his appeals had no takers. Now that the only superpower has turned to the King in its war against the Taliban, representatives of the world's big powers are making a beeline for Rome for an audience with him.

The Northern Alliance, which has been fighting the Taliban, entered into a pact with Zahir Shah for convening what is known as the Loya Jirga, the 250-year-old Grand Council of tribal, religious and ethnic leaders, to decide the future of Afghanistan. The Council, headed by Zahir Shah, has the authority to form a new government. As expected, the grand plan of the U.S. to install a new set-up in Kabul under the patronage of Zahir Shah has raised the hackles of Afghanistan's neighbours, especially Pakistan.

The military regime has serious reservations about installing Zahir Shah at the helm with the Northern Alliance as a dominant partner. Iran and China share these reservations to a large extent. They believe that the new regime would be a puppet of the U.S. and could seriously jeopardise their interests in the region. Islamabad's refrain is that it would not like a 'hostile' regime in Kabul and that the Northern Alliance is a "sworn enemy" which is propped up by its enemies such as India and Russia. There have been allegations that these two countries provide military and material support to the opposition alliance.

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ON the domestic front, Musharraf appears to have overcome the initial problems posed by pro-Taliban elements opposing his offer of "unstinted" cooperation to Washington. He had successfully convinced the U.S. of the need to tread cautiously if it wanted to avoid a blow-back and the birth of many more Osamas. As a result, the U.S. seemed to have realised the dangers involved in utilising Pakistani soil for any military action against Afghanistan. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that Washington decided to hasten slowly partly because of the prevailing sentiments in Pakistan.

Musharraf seems to have extracted the maximum possible mileage from the West in return for his support for its anti-Taliban campaign. This is evident from the lifting of sanctions against the country, the rescheduling of debt repayments, and the generous offers of aid to Afghan refugees. The United Kingdom, which has been engaged in a slanging match with the military government for the last two years for a variety of reasons, has overnight announced complete normalisation of relations with Islamabad. The U.S.-Pakistan defence cooperation is being revived.

But the real question is whether the situation will remain the same, now that the U.S. campaign against the Taliban has moved into a crucial phase. Pakistan wants the action to be a short affair but Washington is talking in terms of a protracted war. How long will Musharraf be able to contain the hardliners if the conflict is prolonged? Can Pakistan escape the consequences of the anti-terrorism war, particularly in the context of its goals and objectives in Kashmir?

A Sheikh and the money trail

cover-story
PRAVEEN SWAMI

THE gossamer web linking Jammu and Kashmir terrorists with the September 11 attacks on the United States is starting to stand out in stark relief. Early this month, German authorities came across information that Ahmad Omar Sayeed Sheikh, a close associate of Jaish-e-Mohammad commander Masood Azhar, may have played a key role in the September 11 attacks. Azhar, informants told the German internal security service, may have sent a draft for $100,000 to Mohammad Atta, one of the men who crashed an aircraft into the World Trade Centre in New York. The draft, sources say, was sent in the summer of 2000 employing a pseudonym. Atta is thought to have returned $15,600 through the hawala channel just before the attack. An Egyptian national, Atta is believed to be among the central figures responsible for conceptualising and executing the attacks on the U.S.

Officials of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation are now looking into Atta's possible links with Sheikh. Sheikh, along with his long-time mentor Azhar and a third terrorist, Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar, had been released from jail in December 1999 in order to secure the freedom of 155 passengers and crew on Indian Airlines flight IC 814, which was hijacked by terrorists to Kandahar. A graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Sciences, Sheikh became involved with Islamist fascist groups while a student, and went on to be a key member of the United Kingdom-based armed action group al-Hadeed. After his release in Kandahar, Sheikh did not return to the U.K. and stayed on in Pakistan in an Inter-Services Intelligence-provided safe house in Islamabad.

In October 1994, Sheikh had organised the abduction of one American and three British tourists from a low-budget hotel in New Delhi to press for Azhar's release. The hostages were driven to a safe house near Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, where police officers located them on October 31 that year. Sheikh and his accomplice, Pakistani national Abdul Rahim, were arrested after a brief shootout, in which an Uttar Pradesh Police commando was killed. The four hostages were brought out unharmed. The kidnapping was the second in a series of three kidnappings of foreign tourists to secure Azhar's release.

After his release, Sheikh spent time making contact with several terrorist organisations in Afghanistan and Taliban head Mullah Mohammad Omar. While Azhar went on to form the Jaish-e-Mohammad, focussed on Jammu and Kashmir, Sheikh concentrated on building international contacts for the Islamic Right through his old network in the U.K. Although he had received arms training at the Salam Fassi camp at Miranshah, Pakistan, in 1993, guns were no longer part of his job. Osama bin Laden, say Indian officials who have monitored Sheikh's career, played a key role in this career move. Indian intelligence believes that Sheikh, who helped set up a website propagating jehad, was also tasked to help create a secure, encrypted web-based communications system.

Little is so far known about how Sheikh may have passed on funds to Atta. The Jaish-e-Mohammad has two known accounts with the Allied Bank, at Binori in Karachi (account number 1697) and Khayabeya in Rawalpindi (account number 1342-0). These accounts, run using the names of Khadri Mohammad Sadiq and Bahsud Ahmad, have been used to deposit funds raised from West Asia, the U.K. and the U.S. Before his arrest in 1994 in Srinagar, Azhar had visited several countries in Africa, West Asia and the U.K. on fund-raising missions. It is unlikely, however, that either of these accounts was used to handle funds meant for Atta.

If the information made available to German intelligence on Sheikh turns out to be correct, it might throw light on how the September 11 attacks were funded. According to Time magazine, Atta received at least two wire transfers of funds from Egypt, on September 8 and 9. U.S. investigators have said they believe Atta handled funds passed on from Mamoun Darkazanli, a Syrian businessman who ostensibly controlled a bank account in Germany held by Mustafah Ahmad, bin Laden's head of finance. No one is, however, talking about where the funds deposited in this account came from. The role of Sheikh and others like him could hold the key to this so far unanswered question.

There is also the possibility that the September 11 attacks were, so to speak, self-financing. The U.S. has ordered some 5,000 banks to check accounts that may belong to 27 entities, made up of 13 terrorist groups, 11 individuals and three charities. One New York-based bank announced in late September that it had frozen $3.8 million in suspect accounts, while banks in the United Kingdom have frozen an estimate $68 million. Some experts believe these funds were made up mainly from earnings from bin Laden-controlled legitimate businesses. If this is true, it would make little sense for Sheikh to be passing on funds to Atta.

"As things stand," says one senior Indian intelligence official, "the information is still very speculative. While there is no doubt that Sheikh was close to bin Laden, the precise nature of that relationship and of his financial activities still have to be discovered." Curiously, there seems to have been little international pressure on Pakistan to hand the terrorist over. Last month, the U.K. served a letters rogatory on India, asking for information on Sheikh in relation to the 1994 kidnapping of its nationals. It is unclear why it has taken that country so long to initiate the legal proceedings, and why the U.S. has chosen not to act so far. These mysteries, like the many others that have come to attention since September 11, could give rise to some interesting answers in the weeks to come.

Action and apprehension

The Bush administration finally hits at Afghanistan but is apparently concerned about the international community's reaction to its action.

OPERATION Enduring Freedom has begun. The intensive bombing of "highly selective targets" in Afghanistan by the armed forces of the United States and the United kingdom is not expected to be called off before the Taliban militia and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, Al Qaeda, get the message.

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Although the George W. Bush administration was critical of Bill Clinton for the manner in which the Democratic President handled reprisals, the fact is that the Republican administration has also not acted in a very different manner. It stuck to the routine - the unleashing of cruise missiles from the air and the sea, coupled with the conventional bombing runs involving smart munitions.

In his address to the nation soon after the military operation was launched, President Bush said: "These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime." The President warned that the Taliban "will pay a price".

Apart from military and civilian utilities, the U.S. and the U.K. targeted the training camps of Al Qaeda, though for the record it was said that Osama bin Laden was not personally targeted. The military strikes had two components. The firepower was directed against Taliban and perceived Osama bin Laden strongholds in Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad. On the other hand, in order to give the much-needed advantage to the Northern Alliance, strike aircraft and conventional heavy-duty bombers targeted Taliban reinforcements in areas such as Tahar, Konduz and Mazar-e-Sharief.

It was evident that the Northern Alliance was acting in concert with the grand "coalition" forces of the U.S. and the U.K. Not only had there been a free flow of intelligence information from the ground, but the Northern Alliance was reportedly given a boost with the supply of weapons. According to one report, the morale of the Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan was low, with the local commanders in a difficult position trying to convince their men to stay on and fight.

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The strikes came from places like the Arabian Sea off Pakistan and also Missouri, from where the B-2 Stealth Bombers operated. In the first three hours, at least 70 Tomahawk cruise missiles were unleashed from surface ships and submarines. The B-52s and B-1s rolled out of the bases in Diego Garcia, carrying missiles and munitions. An assortment of strike jets, including F-16s and F-15s operating out of the decks of two aircraft carriers, also joined the operation.

Although the Republican administration took its time, there were pockets of domestic opinion that were losing patience. Bush made sure that he had a "coalition" and, in the first hours after the strikes against the Taliban, was anxiously waiting for the world's response. At the time of writing, responses were available only from the West, and none of the Arab "allies" or the friends of the U.S. had rushed in with words of support.

This is why the President does not wish to stop with his telephone calls to world leaders either before or after the strikes. He has deputed Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell to get in touch with world leaders, including leaders of Pakistan and India. The process will be completed prior to the start of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum meeting in Shanghai in the third week of October. But domestic opinion has been on expected lines. Members of Congress threw their weight behind the President and public opinion was already in his favour.

Meanwhile, the administration, led personally by the President, is making two points: enough warning was given, and the intention is not to hurt the people of Afghanistan. Moreover, to show sympathy to the people of Afghanistan, the U.S. and the U.K. pointed out that the military strikes were carried out to soften the ground for airdropping food, medicines and other essential items. Transport planes were dropping packets of food and other items in Afghanistan.

THE Republican administration had its reasons for taking time. It was not because enough firepower was not assembled in the Gulf region, the Arabian Sea, and the forward bases, including Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Rather, the United States understood the War against Terrorism as a multi-pronged effort, the military effort being only one of its components.

Moreover, the U.S. is fully aware of the fact that some of its allies are Arab or Islamic states, many of whom are not convinced of the culpability of bin Laden in the September 11 incidents. Some regimes are even wary of the political and social implications of endorsing the agenda of the U.S.

Heading the list of such nations is Pakistan, whose leader has, in the eyes of many people, taken a major political risk in siding with the U.S. One argument is that President Pervez Musharraf may not have been given a choice in this campaign. Another is that it is an opportunity for Musharraf to bounce back into the limelight after being at the receiving end for a long time.

And Pakistan came through at the critical moment. When the U.S. and the U.K. unleashed their military wherewithal on the Taliban militia and Osama bin Laden, Pakistan was a full-fledged actor - its air space was used and it had passed on vital intelligence information. At the same time, its President was making the point that the operations should cease sooner than later. After all there are not too many targets to go after and the Taliban militia is hardly considered a potent military force.

Pakistan's cooperation in the War against Terrorism came with a price both for itself and for the U.S. To the former, it is one of not only distancing itself from a close ally but also in allowing the U.S. to use its facilities in the military action. For the Bush administration, it is one of coming up with a "package" of goodies, irrespective of whether a "deal" has been made or not.

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The Bush administration not only understood the compulsions of Musharraf but was willing to soften the role of Pakistan. The apprehension was about not only destabilising the military regime in Islamabad but destabilising a country with nuclear weapons. This may be the reason why much of the action was launched from bases far away from Pakistan.

For a President who enjoyed a high popularity rating of 90 per cent in the first three weeks of the crisis, it is not a question of sustaining the rating. In a time of crisis the White House will make the obvious point that it is not a popularity contest. Yet, from a long-term perspective, George W. Bush needs to ensure that the people of the U.S. do not get distracted from the challenges ahead. However, somewhere down the line there must also be the thinking that although Bush Senior had a rating of 89 per cent at end of the Gulf War in 1991 it got him nowhere in his re-election bid in 1992.

The initial reaction of the people of the U.S. to the terrorist attacks of September 11 was one that wanted to lay waste to Afghanistan. However, the administration, led by the President, quickly and forcefully made the point that it was ridiculous to chase tents worth $10 each with cruise missiles worth a million dollars each. From the beginning the accent was on patience.

Before the operation began, the Bush administration was also seriously looking at alternatives. Washington would have loved to see the Taliban cracking under pressure, that too, without a shot being fired. It had plans on other fronts too, though it maintained that the U.S. was not in the business of nation-building. No one is under any illusion about the extent to which the Bush administration would have to be involved economically if the anti-Taliban forces manage to put together a coalition.

While it gives some attention to the former king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, the Bush administration is also getting close to the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. In fact, it is possible that the U.S. is more than just flirting with the rebel group. However, Washington is also wary of the Northern Alliance. Apart from a sense of unease over the latter's relationship with the Russians, the U.S. is apprehensive about the group's ability to deliver the goods and also its involvement in drug trafficking.

Washington is seeing if a coalition of sorts could be assembled in a post-Taliban Afghanistan. Of course, the refrain is that only the Afghan people can choose their destiny. Yet, in calling for a broad-based government, there is also the realisation that it might have to include the Taliban as a component. There is also the hope that perhaps a few "moderates" will quit the Taliban and give legitimacy to the evolving scheme of things.

Washington's dealings with Afghanistan are not confined to the political and strategic aspects. There is also the humanitarian angle. Already the U.S. is the largest provider of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan - nearly $200 million - in spite of the fact that it keeps a stranglehold on the Taliban through the United Nations sanctions regime.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks and the tightening of the noose around the Taliban, the Bush administration has allotted about $320 million in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. However, the aid is just to help the "poor souls" in that country; it is also to drive home the point that the U.S.' anger and pique is not directed against the people of Afghanistan.

If the first phase of the War against Terrorism is focussed on bin Laden, the Taliban and Afghanistan, the Bush administration has promised countries like India that the "war" does not end with the Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan but will include such areas as Jammu and Kashmir. Washington seems to be keen on allaying the fears of New Delhi on many fronts, mainly because it realises that Pakistan is hardly an ally to be relied upon in the fight against terrorism.

The terror trajectory

PRAVEEN SWAMI cover-story

The U.S., India and the global linkages of Islamic terrorist groups.

"The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis did. There will be pipelines, an Emir, no Parliament, and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that".

- U.S. diplomat quoted in Ahmad Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia.

AMERICA'S war on terrorism, President George Bush proclaimed before Congress last month, would not end until "every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated". Less than a month after that dramatic pronouncement, it has become clear that Washington's sponsorship of and support to fascist organisations of the Islamic Right is set to continue unchanged.

Few people in India are aware of this country's three-year-old role in the war on Afghanistan-based terrorism that the U.S. now claims it will initiate. Shortly after the Taliban came to power in 1996, Indian intelligence, along with its Russian counterparts, threw its weight behind Ahmad Shah Masood's Northern Alli-ance. Technicians were flown in to service the Northern Alliance's fleet of Russian-built helicopters, and advisers were made available to train troops in anti-armour techniques. Intelligence sources say that spares and high-altitude warfare equipment worth upwards of $10 million were supplied to the Northern Alliance through the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Masood himself is believed to have died last month in an Indian-run hospital facility at Farkhor, close to the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border.

While now U.S. and British troops are believed to be liaising with the Northern Alliance, there is no sign that the West wishes to join the covert front that Russia, the secular Central Asian States and India had formed in the face of the Taliban offensive. The reasons are simple. Central Asia has one of the world's largest oil reserves. Historically, the U.S. has sought to prevent Russia and Iran from controlling these resources. As early as October 1996, Chris Taggart, boss of the U.S.-based oil giant Unocal, let it be known that "if the Taliban leads to stability and international recognition, then it is positive". What he meant became clear soon. A year after the Taliban took Kabul, a 1997 World Bank study on oil in Turkmenistan concluded that new routes through Afghanistan to Karachi in Pakistan would be more profitable than the existing Russian pipeline networks.

Until the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam led America to oppose Osama bin Laden and his Taliban allies, Western oil corporations were competing hard to win the support of the new fascist regime in Kabul. Oil corporations are believed to have paid for the setting up of a mobile telephone network in southern Afgha-nistan to compensate for the country's war-ravaged communications infrastructure. Although India repeatedly made the U.S. aware of the role the Taliban and its sponsors in Pakistan played in aiding terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, Washington simply chose to ignore the evidence. Even the Taliban's appalling human rights record did little to move the U.S. In 1998, during a visit to Srinagar, noted lawyer Niloufer Bhagwat engaged a group of U.S. diplomats led by then-Ambassador Richard Cele-ste. "I told them no civilised government could ever recognise the Taliban," she recalls. "A member of Celeste's delegation replied that in many parts of the world, women didn't want to be emancipated!"

More bitter lessons were to follow. After the December 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight IC 814, U.S. intervention was sought to secure the extradition by Pakistan of Maulana Masood Azhar and Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar, the two terrorists freed by India in return for the release of the hostages on board the flight. In the event, both were allowed to stay on in Pakistan. Azhar went on to form the Jaish-e-Mohammad-e-Mohammadi (Army of the Prophet), taking on board the bulk of the Harkat-ul-Ansar's cadre, while Zargar reactivated his moribund al-Umar organisation, which is believed to have played a key role in recent acid attacks on women in Srinagar. Even when all the five hijackers of IC 814 - Ibrahim Akhtar Alvi, Shaqir Ahmad, Sunny Ahmed Qazi, Shahid Akhtar Sayeed and Mistri Zahoor Ibrahim - surfaced in Pakistan, the U.S. showed no inclination to censure Pakistan.

The current U.S. policy needs to be read in this context. For all its stated determination to eradicate terrorism, the U.S. appears to have no intention to sever its links with forces of the Islamic Right which have served its interests. Pakistan, recruited as a key ally in the hunt for bin Laden, is a case in point. Intelligence officials believe that bin Laden, who suffers from renal problems, has been undergoing dialysis in a Peshawar military hospital. His movement in and out of Pakistan would have required authorisation from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), if not of President Pervez Musharraf himself. Key bin Laden aides, including Aiman al-Zawahiri, were instrumental in setting up support organisations for the Afghan Mujahideen from 1984 onwards, and they have been able to operate from Peshawar in a more or less unrestricted fashion. It is also known that for several years now Pakistan's conventional troops have been deployed in Afghanistan in aid of the Taliban.

Nonetheless, the U.S. believes that it needs Pakistan for its larger strategic objectives. The deal appears to involve allowing groups of the Islamic Right to operate unchecked, so long as they do not target U.S. interests. After Lieutenant-General Javed Nasir was sacked as Director-General of the ISI in 1994, allegedly for his Islamist sympathies, he went on to form the Tabligh-i-Jamaat (TiJ). The TiJ emerged as a key sponsor of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). While much of the HuM's cadre has now been amalgamated into the Jaish-e-Mohammad-e-Mohammadi, hundreds are known to have fought in Bosnia, Chechnya, Tajikistan and the Philippines. Other groups, such as Maulana Sami-ul-Haqq's Jamait Ullema-i-Islami and the Lashkar-e-Toiba, are also known to have deployed thousands of cadre for similar causes. These groups share a wide network of training facilities and training camps active in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most of these camps are impromptu facilities run for short periods of time, with minimal infrastructure. Therefore, military attacks against them may be difficult, and have little effect.

While U.S. officials like to see bin Laden as a single-point sponsor of this training of terrorists, the truth is more complex. Afghanistan is estimated to produce three times more opium than the rest of the world put together. Some 90 per cent of this heroin is grown in Taliban-controlled areas. Notwithstanding periodic crackdowns on the narcotics trade, the Taliban is believed to impose a 20 per cent tax on the heroin produced within Afghanistan. Part of these funds are used to support the organisation's own campaign against the Northern Alliance, but a good deal makes its way to allies around the world. Saudi Arabia is another key source of funds. In a bid to buy the regime legitimacy in the face of competition from figures like bin Laden or Omar Bakri Mohammad and his al-Mouhajiroun terrorist organisation, quasi-official organisations in Saudi Arabia pump funds to the Islamic Right, for example to groups such as the Jamaat Ullema-i-Islam and Jamaat Ahl-e-Hadis. Within Pakistan, running the jehad is hugely profitable.

Put simply, then, the U.S. wants Pakistan to eliminate bin Laden and, if necessary, replace the Taliban. Pakistan will also be called on to contain other groups of the Islamic Right that are hostile to the U.S. It, however, has no desire to confront Talibanism per se. The ideological premises of this policy were laid bare at a meeting on February 9, 2000, held by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright with Senators on relations with Pakistan. If, Senator Sam Brownback argued, "we further move Pakistan away from us, our ability to be able to deal with them, and [sic.] we actually strenghen the very hand we seek to weaken, that of the really militant fundamentalists in Pakistan". The underlying argument is only too evident. Militant fundamentalists in Pakistan who target countries other than the U.S. are acceptable. Really militant fundamentalists, those that threaten the U.S. itself, are not. Little, it would appear, has changed.

WHAT might the U.S.' need for allies on the Islamic Right be? Russia's engagement with the Islamic Right in Chechnya and Dagestan offers some insight into U.S. thinking. Military action against Chechen terrorists has been used by the West as a stick to beat Russia with, notwithstanding the organic links of these groups with those the U.S. now claims to oppose. Chechen terrorist leaders like Shamil Basayev or Ameer Khattab are able to operate by pilfering from the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline and through narcotics trafficking. The bulk of their funding, however, comes from groups of the Islamic Right in in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The Riyadh-based al-Haramein Islamic Foundation, Russian intelligence believes, has funnelled funds to Chechen terrorist groups, and helped gather both recruits and weapons through Pakistan. Hundreds of cadre from Pakistan, Afghanistan and West Asia are known to have fought the Russian forces in Chechnya and Dagestan.

Elsewhere too the Islamic Right has served U.S. strategic interests. There have been regular attacks against Western targets in Yemen since December 1998, when 16 tourists were kidnapped in the wake of U.S.-British attacks on Iraq. What few people know is that prior to 1998, the Jaish-e-Mohammad, which carried out the attacks, operated with tacit U.S. patronage. Then known as the Islamic Jihad, the organisation was set up by Tariq-al-Fadhli, one of bin Laden's close associates in the Afghanistan war. The organisation was set up to oppose the pre-unification secular politics of the communist regime in power in the Socialist Republic of Yemen. In Indonesia, the Islamic Right is represented by the Lashkar-e-Jihad, which again is led by an Afghan war veteran, Ustad Jaffar Umar Thalib. Again, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines is believed to be financed in part by Pakistan-based organisations.

India is not the only country in the neighbourhood to have felt the consequences of U.S. sponsorship of the Islamic Right. Hezbollah terrorists active in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China, for one, are believed to tap funds from the Taliban's narcotics network. Pakistan-backed organisations of the Islamic Right such as the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Tabligh-i-Jamaat and the Jamaat-ul-Muderessin have also had considerable success in Bangladesh, and terrorist groups like the Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami are known to have operated from that country, recruiting cadre for campaigns in Jammu and Kashmir as well as India's northeastern region. Massive funding of reactionary Islamist groups in Nepal by organisations of the Right based in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have enabled these groups to acquire considerable influence. The districts of Rupandehi, Banke, Kapilvastu and Bardiya, all bordering India, have seen over 275 mosques and madrassas being built over the last two decades, primarily with Saudi funds.

On October 1, at the end of a 40-minute meeting with President George W. Bush and U.S. National Security Adviser Condo-leezza Rice, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh emerged to state that fighting terrorism directed at India "was India's responsibility". The language suggests that reality is at last tempering the breathtaking foolishness that passed for Indian foreign policy in the wake of the incidents on September 11. While Jaswant Singh's ego might have received some massaging given Bush's unscheduled appearance at the meeting, the fact remains that he came away with no meaningful assurance of U.S. support. The record suggests that none will be forthcoming. Even the October 1 attack on the State Assembly building in Srinagar has not led the U.S. to any frontal condemnation of the role of Pakistan in supporting and sponsoring terrorism in India, or for that matter elsewhere in the world. Now, the Union government needs to consider where India's interests lie; and pursue them irrespective of what the U.S. might desire.

Masood Azhar, in his own words

cover-story
PRAVEEN SWAMI

In India, Mohammad Masood Azhar's name first hit the headlines after the December 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight IC 814, when he was released from jail in return for the lives of people who were held hostage on the plane. More than a year later, after the bombing of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, his name has resurfaced. Who is this man Union Home Minister L.K. Advani is demanding that Pakistan extradite? After his arrest in 1994, Jaish-e-Mohammad commander Azhar provided fascinating insights into the world of Pakistan's religious right. Masood provides a graphic account of the use of seminaries as factories that produce cadre for the wars in Afghanistan, Jammu and Kashmir, and several other regions. Frontline has obtained a copy of one of Azhar's interrogation reports, which reveals the story of the making of the man running one of the most-feared terrorist organisations in Jammu and Kashmir.

"I WAS born at Bhawalpur on July 10, 1968. My father worked as the headmaster of the government school in Bhawalpur. I have five brothers and six sisters. My father had Deobandi leanings, and was extremely religious. One of my father's friends, Mufti Sayeed, was working as a teacher at the Jamia Islamia at the Binori Mosque in Karachi. He prevailed upon my father to admit me in the Jamia. Accordingly, after Class VIII, I studied at the Jamia Islamia and passed the almia (Islamic) examination in 1989.

A number of Jamia Islamia students were under the influence of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) leaders who had been students there. I was also influenced by the work of the HuM in the Afghanistan jehad. Jamia Islamia had on its rolls Arab nationals, Sudanese and Bangladeshis, apart from Pakistanis. All of them believed in the Deobandi ideology, and many were recruited for the Afghan jehad. I was also sympathetic to the cause, and when I met Maulana Fazal-ul-Rahman Khalil, the Amir of the HuM, he invited me to participate in tarbiat (training) at Yavar, in Afghanistan. Partly because of my poor physique, and also because of my literary skills, I did not complete the mandatory 40 days of training. Rahman-ul-Rahman instead asked me to bring out a monthly magazine for the HuM.

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From around August 1989, I started bringing out Sada-i-Mujahid (Knock of the Mujahideen). I used to bring out about 2,000 copies and most of these were distributed free at public meetings, Friday prayers and so on. We used to carry news of our activities in Afghanistan, our functions, and the opening of new offices. By 1990, the HuM had offices in almost all important cities, including Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore, Gujranwala, Islamabad and Lahore. The HuM in theory allowed anyone to join, if they completed arms training in Afghanistan, were not affiliated in sectarian organisations like the Jiye Sindh Movement or the Mohajir Quami Movement, and had a full beard. However, we did not recruit Shias, or even non-Deobandis.

In 1993, 400 United Arab Emirates nationals and other militants were arrested by the Pakistan government at Peshawar. Because of international pressure, they were expelled from Pakistan. Some of the Arab governments, expecting trouble, did not want them back in their own countries. As such, a majority of them went to Sudan and Somalia, where they joined the ranks of the Ittehad-e-Islami. These people continued to correspond with us, describing the plight of the Muslims in Somalia. They told us that Pakistani troops under United Nations forces had been placed at the central positions of trouble, guarding the life and property of Americans. If one American vehicle moved, its armed guards were Pakistanis.

As such, the Ittehad-e-Islami was in a dilemma about when they should engage the Americans, who are the biggest enemies of Islam, because they also faced their brothers. In the attack on the Adib Radio Station by Pakistani troops, many persons of Ittehad-e-Islami lost their lives. As such, the Pakistanis, who until now were champions of Islam, found themselves unwelcome. I published these letters, and also organised for a team of journalists to meet these militants in Nairobi. After our return, a number of news stories appeared, condemning the role of Pakistani troops in Somalia. I also brought out a booklet on the issue, and distributed 5,000 copies.

Meanwhile, in January 1993, I was asked to come to Islamabad where I accompanied Maulana Rahman-ul-Rahman and Maulana Farooq Kashmiri to Bagh, Abbaspora and Rahim Yar Khan to meet the families of our militants who died in Kashmir. Sajjad Afghani also accompanied us on this trip. It was then he was told to take up command of the organisation in Kashmir. He was told to go via Bangladesh, since there was heavy snow on the India-Pakistan border. I travelled along with Sajjad Afghani by an Emirates flight to Dhaka. While Sajjad Afghani was handed over to some people for his crossing into India, I returned to Karachi.

After the formation of the Harkat-ul-Ansar by merging the Harkat-ul-Jehad Islami (HuJI) and HuM, a number of messages were sent to the chief commanders of both outfits in Kashmir to join hands. We did not, however, receive any confirmation of our orders. In January 1994, it was decided that I should visit the Kashmir valley. In the event, we learned that our orders had been implemented, but my travel plans went ahead as planned so I could ascertain the ground position, boost morale of our cadre, and resolve any differences between HuJI and HuM. I arrived in Delhi by a Bangladesh Biman flight that arrived from Dhaka early on the morning of January 29, 1994. I used a Portuguese passport, and the duty officer at Indira Gandhi Airport commented that I did not look Portuguese. However, when I told him I was Gujarati by birth, he did not hesitate to stamp my passport."

(Masood Azhar was arrested in February 1994, after travelling to Srinagar from New Delhi.)

A shade of saffron

the-nation

The Congress(I)-led government in Kerala wields the axe against a nascent historical research institution.

R. KRISHNAKUMAR in Thiruvananthapuram

THE Congress(I)-led United Demo-cratic Front (UDF) government has decided to do away with the Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR), an institution that represented perhaps the first serious attempt in Kerala to promote scientific historical research. The KCHR was established in March 17, 2001, towards the end of the term of the previous Left Democratic Front (LDF) government led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), by transforming the Kerala Gazetteers Department into an autonomous organisation to "promote historical research" and act as a "nodal agency for the generation of historical knowledge and its dissemination".

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The order dissolving the Council was issued on September 22, disregarding the fact that the KCHR was an autonomous council formed under the Travancore-Cochin Literary, Scientific and Charitable Societies Registration Act, XII of 1955, with clear legal provisions governing its dissolution, even though it was only a government department in its earlier avatar.

Chief Minister A.K. Antony, who announced the Cabinet decision a few days earlier, said that the KCHR was being dissolved because there were complaints about "procedural and financial irregularities" and about its "approach to the writing of history".

