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COVER STORY

04-01-2002

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Briefing

TERROR IN PARLIAMENT HOUSE

As the nation watched in stunned disbelief, a five-member suicide squad targets Parliament, taking the government by shock and greatly increasing the tensions in the subcontinent.

DECEMBER 13 will go down in history as the day on which a principal edifice of Indian democracy came face to face with terrorism. On that day, a group of gun- and grenade-wielding terrorists who stormed the seemingly impregnable Parliament House premises, were stopped dead in their tracks by security men as the nation watched in disbelief what looked like the climax of a spine-chilling crime thriller.

The incident exposed glaring lapses in the security system. Despite intelligence inputs pointing to the possibility of such attacks, no precautionary measures had been taken to keep a close watch on movements in the highly fortified area in the heart of the national capital. The extent of negligence becomes clear from the fact that a car sporting a Home Ministry label and a red beacon light atop and packed with 30 kg of RDX (Research Department Explosive) and bagfuls of hand grenades got inside the complex, breaching the first layer of security. It was only the lightning reflexes of personnel in the next two layers that prevented a catastrophe.

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During the battle with terrorists at Parliament House complex, commandos and police personnel.

On December 13, as in the preceding three days, both Houses of Parliament were adjourned around 11-20 a.m. following the Opposition's protest demanding Defence Minister George Fernandes' resignation over the "coffin scandal". The members had either left the premises or were in the Central Hall or the library. At about 11-40 a.m. the apparent calm was broken by a loud blast, which was followed by a spatter of gunfire.

Initially people in the complex thought that it was the sound of crackers bursting in the vicinity of the Parliament House or of a car engine misfiring. But when they realised that it was a terrorist attack, all hell broke loose. While the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel posted inside the Parliament complex ran to take up positions simultaneously returning the fire, the watch and ward staff hastily herded everyone inside to safety, bodily lifting some Members of Parliament who tried to peep out. All the doors of the Parliament House were closed with lightning speed as J.P. Yadav, a member of the watch and ward staff posted at Gate Number 11, alerted his colleagues inside.

Outside, a pitched battle was on between the five desperate terrorists and the security forces. There was a continuous exchange of fire for about 30 minutes. The terrorists fired from their AK-47 guns and indiscriminately lobbed grenades that they were carrying in shoulder bags.

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According to eyewitnesses, a white Ambassador car with a Home Ministry label and a Parliament entry pass entered the complex at a great speed, red light flashing, from the main entrance on Parliament Street. It sped straight towards Gate No. 12, the entrance to the Rajya Sabha. (The pass actually had slogans against Vajpayee and abuses against Advani scribbled on it.) The Prime Minister was expected to come to the Rajya Sabha that day. His arrival, however, had been cancelled because of the adjournment of the House.

According to security personnel in Parliament, the car grazed Vice-President Krishan Kant's pilot car, which was parked in front of Gate No. 11. The Vice-President was to leave the premises in a few moments. The driver of the pilot car stopped the Ambassador and shouted at the driver, protesting against the rash driving. The latter told him that he would be killed if he did not move away.

The commotion had already attracted the attention of the watch and ward staff. J.P. Yadav ran towards the Ambassador car from Gate No. 11. Those who were in the car panicked and tried to drive off at a great speed towards Gate No. 9, which the Prime Minister uses when he comes to the Rajya Sabha. The car, however, swerved off the road and into the sandy sidewalk.

Kamlesh Kumari, a CRPF constable posted at Gate No.11, also ran towards the car, shouting at the driver to stop. The occupants of the car abandoned it and tried to run towards Gate No. 9. They had started firing by now. Yadav and Kamlesh were felled by bullets and their bodies lay in front of Gate No. 11. The CRPF personnel posted in that area started firing, and three of the terrorists were injured. The injured terrorists, who clambered atop a wall to cross over to Gate No.9, were killed by the time they reached the gate. Their bodies lay close to one another near the gate.

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Of the remaining two terrorists, one ran towards Gate No.5, which is used by the Prime Minister when he comes to the Lok Sabha. Another ran towards Gate No. 1, the main entrance to Parliament, which is used by Ministers, MPs, journalists and visitors. According to eyewitnesses, the terrorist running towards Gate No.5 was laughing as he kept firing and lobbing grenades all around. Even after being hit by bullets he kept firing, until he collapsed on the steps near Gate No.5.

A member of the watch and ward staff, who witnessed the incident from close range, told Frontline that the terrorist shouted before collapsing: "Hamara mission poora hua, Pakistan zindabad" (Our mission has been accomplished, long live Pakistan). His accomplice, who was running towards Gate No.1, which had been closed by then, was hit by a bullet from behind. The bullet apparently hit the explosives-strapped belt that he was wearing; the explosives went off on the stairs of the main porch. The lower part of his body was blown to pieces and his right arm was severed. Though the place was cleaned up by the time Parliament assembled the next day, pieces of flesh were sticking to the walls and the roof, which also had on them patches of dry blood and the black marks and holes left by grenades and bullets.

Although the firing stopped after about 30 minutes, the grenades flung by the terrorists in all directions kept exploding for the next half an hour or so. By this time the complex had been cordoned off, the gates closed and the adjoining roads blocked.

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Around 3 p.m., the evacuation process began under the supervision of Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan. There were over 200 MPs inside Parliament. Among others inside the complex were Vice-President Krishan Kant, Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi, Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha Najma Heptullah, and a large number of Ministers including Home Minister L.K. Advani, Defence Minister George Fernandes, Law Minister Arun Jaitley and Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj. Congress president Sonia Gandhi had left the premises after the House was adjourned. A large number of journalists and visitors too were present inside the complex. First the MPs were evacuated, followed by Ministers, journalists and the Parliament staff.

The Parliament House premises resembled a scene of riots, with blood splattered all over, pools of blood in front of the main gate and Gate Nos.5 and 9, pieces of limbs and flesh strewn around. The red stones of the mammoth building had chipped off at various places under the impact of bullets and grenades. The bodies of the terrorists were not removed until late evening. They were suspected to have explosives strapped to their bodies. The car used by them, which lay in front of Gate No.11, contained apart from RDX, detonators, mobile phones, a number of cash cards and dry fruits.

Seven other persons - five members of security forces, one member of the Parliament watch and ward staff and a gardener who was watering plants near Gate No.11 - were killed. Eighteen people, mostly security personnel, were injured. Soon after the incident, National Security Guard commandos and personnel of the Rajputana Rifles arrived. The Army took charge and the Parliament House looked like a fortress. The Army was also deployed at major locations in the city, including around the Prime Minister's residence at 7 Race Course Road and Sonia Gandhi's residence at 10 Janpath.

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The government, taken aback initially, recovered swiftly enough. The Prime Minister addressed the nation at 3 p.m. He declared that the attack on Parliament was a challenge to the nation and the nation accepted the challenge. "Now the battle against terrorism has reached a decisive moment. This is going to be a fight to the finish," he announced.

Soon afterwards, the Cabinet Committee on Security met. This was followed by a meeting of the full Cabinet. Briefing mediapersons after the meeting, Advani said the government had come across certain leads, which he hoped would help unearth the conspiracy behind the attack. Although he said that no group had claimed responsibility for the attack, the government seemed to know who was behind it. He admitted that "there were intelligence inputs to the effect that Parliament could be a target." Asked why the government had not acted on the basis of the inputs, he responded: "It is difficult to prevent fidayeen (suicide) attacks because if someone was prepared to die, nothing can prevent that person. But security was beefed up." His claim about heightened security, however, was challenged by many parliamentarians who said that they had not seen signs of any extra precautionary measures. Mediapersons covering parliamentary proceedings also did not notice any heightened security arrangements or procedures during this sensitive period.

Quoting a resolution adopted at the Cabinet meeting, Advani said the attack was aimed not merely at the building but at democracy itself. "We will liquidate the terrorists and their sponsors whoever and wherever they are," the Union Home Minister declaimed. According to him, there was no laxity in security. It was only because of the bravery of the security men even at the cost of their lives that a ghastly and dastardly act was prevented and the lives of the Prime Minister and other political leaders were saved, he asserted.

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Investigations reveal that the terrorists' aim was not only to kill important political figures but also to create mayhem inside Parliament and take hostages. The presence of a large quantity of dry fruits and so on in their backpacks is seen as evidence of this. An intelligence official said: "They obviously had laid out their plans for some days. The fact that they carried unperishable food items indicates this. They also had plans to carry on detailed talks, which explains the presence of cash cards."

Many MPs shudder at the very thought of what the terrorists could have done had they managed to enter Parliament. Said Vaiko, a Lok Sabha member and leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam: "We would all have been reduced to pieces because there are no armed guards inside and they could have killed at will. Even if one person had managed to enter Parliament, it would have been a catastrophe." The members recalled with gratitude the sacrifices made by security personnel in their attempt to protect them. All MPs have decided to donate their one month's salary towards compensation for the families of the security personnel killed.

The task of protection-plus

PRAVEEN SWAMI cover-story

AS security analysts start their post-mortem of the events of December 13, they are being forced to grapple with a very difficult question: are India's VIPs willing to pay the price of real protection?

It is now clear that the Jaish-e-Mohammad's assault on Parliament House was enabled by a series of screening errors. Their white Ambassador was waved through Gate 2 of Parliament House's outer perimeter, by security personnel who assumed that the armed men inside were escorting some VIP or the other. If they had maintained their calm when waved down at a second check, instead of accelerating and ramming into one of Vice-President Krishan Kant's escort vehicles, they might well have succeeded in their enterprise.

How did these errors occur? Some people have suggested that intelligence warnings of such an attack were ignored. The Intelligence Bureau, sources told Frontline, had sent out regular warnings over the past year of such a possibility. These warnings were, however, general in character. It is very rare that the best intelligence can provide the details of a pending terrorist strike, last year's attempted storming of the Humhama airport at Srinagar being an exception. More important, the warnings themselves were not germane to levels of security at the complex: Parliament, like other highly sensitive installations, has no low-level protection mode at all.

The real problem lies in the VIP perception of a real high-security regime as an infringement of their authority. In an ideal environment, the entrance to Parliament House would have been guarded by metal spikes, which would only be lowered to allow vehicular movement after any armed personnel in cars entering the complex had been asked to get off, and the identity of the occupant established. The gates would also be guarded by massive zig-zag concrete blocks, known as dragon's teeth, which would compel any vehicle to slow down to a crawl, and also absorb any explosion.

Mere identification cards or stickers would not be enough to enter the building. MPs and visitors would have to swipe tamper-proof smart cards through an electronic lock, which can only be opened by using a password, or retinal and fingerprint scans, before blast-and bullet proof doors would open to let them through. Baggage would be passed through equipment that can detect chemical vapours let out by explosives.

A truly secure environment would also place severe restrictions on movement to non-authorised areas of the complex. Several kinds of electronic sensors which can track movement, attempts to jump fences, and even changes in the physical volume of a given area, would have to be installed, along with comprehensive closed-circuit television systems to verify an electronic alert. Small numbers of highly skilled personnel could then be despatched to deal with the identified threat.

All this sounds complicated and inconvenient, and it is. MPs and other VIPs have a reputation for fighting with security personnel they believe are being obstructive, a major reason why the terrorists' Ambassador was just waved through the front gate. Security staff at airports can recount dozens of horror stories about MPs' reactions to even ordinary frisking, so their reactions to electronic and concrete barriers can well be imagined. Even after the attack, the Indira Gandhi International Airport has seen at least one ugly argument between a senior Uttar Pradesh Police officer, and security staff who insisted that the stars on his epaulette were not enough to exempt him from searches.

As things stand, all that Parliament House has by way of a modern security system is a limited closed circuit television system which only observes entry gates, not the entire area. Once terrorists had penetrated the complex, guards had no idea of what their numbers were and where they might be. Officer-level confusion thus became inevitable. "Under the circumstances," notes former Punjab Director-General of Police K.P.S. Gill, "I think the personnel posted there did a fairly good job."

Security personnel working in areas like Jammu and Kashmir have adopted their own means to guard against suicide squads. Gates at major installations are now fitted with makeshift spike strips, which would prevent vehicles from driving through the gates at high speed. Since guards invariably react to explosions at the gate by taking cover, a second ring of personnel has been put in place at a distance to fire at the gate in case intruders come through entry points. These tactics have proved successful in deterring several major suicide squad attacks, notably one effort to storm the Indian Air Force base at Awantipora earlier this year, and a December 16 attack on a Border Security Force field outpost.

All the equipment needed to protect India's VIPs is commercially available. Some of it is indeed expensive, but not unaffordable, given the costs involved in manning areas like Parliament House with hundreds of guards who could be better used for operational tasks rather than static duties. Installations worldwide, including several Embassies and Consulates in India, are protected by similar, purchased-off-the-shelf, devices. But such a security regime will prove restrictive and slow, and sometimes positively irritating. Are the VIPs willing to bear with the inconvenience?

On the terrorist trail

Quick off the mark, the investigating agencies have made some major breakthroughs identifying persons and organisations behind the attack, as well as their modus operandi.

WHEN the head of the Indian counter-terrorist organisation sifted through the debris of the suicide squad assault on Parliament House, his first reaction must have been despair. There were no suspects to interrogate, no telephone intercepts, no names to match the faces of the five killed suicide bombers. All that his staff could do was to search through what remained - ammunition, grenades, rope, dry fruits - hoping against hope to find something resembling a clue. Then, someone discovered cellular phones in the terrorists' knapsacks. Within 48 hours, what had seemed certain to be a dead-end investigation moved with lightning speed to its conclusion: one that could have profound implications for the future of India-Pakistan relations.

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Late on the night of December 14, the Inspector-General of Police in charge of Kashmir, K. Rajendra, was awakened by an urgent request from the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) to locate a fruit-laden truck that had left New Delhi the previous evening. All that he, and Superintendent of Police Sheikh Mehmood, had to go by was a licence plate number, HR-38-E-673. Policemen were mobilised to search the vast lines of vehicles parked on National Highway 1A, connecting Jammu with Srinagar. Wholesale markets were combed along with roadside restaurants used by truck drivers. Then, just before dawn, the Jammu and Kashmir Police found what they were looking for parked at a vegetable market in Srinagar. The principal suspects in the Parliament House assault were fast asleep in a truck, amidst its cargo of bananas.

By 12-00 noon the next day, Shaukat Ahmad Ansari and his cousin Mohammad Afzal Ansari were put in two different Indian Air Force turboprop aircraft to New Delhi, flown separately to avoid the prospect of losing both in the event of an accident. Officials inside the aircraft were carrying the laptop computer and cellular phone found in the truck, along with Rs.10 lakhs in cash. In New Delhi, officials from the Delhi Police and top I.B. investigators were standing by. They had already spoken to local residents who had identified them as the owners of a wholesale medical equipment supplies business, despite the fact that the Ansari cousins, as is the tradition in Kashmir, rarely used their last names in everyday transactions.

In the hours they had spent through the night at the headquarters of the Special Operations Group (SOG) in Srinagar, appropriately nicknamed 'air cargo' by those who work there, the Ansaris had identified the suicide bombers as Rana, Raja, Tufail, Hamza and Mohammad, all Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) cadre from the garrison town of Bahawalpur, in Pakistan's Punjab province.

In New Delhi, police officials had already picked up the last remaining member of the JeM cell that carried out the attack. Syed Abdul Rahman Jeelani, a lecturer at the Zakir Husain College in New Delhi who was also pursuing post-doctoral research, had also carried out several tasks for the JeM unit. Shaukat Ahmad Ansari's pregnant wife Afzan Guru, who had allegedly sat in on dozens of meetings held by the suicide cell at their home, was also arrested and moved to hospital. Telephone records made it clear that Jeelani, a college-mate of the Ansari cousins, had played an important role in the affair. All the members of the cell, it turned out, had lived in rented accommodation around Indira Basti, using Shaukat's home in Mukherjee Nagar, just a few kilometres away, for regular meetings. Jeelani, in turn, told interrogators about the Ansari cousins and the truck they had used to attempt to escape New Delhi unnoticed.

UNTIL last year, Mohammad Afzal Ansari used to work as a clerk at a medical equipment supplier in Srinagar's Batmaloo Masjid area, Lal Medicate. One of his co-workers, Mohammad Tariq, suggested that he consider starting a business of his own. All it would take, he pointed out, was a rented flat and some capital. Ansari found the idea attractive. A one-time Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front member, he had fled Srinagar for New Delhi under police pressure in 1990. He studied briefly at Delhi University along with his cousin, Shaukat Ansari, but was forced to return home in 1992 because of police pressure on his family and surrendered to the authorities in 1992. After his brief stint in jail, all that he could secure was the low-paying clerical job. Now, it seemed, he had a chance to return to the city he had learned to love, and to make real money.

He rented a flat from a Subhash Malhotra, through a property dealer named Virendra Pal. Both have now been arrested for failing to inform authorities that they had taken in new tenants, an obligation under city police regulations.

What the Ansari cousins did not know just yet was that Tariq was a key figure in the JeM's covert apparatus in Srinagar. In mid-2000, the five-member suicide squad, led by Mohammad, had been despatched to India to identify potential targets of attack. Tariq had been assigned the job of liaising with this unit. Mohammad travelled frequently to Mumbai, although the purpose of his visits is still not known. Nor is it clear just when he made the decision to choose New Delhi as his cell's final target. All that is known for certain is that in October, after the JeM-led carried out a major terrorist attack on the Assembly complex in Srinagar, Tariq told the Ansari cousins who he was and what he needed. They, along with Jeelani, agreed to cooperate as long as they had no direct role in the attack itself.

In early November, Tariq held a final meeting with the JeM's operations commander Ghazi Baba, alias Jihadi, in the mountains above Aroo, near Pahalgam. Although Baba has been referred to as the JeM's India chief by Delhi Police Commissioner Ajai Raj Sharma, he is in fact responsible only for operations in Jammu and Kashmir, and has a long record of violent crime in the State. It was from his mountain hideout, investigators believe, that final orders for a suicide squad attack in New Delhi were issued.

Mohammad arrived at Indira Basti in mid-November, carrying cash and the laptop computer recovered from Srinagar. He moved into premises rented for him in the Christian Colony area of Mukherjee Nagar, near Delhi University, one of two safehouses the Ansaris had hired for the group. The Ansaris told their I.B. interrogators that Mohammad frequently bragged that he had played a key role in the hijacking of Indian Airlines IC-814 to Kandahar in December 1999, and that he had personally murdered one passenger on the flight, Rupin Katyal. Intelligence sources are, however, sceptical about his claim to have in fact been the hijacker Sunny Ahmad Qazi.

Other members of the deadly cell trickled in over the following month, bringing in weapons and explosives. Raja and Haider followed a week after Mohammad, carrying weapons and explosives. Rana and Hamza arrived last, RDX packed into two canvas holdalls, along with two Kalashnikov assault rifles, a grenade launcher attachment, 15 rifle-fired grenades, and 12 hand grenades. Interestingly, investigators believe that many of these weapons were acquired and transported using the Lashkar-e-Toiba's (LeT) infrastructure, the first time such inter-organisation cooperation has been noticed. Although there is no real confirmation of this proposition, and it is possible that this part of the narrative is intended to save External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh from embarrassment (for he had asserted on December 14 that LeT was responsible for the attack), I.B. officials believe that the resource-sharing arrangement was worked out at the highest levels of the respective organisations, during meetings between JeM chief Massod Azhar and the LeT's overall operations commander, Zaki-ur-Rahman, the architect of its pan-India armed operations.

In New Delhi, the group proceeded to purchase a second-hand motorcycle from a dealer in the Karol Bagh area, along with fatigues, jackets and shoes from the Tibetan Market near Civil Lines, a shopping area favoured by Delhi University students. The suicide group first considered an attack on the Indira Gandhi International Airport. This proposal, however, was rejected in favour of an assault on Parliament when the group realised that it would be fairly easy to secure entry to the premises of power using a vehicle set up to resemble a government car. This was purchased on December 11 and fitted up with sirens and command lights the same day.

Sketches of the Parliament complex had already been drawn up by Jeelani and on this basis the group made a detailed assault plan. Interestingly, it would appear that the group expected to survive the assault. Delhi Police officials who searched the Indira Basti house found ammonium nitrate, sulphur and aluminum powder, key ingredients used in the manufacture of improvised explosive devices, and 17 detonators bearing the markings of the Pakistan Ordnance Factory at Wah - similar to those used in the Mumbai serial bombings of 1993.

Before setting off to Parliament, a final set of purchases was made from a local grocer's store in Mukherjee Nagar, outside the Gandhi Basti hideout where the fidayeen had assembled for the last time: rope, intended to tie up hostages, dry fruits and nuts possibly to be consumed through a long showdown. Both purchases suggest that the suicide squad had hoped to hold a group of Ministers or MPs hostage, a stark departure from past suicide squad or fidayeen attacks of the kind seen in Jammu and Kashmir. In this sense, the action was to be similar to the hijacking of IC-814, although no one knows for certain just what the JeM cell might have demanded in return for the safety of their prisoners. Mohammad made over his laptop and remaining cash to Mohammad Afzal Ansari. Then, on his way to Parliament House, he made one fateful decision - a call asking Afzal Ansari to watch proceedings in Parliament.