The majority of the Council members, including its Chairman K.N. Panikkar, renowned historian and Vice-Chancellor of the Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady, and Director P.J. Cheriyan, had no inkling about the government's move. In a statement to the press the next day, Panikkar said that the government had decided to dissolve the Council without even observing the elementary courtesy of informing the Chairman and that the reason appeared to be "political, rather than academic and administrative". The government, he said, had succumbed to the campaign by some historians and history teachers "working in collaboration with the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh)" and that it was regrettable that "the government of Kerala, led by the Indian National Congress, which has a legacy of great secular tradition, has chosen to go by the dictates of communal interests. Communal forces are engaged in appropriating history for defining the nation in religious terms. Secular history, which the Council advocates, is understandably targeted by those historians who have chosen to serve the interests of the communal forces".

Panikkar also criticised the government's decision to re-establish the Gazetteers Department. "The Gazetteers was a creation of the colonial administration as part of its strategy to acquire knowledge about its subjects. That is the reason why the Gazetteers Department was progressively abolished by most States after 1947. Strangely, we in Kerala seem to be going back in time, jeopardising in the process the possibility of furthering historical knowledge," he said.

In a separate statement, a majority of the Council members (except the government nominees) denounced the State government's decision as "blatantly unjust, academically, ethically and legally". The members - M.R. Raghava Varrier, Rajan Gurukkal, K.S. Mathew, Kesavan Veluthatt, K.K.N. Kurup, S.M. Muhammed Koya and K.N. Ganesh - said that the decision infringed on the autonomy of a registered society of professional historians and raises the all-important question regarding the relationship between autonomous organisations and the government. "We consider that the dissolution is the result of unfounded charges and false propaganda by a handful of people of communal political persuasion and with certain vested interests," the statement said.

The members said that the Council was dissolved for imaginary reasons rather than on the basis of well-founded facts. "It is claimed that the Council is guilty of extravagant spending. The Council has been in existence only for six months, a period when certain steps were taken to create the minimum infrastructural facilities and to initiate some preliminary academic activities for which a very small amount has been spent so far," the statement said.

While the government and Congress(I) leaders maintained a studied silence, the reaction came, significantly, from M.G.S. Narayanan, Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), who is known for his proximity to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and P. Parameswaran, the director of the Bharateeya Vichara Kendram. In a statement published in a section of the media, Narayanan said that the formation of the Council was "a Marxist party conspiracy to hijack history for its destructive, sectarian purpose of party propaganda" and welcomed the government's move to dissolve it. Narayanan alleged that the KCHR was "hastily established" by the CPI(M)-led Ministry on the eve of the elections and was "packed with party followers" and that "if the Marxist-led government had a right to form a research council purely on party lines, the UDF government was certainly within its rights in dismantling a camouflaged party machine".

In his press statement, Parameswaran welcomed the government's move as a "signal service" to the people. According to him, the real objective of the LDF government's projects such as the KCHR was "to perpetuate cultural and intellectual domination of the Marxist party in Kerala".

Parameswaran alleged that if the KCHR was allowed to function, "it would have been converted as a centre for Marxist studies of Kerala History". Though there was nothing wrong in Kerala's history being studied through the lens of historical materialism, it "need not, and should not be done by officially founded and government-supported institutions", he said. Alleging that there was no scope for free intellectual discourse in the universities in Kerala as they have "Marxist Vice-Chancellors and Leftist-dominated ruling bodies imposed on them by the previous government", Parameswaran said that "the Marxists wanted the KCHR to be a super academic body to guide and patronise" the universities. In response to the criticism that the concept of Gazetteers is a legacy of the colonial past, Parameswaran said that "after the collapse of the communist empire, Marxist historiography is also just a legacy of outdated communist imperialism and there is not much to choose between the two".

Narayanan said that though the Gazetteers Department was "not meant exclusively for history, historians who can recognise that history does not mean merely political or party history will appreciate the need for such publication (Gazetteers) in this democratic age". According to him, only those who are "allergic to the sharing of information with the public at large" would decry the decision of the government.

Narayanan, however, said that on the eve of the elections he had been invited by the LDF government's Minister for Cultural Affairs to join the Council, but his letter asking for clarifications and information about its rules and regulations was ignored. "When I contacted the heads of departments of History in the Kerala and Calicut Universities, they also denied any knowledge of the scheme. There seems to have been a conspiracy to appropriate history by means of such hidden agenda and secret manoeuvres," he said.

THESE allegations, especially the one characterising the Council as a Marxist one, have been stoutly denied by the Council members. They said in a statement that taking resort to such allegations was a well-known rightwing ploy to win the sympathy of the liberals and that the assertions by people like Narayanan were "not only mischievous but also misleading".

Pointing out that a historian is known by the intellectual tools and the methodology he employs, they said even an elementary knowledge of historiography would convince anyone about the influence of Marxism in historical research and analysis in the 20th century. "Indeed some of the historians who are members of the Council have drawn upon Marxist methodology, more accurately methodologies, which, as M.G.S. Narayanan projects, is not the same as being the hatchet men of any party. To M.G.S. Narayanan and people of his ilk, 'Marxist' appears to be a metaphor for abuse. This is not a criticism of historiography but an attempt at slander," they said.

Denying the charge that the formation of the KCHR was part of the political agenda of the CPI(M), they said that the idea of the Council was first mooted in a workshop organised by the Gazetteers Department in 1989, in which several historians from Kerala, including Narayanan, were present. "The proposal, though submitted to the State Planning Board, did not materialise. About two years back the proposal found acceptance in the Governor's address to the State legislature. It is thus not an 'illegitimate child born in the Marxist cattle-shed' as Narayanan alleges, but in whose birth he himself had some responsibility. It is a different matter that when it actually materialised he chose to keep away by raising the Marxist bogey. By then, however, the BJP had come to power at the Centre and he had eventually become the Chairman of the ICHR."

Endorsing their statement, Cheriyan told Frontline: "The government could have been misled as well. I wish the Chief Minister read our Memorandum of Association and the Annual Action Plan of the Council. It is unfortunate that merely by raising the 'Marxist bogey' people can undo such noble ventures. The primary aim of the KCHR was to further the cause of first-class scholarship in historical research. But the mainstream media, in their over-enthusiasm to support the allegations made by one or two historians with Hindutva connections, interpreted it as the promotion of Marxist historiography, which the myopic political establishment took as the promotion of Marxist political interests. That seems to be the reason that ensured the death of the KCHR."

Cheriyan said that out of the nine historians to be included in the executive council, the original list had five who could not be described as "Marxist". Only one among them showed the courtesy to join, he said. "Narayanan asked for some details but he now refuses to acknowledge my e-mail and telephone calls offering to explain the nature of the council to him. It is very easy later to argue that the Council is full of Marxists. It is very unfortunate that the government should have gone ahead to order the dissolution of the Council without looking into the vision behind the KCHR, how it was constituted, or the nature of its activities," he said.

In their statement, KCHR members said that during the short period of its existence the Council had drawn up an academic programme that would considerably enrich the field of historical research in the State. It included an annual Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai memorial lecture (which was to be delivered this year by the British historian Lawrence Stone), in-service training for college teachers, a series of publications, a local history project for schoolchildren and the setting up of a resource centre by acquiring sources from institutions such as the India Office Library in London and the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi. According to Cheriyan, other programmes for the year included establishment of history societies across the State, an oral history project for school children on the ecological history of Kerala's villages, and a history colloquium in which a select group of social scientists, teachers and students would interact with prominent historians and discuss their methodology.

The Council and three of its members have challenged the government's decision in the Kerala High Court. The government decision, they have said, is without the authority of law and jurisdiction, apart from being arbitrary, illegal and void. The KCHR, according to them, is a society registered under the Charitable Societies Act and it can be dissolved only by the decision of three-fourths of its members. The government, they argue, has no power to dissolve the society registered under the Act or to take over its assets and properties. On September 25, the High Court ordered a one-month stay on the implementation of the Government Order.

THE Kerala government's decision has been criticised by prominent historians and social activists. Several well-known historians, including Irfan Habib, R.S. Sharma, Satish Chandra, K.M. Shrimali, D.N. Jha, Sumit Sarkar, Tanika Sarkar, Mushirul Hassan and Arjun Dev, issued a joint statement, urging the government to reconsider its decision. They said: "The production of historical research on scientific and unbiased lines is a very important task today. This is especially so for all State governments that do not subscribe to the anti-secular measures taken by the present BJP government at the Centre in the realm of education and research." The historians said that much was expected of the newly established Council. "No one can be convinced by the argument that its functions can be performed by the newly established Gazetteer Department. While no one can have any quarrel with the proposal to prepare and publish new editions of District Gazetteers, this work cannot possibly encompass the larger cause of promoting research in the history of Kerala as well as general history... We are also surprised that such a step should be taken when the Congress leadership itself has been highlighting the threat of saffronisation and stressing the need to foster the proper projection of history to our people."

'A right-wing ploy'

the-nation
Interview with K.N. Panikkar.

Excerpts from an interview that Dr. K.N. Panikkar, who was the Chairman of the Kerala Council for Historical Research, gave R. Krishnakumar:

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How significant was the setting up of the KCHR and what are the implications of the decision to disband it?

The Council represented a very positive step towards the organisation of historical research in the State. Primarily, the Council intended to create the necessary infrastructure and facilities for researchers. In fact, at present even access to resources of Kerala history is very limited, apart from the rather poorly organised State Archives. There is nothing else we have and there is a lot of material on the subject at different places outside the State. From that point of view, the creation of a research resource centre which the Council would have attempted would have given a major fillip to historical research here.

This becomes important in that research facilities in the universities have declined, not only in Kerala but all over India. And most of the research support for social sciences, even for the sciences, is coming from organisations such as the Indian Council of Historical Research and the Indian Council for Social Science Research.

The universities are primarily centres for teaching. History teachers in colleges do not have exposure to the latest trends. The University Grants Commission had earlier conducted workshops and the academic staff colleges came into being but they did not really fulfil their role. So, if the teaching of history is to improve, then some sort of in-service training is necessary and the Council would have undertaken it.

There are so many such initiatives an organisation like this would have undertaken. So, from that point of view, the setting up of the Council was a very positive step.

The criticism against the Council has mainly come from ICHR Chairman M.G.S. Narayanan and Bharateeya Vichara Kendram director P. Parameswaran. You had said earlier that the decision appeared to be a "political" one.

My feeling is that the government's decision is a reflection of the campaign by these people, because this is mainly a right-wing ploy. It has come out as the result of an opposition to secular history which the Council was likely to pursue. And all those who have opposed the Council are those who have been linked with the RSS and the Sangh Parivar. So I think it is a communal attack. I feel that the government possibly succumbed to this false campaign for reasons that we do not know.

Your statement that the government's move to re-establish the State Gazetteers Department will be a retrograde step has also been criticised. One of the arguments advanced is that if the Gazetteers is a legacy of the colonial past, Marxist historiography is a legacy of "outdated communist imperialism" and that there is not much to choose between the two.

I don't think such critics are ignorant about Marxist historiography or post-modern historiography. Such statements do not deserve to be refuted. But about the Gazetteers, I think it is very important. You cannot really compare the Gazetteers with Marxist historiography. Marxist historiography the world over is still a very active academic pursuit where Marxism as a methodology is used. I think even today a fairly large number of historians in India and abroad use Marxist methodology. But the Gazetteers is an obsolete institution. It is not that the Gazetteers that had been produced are not useful, as some people have argued. That is not what I meant. I meant that the Gazetteers that were published in, say 1880, are a statement of that time. It is chronological information of that time, but it was undertaken under a particular context. Most Gazetteers were also known as manuals. I think one of the most outstanding Gazetteers is the Gazetteer of Malabar by William Logan, which is known as the Malabar Manual. They were all written for the use of the colonial administrators for administrative purpose, because they hardly knew the substance.

In the post-1947 period, use of the Gazetteers has gone down. Such information is now not necessary for the administrators. There are other ways by which they get such data. The historians here who are making comments on this are not very familiar with the sources of modern history. The Gazetteers are like the 'native newspaper reports', a series which were a summary of newspapers in Indian languages. They were published from the 1880s onwards but were stopped in 1936 because by then the Congress Ministries came into being and they didn't need the native newspaper reports. They knew what was happening. They could read the newspapers themselves. Similarly, in the post-1947 period, most of the States disbanded the Gazetteers. It is anachronistic. The Government of Kerala took a good step but retraced it.

As far as the Council is concerned, Kerala is not the first State to form such a council. I think 20 or 25 years ago the Tamil Nadu government formed a historical council and some outstanding historians have taken fellowships from there.

So the argument in favour of the Gazetteers is not whether the Gazetteers of the old type are useful or not. They are useful all right. But whether there is any relevance today for continuing such an institution is the question.

Critics say that the KCHR is packed with Marxists.

I was sounded accidentally when I met the then Culture Minister (of Kerala) in New Delhi. He told me that the Governor had made such an announcement and that he would like me to be associated with it. I was invited by the government. Therefore, courtesy demands that when they decide to disband it they should tell me and ask my opinion about it. I am not a paid employee. I don't receive any remuneration or any perks for being the Chairman. That it happened the way it did is very surprising in a democratic state.

When the Council members were invited, I think the majority of them were either non-Marxists or anti-Marxists, that is, those who did not use Marxism for their historical analysis. I think that is a cooked-up charge. Or perhaps those who were invited decided to keep away in order to make that charge.

And even now I think there are people in it who never used the Marxist method in historical analysis or who used a variety of methods, including the Marxist method. So I think this charge is either politically motivated or comes from sheer ignorance of the historian's craft and methods. Historians have come to be known, described and understood by the analytical tools that they use. That is not the same as party support.

'No ulterior motive'

the-nation

Perhaps the only early indication of the United Democratic Front government's move against the Kerala Council for Historical Research was a message posted at the KCHR website on June 27 by G. Karthikeyan, Minister for Cultural Affairs. It said: "As the new Minister for Cultural Affairs in the State, I have expressed at the outset my views that the policy of the government towards history and culture seldom changes with the change of Ministry. However, I expect the officials involved with cultural institutions to carry out their activities without giving them political shades and narrow-mindedness." Excerpts from the interview he gave R. Krishnakumar over the telephone:

What were the reasons behind the government's decision to dissolve the KCHR?

The matter is now before the High Court and it would not be proper for me to comment on it.

Would it be correct to say that the government took this decision because the Council was constituted by a Marxist-led government?

The decision to dissolve the Council was taken by a democratically elected government after discussions in the State Cabinet. The government is fully convinced that it took the right decision in this regard. It is convinced also that the reasons are genuine and called for the dissolution of the Council. The government had no ulterior motive.

What is your reaction to the allegation that the government succumbed to the campaign by persons working in collaboration with the RSS?

Will anyone believe such an allegation? That a government led by the Indian National Congress would do such a thing? The government will produce all its reasons before the people. There are several reasons, including the way the Council was established. It would have been the first time in the history of the country that such a council was formed the way it was done.

Is 'financial irregularity' one of the reasons for the dissolution?

The government will place all the reasons before the people. I cannot comment on them now.

Lessons to learn

Controversy continues to stalk the National Council for Educational Research and Training as it comes out with its new syllabi for school education, which raise questions regarding general orientation and specific motives.

ON October 4, the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) announced the new syllabi for all subjects as per the National Curriculum Framework for School Education had been finalised. However, the NCERT, which has been a topic of public discussion for a long time thanks to the contents and the process of formulation of its new curriculum for school education, has not been able to avoid controversy this time either. The NCERT's travails have more to do with a certain understanding in the Human Resource Development Ministry and the NCERT about education than with any inherent problem in the structure of the Council. The controversy involves problems ranging from the content and orientation of education, the lack of democratisation in the NCERT in the matter of curriculum development and formulation, and a dubious enthusiasm displayed to rewrite textbooks, especially those of history. It is not a coincidence that NCERT Director J.S. Rajput and some others found problems in history books authored by renowned historians who are perceived either as Leftists or as opposed to the Hindutva school of thought.

Over the past one year, there was uncertainty about the future status of textbooks authored by historians such as Romila Thapar, Satish Chandra, R.S. Sharma and Bipan Chandra. The NCERT headed by Rajput felt it was necessary to purge these textbooks of references that may hurt the sensibilities of certain communities. In the process if historical facts also got distorted it was at best to be seen as "collateral damage". For instance, the distortion in references to Mahavira in R.S. Sharma's book Ancient India had two intentions - to give Jainism an antiquity that may well contradict historical facts, and to assure the community concerned that its sentiments were well protected during the tenure of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre. At best, this was political gimmickry shorn of any academic worth. Although there was the criticism that some NCERT textbooks were verbose or too heavy for schoolchildren, never before was a campaign launched against history textbooks authored by certain historians.

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In a September 29 statement, Rajput said that the "despicable tradition of denigrating minorities by some historians who are actually working hand in glove with destabilising forces must be terminated without delay". Apparently, Rajput was responding to some views expressed in the Delhi Assembly by Arvinder Singh Lovely of the Congress(I) regarding the allegedly demeaning portrayal of Sikh leaders in historian Satish Chandra's book Mediaeval India, Rajput's statement added: "As Director, NCERT, I am committed to undo these wrongs. Henceforth, no book shall be published which hurts the religious sentiments and injures the pride of any community or linguistic grouping in India."

The NCERT's press conference held at Shastri Bhavan, which incidentally houses the HRD Ministry, was an unprecedented one in more than one way. It was the first time that the NCERT, an autonomous body of academics, held a press briefing in the premises of the Ministry. Presided over by Rajput and R.K. Dixit, head of the Curriculum Group (who hardly intervened during the press conference), the meeting ended on a discordant note with the NCERT Director refusing to disclose the list of experts who had recommended changes in textbooks, especially those of history. However, it was clear that none of the historians who authored the earlier textbooks had been consulted. Neither were they part of any expert committee (as the NCERT denies there was a panel) that may have designed the syllabus. "They are all eminent names. It is a big country. We have other historians and teachers," said Rajput. He added that the opinions of a cross-section of people including "teachers, teacher trainers, practitioners, primary teachers and secondary teachers" had been considered.

The build-up to the release of the "thematic history" syllabus, a document titled "NCFSE: The process of development" and the comprehensive press statement, was no less interesting. In the document it is stated that eminent educationists like Professor Yashpal and others were invited to hold detailed discussions with the Curriculum Group. However, informed sources said that Prof. Yashpal, Kapila Vatsayan, former Director, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, and sociologist Yoginder Singh dissociated themselves from the curriculum framework after the debate in the monsoon session of Parliament about the saffronisation of education.

While the NCERT press release mentioned that the existing syllabus had been thoroughly reviewed by a team of experts, informed sources in the Council confirmed that there was no review, at least none known to the faculty. Moreover, the final document was put up at the general body meeting of the Council, convened on December 13, 2000, held after the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) was released on November 14 by Union Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi. Persons who were present at the general body meeting said that the document was merely placed before the gathering to inform the members and not for any ratification or discussion.

Explaining the rationale behind the move to give a new look to the social sciences curriculum, the NCERT release stated: "Since the mid-Seventies, history and geography ceased to be treated as separate subjects by most school boards. The course content was vast, placing an inhuman burden on children." This statement is incorrect as NCERT survey reports show that the majority of schools taught the subjects separately, coupled with Civics.

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Further, as if "path-breaking" concepts like 'Spiritual Quotient' mentioned in the NCF document were not enough, the new approach of the NCERT included a seemingly novel concept of "citizenship education". The NCERT said that the concept was recognised as an essential part of social science education for the first time. Just as academics felt that teaching value education as a separate subject was quite unnecessary as all education was basically about values, the imparting of citizenship values was implicit in social science education. The section "Curriculum Scenario in Retrospect" in the 1998 curriculum framework document stated: "The main goal of education was character building and not mere acquisition of knowledge. The emphasis was on evolving an educational system that would enable an individual to discover his/her talents, to realise his/her physical and intellectual potentialities to the fullest, to develop character and desirable social and human values to function as a responsible citizen." On social sciences, the document said: "The study of social sciences as a component of general education is of critical importance in facilitating the learners' growth into a well-informed and responsible citizen." The irony was that while the NCERT was trying to establish a link between a good citizen and a good educational system, it had been actually established more than a decade ago and perhaps even earlier.

In consonance with the stated objective of reducing the curricular load, the NCERT announced what it described as a "thematic structuring of history". To introduce India's past through selected events/episodes, developments and cultural heritage rather than a comprehensive treatment of the subject seemed unacceptable. Moreover, the important question is who will decide the broad themes to be included in the curriculum and basis for deciding the same (apart from the stated objectives of curricular load reduction and making history more interesting), and make the list of events of India's past and cultural heritage. According to Rajput, history "will be interesting to the pupil, a subject to be enjoyed, not feared. It will promote a deeper understanding of the core values that have kept Indian civilisation ticking through the ages. A route to instilling pride in India's background as a great contributor to human progress. It will be a history free of rhetoric, stereotypes and objectionable attributes to any one stream of Indian culture." The outcome of such an understanding is bound to be rhetorical, jingoistic and also historically inaccurate if sensibilities of communities take precedence over historical facts.

It is envisaged that up to Class X, history will be an integral part of the environmental and social science curriculum. From Classes III to V it will be in the form of interesting stories, though it is not clear whether these narratives will draw also from world experiences that have shaped man's life, as envisaged in the 1988 document. In the upper primary and secondary stages, history is a component of social sciences. In the higher secondary stage, a serious study of history in itself will be offered. However, while the old syllabus offered the student a fairly good idea of world history and Indian history, it is unlikely that the new one will offer the same.

A LOOK at the themes indicate that they have been formulated in a hurry. In the upper primary stage (Classes VI to VIII), there are three themes - People and Society in the Ancient Period (Class VI), People and Society in the Mediaeval Period (Class VII) and People and Society in the Modern Period (Class VIII). Under Ancient Period are listed, among others, "Beginning of Civilisations" and "Major Religions". However, nothing more is mentioned about these civilisations and religions and their nature. There is no mention of social stratification and of various world cultures.

For project activity, the suggestions included collecting photographs of historical monuments of the ancient period such as Asoka's pillar at Sarnath, the Sanchi Stupa, the Iron Pillar at Mehrauli, the temples of Konark, Lingaraja, and Nataraja. Among world monuments, the pictures to be collected included those of the pyramids and the Sphinx, the Great Wall of China and the Buddha statues at Bamiyan. The inclusion of the Bamiyan Buddhas was a curious one given the fact that they were destroyed by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Moreover, the Golden Buddhas at Bangkok or Nara (Japan) do not find mention. Whether the Harappan culture or the advent of the Indo-Aryan speaking people and its ramifications for Indian history will find mention later is not known. Only the textbooks that come out in January 2002 will reveal what historical themes have been included.

In the section on the Mediaeval Period, as in the case of the Ancient Period, the exact period to be considered is not mentioned. The meaning of the Mediaeval Period in Indian history as exemplified in the previous syllabus is missing. A composite study of the developments in culture does not find mention though the project activity has some references to saints and Sufis. It is also left unsaid what aspects of the Mughal empire will be taught, retained or dropped. Compared to the previous syllabus, the new one seems to have been drastically pruned, as even the salient features seem to be brief. The disintegration of the Mughal empire features in the Modern Period, though it should have found its place at the end of the Mediaeval Period.

In the secondary stage (Class IX and X), world history and civilisations are completely missing with no mention of the Central and South American civilisations, contributions of the Bronze Age civilisations, or even pre-history. Similarly, words such as imperialism, capitalism and revolutionary movements are not mentioned anywhere in the curriculum. The Russian Revolution does not find mention in the syllabus despite its momentous impact in determining the course of 20th century world history. The focus is on Indian national movements and the international role of India. In the latter section, there is a reference to India's relations with the two superpowers - the United States and the Soviet Union.

For Class X, the history syllabus comprises only of cultural heritage. It is unclear whether the historical background or the process of the formation of Indian society will be taught. The previous syllabus had outlined the study of art and architecture from ancient to modern times under the title "Cultural Heritage of India". In the new syllabus the period is not mentioned, which leaves room for speculation on what aspects may be left out.

The previous history syllabi for Classes I to X were designed in such a way that by the time the pupil completed Class X, he/she had a general understanding of Indian and world history. However, one cannot be sure that under the new scheme, children will find history an interesting subject to take up in Class XI and XII, after having a "thematic understanding" of history. By not elaborating on the "themes", the NCERT has played it safe and deflected controversy for the time being. However, it reflects on it somewhat poorly that after almost a year of discussions at various forums, it could produce only a sketchy and unimpressive history syllabus.

Drawing up a curriculum

RESPONSE education

The NCERT's discussion document on a National Curriculum Framework has sought to garner all shades of opinion.

J.S. RAJPUT

EDUCATION rarely receives adequate space in the print media, particularly in the national dailies and periodicals. The National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has certainly succeeded in achieving this near miracle through its Discussion Document on National Curriculum Framework for School Education. This document, released in January 2000, has been extensively discussed among intellectuals, educationists, teachers, professional organisations including parent-teacher associations, and other voluntary organisations. More than 16 seminars have been organised by various institutions, and those interested in education on their own. The NCERT has received inputs from most of them, and these are being analysed and studied. The outcomes will be professionally examined before the curriculum framework for school education is drawn up.

The earlier Framework for School Education was developed by the NCERT in 1988, and it was followed by a new generation of textbooks for school education. These were generally appreciated and accepted by schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education, the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan, the Navodaya Vidayalaya Samiti and also by the Boards of School Education in the States and Union Territories. All State-level agencies, however, had the option of either adopting or adapting, or making necessary changes incorporating the local and regional inputs. NCERT books are also utilised by several other sections of young persons who have completed their schooling but find these beneficial to them. The books were also criticised for their inadequacies, curriculum load and quality of paper and production. The NCERT has taken these in the right spirit and has regularly tried to make amendments, corrections and changes.

It is generally accepted, professionally and also as a matter of policy stipulation, that the curriculum for school education has to be reviewed at least once every five years. Anyone familiar with the system of school education will agree with this stipulation. Textbooks in geography, science, social studies or any other area prepared in 1988 cannot respond to the learning requirements of the children in 2000 and ahead. School education cannot be kept alienated from the changes of the recent past as well as the perceived changes, which are coming in at a very fast pace in every sector of human activity and process of social, cultural and economic transformation. Today every child has additional sources of learning, and these are pretty effective sources. Not all of these provide only positive inputs, but their presence cannot be ignored; the school alone is no longer the repository of providing the entire learning in addition to the family and the community. The curriculum has to be pragmatic, responsive and flexible enough to cater to the local and regional requirements as well as incorporate new technologies, techniques and methodologies for learning as also teaching.

The NCERT, realising its accountability for having delayed the process of renewal five years after 1988, initiated the process of curriculum renewal in the last quarter of 1999. In order to keep the process transparent and consultative it decided to develop a discussion document and not the curriculum framework itself. The discussion document attempted to raise all the issues which were highlighted to the NCERT through its own research studies, surveys, as well as through regular interactions with school teachers, teacher educators, educational administrators and planners. They regularly came in contact with the NCERT through seminars, workshops, committees and advisory boards throughout the year not only in Delhi but also at the four Regional Institutes of Education located in Ajmer, Bhopal, Bhubaneswar and Mysore. The NCERT also has its own faculty consisting of nearly 200 school teachers in addition to more than 350 professors, readers and lecturers. All of them were consulted, as were other teachers and invited experts. The discussion document is the outcome of this process.

The media have been very supportive and have provided enough coverage to the document, highlighting the issues that it projects for seeking viewpoints, comments and suggestions. These include the need to reduce curriculum load; establish synergy with the local, regional, national and international components of the curriculum; issues of work education, work experience and vocationalisation; implementation of the three-language formula and the medium of instruction at the primary stage; approaches to the teaching of science and the possibility of developing the mathematics course, which may not lead to alarming levels of stagnation resulting out of failures.

The NCERT also highlighted the need to ensure that at least now, after five decades of Independence, the nation develops a sound system of indigenous education in schools firmly based on the contributions of Indian thinkers and educationists. It has explicitly mentioned the names of Gandhi, Zakir Hussain, Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Rabindranath Tagore and Gijubhai. The document also highlights the need for value inculcation through education, the concern for which is being expressed by every section of society as everyone suffers due to the erosion of values in practically every aspect of human life.

The document realises that achieving social cohesion and learning to live together will be the outstanding objectives of school education in the 21st century apart from nurturing the creativity of every individual learner. It also raised the possibility of making children aware of the basic philosophies behind the principles of all religions of India. This, it was felt, would lead to a sound appreciation of the pluralities and diversities that form the inherent strength of India as a nation.

The use of the words 'culture', 'heritage' and 'religion' has given rise to serious apprehensions among some intellectuals, who proclaim themselves the torch-bearers of secularism and expect everyone to follow them blindly. To them anyone who uses these terms must be an agent of saffronisation. They do not care about the credentials and contributions of individuals and institutions. Their own interests are uppermost in their minds, leading to illogical and irrational interpretation of facts and figures. They are afraid that a mere acquaintance with religions, if provided through school education, would lead to disastrous results. It is not understood how they would discard Gandhi, Radhakrishnan and Zakir Hussain, apart from the recommendations made by various committees and commissions, including the Kothari Commission, in this respect. To quote from the Presidential address delivered to the All India Educational Conference in 1952 by Dr. Zakir Hussain:

"Instead of making the ramifications of theology and jurisprudence the focus of religious studies, we have to provide in our syllabus those aspects which would strengthen the foundations of life, which would give the right direction to thought and action, which would harmonise life with laws of nature, which would stir the soul and move the hearts, and which would offer morality to character and strength to personality. It appears necessary to bring out these qualities through religious education.

"Religion, then, would not be a weapon to fight but would give to life a purpose and a meaning. It would provide a moral and spiritual asset for it. It would establish a link with the longing for higher values."

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, chaired by S.B. Chavan, in its 81st report on Value Based Education, presented to the Rajya Sabha on February 26, 1999, highlights the need for value inculcation and acquainting students with the basics of all religions:

"Truth (Satya), Righteous Conduct (Dharma), Peace (Shanti), Love (Prema) and Non-violence (Ahimsa) are the core universal values which can be identified as the foundation stone on which the value-based education programme can be built up. These five are indeed universal values and respectively represent the five domains of human personality: intellectual, physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. They are also correspondingly co-related with the five major objectives of education, namely, knowledge, skill, balance, vision and identity.