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It is at least possible that no firm agenda for hostage negotiation was made up. Several elements of the assault showed poor preparation. The Lok Sabha's in-house video surveillance cameras, for example, recorded the following scene: One suicide squad member spent almost 30 seconds after the first exchange of fire taking off his coat, apparently standing by in confusion and waiting for orders. Although the Ambassador car used was laden with explosives, the terrorists had no standby mechanism in place to detonate it remotely in the event of the group failing to penetrate Parliament. No wireless set was recovered from the group, making it clear that the intention was to blow up the vehicle or its explosive devices only at a later stage, and that too without the use of a remote control device.

But the biggest mistake the JeM fidayeen made was to use cellular phones extensively, down to the last minutes preceding the attack. These provided investigative breakthroughs that other evidence was simply unable to provide. The Jammu and Kashmir Police had at first picked up four residents of the State, only to discover that they had nothing to do with the suicide attack. An identity card belonging to one of the JeM units bore the name of Ashiq Husain Khan, a resident of Khwaja Gilgit village near Sopore. However, police investigators found, there were two Ashiq Husains, both sons of the same mother but by two separate marriages. Neither, it turned out, had any connection with the terrorist attack. Then, one member of the suicide squad had provided a Baramulla telephone number to the New Delhi second-hand car dealer who sold them their white Ambassador. This turned out to be at a home jointly inhabited by two cousins, Abdul Rashid Rather and Nazir Ahmad Rather, along with their families. Again, neither had links with the suicide squad.

If the group had not chosen to use mobile phones, it is probable that the course of the investigation would have been quite different. In a sense, the mobile phone record made the same kind of difference to the swift detection of the crime as the Haribabu photographs did to the detection of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination crime in 1991. Intelligence sources say they have traced a welter of calls made to handlers in Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Germany. The calls to Germany, investigators believe, were to phones which automatically make onward international calls, a tactic used to place a cut-out between operatives and their handlers. Dozens of calls were made to Karachi and many more to Dubai. "The phone numbers we have secured from the call records," one intelligence official asserted, "leave no doubt that Pakistan's intelligence establishment was directly involved in the operation. We believe that mid-ranking officials of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), based in Karachi, initiated the attack, perhaps without the express sanction of the Pakistan Army's top command."

While there is as yet no real way of verifying such claims, the fact is that this falls well within an established pattern of ISI activity. Writing in the December 2001 issue of Jane's Islamic Affairs Analyst, defence expert Rahul Bedi noted that former ISI Director-General Hamid Gul, who oversaw Central Intelligence Agency-backed operations against Soviet forces in Afghanistan and went on to set up an Islamic fundamentalist party, "allowed his operatives not only to execute important strategic decisions independently, but also to raise money through private sales of arms and narcotics." "This operational culture," he noted, "led to the ISI playing a double game, helping the Taliban on the one hand, while on the other feeding selective information of limited value to the CIA." In the South Asian context, this means that while the Pakistan military establishment may wish to tone down the levels of terrorist activity in India, field units handling forces like the JeM and the LeT have their own agendas.

Many of the unresolved questions may be settled by the arrest of Tariq - should it take place. On December 17, the Jammu and Kashmir Police announced his apprehension. However, the identification turned out to be false. The individual picked up, another medical equipment dealer called Mohammad Tanvir, knew Afzal Ansari. However, when investigators in New Delhi presented his photograph to their prisoner for identification, he turned out to be unconnected to the Parliament House plot. Tanvir was a resident of Srinagar, not of Tral, the southern Kashmir town where Tariq is believed to have lived. But the evidence gathered makes clear that hard decisions will have to be made in the weeks to come. What, for example, will India do if Pakistan refuses to arrest and hand over top JeM and LeT leaders? How will India respond to any further attacks on major political targets? Officials say they are working on the answers. Unfortunately, it took an attack on Parliament House to make the Union government apply itself to such issues.

Fact, fiction and the fidayeen

PRAVEEN SWAMI cover-story

ON December 12, All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) chairman Abdul Ghani Bhat told journalists to expect dramatic developments over the following 12 hours. For once, the flamboyant leader's predictions turned out to be correct, but not the way he had intended. Hours after the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) suicide squad intruded into the Parliament House complex, Bhat hastily let it be known that he had referred to a meeting scheduled to take place in New York, which he claimed the Prime Minister's Office was "well aware of".

It seems probable that the ongoing covert peace initiative in Jammu and Kashmir, led by the Prime Minister's Office's top-gun, Brajesh Mishra, and former Research and Analysis Wing chief Amarjit Singh Dulat, will be one of the casualties of the events of December 13. Investigations into the attack on Parliament have made clear that there was significant support to the enterprise by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). But important players in New Delhi appear to be using the situation to salvage their own political position. Their self-serving hawkishness could have serious consequences for efforts to bring peace to Jammu and Kashmir.

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Union Defence Minister George Fernandes' handling of events after the attack is a case in point. Despite the Home Ministry's express reservations, sources told Frontline that Fernandes insisted on despatching troops to Parliament. Since they arrived well after the shooting was over, it is clear the sole purpose of their deployment was to allow the Minister to score public relations points. Weapons like shoulder-held missile launchers looked impressive on television, but are useless for purposes other than bringing down Parliament House itself. Nor were the troops which arrived trained in specialised hostage rescue techniques.

Similar propaganda tactics were put to work later that day. Television channels endlessly reported explosions along the international border in Jammu, suggesting that some kind of war-like situation was developing. In fact, there was only one set of bomb explosions, along the zero line in the Akhnoor sector, several hundred metres from India's forward positions and the border fence. A second set of explosions did indeed take place in Akhnoor, but was the consequence of Pakistani troops setting fire to elephant grass on their side of the border, setting off their own land-mine defences in the process.

Another case in point is the well-orchestrated hysteria about fidayeen (suicide) squads, on whose alleged prowess both officials and pro-terrorist elements seem united. In fact, available data shows that the fidayeen squads have had a negligible strategic impact in Jammu and Kashmir (see chart). Less than 200 lives have been claimed in such attacks since 1999, a small proportion of the overall toll of civilians and security force personnel. Despite these attacks, record numbers of terrorists have been killed through 2001, while security force losses have actually declined somewhat from the year 2000.

While the suicide squads which attacked Parliament or the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly could have provoked calamitous consequences, the fact is that these actions are entirely consistent with an existing culture of violence, not the outcome of a new fidayeen culture. India has, after all, lost two Prime Ministers to organisations which had never heard of the word. On the ground, most organisations have adopted new tactics to protect themselves against suicide squads, using for example a second ring of guards other than those posted on the perimeter of sensitive installations. The real purpose of fidayeen attacks is to create panic and sabotage moves towards peace, an objective in which at least some of the Union government's luminaries seem only too happy to collaborate.

The sad fact is that the Union government's management of internal security begins and ends with polemic. The use of the attack on the Parliament House to push the case for the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) underlines just how vapid security management has become. Leaving aside the merits or otherwise of the Ordinance, it is clear that suicide squads are not going to be deterred by the Centre waving pieces of paper at them. Terrorism in the Jammu region has not declined a whit despite the imposition of the Disturbed Areas Act in early 2001, and POTO will do little to make Jammu and Kashmir any safer.

Although a large number of terrorists have been killed in 2001, actually the overall security situation in the State remains disturbing. There has, however, been no serious attempt to review tactics, particularly in the more remote parts of the State, and on the heights of the Pir Panjal. Nor does the government appear to have any coherent idea of just how it intends to engage with Pakistan's continuing support to terrorist groups. Several proposals exist on the means that could be used, ranging from the technological to offensive covert strategies, but none has been subject to any rigorous discussion.

Vague threats to target training camps across the Line of Control have little meaning, since these camps consist of little other than an open firing range and a few tents - hardly a serious military target. These threats will, however, have very real consequences in Jammu and Kashmir. They will work to convince the ordinary people that there is no prospect of any progress towards building a democratic dialogue, and that a further escalation of hostilities is imminent. Without the creation of such a climate, whatever backdoor deals Mishra might seek to strike in New York will be completely unsubstantial. With an election in Jammu and Kashmir just over six months away, the loose talk echoing through the corridors of power in New Delhi could cost a number of lives.

A demolition in Delhi

other

ON December 3, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) demolished the Periyar Centre of the Dravidar Kazhagam (D.K.), situated near Palam airport. Although authorities of the centre obtained a stay order from the High Court, they could not halt the demolition. The demolition squad, which consisted of around 50 policemen and 50 workers, apart from DDA officials, razed the five-storey building in less than six hours. Officials of the DDA said that the Periyar Centre, built on a piece of private land measuring about 36,000 square feet in Bamnauli village on the Bijwasan-Najafgarh road, was an unauthorised structure. The DDA has referred the case to its Vigilance Department to identify the officers concerned, during whose tenure the building was constructed.

The issue of the Periyar Centre building was first raised by Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy in November 2000 as part of his allegation that the Congress(I) was becoming lenient to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which assassinated Congress(I) president and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Swamy cited the contribution of Rs.5 lakhs to the centre by the Congress(I) government of Delhi as evidence of this. He also wrote to Chief Minister Sheila Dixit, asking her to freeze the release of the money. He expressed apprehensions about the Periyar Centre being used as a safehouse by LTTE cadres. Swamy also alleged that the structure had come up on land originally allotted to Dalits under the 20-point Programme. Senior DDA officials admitted that the complaint had been referred to them by Lieutenant Governor Vijai Kapoor and Home Minister L.K. Advani.

That the issue has become a political one became apparent from a statement issued by All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary Jayalalithaa asking the Delhi government to restore the centre. Jayalalithaa said: "The whole matter has assumed a sinister design because of the involvement of Swamy at whose behest it is said the demolition was ordered. It is a pity that the government of Delhi acceded to the bidding of a person like Swamy." The statement went on: "It was quite disturbing and painful to learn that the Periyar Centre was subjected to unwarranted demolition by the DDA. I feel that the demolition was carried out with undue haste and could have been totally avoided." She said that it was distressing to note that "such shabby treatment" was meted out to the centre.

The matter will now be decided in the Delhi High Court in February. "We will be able to put our point across forcefully. We are carrying out our work from an adjoining building," said Rajshekhar, a volunteer at the centre.

Naunidhi Kaur * * * RCC scientists face censure

IN what may perhaps be the most significant outcome of the "Johns Hopkins University-Regional Cancer Centre drug trial controversy", Union Health Minister Dr. C.P. Thakur has announced that the government would censure those scientists involved in the M4N and G4N "drug trials" conducted on 26 patients at the RCC between November 1999 and February 2000. The Minister also said that in future, any violation of guidelines of the Indian Council for Medical Research's (ICMR) on biomedical research would mean a ban for life on not only the scientists but also the institutions concerned. The Union government has decided to review all cases of ongoing research related to clinical trials in the country.

These decisions were announced through a press statement issued by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on December 12, even though both the Central government and the Government of Kerala were yet to reveal the contents of their separate inquiries into the controversial clinical trials at the RCC (Frontline, Cover Story, August 31, 2001).

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The Johns Hopkins University had announced on November 12, the findings of the inquiry by its faculty investigative committee into the 'drug' trial on RCC patients conducted by one of its scientists, Biology Professor Ru Chih C. Huang (Frontline, December 7). Huang and her co-workers had earlier isolated two chemicals, tetra-O-methyl nor-dihydro-guaiaretic acid (M4N) and tetraglycinyl nor-dihydro-guaiaretic acid (G4N), from a desert bush and found that they had anti-cancer properties.

The four-month-long Johns Hopkins inquiry proved what those who raised the allegations had been saying all along: that the RCC tests were the first trials of those chemicals on human beings; that those chemicals had not been properly tested on animals before they were tried out on patients; that Ru Chih Huang was not qualified or authorised to conduct experiments on human beings; that the experiments were conducted without obtaining the mandatory approvals; that the chemicals were imported into India without government approval; that the trials did not meet the universal standards for research with human subjects; that adequate, proper and informed consent was not obtained from the patients.

The Union Health Ministry now seems to have accepted all these conclusions. The Minister's statement is, however, in sharp contrast to the silence the State government has been maintaining on the issue, more than two months after the Dr. Parvesh Parikh Commission had submitted its report.

The Health Ministry has also confirmed the suspension of all clinical trials on human beings at the RCC for six months, after considering the reply of the RCC authorities to its show-cause notice. After the completion of the ban period, all clinical trials at the RCC are to be reviewed as per law and permission is to be granted only for those that have been cleared by the Drugs Controller-General of India (DCGI) and the Union Health Ministry's screening committee. The Centre has also advised the RCC to re-constitute its Ethics Committee by coopting a member from the ICMR.

Dr. Thakur also said that the latest decision would send strong signals to research communities both inside and outside India that "Indians cannot be treated as guinea pigs in their zeal to invent newer things". While the government encouraged wholesome biological research, it would not tolerate violation of basic ethics and human rights, he said.

For the organisations and personalities in Kerala who have been demanding further inquiries and action against the RCC authorities, the announcement falls short of expectations. But the Union government's decision will have a serious impact on research involving human subjects in the country.

R. Krishnakumar

Battle of the caves

SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN world-affairs

As the United States intensifies its violent hunt for Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Afghanistan, the war is now seen to have established the prototype for campaigns elsewhere.

HIS last redoubt was smashed the day before the Muslim festival of Id-ul-Fitr, but Osama bin Laden, quarry of the most expensive and promiscuously violent manhunt in history, remained elusive. He had appeared on television screens worldwide just a week earlier, gloating over the September 11 terrorist strikes in the United States and celebrating the loss of life that had supposedly been more dramatic than anything he expected. The evidence had been assembled to put him before the new military tribunals that the U.S. has set up for the trial of foreigners involved in terrorist violence. There was only the small matter of capturing him before sentencing him to summary execution.

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Since narrowing the focus of the war to the Tora Bora mountains in northeastern Afghanistan, the U.S. had kept up its intense aerial bombing, often bringing into action the lethal 'Daisycutter', the most powerful non-nuclear explosive in the world. By mid-December, the fighters holed out in the mountains, identified by U.S. intelligence as bin Laden's inner circle of warriors in the cause of the Islamic jehad, were signalling their readiness to surrender. Negotiations were conducted with military commanders of the Eastern Shura - one of a series of unstable military coalitions that has emerged in Afghanistan since the U.S. offensive began - but the deal was called off under American pressure.

Mohammad Zaman, an Eastern Shura Commander, insisted that a deal was being worked out when U.S. warplanes, without warning or notice, resumed bombing and strafing the hills. Afghan fighters were angered both by the unilateral abrogation of a ceasefire and by the U.S.' brusque rejection of the terms that were being negotiated for the Al Qaeda surrender. After the shameful massacres of captured Taliban soldiers at Qala-i-Jhangi and Takhte Pul, this was another wilful change in the conventions of war that the U.S. could not disclaim responsibility for. The special character of this war was brutally underlined in this disavowal of the principle that fighters seeking to surrender should normally be given a fair opportunity to do so. This was a war not of territory but of abstract entities, such as civilisation and barbarism. It required not the subjugation of an enemy but his elimination.

A large-scale carnage of civilians had been perpetrated just over two weeks before, when the U.S. began its massive assault on the Tora Bora hills. Disregarding the appeals of Eastern Shura forces on the ground, U.S. warplanes carried out a massive bombing of villages in the region, on the flimsy premise that they were playing host to large numbers of Al Qaeda fighters. A spokesman for the U.S. Defence Department at the Pentagon, when asked about these incidents, said simply that they had not happened. The description given by friendly forces on the ground just did not tally with the extensive documentation that had been gathered through video cameras on board the attack aircraft. Journalists travelling to the site of the bombing of course had a different version of events, with grisly accounts of entire villages being wiped out.

To nobody's surprise, no apologies have been forthcoming - not even the most half-hearted exercise in accountability. U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sought to put the best gloss on the later situation, particularly the prolonging of the conflict beyond the Al Qaeda fighters' expressed willingness to surrender. The U.S., he affirmed, would accept a ceasefire and surrender provided they were unconditional. "This is not a drill where we are making deals," he said at one of his numerous press conferences. That the "deal" was only designed to ensure the physical security of the prisoners, which the U.S. had infamously failed to guarantee when the Taliban surrendered at Mazar-e-Sharif and Kandahar, was of course a matter of detail that was lost on this hawkish relic of the Cold War.

Another five days of bitter fighting followed with casualties on both sides. On December 16, Hazarat Ali, another Eastern Shura commander, announced the capture of the last cave in which bin Laden's Al Qaeda fighters had been holed out. The fugitive Saudi millionaire, the ideological mainspring of an Islamic holy war against the U.S., was not found. U.S. intelligence agencies estimated that he could have fled into the higher reaches of the mountains with the remnants of the Al Qaeda. But captured fighters offered few clues. And as the soldiers of the Eastern Shura, with American and British special forces in attendance, set off in hot pursuit, few were taking any bets on the likelihood of bin Laden's capture. That left the video image that had been broadcast around the world shortly before as bin Laden's last testament in the cause of his holy war.

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The video release was an event that world opinion had been primed for over a fortnight of tantalising hints from officials in the U.S. and the U.K. The results were not disappointing. No script written by the U.S. intelligence agencies could have produced a clearer self-incrimination by the prime suspect behind the September 11 terrorist strikes. Bin Laden is shown in a video probably filmed at Kandahar on November 9, receiving a Saudi Muslim cleric with profuse expressions of goodwill, before settling down to a discussion on the events of September 11 and their wider implications. At one stage he is shown holding up one palm and smashing the fingertips of his other hand into it in a figurative description of the aircraft hit on the World Trade Centre towers in New York.

"We calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy who would be killed based on the position of the tower. We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors," says bin Laden. Of all the estimates that were made in the ring that plotted the terrorist strike, bin Laden's was the most optimistic, on account of his knowledge of the fundamentals of civil construction: "Due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is all that we had hoped for."

The actual death roll of course exceeded these macabre forecasts by several orders of magnitude. Crucially, bin Laden indicates that many of the executors of the massive terrorist strike, though aware that they were engaged in a mission that involved certain death, knew little of the operational details. "There is information on those tapes that again shows the world just how evil Osama bin Laden is and how he claims piety, while leading people to deaths that they very well were not aware of," said the official spokesman for the U.S. President shortly after the release of the videotape.

The world premiere of the bin Laden video was accompanied by a collective shout of self-righteousness from the U.S. media, the common refrain being that the U.S. was owed an apology by all those who had cast doubt on its insistence that the Saudi millionaire was culpable. Not everybody saw it that way. The leader comment in the U.K. Guardian, for example observed: "This video, moreover, is so audacious and astonishing that it is impossible not to think that something about it is a put-up job. It provokes all kinds of sceptical questions. When, where and why was the video made? How was it obtained by the Americans? Is it the sole piece of incriminating evidence collected against bin Laden, or is it just the juiciest bit? If the latter, where is the rest? How long has the video been in American hands and why has it been released at this time? It should not be wholly taken at face value."

Similarly, The Age from Melbourne, Australia had a more explicitly voiced doubt: "If computer-generated graphics can fake Forrest Gump shaking President John F. Kennedy's hand and the late John Wayne hawking beer, how can viewers be sure that a videotape of Osama bin Laden bragging about the September 11 attacks is real?"

These comments are clearly an index of the dubious image that has been engendered by U.S. efforts at media management since the war began. But they are well founded and based upon several seeming anomalies in the narrative that unfolds on the bin Laden video. The visiting cleric - who is only referred to as the Shaykh - speaks for instance of being severely constrained in his movements, ostensibly for political reasons. But then he speaks with seeming casualness of arriving in Kabul and being transported to his meeting with bin Laden on a night of a full moon. There is also an explicit reference to the holy month of Ramzan. The only full moon during the Ramzan month occurred on November 30, when the tape was supposedly already in the possession of U.S. intelligence. The immediately preceding full moon night, early in November, is outside the time-frame that is mentioned in the recording.

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Since the bin Laden tape today constitutes the sole juridical justification for the large-scale havoc and devastation - not to mention the massive civilian casualties - that have been visited on Afghanistan, the U.S. will have to come forth with much more information before it is able to establish a semblance of legitimacy for its military operations. But this is clearly the last thing on the minds of the war-mongers in the Pentagon and the White House, who are making no secret of their belief that the war on terrorism can now shift its sights towards other targets. Principal among the candidates for the next phase of operations are Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.

The war in Afghanistan is now seen to have established the prototype for similar campaigns elsewhere. It will begin with massive aerial bombardment, and be followed in quick order with the insertion of a small team of Western special forces. These forces would then constitute the nucleus of a broader alliance with local militias, to effect a change of regime in 'States of concern' and eliminate forces hostile to the interests of the U.S.

Needless to say, the U.S. has little international backing for its proposed adventures in distant lands. Even the U.K., loyal thus far, has been muttering aloud about the risks involved in an invasion of Iraq when the situation in Palestine threatens to explode into a full-scale regional conflict. But the U.S. has clearly shed its pretence, thin at the best of times, that it would actually seek to restrain Israeli military actions against Palestinian civilians. Victory in Afghanistan has propelled the right-wing, 'America first' unilateralists to the top of the heap. Disdainful of coalition building and completely blind to the growing catalogue of Israeli atrocities, this clique sees little amiss in trampling upon Arab sensibilities in the pursuit of geostrategic interests. The crisis of legitimacy of U.S. foreign policy is clearly reaching a moment of reckoning. And the countries with the most reasons for worry might well be Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, the most loyal allies of the U.S. in the Arab world.

Strengthening ties

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

Leaders of the interim government in Afghanistan visit New Delhi to reciprocate India's consistent support to the Northern Alliance.

WITH the Taliban militia pummelled into submission by the war planes of the United States and all the major cities of Afghanistan now under the control of the new government set up in Kabul, many top Afghan officials have made New Delhi their first port of call. Two prominent figures in the present government, Interior Minister Yunus Qanooni (see interview) and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, were in the Indian capital in the first half of December. Defence Minister Mohammed Fahim is expected to visit New Delhi later in the month. All three will keep their high-profile jobs in the interim government that will formally take charge on December 22.

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Officially Qanooni and Abdullah were on a "private" visit. Both have close relatives resident in the Indian capital.

When the Northern Alliance was in the wilderness, India was among the handful of countries that actively backed it. The cooperation between the Indian government and the anti-Taliban grouping had started soon after the Taliban took control over most of Afghanistan in 1996. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government's Afghan policy was a continuation of the one that was initiated by the United Front government.

The return of the Northern Alliance under fortuitous circumstances has come as a diplomatic bonanza for New Delhi. Despite the massive military support the U.S. provided them in the military campaign in the last two months, the Northern Alliance has shown that it has not forgotten friends who helped it when it was in dire financial and political straits.

Islamabad is noticeably unhappy with the sudden ascendancy of New Delhi in diplomatic matters related to Afghanistan, though the new President, Hamid Karzai, is known to be close to both the U.S. and Pakistan. Although India did not succeed in breaking into the select six-plus-two grouping on Afghanistan, evidently it enjoys much diplomatic and political clout with the present dispensation in Afghanistan. India, Russia and Iran, the traditional backers of the Northern Alliance, were among the first few countries to reopen their embassies in Kabul.

Russia too is happy with the current turn of events in Afghanistan though it is worried about America's long-term game plan for the region. The key Ministries in the new government are held by Northern Alliance leaders, who are beholden to Russia. Russia was the first country to reopen its mission in Kabul by landing an armed aid mission in military cargo planes at Bagran airport much to the surprise of the Americans. The U.S. managed to reopen its embassy in Kabul only in early December. The Americans were not too happy with the haste with which the Russians re-established their presence in Kabul and the help and encouragement they provided to the Northern Alliance as it was making the military push towards Kabul.

Iran is the most sceptical among the backers of the Northern Alliance about the turn of events in the region. Teheran feels sidelined by the recent developments. Unlike New Delhi, which seems obsessed only with the issues of terrorism and Pakistan, Iran has reasons to feel threatened by the U.S. presence in its backyard and also Washington's growing grip over the lucrative oil and gas business in the region.

Islamabad was perturbed by some statements Qanooni made in Delhi. "Pakistan should realise that its policy of terrorism has failed in Afghanistan and in other places," said Qanooni. He told mediapersons in New Delhi that the government of Pakistan should stop meddling in the internal affairs of his country. He added that the new government in Afghanistan was willing to have good relations with Pakistan if it was prepared to "give up its old ways and review its strategy of the past".

During his visit, Qanooni thanked the Indian government for its support to the anti-Taliban alliance. He requested India's help in the task of reconstructing his country. Many in the international community suspect that once it achieves its short-term political and military goals, the U.S. may again leave Afghanistan in the lurch.

"We want countries that were our friends during our bad times to remain friends in the time of Afghanistan's reconstruction," the Interior Minister said in Delhi. New Delhi reciprocated by pledging help for the reconstruction without any preconditions.

India has not been invited to send forces for the international peacekeeping mission visualised for Afghanistan. Troops from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) countries, such as the United Kingdom and Germany, and from pro-Western Muslim countries are expected to provide the bulk of the peacekeeping force. India and Pakistan will in all likelihood not be involved in the tricky task of peacekeeping.

Some Northern Alliance leaders, such as outgoing President Burhanuddin Rabbani, have expressed their misgivings about the necessity to have foreign peacekeepers in the country. Rabbani, who is critical of the Bonn accord which led to the agreement on the creation of the interim government, said recently that he hoped that this would be the last time foreign countries interfered in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. Mohammed Fahim, the designated Defence Minister, is also unenthusiastic about the presence of foreign peacekeepers. He said that their numbers should not exceed one thousand and that they should have a "very limited role".

According to Indian officials, New Delhi has offered to help in training Afghanistan's police force. In many Afghan cities, law and order has become a casualty of the war. India's special envoy to Afghanistan, S.K. Lambah, held wide-ranging discussions with top officials of the new government during a recent visit to Kabul. Besides offering help for the reconstruction programme, he discussed the prospects of long-term cooperation in matters of defence.

THE visit of the Foreign Minister-designate of the interim government, Abdullah Abdullah, was overshadowed by the terrorist attack on Parliament House. During his brief interaction with the media in Delhi, Abdullah Abdullah defended the new government's prerogative to choose its friends. He said that it was Afghanistan's right to maintain bilateral ties with any country and the recent high-level visits should be seen in this context.

"India is a major power in the region and Pakistan is a neighbouring country. And it is Afghanistan's right to maintain bilateral relations with India as well as Pakistan,"said Abdullah. Abdullah was the articulate spokesman of the Northern Alliance during the course of the war against the Taliban, and has been widely interviewed by international television networks. Abdullah was in Delhi at the invitation of External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, to discuss the situation in the region and the problems the new government in Afghanistan was facing. It was Abdullah's first visit to a foreign country after being designated Foreign Minister.

Those conversant with the politics of the region say that though Islamabad's Afghanistan policy is in tatters right now, it still has some important cards to play. Since Pashtuns constitute the majority of the Afghan population, Islamabad will continue to exert influence in Afghanistan. The interim government named in Bonn still has to gain credibility among the Afghan people, and it faces the uphill task of keeping the country united.

The U.S. has also gone out of its way to bail out the Pervez Musharraf government in Pakistan from tricky situations in recent months. U.S. officials have not denied the fact that 12 Pakistani military planes were allowed to land in Kunduz and Mazar-e-Sharif to evacuate Pakistani fighters trapped with the Taliban and Al Qaeda troops. "The Americans allowed the Pakistani terrorists to escape," said a diplomat based in Delhi. He is of the opinion that the U.S. has long-term plans in the region. "Pakistan is more important for the Americans in the region. They can destabilise the situation in Afghanistan very easily." According to the diplomat, who is conversant with the politics of the region, it will be unwise on India's part to place all its bets on the Northern Alliance. The policy could boomerang in the long run.

'The Bonn agreement will lead to peace'

world-affairs
Interview with Yunus Qanooni.

Muhamad Yunus Qanooni, the Northern Alliance's Interior Minister, is small-built, has a sparse, wispy beard, and walks with a limp - the result of a battle injury. He led the Northern Alliance delegation to the recent Bonn talks and revealed himself as a skilful negotiator - firm, yet capable of being flexibile. Yunus Qanooni, son of Muhamad Yunus, was born in Kabul in 1957. He finished his secondary education in 1977 and obtained a degree in Islamic theology from the University of Kabul in 1980. He then joined the Afghan armed resistance as a member of the Islamic Jamia led by Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani. Following the capture of Kabul by the Mujahideen in 1992, Qanooni was named the head of political affairs in the Ministry of Defence. He was named Interior Minister in 1996. He led several delegations representing the Islamic government of Afghanistan. He has six children. His family has been living in New Delhi for the past several months. Excerpts from an exclusive interview he gave Vaiju Naravane in Bonn:

Are you happy with the outcome of the Bonn talks? What will be the first priority for your country?

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It goes without saying that I am happy with the results of the Bonn negotiations. It is an event of historic importance, which will leave its imprint on the history of the Afghan people. The agreement will lead to peace and a happy future for my country.

Afghanistan has been in the grip of a cruel civil war. Do you think that the regional chiefs will now be willing to relinquish power and authority to the interim government?

It is clear that those who possess arms in Afghanistan today and whom we describe as "armed chieftains" must be integrated into the country's regular Army under the new interim government. Otherwise they will become a source of anarchy and instability. I am convinced that those whom we call armed chiefs will place the interests of the country before any other consideration and that they will play a key role in the peace process. They were heroes during times of war. They must now become the heroes of peace, if God so wills.

The document you have signed says specifically that no amnesty will be given to those guilty of human rights abuses and war crimes against civilians and prisoners of war. How will you bring these criminals to book? Do you think that there should be an international tribunal for Afghanistan on the lines of the international court on the former Yugoslavia?

Of course we want the war criminals to be tried and judged - those who have committed atrocities against their own people. But we must make a distinction between those who fought foreign imperialism during the aggression by the Soviet Union and those who killed their own people alongside Red Army soldiers. There is also an important distinction to be made between those who fought the Taliban and outsiders like Pakistan, Osama bin Laden and other foreigners. The Taliban and its leaders lit the brazier of war and killed innocent Afghans, and these criminals must be brought to justice in the same manner as the Yugoslav warlords. Justice and wisdom must carry the day.

What role can India play in the future of Afghanistan?

We have profound historical and cultural ties with the great India. India has never interfered in our internal affairs. On the other hand, India has helped us during moments of great hardship and need. India is a great nation and the great civilisation of the Asian continent. It can greatly contribute in the fields of education and industry and in training Afghanistan's future civil service, as it did just after Independence. Every Afghan carries the people of India in his heart and knows that Indians wish Afghanistan and its people well.

What role do you see for the United Nations Force in the long run and the short run?

We expect and we prefer Afghans to take charge of the security of their country since they know their nation and their people better than anyone else. If the need is felt, we would probably require a temporary, limited, U.N. force. I do not think we shall require it. However, it is better to wait for the installation of the provisional government on December 22 and see what will be decided.

You have pledged to withdraw all armed units from Kabul and other urban centres. Is that a promise you can keep?

Yes, we have decided on the withdrawal of all armed units from the streets of Kabul and their return to military positions they held earlier. With the help of God, we shall be able to put into practice the decisions agreed upon in Bonn. The presence of these troops in Kabul is not necessary.

Testing times

The Bonn accord can be a master plan for peace as it offers Afghans three chances to establish a working government.

AFGHANISTAN and anarchy. Will this association be broken this time round? Five power-sharing agreements in the past 14 years have failed to bring order to the land of warring tribes and ethnic groups that are suspicious of one another forever. Is the interim government of Hamid Karzai, which assumes office on December 22, any better equipped to achieve the goal? The odds are one too many but there is a big plus point: the need for peace. However, in Afghanistan peace has depended not so much on those who participate in the peace process as on those who do not.

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On December 5, after nine days of hard bargaining, a new blueprint for peace was born in Bonn. That itself was a virtual miracle, for voices of dissent and dissatisfaction had risen sharply during the dialogue.

Back in Afghanistan, the Taliban is almost vanquished. Kandahar fell rather meekly, just as Kabul did, but the two key targets, Mullah Mohammad Omar and Osama bin Laden, have vanished without a trace. Merciless strafing goes on over the cave complexes, already pulverised cities and even prisons full of prisoners of war (PoWs), even as key Taliban figures move out of the country reportedly to the border areas in Pakistan. Foreign troops continue to land in order to guard key places, amid resentment from the local people waiting for food and aid.

In this situation, the United Nations-sponsored blueprint for peace and democracy has the daunting task of replacing decades of administrative vacuum. And successful implementation is its real test. When the four Afghan delegations began the negotiations, the expectations were not really high. However, the realisation that a failure of the talks would result in civil war in their homeland and the lure of an aid of approximately $10 billion, led them to an agreement. Besides, there was immense international pressure to enable U.N. Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi to pull off a diplomatic coup.

The agreement sought to be as balanced and practical as possible. The participants decided to go in for a consensus chairman and five deputy chairpersons leading a 30-strong Cabinet for six months, until a Loya Jirga, or grand tribal council, could be convened and a transitional government established. This transitional set-up has been mandated to hold elections at the end of two years and thus deliver the country into democracy and peace. Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun tribal leader, was chosen for the top job. His name was announced from Bonn while he was fighting against the Taliban in Kandahar.

Karzai is the head of the influential Kandahar-based Popalzai tribe of Pashtuns. A strong supporter of former King Zahir Shah, he has served as Deputy Foreign Minister in the Mujahideen government in early 1990s. Once briefly allied with the Taliban, he could not agree with its extremist interpretation of Islam. The Taliban is suspected of killing his father in 1999. He has spent most of his time in exile and is considered the chosen candidate of the United States. He returned to Afghanistan in October to rouse the Pashtuns against the Taliban and narrowly escaped the fate of Abdul Haq, another U.S.-supported Pashtun leader who was captured and executed by the Taliban.

But then, what are his odds? Though Karzai's role and the agreement were welcomed by the international community and most Afghans, voices of dissent were heard within hours of the signing of the agreement. Karzai has the crucial U.S. vote in his favour. but deciding on him was not easy. After all, the Northern Alliance is a non-Pashtun set-up and the most powerful Afghan group. It has 18 seats in the 30-member Cabinet and will control three key Ministries. Its leader Mohammad Fahim got Defence, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Foreign Affairs and Yunus Qanooni, Interior. The Rome process or the second largest delegation in Bonn, which represented Zahir Shah, managed eight Ministries, including the crucial Finance and Reconstruction.

In Afghanistan, Pashtuns constitute nearly 40 per cent of the population. They live in the drought-hit south. The minority Tajik and Uzbek areas up north hold the oil and gas wealth of the nation. With 11 Pashtuns, eight Tajiks, five Hazaras, three Uzbeks and three members from smaller minorities, the new Cabinet strives for ethnic balancing. However, many people feel that the domination by Tajiks, who hold key posts, has further sharpened the ethnic divide. Pashtun leaders like Ismail Khan, who controls the Herat region, Peshawar-based Pashtun spiritual leader Pir Ahmed Gailani and former Mujahideen commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar have already criticised the arrangement as 'unbalanced'. They believe that the Pashtuns are under-represented; most of them are either exiles or have been given minor portfolios.

The two women members express the desire to break from Taliban traditions, but the task of uplifting half the population is daunting and without any immediate agenda.

These are subtle disagreements. But the bitterness expressed by the ferocious Uzbek warlord General Abdurrashid Dostum, head of the Jumbish-i-milli and 20,000 fighters, who controls the strategic town of Mazar-e-Sharif, is of immediate concern. His faction has been given Mining, Agriculture and Industry, whereas he had an eye on Foreign Affairs. He feels cheated by the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance. "We will not go to Kabul until a proper government is in place," he has said. The suggestion, perhaps, is that he might be ready to wait for the Loya Jirga where the imbalances will get another chance to be ironed out.

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A key figure of the Northern Alliance who is absent in the arrangement is Ismail Khan. His Iran-backed Shia group, Hizb-i-Wahadat, controls the Herat region and has a strong presence in the central Bamiyan area and Kabul. Also missing is Abdul Qadir, a Pashtun leader from the eastern Nangarhar province. The Taliban, too, has just merged with the crowd and its chief commander, Mullah Mohammad Omar, is untraceable. With their brand of Islam still finding strong advocates in the adjoining areas of Pakistan, one cannot rule out guerilla trouble from these areas.

The accord, if implemented properly, can prove to be a master plan for peace as it offers not one but three chances to the Afghans to settle their problems and establish a working government. The nine days in Bonn were like being in a hothouse. The negotiations revealed that none of the power centres was ready to let go. Agreement was tough, yet possible. The Karzai Cabinet provides a breathing space before the Loya Jirga. The six months can be used to iron out further differences and to include those who have stayed away. The grand council then offers another chance for a more satisfying arrangement, which can help hold general elections and give wider representation to the people. But this can fructify only in an atmosphere of peace and mutual trust.

Apart from the composition of the interim government, the Bonn accord stresses the need for an international peace-keeping force - another point of possible dissent in the near future. Though such a neutral force might be essential for the proper functioning of the Karzai-led set-up, it will be tough asking the Northern Alliance forces to vacate the places they have captured. It will also not be easy to persuade other warlords to relinquish control. As it is, Afghans do not relish the presence of foreign troops on their soil. This was evident in the resentment shown by the Northern Alliance when the British landed at Kabul airport to take charge of that lifeline to Afghanistan.

The Western powers see a possibility of tapping the oil and gas resources of Afghanistan as well as to use the country as a transit route to the Caspian oil basin, and hence the accent on peace and an international peace-keeping force. According to analysts, the Soviets came and went and the Taliban was installed and ousted for the same purpose. The calculation is that world powers will keep a close watch on the goings-on in Afghanistan, and for the sake of self-interest, the U.S.-led coalition will not let things deteriorate into civil war and anarchy once again.

The story of Afghanistan in the last three decades is dictated not so much by Afghans and their leaders but by a variety of outside forces. Superpowers and distant and not-so-distant neighbours have all developed stakes in the power equations in the country. It is only natural that the aftermath of September 11 has once again brought the outside factor into full force. Some neighbours have gained and some have lost - not just lost, but lost badly.

Pakistan is struggling to adjust to the new realities in the neighbourhood. Though the Musharraf regime has made all the right noises about how happy it was to see the collapse of the Taliban, it is not happy about those who have replaced it. Would Islamabad sit back and watch the unfolding scenario in Afghanistan? This would be an important question to determine the shape of things to come in the war-ravaged country.

One of the issues disturbing Afghanistan's neighbours is the prospect of long-term presence of U.S.-led forces in the region. Iran and China are two countries that are feeling uneasy. The U.S. has made it clear that it will be a long-drawn-out war and it might stay on for a considerable time. Only time will tell how all these factors will play out.

POTO and a stand-off

The Central government's attempts to push through the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance in the aftermath of the December 13 attacks on Parliament fail in the face of the firm stand on the matter taken by the Opposition parties.

ALTHOUGH the full dimensions of the terrorist attack on Parliament House are yet to be unravelled, questions about the future of the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) have already forced themselves into the focus of public attention. All Members of Parliament, irrespective of party affiliations, were shaken by the events of December 13. However, to its dismay, the government found that the sense of outrage expressed by all political groups could not be translated into an endorsement of POTO.

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The Opposition tended to view POTO as a mandate for lawlessness and, after December 13, dismissed the argument about the indispensability of POTO as a disingenuous one. It is a fact that the attack took place despite the fact that POTO was in place. The Ordinance was yet to lapse and the Government had all the authority of preventive detention and summary arrest that POTO conferred on it. What December 13 demonstrated was that POTO, even if enacted as a law, would not necessarily help the authorities gather the required intelligence regarding terrorist actions or initiate pre-emptive action. If December 13 did not result in a tragedy of greater dimensions, it was perhaps owing to sheer luck and the courage of a few dedicated security personnel who confronted the armed intruders. Congress(I) spokesperson S. Jaipal Reddy summed up the Opposition's mood when he said that the attack happened despite POTO, and not for want of it. "The government did precious little to take pre-emptive action despite prior information about a likely attack on Parliament," he said. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India also raised questions regarding the serious security lapse that led to the entry of militants into the Parliament compound.

A few members of the ruling combine justified the need for POTO in the aftermath of December 13. However, the government realised the impropriety of linking the Bill's passage in Parliament to the December 13 events. In fact, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan was examining the option of adjourning the winter session of Parliament ahead of schedule in the face of the deadlock between the government and the Opposition over the coffins procurement issue and POTO. Apparently, December 13 triggered some rethinking within the government and the Opposition about the need to let the session run its course and seek a sensible resolution of the impasse.

Uncertainties over POTO arose more from within the ruling combine than the Opposition. Apparently, there was a difference in perception between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Home Minister L. K. Advani. Vajpayee admitted during an impromptu debate in the Lok Sabha on December 4 that the Government should have consulted the Opposition parties before promulgating the Ordinance. This was in contrast to Advani's claim all along that consultations had taken place at various levels across the political spectrum.

Vajpayee and Advani also seemed to differ in their approach to achieve a political consensus. Although Vajpayee was willing to discuss the inclusion of safeguards to prevent the misuse of POTO, he warned that the government would go ahead with the Ordinance if the Opposition did not cooperate. Advani said that the government was not inclined to consider all the suggestions made at the December 4 all-party meeting on POTO. Apparently, the remarks of Vajpayee and Advani indicated the magnitude of the pressure from within the BJP in favour of POTO.

Advani agreed to make three concessions: deletion of Section 3(8), which the media feared could be used to curb their autonomy; reduction of the life of the legislation to three years instead of the proposed five years; and an amendment to Section 8 to provide for a judicial mechanism to be set in motion before the property of a suspected terrorist is seized or attached by the Designated Authority. Under Section 8 of POTO, the Designated Authority, who could either be a Joint Secretary at the Centre or a Secretary with a State Government, can order forfeiture of property if he or she is satisfied about its links to proceeds from terrorism. The power can be exercised irrespective of whether the person from whose possession it is seized is prosecuted in a Special Court for an offence under the Ordinance. Advani ruled out any more concessions saying that he would not "abdicate" his responsibility whether there was "unanimity" or not.

Even the three amendments that the government was willing to make were the result of pressure exerted by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which provides the necessary prop for the survival of the government. Although the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Trinamul Congress and the Janata Dal (United) warned at the all-party meeting against the potential misuse of POTO, they did not make it clear whether they would back the Bill if it did not include the proposed safeguards.

The government claimed that at the all-party meeting, attended by 24 political parties, nine parties had opposed POTO while 14 supported the passage of the Ordinance with some amendments. Mahajan claimed that the Congress(I) opposed POTO because of the manner of its promulgation, thus suggesting that the party backed its contents. Apparently, this was in line with Mahajan's well-known propensity to manufacture consensus where none exists since Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi had said precisely the opposite after the meeting. Characterising POTO as being structurally defective, she urged the government to start the process of consultations afresh before bringing in legislation to combat terrorism.