"Another aspect that must be given some thought is religion, which is the most misused and misunderstood concept. The process of making students acquainted with the basics of all religions, the values inherent therein and also a comparative study of the philosophy of all religions should begin at the middle stage in schools and continue up to the university level. Students have to be made aware that the basic concept behind every religion is common, only the practices differ. Even if there are differences of opinion in certain areas, people have to learn to co-exist and carry no hatred against any religion."

The mere mention of the word 'religion', its acquaintance to the future citizens of the country, perturbs those who have no appreciation for the Indian psyche and ethos. Every sensible citizen would like to develop a sense of belonging to the country, a sense of self-esteem in Indian contributions in the areas of science, medicine, health and others. None can deny the existence of the great Indian scriptures in various Indian languages, which indicate a highly developed process of understanding among Indian scholars far ahead of those who have a history of a couple of centuries. It is a fact that the progress of the Indian ethos in various sectors, including education, remained suffocated for centuries under alien influences. Which child in India would not value with a sense of pride the contributions of Brahmagupt, Charak, Shushurut, Aryabhatt, Satyendranath Bose, Ramanujam, Homi Bhabha and Abdul Kalam?

The NCERT has developed a professional document. It is neither assertive nor prescriptive. It raises relevant issues in school education for a national debate. Its final curriculum document will be within the frameworks specified by the Constitution of India and the National Policy of Education 1988 and its revised version of 1992. It will be developed by professionals of the NCERT based on the wide-ranging inputs received.

The NCERT, as the apex resource centre in school education established by the nation, has developed expertise and understanding of the various aspects of school education over the last 40 years. National institutions and their professionals deserve trust and support. Their intentions need not be viewed with prejudices, apprehensions and fears.

Further, while the NCERT welcomes all suggestions in all humility, as is evident from its strategy to consult as far and wide as possible, it also would like to point out, to those who pronounce without preparation and proclaim without understanding, that education is an issue of critical national significance. They may like to remember the famous statement of Peter Drucker: 'Intellectual arrogance cause disabling ignorance.' The NCERT has opened its doors and windows to receive inputs, suggestions and guidance even from its known proclaimed critics. Their inputs are also valuable and are being studied with due respect and regard by the NCERT.

J.S. Rajput is the Director of the National Council for Educational Research and Training.

A non-violent giant

Badshah Khan: A Man to Match his Mountains by Eknath Easwaran, Penguin Books; pages 274, Rs.295.

MAHATMA GANDHI had many firsts to his credit. To me his most astounding achievement was to convert the gun-toting, revenge seeking Pathans to his unique weapon - non-violence. Gandhiji could not have done so by himself. He needed a faithful agent to lead them in his satyagraha campaigns. That faithful agent was Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Gandhi called him Badshah Khan. Others referred to him as the Frontier Gandhi.

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This is a book that should be in every home. Crisply written, expertly organised and gripping. What a story! And how well Easwaran tells it. Gandhi was a human magnet that attracted the best human material to conduct, guide and participate in our freedom struggle.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was born in 1890 and died in 1988. He spent more than 25 years in British Indian and Pakistani jails. His life is a saga of heroic dimensions. The author's melancholy conclusion is that the history of Badshah Khan and his Khudai Khidmedkers, "stands as one of history's most extraordinary and neglected moments". Easwaran calls the 6'6'' tall Khan, "a Muslim St. Francis". It is so apt.

Both Gandhiji and Badshah Khan should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize more than once. That they were not, is a condemnation of the manner in which selections are made by the Nobel Prize Committee.

This book first appeared in 1984 in America, under the title, Non-violent Soldier of Islam.

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And this brings me to the current debate on The Prophet's Islam and the Islam of Osama bin Laden. Gandhiji, according to this book, discussed Islam at great length with Badshah Khan. The Pathan had a most moving and magnanimous understanding of his great religion. He saw no conflict in his triple identities - his Pathaniat, Hindustaniat and Insaniat (humanity) was an organic whole. No frills. No windy explanations. Let me quote:

It is my inmost conviction that Islam is amal, yakeen, muhabat - selfless service, faith, and love.

Dr. Khan Sahib, Badshah Khan's elder brother, had married an English woman. Dr. Khan Sahib was twice Premier of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Hence not only his political life, but his personal life was under close and constant scrutiny.

Gandhiji was curious to find out more about Islam from his devout but broadminded and compassionate Pathan pupil. One day Gandhi asked him about his English sister in-law. Was she converted to Islam? Here is the grand, high minded reply of the Frontier Gandhi.

You will be surprised that I cannot say whether she is a Muslim or Christian... she was never converted - that much I know - and she is completely at liberty to follow her own faith. I have never asked her about it. Why should I? Why should not a husband and wife adhere each to their respective faiths? Why should marriage alter one's faith?

The literature on this very great man, a moral non-violent giant, is very meagre. The only other book on him is D.G. Tendulkar's biography. That came out over thirty-five years ago. Tendulkar is a chronicler, not an inspired writer like Eknath Easwaran, whose subtle grasp of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan's non-violent vision of humanity makes this a very exceptional and special book.

Let me end on a personal note. Between 1969 and 1988 I was in his presence many times mostly at Mohamad Yunus' (1916-2001) house. I will never forget the first encounter. Indira Gandhi was on a state visit to Kabul. Badshah Khan was also in the Afghan capital. The two had not met since 1947. It was decided that she would go to see him. This he would not countenance. So he was to come to meet "Indu" at King Zahir Shah's guest house. I was to receive him and bring him to the Prime Minister. When I got to the staircase, I saw the great Khan walking up. I must have been 30 seconds late. He was not. Now the epic admonition, delivered in chaste Urdu: "Aap Ko mere aane se pehle yahan hona chahiata"- You should have been to receive me. You are late."

On October 2, 1969, he came to Delhi to be the star attraction for the Gandhi Centenary. Indira Gandhi was at the airport to receive him, with her Cabinet colleagues. So was Jayaprakash Narayan. The three drove in an open car from the airport via Connaught Place to Rajendra Prasad Road where he was staying. No luggage, only a little bundle and a staff. He washed his own clothes. For a man of 79 he just about exhausted everyone. He delivered the Nehru memorial lecture on November 14, 1969, without once mentioning Nehru's name. He never forgave Nehru, Patel or Rajaji for agreeing to the Partition of India. He felt betrayed.

Buy this book. Read it again and again.

Refugees and politics

The John Howard government's decision to turn away a group of Afghan asylum-seekers, made with an eye on the coming elections, prompts criticism from all around.

JOHN HOWARD and his party should be eternally grateful to a bunch of ragtag refugees from Afghanistan. These asylum-seekers have enabled the Australian Prime Minister to reverse his falling political fortunes and come within striking distance of winning the elections, which are due to be called any time now.

Just before the Tampa crisis, as it has come to be known, broke in late August, Howard and his ruling alliance were trailing behind the Labour party. Now with Howard's "tough" stand on the refugee issue and his position in support of the United States in its war on terrorism, the Liberal alliance may just return to power.

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In the last week of September, some 200 Iraqis and others were resisting being offloaded at Nauru, the world's tiniest nation. Nauru had agreed to take the 430-odd refugees from the Tampa, a Norwegian vessel, that had rescued the drowning Afghans from the sea off Christmas Island.

With Australia refusing to let the refugees in, the Tampa Captain brought the ship into Australian waters, only to have officials in Canberra order special forces to board the ship.

Finally, the governments of New Zealand and Nauru broke the impasse by deciding to accept the refugees for "processing". En route, Australia dumped some more refugees on the Tampa. Some of the refugees have got off to be processed at Nauru but the refugee saga is far from over. New Zealand is now processing the 150 refugees it had promised to take in.

In a sense, the coming elections are all about how Howard and his government have treated the Tampa refugees and others like them. With opinion polls showing strong support for the Prime Minister and his government, Labour found itself in a tight spot. Kim Beazley, the Labour leader, who was widely expected to become the next Prime Minister, found himself outmanoeuvred, and came close to backing almost every step the government took to keep the refugees out. Beazley, who is under attack from a section of his own supporters for backing the government, may be the loser at both ends of the political spectrum. Labour finally supported the Liberals in passing legislation removing distant Australian territories from the "migration" zone. So now, if you want to have a chance to be "processed" as a possible asylum-seeker, you will have to make it to the Australian mainland.

While there seems to be "popular" support for the hardline policies pursued by the Howard government, many Australians are aghast that their government (and the Opposition) have approached the refugee issue from a narrow, legalistic standpoint. In the run-up to the elections, issues like the imposition of the general sales tax by the government, and job losses in a year when budget surpluses have been plentiful, seem to have been forgotten.

On the refugee issue, some strong statements have been made by Australians. The latest to join the attack on the government is Chris Sidoti, the country's former Human Rights Commissioner.

"What they (Howard and Beazley) are doing is damaging us. It is destroying our hopes and aspirations, our self-esteem, our sense of honour, our compassion and our decency. Our leaders, from both major political groupings, are turning us into a nation of thugs... for the first time in my life I have been deeply ashamed to be an Australian," Sidoti said.

The Tampa refugee crisis, he said, had led to "arbitrary detention, kidnapping and people-trafficking" with Nauru, "a virtually bankrupt country", being bribed to take the refugees in. "People-trafficking is ironic: the excuse given for these human rights violations is the need to stop people-smuggling, but here we are engaging in it ourselves (a reference to carrying the refugees to Nauru)," Sidoti said.

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Earlier this year a bipartisan parliamentary committee had launched a sharp attack on the government's policy of mandatory detention of refugees and the manner in which they were kept in privatised detention centres. However the committee's report, instead of prompting soul-searching, led to a further hardening of the Howard government's stand.

In a recent article, former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser said:

"There are two serious consequences of Australia's actions. Our capacity to argue internationally for a more humane policy will have been weakened...we will be carrying the burden of being a wealthy and selfish country for some time to come.

"More significantly, however, Australians have been led in the wrong direction. If Pauline Hanson (leader of the anti-immigration One Nation party) had never occurred, I suspect our policies would have been different.

"It is not irrelevant that One Nation is now considering giving (vote) preferences to the Liberal Party. There has been a competition to win the support of those who believe that, on these issues, Hanson is correct. There has unfortunately, and to our detriment, been no competition to win the support of fair-minded people who I will always believe make up the vast majority of Australians."

Referring to Australia's migration programme some years after the depression in the 1930s, Fraser said that the people were not polled by the governments then to find out if they wanted several hundred thousand Greeks or Italians. "If they had, people would have voted against it. After the Vietnam War, we did not ask the Australian people whether we should give a home to what became nearly 200,000 Vietnamese. We believed there was a moral and ethical obligation. The refugees and immigrants came; it was accepted."

Fraser has hit the nail on the head. Australia's decision to spend millions of dollars on keeping the refugees out is a moral and ethical matter and not an issue to play legal football with. If the Australian government does not want refugees and treats them like prisoners, then asylum-seekers would be well advised to keep away. Afghans, Iraqis and all prospective refuge-seekers should know that they will be detained, deprived of their liberty and kept away from their families, even if they manage finally to make it to Australia.

The tough talk emanating from Canberra following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. may well have got mixed up with the refugee issue. So, if Afghanistan is a country that produces terrorists, might not the refugees contain Islamist terrorists?

Opinion polls show that Kim Beazley and Labour have lost ground to John Howard and the Liberals; Beazley has become the "underdog" in the coming electoral battle. With the cancellation of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting , which was to have been held from October 6 to 9 in Brisbane, Howard had no obstacles in the path to announcing early elections.

The issues of jobs and education have taken a back seat as the government actively campaigns to capitalise on anti-refugee, pro-American sentiment.

Riding on the refugee issue, by exacerbating the resentment among many Australians against these hapless people, Howard may well return to power.

On the other hand, there are also a large number of fair-minded, liberal Australians who have been writing to the newspapers and complaining bitterly about the government's policies. The Tampa refugees will recede from memory, but the issue will not.

With this issue, Australia's right to speak on human rights in East Timor, Indonesia and the rest of the world has been compromised. As Australians go to the polls, their country's international standing has been affected.

A legacy of turmoil

Zimbabwe's prolonged crisis over land reforms, involving agrarian violence in the context of a history of land theft under colonialism and the failure of democratic governments to remedy the situation, continues to defy a definitive solution acceptable to all.

IS the Abuja Accord, the outcome of a Commonwealth initiative brokered by Nigeria on September 6, the latest of the multilateral initiatives on the vexing land question in Zimbabwe, coming unravelled? Or is it only yet another minor punctuation mark in the ongoing saga which will come to an end when the outcome of the presidential elections, due early next year, becomes clear?

The Abuja deal, supposedly a 'total breakthrough', provides for 'partial financing' by Britain of Zimbabwe's land reform programme, with Zimbabwe in turn agreeing to curb incidents of agrarian violence, mainly attacks on white-owned farms. Incidents of agrarian violence have been reported widely over the past one and a half years when nine white farmers have been killed, though no such careful count has been kept of the rather larger number of black farm workers killed or injured.

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However, there have been reports that Jonathan Moyo, Zimbabwe's Information Minister and official spokesperson, has denied that any such 'condition' was attached to the Abuja deal. According to Moyo, the deal only required the government to implement land reforms within the framework of the country's Constitution and laws. Emphasising that the violence on the farms was only symptomatic of the more fundamental problem of land ownership, Moyo said: "Once there is a recognition of this fundamental problem, the symptoms will disappear."

At issue here is the interpretation of a passage in the Abuja agreement in which Zimbabwe provides assurances to the Commonwealth ministerial team that took part in the Abuja talks of its "commitment to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Constitution of Zimbabwe and to take firm action against violence and intimidation".

Zimbabwe has always maintained that all its actions have been within the framework of its Constitution - an interpretation not always upheld, but also not summarily rejected by the country's courts. The perceived hostility of Zimbabwe's judiciary to land reform measures initiated by the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front or ZANU-PF government may now change as the inescapable restructuring of the courts even at the highest level, including the composition of its personnel, proceeds apace. For instance, the Supreme Court has reserved its ruling on an application by the government seeking to overrun an earlier ruling by the court barring the government's drive to seize white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks.

The differences over what the Abuja Accord stands for only reflect the more fundamental divides on the political situation in Zimbabwe. While the government considers land as the central issue, to which every other problem including specifically violence on the farms is linked, for the white farming community, its organisations and the broader political Opposition in Zimbabwe, determined to remove Robert Mugabe as President, political violence and the absence of the 'rule of law and good governance' are the central issues.

In neighbouring South Africa, in what may well turn out to be its most significant reaction to Jonathan Moyo's clarification, Pallo Jordan, a leading African National Congress (ANC) Member of Parliament, introduced a motion in Parliament urging the Government of Zimbabwe to "fulfil the letter and spirit of the Abuja Agreement to restore stability in that country and to ensure the continued stability of this region".

This is not the first time that senior leaders of the ANC, both inside and outside government have expressed their concern regarding the situation in Zimbabwe, without however endorsing the more virulent criticisms of President Mugabe by his political opponents. COSATU, the principal federation of South African trade unions, a partner in the ruling tripartite alliance and a close ally of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, has been even more outspoken in its criticism.

The ANC's intervention comes in the wake of a breakdown of talks earlier in Harare between the government and representatives of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers' Union as part of a follow-up of the Abuja deal, without any progress being made on the two key issues on which agreement was supposed to have been reached in Abuja - distribution of white-owned land among the landless and the related issue of political violence.

South Africa's concern over the developments in Zimbabwe, as indeed its frustration over its inability to influence significantly events to its north, is understandable. Developments in Zimbabwe have consistently found their resonance in South Africa, where deeper divides exist over a far more intractable land problem. Individuals and groups claiming to advance the cause of the landless in South Africa have publicly lauded Mugabe for his efforts and have announced their intention to invite him to South Africa and address the land situation in the country.

The immovable object - the resistance by the small community of powerful and resourceful white 'commercial farmers' of Zimbabwe backed by their even more powerful and resourceful 'kith and kin' in Britain, South Africa and elsewhere, to the government's land reform programme - meets the irresistible force, the determination of the government to implement the programme. Specifically, the reforms envisage the transfer of the ownership of the majority of about 5,800 large, productive farms spread over some eight million hectares, out of the 12 million hectares of such fertile land in Zimbabwe, owned by about 4,500 white farmers, out of a population of about 12 million, to land-hungry black farmers, many of whom are veterans of the liberation war.

How did this situation come about? Central to the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe was the land question, as was the case with the liberation struggles in other colonised countries in Africa. Indeed, land was also central to the colonial occupation of these lands by European powers, though later other factors like mineral wealth and geopolitical rivalries that reflected conflicts between and among the colonising countries came in. These colonial interests were represented and advanced by apparent adventurers and freebooters, or statesmen and missionaries who were supposedly driven by humanitarian concerns. One of the most notorious of them all, Cecil Rhodes, was apotheosised by the grateful beneficiaries of his colonial enterprise in the very name they gave to the land he took over, Rhodesia, in 1895, seven years before his death, seeking to erase the very history and name by which the ancient kingdom of Zimbabwe was known.

The process of colonisation, specifically in the case of Zimbabwe, was marked by 'deception, invasion and repression', appropriately the heading of the chapter delineating the process in the book titled, A History of the Zimbabwe Liberation Struggle. The simple and more comprehensive expression, theft, would do as well. The deception was inherent in all stages of the colonisation process. It began when three agents of the still incipient British South Africa Company - to be soon founded by Cecil Rhodes - travelled to the land of the Matabele and the Shona, drawn to the territory by legends of an abundance of gold and other precious metals. After prolonged palavers lasting over eight months (and after bribing of the King's advisers) they persuaded King Lobengula, the 'King of Matabele, Mashonaland and other adjoining countries', to sign away, on October 13, 1888, a purported mining concession giving "complete and exclusive charge over all metals and minerals situated in my kingdom, principalities and dominions", in return for a monthly rental of 100 and some rifles and ammunition. The deception continued in other forms. When the concessionaires discovered that gold was not in abundance in these lands, they turned over the lands, specifically acquired for mineral exploitation, to agricultural exploitation, making them available to white farmers from South Africa and Britain, and to the English and the Boer who were locked in rivalry in South Africa, but were complicit in unity further north, at fantastically cheap rates. Invasion, more formally organised, preceded by what a historian describes as "an incredible saga of chicanery", involving other European powers as well as 'explorers and missionaries' preparing the groundwork for projecting the invasion as merely a civilising mission intended to improve the lot of a barbaric people - followed soon thereafter. On June 26, 1890, an invading force consisting of 300 policemen recruited by Rhodes' company (which had received a royal charter from Queen Victoria on October 29, 1889) and about 200 'pioneers', selected out of some 2,000 applicants from all over South Africa for their ability to ride and shoot and other technical skills, was formed. The selected ones were promised vast tracts of prime farmland in Mashonaland. The invasion force occupied its objective, Mount Hampden, soon to become Salisbury, on September 12, 1890, completing the conquest. The date used to be celebrated as 'Occupation Day' until 1961, in which year the day was renamed 'Pioneer Day'.

Repression, following the first Chimurenga War of 1896-97 - the resistance by the Matabeles and the Shonas in which, according to one account, 10 per cent of the settler population at that time were killed - was severe. But it hardly broke the resistance. Indeed, the armed liberation struggle (1982-90) is known as the Second Chimurenga War, claiming a tradition of resistance going back to the very beginning of colonial occupation.

As popularly perceived, the land question in Zimbabwe is not the creation of an opportunistic Robert Mugabe, driven by rancour, personal ambition or keenness to retain power for another term - though these aspects of the political confrontation cannot be ignored. The land reform programme is not new; it was inherent in the liberation war and the negotiations that finally led to Zimbabwe's independence. During the Lancaster House talks that led to the country's independence, Britain as the colonial power - which role it did not abandon even during the years of the UDI rebellion by Ian Smith - had agreed to render financial assistance to the future independent government of Zimbabwe to put in place a land redistribution programme (Frontline, March 17, 2000). However, owing to various complex factors, among which is also the failure of the ZANU-PF government and its leader Robert Mugabe to put in place a workable land reform programme during the more than 20 years it has been in power, this has not materialised, though Britain is still committed to provide assistance.

Another complicating factor is that in the last 18 months or so, following the intensification of political opposition within the country and its consolidation as the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to the policies of the ZANU-PF government and to President Mugabe, the land issue has got entangled with the broader issue of political violence as well. Though the focus has been on the incidents of violence caused by the war veterans' attempts to occupy white-owned farms, the violence has also affected people who are not directly involved in these confrontations. An idea of the scale of the violence affecting the white farmers in Zimbabwe can be had in the fact that in the last 18 months when this has become a major issue in the British and South African media, nine white farmers have been killed.

The land issue, and the related issues of controlling violence and good governance, were the focus of the campaign by both the government and the MDC early last year during the referendum on the adoption of a new Constitution, which the government lost and during the campaign for parliamentary elections, which the government won narrowly, and the promises to remain so during the mother of all campaigns - the Presidential poll, due early next year.

Irrespective of the outcome of these campaigns, the unresolved issue of land reforms will remain central in Zimbabwe. Not even Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC, who hopes to win the presidential election next year, denies this. Admitting that land reform was indeed necessary, he told the Cape Town Press Club in August this year: "We want to address the crisis rather than Mugabe." Indeed, were he to become President, he may well have to carry on from where Mugabe has left the issue after 20 years of his presidency, emphasising continuity rather than a break from these years of turmoil.

From Right to Far Right

MICHAEL HINDLEY world-affairs

With the Right extremist Iain Duncan Smith as its leader, it is difficult for the Tory party to make any ground unless the Tony Blair government does something spectacularly wrong.

THE election of Iain Duncan Smith, who likes to be known by his initials "IDS", as the new leader of the British Conservative Party has been overshadowed by world events. Perhaps mercifully so, as many Tories confide, for the little-known former Guards officer stands on the extreme Right of the party commonly and dismissively referred to as the "hang 'em and flog 'em brigade". Duncan Smith came to some prominence as a persistent rebel against his own party's whip when Tory Premier John Major was trying to steer through Parliament various bills to enact European legislation; an exasperated Major described this group of anti-Europeans at that time with a 'B' word profanity.

Major intervened in the leadership election process to speak against Duncan Smith but to no avail, and IDS swept home to a clear victory with 60.7 per cent of the vote against his rival Kenneth Clarke.

The actual procedure for the election made the contest more like an American primary than the time-honoured Tory method of the great and the good taking the soundings in the various dark corners of quiet St. James' gentlemen's clubs. An exhaustive ballot was held first among Tory MPs, which led to the surprise elimination of the charismatic but enigmatic Michael Portillo. Portillo was once the darling of the Thatcherites but underwent a conversion to "compassionate conservatism" after a humiliating personal defeat in the 1997 general elections. Portillo, who had previously confessed to a homosexual relationship in his youth, hinted at the legalisation of cannabis and a more tolerant and inclusive Tory party. The Tory Left seemingly did trust the conversion and the Tory Right could not forgive it.

The field was reduced to a straight fight between Kenneth Clarke, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, who combines unrivalled ministerial experience with a "one of the blokes" image as a beer-drinking, cigar-smoking, cricket fan, and Duncan Smith as the flag-bearer of the Right. The two candidates were subject to a long hustings and an eventual postal vote of all the Tory party's ageing membership.

It was the issue of Britain's relationship with Europe which most vividly divided the candidates. The Tory party grassroots have become more and more "Eurosceptic", to the dismay of many of its senior statesmen led by Sir Edward Heath, who as Tory Premier took Britain into the European Union in 1971.

Kenneth Clarke has never disguised his enthusiasm for the European project and is an outspoken and eloquent supporter of Britain's entry into the next stage of European integration, namely the single currency, an issue on which Premier Blair has promised a referendum. The idea of a Tory leader campaigning in that referendum against the majority of his own members proved too difficult for Clarke's bonhomie to finesse.

Since New Labour has stolen most of the Tories' clothes by moving rapidly to the Right, the Tories have been in some quandary, whether to try to leapfrog New Labour, so to speak, and reoccupy the centre ground, or to keep going Right themselves. Here again the choice was clear and once again it was IDS who seemed to speak most to Tory hearts. The eventual victory declaration, delayed to accommodate the more important news breaking in the wake of the September 11 attacks, was a very muted affair and Iain Duncan Smith had to make his parliamentary debut as leader in the sombre atmosphere of a House of Commons recalled in the light of the international crisis.

Muted too was the atmosphere of glee tinged with mirth in the Labour Party, whose own members, if allowed to ballot, would have definitely chosen Iain Duncan Smith as the least feared of the potential Tory leaders.

Iain Duncan Smith's first task has been to nominate his "Shadow Cabinet". It is said that the aged Duke of Wellington when being read the list of a successor Cabinet, exclaimed after each name "Who?" And that has been the reaction to the lists provided by IDS. The only prominent name with any real experience that has made (somewhat surprising) return is that of Michael Howard, as Shadow Foreign Secretary. Howard had been an unpopular and hardline Home Secretary in the last Tory administration.

If Howard's return caused surprise, it was amazement which greeted the nomination of Bill Cash as Shadow Attorney-General. The ever pinstripe-suited Cash is in a long tradition of English eccentrics - clear and logical in his arguments yet maniacally obsessive in his crusade against further European integration. Cash was the most belligerent of all those of whom Major used the 'B' word and the press corps reportedly had great difficulty accepting the fact that his appointment was real and not some hoax.

It is difficult to see an IDS-led Tory party making any ground at all unless something goes spectacularly wrong for the Blair government. It has been pointed out that IDS' strategy is better suited to a right-wing party in a proportional representational system - always able to secure its own core vote, but unable to move beyond, therefore always a potential coalition partner but never a potential party of majority.

The Labour Party's joy was matched by that of the Liberal Democrats whose annual conference greeted Duncan Smith's election as a chance to woo disaffected liberal-minded and pro-Europe Tories. The Liberals were supplanted as the major Opposition bloc to the Tories in the early part of the 20th century by the rising Labour Party; now, the Liberals see their best chance of making a historical comeback and replacing the Tories as the main party of Opposition to Labour. The Tories have been the most successful political party in the history of democratic politics, and though predictions of their total demise may yet be premature, a long time in the wilderness is likely.

Michael Hindley was a Labour Member of the European Parliament from 1984 to 1999. He is now a freelance consultant on international affairs. In June 2001 he was elected to Lancashire County Council in the United Kingdom.

For greener pastures

world-affairs

Tea plantations in Sri Lanka, which have traditionally depended on the skills of workers of Tamil origin, face an acute labour shortage as plantation youth of the new generation, better educated than their parents, seek to break free and explore options elsewhere.

NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN in Nuwara Eliya and Hatton

KAMALESWARAN had a job waiting for him as he turned 18 but he did not want to take it up. He was determined not to follow in the footsteps of his parents and grandparents. He wanted to break free from the only work that members of his family had done - work on the tea estates of Sri Lanka for which his family, like hundreds of thousands of others, have provided near-captive labour for over a hundred years.

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Kamaleswaran's mother is a plucker in the Maskeliya tea estate in Hatton. After Nuwara Eliya, Hatton is the second most important tea industry-related centre in the island's central hills. She sets out barefoot each morning with a basket on her back, and only a plastic sheet for protection from the rain that pelts down every now and then. Ahead of her are eight hours of hard labour and an average daily wage of Rs.120, the equivalent of Indian Rs.75. His father retired from the same estate as a farm worker.

Armed only with a Grade 10, "O" level school leaving certificate, Kamaleswaran is now acquiring computer skills at a recently opened vocational training institute in Hatton town, but is prepared for any eventuality - except working on the estate. "I am looking for a job in the accounts stream. But I will take any other job that comes my way, as long as it is not on the tea estate," he says. His brother and sister have already broken away. Both are in Colombo, working as shop assistants.

There are 160 students at the Thondaman Vocational Training Centre, where Kamaleswaran is doing a diploma course in 'MS Office'. Candidates many more in number were turned away, as a flood of applications came in for its various programmes. These programmes involve training to be a car mechanic, a seamstress or a lathe worker. As is to be expected, most in demand is the six-month computer course.

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A decade ago it was unthinkable for a young boy, or especially a young woman, to venture outside the tea estate on which they were born, to make a living. Today, teenage girls commute considerable distances to garment factories, quite happy to exchange the drudgery of plucking two leaves and a bud from the tea bushes for the monotony of sewing buttons on to shirts.

For the really daring, a job agency in Hatton town, riding on the recent boom in the number of Sri Lankans going to West Asian countries in search of employment, offers more lucrative opportunities. "We are the only manpower consultant in Hatton," declares owner Krishnan Jayaram with considerable pride. Every month, Jayaram gets about 50 applications from aspirants for placement as domestic servants, drivers, cooks, gardeners and cleaners in rich households across the oil belt. As a fresher a housemaid could earn as much as Rs.12,000 a month, four times the average wage on a tea estate.

"I manage to send between 10 and 15 people every month," says Jayaram. He claims to charge only the price of the ticket and for other formalities, such as providing passports and visas (job agents in Sri Lanka are known to charge upwards of Rs.1 lakh per applicant for similar placements) and says that the profit margin in the business is "small", especially considering the amount of "social service" he is doing. "I am doing these people better service than their trade unions," Jayaram says.

In a twisted sort of way, he might be right. A job that involves toiling barefoot in the slush is not attractive anymore to the vast majority of tea estate youth. The estate is still their home, and while they might register themselves with estate managements for work, this is purely a fallback option in case they do not find other employment.

First, though wage levels have risen over the years, in real terms the increase is marginal. Wages in the tea estates are also among the lowest in any sector of the Sri Lankan economy. But that is not half the story.

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Tea estate workers, despite being the backbone of Sri Lanka's economy (the export of tea is one of its most important foreign exchange earners), constitute the most marginalised section of the country's labour force. The social stigma that was associated with the tea estate workers when they first came from the dry, southern districts of Tamil Nadu in the early part of the 19th century, still lingers.

Decades after the issue of the disenfranchisement of the estate Tamils was settled through the Sirima-Shastri pact, a large number of the estate workers are still trying to get Sri Lankan citizenship. Social indicators for the "Indian Tamil" ethnic community, under which category tea estate workers are classified, are among the poorest among all ethnic groups in Sri Lanka. The reason is that successive governments ignored aspects of infrastructure and human resource development in the region.