Somnath Chatterjee, senior CPI(M) MP, also wanted POTO to lapse so that the Bill could be referred to a Select Committee of Parliament and discussed thoroughly before enactment. Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) representatives felt that there was no need at all for POTO since existing laws were sufficient to tackle terrorism. However, in the aftermath of December 13, S.P. leader Amar Singh said that there was little use for legal measures like POTO when dealing with die-hard terrorists on suicide missions. Instead, he advocated military strikes at terrorist bases across the border.

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At the all-party meeting, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar raised nine serious objections against POTO. Perhaps the most serious among them was that there were no guidelines for notifying an organisation as a banned one under Section 18 of POTO. Pawar said that in the absence of any guidelines framed for the purpose, the delegation of power under Section 18 is too wide and would not be sustainable in a court of law. Asked whether the NCP would re-reconsider its stand in view of December 13, Sharad Pawar told Frontline that it would, provided the government addressed all the nine complaints it had listed in the memorandum submitted at the meeting.

A DAY after the all-party meeting, the government went ahead and notified two left-wing extremist organisations - the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist- Peoples' War) (People's War Group) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) - under POTO. With the ban on the PWG and the MCC, the total number of terrorist organisations named in the ordinance has gone up to 25. All the formations and front organisations of the two outfits were also named as terrorist organisations. Apparently, the government felt that the ban was necessary in the wake of stepped-up naxalite violence in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar and Jharkhand (Reports on pages 36-39). However, the notification of the two organisations under POTO was superfluous since they were already banned in the States where they were active.

The government's move to increase the number of organisations banned under POTO was seen as a serious impropriety as it was made close on the heels of serious reservations expressed by various political parties about the legal validity of the Ordinance. The government justified the exclusion of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah), a militant outfit active in some northeastern States, from POTO on the grounds that peace talks were under way with it. Vajpayee had, during his recent visit to Japan, held a dialogue with NSCN(I-M) representatives. Congress(I) MP Kapil Sibal asked: "If this is a valid criterion, what prevented the government from starting a dialogue with the PWG and the MCC as well?"

On December 11, the government's attempt to introduce a partly diluted Bill to replace POTO was stalled in the Lok Sabha owing to procedural wrangles. With barely a week to go for the conclusion of the winter session, time was running out for the government. Moreover, though December 13 had created a confrontational mood in the government, the Opposition remained sceptical.

The re-promulgation of POTO was an alternative that the government considered seriously, though it would be legally inadvisable. The Supreme Court's Constitution Bench in D.C. Wadhwa vs the State of Bihar, 1987, had held that re-promulgation of ordinances without placing them before the legislature as required in a routine manner would amount to a fraud on the Constitution. The court held that any such re-promulgated ordinance would be struck down. However, the Bench said that a re-promulgation may be justified in an extreme case when, owing to the pressure of business, the legislature may be unable to enact a statute in place of an ordinance. However, to resort to it as a matter of practice would constitute "usurpation by the executive of the law-making function of the legislature".

It is evident that POTO has not been ratified and enacted as a law on account of a failure of political consensus rather than the pressure of legislative business in Parliament. The re-promulgation option, if it is resorted to, could well be challenged in court. But even if it is not, it would be no less a fraud on the Constitution.

Laloo Prasad's complaint

RASHTRIYA JANATA DAL president Laloo Prasad Yadav, who has had to relinquish the chief ministership of Bihar following his prosecution in the fodder scam and disproportionate assets cases, gave vent to his anger and frustration in his reply to the Chairman of the Ethics Committee of Parliament, former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar. The committee had invited views from 43 leaders of various political parties, out of which only eight replied. Laloo Prasad Yadav was one of them.

While agreeing that a Code of Conduct was necessary for elected representatives, Laloo Prasad Yadav expressed concern at the "paper trial" of leaders. He said that they felt helpless as even the governments of the day failed to provide protection in such cases. The leaders, more often than not pronounced innocent in the end, were tried and declared guilty in media trials, permanently damaging their image and reputation, he said. He urged Chandra Shekhar to do something about this.

Excerpts from the letter, dated May 3, 2001:

"...but before spelling out suggestions on specific points in your questionnaire, I would like to draw your attention towards increased incidence of paper trials of public representatives by host of bodies like press, electronic media, judiciary and bureaucracy. Politicians are becoming the common target of these bodies and an impression is being created by them as if public figures are responsible for all the ills plaguing the nation...

"Elected members of Parliament and State legislatures who are at the centre of these attacks find themselves in a very helpless condition because verdict against them is publicly pronounced even before trial. In majority of these cases of calumny the victim MPs and legislators are found innocent at the end of judicial trial but damage to their reputation had by then been done publicly through media reports. They do not get any relief after being pronounced innocent... The governments in power also do not come to their help... so the onus to fight all these attacks on their character comes on the individual members themselves."

Code and conduct

Proceedings in the winter session of Parliament prove that the mere adoption of a Code of Conduct for members will not ensure discipline and decorum.

ON November 25, an all-India conference of presiding officers, Chief Ministers, Ministers for Parliamentary Affairs and leaders and whips of political parties adopted unanimously a resolution on "Discipline and decorum in Parliament and legislatures of State and Union Territories". This was preceded, on November 22, by the tabling in Parliament of a report on a code of conduct for parliamentarians painstakingly prepared by a committee on ethics. Yet, the following days saw the two Houses of Parliament plunging into disorder. The Code of Conduct went out of the window as some members, both from the Opposition parties and from the treasury benches, flouted the Chair's ruling and interrupted proceedings.

The Code of Conduct for members is categorical about what one can and cannot do while the proceedings of the House are on. The dos include: always address the Chair, keep to one's usual seat while addressing the House, maintain silence while not addressing, maintain the inviolability of the question hour, refrain from rushing into the well of the House, and resume one's seat as soon as the Speaker rises to speak. The don'ts include the following: do not interrupt any member while speaking by disorderly expression or noises, do not obstruct proceedings, do not shout slogans inside the House, do not question or comment on the ruling of the Chair, do not speak unless called by the Chair or speak unparliamentary words, do not use one's right of speech to obstruct the business of the House, among others.

A look at the proceedings of Parliament in recent days would establish that the Code of Conduct has been observed more in its violation than in its compliance. The Code of Conduct makes it mandatory for members to disclose their income, assets and liabilities through a financial disclosure statement immediately after being elected and after the completion of their term; requires them to file revised forms whenever any changes occur; and recommends that a register of members' interest be maintained on the basis of information furnished by them.

The code specifies that violations would be punishable by measures such as admonition, reprimand, censure, or withdrawal from the House for offences of a less serious nature and by automatic suspension from the services of the House for grave misconduct, which includes rushing into the well of the House. It calls upon the leaders of political parties and the leaders of the House and the Opposition to ensure disciplined behaviour by members on their respective sides and directs the government and the treasury benches to be more positive and responsive towards the Opposition by responding promptly to matters raised by them on the floor of the House. Besides, it calls upon the presiding officers and leaders of political and legislature parties to ensure that new members are given proper orientation and training in parliamentary procedure, discipline and decorum.

However, November 26 saw pandemonium in the Lok Sabha. While Opposition members vociferously demanded that the government withdraw the controversial circular ordering the deletion of certain portions from some history textbooks published by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the treasury benches tried to shout them down. Members of the Bharatiya Janata Party refused to heed the Speaker's repeated request that only the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs speak on behalf of the government. They continued to protest vociferously against the use of expressions such as "Talibanisation of education" by the Opposition as well as the charge that the government sought to impose its "obscurantist" ideas by rewriting history. The Parliamentary Affairs Minister added to the pandemonium by declaring that what the Opposition was doing was akin to what Joseph Goebbels had done - keep repeating lies until others believed them. When he announced that the circular relating to the NCERT textbooks would not be withdrawn, the entire Opposition staged a walkout. Former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, who remained in his seat, strongly objected to the Goebbels parallel, which he said was extremely unfortunate.

Again on November 28, Congress(I) member of the Rajya Sabha K.K. Birla refused to put supplementary questions to Defence Minister George Fernandes, despite the Chair directing him to do so. The Opposition has been boycotting Fernandes, objecting to his reinduction into the Cabinet even as a commission of inquiry was probing the charges against him in the Tehelka affair. As Birla refused to put his question to the Minister, the entire Opposition rose in his support. Members of the ruling coalition joined issues with this, leading to uproarious scenes.

The Code of Conduct is categorical about the "inviolability" of the question hour. The Lok Sabha witnessed ugly scenes as the Opposition demanded a statement from the government on the alleged violation of Indian air space by a U.S. helicopter from USS John Young, a U.S. ship that had docked at the Chennai port. Opposition members staged a walkout protesting against the absence of any senior Minister to reply to an issue of national importance. The House witnessed a similar scene the next day too as Opposition members refused to put any question to Fernandes. There were noisy scenes during zero hour, again followed by a walkout by the Opposition when Fernandes started reading out a statement on the helicopter issue.

The "inviolability" of question hour was violated once again on December 3 as Opposition members in the Lok Sabha protested against Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee's statement in Hyderabad on December 2 on the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO). Accusing the Prime Minister of playing politics in the name of POTO, they said that his statements had hurt the feelings of the minorities. The Prime Minister refuted the charges and took Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav to task for disrupting question hour. "Heavens would not have fallen if he had raised the issue during zero hour. What is he doing if not playing politics by raising this issue during question hour?" Vajpayee asked.

Members continued to obstruct proceedings, forcing adjournments on the following days too. While on December 6 it was the protest against the demolition of the Babri Masjid, on December 7 the issue was the apparent connivance of five Cabinet Ministers in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's (VHP) programme of temple construction. Both the Opposition and the treasury benches raised slogans, which ensured that the House was adjourned within minutes of assembling on December 7. The next day the Lok Sabha witnessed more unruly scenes as members almost came to blows after the House was adjourned following unprecedented uproar: it was not the Opposition but members of the ruling coalition that flouted the Chair's ruling; they insisted on obstructing the speech by the Congress(I)'s Priya Ranjan Das Munshi. Even after the House was adjourned, members from both sides were seen menacingly gesticulating at each other, some of them even making offensive gestures and shouting each other down.

The latest violation, interestingly, came barely 24 hours after the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business were amended to provide for punishment for unruly behaviour. Other rules in the Code of Conduct, such as the one requiring all members to be present when important debates or business transactions take place, are often flouted. For example, the much-demanded debate on the intrusion by VHP leaders into the sanctum sanctorum of the makeshift temple in Ayodhya saw only a handful of members present.

The debate on farmers' issues, which took place earlier, saw very thin attendance. The absences mostly remain unexplained as is stated in the report of the Committee on Absences that was tabled in Parliament on November 22. The committee takes into account only those who judiciously apply for leave explaining the reason for their absence from their respective Houses. Those who wilfully choose to stay away, or those who merely come to sign the register, far outnumber them. A recent case in point was an incident in the Rajya Sabha on December 7 when the post-lunch session, which was supposed to discuss frequent disruptions in the proceedings, was delayed by 15 minutes for lack of quorum. The issue of frequent adjournments was raised by the nominated member Dr. Raja Ramanna, who said it had become common to disregard the decorum of the House, forcing frequent adjournments.

It becomes obvious that having a code is not enough to ensure decorum in the House. In order to maintain the sanctity of Parliament and the legislatures, there ought to be the will to adhere to the code. The Prime Minister has rightly observed: "We must not only evolve a Code of Conduct but also adhere to it." Here the responsibility of the government is greater than that of the Opposition. The Committee on Ethics has rightly observed that greater responsiveness and restraint on the part of the government and the treasury benches would go a long way in ensuring decorum in the House.

The Mumbai connection

Was young Mohammad Afroz from Trombay part of the terrorists' plans for September 11?

MOHAMMAD AFROZ was watching television in an airport lounge in London on September 11 when news of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York began to come in. Soon afterwards, he was told that his afternoon flight to Manchester had been cancelled and that the airport had been shut down. If the 25-year-old Mumbai resident's confession before the Mumbai police and the Intelligence Bureau (I.B) interrogators is true, this development was not just a minor inconvenience. Along with four other accomplices, Afroz had planned to hijack the Manchester-bound flight and then crash it into the Westminster Palace that houses the British Parliament, in London.

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A month after his arrest from a Mumbai hotel, Afroz' story continues to perplex the Indian intelligence community. If the account - that has led to Afroz being charged on December 5 with waging war against the state - is correct, it would suggest that there were multiple aircraft bombing cells in place on September 11, each with separate targets and each ignorant of the existence of the other. Although on December 5 Union Home Minister L.K. Advani announced that he had been "able to confirm" Afroz' confessional statements, key facts remain ambiguous. Informed sources told Frontline that Afroz faced his questioning with finesse, giving just enough information to whet the appetites of his interrogators, and then pulling himself back, using guile and evasion with the practised ease of an intelligence professional.

Weeks of sustained interrogation produced only the barest contours of Afroz' activities. In 1997, sponsored by his London-based maternal uncle Mubarak Musalman, Afroz joined Mistry Aviation, a training institute based in Mumbai's Mazgaon area and run by a retired Air-India pilot. That summer, he left for training at an institute working out of the Moorabbin Airport in Victoria, Australia. In an e-mail to Frontline, the manager of the Royal Victorian Aero Club, Joseph Ferlazzo, confirmed that a photograph sent to him by this correspondent by e-mail was "that of Afroz, who was training at the Australian College of Aviation Flying School in Melbourne, 1997-1998". Ferlazzo's mail said Afroz received his restricted licence, a basic permit, on a second attempt, and described the student as "quiet spoken and well presented". The current cost for a commercial pilot's course at the institute, according to its web site, is approximately Australian $22,470.

It was in Victoria, Afroz told his interrogators, that he was first recruited for the plot. A group of 31 South and West Asian flying students used to meet regularly at the al-Taqwa mosque, part of the local Werribee Islamic Centre. Afroz says two of the hijackers of Indian Airlines Flight IC-814 from Kathmandu in 1999, Shahid Akhtar and Zahoor Ahmad Mistry, whom he knew as 'Sandy' and 'Zia', were in this group. At the centre, a West Asian preacher, Maulana Mansoor Ilyas, sketched out the contours of the plot to a select group of committed cadre. Three targets were selected. The first was the Rialto twin towers in Melbourne, a 55-floor, 253-metre structure claimed to be the tallest in the southern hemisphere. The other targets were the Westminster Palace, and Parliament House in New Delhi.

THE story becomes more opaque from this point onward. According to Afroz, four groups of five pilots selected by Ilyas were told to acquire higher levels of flight training, of the kind that would allow them to fly commercial jets. Ilyas himself seemed to know not a little about aviation, guiding the young students through detailed pilot's charts of their proposed targets. After spending some time back in Mumbai, Afroz left India again in 1999, this time for a month-long course at the Tyler International School of Aviation in Texas, United States. The Tyler School is a premier institution, with fees for commercial pilots training running from $24,800 to $27,800. By some intelligence accounts, Mistry and Akhtar also attended the Tyler School shortly before the hijacking of IC-814.

At the end of his time at the Tyler School, Afroz again returned to India, spending several months with his family, evidently making no effort to look for a job. In May 2000, his passport entries show, he made a brief visit to Hong Kong - to meet Ilyas. They met at the Pakistan Hotel, a downmarket establishment frequented by budget travellers from South Asia. In July that year, Afroz was again sent for a training course, this time at the top-flight Cabair College of Air Training at the Cranfield Airport near Bedford in the United Kingdom. The Cabair College, which trains pilots for several commercial airlines, charges a hefty 47,235 for its Integrated Professional Airline Pilot's course, which enables candidates to fly large passenger jets. In an e-mail to Frontline, Cabair chief executive Graham Austin confirmed that Afroz had indeed studied at the institute.

Intelligence officials say that the real problem with Afroz' narrative is its lack of detail. For one, while his fees were paid directly to the aviation schools, Afroz offered no clear picture of just who met his day-to-day expenses. He claimed he used a credit card in Australia, but fumbled when asked just how he made his card payments. Nor could he remember the names of his landlords at his lodgings in Claremont Avenue in Victoria. Again, Afroz recalled one meeting with a group of seven other cadre at the Mumtaz Palace Hotel in Bedford, but has given contradictory accounts of their names, and the details of his discussions. And if Afroz is to be believed, Ilyas ran the operation in a loose and unprofessional manner. Bar the single meeting in Hong Kong, he maintained telephonic contact, oblivious to the need to brief and motivate his terrorist cell constantly. Of Ilyas' possible links with Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden, Afroz claims to know nothing.

By the time final orders were given for the hijacking of the London-Manchester flight on September 11, Afroz and his colleagues were, however, ready for the operation. Final orders had been issued by Ilyas on September 9, Afroz says, and tickets were purchased the same afternoon. But, the groups that hijacked the four planes in the U.S. jumped the gun by just minutes. Now without clear instructions on the next move, Afroz returned to India. He did not inform his family of his arrival, and chose instead to stay at cheap hotels in suburban Mumbai. By some accounts, the event that led to his arrest was an affair with a bar attendant in Navi Mumbai which led to a drunken altercation. Navi Mumbai Police Inspector Ansar Peerzadeh promptly arrested the young man, little realising just whom he had picked up. It took the Mumbai Police's Crime Branch-II almost a month to find out who Afroz in fact was.

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PERHAPS unsurprisingly, Afroz' family members dispute almost all elements of the police's claims. They are also furious that the Mumbai police have pinned Afroz with secondary charges of burglary, an evident ploy to secure his custody for a longer period of time. But their pleas of Afroz innocence leave several questions unanswered. For one, his father and brother deny he had trained as a pilot anywhere other than in Mumbai, a claim that flies in the face of facts. Nor are they able to say who paid for Afroz' pilot training abroad, and why he never sought a job in India. Other questions also remain. Why did his family never seek to ascertain just what he was doing abroad? And, why did he not tell his family of his return to India in September?

Afroz' background, however, gives some insight into his possible motivation. The son of a poor tailor, Abdul Razzaq, he studied upto the 12th standard. While his brother Mohammad Farooq worked hard and built up a profitable business as a customs clearing agent, Afroz was drawn to politics. In the wake of the genocidal anti-Muslim riots of 1992-1993, Afroz flirted with the Students' Islamic Movement of India, then a perfectly legal organisation.

As for his recruitment in Australia, it is worth noting that plans for the use of aircraft as bombs have been around since at least 1993. Documents recovered from Pakistani national Ramzi Yusuf, who set off a 1,500-kg urea-nitrate bomb in a vehicle in the basement of the World Trade Centre in February 1993, showed that his group had been planning to crash a chemical-laden jet into the Pentagon the following year, as well as to hijack simultaneously 11 commercial jets over the Pacific.

What is less easy to explain is the conduct of Western intelligence agencies. I.B. officials say that repeated requests for assistance over the past month have been stonewalled, some on the basis of points as inconsequential as who had sponsored Afroz' visa applications. Officials from the Australian and British police services arrived in Mumbai to question Afroz in late December, weeks after his arrest, while U.S. authorities maintained a studied disinterest in the affair. The intelligence agencies of the U.S. and the U.K. have not sought to question the dozens of suspects in their countries whose names have surfaced in the course of the Afroz affair. This is in stark contrast to past form, even in cases where Western intelligence had doubts about the credibility of Indian police claims. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials had, for example, played an active role in the investigations into an attempt to bomb the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi in early 2001 by Sudanese national Abdul Rauf Hawas. FBI officials even flew in lie detector equipment for Lashkar-e-Toiba activist Syed Abdul Nasir, who had been tasked to blow up U.S. consulates in Chennai and Kolkata in 1999. "This disinterest is very odd," says a senior Mumbai police official, "particularly since the Americans are picking up hundreds of people and holding them for months on the flimsiest of suspicions."

With media accounts of Afroz' arrest having hit the Western press, it is probable that police organisations in Australia, the U.S. and the U.K. will start to show at least some formal interest in the terrorist suspect. On December 7, Australian Prime Minister John Howard finally announced that his government wished to question Afroz. Howard also cast doubt on the Indian investigation's allegations, claiming they could have been "either embellished or fabricated". None of this, however, explains why Australian police, and those of the U.K., showed interest in the issue only after media protests in their countries. Such blase reaction to events this far raises the obvious question: was Western intelligence uninterested in Afroz because of ignorance, or because they knew the story already? In the not-impossible event that Afroz' activities were known all along to Western intelligence, this would suggest at least one conspiracy to bomb prominent targets using commercial jets was under surveillance, even if the most important one slipped through the net. Either Afroz or Ilyas himself, proponents of this theory suggest, could have been working for British or U.S. intelligence. While the claim has no evidence to support it, it does explain the ease with which Afroz was able to obtain finances and visas - and his reluctance to explain the details of just how he paid for his time abroad.

Either way, it is clear that the whole story of September 11 is still far from being told: the tragic events of that morning may turn out to be even more layered and complex than anyone can yet imagine.

Nailed again

The Comptroller and Auditor General raps the Defence Ministry for breaching principles of propriety in making purchases in the context of the Kargil War.

DEFENCE MINISTER George Fernandes is in the eye of a storm once again, following the release of the latest report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) on defence acquisitions. The CAG conducted a special audit at the request of the Defence Ministry in the context of allegations of irregularities in emergency defence procurement for the operations in and around Kargil. The CAG assessed the efficiency, economy and effectiveness of the defence procurement system in an emergency situation such as the Kargil conflict. As per information provided by the government, 129 contracts worth more than Rs.2,175 crores were signed. The CAG reviewed contracts worth Rs.2,163 crores.

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The CAG report, which was released in the second week of December, states that nearly all the supplies were either received or contracted well after the end of the conflict in July 1999. Its most damning revelation relates to the purchase of 500 aluminum caskets and 3,000 body bags at a cost of Rs.6.5 crores. According to the report, though these were not "complex items", only one bid (from an American company) was entertained and the possibility of indigenous and other sources was not considered. What the Opposition parties and many former defence personnel find even more objectionable is the price of the metal coffins - $2,500 (about Rs.1.2 lakh at the current exchange rate) apiece. Before taking delivery, the report says, no evaluation or acceptance tests were carried out. According to the Defence Ministry, the procurement was expedited owing to the urgent need to airlift bodies from the Kargil sector. But the coffins came too late.

The CAG investigations showed that the United States-based firm Butron and Baize had requested the Defence Ministry in December 1999 that the weight specification of the caskets be changed from 18 kg to 55 kg. Even before the government could consider the request and give a formal reply, the company shipped 150 caskets in March 2000. The government had already made a down payment of $337,500, that is, 90 per cent of the contracted value. On inspection it was found that the coffins were in an unsatisfactory condition. And they were too heavy. They were welded, and not die-pressed as specified by the Army.

The CAG report points out that the supplier had indicated that the aeronautical grade aluminum used for making the casket accounted for 75 per cent of the cost. This would work out to a rate of Rs.45.31 lakhs a tonne. The CAG has said that the price of high grade aluminum at the London Metal Exchange in August 1999 was Rs.63,360 a tonne ($1,440) at the rates that prevailed then. The American company had obviously given a different price. Reports from the U.S. cast doubts about the standing of the company and indicate that the contract from India was the only one of its kind that it had bagged. In August 2001, the government cancelled the contract on the grounds that the caskets were too heavy and decided not to pay the remaining 10 per cent of the amount.

The CAG report details 35 other cases in which rules and procedures were flouted. According to it, the government "knowingly paid" Rs.44.21 crores more for certain items by ordering supplies (worth Rs.260.55 crores) that did not meet the quality requirements. The government also found itself saddled with time-expired ammunition worth Rs.91.86 crores. It made purchases worth Rs.107.97 crores that were in excess of the authorised and required quantity.

Besides, the report says, ammunition worth Rs.342 crores was "contracted for import on grounds of operational emergency" though similar ammunition was being produced in ordnance factories in India. Bureaucratic delays cost the exchequer another Rs.199.42 crores, it says. The CAG concludes: "Thus, while critical supplies of clothing, ammunitions and arms could not reach the troops during the (Kargil) operation, an amount of Rs.1,046 crores, almost half of the total, entirely in foreign exchange, was spent fruitlessly, breaching established principles of propriety."

THE "casket" issue rocked Parliament, which was already agitated over the reinduction of Fernandes as Defence Minister. Most of the Opposition parties objected to the Prime Minister's decision to take back Fernandes when an inquiry commission was investigating the "Tehelka tapes expose" relating to defence purchases. There are reports that even some sections within the Bharatiya Janata Party and the National Democratic Alliance led by it are unhappy with the reinduction of Fernandes.

The Opposition was united in demanding the resignation of Fernandes. The Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) issued a statement describing the CAG report as a "damning indictment" of the government. It said that Fernandes should be "immediately removed" in order to restore people's confidence in the vital Defence Ministry. Addressing the media on behalf of the Opposition, Somnath Chatterjee, the CPI(M)'s leader in the Lok Sabha, said that the House would not be allowed to transact any business until Fernandes was removed from the Cabinet. The Opposition, he emphasised, had no other option as the government had failed to come up with a response to its demands. He accused Fernandes of withholding information on the dates of purchase of the equipment mentioned in the CAG report.

Former Prime Minister V.P. Singh held Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee responsible for the matter. He pointed out that Vajpayee had re-inducted Fernandes as Defence Minister before the Justice K. Venkataswami Commission investigating the Tehelka affair had cleared his name.

The Congress reminded Vajpayee of his demand for immediate action on the CAG report on the acquisition of Bofors howitzers 13 years ago when he was a leading player in the Opposition. Party spokesperson S. Jaipal Reddy objected to Law Minister Arun Jaitley's "attempts to defend" the beleaguered Defence Minister. Referring to Jaitley's comment that the CAG report was a "routine" one, he accused the Minister of trying to play down its importance. "It is unfortunate that this kind of outrageously wrong precedent is being set by none other than the Law Minister," he said.

Addressing mediapersons at the BJP's office in Delhi, Fernandes tried to play down the importance of the report by saying that it was the job of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to fix responsibility on the basis of the CAG report. However, Somnath Chatterjee rejected Fernandes' argument. He said: "Since the report has become the property of both the Houses of Parliament, the members could decide on the issue, considering the seriousness of the findings."

Fernandes generated another controversy when he told a news agency that the order for caskets was revived after the Army's Eastern Command chief, Lt.Gen. R. Eipe, made a request to the then Chief of the Army Staff, Gen. V.P. Malik. The Army, he said, had earlier come to the conclusion that the price quoted for the coffins was prohibitive. Gen. Malik refuted Fernandes' claims, saying that the deal was negotiated by the Defence Ministry and the procurement was approved by the then Defence Secretary.

The CAG's office has reiterated that its report was based solely on Defence Ministry documents. Fernandes had said that the original price of $172 a casket quoted in 1994 was based on hearsay. CAG officials, however, said that a Defence Ministry file contains a 1995 proposal by the Army's Western Command suggesting the purchase of aluminum caskets that cost around $170 each. The Western Command had noted that the U.N. mission in Somalia had paid this price for similar coffins.

According to reports, the price negotiating committee which approved the 1999 casket deal was headed by Joint Secretary (Ordnance) L.M. Mehta, with Maj-Gen. S.P. Murgai as a member. Both the names figure prominently in the Tehelka tapes. They allegedly succumbed to monetary and material inducements from Tehelka journalists masquerading as arms dealers.

An aggressive game plan

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad's aggressive stance on the construction of a Ram temple raises the suspicion that the Sangh Parivar plans to spring a surprise in Ayodhya.

COME December, the country hears the rumblings of the Ayodhya issue. This year the noises from the Hindutva brigade have been louder than usual, for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections are just round the corner. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which has been in the forefront of the campaign for the construction of a temple in Ayodhya, however, maintains that its plan to begin the construction in March has nothing to do with the elections. It has announced that the work will start any day after March 12, on a date to be announced by the Dharma Sansad. The VHP has also made it clear that it does not care if its programme leads to the fall of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and that it is ready to face even violent consequences as it did in October-November 1990 when the Mulayam Singh Yadav government opened fire on kar sevaks in Ayodhya.

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Besides mobilising opinion through programmes such as yagnas, the chanting of mantras and the distribution of miniature trishuls (tridents) in Uttar Pradesh, the VHP has launched a comprehensive public relations exercise. The confidence with which VHP leaders speak about the construction programme conveys the impression that there is more to it than meets the eye. Their confidence stems from the belief that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre will not dare to use force on a huge congregation of Ram bhaktas and that when it comes to the crunch Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee could do a Kalyan Singh: refuse to use force against the congregation, own moral responsibility for the failure to maintain the status quo at the disputed site, and tender his resignation. In the meantime, as per the plan, a temple will come up the same way a makeshift temple was erected during the turmoil following the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

Senior VHP leaders told Frontline that most of the groundwork for erecting the temple had been completed, with parts of the temple having been fabricated at workshops in different parts of the country. "At the workshops in Jaipur and Ayodhya most of the basic work has already been done. All that remains is transporting the carved pieces to the site and placing them in the right position. The carving for the entire basic structure has been done. The temple could be erected in a matter of hours," said a VHP leader.

Leaders of the VHP said that once lakhs of people congregated at the designated site, no force in the world could prevent them from doing whatever they desired. The VHP's vice-president, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, said: "At the most they would use force, open fire. But if you remember, all the force at Mulayam Singh's disposal could not stop kar sevaks from climbing atop the dome of the Babri Masjid in 1990 and hoisting the bhagwa dhwaj there. So this time too, what more can they do? Kill some people? We are prepared for that". After February 16, 2002, he said, 20,000 VHP workers will camp in Ayodhya for 100 days, chanting mantras and performing yagnas and other rituals. They would finally start the construction, he said. Asked about Home Minister L.K. Advani's announcement in the Lok Sabha that the government will not allow anyone to change the status quo in Ayodhya, the VHP leader said: "We do not need the government's permission to build the temple. They can say or do what they like. Our programme remains unaltered. If lakhs of people gathered in Ayodhya and surrounded the site, would the government be able to prevent them from doing what they want? When people desire, governments have to give way."

Will not any such action lead to the fall of the Vajpayee government? The VHP does not seem to be bothered about that eventuality. Giriraj Kishore said: "It is not our responsibility to ensure the government's survival. For us, it is the temple that is more important, not the government. In any case, it is not a BJP government. He (Vajpayee) is too dependent on the allies." Regarding the Prime Minister's assurance that all obstacles in the way of temple construction will be removed by March 12, the VHP leader said: "He is the Prime Minister, so we have to believe him. It is good for us that the Prime Minister himself is talking about removing obstacles in the way of the construction of the temple. I wish him luck because he has made this promise to Paramhans Ramchandra Das (chairman of the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas). He has made the promise to a brahmachari and he better fulfil it."

The VHP has launched mass contact programmes. Its volunteers have been meeting politicians of all hues, including parliamentarians, and explaining their stand. VHP leader Ashok Singhal recently met All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary Jayalalithaa.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has offered its support to the VHP's programme. Addressing a press conference on December 6, RSS spokesperson M.G. Vaidya said the Sangh would give unqualified support to the programme. Constructing temples at Kashi and Mathura was also on its agenda, he said. Asked whether the programme would not lead to a confrontation with the NDA government, which has committed itself to maintaining the status quo in Ayodhya, Vaidya said: "There need not be any confrontation. We should trust the Prime Minister, who has said that all impediments to the construction of the temple would be removed before March 12."

The government has indeed expressed its resolve to maintain the status quo in Ayodhya. Its latest public pronouncement on this issue came during the Lok Sabha debate on December 3 on the intrusion of VHP leaders into the makeshift temple on October 17. Replying to the debate, Advani said: "We are responsible for maintaining the status quo in Ayodhya as per the Supreme Court order without in any way changing, altering or adding to the existing structure. We will not allow anyone to change the status quo there. The government will ensure compliance of court orders." But then, how does one explain the kid-gloves treatment that was given to VHP leaders Ashok Singhal and S.C. Dixit after they stormed the disputed area, violating a court directive prohibiting entry? They have been booked for "obstructing government personnel from discharging their duty". Such dichotomy between words and deeds is robbing the government of any credibility it has on the Ayodhya issue, it is being pointed out. "Do you think senior government officials were not present there when Singhalji and Dixitji went inside?" asked Acharya Giriraj Kishore. His observation adds to the feeling that when it comes to the crunch, the administration will remain a mute spectator, as it did on December 6, 1992.

Also, just before the Babri Masjid was demolished, the U.P. government too had expressed its commitment to protect the masjid - in its affidavit in the Supreme Court and at the National Integration Council meeting.

The Sangh Parivar's new aggression has already vitiated the atmosphere. Various Muslim organisations have declared that they will physically intervene if the government fails to stop the VHP's plan to construct the temple at Ayodhya. But the governments at the Centre and in the State do not seem to have been prepared to deal with the VHP onslaught. If the BJP fails to win the Assembly elections in U.P., the problem will only aggravate.

IN an effort to strengthen the Hindutva agenda, the Bajrang Dal has now taken up cudgels on behalf of Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan. According to Bajrang Dal leaders, these countries have been converted into "concentration camps" where Hindus are raped, killed and rendered homeless. They say that atrocities on Hindus in Bangladesh have increased since the Khaleda Zia government took over. Bajrang Dal leader Surendra Jain said: "There is a 10 per cent increase in the influx of Hindus since this government took charge. We demand the government of India to take up the issue with the government of Bangladesh and snap all diplomatic ties with Bangladesh and Pakistan until the atrocities on Hindus stopped." He urged the government to cancel the bus and train services to Dhaka and Lahore. He warned that if these demands were not met, "the Hindu youth will take it upon himself to act". He has set December 26 as the deadline for the Centre to act on these demands.

A Minister's commitment

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The youngest member of the Vajpayee Cabinet, Civil Aviation Minister Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, is said to be enjoying the Prime Minister's confidence on the Ayodhya issue. The NDA government, he says, is bound by the commitment given to the nation by the Prime Minister and Home Minister that the status quo shall be maintained at Ayodhya until a solution to the problem is found either through the courts or through dialogue. Excerpts from an interview he gave Purnima S. Tripathi:

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The VHP has announced its plan to start the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya in March. How does the government plan to tackle it?

We are very clear that there are only two ways in which a solution to Ayodhya could be found: either through the judicial process or through dialogue. In the meantime, the NDA government is bound by the commitment given by the Prime Minister and the Home Minister to the nation that the status quo will be maintained there. We should trust the Prime Minister and the Home Minister.

The Prime Minister has said that the Ayodhya issue will be resolved by March 12. How is this to be done?

The Prime Minister knows best. I can only say that whatever is the solution, it should be acceptable to both Hindus and Muslims. Even if a temple is built there, it should be acceptable to Muslims. Otherwise it would sow the seeds of future discord. Whatever is built at Ayodhya should be a symbol of friendship and peace between Hindus and Muslims.

But the VHP talks of constructing a temple at any cost.

They are merely retaliating to the constant politicisation of the Ayodhya issue by the Congress and the Samajwadi Party in view of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. The Ayodhya problem has been created because of the mishandling of the issue by Congress governments in the past and the party is repeating the same mistake. For them (the Congress and the Samajwadi Party), Muslims have only one problem: the Babri Masjid. So they are trying to appease Muslims by keeping the issue alive. Why don't they talk of real problems such as education, unemployment and backwardness if they are our real well-wishers.

Can you say categorically on behalf of the NDA government that the temple construction will not begin in Ayodhya as announced by the VHP?

Yes, I can give my commitment on behalf of the NDA government that no temple construction will begin until it is acceptable to Muslims also. Suppose a temple is built there and it is not acceptable to Muslims, somebody would go there hundred years later and demolish it again. A lasting solution can only be found if it is acceptable to both Hindus and Muslims.

Upbeat, but cautious

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN the-nation

UNLIKE in May 2001 when Jayalalithaa was in a hurry to be sworn in Chief Minister after her party's victory in the Assembly elections, this time she does not seem to want to rush. Within an hour of news reaching her that the High Court had acquitted her, she announced that she would contest the byelection, which is likely to be held in February in Andipatti. Asked when she would assume the chief ministership, she replied that she would take the right decision at the appropriate time.

Apparently, the lessons learnt in May and September (when she had to step down as Chief Minister after adverse observations by the Supreme Court) have not been lost on her. She is prepared to wait because the judgment in the coal import case, another corruption case against her, will be out in a few weeks from now. Jayalalithaa did not want to take legal risks this time, AIADMK sources said. If she were to be sworn in Chief Minister without becoming a legislator, it will be challenged in court, citing the nine cases pending against her, including eight on charges of corruption relating to the period 1991-96 when she was Chief Minister.

The mood is upbeat in the AIADMK now. Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, who is only too keen to give up the Chief Minister's post, looked genuinely relieved.

A beaming Jayalalithaa characterised the acquittals as a manifestation of "god's mercy" and quoted from Subramania Bharati's poem that "conspiracy will encircle Dharmic life but Dharma will triumph in the end". The High Court orders had proved that false cases had been foisted on her, she said.

T.M. Selvaganapathy, Lok Sabha member from Salem and former Local Administration Minister, looked relieved that he too had been acquitted in the Pleasant Stay Hotel case. But he declined to react, saying, "I don't want to say anything which overlaps (sic) what madam has said."

Former Chief Minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president M. Karunanidhi said: "We respect justice. We respect justice more than a judge respects justice... To get justice, we should travel a long road."

Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy said that he will challenge Jayalalitha's acquittals in the Supreme Court. He was the original complainant in the Jaya Publications and Sasi Enterprises cases. R.S. Bharathi of the DMK, another original complainant, could also go in appeal. The State obviously would not appeal because the AIADMK is in power.

According to AIADMK sources, Jayalalitha may simultaneously contest from the Perundurai constituency, which may be vacated by AIADMK legislator K.S. Palanisamy.

JAYALALITHAA has perhaps decided to contest from Andipatti and Perundurai since the AIADMK is facing rough weather on the political and economic fronts. The mood is sullen.

Employees of State-owned transport corporations struck work in November demanding bonus payment on a par with what they received the previous year. The Tamil Nadu Electricity Board employees also threatened to go on strike.

The government's announcement of punishing increases in electricity tariff, bus fare, milk price and the price of rice sold in ration shops angered the people. (Frontline, December 21) The AIADMK's allies, who were already feeling alienated, called a State-wide bandh on December 7. Important allies such as the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), had contested the local body elections in October on their own. The Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) opposed the AIADMK on the issue of price rise. The TMC, the Congress, the CPI(M) and the CPI backed the bandh.

The DMK and its ally, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), gave a separate call for a bandh.

Jayalalithaa thus has no notable allies now and the AIADMK looks vulnerable. In order to soften the ground and to foil the bandh, Panneerselvam announced certain tariff and price reductions on December 5. The increase in the price of rice supplied through the public distribution system would come into effect only from May next, he said. Karunanidhi called the reduction an eyewash. The announcement was aimed at the Andipatti election and people should not be fooled by it, he said.

Enthused by the support for the bandh, PMK founder Dr. S. Ramadoss said a common candidate should be fielded against Jayalalithaa at Andipatti. Karunanidhi warmed up to the idea, saying that it should be duly considered.

Surprisingly, Bharatiya Janata Party State president S.P. Kirubanidhi ruled out BJP support for such a common candidate against Jayalalithaa. Earlier, the AIADMK singularly supported the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) tabled by the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre, whereas the DMK, a constituent of the NDA, opposed POTO. This fuelled speculation that the AIADMK would soon become an ally of the BJP. However, BJP spokesman Vijaykumar Malhotra dismissed such speculation.

A BJP leader said: "Jayalalithaa may be ideologically close to the BJP because she supported the kar seva in Ayodhya. But when it comes to practical politics and relationship, any day we will trust the DMK. The BJP is in no mood to accommodate Jayalalithaa."

Informed political sources meanwhile said that Jayalalithaa would not like to lose Muslim and Christian votes by allying herself with the BJP, especially when other parties are opposed to her.

Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president E.V.K.S. Ilangovan said the Congress would announce its decision only after the election date was announced.

The Left parties are clearly disillusioned with Jayalalithaa. CPI State secretary R. Nallakannu cautioned the AIADMK "not to dig its own grave" by ignoring the interests of lakhs of people who voted for it. The government could easily raise funds if it had the political will. It had not punished big industries for not paying taxes and electricity bills. But the poor farmer and daily wage earner were burdened with the price rise, he said.

Jayalalithaa's triumph

Madras High Court allows former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's appeal against her conviction in three cases of corruption and sets aside the sentence. The judgment removes the legal hurdles to her contesting elections.

IN the annals of the Madras High Court, no lawsuit would have triggered as much of interest and suspense as the appeals filed by former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa against her conviction and sentence in three corruption cases - the Jaya Publications, Sasi Enterprises and Pleasant Stay Hotel cases. And when Justice N. Dhinakar pronounced his orders on December 4 in a packed court hall, acquitting Jayalalithaa and all the other accused in the three cases, it brought tremendous relief not only to the accused but also to the ruling All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), of which Jayalalithaa is the general secretary.

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The significance of Jayalalithaa's acquittals is that now there are no immediate legal hurdles for her to get elected to the Assembly and be sworn in Chief Minister again. But other stumbling blocks remain. A Special Judge trying the "coal case", in which Jayalalithaa is one of the accused, is expected to pronounce orders in a few weeks. Trial is under way in the "disproportionate wealth case", in which she and others are accused of having amassed assets valued at Rs. 66.65 crores, when she was Chief Minister from 1991 to 1996.

The Jaya Publications and Sasi Enterprises cases are together called the TANSI cases. Jaya Publications and Sasi Enterprises, in which Jayalalithaa and Sasikala were partners, were alleged to have bought properties belonging to the Tamil Nadu Small Industries Corporation (TANSI) at the industrial estate at Guindy in Chennai at less than the guideline/market value. This was alleged to have led to a wrongful loss of Rs.3.5 crores and Rs.66 lakhs respectively to the government. Since Jayalalithaa bought these properties when she was Chief Minister, she was charged under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), which applies to public servants. She and others were also charged under sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The important findings of Justice Dhinakar in his two separate judgments relating to TANSI, which together ran to 369 pages, were: TANSI property is not government property and so there is no question of Jayalalithaa having bought government property; there is no specific law which bars a public servant from buying property; the Code of Conduct, which requires that Ministers should not buy government property, has no statutory force; "the market value does not lie in the property contemplated to be purchased but in the mind of the person contemplating to purchase the property"; the trial judge was not justified in using market value as the yardstick for concluding that there was a wrongful loss to the government; the prosecution had failed to show that Rs.7.32 lakhs was the guideline value but the defence showed "positive" evidence that the value of the TANSI land property was Rs.3 lakhs a ground (2,400 sq ft); and so "no sinister motive" could be seen in the transaction. Once it was held that there was no wrongful loss or wrongful gain, and a substantive offence is not made out, then there is no conspiracy (Section 120-B of the IPC).