It is not surprising then that the present generation of plantation youth have little attachment to the lush green tea estates that their parents and forefathers helped create. Instead, they view the plantations as a prison and yearn to get out, and this longing has grown with better access to education in the last 20 years. Previous generations had no choice but to become labourers. They grew up illiterate, as education was systematically denied them. Some estates had schools, but only up to the primary level. It was only from 1977 that high schools were introduced in the estates. Today these schools are seen as departure lounges to the world outside.

NIKLAS FERNANDO is a Grade 9 student at the Tamil Mahavidyalaya in Talawakelle, 30 km from Nuwara Eliya. His parents are both labourers on an estate, but he wants to become a teacher. "I will somehow complete my Grade 12, then go for a teacher's training course," he says, with quiet determination in his voice. Evidence of that determination lies in the commuting that he does to school every day from his home, nearly 20 km away.

Despite great poverty and hardship, parents too are striving to keep their children in school so that they do not end up like them. "For years we have been on these estates, right from my grandfather. In all this time we have been as poor as we are today, scrounging for money despite all the hard work we put in. I don't want my children to continue this," says 42-year-old V. Rajendran, a sundry worker. He is determined to see his two sons educated, and regrets that his daughter, when she was in Grade 9, had to drop out of school in order to supplement the family income.

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"Education is the only way in which we can offer upward mobility to our children and bring them on a par with the other communities of Sri Lanka," says S. Mohanraj, head of the junior school at the Talawakelle Tamil Mahavidyalaya.

However, given the state of the educational infrastructure in the plantations, the social and economic conditions of the estate population resulting in high drop-out rates, and the overall political situation in Sri Lanka with its unresolved ethnic crisis, what schools are doing at the moment is to create a mass of youth who have minimum or less than minimum qualifications, but huge aspirations, and no avenues in which to take those aspirations.

The literacy rate in Sri Lanka is about 91 per cent. But in the estates, it is only 76.9 per cent. There are around 600 primary schools in the plantation districts, but only over a hundred secondary schools, of which less than half conduct "A" level classes. The education provided by these schools is far from the best. Failure rates at the "O" level examinations are high. In 1996, 83 per cent of the candidates failed in mathematics, 75 per cent in science, 81 per cent in English, and 55 per cent in social studies.

The schools face a chronic shortage of Tamil-speaking teachers (education in Sri Lanka is imparted in the respective mother tongues) as a consequence of years of lack of access to higher education to the community. The national teacher-student ratio is 1:22. In the plantation schools it is 1:45.

There are schools where science and mathematics are not taught at all because there are none to teach these subjects. Not surprisingly, a very low percentage of students make it to the "A" level. But the lack of a proper education or qualifications has not discouraged tea estate youth from wanting to strike out on their own.

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"Anybody with even the minimum qualification is not prepared to work in the fields anymore. They might have to work as house-boys (domestic servants) or shop assistants, but even that is more acceptable to them than becoming a worker on the estate," says K. Meiyanathan, principal of the Thondaman Vocational Training Centre.

Those with better qualifications are not much luckier. Compared to the average number of 700 students who took the "A" level school leaving examinations in the 1990s, there were 1,600 students preparing for it in 2000, from the total of 3,500 enrolled in the courses leading up to the examinations. But the standards of education in the plantations are so pitiable that few students qualify for tertiary education. Of the 45,000 students who enrolled in Sri Lankan universities in 2000, a mere 0.5 per cent, that is 220 students, were from plantation-worker families.

A university degree is no guarantee of employment either. Together, Sri Lanka's three main minority communities constitute 25 per cent of its population but account for only 7 per cent of its government employees. Of this, Sri Lankan Tamils, that is ethnic Tamils from the north and the east, and Muslims form the majority because their educational standards are better than those of Indian Tamils. Sri Lanka has no affirmative action or equal opportunities programme to assist its minorities.

The only opening available to them in government (in realistic terms) is teaching. But the competition for teacher training is fierce. The Sripada Institute of Education located near Talawakelle caters to seven plantation districts, including three that are Sinhala-dominated. It offers a three-year diploma course to those who have cleared the "A" level examination. Each year, nearly 3,000 hopefuls, mainly those who did not get sufficient marks to make it to university, apply for the 220 seats available.

In such a situation, most tea estate youth can only dream of white-collar employment, and at best, land jobs that are only marginally better-paying than that of a plantation worker. Observers see this situation as constituting a powder-keg waiting to explode. There have been reports of infiltration by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam into the estates to recruit disgruntled youth to its separatist cause, even though the Sri Lankan Tamils whom the LTTE claims to represent, and Indian Tamils, have little in common except a language.

"There is an urgent need to open out more employment opportunities to the estate youth. More and more of them are getting educated but have no jobs. This could be another Jaffna in the making," predicted Mohanraj, headmaster of the Talawakelle school.

BUT if more and more estate-based youth were to get employed outside the plantations, who would toil to produce the tea which is Sri Lanka's flagship item of export and its top foreign exchange earner?

The plantation bosses have been mulling over the problem for some time. The situation has already begun to manifest itself in every plantation in terms of absenteeism of those who are registered as labourers, but who do not show up regularly. At the hint of a more lucrative daily-wage job being available in the nearest town, they stay away.

"More and more youth are demanding registration, but only 60 per cent of the registered workforce turns up for work. They go to work outside, but continue to get the benefits of registration, such as housing and medicare, from the management," says Vish Govindasamy, chief executive of the 12,000-hectare Wattawala Plantations, located mainly in Dickoya. The company has stopped planting in its low-country estates in southern Sri Lanka, where the labour shortage has become acute. It is feared that when the shortage really begins to hurt the plantation companies, they might resort to diversifying from tea to less labour-intensive cash crops, leading to large-scale retrenchment. That could only exacerbate the growing tensions on the estates.

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There have been suggestions that if managements made the job of estate workers more attractive, and in line with the aspirations of the younger generations, it might pose a way out for both sides. "The work in a tea estate is by no means an unskilled job. Plucking, especially, is an art. If the labourers are treated like skilled workers, the job could become status-promoting," says Father Paul Casperz, who heads Satyodaya, a non-government organisation involved in welfare work among estate workers.

The Tea Research Institute of Sri Lanka (at St. Coombs, Talawakelle) is also applying itself to the problem. "We have to make work on the tea estate a technical profession, a job that the workers can take pride in, call themselves tea professionals," says Institute Director W.W.D. Modder.

It may sound radical, but Modder also suggests that managements should offer promotional avenues so that a worker can aspire to become at some point a tea executive in the company's office in Colombo. Right now, there is a dichotomy between management and labour that is also a reflection of ethnic divisions, with almost all workers being Tamils and all bosses being Sinhalese.

Modder believes that can be changed if a "positive attitude" is adopted. But, he warns, the time to start is now.

To draw workers back

W.W.D. MODDER world-affairs

On efforts to stem the flow of workers out of the Sri Lankan tea industry.

THE Sri Lankan economy relies heavily on agricultural exports, which overall earned $947 million in 1999: this accounted for more than 20 per cent of the country's foreign exchange earnings. The share from tea alone was $621 million, or 65 per cent. The imports needed for tea production are less than for the other production-for-export sectors such as garments, and therefore made-tea exports are Sri Lanka's highest net foreign exchange earner. For this reason, profits from tea will be the last to be affected by any impending global recession.

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Tea is grown in estates (250 to 400 hectares each, in the high, mid and low elevations of the island) and in small holdings (0.4 to 20 ha each, most of them in the mid and low elevations).

Large resident Tamil communities, consisting of the descendants of landless south Indians brought over by the British colonial government to work in the coffee and tea plantations from the 1840s onwards, have been the mainstay of the estates in the central hills for generations. In the low country, estate workers are an equal mix of these so-called 'estate Tamils' and Sinhala villagers. The small holdings are mostly owned and worked on by Sinhala family units, usually assisted by hired workers.

The labour-intensive tea industry, which contributes so much to the Sri Lankan economy, is totally dependent on these estate and smallholder workers drawn from the two Sri Lankan ethnic groups.

One of the main challenges facing the industry is out-migration and chronic absenteeism of registered, resident estate workers, and a general aversion to plantation labour in the villages, owing to the aspirations of a newly-educated generation for better conditions and a more fulfilling life outside the tea sector.

The problem has worsened since the early 1990s, and several plantation companies and larger small holdings, first in the low country and parts of the mid country, but now also in the up country, are unable to get enough field and factory workers. The overall workforce in the estate sector is said to have diminished by about 25 per cent over the last decade (despite labour wages increasing by about 140 per cent in the same period). As a result, basic field operations have often to be curtailed. The present trends are likely to continue causing the tea industry to suffer increasingly from a deficit of workers. Given the country's reliance on tea exports, this is a matter of immediate national concern.

An increasingly common phenomenon is the commuting, or 'bussing', of tea workers, including those who are registered residents of estates, to tea or off-tea labour for the highest bidder.

A more permanent out-migration is also becoming common. The reasons are primarily a quest for better wages and perquisites in blue or white-collar work in other industries or overseas, but also better secondary and tertiary educational opportunities, better access to child and medical care, more off-work time and amenities for leisure, and self-esteem, dignity and social acceptance. The first step therefore in reducing out-migration, and even reversing the flow, is to seek means of raising the living, housing and working conditions of tea workers to a level where their expectations and aspirations have a reasonable chance of being fulfilled.

The viability of the industry depends on the availability of skilled and semi-skilled field and factory workers in sufficient numbers, in addition to trained supervisory and management personnel of high calibre. The looming worker-shortage crisis has shown the need for nothing less than a tea profession, with vertical mobility within it, from the lowliest field position to the highest executive one, based on merit and performance, and not on social considerations or accidents of birth. The tea industry will continue to thrive only if successive generations of Sri Lankans, whatever their ethnicity or social origins, are attracted to it at different levels because they are convinced that they can make for themselves a satisfying and profitable career in it, with no bar to advancement if they prove themselves. Working in the tea industry, which is generally recognised as the life-blood of the nation, can also, arguably, foster and reinforce feelings of patriotism and national pride.

A well-entrenched and recognised tea profession will have the potential to be a sociological and productivity model for the nation. Integrating as it does rural and urban centres of activity, the tea industry can have a counterbalancing effect on the inner-city excesses, which are the hallmark of industrialisation and urbanisation. One of the best arrangements for a modern, agricultural country must surely be extensive rural belts of agrarian production, as provided by our tea lands and factories, with industrious and contented worker communities. This model is possible if tea communities are enabled to attain a good and satisfying quality of life.

The relevant Ministries and government agencies such as the Tea Small Holder Development Authority (TSHDA), and privatised plantation management companies (PMCs), have been formulating and applying strategies in order to ensure that the out-turn of tea workers, and their competence are maintained at the required levels.

The Ministry of Plantation Industries implements three projects to improve the working and living conditions of estate and smallholder communities.

The Plantations Reform Project channels loans from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to privatised plantations for a range of agricultural, production and training activities, and for welfare measures that include worker housing and services.

The Tea Development Project, also assisted by the ADB, provides similar support and funding to the small holdings, and private tea estates for worker housing and for facilities for workers in private tea factories.

The Plantation Development Support Programme, assisted by the governments of Norway and the Netherlands, works through the government's Plantation Housing and Social Welfare Trust in which the PMCs and the trade unions also have a prominent role. The Trust has set up about 325 housing cooperative societies for workers on privatised estates for self-help and participatory development of welfare facilities, such as housing, water supply, sanitation and health, child care and social services. For instance, the traditional line rooms are being replaced by individual cottages, and worker families become partners in construction and maintenance of the housing and other facilities.

THE Ministry of Estate Infrastructure and Livestock Development has a programme for providing single or twin-cottage units on 15-20 year loans to workers without the usual guarantees. The government is involved in integrating estate hospitals into the national health system in order to ensure the provision of qualified staff and adequate drugs. Estate schools will also be upgraded and assimilated into the national education system.

The agency of the Ministry of Plantation Industries, the TSHDA, has instituted a successful Tea Shakthi programme which arranges special insurance, savings and investment schemes and pension benefits for tea smallholders. This programme has also initiated a radio station for the benefit of farmers, the first agricultural radio station in the country. Fertilizer production facilities have also been provided.

There are already welcome signs of a change in the mind-set in the higher reaches of an industry where capital and labour, as well as land, are so inextricably inter-twined. The PMCs recognise that contented and motivated workers are crucial for improving the productivity and profitability of the estates. Revitalised estate managements are attempting to prevent out-migration by investing in better worker housing and welfare amenities. Many corporate sector and private factories have introduced rest-rooms for their workers, with facilities for relaxation such as piped music, games and television.

Partnerships are being forged on the anvil of necessity, and a future characterised by a flatter working-profile, with a seamless continuum of interests binding management and labour, can already be discerned.

Total mechanisation of a highly labour-intensive production system is obviously impossible. However, even partial mechanisation of field operations would reduce costs, improve land and worker productivity, reduce drudgery and boost the morale of workers by giving them social status as skilled, machine operators. This is what the Tea Research Institute (TRI) of Sri Lanka is aiming for.

In addition, time-and-motion and ergonomic studies have been initiated by the TRI for devising ways to ensure that manual as well as mechanised tasks, both in field and factory, are biomechanically sound. This will heighten physical and mental well-being and, what has come to be called worker wellness.

Switching from a manual task requiring little skill to the operation of a piece of machinery, however simple, is not easy. Sensitivity and a gradual approach by trainers and managers are vital in the process of introducing mechanised systems. Machines will not replace tea workers but utilise them better, whenever and wherever workers are in short supply. Production and productivity will therefore be maximised, and hopefully benefits will be shared for the good of all.

The manual uprooting of old tea bushes takes more than 600 mandays per hectare. The use of a bulldozer or back hoe can reduce this labour requirement by more than 75 per cent, and the cost by about 25 per cent. Small hand-held, motorised augers are commercially available for the drilling of planting holes. However, modifications are necessary to enable their use in hard, gravelly or stony soils.

Apart from brush cutters, hand-held pruning machines are now being used for pruning tea bushes. This is five times more efficient than manual pruning and the labour requirement is reduced by 70 to 80 per cent. The TRI has patented a hand-held pruning machine suited to Sri Lankan conditions.

IN order to maintain the country's current levels of made-tea production (305.8 million kg in 2000), approximately 1,200 million kg of green leaf would need to be harvested a year (during 300 working days), or 4 million kg a working day. Assuming a plucker intake of 20 kg a day, approximately 200,000 pluckers are required every day, which makes harvesting the most labour-intensive field operation. It is also the costliest, making up 30-40 per cent of total production costs.

The TRI has been carrying out research on mechanical harvesting since the late 1980s. One of its patents, the TRI selective tea harvester (the TSTH), won a Gold Medal at the 28th International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva, in 2000. It gives a 50 to 100 per cent increase in plucker intake, and a worker trained to use it earns considerably more than a manual plucker. At the same time, growers have recorded savings in plucking costs of more than Rs.2 a kg of made tea.

The TSTH has the same selectivity as manual harvesting, being easily raised and lowered on the plucking table for selecting only the desired two or three leaves and the bud. Thus, apart from an increased intake, the plucker can sustain a good leaf standard. The shoots harvested do not get bruised, unlike manually harvested shoots, and quality is ensured.

A newly-patented nylon plucking basket in a light-weight frame, developed by the TRI and an up-country plantation, can be adjusted to suit the body structure of individual pluckers. It is carried on the shoulders and the lumbar region which is best suited for carrying loads, and not by a strap over the top of the head as with the present cane basket. Pluckers can interact more easily with colleagues while working as movement of the head and neck is easier with this.

A similarly-developed leaf conveyance system saves the pluckers the trek to weighment stations with their loads of leaf to wait in line to get it weighed. Weighing and recording are done at the bush by a field assistant, who lifts the nylon bag out of its frame and replaces it with an empty one. Plucking resumes after this brief interruption. The assistant carries the leaf in the bag to a path, where it is bulked into plastic crates. The crates are stacked onto trailers pulled by a tractor to the factory door, where the leaf arrives in pristine condition for manufacture.

The TRI is concerned with the better organisation of the tea factory to maintain quality and hygienic standards, control costs, and add value to the final product. Changes are being initiated in the placement of machinery according to ergonomic principles and making the factory floor more worker-friendly.

Research in process technology is aimed at introducing electronic temperature, humidity and pressure sensors into the manufacturing sequence, under an automated computer-based monitoring, command and control system. Computerisation and automation will improve productivity and, as with field mechanisation, elevate factory workers to the status of food technicians.

All these efforts should serve to stem the flow of workers from the Sri Lankan tea industry, and hopefully also attract workers back to a fuller life in the tea lands.

Dr. W.W.D. Modder is the director of the Tea Research Institute of Sri Lanka.

The revised Entity List

world-affairs
Bharat Dynamics Limited

The following subordinates of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)

Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE)

Defence Research and Development Lab (DRDL), Hyderabad

Missile Research and Development Complex Solid State Physics Laboratory

The following Department of Atomic Energy entities:

Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) Indira Gandhi Atomic Research Centre (IGCAR) Indian Rare Earths

Nuclear reactors (including power plants), fuel reprocessing and enrichment facilities, heavy water

production facilities and their collocated ammonia plants

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) headquarters

in Bangalore, and the following subordinate entities:

ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC)

ISRO Inertial Systems Unit (IISU), Thiruvananthapuram

Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre Solid Propellant Space Booster Plant (SPROB) Space Applications Centre (SAC), Ahmedabad Sriharikota Space Centre (SHAR)

Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram

Abdul Qader Khan Research Laboratories, a.k.a. Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), a.k.a. Engineering Research Laboratories (ERL), Kahuta

Al Technique Corporation of Pakistan Ltd. Allied Trading Co. ANZ Importers and Exporters, Islamabad

Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DESTO), Rawalpindi

High Technologies Ltd., Islamabad

Karachi CBW Research Institute, University of Karachi's Husein Ebrahim Jamal Research Institute of Chemistry (HEJRIC)

Lastech Associates, Islamabad Machinery Master Enterprises, Islamabad

Maple Engineering Pvt. Ltd. Consultants, Importers and Exporters

Orient Importers and Exporters, Islamabad

Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), and the

following subordinate entities: National Development Complex (NDC)

Nuclear reactors (including power plants), fuel reprocessing and enrichment facilities, all uranium processing, conversion and enrichment facilities, heavy water production facilities and any collocated ammonia plants

Pakistan Institute for Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH)

People's Steel Mills, Karachi Prime International

Space and Upper Atmospheric Research Commission (SUPARCO)

Technical Services, Islamabad The Tempest Trading Company, Islamabad Unique Technical Promoters Wah Chemical Product Plant

Wah Munitions Plant, a.k.a. Explosives Factory

Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF)

Note: (i) In the case of the entities mentioned in the list, licence requirement is essential for all items, subject to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR).

Out of the blacklist

R. RAMACHANDRAN world-affairs

As a reward for their stated position on America's war on terrorism, President George W. Bush lifts the sanctions imposed on India and Pakistan in the wake of the nuclear tests of 1998.

THE decision of India and Pakistan to support the United States in its war postures against the Taliban regime has prompted President George W. Bush to lift the nuclear sanctions imposed on them in the wake of their nuclear tests in May 1998. The announcement was made on September 22 through a Presidential Determination (No. 2001-28), which was sent as a 'memorandum' to the Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Basically, Bush has exercised to the full the nuclear sanctions waiver authority bestowed on the President by Congress in October 1999. Former President Bill Clinton had signed this waiver provision, which was part of the Department of Defence Appropriations Act, 2000 (DDAA2000), into law (Public Law 106-79) on October 25, 1999, and exercised the authority only partially on October 27, 1999.

The exact scope of the lifting of sanctions this time was announced through a notification of the U.S. Federal Register on October 1. The removal of the sanctions has also resulted in a comprehensive review of the supplementary measures that were put in place in 1998 with regard to export controls on "dual-use" goods in the form of an Entity List (EL) and a corresponding export licensing policy.

While the talk of lifting of the sanctions against India had been in the air for some time, in the case of Pakistan it is a reward for the position it has taken vis-a-vis terrorism even in the face of stiff internal public opposition. On September 28, Bush made another determination (No. 2001-31) specifically for Pakistan, which authorised a funding of $50 million, deeming it to be "important to the security interests of the U.S". The special authorisation seems to nullify nearly all the democracy-related sanctions that were imposed after the October 1999 coup and the debt repayment default sanctions (the Brooke Amendment), which are still in place. The implication is that the U.S. is willing to support and assist a non-democratic government in order to further its own national security interests.

The nuclear sanctions of May 1998 were imposed in pursuance of Section 102(b)(2) of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act (AECA) - the so-called Glenn Amendment - which mandated the following:

(A) Termination of assistance under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, except humanitarian assistance in the form of food or other agricultural commodities (which includes U.S. development assistance programmes and International Military Education and Training (IMET) programmes);

(B) Termination of (i) sales of any defence articles, defence services or design and construction services; and, (ii) licences for the export of any item on the U.S. Munitions List;

(C) Termination of all military funding;

(D) Denial of any credit, credit guarantees, or other financial assistance by any department agency or instrumentality of the U.S. government (such as the EXIM Bank, the Trade and Development Agency and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation), except humanitarian assistance;

(E) Opposition to the extension of any loan or technical assistance by international financial institutions (such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank);

(F) Prohibition of any U.S. bank making any loan or providing any credit, except for the purpose of purchasing food or other agricultural commodities; and

(G) Prohibition of export of specific goods and technology (broadly termed "dual-use" items).

The export and re-export of "dual-use" technologies are subject to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), which are implemented by the Bureau of Export Administration (BXA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC). This covers exports of goods from a country other than the U.S. as well. Such goods, if exported from the U.S., would be controlled by the EAR. An item not manufactured in the U.S. also attracts the EAR if it contains a minimum of 25 per cent of U.S.-made components (the de minimis provision).

The EAR controls export of goods and technologies to individual countries for reasons pertaining to nuclear proliferation, missile technology, national security, chemical and biological weapons, anti-terrorism measures and other foreign policy concerns. For its export licensing process, the BXA maintains a Commerce Control List (CCL), a classification of controlled goods. In implementing the sanctions under category (G), the BXA put in place an export licensing policy in June 1998. Under this policy, export licences for items controlled for reasons pertaining to nuclear proliferation and missile technology would be denied in the case of Indian and Pakistani end-users. Such items account for nearly 50 per cent of the so-called dual-use technologies.

In November 1998, the BXA instituted certain supplementary measures, including in the EL over 300 government, parastatal and private organisations in India and Pakistan that were deemed to be involved in nuclear or missile-related activities. The EL is maintained under the "end use and end user" prohibition clause (Supplement 4 to Section 744) of the EAR.

For the entities named in the list, a licence was required for export of all items controlled by the EAR with a strong "presumption of denial". For all entities except military entities such as ordnance factories, this policy required an export licence (with a presumption of denial) even for the EAR99 items - the basket of routine, non-dual use, non-sensitive items, which do not figure in the CCL and which normally do not require a licence.

The export of high-performance computers (HPCs) is governed by a separate HPC Policy under the EAR, which had classified destinations into four tiers. India is in Tier 3. (Tier 4 is the most restrictive, with complete denial of HPCs.) At the time of the imposition of the sanctions, the rating for HPC in terms of Composite Theoretical Performance (CTP) was 2,000 million theoretical operations per second (MTOPS) - the performance of a Pentium PC - and above. The sanctions and the EL implied that computers with a CTP rating of above 2,000 MTOPS would be denied for the named entities. However, in July 1999, the threshold was increased from 2,000 to 6,500 MTOPS (roughly the performance of a 950 MHz Sun workstation with four processors). Since then, the licence exception limit for end-users that are not on the EL has been increasing every six months as part of Clinton's HPC policy. And, since January 2001, such organisations have been allowed to import without licence systems that have a CTP rating of up to 85,000 MTOPS (roughly a 64-processor Sun system).

In October 1998, the U.S. Congress passed the India-Pakistan Relief Act (IPRA) - the Brownback Amendment - which gave the President the authority to waive part of the sanctions. This authority was valid only for a year and was limited to sanctions under categories (A), (D), (E) and (F). Clinton exercised this authority on December 1, 1998, and waived sanctions under the categories of (A), (D) and (F) for both the countries. Significantly, he also waived the sanctions against Pakistan under category (E), which mandated the U.S. to oppose loans from international financial institutions.

The DDAA2000 waiver authority of October 1999, however, differed from the 1998 waiver in two important respects: 1. As against the one-year waiver period earlier, the new waiver was applicable without any time-limit unless either India or Pakistan conducted fresh nuclear tests. 2. Unlike the IPRA, which specifically excluded waiving of sanctions under categories (B), (C) and (G), the new Act gave the President the power to waive these too if "he determines and so certifies to Congress that the application of the restriction would not be in the national security interests of the U.S."

On October 27, 1999, Clinton exercised this authority in a limited way. In the case of India, he waived the sanctions under (A), (D) and (F); and for Pakistan, the waiver was only in respect of (F) and the extension of credit, credit guarantee or other financial assistance provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under (D) for purchase of food and other agricultural commodities.

The DDAA2000 also included the "Sense of the Congress" that called for "Targeted Sanctions". It said: "Export controls should be applied only to those Indian and Pakistani entities that made direct and material contribution to weapons of mass destruction and missile programmes and only to those items that can contribute to such programmes." As a consequence, the EL was revised twice, in December 1999 and in July 2000. The first revision removed 51 Indian entities (mostly ordnance factories, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics) from the EL and the second removed two (the Uranium Recovery Plant and the Nuclear Science Centre) and added one (the Indian Space Research Organisation's Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network, or ISTRAC). No Pakistani entity had been struck off the EL until then. Further, in March 2000, the licensing policy towards Indian and Pakistani entities was changed with regard to EAR99 items, with the "presumption of denial" becoming "presumption of approval".

THE lifting of sanctions per se has done nothing to the EL, which follows entirely from the EAR. However, in the wake of the removal of the sanctions and in keeping with the "Sense of Congress" expressed in DDAA2000, the BXA and the State Department have, in separate exercises, pruned drastically the EL for both India and Pakistan. The final revised EL was announced in the Federal Register notification of October 1 (see table). Significantly, all academic institutions and private and public firms and a large number of units of the three strategic departments - Defence, Atomic Energy and Space - have been removed from the EL.

The licensing policy of the BXA for EAR-controlled items too has undergone a significant change with the removal of the sanctions on "dual-use" goods. According to a statement issued by the BXA on September 25, the current policy of "presumption of denial" for items controlled for reasons of nuclear proliferation and missile technology will now become a policy of "case-by-case review" for all end-users except those on the EL for whom these items will be denied. For entities on the EL, other items not related to nuclear proliferation and missile technology, including the EAR99 items, would continue to require a licence. However, instead of the current policy of "presumption of denial" for non-EAR99 items, it would be a case-by-case review process. For EAR99 items, the policy of "presumption of approval" will apply.

Most of the EAR-controlled items that India requires from the U.S. include EAR99 items and items controlled for reasons relating to national security and chemical and biological weapons. While EAR99 items will become freely available after the removal of the sanctions, import of items not related to nuclear proliferation and missile technology should also go up with the BXA reverting to the standard case-by-case licensing process.

As regards HPCs, the export of systems above a CTP rating of 6,500 MTOPS to the named entities will require a licence even after the lifting of the sanctions. The only difference is that the licence would be granted on a case-by-case basis.

High-technology and strategic programmes such as the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) got slowed down because of the non-availability of parts and components from the U.S. The LCA programme was hampered because the Indian-designed Flight Control System (FLS), which was sent to the U.S. for evaluation, was held back owing to the sanctions against re-exports. The FLS should be released now. Similarly, the ALH programme suffered because of the denial of licences for the export of engines for the aircraft. More significantly, with the development of the Kaveri engine for the LCA lagging way behind schedule, the first fleet of LCA that would be inducted would require GE404 engines. Now, with the lifting of the sanctions, these can be imported.

The Indian Navy's fleet of Sea King helicopters had to be grounded after the British firm suspended product support following a directive from the U.S. State Department. However, in January this year, Bush had determined that some specific U.S.-made components from the U.S. Munitions List (forbidden by Sanctions (B)) could be exported for the purpose of refurbishing the Sea King helicopters of India. With the complete removal of sanctions, such routine maintenance of defence equipment can now take place. The Indian Army too had suffered - which was evident during the Kargil War - because of the denial of export of weapon-locating radars from the U.S. as well as Europe. Now these should become available.

As regards the other sanctions besides (G) that were in place until September 22, that is (B), (C) and (E), the impact would be minimal from the Indian perspective. Sanctions under (E) had already lost their impact because, for the past two years, the U.S. had been opposing loans from international financial institutions only for non-humanitarian programmes. A host of developmental projects were subsumed under the head of humanitarian lending and loans for them from international financial institutions had reached considerable levels. Therefore, a formal removal of (E) may only have a limited impact.

From Pakistan's perspective, however, the removal of (E) may imply that the flow of loans from international financial institutions will begin. In fact, the U.S., which facilitated the disbursal of a substantial IMF loan for Pakistan in November 2000, will allow the IMF loans being currently negotiated by Pakistan to be passed. The lifting of other sanctions besides (E) would have had a positive implication for Pakistan but for the democracy-related sanctions of 1999.

These sanctions are governed by Section 508 of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, which prohibits financing of operations in Pakistan for which funds have been appropriated under this Act.

IN effect, therefore, for Pakistan, the lifting of sanctions under the Glenn Amendment meant that it could now receive loans from international financial institutions and the curbs on export of munition items and dual-use goods would be eased. But it also meant the curbs on bilateral aid of any kind would continue. Therefore, it was not clear how the U.S. would fund the anti-Taliban operations in Pakistan. However, on September 28, Bush struck a coup de grace by decreeing assistance to Pakistan under the authority vested in him by Section 614(a)(1) of the Foreign Assistance Act.

Section 614(a)(1) says: "The President may authorise the furnishing of assistance under this Act without regard to any provision of this Act, the Arms Export Control Act, any law relating to receipts and credits accruing to the United States, and any Act authorising or appropriating funds for use under this Act, in furtherance of any of the purposes of this Act, when the President determines, and so notifies in writing the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, that to do so is important to the security interests of the United States." The words "any Act authorising or appropriating funds for use under this Act, in furtherance of any purposes of this Act..." virtually include all bilateral funding that would otherwise have been barred by democracy-related sanctions under Section 508 of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act and the Brooke Amendment (Section 620 (q) of Foreign Assistance Act), which are in place even after the waiver of the nuclear sanctions. Section 614(a)(1), though not a waiver, seems to offer a way out of these sanctions in the "national security interests of the U.S."

A new oarsman

Bad governance costs Keshubhai Patel the chief ministership of Gujarat. Will his replacement, Narendra Modi, a master organisational strategist with little experience in governance, deliver the goods?

THE Bharatiya Janata Party's governance in Gujarat, which is dubbed its political 'laboratory', has gone awry. Waking up to the fact that the party is losing ground in the only State where it has a legislative majority of its own, the party high command asked Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel to step down on October 2. In his place, it installed the BJP's national secretary, Narendra Modi, the first Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) pracharak to become Chief Minister or to hold a government office. He has never contested an election.

When the BJP recently lost the byelections in the Sabarmati Assembly constituency and the Sabarkantha Lok Sabha constituency, party bosses found a good excuse to get rid of Keshubhai Patel. Insiders say that they had already decided to replace him, and were waiting for an opportune moment. The Sabarmati constituency falls within Union Home Minister L.K. Advani's parliamentary constituency of Gandhinagar. A defeat there rattled the BJP's top leaders. They summoned Keshubhai Patel to New Delhi and asked him to make way for Modi.

Keshubhai Patel's initial resistance was quickly squelched. He objected to the "insulting" and authoritarian manner in which he was sought to be dismissed. His supporters, around 30 MLAs, mainly from the politically dominant Patel community, faxed a memorandum to the BJP leadership in Delhi emphasising their support to Keshubhai Patel. The letter said that Keshubhai Patel should not be solely blamed for the byelection defeats, and that if he were to be replaced, the new Chief Minister should be appointed after consulting the BJP's State unit.

On his arrival in Ahmedabad from Delhi on October 2 after tendering his resignation to party president Jana Krishnamurthy, Keshubhai Patel was in a rebellious mood. He said that he had not yet been asked to submit his resignation letter to the Governor and that it was up to the legislature party to elect a new leader. Even Keshubhai's rival, former Chief Minister Suresh Mehta, stated that he would refuse to be part of Narendra Modi's government since the latter was junior to him in the party.

But they were silenced overnight. The next morning, a sullen and subdued Keshubhai Patel held his last press conference as Chief Minister. He said that he would submit his resignation to the Governor in a few hours and that Modi would be elected leader at the BJP's Legislature Party meeting to be held the next day. Suddenly, all the rebellious MLAs turned tail and swore obedience to the high command's decision. At the legislature party meeting, Keshubhai Patel and Suresh Mehta respectively were made to propose and second Narendra Modi's nomination as leader. He was unanimously elected, and later sworn in Chief Minister on October 7.

However, it seems unlikely that Modi will be able to reverse the sharp decline in public support in the State for the BJP in time for the Assembly elections, to be held in early 2003. The district panchayat elections, held in September last year, showed up the public frustration with the party. The BJP lost 23 of the 25 district panchayats and the majority of taluk panchayats. Earlier, it held control over 24 district panchayats. In the municipal elections, the party lost two crucial municipal corporations - Ahmedabad and Rajkot, which it had ruled for 13 and 24 years respectively. The BJP retained control over the other four municipal corporations, but its victory margins were heavily reduced.Thrown back by these results, the party postponed the village panchayat elections three times in the past one year. They are now scheduled to be held in December.

Why has the BJP's popularity eroded in Gujarat? After coming to power in 1998 with a thumping majority, winning 117 of the 182 Assembly seats, the BJP now feels that its only stronghold is under threat.

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The bungling and neglect with regard to relief and rehabilitation in the aftermath of the Bhuj earthquake is seen as the Keshubhai Patel government's most striking failure. "During the monsoon, people had no shelter," says Congress(I) leader Shankarsinh Vaghela, who as a BJP rebel toppled Keshubhai Patel's government in 1995 and headed a Rashtriya Janata Party government with Congress support for a brief period. Relief funds have not reached many of the earthquake-affected people. Several irregularities in the purchase of tin sheets and other housing material have been reported. "They promised eight lakh houses in 130 days. So far only around 5,000 houses have been constructed," says Gujarat Congress president Amarsinh Chaudhury.

In fact, corruption and incompetence have been the two striking features of the Keshubhai Patel government. The recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) came as a major embarrassment to the government. There was a controversy over expenses relating to the Chief Minister's foreign trip to garner Non-Resident Indian funds. The CAG report also highlighted several irregularities in the award of government contracts and purchases of items ranging from aircraft to fodder.

There were allegations that Keshubhai's family, particularly his son-in-law and sons, had to be approached if any contract was to be cleared. Moreover, his Finance and Revenue Minister Vajubhai Vala's involvement in land deals proved an embarrassment to Keshubhai Patel. A builder by profession, Vala had been given charge of the Land Revenue Department. "Patel centralised everything. He held charge of all the policy-making departments - Public Works, the Sardar Sarovar Project, Information Technology, Industry, Ports. All these are the money-making portfolios," says Amarsinh Chaudhury.

Unfortunately, Gujarat was hit by seven natural calamities since Keshubhai Patel took over. His failure to deal actively with the problems at hand made matters worse. Moreover, grandiose schemes such as the Gokul Gram (self-sufficient villages) that he initiated were not properly implemented. In a 'black sheet' of the Keshubhai Patel government's achievements, the Congress(I) listed 1,140 promises, of which the government had implemented less than 440.

The state of Gujarat's finances is also worsening. The revenue deficit is expected to touch Rs.8,374 crores, up from Rs.2,863 crores in 1998-99. While Gujarat has prided itself on being a highly industrialised State, the rate of industrial growth is on the decline.

On the law and order front, the rising number of attacks on members of the minority communities, especially Christians, instilled a general feeling of insecurity. Emboldened by the BJP's rise to power, the Sangh Parivar unleashed its communal campaigns. Since Keshubhai Patel took over, there have been around 200 attacks on Christians and the tribal people, but complaints have been registered by the police only in around 80 such instances, says Samson Christian, joint secretary of the All India Christian Council. Recently there were three attacks on Muslims, says Dr. Hanif Lakdawala, an activist of a non-governmental organisation (NGO). "There are many small incidents that have increased the general sense of fear and insecurity, not only among the minorities but even in the general public," he says. In fact, Modi's entry has made people more fearful, since he is known to be an RSS hardliner.

Can Modi, a greenhorn in governance, come up with an effective salvage operation for the BJP? At a time when dissatisfaction with the BJP is mostly on account of government neglect and incompetence, it is unclear whether Modi, whose skills in statecraft are as yet untested, will be able to deliver the goods. Rather than put the government in order, it seems that the BJP is hoping that Modi will manipulate a victory at the polls. Known for his sharp organising skills, Modi is supposed to have played an important role as an election strategist.

In fact, it was his efforts which resulted in Keshubhai Patel's first electoral victory in the State in 1995. However, when the BJP reached a compromise with Vaghela in 1995 after his rebellion, Modi was shunted off to Delhi. Later Modi fell out with Keshubhai Patel as well. His sudden return has surprised the Gujarat State unit. Several other MLAs were vying to be Chief Minister, including Suresh Mehta, Narottam Patel and Vallabh Katheria, who was Keshubhai Patel's choice as successor. Modi will have to be elected to the legislature within six months.

The 'laboratory' has a new scientist. Will he get the magic formula right and engineer a victory for the BJP in 2003? Or have voters seen through the BJP's hollow promises?

The case of the missing voters

The Election Commission discovers serious irregularities committed by the State administration in the electoral rolls of a Muslim-dominated Assembly segment in Uttar Pradesh.

The Election Commission has indicted the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of Uttar Pradesh for the illegal deletion from the voters' list of the names of thousands of people belonging to a minority community. These names made way for those of members of the majority community in the Thakurdwara Assembly segment of Rampur Lok Sabha constituency. (Rampur has a predominant Muslim population.)

The E.C. received a complaint from Begum Noor Bano, Congress Member of Parliament from Rampur, in this connection on September 10. In view of the seriousness of the charges, K.J. Rao, Secretary to the E.C., was asked to hold a detailed inquiry. The official visited Thakurdwara on September 14 and 15 and discovered "serious irregularities" in the electoral rolls, which were committed with "mala fide intentions". In his report to the Commission, he said, "the inquiry revealed a shocking state of affairs inasmuch as the names of more than 15,800 persons belonging to a particular community were deleted unauthorisedly, without following the procedures laid down in the rules and in disregard of the directions of the Election Commission and of the Hon'ble Supreme Court." He also found that "an abnormally large number of names of about 21,000 persons belonging to another community were included without proper verification or inquiry, even in those cases where the applications in Form 6 were ex facie defective, being incomplete/ unsigned or signed by the same person in many cases."

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In an unusually harsh indictment of a State government, the E.C. decided to conduct an intensive special revision of the electoral rolls in the Assembly constituency and recommended disciplinary action against the officials responsible for the irregularities. "Stern action should be taken against the District Election Officer, Electoral Registration Officer, Assistant Electoral Registration Officer and others," the report specified. Since large-scale violation of and disregard for existing rules and provisions in such a "reckless and cynical manner" could not have been possible without the involvement and active knowledge of the senior officers concerned, the E.C. has directed that S.K. Gupta, District Election Officer-cum-District Magistrate of Moradabad and at present a Special Secretary to the State government, be placed under suspension. Similarly it recommended that R.K. Singhal, Electoral Registration Officer-cum-Sub Divisional Magistrate, Thakurdwara, D.K. Sinha, the then-Tahsildar-cum-Assistant Electoral Registration Officer, Thakurdwara, and Satyendra Prakash, Naib Tahsildar, Thakurdwara, be suspended and penalty charge-sheet under the relevant rules be issued against all of them. The E.C. also directed the State government to transfer all other lower-level officials who were associated with the exercise and post officials with integrity in their places.

The E.C. specifically directed the State government to comply with its instructions by October 6, the day the intensive special revision of the electoral rolls was slated to begin. But until the time of writing this report, the State government had not taken any action in this regard. "The State government has not received the Election Commission's orders.We will certainly act upon it as and when we receive it, " an official said.

Chief Minister Rajnath Singh claimed he was not even aware of the case. Innocence personified, he told mediapersons, "I read about in the newspapers. I have no further information on this. But I will certainly look into it. I have asked the Chief Secretary to give me the details." K.J. Rao told Frontline that he had not been informed of any action against the officials concerned, but he hoped the State government would comply with the directive within the specified time.

Meanwhile, the Congress(I)'s strategy for the coming Assembly elections suffered a serious jolt with the death of Madhavrao Scindia who was to be the party's star campaigner. "He was the only one among the dynamic Congress leaders who had the charisma to attract crowds. We were depending on him a great deal to reach the voters," said Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee president Sriprakash Jaiswal. Scindia's death has left a void in the party's fortune in the State. Its campaign, which had taken off on September 18 in the form of Parivartan Yatras after initial organisational hiccups, came to a halt. These yatras, which were flagged off with fanfare from six places in Uttar Pradesh (Frontline, October 12, 2001), were supposed to culminate in a rally in Lucknow on October 4. The yatras failed to attract the crowds but Congressmen hoped that leaders like Scindia would give them some impetus and that any further shortfall would be made good by party president Sonia Gandhi's presence at the Lucknow rally. The yatra was suspended and the Lucknow rally postponed.

As for the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, other major contenders for power in U.P., the Centre's ban on the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and the combined Opposition uproar that the ban is "politically motivated" and meant to terrorise Muslims, have come as added campaign ammunition. The E.C. disclosures could not have come at a better time for these parties.

Some disturbing trends

In Tamil Nadu, where local body elections begin this month, panchayat posts are "auctioned" and Dalits are prevented from filing nominations in some villages.

ELECTIONS to fill 1.17 lakh positions in the three-tier panchayati raj institutions and 14,354 posts in the urban local bodies in Tamil Nadu will be held on October 16 and 18. Voters numbering 4.66 crores would exercise their franchise in these civic elections, the second in the State held in accordance with the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution effected in 1993. The amendments ensured reservation of seats for two distinctly disadvantaged sections - women and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. While one-third of the elected positions in each of the different categories were reserved for women, the reservation of seats for the latter groups would be in proportion to their percentage in the population (roughly 20 per cent). The first post-amendment elections were held in 1996.

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Involved in the elections are 12,609 village panchayats, 384 panchayat unions and 29 district panchayats, besides 609 town panchayats, 102 municipalities and six city corporations.

The run-up to the elections witnessed some significant socio-political developments. A new political lineup emerged in the case of the urban bodies - city corporations and municipal councils - for which elections are held on party basis. There are now three principal fronts as against the two in the Assembly elections. Two major parties have left the ruling front headed by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) - the Paattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Congress(I). While the PMK has joined the rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led front, the Congress(I) is heading a third Front in association with a few parties which have left the DMK-led front, including the Congress Jananayaga Peravai led by former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), another constituent of the AIADMK-led front, has decided to go it alone following differences of opinion with the AIADMK over seat-sharing. The Puthiya Tamilagam, headed by Dalit leader K. Krishnaswami, also left the DMK-led front and joined the Congress(I)-led alliance. The Dalit Panthers led by R. Thirumavalavan, which was also with the DMK in the May elections, has opted to contest on its own. The Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) is also in the fray, unattached to any alliance. Added to this is the problem of serious dissensions in the principal parties over the choice of candidates.

OF far greater significance, and having possibly far-reaching implications, are certain developments relating to the panchayat elections witnessed in the southern districts even before the electoral process began. These elections are held on a non-party basis. The forum of "oor (village) panchayat" (an assembly of elders and wealthy and influential persons, mostly belonging to the predominant caste group in the village) was used in a number of villages to "auction" panchayat posts such as president and ward member, with the declared objective of "avoiding conflicts". The highest bidders were declared "selected" for the posts and they alone were allowed to file nominations. The bid amount ranged between Rs.10,000 (for the post of ward member) and Rs.5.43 lakhs (for panchayat president). According to newspaper reports, the posts of panchayat president in several villages were thus "sold" in Usilampatti and Peraiyur blocks in Madurai district and Manamadurai block in Sivaganga district.

A different mode of "sale" was adopted in certain other villages. An amount was fixed as the "sale price" - Rs.1 lakh, for instance - for the president's post and one of the persons who offered to pay the price was "selected". Vagurani in Madurai district is one of the villages where the post of panchayat president was "sold" under this system. The amount collected from the "selected" persons would go to the village's common fund, mainly to be spent on temple festivals.

Such auctioning is seen as an attempt by vested interests to retain the common resources of the village in their control. When money is the only criterion for obtaining power, the poor, the women and Dalits, who are kept out of the decision-making process at the "oor panchayats", are deprived of their right to participate in the electoral process on equal terms with others. The practice will encourage corruption since those who "buy" the posts at high prices would not do it for nothing. Another pertinent point raised is that the "selections" were made in violation of the rules governing election expenses. The maximum amount a contestant for a panchayat president's post can spend is only Rs.10,000.

Madurai District Collector S. Ramachandran pleaded helplessness when reports of the auctioning of posts were brought to his notice on September 18. He said he did not know whether the administration could intervene, though he agreed that the practice went against the spirit of democracy. He said the administration could not take suo motu action in these cases; he could act only on specific complaints.

State Election Commissioner (SEC) P.S. Pandyan took a week to clarify the Election Commission's position. He explained that the auctioning "does not have legal sanctity" and said that anyone could contest the elections "regardless of prior deals". He warned against any attempt to prevent people from filing nominations and assured the contestants protection. "Only after the electoral officer of a particular local body declares the results and issues a certificate, a contestant becomes a winner," he pointed out.

The SEC felt compelled to take note of the development only when yet another, more important, aspect of the practice began surfacing. Dr. G. Palanithurai, coordinator, Rajiv Gandhi Chair for Panchayat Studies, Gandhigram Rural Institute, saw in the auctioning an attempt by the "traditional panchayat system" to re-establish its supremacy. He pointed out that this happened more in areas where a particular caste known for its deep-rooted prejudice against Dalits had a substantial presence. In villages where the posts of panchayat president are reserved for Dalits, the auctioning of posts by the dominant caste Hindu groups, which do not want Dalits in positions of power, was obviously intended to find at best "pliable" presidents. Dalit activists say Dalits, who are mostly agricultural workers dependent on caste Hindu landholders for their subsistence, cannot pay a hefty amount for a panchayat post, which may even prove to be a crown of thorns as experience in the past five years has shown them. They point out that if a Dalit is "selected" in this way, it only means that some wealthy person from the caste Hindu groups is behind him.

Caste Hindu groups adopt numerous ways to sabotage attempts to empower Dalits, one of the declared objectives of decentralisation of power. First, they challenge in courts the reservation of particular villages for Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes. When this fails, they announce a boycott of elections. By virtue of their majority status in the village, they bring pressure on Dalits against contesting the elections. In some places they resort to violence.

If these efforts also fail and elections do take place, they look for "pliable" candidates. (For instance, in a village in Kanchipuram district, a landholder was the vice-president and a worker in his field the president.) If someone who is disliked by the dominant caste manages to get elected, they do not cooperate with the person concerned. If a "pliable" Dalit panchayat president turns "hostile", he is banished from the village and his family ostracised, as it happened in the case of V. Nagar, the Dalit president of Maruthangudi panchayat in Madurai district (Frontline, September 29, 2000). In the worst-ever manifestation of caste Hindu intolerance of Dalit empowerment, Murugesan, president of the Melavalavu panchayat in Madurai district and six others were done to death in 1997 (Frontline, July 25, 1997).

Despite "repeated efforts" by the administration, elections could not be held last time in Keeripatti and Pappapatti villages in Usilampatti taluk of Madurai district because of stiff resistance from militant caste Hindu groups. (No elections could be held in four village panchayats last time.) This time also caste Hindu militants were in no mood to budge. They threatened that if any Dalit dared to contest "Melavalavu will be repeated here."

Their threat seems to have worked. Keeripatti and Pappapatti are among the four villages where no nomination papers were filed for the post of either the president or the ward member.

The director of People's Watch, Tamil Nadu, Henri Tiphagne, has filed complaints before the Collector and the Superintendent of Police, Madurai, demanding that a case be registered under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and investigation started to find out who was responsible for not conducting the panchayat elections in Pappapatti and Keeripatti. Copies of the complaints have been sent to the National Human Rights Commission and the National S.C./S.T. Commission.

How many more village panchayats reserved for Dalits will be deprived of elections is not known at this stage since the election process is not complete. Moreover, it not yet clear how many of those who won the "auctioned" posts will actually get "elected".

Political parties which are busy with their plans for the urban body elections, have showed little interest in the developments concerning the marginalised sections in rural Tamil Nadu. Only a few leaders have denounced the practice of auctioning panchayat posts. CPI(M) State Secretary N. Sankariah said that it was anti-democratic and cut at the roots of the process of decentralising power. "The objective of 'power to the people' will be defeated by this practice," he said. P. Chidambaram said that attempts to auction panchayat posts and the moves to prevent Dalits from filing nominations were indicators of the increasing trend of criminalisation, commercialisation and communalisation of politics in the State.

A victory for the NBA

The Maharashtra government agrees to formulate a master plan for the rehabilitation of people affected by the Sardar Sarovar Project, but only after NBA leader Medha Patkar goes on a hunger strike.

IN what is seen as a positive development in the matter of resettlement of people affected by the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) in Maharashtra, the State government has put together a plan that not only involves the participation of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) but also promises the formulation of the long-awaited master plan for rehabilitation and resettlement. The NBA's leader Medha Patkar and six activists ended their 10-day-old hunger strike on the issue on September 27, after the government conceded most of their demands.

The NBA, which has been spearheading the agitation of the people evacuated by the dam, seeks the implementation of the recommendations of the Justice S.M. Daud Committee as well as a review of the controversial land rights and resettlement issues. Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh assured Medha Patkar that a complete verification of the Project-Affected People (PAP) would be done before any further decision on the dam height was taken. Furthermore, he said the Daud Committee report, which was submitted over two months earlier, would be discussed at the next Cabinet meeting.

Medha Patkar, who came close to being administered intravenous fluids, welcomed the breakthrough. "This is a major step forward," she said. "But breaking this fast does not mean the end of an ordeal. The real painstaking fight lies ahead when we try to get these promises implemented."

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The NBA had demanded that the process of verification of the Project-Affected Families should be done through village-wise surveys at heights of 90 metres, 93 metres, 100 metres and the full dam height. The government said it would consult the Narmada Control Authority on a re-survey and ensure that the survey and the verification were done within two months. For this it will appoint a task force as demanded by the NBA. Representatives of the NBA and the Punarwarsan Sangharsh Samiti (PSS) will be part of the task force, which will be headed by the Divisional Commissioner of Nashik.

In addition, a letter from Principal Secretary (Rehabilitation) R.K Bhargava to the NBA states that a new planning group, which will include NBA members, will be formed to draft a comprehensive master plan for rehabilitation. Surveys would be done to take stock of the resettlement work and detect lacunae, if any. A Secretary-level overview committee would supervise the implementation of the whole programme, the letter said.

The government also told the NBA that it would not stand in the way of providing land rights to 33 affected tribal villages in Akrani tehsil of Nandurbar district - an important demand of the NBA. Until recently the government had used a High Court case pertaining to the conversion of forest settlements to legitimate revenue villages to deny land rights to the affected tribal people and other villagers. The Bombay High Court is expected to hear the matter on October 10.

The NBA argues that these so-called forest villages were formed before the promulgation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, and a proposal to designate them as revenue villages was ready by 1986-87. However, the government delayed the notification and finally issued it only in 1992. "This process cannot be cancelled arbitrarily, as the government did in 1994 by cursorily cancelling the notification of 1992," an NBA statement said.

The dharna by NBA activists and the hunger strike by Medha Patkar were part of the Andolan's protracted struggle against the governments of the three States "benefiting" from the SSP. "The Maharashtra government may have conceded the NBA's demands, but it remains to be seen whether it is just a tactic to pacify me and get me to end the hunger strike," Medha Patkar told Frontline. She believes that without the "political will, issues relating to the SSP will never be resolved". The government, she said, appeared to be making some effort, but a number of problems remained. For instance, she wondered whether there was enough land to be given as compensation. Madhya Pradesh was willing to provide monetary reparation, but that was not the solution in the case of people who had lost acres of cultivable land, she argued. "Piecemeal solutions will not do," said Medha Patkar. She wanted a master plan that looked at the larger issues. The Maharashtra government has agreed to formulate this plan but NBA activists are sceptical about it reaching fruition. After all, in its judgment permitting the project authorities to go ahead with the construction of the dam, the Supreme Court stipulated that a master plan for rehabilitation and resettlement be presented to it within 40 days of the ruling. The deadline expired last year and there has been no mention of it since. This, the NBA said, had led it to understand that the governments had no intention of looking at the larger picture.

A government official told Frontline that one of the biggest difficulties the Maharashtra government faced was in compensating for the lost of land with land: "We are in the process of purchasing land but there is not enough land available for distribution when the dam reaches its full height." There does not seem to be enough land even for those who were affected by the dam when its height reached 90 metres. According to the NBA's figures, of the 144 families displaced at the 90-metre height, only 69 have been resettled. Should the dam height be increased, as many as 1,061 families in Maharashtra could be displaced.

NBA activist Clifton Rozario said the government cleared 2,700 hectares of forest land in 1990 to resettle those who had been displaced. Subsequently, it cleared another 1,500 hectares. Of the 4,200 hectares, 795 hectares was not cultivable. Rozario claimed that in Maharashtra approximately 20,000 hectares would be affected by the dam. "How can 4,200 hectares replace 20,000 hectares?" he asked. He pointed out that those who were resettled in 1994 had not yet been given land titles. "It means that tomorrow the land can be snatched away from them without any explanation," he said. "The Chief Minister has promised us that the land titles will be given within the next three months," he added.

WHAT is resettlement and when is a family resettled? According to the World Bank's guidelines, the purpose of resettlement is to help a family regain its previous standard of living. By that yardstick, the resettlement and rehabilitation plans of the governments of Maharashtra and the other State governments concerned were failures, said Rozario. In Maharashtra, none of the five resettlement sites in Taloda met the standard requirement, he said.

In fact, the Committee to Assist the Resettlement and Rehabilitation of Sardar Sarovar Project-Affected People, headed by Justice S.M. Daud, exposed the Maharashtra government's failed resettlement and rehabilitation efforts. Its report brings out the inherent inadequacies in the resettlement process. These include the non-availability of land, incorrect enumeration of the project-affected Adivasis, non-granting of land rights, unequal resettlement policy and bureaucratic corruption. It places the blame for most of these on the absence of a master plan for rehabilitation.

A physical verification of the project area, it states, shows that the resettlement of those displaced at a dam height of 90 metres is yet to be completed. It is against increasing the height of the dam before families that have already been displaced are resettled. Additionally, owing to the non-availability of land, hundreds of displaced tribal people have no source of income, the report says. Members of the Committee, who visited resettlement villages, say the sites "lack almost all the basic facilities required for habitation. One of the greatest shortcomings is the non-availability of water even for cooking and drinking."

The Committee was formed after people from the 33 affected villages protested for three days in Mumbai in January demanding an independent review, within the framework of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award (NWDTA), of the plight of those who had been relocated and those who were in the submergence zone. In fact, Deshmukh announced the formation of two independent committees, to review the rehabilitation status of the persons displaced in Maharashtra and to do a cost-benefit analysis of the SSP for Maharashtra. While the Daud Committee reviewed the status of the affected people and submitted its report on July 3, 2001, the second committee remained only on paper. Now the State government has said it will constitute a study group to do a cost-benefit analysis of the project. The report is expected in six months.

FOREMOST among the Daud Committee's recommendations is the one to alter the definition of "project-affected persons" by including all those affected by every type of construction related to the dam. In addition, the committee suggests that the government undertake a fresh survey to determine the number of families that would be affected and the compensatory acreage as part of the process of granting land rights, using the unpublished official surveys of 1985-86.

The Committee, having surveyed much of the area, recommended that for the loss of agricultural income the tribal people should receive monetary compensation, in addition to land, for a period of at least 50 years. For those who have been deprived of their houses and agricultural land because of submergence but have not been placed in possession of cultivable land and house plots, it suggests a compensation of Rs.3,000 an acre a year from the date of ouster to the date on which they are placed in undisturbed legal possession of new land. "What we prescribe is far less than what the tribals are entitled to. Their loss is irreparable," the report says.

Much of the report's contents are common knowledge. Now it has been officially documented. Unfortunately, when the report was presented to the government, it was labelled "anti-dam and pro-NBA". Perhaps that explains the government's indifference to discussing it and, of course, its implementing the recommendations.

One of the critical requirements of the NWDTA is that the rights of the displaced Adivasis are ensured before work on the dam begins. It states that any individual or community facing submergence owing to proposed construction should be rehabilitated one year before actual submergence. This norm has been consistently violated, says Rozario. Once the reviews and surveys are complete and are presented to the Narmada Control Authority, if the government does not provide adequate resettlement before increasing the height of the dam, that will be in complete violation of the law, he says. Given the history of the struggle, the NBA wants to make sure every project-affected person is accounted for.

Communal calculations

The VHP and the Bajrang Dal launch a 'Trishul Diksha' campaign in Rajasthan, disrupting the peace.

KHATUN BANO, 65, and Manohar Singh, a Rajput, belong to different religions, but both revere the centuries-old dargah of Sufi saints Sultan Shah Bana and Gaffar Shah Baba at Asind town in Bhilwara district of Rajasthan. While the two still find some meaning in the composite culture of Asind, communal amity in the town has taken several knocks in recent times. And this may be indicative of the situation in Rajasthan as a whole today.

While on the one hand religious places of a particular community are being pulled down or desecrated, on the other Hindu outfits such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal have emerged in strength in areas which have had a history of amity and peace. Their rise is not being addressed seriously by the State government, though Congress(I) Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot did demand a ban on the Bajrang Dal in the context of the Central government's ban on the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).

The lack of firmness in the matter of dealing with communal elements has encouraged the proliferation of incendiary outfits. The Trishul Diksha and Jalabhishek programme of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal held on September 25 in the Sawai Bhoj temple complex at Asind was an example of communal mobilisation in the guise of a membership drive. Incidentally, the district administration also saw the belligerent acts involving the display of metallic trishuls as being part of a "membership drive".

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The programme was apparently aimed at mobilising the Gurjar population in the town barely two months after the July 27 demolition of a 16th century mosque built in the Qalandari style and located adjacent to the Sawai Bhoj temple. Evidently, communal elements used the demolition during the urs festival as an opportunity to work on the minds of the members of the majority community. Today the 31-member Sawai Bhoj Trust maintains that the urs itself was not a regular feature and that no mosque existed on the premises of the temple complex. Head priest Bhoja Ram, who is a member of the Trust, said the structure that was demolished was just a wall that Naga sadhus had built to deflect strong westerly winds. However, there is ample evidence, including a video recording made in 1997, to show that the mosque did exist at the spot prior to July 27 (Frontline, August 31, 2001).

What remains at the site now is a freshly-cemented floor and a security guard's tent. The Hanuman idol that replaced the mosque appears to have been kept aside. The complex now houses the sprawling Devnarayan temple, which was completed in April.

The demolition was not an isolated incident. Two mazaars, or burial grounds, were desecrated in Jahazpur town, 90 km from Bhilwara, in July before the Asind demolition. Another mazaar in Pander, a town near Jahazpur, was defiled on August 12, Janmashtami day. In each of the cases the administration prevailed upon the minority community to reconstruct the damaged structures in order to avoid further tension. One person, Trilok Joshi, was arrested but he was granted bail apparently after protests from the majority community. Nisar Ahmed, chairman of the Anjuman Committee, said the Jahazpur market was closed for seven days after Joshi's arrest.

A Deputy Superintendent of Police, a Circle Inspector and a Station House Officer were suspended following the Jahazpur and Pander incidents. Now the incidents are being investigated by an Additional Superintendent of Police, Criminal Investigation Department, and the district administration has washed its hands of the case.

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IT was around the time of these incidents that the VHP and the Bajrang Dal began making their presence felt in Bhilwara district and adjoining areas. While no direct link has been established between their growth and the acts of desecration, the activities of communal elements have without doubt contributed to creating an atmosphere of tension and mistrust in these areas. For instance, in Jahazpur a nominated Congress(I) councillor, Gopal Chand Khatik, floated an organisation called the Hindu Sangathan Manch, later renamed the Hindu Manch. Congress(I) members in the town participated in the events organised by the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. Members of the minority community registered their displeasure by greeting Gehlot with black badges and protests when he visited Jahazpur on September 8.