After the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) returned to power in 1996 defeating the AIADMK, the Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID) filed the charge-sheet in the Jaya Publications case on November 15, 1996. The six accused were: Jayalalithaa (accused-1); her friend Sasikala Natarajan (A-2); former Chairman and Managing Director, TANSI, T.R. Srinivasan (A-3); former Rural Industries Minister Mohammed Asif (A-4); former Special Deputy Collector (Stamps) S. Nagarajan (A-5); and Jayalalithaa's former Additional Secretary R. Karpoorasundarapan-dian (A-6).

The charges were that the accused, between October 1991 and December 1992, conspired and enabled Jaya Publications to purchase 3.07 acres of land with a superstructure measuring 2,698 sq m belonging to TANSI Foundry, at below the guideline value, and that the building and machinery were undervalued. So Jaya Publications gained more than Rs.3.5 crores and there was a wrongful loss to the government. The State government also suffered losses in the stamp duty and registration fees payable. The charge-sheet said Jayalalithaa "abused her official position at every stage" although no "public interest" was involved in the transaction. She and others were charged under different sections of the IPC including 120-B and 409, and Section 13(2) of the PCA read with 13(1)(c) and 13(1)(d). She was also arraigned under Section 169 which prohibits public servants from buying or bidding for certain property.

The same six persons were accused in the Sasi Enterprises case. The CB-CID filed the charge-sheet on October 22, 1997. It said the accused, between 1991 and 1993, conspired and helped Sasi Enterprises to buy 2,550 sq m of land with a building measuring 1,550 sq m machinery, dies, tools and consumable stores from TANSI Enamelled Wires, Guindy, at undervalued terms. It led to a gain of Rs.66.11 lakhs for Jayalalithaa and Sasikala, which constituted a wrongful loss to the government. The accused were charged under sections of the IPC and the PCA as in the Jaya Publications case.

In the Jaya Publications case, Special Judge P. Anbazhagan convicted and sentenced to imprisonment all the six accused. Jayalalithaa received three years' rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs.10,000. Anbazhagan ruled that she had "dishonestly abused her office" as Chief Minister and bought TANSI property. According to him, "there was no force in the argument that TANSI was a private property."

In the Sasi Enterprises case, the only person acquitted was Mohammed Asif. Jayalalithaa was given two years' rigorous imprisonment. In both the cases, Sasikala received the same sentences as her friend. The sentences were passed under Sections 120-B and 409 of the IPC, and Sections 13(2) and 13(1)(c) and (d) of the PCA. Significantly, the Special Judge acquitted Jayalalithaa under Sections 169 and 119 of the IPC. Section 119 deals with "concealing design to commit offence which it is his duty to prevent."

In the Pleasant Stay Hotel case, Jayalalithaa, former Local Administration Minister T.M. Selvaganapathy and three others were charged with illegally granting exemption from building and hill area development control rules for regularising the illegal construction of five additional floors of the hotel at Kodaikanal, the hill station.

Special Judge V. Radhakrishnan, on February 2, 2000, convicted and sentenced Jayalalithaa to one year's rigorous imprisonment under the PCA. The other accused were sentenced to one year in prison.

All the accused in the three cases appealed in the High Court against their conviction and sentence. The DMK government appealed against the acquittal of Jayalalithaa under Section 169 IPC in the two TANSI cases.

JUSTICE DHINAKAR heard extended arguments in the TANSI cases from October 1 to November 1. He heard the arguments in the Pleasant Stay hotel case from November 9 to 22. The prosecution was led by Special Public Prosecutor and Senior Advocate K.V. Venkatapathi. He was assisted by advocates N.R. Elango, Sunder Mohan, P. Wilson and others. The defence was led by Senior Advocate K.K. Venugopal. Other defence lawyers included Senior Advocates N.T. Vanamamalai and Vinod Arvind Bobde.

The prosecution and defence arguments in the TANSI cases centred on these points: whether or not TANSI is a government undertaking; whether the payment made to TANSI amounted to less than the guideline/market value of the properties bought, which led to a wrongful loss for the government; whether Special Judge Anbazhagan caused prejudice to the accused when he substituted the term "guidance value" with "market value"; whether a public servant (Jayalalithaa as Chief Minister) can buy Government property (TANSI property in this case); and whether she attracted Section 169 of the IPC, which prohibits a public servant from buying or bidding for certain property (Frontline, September 28 and November 23, 2001).

Venugopal argued that the trial judge had caused prejudice to the accused by substituting the term "guidance value" with "market value". He contended that the guideline value was the only benchmark and once the prosecution could not establish that Rs.7.32 lakhs a ground was the guideline value, the trial judge was not justified in taking this figure as the market value to hold the accused guilty.

Venkatapathi countered that guideline value and market value were one and the same in the relevant area at the time TANSI properties were bought by Jaya Publications and Sasi Enterprises. In 1990, Jayalalithaa had bought the property of the nearby Heatex Equipment Limited and paid stamp duty for the property, accepting the guideline value of Rs.6 lakhs a ground. In 1991, she bought the property of Idhayam Publications and the sale deed showed that its market value was Rs.4.65 lakhs. Prosecution documents number 70 and 71 also showed that the market value of the land in the industrial estate was Rs.7.32 lakhs a ground in the year the TANSI properties were bought.

Justice Dhinakar said the amendment brought into the Rules under the Stamp Act indicated that "guideline value" and "market value" were different concepts, and that "guideline value" could not be substituted with "market value". The trial judge, having decided to read the charge omitting the words "guideline value", ought not to have taken into consideration the sale deeds relating to Heatex Equipment, Idhayam Publications and so on, to hold that the "market value" of the property was Rs.7.32 lakhs a ground. According to the Judge, the term "market value" itself was "vague, uncertain and a matter of guesswork." It was also not defined in the Stamp Act.

The trial court should have taken into consideration the sale of 2.52 acres, which was part of TANSI Foundry property, to the Tamil Nadu Co-operative Sugar Federation, and compared it with the sale of the same TANSI Foundry property to Jaya Publications because the price was Rs.3 lakhs a ground in both the portions of the land which together formed a whole. The best benchmark could only be Rs.3 lakhs fixed by the District Collector, which was accepted by the Commissioner of Land Administration.

The prosecution's failure to show that the "guideline value" was Rs.7.32 lakhs a ground and the positive defence evidence that it was Rs.3 lakhs showed that there was no sinister motive in the transaction, especially when the sale was by open tender, Justice Dhinakar ruled.

As regards (Jayalalithaa's) signature on the sale document, the Judge said the witnesses did not specifically state that she signed in their presence. (She had denied that it was her signature.) They only said that she and Sasikala affixed their signatures on the document. The prosecution did not prove that it was Jayalalithaa's signature.

Jayalalithaa was also charged under Section 13(2) read with 13(1)(d) and 13(1)(c) of the PCA. Section 13(1)(d) states: "A public servant is said to commit the offence of criminal misconduct if he (i) by corrupt or illegal means, obtains for himself or for any other person any valuable thing or any pecuniary advantage; or (ii) by abusing his position as a public servant, obtains for himself or for any other person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage; (iii) while holding office as a public servant, obtains for any person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage without any public interest."

Section 13 (2) states that "any public servant who commits criminal misconduct shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one year but which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine."

Since the prosecution did not establish that Jayalalithaa obtained pecuniary advantage by abusing her position as a public servant, guilt under Section 13(1)(d) of the PCA was not made out, Justice Dhinakar ruled. As there was no wrongful gain to the accused and consequent loss to TANSI, dishonesty was not established.

The Judge observed that the Chief Minister was not entrusted with the property of TANSI. The property, he said, was given to TANSI under the Government Grants' Act, 1895, and it was managed by a Board of Directors nominated by the government. It was an independent corporation registered under the Companies Act. Justice Dhinakar quoted from the rulings of the Supreme Court to show that TANSI was not an arm of the government and held that there was "no question of purchasing government property by A-1".

The Judge rejected Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy's charge (the court had allowed him to assist the prosecution) that had the land been parcelled out as industrial plots and sold, it would have fetched a better price. He said TANSI did not do it because it was felt that larger areas would then be lost for laying roads and other purposes. And merely because A-1 and A-2 lived in the same house, it could not be said they were partners in any conspiracy, the Judge said.

He said he was in agreement with the views of the Full Bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, which had ruled in Vidadala Harinadhababu v. N.T. Rama Rao (AIR 1990 AP 20) that the Codes of Conduct issued by the Union government and the State government were not statutory in nature, and could not be enforced by the court.

The Judge said Special Public Prosecutor Venkatapathi had argued that since the Code of Conduct contemplated that no Minister should purchase government property, A-1 has committed an offence under Section 169 of the IPC.

Section 169 of the IPC states: "Whoever, being a public servant, and being legally bound as such public servant, not to purchase or bid for certain property, purchases or bids for that property, either in his own name or in the name of another, or jointly, or in shares with others, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both; and the property, if purchased, shall be confiscated."

Venkatapathi argued that the words "legally bound to do" meant that the public servant should omit whatever is illegal. The word "illegal" applied to everything which was an offence, or which was prohibited by law and furnished a ground for civil action. This submission was based on the definition of "illegal" and "legally bound to do" in Section 43 of the IPC.

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Justice Dhinakar said a careful reading of the section showed that the words "certain property" dealt with property to be sold under various statutes. According to him, "legally bound to do " was different from "legally bound not to do" because a public servant under Section 169 of the IPC was not legally bound to do an act, namely purchase a property. The judge, therefore, said: "There must be a law prohibiting a public servant from purchasing a property and if the said public servant is not bound by any law, the act of the public servant in purchasing the property does not become illegal. It cannot, therefore, lead to civil action since the extended definition of 'illegal' in Section 43 of the IPC will not come into operation."

Section 189 of the Railways Act, 1989, prohibited a railway servant from purchasing or bidding for any property put to auction under Sections 83, 84, 85 and 90 of the Act, and so forth. There was a similar provision in the Cattle Trespass Act, 1871.

"The code of conduct not having a statutory force, Section 169 of the IPC cannot be resorted to by the prosecution to hold that A-1 purchased the property and that the other accused have abetted her in the commission of the offence," Justice Dhinakar said.

The Judge quashed the charges against A-3 (Srinivasan, who was Chairman and Managing Director, TANSI). Evidence indicated that the sale price of the land and the buildings was decided by TANSI's Board of Directors, to which the government gave approval. Srinivasan had no independent authority to decide these matters, the Judge said. There was no material against A-4 (Asif) to hold him guilty. The value fixed by A-5 (Nagarajan) at Rs.3 lakhs a ground could not be said to amount to undervaluation. He acted properly and no fault could be placed at his doorstep. A-6 (Karpoorasundara-pandian) had not committed any offence either.

Justice Dhinakar handed down a similar judgment in the Sasi Enterprises case.

IN the Pleasant Stay Hotel case, Special Judge Radhakrishnan had convicted and sentenced Jayalalithaa (A-1) to one year's rigorous imprisonment under the PCA for her role in granting illegal exemption in 1994 to the hotel from the building and hill area development control rules. The other accused in the case were Selvaganapathy (A-2); former Secretary, Municipal Administration and Water Supply H.M. Pandey IAS (A-3); the hotel's executive director, Rakesh Mittal (A-4) and managing director Palai N. Shanmugham (A-5). Radhakrishnan convicted all the five accused under Section 120-B IPC and sentenced them to one year's R.I. each. He held them guilty of conspiring to grant the exemption.

While the Judge acquitted Jayalalithaa of the offence under Section 477-A of the IPC (falsification of records), Selvaganapathy was sentenced under that section. The charge was that Selvaganapathy as Local Administration Minister in May 1994 wilfully falsified the file received from P.C. Cyriac, then Secretary, Municipal Administration and Water Supply Department, by removing an additional note from Cyriac containing objections for granting the exemption. The first three accused were also charged with obtaining pecuniary advantage for the hotel without any public interest, granting exemptions and relaxations to the hotel from rules and norms.

Mittal and Shanmugham were convicted under Section 109 of IPC (punishment for abetment). All the accused appealed in the High Court. Shanmugham died on April 9, 2000 and his appeal, therefore, abated.

In the arguments before Justice Dhinakar, Venkatapathi said the case rested on circumstantial evidence.

Arguing for Jayalalithaa, Venugopal referred to an observation of a Division Bench of the High Court on her and Selvaganapathy "not applying their mind" (when they approved the unauthorised construction). Since the Division Bench had said there was non-application of mind, there was no mens rea on their part for committing the offence under Section 13(1)(d) of the PCA, Venugopal said. "Non-application of mind is a far cry from corruption, illegal means and abuse of power... Dishonesty and mens rea should be attached to the act which turns out to be against public interest," he added. There was no wilful and deliberate attempt on her part to favour Mittal and Shanmugham, he said.

Vinod Arvind Bobde, Senior Advocate, who appeared for Selvaganapathy, argued that as Minister he had taken into consideration tourism as a matter of public interest when he approved the file (relating to legalising the unauthorised construction). Since Section 13(1)(d) of the PCA invoked the phrase "without public interest", the prosecution should establish that the order was passed without any public interest, he argued. "The Minister did not have any motive or interest but was acting as a public functionary with bona fide intention."

P.L. Narayanan, counsel for Pande, said his client did not show any undue interest in favouring the hotel promoters when building rules were amended. P.S. Raman, counsel for Mittal, said Mittal had sent the proposal (for legalising the construction) only to the Housing and Urban Development Department for perusal, and not to the Local Administration Department. This ruled out the conspiracy angle, Narayanan said.

In his reply, Venkatapathi said there had been several circumstances that established Jayalalithaa's culpability. As Chief Minister she approved the file relating to the hotel. In her statement to the police she said the Secretary had read out the entire matter to her. This meant that she was aware of the various objections from the Director of Town and Country Planning, the Architecture and Aesthetics Aspects Committee (AAAC) headed by the Chief Secretary and the Secretary, Local Administration and Water Supply.

Venkatapathi said that two ingredients were necessary to bring home the offence under Section 13(1)(d) of the PCA. They were mens rea and actus reus. Mens rea is the mental state, that is, the intention to commit a crime. Actus reus is the act of a public servant obtaining a valuable thing or pecuniary advantage without any public interest. The circumstances established against her showed that there was mens rea. And the Division Bench of the High Court had found actus reus.

Venkatapathi explained that the concept of "non-application of mind" was a ground for judicial review of an administrative action. It meant application of mind to irrelevant factors and non-application of mind to relevant factors. The High Court had ruled that relevant factors were not taken into consideration and irrelevant factors were considered in this case.

Referring to Bobde's argument that Selvaganapathy took the public interest of tourism into consideration, Venkatapathi said there was only one public interest involved in this issue and that was the protection of the environment. Besides, the Minister had not spelt a single word about tourism in his order, Venkatapathi said.

IN his order, which ran to 143 pages, Justice Dhinakar said that to appreciate the case it was necessary to be convinced that the additional dissenting note prepared by Cyriac was a genuine document. According to Cyriac, he took two photocopies of the note. He retained one and gave the other to prosecution witness 17 (the Joint Secretary in the department). In his evidence, Cyriac gave contradictory versions on why he did not hand over the copy to Pandey who took over from him as Secretary. Justice Dhinakar observed that the trial judge made an error in saying that Selvaganapathy was aware of the additional note as there was no evidence to that effect.

He ruled out any conspiracy in the transfer of Cyriac and the appointment of A-3 (Pandey) in his place. The Judge said he was unable to accept the suggestion that Cyriac "was deliberately dislodged from his position with a view to bringing in a pliable officer."

Justice Dhinakar rejected the prosecution's argument that there was a conspiracy in bringing an amendment to Section 217-Q of the Tamil Nadu District Municipalities Act. (The amendment empowered municipalities to exempt or relax any rule made under Chapter X of the Act even for buildings owned by individuals if they did not affect the ecology of a hill station.) A number of appeals were pending before the government for such relaxation and the government was contemplating grant of exemption in appropriate cases.

The separate notification on the relaxation of Development Control Rules under Section 113 of the Tamil Nadu Town and Country Planning Act was not at the instance of either A-1 or A-2, the Judge said. (The Section stipulates that the Rules have to be notified.) He added, "The learned trial judge has misdirected himself on a question of fact" when he held that the notification was issued at the instance of A-1 and A-2 because he did not consider the evidence of the Additional Government Pleader. The Judge, therefore, said that the notification was not in pursuance of any conspiracy.

Justice Dhinakar said the investigative officer's evidence that A-1 to A-3 did not receive any monetary consideration assumed significance. Unless it was shown that it was a dishonest order (granting exemption for an additional five floors), A-2 could not be blamed for it, the Judge said. Even if the order could not be maintained legally, he could not be accused of receiving illegal gratification, the Judge said. He was only guilty of legal mala fide and not factual mala fide. The Judge said, "I am unable to hold that A-2 passed the order with corrupt motive."

In the absence of material to show that Jayalalithaa, Selvaganapathy and Pandey received illegal gratification, the accused could not be held guilty, for performing their official functions. Justice Dhinakar said: "Men are infallible and therefore, if the order is contrary to rules and hence incorrect, no prosecution can be launched." He ruled that the prosecution's contention that mere exercise of power to confer pecuniary advantage to another person even without any dishonesty could attract the penal provisions of the PCA could not be accepted.

To make out the offence of criminal misconduct, two requirements were necessary, the Judge said. They were: the absence of any public interest and the knowledge of the accused that his act is without any public interest. "If the accused acted bona fide without any public interest believing that he is acting in public interest, he is not guilty of offence of criminal misconduct."

The hotel bed strength in Kodaikanal remained static even though the demand for beds had gone up. In 1991, the number of beds available was 1,200 against a demand of 2,120. Venkatapathi's contention that the Minister did not specifically say that he was passing the order in the interest of tourism did not necessarily mean that Selvaganapathy did not consider the tourism aspect because he had said the hotel site should be used to the optimum level. The Judge also acquitted Selvaganapathy of the charge of falsification of records. Justice Dhinakar remarked that the trial judge exceeded his jurisdiction when he said the collective wisdom of the legislature in passing the Amendment Act could not be treated as being in public interest. The court could not question the collective wisdom of the legislature.

The run-up in Punjab

With the faction-ridden Shiromani Akali Dal going downhill, the Congress(I) hopes for a landslide win in the February elections to the Punjab Assembly.

CHARAN DAS' ramshackle tyre repair shop has been festooned with Congress(I) flags, advertising the party to travellers zipping down the busy highway that runs past the tiny village of Adda Haddowal near Hoshiarpur. It is not, Das is at pains to explain, a declaration of his ideology. Until Punjab's Lok Sabha elections are held in February, the local unit of the Congress(I) will pay him a small sum for the use of the space. But there are no Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) flags to be seen in this village or, for that matter, anywhere else. "Of course not," the shopkeeper explains, "why would you spend good money on publicity if you know you're going to lose anyway?" With the SAD's core voters torn between the rival groups led by Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal and his arch-rival Gurcharan Singh Tohra, and the State itself in the midst of a growing economic crisis, more and more people share the Hoshiarpur shopkeeper's assessment.

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The more optimistic elements in the Congress(I) assert that the party, despite its own factional power struggles, is headed towards a historic landslide. Even the more cautious among the party's leaders believe that a comfortable majority awaits it in the Punjab Assembly, along the lines of its success in eight of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in the last general elections.

Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee(I) chief Amarinder Singh "maharaja" to many residents of Patiala (the centre of the princely state which his ancestors ruled for centuries), seems confident that he will rule again, this time as Chief Minister. The results of a pre-election survey commissioned by the Congress(I) and carried out by a south India-based market research organisation, had just come in. "Fifty-nine per cent of the people in Anandpur want a new government," Amarinder Singh said happily, "49 per cent in Pathankot, 61 per cent in Wagah and 60 per cent in Kharar. This is going to be a landslide, mark my words."

Chief Minister Badal might pride himself on having led the first Akali government ever to have completed a full term in office, but evidence that voters do not see the period as a happy one is not hard to come by. On December 11, the Congress(I) routed the SAD-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance in the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation elections, winning 13 of the 20 seats. The Chandigarh Vikas Manch, a local organisation of Congress(I) rebels, picked up three seats, with the BJP managing to secure just three seats, and the SAD only one. While Chandigarh residents are not represented in the Punjab Assembly, since the city is a Union Territory, their views tend to mirror those of urban Punjab.

The Chandigarh results, given that the city was until recently something of a BJP citadel, have left little doubt that both Sikh and Hindu urban residents are fed up with the SAD's record in office. If the emphatic rejection of the BJP by voters in Chandigarh is mirrored in major cities across the State during the elections, that in itself would spell serious trouble for the alliance, whose 1996 victory depended largely on urban Hindu votes. But urban voter distrust is not Badal's only problem. An estimated Rs.300 crores owed to commission agents for procuring October's paddy harvest has yet to be paid out. They, in turn, have not been able to make payments to farmers, who therefore have yet to see the record minimum support price secured by Badal turned into money in their hands.