The Trishul Diksha in Jahazpur was held on September 6 when prohibitory orders were in force in the district. The administration argued that it was held "privately" and that it was not possible to curb such "membership drive" activities. Deputy Superintendent of Police Hemant Sharma explained that if Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav could address a public meeting in the area on August 26, there was nothing wrong in allowing the Trishul Diksha of the VHP-Bajrang Dal.

Sharma said that around 150 people were given Trishul Diksha at Jahazpur in the presence of Praveen Togadia, international secretary-general of the VHP, and Chander Singh Jain, Bajrang Dal regional coordinator. The process involved offering a 15 cm-long trishul to the acolytes and their reading out a pledge. The organisers had sought permission to hold the programme near the bus station but he did not allow it, said Sharma.

To Muslims in Jahazpur, the role of the administration is suspect. While a banner of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) calling Hindus to unite fluttered on a gate, the words 'Jama Masjid' written on a wall to indicate the direction of the Jama Masjid that is under construction had been effaced. "There were complaints against the writing of 'Jama Masjid', so we had it effaced," said Sharma. Detailing the efforts for peace undertaken by the administration, he said that as part of confidence-building measures peace committees and local area committees had been constituted. Ironically, the representatives of the majority community on these committees are those whom Muslims hold responsible for vitiating the atmosphere. The include, besides Gopal Khatik, influential members of the BJP, Shiv Sena and the Bajrang Dal.

THE youth among the minority community are being persuaded by their elders to show restraint. Mohammad Sher, a member of the Mohammadan Youth Club in Jahazpur, said that despite much provocation the youth had exercised restraint, heeding the calls of elders. He denied Gopal Khatik's claim that SIMI was running the Youth Club and that maulvis from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were agents of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Sharif Mohammad Chita, Congress-man and a former Municipal Council chairman, said that the police inspected the records at the two telephone booths he owned in order to check if any calls had been made to Pakistan. He resented the fact that Congress members were working along with those of Hindu communal outfits. "I can leave the party if I feel it is against Hindu dharma," retorted Khatik. "I am first a Hindu and then a Congressman." Khatik is a Dalit and is apparently trying to rally Dalits against the minority community. He supported the Trishul Diksha and claimed that it was the first step towards the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. "Trishul Diksha was being planned in all the villages, and in the smaller villages Jalabhishek of Shiva lingas would be conducted," he said. At Pander, 101 people were given Trishul Diksha on October 1; nearly 700 people attended the function.

The desecration of the mazaar at Pander held the potential for serious trouble. Maulana Abdul Qayuum, who was sleeping in his quarters in the mosque complex, told Frontline that he heard some voices and saw the gate lying open. It was raining. Fearing that something untoward might happen he went to the house of Qamar Ali nearby. At 5 a.m. he returned to the mosque and saw smoke coming from inside. After he gave the Azan (the muezzin's call to prayer), he was joined by Afzal Mithu, a resident of Pander. Inside, the minbar (cemented steps from where the Maulana preaches) had been broken and a copy of the Koran kept on a shelf burnt. Qayuum is now in Jahazpur; he feels safer there. The administration, in a move to placate all sides, got the village sarpanch to present a copy of the Koran to the mosque, but no arrests have been made so far. Later the sarpanch called a meeting allegedly in an attempt to boycott Muslim families. Now the 20 Muslim families in the town are ready to move out.

In Bhilwara town, people at the VHP office are annoyed at the transfer of the Superintendent of Police (S.P.) and the District Magistrate. The men who have come in their place are prejudiced, alleged Om Prakash Bhulia, the Dharmachari Sampark Pramukh of the Chittorgarh belt of the VHP. He said there was nothing unusual about the Trishul Diksha as it was decided at the Maha Kumbh in January to induct 30,000 Bajrang Dal volunteers.

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District Magistrate Sudhansh Pant and S.P. Srinivas Janga Rao, both of whom assumed charge on August 15, said they were keeping a watch on the situation. A few weeks ago interaction between the two communities had broken down as petty irritants began to surface, said Pant. The two of them together had helped improve the situation considerably since then, he added. Asked about the Trishul Diksha, he said he would not give permission to any such programme if it would lead to problems. However, a ban on the programme may prove counter-productive, he felt.

While the Gehlot government lacks a consistent policy when it comes to dealing with communal forces, civil liberties groups as well as non-Congress and non-BJP political parties in the State have taken the initiative to challenge such trends. On September 30, State units of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Samajwadi Party organised a Sadbhavana convention where they denounced the communal organisations. A citizens' initiative against communalism organised by the Institute of Development Studies, Jaipur, outlined the spread of communal incidents in the State.

The State unit of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) pointed out that the Tibrewal Committee's report on the riots following Union Home Minister L.K. Advani's arrest in 1990 was yet to be placed in the Vidhan Sabha. A PUCL report states that since 1998 there have been a series of incidents beginning with an "ouster campaign" of alleged Bangladeshis in Ajmer. It catalogues recent communal incidents, including a police firing on protesters in Jaipur in 1997 that resulted in six deaths; riots in Malpura in July 2000 where innocent people including women and children were massacred; communal tension in Rajsamand in August 2000 and Kotda block of Udaipur in March 2001; tension during Muharram and Mahavir Jayanti at Nasirabad in April 2001; tension over the construction of a mosque at Beaver in April 2001; and incidents in Jahazpur, Asind, Pander and Bhilwara.

The game plan of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal seems to be to exploit incidents of tension such as that witnessed at Asind. The Gurjar representatives at Asind are vehemently opposed to the reconstruction of the mosque, but at the same time they do not want to be used by the VHP-Bajrang Dal. Kuka Ram, a member of the Sawai Bhoj Trust, told Frontline that Chandra Singh Jain of the Bajrang Dal had offered to help, saying that it was a Hindu issue, and twice sought to organise the Trishul Diksha and a Jalabhishek ceremony in the main Sawai Bhoj temple. But permission was refused. They were allowed to conduct it in the complex under police watch. Volunteers went around on motorcycles mobilising people for the meeting. A large number of people turned up, apparently under the impression that it was a Sawai Bhoj temple affair and not knowing that the Bajrang Dal was behind it.

The spectre of starvation

Good rainfall has turned the landscape green in Orissa's Kashipur block, but the lives of its poverty-stricken people remain steeped in despair.

"Orissa has received a few hundred crores of rupees in aid and welfare projects in the last decade or so. But don't ask what happened to the money... 90 per cent of it was swallowed by the local politicians and bureaucrats. This State has never seen good governance, and corruption is rampant here."

- Rabindranath Tagore, a former Assistant Registrar of Cooperatives, Orissa.

"I cannot force somebody to eat one thing or another; and I can't change people's eating habits. If they prefer to eat mango kernel, which often becomes infected with fungus, what can anybody do? But I agree, poverty is rampant here."

- Bishnupada Sethi, District Collector, Rayagada.

"Just because we like the taste of mango kernel or imli ka dana (tamarind seeds), it doesn't mean that we prefer to eat that instead of rice. You people like pickles with your food; but can you eat pickles for an entire meal?"

- An unlettered woman of Dikaral village in Kashipur block of Rayagada district, Orissa.

"And, some of them even had a bank balance."

- Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, citing the result of an "investigation", which, he said, had shown that foodgrains were found in the homes from which starvation deaths were reported, and blasting the media for misrepresenting facts and spoiling the image of the country.

WHILE the rest of the country debates on whether the recent spate of deaths reported from Kashipur block of Rayagada district in Orissa can be classified as "hunger deaths" or not, many of the 31,000-odd families of Kashipur continue to exist in sub-human conditions. Chief Minister Navin Patnaik visited some of the villages concerned about a month after the deaths were reported. He made yet another round of the villages on September 14, this time accompanied by Union Food Minister Shanta Kumar.

In its April 29-May 12, 1989 issue, Frontline published a report and a set of photographs from the drought-affected villages in Koraput, Kalahandi and Bolangir districts. They presented a picture of stark poverty. Those faces, the despair in those eyes - what a visitor sees today is strikingly similar to them. The question is, has anything changed in this area in the past 12 years? The Food Corporation of India's (FCI) godowns might be overflowing but in the villages of Kashipur hungry people desperately gulp down gruel prepared with fungus-infested mango kernel or inedible mushrooms.

If at all there is any change, it is that the drought has ended, with the villages receiving good rainfall. The mountain brooks in the undulating terrain are swollen, and the foliage looks fresh and rich green. But the rain has hardly helped. Irrigation facilities are absent. Certain areas have been waterlogged and the paddy crops have turned yellow.

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As for the number of deaths, the figures given by the Rayagada District Collector and the local people differ. The villagers say that more than 70 people have died owing to hunger and malnutrition but Bishnupada Sethi puts the figure at fewer than 20. These deaths, according to the Collector, are owing to "either food poisoning or natural causes". Sethi says: "A two-year-old child in a village died because it was not getting milk. Then, in some villages, people have died from old age or other natural causes. But I agree that poverty in this area is not only abject, it is visible too."

The district's medical personnel, latching on to the technical definition of 'starvation', argue that the stomach of a starving person would be devoid of any food but in some of the cases post-mortem showed that the stomachs had some remnants of food.

Of course, technical definitions do not take into account mundane facts - for instance, that a starving person would eat anything to douse his or her hunger, be it infected mango kernel, indelible mushrooms or plain grass. In many homes, foodgrains are indeed available. But is the supply sufficient to meet the family's essential nutritional needs? About 15,000 families of Kashipur have the BPL (below poverty line) status. Each BPL family is eligible for 16 kg of rice at Rs.4.75 a kg every month. The Collector admits that this quantity is not sufficient to feed an entire family.

In homes where sufficient foodgrains - broken rice, ragi, maize or other millets - are not available, the women have no option but to use limited quantities of grain. This writer saw a woman washing hardly 200 grams of broken rice to prepare a gruel with mango kernel for a joint family of eight.

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Take the case of Almey Majhi, a 60-year-old woman in Bilamala, about 55 km from Rayagada. It is more than a month since she lost her husband Sadho Majhi, two sons and a daughter-in-law. The woman is inconsolable. She cannot bring herself to utter a single word. Nor can her surviving daughter-in-law, Sulmey Majhi, who is left with three little girls, the youngest one hardly six months. Ranjan Kumar Kar relates the story of how death knocked at her doorless hut on August 8.

On that day, the women prepared a thin gruel by boiling some millets with mango kernel. (The kernel is kept for a day under flowing water so that its bitterness is removed. It is then dried and stored either as a whole or in a powdered form. Being kept in mud huts that do not have doors or windows, this "food" gets infested with fungus in the rainy season. Such mango kernel, instead of sustaining life, can end it.) The gruel was eaten by the family and the only one who escaped the severe bouts of vomiting that followed was Almey Majhi. All the five sick members were taken to the primary health centre at Tikiri. "There was no doctor there. So the compounder gave some medicines and asked us to take them to Kashipur," said Kar.

At Kashipur, the doctor had gone away to watch a television programme and returned only in the evening. Some treatment was given in the meantime. But by then the condition of the patients had become serious. They were asked to be shifted to the district headquarters hospital at Rayagada. Sulmey was the only one to survive.

People in the village and Almey's relatives from other villages scraped together the money that was needed to transport the sick to Tikiri, Kashipur and Rayagada. When Almey's 30-year-old son died, it took Rs.3,500 to bring his body back to Bilamala. "The district administration gave Rs.20,000 to the family, but more than half of it is gone in repaying the debts incurred on transport and on completing their last rites," Kar said.

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Kar is sorry that when Navin Patnaik visited Almey's home and asked her repeatedly what he could do for her, she could not respond. "She kept crying and couldn't say anything, and missed an opportunity to get some land or a job for Sulmey."

Throughout the conversation with this writer, Almey wept quietly. There was neither shouting nor ranting. Her two little granddaughters do not leave her side for a moment. Their young sibling is at the breast of the mother, who was also in tears.

Rabindranath Tagore, who has become an activist after taking voluntary retirement from government service several years ago, points out that the tribal women in this belt work extremely hard, in the fields as well as in their homes. But a major chunk of their income is frittered away on alcohol and beedis by their menfolk. Often, men opt not to work, even when work is available.

SEEING our car and mistaking us for yet another group of 'VIPs', many villagers move forward to complain that they have not got the BPL ration cards yet. Nor do they get any employment under the food-for-work programme. Tagore explains that developmental and welfare schemes have not helped change the miserable lives of the Adivasis living in this belt.

Tagore says: "Union Food Minister Shanta Kumar said that food security is the government's top priority and announced a scheme, the Antyodaya Anna Yojana, under which the BPL families will get 25 kg of rice at Rs.3 a kg. But the problem is that many of the tribal people have mortgaged their BPL ration cards for sums as paltry as Rs.50 or even less. Even those who have the cards cannot afford to lift 25 kg, paying Rs.75, on a single day. So they will either borrow money from moneylenders (who will allow them to keep hardly 5 kg, take away the remaining 20 kg and sell it at Rs.7 or 8 a kg) or buy 3 or 4 kg and the shopkeeper will sell the rest in the open market."

In village after village - be it Dikaral, Panasaguda, Bilamala or Tikiri - the story of misery is the same. Rice is clearly a luxury and people would eat it only if they can afford it. The next best is coarse grains like ragi or even bajra and maize. Some tribal families do own land but, as the Collector points out, 70 to 80 per cent of it is high land, which yields "little or nothing".

One does not require any medical expertise to diagnose chronic malnutrition. It is evident enough in the frail bodies and gaunt faces of the adults, the distended bellies of the children, and the despair in the eyes of all of them.

The media have been squarely blamed. Sethi accuses them of being "unethical". "You cannot write on deaths in Kashipur sitting in Bhubaneswar or Rayagada as some journalists have done," he says bitterly. But media scrutiny and governmental response in the form of welfare schemes such as the food-for-work programme have brought back the smiles in at least a few villages.

For instance, in Panasaguda, where some starvation deaths have taken place, the freshly laid-out main road can easily take on four-lane traffic. This is because of the employment programme launched by the district administration under which one male and one female member of every household in the village have been pressed into service to make roads in the villages.

"We get Rs.40 a day for this work and our families are able at least to eat some decent food," says a beaming villager. By the side of the road there is a group of men sitting and smoking. In the distance and against the backdrop of the hills, several women can be seen carrying headloads of materials for completing the road. One can only hope that the wages they get will go towards meeting the nutritional and other needs of the family and not spent on alcohol.

Dut Duriya, a Bahujan Samaj Party member from a panchayat near Tikiri, says that such welfare schemes, which are often launched at the time of distress, will not last. "This is one big show. Because of media reports people are getting phokat ka khana (free food). But for how many days can any government feed us? We want stability and dignity. Give us work and not charity," he says.

Deaths and denials

EVEN as reports of starvation deaths in the Orissa districts of Rayagada, Gajapati, Malkangiri and Kandhamal poured in, the governments at the Centre and in the State appeared to be working overtime to cover up the fact of the deaths. In response to reports of starvation deaths in many villages in Kashipur block of Rayagada district, the State Revenue Minister asserted that these were caused by the consumption of poisonous items of food. His response was based on the "investigative report" of the District Collector.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India and the Samajwadi Party demanded an inquiry by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The Congress, which initially demanded a judicial inquiry, changed its stand and sought an NHRC inquiry too.

Sivaji Patnaik, CPI(M) leader, visited affected villages such as Pitajodi, Bilamala and Panasagoda. He told mediapersons in Bhubaneswar that he found no grain in the 40 houses that he visited. The Revenue Minister had told a meeting of the State-level Natural Calamity Committee in June that food stocks were kept at the disposal of gram panchayats so that they could meet the eventuality of distress and starvation. The sarpanches of Tikiri and Kashipur told Sivaji Patnaik that they did not receive any such stock or any instruction from the government in this regard. He found no entries in panchayat records relating to the receipt, storage or issue of food stocks. A joint team of members of the Orissa Gana Parishad, the CPI and the Samajwadi Party too visited the areas. The Congress played an important role in highlighting the failure of the State government.

Kashipur block comprises 17 gram panchayats and 704 villages. Its population is 1,01,451; of this, 60,402 people belong to tribal communities, and 20,767 to the Scheduled Castes. About 25 per cent of the people depend on agriculture for a livelihood and the rest are daily-wage workers. The literacy rate is 15 per cent. The total area of cultivable land is 37,124 hectares. Of this, only 758 ha is cultivated at present and paddy is the main crop. Although the majority of the people in the block are poor, only 15 per cent of them have ration cards issued for the below poverty line (BPL) category. According to a report submitted to the State government by the Special Relief Commissioner (SRC), in most of the cases the BPL cards are mortgaged to moneylenders and liquor traders.

Last year the Kashipur panchayat was directly linked to the State Secretariat through the GRAMSAT Yojana scheme, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. On that occasion a group of tribal women complained to Vajpayee and Chief Minister Navin Patnaik that contractors did not pay them the stipulated minimum wages. Their plight remains unchanged.

The refrain of the ruling party members and bureaucrats has been that the deaths in Kashipur are not owing to starvation and that mango kernel is traditionally eaten by the tribal people living in this area. But the question is: why should people continue to eat mango kernel 54 years after Independence? It is only a sign of their poverty.

The Revenue Minister told mediapersons that he had asked the tribal people to exchange mango kernel for rice and the officials had been instructed to do what was necessary. People rushed to their respective panchayat offices with sackfuls of mango kernel but no rice was available for exchange. Many panchayat offices now look like godowns of mango kernel. The Chief Minister said that since the government had decided to provide rice free of cost, no such exchange was required.

Schemes such as the Prime Minister's Antyodaya Yojana and the Annapurna Yojana remain on paper. The public distribution system is almost non-existent. The State government has not yet submitted to the Centre the number of people in the BPL category.

In the wake of reports of starvation deaths in Kalahandi and Koraput in 1987, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited the areas and announced a special scheme to tackle poverty. The P.V. Narasimha Rao government renamed it the "KBK Plan" (Kalahandi, Bolangir, Koraput). However, successive Central governments have not sanctioned any funds for the plan, which is nothing but an amalgamation of other Central schemes meant for the districts.

Crop failure and floods have only aggravated the poverty in the region, which is basically the result of the government's failure to implement land reforms and improve irrigation facilities. Moreover, tribal people, who are deprived of their right to earn a livelihood by selling minor forest produce, are exploited by landlords, contractors and moneylenders. The reduction in public spending in order to bring down the fiscal deficit has also compounded the woes of the people.

Santosh Das is a member of the State secretariat of the Orissa unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Marathwada's distress

Government-nurtured neglect, and the backlash of economic reform policies put farmers in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra, already in the grip of drought, in deep distress.

BY this time of the year, the members of Kusumram Thorat's family should have been busy harvesting their field. But instead of reaping sheaves of grain, they are literally clutching at straws, and uprooting dry weeds. Also, the Thorat family may have to keep its field fallow during the rabi (winter time) season for "there is no money to buy seeds". Kusumram, whose husband shares 10 acres (4 hectares) with another farmer in Massa village, Kalamb taluka in Osmanabad, says: "We spent Rs.15,000 on the last kharif (monsoon) crop, but no rain fell for more than two months. We did not even get a kilogram of grain from the land." The drought that has hit 12 of Maharashtra's 30 districts has dealt a blow to small farmers and landless farm workers in 16,000-odd rain-scarce villages, who were already facing a threat to their livelihood. This year's kharif crop loss in the State, as estimated by Agriculture Minister Rohidas Patil, is Rs.5,707 crores. Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh's home turf (Latur is his home town) seems orphaned as the second year of drought in the Marathwada region kicks in.

But it is not just the drought. Farmers have also had to face the backlash of reform policies. Over the last decade, these policies have eroded agricultural profitability and increased debt, leaving peasants even more vulnerable in times of crisis.

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The immediate effects of the drought are apparent. Kalidas Bansode, a landless agricultural labourer from Gangapur village in Latur, has had work for only four days in the last two months. Normally, he and his wife would get work for at least 15 days a month and earn Rs.2,000. "Farmers don't have money to employ us. I've had to borrow Rs.500 every month from the moneylender just to buy grain. I don't know if I will ever be able to repay them," he says.

While several people have migrated to cities like Pune and Mumbai, some are reluctant to leave their fields. Even the annual migration to work in the large sugar mills of western Maharashtra after Deepavali may not prove as lucrative as in earlier years. "This year, fewer contractors will come to hire people. The sugarcane has not grown enough," says youth activist Sanjay More from Latur. Since workers are paid per tonne of cane cut, the bad crop means that their wages will be less. Some sugar mills have started using cane-cutting machines and so they do not need as many workers, he says.

Farm workers are anticipating work from the last resort - the State's Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS), which provides employment in public works programmes. However, the government is yet to start any work. "Even if it did, the contractors would get the work done by machines, falsify labour records and 'swallow' our wages." Yet the Government says that 2.35 lakh workers in Maharashtra are currently employed under the scheme, of whom 47,000 are in Osmanabad. This year the government has added a food-for-work component to the scheme, providing 2 kg of grain a week to every worker. The ration system has also collapsed, thanks to subsidy cuts. Food quotas have shrunk and prices have risen to almost the same level as market rates, making them unaffordable for the poor.

Even drinking water is in short supply. The shortage is likely to become more acute in the coming months as water sources dry out. The Majra dam, which supplies water to three districts, is virtually empty. In Latur city, municipal water is supplied only once every four days. However, Latur District Collector Rajiv Jalota hopes that the recent rain would improve the situation.

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With grazing land all dried up and the region already in the grip of an acute fodder shortage, farmers have resorted to distress sale of cattle. "Cows worth Rs.20,000 are now being sold for Rs.2,000. A pendi (bundle) of fodder which used to cost Rs.1.50, now costs Rs.12," says Pandurang Rathod from Beed district. The State government claims to have set up cattle camps with the help of non-governmental organisations. However, people from Osmanabad and Latur say that no camp has been set up in their districts. "Even if they existed, we wouldn't take our cattle there. They may catch an infection from the other cattle. The government should instead give us money directly for the purchase of fodder," says Satish Parihar from Mandwa village in Osmanabad.

Opportunities for the youth have been crushed. Many of them have dropped out of college owing to the cash crunch. "In one of the six colleges here, attendance has fallen by 10 per cent, which means that 270 students have dropped out," estimates Prof. Arun Shirke, a college teacher in Kalamb. Dattatrey Deshmukh, a first year B.A. student from Mandwa, is one of those who have not been to college for over a month. He cannot afford the Rs.250 monthly bus pass to Kalamb town. "There is no work here. So I am leaving to join my brother who is working in Pune. We have to repay our debts," he says.

It would be myopic to view the problem as that of scarcity of rain. Underlying the distress caused by the drought are changes in the agrarian economy that have made peasants more insecure than they already were. The liberalisation programme of the 1990s has hurt agriculture affecting productivity and profitability. Prices of farm inputs have multiplied following the withdrawal of subsidies. At the same time, market prices for farm produce have fallen or remained stagnant, partly due to the lifting of import restrictions. The government's attempts to cut expenditure on rural infrastructure have affected the farmers adversely. Rural credit has been shrinking, rather than expanding to meet the growing needs of farmers.

"What drought," asks A.J. Magar, branch manager of the Osmanabad district Central Cooperative Bank at Massa. "It's not just this year. There's a drought here every year, all through the year." The economic condition of the farmers is getting worse with each passing day. While costs are spiralling, they do not get fair prices for their produce, he says.

The cost of chemical fertilizers has increased fourfold, and power charges have tripled in the last 10 years due to the withdrawal of subsidies, says Ashok Dhavale, general secretary of the Maharashtra Kisan Sabha. While cultivation costs rise by 10 per cent to 25 per cent every year, the quantum of crop loans from the bank increases by only up to 1.5 per cent, Magar says.

M.G. Marwaha, executive director of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), endorses this. "The funds requirement of agriculture is not being met adequately. Credit has not increased on par with inflation. Moreover, rural banks cater to only 30 per cent of the farmers," Marwaha points out. The rest borrow from moneylenders.

Ahida Imani of Mandwa owns 4 acres of land, but has a debt of Rs.46,000. "Banks don't give enough to meet the rising costs, so moneylenders are prospering. During this drought, they know that people are desperate, so some have hiked their interest rates from the previous 120 per cent per year to 180 per cent." Others like Balaji Shinde with 2 acres of land in Gangapur village, Latur, have not borrowed at all. He used up all his savings of Rs.4,000 to buy seeds and fertilizers.

The State government dismisses the need to compensate drought-affected farmers by assuring them that the losses will be covered by the Central government's crop insurance scheme. But most farmers are extremely sceptical. "I'm still waiting for last year's compensation. Since they haven't deposited it into my bank account, I couldn't get a bank loan this year, as my previous loan remains unpaid," says Ahida Imani.

Magar says that farmers have not received last year's compensation. "Even if they do get it, it will be only 30 per cent to 50 per cent of the actual loss."

Pointing to the flaws in the scheme, Ravindra Bhausa, a Kisan Sabha activist from Jalgaon, says, "This scheme is designed for insurance companies to make money. Their method of calculating crop damage is entirely flawed. The people who have framed this scheme do not know the basics of agriculture." For example, the scheme only compensates a farmer if a drought is declared in his entire district circle. If only one or two villages in that district have lost their crop, they are not entitled to compensation. The statistics seem to prove his point. During the rabi season in 1999-2000, the premium of Rs.1.38 crores collected in Maharashtra was more than the compensation (Rs.73 lakhs) awarded. Moreover, according to the Maharashtra Economic Survey 2000-2001, only 11 lakhs of the State's 94.7 lakh farmers are covered under the scheme.

Apart from erratic insurance companies, banks and rapacious moneylenders, farmers have also to contend with traders. At the local market at Kalamb, a small group of traders have the upper hand. Farmers leave their produce on the floor and stand aside, while traders inspect the grain and bid over the price. "We have no say in the price of our own produce. It's all in their hands. There isn't much competitive bidding. They have already agreed on a price among themselves. It's all fixed," says Ramchandra Base, who came to Kalamb with the few remains from his 40-acre field. He adds that even if there was a good monsoon, he might have suffered losses. "We're not getting fair prices for our produce." Two years ago, he sold jowar for Rs.1,000 a quintal, now the rate is Rs.500 to Rs.600. Similarly, the rate of urad dal, which was Rs.2,800 a quintal, is now Rs.1,800, he points out. The solution, feels Rajiv Jalota, lies in forming marketing cooperatives to counter the monopoly grip of traders. Monopoly traders apart, prices are falling in line with world commodity prices as the economy opens up to international markets, and imports are rising.

Added to decline in profitability has been a fall in productivity. During the 1990s, the national growth rate of agricultural production came down from 3.72 per cent to 2.35 per cent. For foodgrains, the decline was even steeper - from 3.54 per cent to 1.8 per cent, according to the mid-term appraisal of the Ninth Five Year Plan. The appraisal attributes this fall to declining government investment in agriculture. The share of the public sector in agricultural investment fell from 19.1 per cent in 1979-80 to 9.4 per cent in 1996-97 to 6.3 per cent in 1997-98. This, when two-thirds of India's population is engaged in agriculture.

Whatever little rural infrastructure exists is skewed in favour of the large farmers. They get the larger chunk of bank credit and most of the irrigation facilities. For example, only 15.4 per cent of Maharashtra's farmland is irrigated. But of this, 60 per cent is used for sugarcane cultivation, which covers only 2 per cent of the land, and is mainly controlled by the rich and politically powerful farmers, points out Ashok Dhavale.

Scratch the surface and you can see that the problem does not lie with nature alone. It is government-nurtured neglect. The drought was merely the last straw that broke the farmer's back.

Shaken South

The movement of the Indian plate was the basic cause of the earthquake that struck some parts of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka on September 25.

ON September 25 an earthquake struck Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu, including the composite districts of Thanjavur, North Arcot, South Arcot and Chengalpattu, the Union Territory of Pondicherry, Nellore and Chittoor districts in Andhra Pradesh, and parts of Karnataka including its capital Bangalore. There was no major damage anywhere.

According to A.K. Bhatnagar, Deputy Director-General, Meteorology, Regional Meteorological Centre, India Meteorology Department, based in Chennai, the earthquake, which measured 5.6 on the Richter scale, occurred at 8-27 p.m. It had its epicentre in the Bay of Bengal, 50 km east of Pondicherry, located at a latitude of 11.8 N and a longitude of 80.4 E.

D.C. Mishra, Director, National Institute of Geophysical Research, Hyderabad, said the earthquake was of moderate intensity. He said it occurred at the point of contact between the deep sea and the continental shelf in the Bay of Bengal. Such zones are vulnerable to earthquakes because they are usually faulted. Faults are weaknesses in the earth's crust.

Mishra said the earthquake did not whip up tidal waves because its focus was deep in the sea and its magnitude was too low for tidal waves to occur.

Dr. L.S. Suryanarayanan, Director-in-charge, Geological Survey of India (GSI), Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry, said the focus of the earthquake was 12 km below the sea surface.

The basic cause of the earthquake was the Indian plate's movement. The Himalayas form the northern margin of this plate. According to Suryanarayanan, the reason for the movement is the heat generation inside the earth. This heat difference led to the movement of the plate several million years ago. When movements take place not only at intra-plate but inter-plate junctions, collisions occur and this leads to earthquakes.

Suryanarayanan said there were alternating hill and valley formations deep below the Cauvery delta area, which formed the basement. These were created by tectonic disturbances millions of years ago. There were structural weaknesses in the planes of these hills and valleys. "On account of these weak planes, differential movements do take place in the basement at the time of the plate's movement," he said.

Cracks had developed in the Indian plate about 80 million years ago. The entire Indian plate, along with the cracks, started moving north about 50 million years ago. The Himalayas were thrown up by this movement. About 25 to 30 million years ago, the Indian plate started hitting against the mass of the Eurasian plate, which is situated in the north.

Suryanarayanan said, "In this process of jerks which it (the Indian plate) is undergoing, earthquakes occur in weak planes, along faults and at places where major stresses are developing. The release of the strain leads to earthquakes, and further displacement follows."

THERE have been tremendous advances in the understanding of the earth and its processes in the last 50 years. Geologists had tried to understand the structure of the earth by studying earthquakes, Suryanarayanan said.

The GSI, Chennai, has sent two teams to make macroseismic surveys to study the effect of the September 25 earthquake on people, the ground, and structures such as buildings and bridges in Chennai, Pondicherry, Cuddalore, Chidambaram, Vellore, Tiruchi, Dharmapuri and other places.

Suryanarayanan said the "felt-effect" of the Bhuj earthquake was high in Pondicherry, Bhuvanagiri, Cuddalore, Chidambaram and other places. (Tremors were felt in Chennai also on that day.) The felt-effect of that earthquake was high in Pondicherry because it was absorbed, not passed on, he said. The absorption was because of the loose packing of sediments.

Asked how an earthquake had jolted Tamil Nadu, hitherto considered to be a seismically safe zone, Suryanarayanan explained that the rim of the Indian plate, which had borne the brunt of collisions and a high number of earthquakes, had totally broken. The plate proper, which was away from the margin, was considered to be less prone to earthquakes.

Now peninsular India might have to be categorised as Zone III instead of Zone II. The GSI's seismic zonation map made in the 1960s has undergone several revisions. A draft revision is being done now.

Following "predictions" that there could be after-shocks, rumours filled the air about the imminence of another earthquake. But Bhatnagar asserted that there was no scientific method anywhere in the world to predict earthquakes in respect of location, time and magnitude. In the case of moderate earthquakes, only aftershocks of mild intensity could occur and these might not cause any major damage, he said. He clarified that no forecast had been issued in this regard by the IMD. "Predictions circulated by any individual are not to be trusted," Bhatnagar said.

Officials of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPC) said the two reactors of the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) at Kalpakkam, about 55 km from Chennai, continued to operate safely at their rated capacity (170 MWe each). "There was no disturbance to the nuclear and conventional systems, and power flow to the southern grid is being maintained as usual," said K. Hariharan, Station Director, MAPS. He added: "The Indian nuclear reactors have adequate safety design features built in to take care of seismic effects." He pointed out that the nuclear power stations at Kakrapar (Gujarat) and Tarapur (Maharashtra) were not affected in any way by the January 2001 earthquake.

The Adivasi struggle

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The long-running struggle of the Adivasis in Kerala enters a crucial phase as the State government resists their main demand of two hectares of land for each landless tribal family.

R. KRISHNAKUMAR in Thiruvananthapuram

ONCE again, the Adivasis of Kerala are at a crossroads. These tribal people have become more assertive about their rights and the nature of their demands has undergone a subtle transformation. They are now more aware of the law and the ways of the non-tribal people, politicians, governments and the courts. They have media-savvy leaders, invisible 'friends', and funds to sustain high-profile agitations in the State capital. They are increasingly intolerant of hollow promises and they threaten to storm the State Assembly and camp on the streets of Thiruvananthapuram permanently. At times they disrupt public festivities, walk out of meetings with government representatives or take District Collectors hostage. They have definitely become prime-time news material. But the question is, will they fail again?

The year 1975 once seemed a crucial one for the marginalised tribal people of the State. Although they did not have a powerful presence in the State, their plight had struck a chord and they had found themselves being offered the protection of a law that promised to end exploitation by non-tribal settlers and forest encroachers, and lack of livelihoods.

In April 1975, the State Assembly unanimously adopted the Kerala Scheduled Tribes (Restriction on Transfer of Lands and Restoration of Alienated Lands) Act, which sought to prevent the lands of the tribal people from falling into the hands of non-tribal people. The Act also sought to restore to the tribal people their previously alienated lands.

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The tribal people were once in possession of large tracts of forests in the State, especially in areas that are now in Palakkad, Wayanad, Idukki, Pathanam-thitta, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram districts. To a large extent, post-Independence governments were responsible for the Adivasis losing their lands. Non-tribal settlers made their plight worse as the pressure on land increased in the plains. The land-people ratio is very high in the State.

In the majority of cases, the ignorance and innocence of the Adivasis were used to the hilt by the non-tribal settler "farmers". Either by using force or inducements such as a bundle of tobacco, or by offering a low price, they made the Adivasis part with their "ancestral land". In most cases there was no document validating such transfers and some tribal persons were even forced to sign on blank sheets of paper. The non-tribal people who got possession of the lands gradually became the virtual owners.

Over the years, alienation from their land of birth pushed the Adivasis into poverty and dependence and forced them to search for other forest land for food and shelter. However, the same process was repeated in the new stretches of forest land, and these too became the farmlands of non-tribal settlers. Political parties and successive governments turned a blind eye to the process, as more settlers meant more votes. (The Adivasis, who number 3.21 lakhs, account for only 1.1 per cent of the population of the State.) The social and ecological implications of this were serious.

When the 1975 Act got the presidential assent in November that year and was subsequently included in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution (which ensured that the Act would not be challenged in any court of law), it seemed a dream come true for the Adivasis. But it was not to be. Successive governments allowed more than a decade to pass (during which the encroachments continued, especially in the tribal areas of Palakkad and Wayanad districts) before framing the rules to implement the Act. When the State government finally formulated the rules in 1986, it specified that the Act would come into effect retrospectively from January 1, 1982.

The rules made all transfer of property "possessed, enjoyed or owned" by Adivasis to non-tribal people between January 1, 1960 and January 1, 1982 "invalid" and directed that the "possession or enjoyment" of property so transferred be restored to the Adivasis concerned. However, the Act required that the Adivasi return the amount, if any, they had received during the original transaction and pay compensation for any improvements made on the land by the non-tribal occupants. The government was to advance this amount to the tribal people as loans and recover it from them in 20 years. Only about 8,500 applications seeking restoration were received from the tribal people, because most of them were either unaware of the new law or afraid to accept the offer of loans or were cheated by the corrupt encroacher-official nexus. Hence, even after the framing of the rules, the general atmosphere helped only to encourage the encroachers to continue to occupy tribal land and successive governments took no action to implement fully the 1975 Act.

THIS triggered the second important phase of the Adivasi struggle. In 1986, Dr. Nalla Thampi Thera, a non-tribal person from Wayanad district, approached the Kerala High Court seeking a direction to the State government to implement the 1975 Act. It took five years for the court to give a verdict - a favourable one - on the public interest petition. In October 1993, the court ordered the government to implement the Act within six months. Yet the case dragged on for two and a half years with the government continuing to seek extensions of deadline to implement the Act.

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Finally, in 1996 the court fixed a final deadline of September 30, 1996 to evict the non-tribal occupants, if necessary with the help of the police, and threatened the officials concerned with contempt of court proceedings if they failed to implement the court directive. However, the government responded with yet another controversial act of amending the 1975 Act.

Meanwhile as the non-tribal settlers where getting entrenched in the alienated land of the tribal people, the tribal people themselves were getting increasingly disillusioned with the ability of the government and the courts to find a remedy for their plight. Hence, although government programmes had helped improve the lot of many tribal people, the majority of them continued to be landless, had no means of livelihood, and became more dependent on the non-tribal settlers for work and wages.

As a large section of the landless tribal people had not filed applications and were hence outside the purview of the 1975 Act, they were ineligible for a piece of land even if the Act was implemented in toto. By the early 1990s, the first signs of discontent were already becoming evident in the Adivasi-inhabited areas, especially in Wayanad district, where some extremist groups had been active for a long time.

On the other hand, most of the land from which the settlers were to be evicted under the 1975 Act had by the 1990s been in their possession for 15 to 30 years. They were cultivating the land and had constructed buildings and other structures on them. In several cases, the next generation of the original encroachers were in possession of the lands. When the State government could get no more extensions of the deadline from the High Court, the politically and economically powerful settler-farmers activated their organisations and raised the demand to amend the "impractical provisions" of the 1975 Act.

To the consternation of the tribal people, successive governments started to give in to the demands of the settlers. Two ordinances seeking to amend the 1975 Act, introduced by the United Democratic Front government during early 1996 and later by the Left Democratic Front government, which came to power in May 1996, did not get the Governor's approval. As pressure from the court mounted on the government to evict encroachers by September 30, 1996, the government hastily introduced an amendment Bill in the State Assembly.

Whatever may have been the justification for it - the impracticality of the provisions of the 1975 Act perhaps being the most important one - it must have been an eye-opener for the mushrooming tribal organisations in Kerala to see the 140-member State Assembly pass the Kerala Scheduled Tribes (Restriction on Transfer of Land and Restoration of Alienated Lands) Amendment Bill, 1996 almost unanimously (there was only one dissenting vote).

The 1996 Amendment Bill dashed all hopes of the Adivasis. Most important, it made legal all transactions of tribal land up to January 24, 1986. In other words, the government made the need for the restoration of alienated land (as per the 1975 Act) unnecessary. According to the government, it was the only practical alternative, given the turmoil and the political repercussions that would have been created had it tried to evict the non-tribal settlers. However, the tribal people felt that the government was trying to give legal sanctity to the alienation of their land. The agitation in front of the State Assembly, with the Adivasis, led by their leader from Wayanad C.K. Janu, trying to enter the State legislature, supported by a group of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) volunteers, was perhaps an early indication of the gradual transformation of the agitation.

This was soon followed by one of the best known incidents in the struggle. On October 4, 1996, a so-far unknown extremist group named "Ayyankali Pada" (named after a Dalit leader from Kerala), stormed the Palakkad Collectorate and held Collector W.R. Reddy hostage for over nine hours. The incident invited a strong response from the government against growing signs of radicalism among Adivasis and also in a way prevented the agitation from taking a turn for the worse. Later, the President refused to give assent to the 1996 Amendment Bill passed by the State Assembly on the grounds that the 1975 Act had been included in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution.

However, to bypass this difficulty, yet another Bill was passed unanimously by the State Assembly in 1999. The Kerala Restriction on Transfer by and Restoration of Lands to Scheduled Tribes Bill, 1999, defined "land" as "agricultural land" (a State subject) in order to try and get over the need to send it for presidential assent. The new Bill also had a controversial provision to repeal the 1975 Act.

As per the 1999 Act, only alienated land in excess of two hectares possessed by encroachers would be restored, while alternative land, in lieu of the alienated land not exceeding two hectares, would be given elsewhere. The thinking was that the number of applicants claiming land in excess of two hectares would be negligible, making restoration unnecessary. The new Bill also had a provision to provide up to 40 acres (16 hectares) to other landless tribal people - a new set of beneficiaries - within two years. The government said that it estimated that there were about 11,000 such families in the State.

However, the High Court rejected both the 1996 and 1999 Amendment Bills and declared the provisions under them illegal. The State government, in turn, went on appeal to the Supreme Court and obtained stay orders. Several appeals against the stay orders are pending before the Supreme Court.

It was in this context that starvation deaths were reported from the Adivasi-inhabited areas in the State from July 2001. The outside world came to know about it only after a group of tribal people, supported by some naxalite groups, waylaid a mobile store run by the State Department of Civil Supplies and took away its contents. They distributed the foodstuffs and encouraged the tribal people who gathered there to take home the rest of it.

On August 30, Adivasi agitators led by Janu pitched their tents outside the Chief Minister's official residence in Thiruvananthapuram. They were organised under the banner of the "Adivasi Dalit Action Council", which now claims to have the support of all Adivasis in the State. Despite two rounds of discussions with the government, the tribal people refused to withdraw their agitation, which was more than a month old at the time of writing.

The main demand of the Adivasis was five acres (2 ha) each to all landless tribal families in the State. Although the government's offer to prepare a master plan for the tribal people was welcomed by the agitating Adivasis, they refused to withdraw the agitation until their demand for land was met. The tribal people have lost their faith in promises and court cases. They were sure that running after alienated land was a futile exercise which, even if it succeeded in the long run, would benefit only a few among them.

HOWEVER, some disturbing trends have emerged in the course of the struggle. The Adavasi-inhabited areas have become breeding grounds for extremist organisations espousing the tribal cause and swearing to empower the tribal people in order to fight for their rights. There have been sporadic incidents of violence since 1992, when such groups encouraged the Adivasis to take the law into their own hands and forcibly occupy government land. Since the 1990s the activities of Hindu chauvinist organisations, Christian missionaries and voluntary agencies, often funded from abroad, have also increased in the tribal areas. The past decade saw the disillusioned tribal people move tantalisingly close to extremism and communalism. Such proclivities would certainly undermine their genuine struggle.

Yet, for the present, the most significant factor is the shifting focus of the demands raised by the Adivasi leaders who are in the limelight. They are no longer asking for alienated land, at least not as emphatically as they used to in the past. Instead they demand mainly five acres of other land each for all landless tribal families. Another demand is the inclusion of tribal areas in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution in order to make them autonomous regions.

The fact that they were able to sustain their agitation by putting up shacks outside the Secretariat, along the State capital's arterial road, and pitching tents on the road to the Chief Minister's official residence for more than a month itself took Kerala by surprise. Over 150 tribal families were in these camps, where food and even facilities to continue school education of the children were being provided by the organisers. A grand council of elders and other leaders representing the 30-odd tribes in the State was formed under the umbrella of the Adivasi Dalit Action Council. As a show of strength and as part of an attempt to evolve a consensus regarding their demands among the various tribes and organisations, it organised an 'Adivasi Gothra Sabha' ('Adivasi Parliament') in Thiruvananthapuram on October 3. As the government announced that it would not allow the tribal people to establish camps permanently before the Secretariat, Action Committee chairperson Janu declared that she was going on a "fast unto death" before the Secretariat.

While Chief Minister A.K. Antony claimed that his government was more sympathetic to the tribal people's cause than the previous government, other leaders of the ruling coalition said there were vested interests behind the agitation. There are also allegations that organisations and political parties more sympathetic to the interests of the settler farmers are now supporting the tribal people in order to prevent them from demanding the restoration of alienated land, especially when the legality of the amendments striking down the 1975 Act is coming up as an issue before the Supreme Court.

But as Janu told Frontline, Kerala's Adivasis are not fighting the settler farmers any longer. However, the question whether there are vested interests behind the Adivasi agitation is overshadowed by another one - whether the shift in demand will genuinely help the tribal people's cause.

For land and livelihoods

C.K. Janu, chairperson of the Adivasi Dalit Action Council, is perhaps the first prominent leader to emerge from the more than three-decade-old struggle of the 3.2 lakh tribal people in Kerala. Born in a tribal pocket in Mananthavady in Wayanad district and educated mostly by the hardship of tribal life and classes conducted as part of the literacy campaigns, Janu began social work through the Kerala State Karshaka Thozhilali Union (Agricultural Workers' Union) of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). In 1992, she floated the Adivasi Development Action Committee and her transformation into a firebrand, articulate Adivasi leader followed, mainly with support from some voluntary agencies. Excerpts from an interview she gave R. Krishnakumar:

The tribal people in Kerala were so far seeking the restoration of land that was alienated from them over the years. But now they seem to have dropped that demand and are asking for other land - five acres for each landless tribal family. What are the reasons for this shift?

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The 1975 Act had assured Kerala's tribal people that their alienated land would be restored to them and that all transactions of tribal land after January 1, 1960 would become invalid. Under its purview over 8,000 applications were filed by the tribal people. But successive governments failed to implement the provisions of the Act. Instead they amended the Act, first in 1996, and when it failed to get the President's assent, again in 1999. Under the provisions of the latter, only 4,500 applications were filed, as the 1999 Act made only the transactions after 1985 invalid. Not much land was alienated after 1985 and what the tribal people were eventually made eligible for was a pittance compared to what they were entitled to. After the Kerala High Court rejected the 1999 amendment legislation - and we are certain that the Supreme Court too will strike it down soon - the government's claim that it will give one acre of land to all landless tribal families under the purview of the 1999 legislation can only end as a farce. We cannot agree to such a suggestion. That is why we say that the government should scrap the 1999 law and give all landless tribal families in the State at least the minimum land that would sustain them, that is five acres.

You are demanding government land free of cost for a large number of tribal families...

There are 3.5 lakh tribal people in Kerala, or about 70,000 families. Of these, nearly 45,000 families do not have even a strip of land. There are only 4,500 applications, which means the majority of the landless tribal families are outside the purview of the 1999 law. This is unacceptable. The largest number of starvation deaths are happening among these landless tribal people. In the past one and a half months, at least 32 people have died because of starvation. No government has so far said it will not give land to the tribal people. They all have promised land. In some places land was distributed, but nothing grows there.

The government promised to provide at least one acre of land to landless tribal families. Why was this not acceptable to the leaders of the agitation?

In the first round of talks held on September 6, the government agreed fully to undertake development programmes for tribal people. But the issue of land was not clearly explained. The government said then that it would provide 10,000 acres (4,000 ha) in two months to the tribal people. But there were no clear answers to our questions about the exact locations, the type of land or the number of beneficiaries. The government seemed unsure about these. What we require is land for livelihood. A few days later the government said it has found 5,000 acres more for distribution, only to go back on the promise and say finally that only 10,000 acres would be distributed, and that too only as per the provisions of the 1999 amendment legislation. But that is illegal legislation. So the government may never have to give away land.

Do you say that is you are no longer interested in alienated tribal land and would be satisfied by land elsewhere or anywhere?

The government may say that much land is not available. But where is the land which was sanctioned for the tribal people on several occasions right from 1957? Isn't the government holding on to such land illegally? We say all landless tribal families must get five acres each. There is enough land in the tribal belts.

Is this demand being raised because the tribal people in Kerala are now convinced that their efforts to get back alienated land from the settler farmers are impractical?

Successive governments have been denying land to the tribal people by making this a contentious issue and by claiming that this is an issue of tension between tribal people and settler-farmers. So what we say now is that let the courts decide the issue. Let the government give land outside the purview of the cases before the court. We have identified 11 lakh acres of land that could be distributed. The government need distribute only 2.5 lakh acres to provide land to all landless tribal people in the State.

Why do you think the government is not accepting your suggestion?

We do not know. In 1957, the government initiated special projects to prevent starvation death among tribal people. For five years tribal families were able to live and work as employees in these project areas. The government formed societies and appointed officers to supervise these projects and provide wages. The proposal was that after five years, when these areas became ready to sustain farming, each of those families were to be given five acres each on which they could find their livelihood. The societies were to be disbanded. It is yet to happen. There are 50,000 acres of such project areas in Kerala now. A major share of the SC-ST (Scheduled Caste-Scheduled Tribe) funds is earmarked for such projects. But the government now says the funds are insufficient even to give salaries and wages in these areas. The government can distribute this land to the tribal people without any legal impediment and allow them to stand on their own feet.

Your 'land for all' demand also throws open the possibility of large-scale illegal transfer of tribal land to non-tribal people, as it happened in the past.

Let the government make another law to protect that land, if needed. The 1975 Act had the provision to prevent any further alienation. But such an argument should not be the reason not to provide land to the tribal people. The land we are asking for is free of any legal entanglements. The government has no qualms in allowing vested forest lands to fall into the hands of mafias, or in evicting tribal people to provide land to institutions like the Devaswom Board, or in allowing lakhs of acres to be alienated. But it is stingy when tribal people demand five acres. It is such a policy that we are actually protesting against.

What is the role of certain naxalite groups in the struggle?

They are not in the agitation. But even if they are, we are not of the opinion that it is wrong. We have no problem with that. This is a struggle for our right to live in our land of birth until our death. In this we will accept help from all quarters. But we will not allow them to use us.

What shape will your agitation take in the future?

We want it to be a peaceful agitation in the future too. We are trying to keep it peaceful.

You started your struggle by forcibly occupying land which you claimed was tribal land. Is that still an option before the Adivasi Dalit Action Council?

We are trying not to do that again. It will be the government that will decide which road we will take.

Islam and violence: slurs and myths

Shattering the Myth: Islam beyond Violence by Bruce B. Lawrence; Oxford University Press; pages 237, Rs.495.

Muslim Friends: An Introduction to Islam by Roland E. Miller; Orient Longman; pages 429, Rs.375.

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IT is painful, but not surprising, to learn that in the wake of the ghastly tragedy on September 11, Muslims, and Arabs in particular, have become targets for abuse and physical attack in the United States and Britain. "In the 1990s most Euro-American journalists continue to echo the sentiments that drove European Kings and their subjects to launch their crusades almost a millennium ago, crusades whose enemy was Arab Muslims. In the aftermath of the Cold War the enemy, once again, has become the one Islam, the Militant, unyielding, violent face of 'Arab' Islam. Whether one picks up a popular book claiming to represent 'Western cultures and values' under attack from Islam, or lead articles of The New York Times, such as the recent Seeing Green: The Red Menace Is Gone. But Here's Islam, the message is the same: Islam is one, and Islam is dangerous."

Prof. Bruce B. Lawrence of Duke University records the myth only to demolish it with a wealth of learning and cogent analysis. His central theses are "(a) that Islam is not inherently violent and (b) that the longer view of Muslim societies offers hope, rather than despair about the role of Islam in the next century... Islam is not violence, nor are Muslims intrinsically prone to violence. The stereotype amounts to a slur, and it must be addressed at the outset if the emerging profile of post-colonial Muslims is to be understood."

THERE is no monolithic Islam; but, as an Indonesian told the author, there are "three Islams" - the popular one which anthropologists study, the "academic" one which historians or religious scholars study, and "the public Islam", which obsesses many journalists, politicians and others "as adversaries. It is the predominance of popular thinking on the last which accounts for the distorted view."

Lawrence is concerned with the invocation of Islam by its practitioners, misguided or other. Dr. Roland E. Miller is concerned with the faith of Islam. From 1953 to 1976 he served as a Lutheran Missionary in India and wrote a fine book Mappila Muslims of Kerala. He is respected as an internationally known Islamicist with a specialisation in Indian Islam.

No Islamic concept is more misunderstood than the one of Jihad. Literally, it means striving. Ijitihad is the exertion of reason and it ranks as one of the sources of Islamic law. An authentic saying of Prophet Muhammad reads: "The highest form of jihad is to speak a just word before a tyrannical ruler" (Al-Fath Al Kabir; vol. 1; p. 208). He said also that "the worst form of class prejudice is to support one's community even in tyranny" and "he who knowingly lends support to tyranny is outside the pale of Islam." Islam denounces oppression and by endorsing revolt against it, provides a core of liberation theology, the kind Christian priests developed against the dictators in South America.

But, as Maulana Azad wrote in a brilliant essay on the mystic Sarmad, whom Aurangzeb ordered to be beheaded, "In Asia, politics has always used religion to cover its designs. Many political sentences were given on the pretext of religious heresy... since the advent of Islam, the weapon of fatwa (edict) has been a naked sword... kings made equal use of both the pen of the Qazi and the sword of the general to bleed to death any who threatened their supremacy."

Mullahs in the pay of the ruler issued fatwas for jihad against political opponents regardless of their religion. "Jihad has become little more than a pejorative codeword for random protest against excesses committed by the regime in power," Lawrence remarks.

Miller points out that "the ordinary distinction today is between the spiritual and physical forms of striving. Spiritually, it means engaging in a battle against sin and Satan in one's own life. This is called 'the greater jihad'. Applied to physical realm, the exertion means righteous warfare. This is called 'the lesser jihad'. A well-known Hadith reports that the Prophet Muhammad gave top precedence to the greater jihad, humanity's spiritual struggle against evil."

He quotes a Beirut professor, Yusuf Ibish, who summed up the concept with brilliant conciseness: "The Greater Jihad is fighting one's animal tendencies. It is internal rather than external: striving in the path of God to overcome one's animal side. Man shares with animals certain characteristics which, if let loose, make him a very dangerous beast. Jihad is essentially against such tendencies.

"The Lesser Jihad - fighting on behalf of the community, in its defence - is a duty incumbent on a Muslim provided he is attacked. A man has the right to defend his life, his property, and he has to organise himself along these lines. Of course, one can produce incidents in history and ask whether in fact the principle of self-defence applies. It is true that Muslims have waged wars; wars of conquest, wars in the ordinary sense, often not at all related to religion or faith. But this indicates that some Muslims have not exercised the Greater Jihad."

BOTH, the bigoted mullah and hostile critics, delight in citing Quranic verses divorced from the context. But the overriding principle is embodied in the verses, "Let there be no compulsion in religion" (2:25). It declares explicitly: "Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but be not aggressors" (2:190). The Iranian theoretician, Ayatollah Motahari, limited jihad to soldiers on the battlefield and then only if they were aggressors.

As ever, the space is monopolised by the loud bigot. All over the world there are very many Muslim scholars who denounce those who invoke Islam for their own ends. The political context is overlooked as Lawrence notes. The 20th century "more than any that preceded it, will be remembered and portrayed as the Euro-American century. And it is against that backdrop of taken-for-granted hegemony, a kind of blind structural violence writ large, that the relationship of Islam to violence needs to be reconsidered. Muslims in West Asia resent their dependence and have bitter memories of colonial exploitation. To speak of Islamic revivalism is to recognise the ideological reaction of particular Muslim interest groups to the losses that they experienced. Islam became an emblem of protest."

REVIVALISTS attacked moderate reformers because of their cultural affinity with the West. But men of highest eminence began to denounce revivalism. Read this: "The important point here is that the Islam which developed 1,400 years ago on the Arabian peninsula - in a settlement where the people where fundamentally nomads - was a legal code specific to that society. And even that code was promulgated slowly over a period of seven or eight years... Islam... now desires to become the fulcrum of (modern) social administration and (our) nation wants to use this fulcrum (as a weapon) to wage war on the entire imperialist world, testing its mettle by those means. Unique circumstances have arisen during the course of time. How can Islam (without adaptation) cover all these contingencies?" This was said by none other than the then President of Iran, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Recently jihad has acquired an economic dimension. It has, Lawrence notes, "come to mean the advocacy of social justice in a widening circle that also includes economic participation and prosperity for Muslims". Prophet Muhammad said that he is not a Muslim who eats his fill while his neighbour goes hungry. How does one adapt this 1,400-year-old injunction to modern society? It cannot mean the immediate neighbour as in olden times. In this writer's opinion, it enjoins clearly a commitment by Muslims to join the struggle for the economic uplift of India's underprivileged, cutting across the religious divide.

Of Jinnah and Junagadh

Jinnah Papers: Pakistan: Pangs of Birth 15 August-30 September 1947; first series, Volume V; editor-in-chief Z. H. Zaidi; Quaid-e-Azam Papers Project, Cabinet Division, Government of Pakistan; distributed by Oxford University Press; pages 725; Rs.950.

This is the second and concluding part of the article.

IN New Delhi the only issue was when and how to move in. The Governor-General, Mountbatten, reported to the King: "A Cabinet meeting to consider the Junagadh situation summoned for 5 p.m. on 17th September. I was informed that the members of the Cabinet had, prior to this meeting, decided among themselves that military action was the only answer." He sent for Nehru and Patel and persuaded them "to take no decision which the world could interpret as putting India in the wrong and Pakistan in the right, and that all the resources of negotiation should first be exhausted" (H.V. Hodson; The Great Divide; p. 431).

A second track was set afoot, however, with Patel's blessings. V.P. Menon, Secretary to the Ministry of States, and N.M. Buch, Government's Regional Commissioner at Rajkot, along with military officers, discussed the situation with local politicians. U.N. Dhebar, later Congress president, reported to Patel on September 21, setting out the agreed strategy - a proclamation denouncing the Nawab of Junagadh and appointing a provisional government. "The Manifesto or Proclamation will be drawn upon American lines." The headquarters of the government "will be on Indian soil. As we acquire Junagadh territories, Government will shift there. We shall receive moral and material support. We will hold the meeting in course of the next week in Bombay. We shall send draft proclamation tomorrow" (Sardar's Letters Mostly Unknown; Vol. 2, pages 75-76).

Jinnah complained to Mountbatten about Indian troop movements in the region (September 18). Mountbatten's reply (September 22) reiterated India's position denying "information about large troop concentrations around Junagadh." He said: "Pakistan Government unilaterally proceeded to action which, it was made plain, Government of India could never and do not acquiesce in. Acceptance of accession to Pakistan cannot but be regarded by the Government of India as an encroachment on Indian sovereignty and inconsistent with friendly relations that should exist between the two Dominions. This action of Pakistan is considered by the Government of India to be a clear attempt to cause disruption by extending the influence and boundaries of the Dominion of Pakistan in utter violation of the Principles on which partition was agreed upon and effected''. None could doubt "the Principles" he was hinting at. He asked Pakistan to reconsider (that is, nullify) the accession or face "responsibility of consequences". He repeated Nehru's offer - "accept the verdict of the people of Junagadh in the matter of accession, the plebiscite being carried out under joint supervision of Indian and Junagadh governments"; effectively, under India's since the decrepit regime of Junagadh could hardly perform (page 608). It was a demand for surrender. Pakistan had no cards to play. India held them securely in its hands and decided to play them to a decisive conclusion.

September 25 was a fateful day. The Ministry of States issued a detailed press note complaining that Pakistan had accepted the accession "without any warning" (Sardar's Letters, page 80). In Bombay on that day, a Provisional Government of Free Junagadh was set up with Samaldas Gandhi as its president. Narendra P. Nathwani, later a High Court Judge, was one of its members. K.M. Munshi, who was close to Patel, drafted the "Declaration by the Subjects of Junadagh State" (vide K.M. Munshi; Somanatha: The Shrine Eternal; pages 68-9 for the text). Pakistan had accepted the accession "in disregard of such declared wishes and in defiance of all natural ties which bind the people of Junagadh (82 per cent of whom are non-Muslims) to the people of Kathiawar and to the Dominion of India and in breach of the understanding on the basis of which certain parts of India were allowed to secede and form into a separate State of Pakistan; namely that only contiguous areas predominantly inhabited by Muslims were to be included into the Dominion of Pakistan with the free and willing consent of the people inhabiting those areas."

Munshi recorded: "The Provisional Government of Junagadh moved to Saurashtra and took possession of the Junagadh House at Rajkot. Young men from all over Saurashtra flocked to its banner of freedom. Large sums of money flowed in, volunteers were armed and trained. On the Dessehra Day, the "Day of Victory" - October 24, 1947 - the volunteers of the Provisional Government began their operations. People rose against the Nawab's rule in several parts of Junagadh."

Did Jinnah and Liaquat follow contradictory policies? For Liaquat asked Mountbatten's Chief of Staff Ismay in Karachi: "Why, if it was suggested that a referendum should be held in Junagadh one should not be held in Kashmir?" This was discussed by the Indian Cabinet on September 22. Ismay was of the opinion that "one of the main objects of the Pakistan Government was to use Junagadh as a bargaining counter for Kashmir" (Hodson, page 432).