BADAL'S best hope of salvaging something for the ruins, a rapprochement with the Tohra group, now seems out of the question. In November, Akal Takht Jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti issued an appeal to the Akali factions to unite, and work together to defeat the Congress(I). While Sangrur MP Simranjit Singh Mann flatly refused to accept Badal's leadership, Tohra said that he would consider talks with the mainstream SAD if the Chief Minister apologised at the Akal Takht for his "past wrong-doings". Baba Sarbjot Singh Bedi, the head of the coalition of Akali dissidents, the Panthic Morcha, went further at a press conference on December 5, stating that the minimum precondition for Akali unity was that Badal resign.

But Badal flatly rejected the demands. Instead, he moved to secure his flanks from attacks by the religious Right. On November 27, the Chief Minister ensured that his Officer on Special Duty and trusted aide Kirpal Singh Badungar was elected as the new president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee. Badal acted soon after he saw signs that the former president, Jagdev Singh Talwandi, was flirting with the Tohra faction. In the wake of a spate of burnings of copies of the Guru Granth Sahib by followers of religious leader Piara Singh in October, Talwandi had set up an SGPC inquisition into the links of major SAD politicians with the controversial godman. He had then charged Badungar with being a follower of Piara Singh, a thinly veiled attack on Badal.

Badungar's election incensed the Akali dissidents - Tohra camp follower Sukhdev Singh Bhaur even claimed that Badal had manipulated the Akal Takht Jathedar into absolving the new SGPC president of heresy - but could generate very real gains for Badal. Although the emphatic break with Talwandi more or less made any progress towards factional unity impossible, it will ensure that Badal does not face any sniping in the runup to the Assembly elections.

It will also give the Chief Minister some level of control over the SGPC in the probable event of his defeat in February. Such control will be politically crucial, for elections to the General House of the SGPC are scheduled to be held in June 2002. Fortynine lakh voters had registered for the last elections, held five years ago, but less than half that number have come forward so far. Whoever has the resources to push up voter registration will have an obvious advantage when going into the elections.

Another major source of support for Badal is Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Last month, the Prime Minister handed over Rs.1,500 crores for a welter of urban infrastructure schemes, which should help take at least some pressure off Badal's near-bankrupt government. The Punjab government has taken loans from a several financial institutions to fund non-Plan projects handed out by the Chief Minister personally to party-affiliated rural petitioners who attend his Sangat Darshan gatherings, a process which has siphoned money away from serious development activity. From December 1, the government has also sought to appease the BJP's business backers by abolishing octroi.

Some 150 municipalities, which used to gather the octroi, will now have to be refunded upwards of Rs.200 crores, for which the Prime Minister is expected to help with another short-term loan.

THROWING cash at voters is not, however, likely to do much to defuse the palpable anti-government feeling in Punjab. The huge rallies addressed by Amarinder Singh bear witness to the fact that the Congress(I) has become a credible political force in the State once again. The Congress(I) leader's major problem, for the moment, is infighting.

After defeats in byelections at Nawanshahar, Sunam and Majitha, former Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal had led a delegation to New Delhi to complain about Amarinder Singh's management of the party. She, however, received short shrift from the Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi and has since been silent.

Another dissident, Jagmeet Singh Brar, has also been ambiguous in the matter of his support to Amarinder Singh. Spats over seat allocations have already broken out at recent rallies, and could hinder a smooth election campaign.

Should the Congress(I) fail to secure a decisive majority, or should the BJP at a later stage seek to bring down the government, such simmering factional feuds could become significant. The prospect of a post-election coup is, in fact, a very real one. A new Congress(I) government would also have to face the unenviable task of sorting out the financial mess that the SAD government would have left behind. Despite a massive loan waiver of terrorism-related expenditure, Punjab's cumulative debt of Rs.63,000 crores is now larger than its entire annual State Domestic Product. On top of all this, Punjab's traditional wheat-rice agriculture is on the verge of a collapse.

A serious bollworm infestation saw cotton production fall from 270,000 bales in 2000 to just 100,000 bales this year. Much of the countryside is dotted by huge mountains of unsold grain, the consequence of the Union government's flawed food policies. In April, when the next wheat crop begins to come in, there will be no space to store the harvest.

Few of these substantive issues are likely to figure prominently in newspapers, which are likely to be dominated by the mechanics of putting together the final alliances that will go into battle next year. The Communist Party of India has already announced that it will ally with the Congress(I), although the details of seat sharing have yet to be worked out. The BJP and the SAD, too, are in the midst of seat-sharing discussions, which are likely to be problematic since the BJP has asked for a larger number of constituencies than in the past. The Panthic Morcha, for its part, has found a partner in the Bahujan Samaj Party, which could eat into the Congress(I) vote bank in some Dalit clusters. But the real significance of the coming elections will lie not in this fact but in the meaning of the results for Punjab's future.

Amarinder Singh, with his reputation for personal honesty, will have an opportunity to place progress, not arcane religious issues and communal feuds, at the centre of political discourse in Punjab. The Congress(I) leader has ambitious plans to change Punjab's agricultural scene, and to attract industrial investment.

He told Frontline: "We have identified areas of wasteful government expenditure which we can axe, and should raise about Rs.3,000 crores by doing this. We believe that we can also raise another Rs.1,000 crores by doing away with leakages in tax collections. That should help with the day-to-day running of the State...But, in the longer term, we need to break the dependence of Punjab's agriculture on wheat and rice, for which we are already paying far higher than world prices. We need to bring about diversification, and encourage the production of high value crops. We also need to create a better industrial climate, by doing away with the irrational industrial regime which has run textile, engineering and shelling units to the ground."

He is also the first major politician in many years who is talking about the State's appalling record in the field of education - it ranks 15th among India's States in literacy levels, despite its affluence - and about building a social security system for the landless poor and marginal farmers. "The problem with Akali politics is that it starts with Aurangazeb and ends a few years later. No one in the villages today is worried about what someone did or did not do 300 years ago. The issues are unemployment, corruption, and the state of the economy. People want action to combat inflation, they want drinking water, electricity, schools and decent roads."

Whether Amarinder Singh will be able to push through such reform in the face of a system widely believed to have become India's most corrupt in the course of the Badal years, however, is another question. And should the Congress(I) fail to translate its agenda for progress into real economic development, the pendulum will swing again to the religious Right: with potentially calamitous consequences for Punjab.

Talks and obstacles

other
R.J. RAJENDRA PRASAD

LIFE in the villages of northern Telangana in Andhra Pradesh has been seriously disturbed by the violence unleashed by the People's War Group (PWG) and the State government.

Successive Chief Ministers from Dr. M. Channa Reddy to N. Chandrababu Naidu have appealed to the PWG to shun the path of violence, join the mainstream of life, win public support for its cause and capture power through elections.

The PWG had ignored these appeals. But in recent months, the organisation has shown signs of a willingness to come to the negotiating table. However, there appears to be no meeting ground. After the spate of explosions that marked the first anniversary of the formation of the People's Guerilla Army, Chandrababu Naidu said that the PWG had taken a clear stand against the development of the State and that the blasts were aimed at scaring away investors. He asked the PWG and the Left parties to look at the progress that China had achieved and the changes it had introduced in governance while remaining a Communist state.

The suggestion that talks be held to end the violence first came from the Andhra Pradesh High Court. In a judgment in 1996, Justice M.N. Rao and Justice S.R. Nayak said that a peace commission should be set up with representation to all the parties involved, inspiring confidence in all sections of society, including the naxalites and the police, and backed by state power and consent, "to bring about a cessation of Police encounters and violence by Naxalites".

Justice M.N. Rao said: "Before closing this case, we feel it our duty to advert to the tragedy that has befallen the State and the continuing traumatic situation into which the State has been entrapped for more than one and a half decades. Between 1981 and 1996, 242 policemen were killed at the hands of naxalites while the civilian casualties attributed to naxalite attacks was 1,805. By May 1996, a total of 1,140 naxalites died at the hands of police. A soft state cannot protect the political and democratic institutions and the representative bodies from which it receives sustenance."

Inspired by the judgment, the Committee of Concerned Citizens (CCC) was formed in 1997 with S.R. Sankaran as convener. This organisation is doing commendable work in preparing the ground for talks. Sankaran, an Indian Administrative Service officer of the Andhra Pradesh cadre, was instrumental in promulgating Regulation 1 of 1971, which prohibits the transfer of land in the Agency areas to anyone other than a tribal person, with a presumptive clause that all land in the Agency area originally belonged to tribal people. He retired as the Chief Secretary to the Tripura government and was himself once abducted by the PWG in the Gurthedu forest of East Godavari district.

In its first report the CCC said that it was possible to find a long-term direction for a democratic restructuring of society which alone can address the basic issues. It pointed out to the government that it was futile to set pre-conditions that naxalites must surrender their arms or give up violence before talks could be held. The CCC said that democratic protests should not be treated as naxalite activities and that the police force should not be used to suppress them. It advised naxalite groups not to coerce elected representatives, to stop cruelty on the part of its activists, and to ensure that innocent people are not killed.

The CCC had a meeting with Chandrababu Naidu in April 1998 and with a representative group of the PWG. The Chief Minister gave an assurance that there would be no fake encounters. He promised that the government would not stand on prestige and would consider regularising lands already taken possession by the poor. He also said that the government was keen to invest in development.

The PWG said that the formation of the CCC was "a good development, and it is favourable to the revolutionary situation when democrats feel the need to act even though without a direct role in the revolution". It said that governments were denying the minimum democratic rights to the people and encouraged "naked exploitation by feudal comprador bourgeois and imperialist forces".

On the other hand, the PWG statement, the people's movement organised struggles as part of self-defence. The forms of resistance included beating up landlords and their agents as part of class struggle, eliminating the cruel ones, taking action against informers to counter the Police repression effectively, killing officers who were aggressive, ambushing police patrols and carrying out raids. "In other words, people are countering the armed repression of the exploitative ruling classes with their own armed resistance," the PWG added.

With such divergence of views, a meeting ground is hard to find.

Profile of a terror outfit

PRAVEEN SWAMI cover-story

JUST WEEKS AFTER top terrorist Masood Azhar was released by the Indian government in the December 1999 hostages-for-prisoners swap that followed the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight IC-814, he announced the formation of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). Azhar's handlers from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had hoped that the organisation would forge a new unity of the Islamic Right. Instead, its existence has mirrored the factional politics of the organisation, notably a power struggle between pro-U.S. elements and the fundamentalists.

Azhar's first public pronouncements after arriving in Pakistan set the stage for battle. Speaking at the Binori Masjid in Karachi on January 5, 2000, he attacked the U.S. as an enemy of Islam. That provoked furious protests from the U.S. For the moderates in the ISI, things soon got worse.

Azhar, who studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science had been sent to India to bring about the unification of the Harkatul Mujahideen and the Harkatul Jihad Islami into the new organisation of Harkatul Ansar. Shortly after he announced the formation of the JeM in February 2000, the British citizen who turned leading luminary of the Pakistani religious Right visited Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. The visit, intelligence sources say, was facilitated by Nazimuddin Shamzai, the head of the Binori Masjid, who led the pre-war delegation of Pakistani religious leaders to Afghanistan ahead of the U.S. attack on Afghanistan.

Even worse, Azhar tied up with the ultra-Right Sipah-i-Sahiban of Pakistan, dedicated to a sectarian battle against the country's Shia minority. The 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 the his disposal for the jehad in Jammu and Kashmir.

Shortly afterwards, the pro-U.S. faction of the ideologically fissured ISI ensured that Azhar went to jail. Six weeks later, however, the religious-chauvinist faction bailed him out. If nothing else, the affair illustrated just who pulled the strings in the ISI. The Islamic Right had its own old boys' network in place. Interestingly, Taliban head Omar and Azhar were both Shamzai's students at a seminary attached to the Binori Masjid.

The bulk of the Harkat cadre, particularly those who operate in Jammu and Kashmir, were now ordered to join the new outfit en bloc. Fazl-ur-Rehman, the head of the pre-unification Harkatul Mujahideen and Azhar's main intra-organisation rival, was demoted and placed under the operational command of his one-time Naib Amir (deputy chief), Maulana Farooq Kashmiri. The action was taken, sources say, because Harkat cadre in some areas resisted handing over charge of assets and office space to the JeM.

Azhar announced his elevation in style. In April 2000, a 14-year old suicide bomber, Afaaq Ahmad, a resident of Khanyar in downtown Srinagar, blew himself up outside the city's Army headquarters. That December, another suicide bomber, codenamed 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 average, one suicide attack a month has taken place after the JeM introduced the fidayeen (suicide squad) culture to Jammu and Kashmir and gave extensive publicity to it, even though data show that their actual strategic impact has been minimal.

Interestingly, the organisation has maintained a remarkable command-level continuity within Jammu and Kashmir, despite the factional struggle in Pakistan. Ghazi Baba, who like Azhar is a resident of Bhawalpur in the Pakistan province in Punjab, has led operations in the Kashmir valley since 1992. He started off as the operations commander of the Harkatul Jihad Islami in 1992 and retained command of the outfit after it merged with the Harkatul Mujahideen to form the Harkatul Ansar in 1993. Then the Harkatul Ansar, proscribed by the U.S. following its kidnapping of Western hostages from Pahalgam, transformed itself into the Harkatul Mujahideen once again, but with Baba still in place. Azhar again left him in charge when the JeM was formed.

Little is known about Ghazi Baba himself. One major terrorist crime in which he is known to have participated personally is the 1998 massacre of 25 members of the Kashmiri Pandit community in the village of Wandhama in Anantnag. He is also believed to have ordered the October 2001 attack on the Legislative Assembly complex in Srinagar.

Intelligence officials in Srinagar told Frontline that they are perplexed by Delhi Police Commissioner Ajai Raj Sharma's recent pronouncement that Ghazi Baba was the JeM's "all-India chief". "Unlike the LeT, the JeM does not have full-time modules outside Jammu and Kashmir," one official told Frontline, "nor, at least so far, has it recruited cadre from outside the State." Indeed, the Parliament House attack is the first operation the JeM has executed outside Jammu and Kashmir.

Echoes in Pakistan

The Musharraf government is faced with a delicate situation as it struggles to rein in the jehadis without upsetting the Kashmir cause.

STILL under the shadow of September 11, the military government in Pakistan is confronted with another crisis, the one arising out of the December 13 attack on Parliament House in New Delhi. It does not require much imagination to foresee the repercussions of the attack on the already strained India-Pakistan relations. Given the rhetoric on both sides, the ties are bound to suffer further. Any hopes of a revival of the dialogue, on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Kathmandu in the first week of January, lie shattered.

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A suicide attack like the one carried out in New Delhi is not beyond the capability of some of the Pakistan-based terrorist organisations. The Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) had owned responsibility for the attack on the Red Fort in December 2000.

However, there are unmistakable signs that India is trying to imitate Washington after the World Trade Centre attacks. The blame game began in less than 24 hours. In the process some silly mistakes appear to have been made by India, as did the U.S. The military regime in Islamabad could only be expected to exploit the situation fully.

Forty-eight hours after Pakistan's High Commissioner in Delhi Ashraf Jehangir Quazi was summoned and handed over a demarche outlining three specific demands on the military government, the Delhi Police Commissioner made disclosures that were contrary to the assumptions made by the Indian establishment.

New Delhi had asserted that the attack was the handiwork of the Pakistan-based LeT. But the Delhi police chief made it out that it was actually the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) that was behind the attack. He was careful to add that Jaish could have been aided and abetted by LeT under the overall supervision of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

There was no dearth of reports in the Indian media about how cocksure the government was about the identity of the attackers. Some newspapers even suggested that the Vajpayee government had already shared details of the vital 'technical evidence' with diplomats of 'friendly countries', including the U.S.

Ironically, the day after the attack, Robert Blackwell, U.S. Ambassador in India, visited the office of Union Home Minister L.K. Advani and offered the services of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to assist in the investigations into the attack, perhaps implying that the U.S. was not convinced with India's deductions.

The visit assumed significance as the militant organisations in Pakistan had lost no time in pointing fingers at the Indian intelligence agencies for the outrage. After the ritual condemnation of the attack and the offer to examine any proof in order to consider the demands made by the Indian government, Islamabad virtually endorsed the viewpoint of the militant groups. Pakistan says it is prepared to help or join in any 'joint investigation'.

Pakistan has raised a number of questions and even accused India of 'stage-managing' the whole operation. Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf has talked of the possibility of a "design" behind the attack and warned India of dire consequences if it attempted any 'adventurism'.

IN a way, it is ironical. Both India and Pakistan are supposed to be partners in the international coalition against terrorism pieced together by the U.S. However, the gulf between the two countries has in reality widened since September 11. The second week of October witnessed a sudden spurt in firing along the Line of Control (LoC) and the international border. Such a heavy exchange of fire had not been seen on the border since both sides began observing an undeclared ceasefire in June 2000.

There is little doubt that Musharraf is faced with a delicate situation as he struggles to restrain the jehadi outfits in his country without undermining Islamabad's pet project, the 'Kashmir cause'.

The attacks on U.S. cities knocked the bottom out of Pakistan's foreign policy and impacted its defence preparedness. It now has a threat from its western border as well. With the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan in its final stages, those who matter in Pakistan are no longer shy of admitting the changed realities. In recent days a number of people have been urging Musharraf to seize the opportunity thrown up by the Afghanistan developments and go the whole hog in reviewing the country's foreign policy.

The dominant opinion is that jehad as an instrument of foreign policy has run its course in the post-September 11 world and Pakistan now has to re-fashion its thinking in the wake of the Afghan experience.

With the collapse of the Taliban regime, it is felt that Islamabad has lost not only 2,500 km of strategic depth on its western border but also the ideological justification for the continuation of jehad in Kashmir. The prospect of the fallen warriors heading home and the growing voices around the globe against militant ways to espouse political causes are a matter of serious concern to civil society and the government in Pakistan. After all, world attention is focussed on the country and the region as never before.

Musharraf is very much aware of the dangers involved in the pursuit of the policy of jehad in the 'New World', but can he afford to abandon it without endangering his own position? The fundamentalist religious lobby is down after the collapse of the Taliban militia but certainly not out. Besides, the military establishment can ill-afford to be seen to be compromising on the Kashmir cause. Thanks to the manufactured consensus, the Kashmir cause in Pakistan has come to be identified as an issue of the masses. The jehadis are so well entrenched that it would be a stupendous task for any establishment to take them on. The jehadis gained legitimacy during the Zia-ul-Haq regime, when, between 1979 and 1989, the state encouraged them by all means to fight a proxy war for American in Afghanistan. Once the Afghan war ended most of them turned their attention to Kashmir.

In recent months, the U.S. has been pressuring Islamabad to tame the jehadis for reasons including their collaboration with forces (such as Osama bin Laden) that began challenging the U.S. agenda and the damage they are causing to U.S. economic interests in the region. There were attempts, half-hearted though, by the Musharraf regime before September 11 to rein them in. But these never made much headway as the policy at the top was never clear and the state apparatus was wary about ruffling fundamentalists feathers. The much-touted de-weaponisation programme and the ban on forcible collection of funds in the name of jehad best illustrate the point. Interior Minister Lt. Gen. (retd) Moinuddin Haider came under vicious attack from the fundamentalists for his 'un-Islamic' utterances and that was the end of the matter.

The military establishment is now trying to demonstrate a new sense of urgency to tackle the extremist elements. An ordinance is on the anvil to regulate the functioning of religious schools, some of which are considered jehad factories.

The impact of the U.S. war is also beginning to be seen. Two interesting developments of mid-December are cases in point: The LeT began insisting that it has always been operating from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and not Pakistan, and JeM assumed a new name, Al Furqan. The U.S. put both organisations in the 'terrorist exclusion list' on December 6.

The belligerent posture of New Delhi and any ill-conceived action across the LoC could actually give a new lease of life to the jehadi forces in Pakistan, which are now desperate and demoralised.

The question of terror

India's response to December 13, and its growing association with the U.S.-Israel strategic nexus, poses a serious threat to its credentials as a democratic polity.

MOMENTS of revelation have come thick and fast globally since the September 11 events overturned every assumption about security and warfare. Israel had its revelation in October, when Rehavam Ze'evi, a Tourism Minister with little knowledge of hospitality but a forcefully stated commitment to the expulsion of Palestinians from their land, was murdered in an East Jerusalem hotel. For India, December 13 was seemingly the day when the scales fell from the eyes and the course of action that it should take to deal with the scourge of terrorism became blindingly clear.

Jaswant Singh, the Union Minister for External Affairs, lost little time in identifying the perpetrators of the terrorist outrage on Parliament House. The Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), the militant affiliate of the Islamic congregation Markaz-ul Dawa'al Irshad, bore responsibility for the attack, he said, citing evidence of overwhelming credibility that had been placed before him. Jaswant Singh demanded that Pakistan should crack down on the LeT, arrest its leadership and cut off its sources of funds.

These were, in essence, the contents of a demarche that was delivered on December 14 to Pakistan High Commissioner Ashraf Jahangir Qazi. Jaswant Singh indicated that the options available in case Pakistan failed to comply, were framed in the Union Cabinet resolution adopted the previous day. These were ominous words. The Cabinet resolution, in calling for the liquidation of the "terrorists and their sponsors wherever they are and whoever they are", strongly suggests that unilateral military action, once considered a perilous course, is now strongly favoured.