Liaquat and Nehru met in New Delhi on October 1 under Mountbatten's auspices. He reiterated the commitment to the democratic principle: "Nehru nodded his head sadly. Liaquat Ali Khan's eyes sparkled. There is no doubt that both of them were thinking of Kashmir." Nehru took Patel into confidence on September 25: "We are already considering the possibility of military action" (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; Second Series; Vol. 4, page 425).

V.P. Menon records that on October 4, the Government of India considered the Junagadh situation: "It was decided to inform the Prime Minister of Pakistan that the only basis on which friendly negotiations could start and be fruitful was the reversion of Junagadh to the status quo preceding the accession of Junagadh to Pakistan and that the alternative to negotiations was a plebiscite.'' So much for the sanctity of the Instrument of Accession.

In a statement on October 5, 1947, the Government of India said: "Any decision involving the fate of large numbers of people must necessarily depend on the wishes of these people. This is the policy which the Government of India accept in its entirety and they are of the opinion that a dispute involving the fate of the people of any territory should be decided by a referendum or plebiscite of the people concerned. This is a method at once democratic, peaceful and just. They suggest, therefore, that the issues regarding Junagadh should be decided by a referendum or plebiscite of the people of the State. Such a referendum or plebiscite should be held under impartial auspices to be determined by the parties concerned."

Two days later, the Government of Pakistan issued a statement setting out its views on the accession of Junagadh. The statement suggested the withdrawal of troops by the Government of India from Sardargarh and Batva and by Junagadh from Babariawad: "The Pakistan Government have also informed the Government of India of their willingness to discuss the conditions and circumstances in which a plebiscite should be taken by any State or States.'' Why did Jinnah not affirm this on November 1?

Unable to bear the pressures, Shah Nawaz Bhutto pleaded with Jinnah, on October 27, urging that "you immediately arrange for a conference of the representatives of the two Dominions to decide the Junagadh issue." On November 5, the Junagadh State Council decided on "a complete reorientation of the State policy... even if it involves a reversal of the earlier decision to accede to Pakistan" (Hodson; p. 438). The Dewan was authorised to negotiate.

Bhutto cashed the blank cheque by opening negotiations with Samaldas Gandhi on November 7 through Capt. Harvey Jones, Senior Member of the Junagadh State Council, asking him to take over the State's administration. It was decided, however, to hand over the State to the Government of India instead. On November 8, Bhutto wrote to Buch on these lines (V.P. Menon, Integration of Indian States; page 137). On November 9, the Indian Army moved into Junagadh. Nehru formally informed Liaquat about the move. Admiral Satyindra Singh has recorded the Navy's plans "to land the Indian Army for the Junagadh operations - Exercise Peace as it was called" (The Statesman; September 21, 1997). On December 8, at a meeting with Liaquat in New Delhi, as Mountbatten recorded: "Pandit Nehru, while openly admitting that India had been in some ways in the wrong about Junagadh, claimed that the parallel with Kashmir was not tenable because of the vast differences in scale between the two" (SWJN; Vol.4, page 362).

Both Nehru and Mountbatten realised now what India was up against. "The fact is that Kashmir is of the utmost vital significance to India as well as to Pakistan. There lies the rub," Nehru wrote to Sri Prakasa, High Commissioner to Pakistan. Earlier he had dismissed Pakistan's interest in Kashmir and began doing just that later. New Delhi sticks to this stand even in 2001, rendering compromise impossible. Nehru admitted: "Kashmir is going to be a drain on our resources, but it is going to be a greater drain on Pakistan. In a military sense we are stronger.'' India could not quit. "Kashmir gives us an example of communal unity and cooperation. This has had a healthy effect in India and any weakening in Kashmir by us would create a far more difficult communal situation in India" (SWJN; Vol. 4; pages 346-7). Nehru lived to see the situation in Kashmir deteriorate to a point where Jan Sangh leader S.P. Mookerjee could exploit it in 1952-53 to whip up communalism. Things have worsened since. The "drain" on resources continues.

Mountbatten told both Nehru and Liaquat on December 8 that "the whole future welfare of India depended on an agreement over Kashmir between the two Dominions. The effect that such an agreement would have on world opinion would also be very great" (ibid; p. 361). But, Sir Chimanlal Setalvad had foreseen it all even as the events had begun to unfold. In a letter to The Times of India (October 3, 1947) he wrote: "Many of those who are enthusing over the activities of the so-called 'Provisional Government' of Junagadh do not seem to realise the dangerous consequences that are likely to follow from what is happening. The Junagadh Government has acted unwisely in acceding to Pakistan, ignoring geographical considerations and the wishes of its subjects, but that affords no justification for what is being done. The 'Provisional Government' was formed and functioned for some days in Bombay with the avowed object of overthrowing by force the established Government in Junagadh."

He renewed his plea after the Kashmir crisis erupted. "Pandit Nehru in his broadcast has rightly asked the Pakistan Government how and why the invaders of Kashmir came across the Frontier Province or West Punjab, and how they came to be fully armed. He charges the Pakistan Government with violation of international law and an unfriendly act towards India. He alleges that the Pakistan Government was either too weak to prevent the invaders of Kashmir from marching across its territory or that it was willing that this should happen. Exactly the same poser can be put to the Indian Dominion with regard to Junagadh" (The Times of India; November 3, 1947).

The Government of India held a plebiscite in Junagadh as well as five of its erstwhile feudatories on February 20, 1948. It was conducted by an ICS officer C.B. Nagarkar. Out of an electorate of 2,01,457, 1,90,870 cast their votes. Only 91 voted for Pakistan. Of the 31,434 votes cast in the five princeling areas, only 39 voted for accession to Pakistan (Menon; page 142). The result would not have been different even if the U.N. had conducted this plebiscite.

But it puts paid to the debating ploys about "no self-determination for a part of the nation" and "the core of nationalism". Junagadh was quintessentially Indian. Negotiations on plebiscite in Kashmir came to a naught because for five years (1949-53) Nehru would not yield on the powers of the Abdullah government or on the strength of Indian forces in the State. Their presence was not in issue. He then proceeded to argue that efflux of time had rendered the accord on plebiscite obsolete.

Pakistan's aggression in 1965 extinguished the option of plebiscite. But its grievances of old persist. Thanks to India's policies, the alienation of Kashmiris has deepened. Time has not extinguished the "Kashmir dispute". None in the wide world believes it has.

Today, in 2001, India needs seriously to grapple with the problem of forging a sound and realistic foreign policy in a democracy so that it can craft a Kashmir solution which does not entail the State's secession - yet goes beyond the Line of Control. India cannot countenance the former; Pakistan cannot, the latter. Therein lies a challenge to diplomatic creativity.

The Volume gives glimpses of Jinnah's remarkable personality. A man of sterling integrity, courage and sharp and cold intelligence, he stumbled badly in the hour of triumph and left the State he had created a heritage it could have well done without. Nehru did likewise.

While respecting their memory, we need to learn from their mistakes in order to chart a new course. Recall the murky record, we must. For, as George F. Kennan wrote: "When the ambivalence of one's virtue is recognised, the total inequity of one's opponent is also irreparably impaired" (Russia and the West; p. 372). This applies to both sides - and Junagadh remains a dark chapter which neither wishes to recall.

A bill of indictment

The Trial of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens; Verso, London and New York, 2001; pages xii + 159, &pound15.

WITH a substantial business fortune riding on the record of his years in government, Henry Kissinger is understandably nervous about any challenge to the legacy he has bequeathed in U.S. foreign policy. Christopher Hitchens began his dissection of this legacy in a two-part series of essays for Harper's Magazine early this year. This exercise was with a few additions and some supplemental information converted into this book, which comprehensively catalogues certifiable war crimes by Henry Kissinger during his years as National Security Adviser and Secretary of State in the administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

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Hitchens' factual narration focusses on Kissinger's record in the wanton killing of innocent civilians in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and his complicity in like crimes in Bangladesh, Chile, East Timor and Cyprus. This is accompanied by an analysis of international covenants on war crimes - many of which the U.S. has only reluctantly acceded to in recent years. Hitchens believes that irrespective of the formal position in law, a trial of Henry Kissinger would be eminently feasible on the basis of the available evidence, since in areas of legal ambiguity, customary law should be expected to prevail.

Hitchens' interest was sparked by the dramatic initiative of a Spanish magistrate in 1998 which led to the arrest in London of former Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet on charges of murder. He was witness at one end to a rather agitated telephone call that a prominent New York publisher received from Kissinger, detailing how this exercise of extra-territorial jurisdiction was absolutely intolerable, and probably deeply corrosive of the autonomy of U.S. foreign policy. But it is precisely this event that emboldened Hitchens in his belief that Kissinger could be brought to justice for crimes against humanity. The U.S. record in this respect, he says, has been pitiful. Most countries that have recently emerged rather hesitantly into the daylight of democracy from long years spent under the thrall of U.S. sponsored dictatorships, have set about exorcising the ghosts of their bitter past. In many instances, commissions with broad-ranging powers of receiving testimony and granting amnesty have been at work, effecting the delicate task of reconciliation between those who were ranged on opposite sides during the years of dictatorial lawlessness and impunity. The U.S. is yet to begin this process. A half-hearted effort was undertaken following the Spanish magistracy's admirable initiative to come clean on the record in Chile. This was aborted just when it seemed likely to uncover the full range of the dirty tricks that had been undertaken by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as part of its campaign of destabilising the legitimately elected presidency of Salvador Allende.

These events take place outside the focus of Hitchens' book and it may be appropriate to touch upon one other important development that may have a bearing on Kissinger's fortunes, before taking up the substance of the indictment against him. Shortly after the U.S. presidential elections of 1976 served him his eviction notice from the U.S. Department of State, Kissinger reclassified most of his official papers as 'personal' and made them over to the Library of Congress through a gift deed. He was personally to enjoy assured access to these papers, but the public would have had to wait for 25 years after the gift deed was made out, or five years after Kissinger's death, whichever was later. This was an extraordinary measure taken by an individual who was acutely conscious of the damage potential of the tracks he had left while pursuing a brazenly destructive course of politics across the world.

Shortly afterwards, a federal district judge and a court of appeals both ruled that the papers transferred under the gift deed were government property that Kissinger had no right to decide on the disposal of. The matter went in appeal to the Supreme Court, which struck down the lower courts' findings not on merits but on the grounds that the plaintiffs had no locus standi. But concurrently with the arrest of Pinochet and the legal debates that accompanied that long overdue act of accountability, a non-governmental non-profit organisation in the U.S. - rather misleadingly named the National Security Archive - began to agitate for the retrieval of the Kissinger papers.

The battle soon focussed on the transcripts of telephone conversations that Kissinger had engaged in while holding government office. An uneasy compromise had been worked out in 1998, under which official historians of the U.S. State Department were assured access to specific documents that they could requisition. But the State Department soon discovered that documents were being released from the Library of Congress only after massive deletions, whose significance could not reasonably be assessed. This method of access to the Kissinger papers, the State Department concluded, was improper, leaving no alternative but for these documents to be transferred to the National Archives. Around the same time that Hitchens' book was published, Kissinger bowed to the inevitable and transferred his papers back to the State Department, which could now decide in accordance with the law on public disclosure and its own interests, when they can be declassified.

THESE developments, which are really quite peripheral to Hitchens' own well-documented campaign, indicate that the Kissingerian aura is beginning to fade. No longer is he in a position to dictate what aspects of his foreign policy legacy can be subject to scrutiny. There is of course the powerful institutional interest that the U.S. State Department has in concealing some of his more sordid actions. But if sufficient momentum builds up, there is a strong likelihood that the public could demand disclosure, laying bare the squalid record of a cynical bureaucrat who continues to strut the world stage in the garb of an elder statesman.

Hitchens' indictment commences with what he describes as an "open secret" within Washington's political circles, which is "too momentous and too awful to tell". In 1968, when President Lyndon Johnson ordered a bombing halt in Vietnam and offered a peace deal with North Vietnam, the Richard Nixon camp, using a parallel track of diplomacy that Kissinger was running, urged the South Vietnamese military regime to boycott the talks. The intention was clearly to make Johnson look silly and subvert the campaign of Vice-President Hubert Humphrey against whom Nixon was pitted in the presidential elections that year. A secret assurance was meanwhile held out that a Nixon administration would assure the South Vietnamese military dictatorship a much more favourable deal than Johnson was prepared to give.

The ploy worked. Nixon won an agonisingly close election and as President-elect his first major decision was to appoint Kissinger National Security Adviser. This was, says Hitchens, rather curious, since Kissinger had been more closely associated with the camp of Nelson Rockefeller, the billionaire politician on the liberal fringe of the Republican Party. He had in fact met Nixon only once and was known to have maintained connections with liberal sections that favoured an early initiation of peace talks. Obviously the propensity for low intrigue that the two shared was instrumental in forging the bond between them.

Kissinger's conduct would qualify as a high crime and misdemeanour against the U.S. government in any reckoning. But Hitchens is wrong in asserting that this open secret is too awful to tell. In an August 1998 article in The New York Review of Books, Tony Judt gave out much of the substance of the story. But he banished it to a footnote and chose not to elaborate upon it. This betrays an uncritical attitude and a certain indifference to the lives that were lost by prolonging the war. Hitchens suffers no such moral lapse. The main entries in his bill of indictment against Kissinger are constituted by the indiscriminate and promiscuous violence that was unleashed against Vietnam under the "accelerated pacification programme" of the Nixon presidency, and the widening of aerial bombardment to Cambodia and Laos, which were neutral countries that the U.S. was not at war with. The toll in human suffering was immense, and the military techniques used by the U.S., appalling in their sanitised cruelty.

When the U.S. did initiate peace negotiations with North Vietnam, it was with a cynical and calculated eye focussed on Nixon's reelection prospects in 1972. Hitchens establishes through a citation from the official record that this strategic ploy was inspired in the main by Kissinger. And the terms that the U.S. managed to impose were no better than what it might have secured in 1968. The inference is unambiguous: Kissinger and Nixon bear direct responsibility for all the lives lost in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia between 1968 and 1973. And in destroying the structure of civil society in Cambodia by their secret war, they bear part of the blame for the emergence of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime in that country.

READERS in India would find the section on the Bangladesh war of liberation especially interesting. In April 1971, a month into the Pakistan Army's brutal crackdown against Bangladeshi nationalists, the U.S. Consul-General in Dhaka dispatched a strongly worded demarche, urging the U.S. government to shed its ambivalence and do what was right in the circumstances. This telegram, which Hitchens refers to as the "Blood Telegram", after Archer Blood who was the top U.S. official in Dhaka, was signed by twenty other members of the diplomatic mission. Kissinger's response was a contemptuous dismissal. Later that month, he personally sent a message to the Pakistani military dictator General Yahya Khan, thanking him for his "delicacy and tact" in a difficult situation.

Kissinger's solicitous concern for the Pakistan dictatorship was occasioned by a very narrow consideration. He was then engaged in secret parleys with the Chinese Communist leadership and needed the intermediary services of Pakistan to accomplish his goals. Hitchens does not question the goal, but he does argue credibly that alternative channels existed, notably through the communist regime then in power in Romania. Nor, he argues, was the Chinese leadership very keen to maintain secrecy in developing the contacts - leaders such as Chou Enlai and Mao Zedong had little hesitation about conducting complex diplomatic bargains in public. Kissinger allowed his propensity for low intrigue, his obsessive desire to corner all the credit for any diplomatic breakthrough, to govern entirely his worldview at this juncture. In the process he developed an abiding animus towards the Bangladeshi nationalist leadership that was consummated in the murderous coup of August 1975. Hitchens does a competent job of marshalling all the evidence of Kissinger's complicity in the murder of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and virtually his entire family in that gruesome episode in the blood-stained history of one of the world's poorest countries.

Apart from Kissinger's patronage of General Pinochet's appalling crimes against humanity in Chile, Hitchens establishes that he was probably complicit in the murder of General Rene Schneider, a principled and professional army commander who refused to block Salvador Allende's accession to the presidency in 1972. In Cyprus, Kissinger plotted the overthrow of a popular Prime Minister, Archbishop Makarios, by a rabid Greek nationalist clique enjoying the unqualified support of the thuggish military regime then in power in Athens. But as the Greek junta began to crumble, he waved on the Turkish regime in its invasion of Cyprus, precipitating a division of the island into two halves at tremendous human cost. When queried by a Chinese diplomatic mission on his role in these events, Kissinger offered the astounding alibi that the Turkish regime had acted on instructions from the Soviet Union, making it the only case, as Hitchens ironically points out, of a member-state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation using U.S. supplied arms to implement a Soviet strategic objective.

Indonesia's invasion of East Timor, which occurred literally hours after Kissinger and President Gerald Ford concluded a state visit to Jakarta, is another documented case of a crime against humanity. Hitchens' narration of this sordid record of geopolitical manoeuvring is accompanied by a detailed analysis of several cases of vindictive personal behaviour, of vendettas being pursued against political opponents in total disregard of the law, and even allegations of gross financial malfeasance. Despite his hallowed status in strategic circles, Kissinger has already been hard put in answering Hitchens' indictment. In the course of a television interview in June, he took recourse to the strategy of the smear. Loftily declining to dignify this book with a comment, Kissinger referred to Hitchens as a "holocaust-denier". In American liberal circles, where to deny that the Holocaust took place is almost akin to being party to it, this was the ultimate smear. Hitchens responded with a threat to sue, following which Kissinger sent out word that he had no intention of repeating his charge and would consider issuing a retraction if the evidence were to be brought before him. But clearly he had lost the first round in the ongoing sparring. And should the full record of his years in government emerge to public view, then it would appear that Kissinger has nowhere to go in public esteem, but downwards.

A surgical feat

Doctors at the Chennai-based Madras Medical Mission Hospital perform a second heart-lung transplant procedure.

TWO years after conducting its first heart-lung transplantation, the Chennai-based Madras Medical Mission has performed the complex surgical procedure once again. Coimbatore-born Balamurugan Williams received a new heart and lungs on September 21, a day after he turned 31.

What a relatively simple surgical procedure to close a hole in the heart could have corrected, had, after 30 years, left Balamurugan's heart and lungs so damaged that only a transplantation could save him. He was diagnosed as having a hole in the heart when he was hardly three months old. From then on life became difficult for the poor family, of which Balamurugan was the only son, after four daughters. His parents consulted faith-healers and quacks, para-medics and doctors, and had to contend with such absurdities as "the hole will close by itself as the boy grows", and "surgery cannot be done on the small boy". Balamurugan's condition became increasingly unstable as he grew up and he could not attend school regularly. When he was 13, Balamurugan lost his father.

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The hole in the ventricular septum led to the reversal of shunt, causing the mixing of impure and pure blood in the heart. This was followed by Eisenmenger's Syndrome, a disorder more commonly known as primary pulmonary hypertension, in which the blood pressure in the pulmonary (lung) arteries is abnormally high. Although its occurrence cuts across age and sex, it is more prevalent among women in the 20 to 45 age group and its incidence is low, affecting only eight in 100,000 people. While its exact cause is not known, it manifests itself in the form of increased resistance to blood flow. Diffused narrowing of the pulmonary arterioles enlarges the right side of the heart owing to the increased work load of pumping blood against the resistance to flow, and progressively damages the heart. Says Balamurugan's mother Kannamma: "His whole body would turn blue now and then and he would have to be rushed to the hospital for emergency treatment."

According to Dr. K.M. Cherian, Director, Institute of Cardio-Vascular Diseases, Madras Medical Mission, who has performed seven heart, one lateral lung and two heart-lung transplants in the last six years at MMM Hospital, there is no treatment for such a condition except a heart-lung transplantation.

Two years ago at a free health camp conducted by KG Hospital in Coimbatore, Balamurugan was advised a heart-lung transplantation. He was directed to MMM. From then on MMM took him under its care until a donor was found. The hospital did not charge him for the surgery. Says Dr.Cherian: "As in the case of the first heart transplantation we did in 1995, this surgery was also fully sponsored. The idea is to initiate such procedures in India and show that they can be a success." Neverthe-less, he says the hole in the heart could have been cured by a simple surgery early on if it had been attended to by a specialist. Balamurugan needed a donor. His wait ended when the family of Sankari (41), road accident victim, decided at the Apollo Speciality Hospital to donate all her organs after she was declared brain-dead. Balamurugan was one of the six recipients of Sankari's organs. Her corneas and kidneys were donated to four persons in Chennai, and liver to a patient at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi.

As soon as the MMM Hospital got a call from the Apollo Hospital at 2-30 a.m. on September 21, a team of doctors comprising N. Madhu Shankar, Vijit K. Cherian and N. Kanagarajan (anaesthetist), went there to harvest the heart and lung after identifying; the blood group and the size of the lungs for compatibility. The most crucial aspect of the procedure, said Dr. Madhu Shankar, was time, as the harvesting of the organs and their transplanting took place in different hospitals and the latter procedure had to be completed within four hours of the former.

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Even as the team was heading back to MMM with the donor heart and lungs kept in cold saline solution, another team, headed by Dr. Cherian, was removing Balamurugan's diseased lungs and heart. He was put on the heart-lung machine. First the donor lungs were sewn in place in Balamurugan's chest cavity, followed by the heart, which was attached to the opened back walls of the atria. The blood vessels were then connected and blood allowed to flow through the heart and the lungs. As the heart warmed up, it began to pump blood. The doctors checked all the connected blood vessels and the heart chambers for leaks before taking Balamurugan off the heart-lung machine. Sankari's heart began to beat in Balamurugan's body at 5.30 a.m.

Says Dr. Madhu Shankar: "The transplant, which took about three hours, is technically demanding as care must be taken to preserve important nerves and to control bleeding." The success of heart-lung transplants is determined by the incidence of infection and rejection. It is important to guard against infection as lungs, unlike the heart, are directly exposed to the atmosphere. Says Dr. Madhu Shankar: "It is because of infection that we lost our first heart-lung transplant patient in 1999, 36 days after the procedure was performed. But this time, we are very careful." Balamurugan will be on medication for protection against infection and may remain in the hospital for about four months.

Chronic lung rejection, which comes in the form of a progressive narrowing of the small airways, is another major problem. Left unchecked, the auto-immune cells, which recognise transplanted organs as a foreign body, will damage the cells of the grafted heart and the lung tissues and eventually destroy them.

The incidence of rejection is monitored by a lung biopsy using a fibre-optic bronchoscope. As rejection can occur anytime after the transplant, immunosuppressive drugs are administered to transplant patients for the rest of their lives. Balancing the dosage of immunosuppressants is crucial because though the grafts need to be protected against the immune system, care must be taken to ensure that the immune system does not shut down completely as that would leave the recipient open to infections.

The drug regimen is expensive. But Dr. Madhu Shankar is sure of getting sponsors for Balamurugan.

The first heart-lung transplant ever was performed in 1981. Since then there have been 2,698 such procedures across the world. In South Asia only two heart-lung transplants have been performed till now, and both were at MMM.

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The survival rate of the recipients is encouraging - 90 per cent of them survive for over one year, 85 per cent for five years and 75 per cent over 10 years. One recipient is alive 16 years after the transplant. With developments in drug and technology, the survival rate is sure to improve.

According to Dr. Cherian there is no dearth of expertise or technology in India, but the problem lies in the lack of initiative among doctors, the high cost of the procedure and patient care, and the difficulty in finding donors. The donor had to be a non-smoker and the size of the lungs should match that of the recipient's. The lungs of accident victims are usually damaged or tend to contract infection while receiving emergency care.

The organ registry set up in 1999 by the MGR Medical University in Chennai is yet to take off. There are 140 people waiting for heart and heart-lung transplant at MMM. There is an urgent need to generate public awareness on organ donation. There is also an added problem for speciality hospitals such as MMM as they do not get trauma cases. They rely on other multi-speciality hospitals for the supply of organs from the brain-dead. Government hospitals, says Dr. Madhu Shankar, do not have enough ventilators to sustain the brain-dead until the organs can be harvested.

In order to reduce post-transplantation costs, Dr. Cherian suggests that the government abolish import duty on nitric oxide, a well-known mediator of biological functions and an important therapeutic agent.

MMM is one of the few institutions in the country that attempt complex surgical procedures. It set up the Chennai Transplantation Centre in 2000 and sent its coordinator, A.R. Krishnaswamy, for training in transplant management in the United States. Its transplant team has trained in several well-known medical centres of the world. According to Dr. Cherian, the government, philanthropists and the public can do a lot to sustain the hospital's initiative and help patients like Balamurugan who wait for a fresh lease of life.

Planning with software

A software package to promote the application of spatial data technologies in village-level planning, adopted in West Bengal's Bankura district, meets with some success.

A BROKEN road links the Teghori village with the adjoining settlements in Bankura district of West Bengal. The road, which passes the hutments of the few thousand inhabitants of Teghori, leads to the one-room office of a local non-governmental organisation. Here one finds the spatial resource profile of the village on digitised maps. The maps are made using the Geo-Referenced Area Management (GRAM++) software package, which enables storage and analysis of spatial data on a personal computer. Evolved from experience gained in the Natural Resources Data Management System (NRDMS) Project of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), GRAM++ has been developed to promote the application of spatial data technologies to problems of resource management at the panchayat level.

GRAM++ has been developed as a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-assisted initiative to use Geographic Information System-based technologies for local-level planning. GIS is a software package developed to handle large quantities of spatial and attribute data. It aims to integrate data for natural resource assessment, rural and urban planning, image analysis of remotely sensed data, watershed management and impact assessment studies.

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In the 22 blocks of Bankura district, the GRAM-GIS expertise has been in use since November 1996 in areas such as water conservation, energy management, land use planning and infrastructure development.

Said Asit Pal, member, Teghori panchayat: "With the results of the date analysis we know where to dig a pond, what the level of underground water is, and what crops to grow during the year. At the panchayat office we take a collective decision on how to use the data from the computer in planning for the future."

GRAM++ has been tested and demonstrated in the two pilot districts - Kolar in Karnataka and Bankura - covered under the project. The two districts have different geological terrain and hydro-meteorological characteristics. The project does not assume that there is a single method to address local contingencies and development needs. Nor does it envisage that guidelines have been produced by the pilot projects that can be applied throughout the country. Rather, it wants the responses from Bankura and Kolar to be used by district committees, villages and community groups to formulate their own approaches to rural development.

In Bankura the GRAM-GIS programme has succeeded in its primary objective, that of developing spatial data management tools. For instance, in Teghori a well and a pond were dug using GIS technology to identify recharge zones and water table levels respectively.

"The digging of the well has benefited 500 to 600 plots," said Sumit Roy, member of the School of Fundamental Research, an NGO. However, one of the questionable features of the programme is the time involved in identifying the areas of action. For instance, in Teghori it took one year to identify the spot to dig a pond. During this period, the project managers spent a considerable amount of time collecting and scrutinising data on the water table and the recharge zones. The time-consuming process, some experts say, is the drawback of the programme.

Said Dr. Debapriya Dutta, Principal Scientific Adviser, Ministry of Science and Technology: "The software programme itself is not time-consuming. We would, however, like to strengthen our data-capturing facilities. Technology would not be sufficient to cut time but 'motivating' the people who collect data is the keyword here."

Indeed, efficient implementation of GRAM++ depends on prudent data collection. Hence considerable time and monetary resources are channelled towards the collection of data. The Bankura project generated its data from national agencies, including the Survey of India, the National Atlas and Thematic Mapping Organisation (NATMO), Kolkata, and the Census of India. Other national institutions such as the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning (NBSSLUP) and the India Meteorological Department also assisted. The gaps in data were filled with statistics provided by local NGOs.

The strength of the programme lies in identifying the missing elements in the data, which means there is no repetition of tasks and data are collected only for areas where they will be used for planning.

The data are collected in analog form and then converted into digital maps. The GRAM++ software is designed to digitise maps of any size. Its vector to raster conversion facility enables the analysis of geographic data in a raster environment. The attribute link of the programme helps in linking the digitised map to various associated data, the terrain module helps generate digital terrain modules that can cater to different applications, including topographic analysis, mineral targeting, environmental monitoring and geochemical mapping. Besides, it can support more than 40 functions for spatial analysis and modelling in the raster mode. The output module of the programme makes it possible to get hard copies on dot matrix colour printers or inkjet printers.

However, even when it is certain that the programme is capable of bringing forth results that would make planning easier, its success depends on motivating end-users and creating a scientific temper. For GRAM to become beneficial the project managers should transfer the technology to the line departments involved in planning, which include the District Chief Planning Office and Block Development Office, which will in turn convince the panchayat members about the need to use the sophisticated technology.

This, however, remains a problem area. Jolly Chaudhuri, Block Development Officer, Bankura-II, says: "Where the members of the panchayat would like to concentrate on getting through their basic requirements, like two meals a day throughout the year, it would be difficult to motivate them to use digitised maps to plan for the future. We can suggest that they keep the programme under consideration. We can facilitate the programme but we cannot force the members to give it top priority. "

The programme's success thus depends on aggressive marketing. Ashok Gupta, Principal Secretary, Department of Development and Planning, agrees: "The State government is working on the idea of setting up kiosks at village fairs and knowledge villages that would contain the information on the programme and motivate users."

Whether the GRAM++ software is orientated to getting precise results is also not clear. Do the line departments need digitised maps of the local terrain to know where to dig a single well that would at best benefit the adjoining plots (usually measuring less than a bigha) and not the whole district? The technical officials involved in the project say yes.

Dutta said: "Only with precise results will planning be exact." However, the need to develop a less sophisticated and more user-friendly programme cannot be ruled out.

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It also remains to be seen if the GRAM++ programme will be able to promote sustainable rural development. In Bankura district, the software has been effectively used to estimate the Human Development Index (HDI), the life expectancy, the rate of adult literacy and real gross domestic product (GDP). However, it is obvious that it would take more time to translate some of these statistical data into reality. For instance, in Teghori there are 250 below poverty line (BPL) families, which have largely remained outside the ambit of the project. Thus even when the software rightly emphasises on micro-level planning, it cannot ensure instant results.

If some of these lacunae are rectified, that would strengthen the programme. A very difficult task before the State governments is motivating the gram panchayats to make use of available scientific tools in planning. For this, it would have to work towards removing the reluctance of the planning machinery to adopt new technologies.

West Bengal seems to have braced itself for this challenge. This is obvious from its two decisions - to implement the GIS programme in 13 more districts and to start the Natural Resources Data Management System in Jalpaiguri district in July 2001.

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Oct 9,2020