Earlier terrorist actions in India had elicited sharp denunciations of Pakistan for its sustenance of the groups responsible, but never an explicit ultimatum. The Cabinet resolution was strongly reminiscent of the tone used by U.S. President George Bush after the September 11 attacks: hand over the terrorists to justice or watch as justice is brought to them. They also echoed the Israeli attitude towards the Palestinian political leadership: either do our bidding or face irrelevance and even destruction.

The differences in the case of India's tense stand-off with its western neighbour are palpable. This is not the world's single superpower, able to coerce every nation to render it the logistical support needed to initiate military action against a technologically primitive and materially devastated country. Nor is it an occupying power willing to shed every scruple and resort to maximum military force in facing down the rage and frustration of unarmed civilians.

Unfortunately, the actions of the U.S. in Afghanistan and the brutal Israeli crackdown on Palestinian civilians were precisely the examples that official spokesmen, not to mention parliamentary leaders of the ruling coalition, chose to cite. Shrichand Kripalani, the Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament from Rajasthan, said so explicitly: "The government should do what America has done in Afghanistan and what Israel is doing in Palestine." Former Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit seemed to sum up these sentiments in his wistful evocation of Israeli actions in occupied territories: "Just look at how Israel reacts. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem in our nature to act."

Two days after the strike, the BJP parliamentary wing resolved to meet and sound its own call to arms. Not being quite abreast of modern doctrines and viable strategies of warfare, the petition was to be couched in the most general terms: aerial bombing of terrorist training camps in Pakistan, if necessary, followed by incursions by infantry and armour.

Pragmatic sections in the country's intelligence establishment were counselling a more moderate course. Since the U.S. war in Afghanistan began, they argued, the strategic gains that had seemingly accrued to the Pakistani regime of General Pervez Musharraf had gradually been eroded. In disregarding the General's request for a suspension of offensive operations during the Islamic holy month of Ramzan and then targeting the Taliban front lines north of Kabul, the U.S. had signalled that it would not be unduly bound by Pakistan's strategic interests.

In facilitating the rapid entry into Kabul of the forces of the Northern Alliance the U.S. had ignored Pakistan's preferences. It had also shown little concern for the tricky political task of coalition building before facilitating the entry of anti-Taliban forces into Kandahar and Jalalabad. Both cities had fallen to militias that were less than fully attentive to Pakistan's interests. Pakistan's doctrine of "strategic depth", in other words, was in an advanced state of collapse.

With little space for manoeuvre, Musharraf is likely to be vulnerable to international pressures as never before. His own interests in reining in fundamentalist hotheads was manifested early on in the crackdown on street demonstrations and the incarceration of much of the leadership of the Islamic Right. Hostile actions from India would, argued intelligence experts, enhance his sense of vulnerability to domestic pressure groups and perhaps force him into an unwitting alliance with them. This could have unforeseeable consequences for both Pakistan and India.

As the investigations progress with reports of key arrests in Kashmir, there is an expectation that India will now be able to establish the Pakistan connection in reasonable conformity with international juridical standards. This would, argue intelligence experts, make it incumbent on Pakistan to enforce the standards prescribed in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1373, adopted shortly after the terrorist strikes in the U.S. This resolution, framed under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, which makes compliance obligatory, requires states to "refrain from providing any form of support... to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts", "take the necessary steps to prevent the commission of terrorist acts", "deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support, or commit terrorist acts", and "prevent those who finance, plan, facilitate or commit terrorist acts from using their respective territories for those purposes against other states or their citizens".

Following initial expressions of concern and sympathy, the Pakistan military regime responded belligerently to India's demands. Musharraf lost little time in communicating his profound distress to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee over the attack on Parliament. Using a morally neutral term rather than the glowing epithet of "freedom fighter", the General expressed his shock at the attack by "armed intruders" on the Parliament building. He also said that he was "saddened" by the "loss of life and the injuries suffered by Indian security personnel".

The following day, the official spokesperson of the Pakistan Foreign Office seemed to leave some room for cooperation with India open. Evidence of the possible complicity of any group based in Pakistan would be studied when proffered by India, he said.

Just hours later, the military spokesperson for the Pakistan President seemed inclined to dispense with all such niceties. Echoing the refrain of the Islamic militant groups that Pakistan plays host to, Major-General Rashid Quereshi told a television channel that "nothing is beyond the Indian agencies" when it came to their efforts to "defame" Pakistan and the Kashmir "freedom struggle". The attack on Parliament, he indicated, was of a piece with the bombing of the Srinagar Assembly building on October 1 and the massacre of Sikh villagers in Chattisinghpora in March last year.

With the level of the verbal confrontation spiking upwards, it is widely expected that India's response will depend to a great extent on the signal it receives from the U.S. If there is political turmoil in Afghanistan, Pakistan would be a natural haven for disgruntled elements that are unhappy with the new ruling order that is taking shape there under Western tutelage. The U.S. attitude towards India's own confrontation with Pakistan will crucially hinge on its perception of the continuing utility of the Musharraf regime.

WHAT is clear, though, is that India will have to adhere scrupulously to recognised legal means in handling the problem that has plagued it for close to two decades. It may be politically expensive to seek the easy path to success by tagging on with the campaign being orchestrated by the U.S. and Israel. It is a curious spectacle today to see India in the same camp as these two countries, sharing virtually identical perceptions on theroots of terrorism and methods to combat it. For anybody familiar with the evolution of the global debate on terrorism and its cures, the alliance of convenience involving India, the U.S. and Israel, would seem incongruous.

All through the 1980s, the U.S. and Israel were virtually isolated in periodic U.N. General Assembly votes on the issue of terrorism. An active debate was undertaken through the decade on "measures to prevent international terrorism which endangers or takes innocent human lives or jeopardises fundamental freedoms". It was recognised that these measures would themselves have to be premised upon an understanding of the "underlying causes" which "lie in misery, frustration, grievance and despair and which cause some people to sacrifice human lives, including their own, in an attempt to effect radical changes". But in the process of identifying what was terrorism, the U.N. resolutions clearly upheld the "struggle of national liberation movements" and reaffirmed the "inalienable right to self-determination and independence of all peoples under colonial and racist regimes".

The U.S. and Israel, which were in the 1980s raising the level of their engagement with the racist South African regime in the subversion of national liberation struggles in the entire continent, had an obvious interest in thwarting the evolution of this understanding. In repeated votes at the U.N., including on a key 1984 resolution that deprecated the policy of "State terrorism" and "actions by States aimed at undermining the socio-political system in other sovereign States", the U.S. and Israel found themselves isolated within the global community.

The exercise of evolving a feasible understanding of terrorism and the methods of dealing with it, reached a dead-end by the end of the decade. This was a triumph as much for the policy of diplomatic coercion that the U.S. was adept at, as for the exercise of massive military force that was the Gulf war of 1991. If today the U.S. and Israel have managed to win the allegiance of a wide range of countries for their operations, it is an indication of the triumph of military coercion over democratic consensus-building. India's unseemly rush to join the U.S.-Israel camp is itself an index of its weakening democratic credentials and diminishing commitment to governance through consent rather than coercion, chiefly under the current dispensation.

India's revisionism on the question of terror is of course explained in the main by the decade of escalating violence it has faced in Kashmir. But in the process of teaming up with Israel and the U.S., India turns its back on several of its basic commitments and surrenders irretrievable ground on the plane of principle. In the bargain, a dangerous equivalence is established between the problem in Kashmir, which India has always claimed is amenable to a solution within the parameters of the Indian Constitution, and the problem of Palestine, which is clearly irresolvable within the racially exclusionary and discriminatory parameters of the Israeli Constitution.

Except to bigoted right-wing minds, the origins of the militancy in Kashmir can be found in a fairly long-standing denial of political rights and the unstated Central government policy to entrust the governance of the State to a narrow clique that would be accountable above all to Delhi rather than to the people of Kashmir. It would be apparent again to all but the same right-wing religious hyper-nationalists that the problem of Palestine is qualitatively different, arising from the expropriation of a long-settled population from the land and the subsequent practice of ethnic cleansing as a systematic element of Israeli state policy.

India as a democratic polity stands dangerously diminished by its clumsy effort to be part of the U.S.-Israel strategic nexus. In pragmatic terms too, the strategic gambit is likely to backfire, since military responses to civil conflicts have never been known to produce durable results. It can provide transient gratification to the aggressor country provided it can walk away from the conflict zone with no compunctions about the damage it has inflicted - as the U.S. plans to do in Afghanistan. Or where a country is built upon notions of historic rights to a land, there could be a fleeting sense of solace drawn from the destruction of the symbols of a people that are in inconvenient occupation of that land in contemporary times. Except in the fevered imagination of Hindutva extremists, the situation in Kashmir cannot be fitted into either of these situations - without serious moral and material damage to the Indian polity.

Recent debates about the advisability of enacting a draconian new law to combat terrorism, seem to indicate that India has begun to confront this dilemma. The law exists today as the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO), but the spirited opposition that has been mounted by both political groupings and civil society organisations, indicates that there are now growing reservations about the exclusive recourse to force in the task of curbing terror.

POTO is perceived in many circles as a virtual declaration of lawlessness, which could seriously undermine the authority and credibility of the State. Voices of sanity have recently been urging that terrorism can only be combated under the rule of law. The chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission and former Chief Justice of India, J.S. Verma, recently devoted an entire address to this theme, cataloguing the range of laws that is available for dealing with terrorism, even without the draconian powers conferred by POTO.

If the rule of law is an obligation in the fight against domestic terrorism, it is no less so in the international arena. To emulate racist outlaw regimes such as Israel or even the U.S., which has learnt to write its own law in accordance with the strategic convenience of the moment, would be a reckless course for India to pursue.

POTO and a stand-off

The Central government's attempts to push through the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance in the aftermath of the December 13 attacks on Parliament fail in the face of the firm stand on the matter taken by the Opposition parties.

ALTHOUGH the full dimensions of the terrorist attack on Parliament House are yet to be unravelled, questions about the future of the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) have already forced themselves into the focus of public attention. All Members of Parliament, irrespective of party affiliations, were shaken by the events of December 13. However, to its dismay, the government found that the sense of outrage expressed by all political groups could not be translated into an endorsement of POTO.

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The Opposition tended to view POTO as a mandate for lawlessness and, after December 13, dismissed the argument about the indispensability of POTO as a disingenuous one. It is a fact that the attack took place despite the fact that POTO was in place. The Ordinance was yet to lapse and the Government had all the authority of preventive detention and summary arrest that POTO conferred on it. What December 13 demonstrated was that POTO, even if enacted as a law, would not necessarily help the authorities gather the required intelligence regarding terrorist actions or initiate pre-emptive action. If December 13 did not result in a tragedy of greater dimensions, it was perhaps owing to sheer luck and the courage of a few dedicated security personnel who confronted the armed intruders. Congress(I) spokesperson S. Jaipal Reddy summed up the Opposition's mood when he said that the attack happened despite POTO, and not for want of it. "The government did precious little to take pre-emptive action despite prior information about a likely attack on Parliament," he said. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India also raised questions regarding the serious security lapse that led to the entry of militants into the Parliament compound.

A few members of the ruling combine justified the need for POTO in the aftermath of December 13. However, the government realised the impropriety of linking the Bill's passage in Parliament to the December 13 events. In fact, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan was examining the option of adjourning the winter session of Parliament ahead of schedule in the face of the deadlock between the government and the Opposition over the coffins procurement issue and POTO. Apparently, December 13 triggered some rethinking within the government and the Opposition about the need to let the session run its course and seek a sensible resolution of the impasse.

Uncertainties over POTO arose more from within the ruling combine than the Opposition. Apparently, there was a difference in perception between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Home Minister L. K. Advani. Vajpayee admitted during an impromptu debate in the Lok Sabha on December 4 that the Government should have consulted the Opposition parties before promulgating the Ordinance. This was in contrast to Advani's claim all along that consultations had taken place at various levels across the political spectrum.

Vajpayee and Advani also seemed to differ in their approach to achieve a political consensus. Although Vajpayee was willing to discuss the inclusion of safeguards to prevent the misuse of POTO, he warned that the government would go ahead with the Ordinance if the Opposition did not cooperate. Advani said that the government was not inclined to consider all the suggestions made at the December 4 all-party meeting on POTO. Apparently, the remarks of Vajpayee and Advani indicated the magnitude of the pressure from within the BJP in favour of POTO.

Advani agreed to make three concessions: deletion of Section 3(8), which the media feared could be used to curb their autonomy; reduction of the life of the legislation to three years instead of the proposed five years; and an amendment to Section 8 to provide for a judicial mechanism to be set in motion before the property of a suspected terrorist is seized or attached by the Designated Authority. Under Section 8 of POTO, the Designated Authority, who could either be a Joint Secretary at the Centre or a Secretary with a State Government, can order forfeiture of property if he or she is satisfied about its links to proceeds from terrorism. The power can be exercised irrespective of whether the person from whose possession it is seized is prosecuted in a Special Court for an offence under the Ordinance. Advani ruled out any more concessions saying that he would not "abdicate" his responsibility whether there was "unanimity" or not.

Even the three amendments that the government was willing to make were the result of pressure exerted by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which provides the necessary prop for the survival of the government. Although the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Trinamul Congress and the Janata Dal (United) warned at the all-party meeting against the potential misuse of POTO, they did not make it clear whether they would back the Bill if it did not include the proposed safeguards.

The government claimed that at the all-party meeting, attended by 24 political parties, nine parties had opposed POTO while 14 supported the passage of the Ordinance with some amendments. Mahajan claimed that the Congress(I) opposed POTO because of the manner of its promulgation, thus suggesting that the party backed its contents. Apparently, this was in line with Mahajan's well-known propensity to manufacture consensus where none exists since Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi had said precisely the opposite after the meeting. Characterising POTO as being structurally defective, she urged the government to start the process of consultations afresh before bringing in legislation to combat terrorism.

Somnath Chatterjee, senior CPI(M) MP, also wanted POTO to lapse so that the Bill could be referred to a Select Committee of Parliament and discussed thoroughly before enactment. Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) representatives felt that there was no need at all for POTO since existing laws were sufficient to tackle terrorism. However, in the aftermath of December 13, S.P. leader Amar Singh said that there was little use for legal measures like POTO when dealing with die-hard terrorists on suicide missions. Instead, he advocated military strikes at terrorist bases across the border.

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At the all-party meeting, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar raised nine serious objections against POTO. Perhaps the most serious among them was that there were no guidelines for notifying an organisation as a banned one under Section 18 of POTO. Pawar said that in the absence of any guidelines framed for the purpose, the delegation of power under Section 18 is too wide and would not be sustainable in a court of law. Asked whether the NCP would re-reconsider its stand in view of December 13, Sharad Pawar told Frontline that it would, provided the government addressed all the nine complaints it had listed in the memorandum submitted at the meeting.

A DAY after the all-party meeting, the government went ahead and notified two left-wing extremist organisations - the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist- Peoples' War) (People's War Group) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) - under POTO. With the ban on the PWG and the MCC, the total number of terrorist organisations named in the ordinance has gone up to 25. All the formations and front organisations of the two outfits were also named as terrorist organisations. Apparently, the government felt that the ban was necessary in the wake of stepped-up naxalite violence in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar and Jharkhand (Reports on pages 36-39). However, the notification of the two organisations under POTO was superfluous since they were already banned in the States where they were active.

The government's move to increase the number of organisations banned under POTO was seen as a serious impropriety as it was made close on the heels of serious reservations expressed by various political parties about the legal validity of the Ordinance. The government justified the exclusion of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah), a militant outfit active in some northeastern States, from POTO on the grounds that peace talks were under way with it. Vajpayee had, during his recent visit to Japan, held a dialogue with NSCN(I-M) representatives. Congress(I) MP Kapil Sibal asked: "If this is a valid criterion, what prevented the government from starting a dialogue with the PWG and the MCC as well?"

On December 11, the government's attempt to introduce a partly diluted Bill to replace POTO was stalled in the Lok Sabha owing to procedural wrangles. With barely a week to go for the conclusion of the winter session, time was running out for the government. Moreover, though December 13 had created a confrontational mood in the government, the Opposition remained sceptical.

The re-promulgation of POTO was an alternative that the government considered seriously, though it would be legally inadvisable. The Supreme Court's Constitution Bench in D.C. Wadhwa vs the State of Bihar, 1987, had held that re-promulgation of ordinances without placing them before the legislature as required in a routine manner would amount to a fraud on the Constitution. The court held that any such re-promulgated ordinance would be struck down. However, the Bench said that a re-promulgation may be justified in an extreme case when, owing to the pressure of business, the legislature may be unable to enact a statute in place of an ordinance. However, to resort to it as a matter of practice would constitute "usurpation by the executive of the law-making function of the legislature".

It is evident that POTO has not been ratified and enacted as a law on account of a failure of political consensus rather than the pressure of legislative business in Parliament. The re-promulgation option, if it is resorted to, could well be challenged in court. But even if it is not, it would be no less a fraud on the Constitution.

Targeting voluntary organisations

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI the-nation

The changes proposed in the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, voluntary organisations fear, are aimed to hound them.

THE Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government's preoccupation with matters of national security is reaching new heights, judging by the changes now proposed in the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 1976 (FCRA). A draft Bill, titled the Foreign Contribution (Management and Control) Bill, has been circulated among Cabinet members but it remains a confidential document probably owing to caution caused by the flak the government has faced over the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO). However, it is clear that the Bill is primarily directed at voluntary organisations, in particular those run or funded by members of the minority community.

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A brainchild of Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, the Bill is expected to be a more stringent version of the FCRA. That would prove to be a setback for voluntary organisations, which have in fact been fighting for the relaxation of the FCRA. A national campaign committee for the repeal of the FCRA exists already and its membership has grown in the last few years, especially after the perception grew that the government used the FCRA as a political tool against voluntary organisations that criticised the BJP and its allies during the last Lok Sabha elections. The FCRA had its origins in the Emergency years and was enacted in the wake of allegations that contributions from abroad were being used to destabilise the government.

It is apparently considered by the government to be too soft, and the new Bill is an attempt to consolidate the law relating to the acceptance and utilisation of foreign contributions or foreign hospitality by individuals, associations or companies and prohibit the acceptance of foreign contributions or foreign hospitality for anti-national activities.

Although the ostensible aim of the new Bill is to prevent the misuse of incoming foreign funds, there may be a political motive. Significantly, the government has involved the State governments, too, given the fact that many of the constituents of the NDA are major regional parties. Earlier, the States only had to give information about the recipients, but now they would also be responsible for registration. The Centre would monitor the implementation of the law and, therefore, would also issue guidelines to the States on implementation.

On the face of it, the government has seemingly decentralised the mechanism but in reality controls over voluntary organisations have been tightened. It is learnt that the Bill would give the government sweeping powers to prohibit the inflow of foreign contributions, assistance and hospitality if it suspects that the recipients have links with anti-national activities such as terrorism, insurgency, militancy and subversion.

In the government's perception, while these funds were used for religious conversions and proselytisation in some States, in others such as the northeastern States and Jammu and Kashmir they were used for subversive and terrorist activities. The Bill would in effect, "snap the source" of funding to militant organisations, madrassas and Christian missionaries. Madrassas have, of late, become the focus for the current government and it is well known that Muslims contribute to these educational institutions for either educational or welfare purposes.

For some years now voluntary organisations have been demanding a change in some of the FCRA provisions; they point to the fact that the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act was replaced with the Foreign Exchange Management Act. In 1984-85 the provisions of the FCRA were tightened on the grounds that some voluntary organisations were using foreign contributions for undesirable and sometimes anti-national purposes. The scope of coverage and the degree of discretion granted by the government to the administering authority and to the enforcement mechanism got a fillip with the amendments.

Significantly, in the more than two decades since the enactment of the FCRA not one voluntary organisation has been prosecuted under it for anti-national or subversive activities. The allegations, said Anil Singh, executive secretary of the Voluntary Action Network of India (VANI), were thus proved wrong.

In 1994, at a meeting called by the Planning Commission, voluntary organisations made their first organised attempt to convince the government that the FCRA was being used to harass them. Government officials were also present at this meeting, and it was agreed, among other things, that the existing rules and regulations governing the voluntary sector, including the FCRA, were cumbersome and dilatory. However, last year the NDA government made it necessary to obtain a certificate of clearance from the local District Magistrate for organisations to get registration under the FCRA.

A gazette notification issued on January 24 last year laid down that either a District Collector or a State or Central government Ministry or department would have to certify that the antecedents of the organisation had been verified, that it had undertaken 'welfare activities in the area' and incurred expenditure during the preceding three years and that the "project would be beneficial to the people living in the area". Even organisations seeking the Central government's permission under the FCRA, to accept a foreign contribution by an association with a definite cultural, economic, educational, religious or social programme, would have to produce such a certificate.

FOR a voluntary organisation to get registration under FCRA stipulations is not easy considering the level of arbitrariness that prevails. Applications have sometimes remained pending for years and some organisations have been refused registration on the grounds that they were in existence for only a short period of time.

Section 10 of the FCRA states that the Central government may prohibit any association from accepting any foreign contribution that can affect prejudicially the sovereignty and integrity of India or the public interest or freedom or fairness of election to any legislature or friendly relations with any foreign state or harmony between religious, racial, linguistic or regional groups, castes or communities. Voluntary organisations say that the wording of the clauses of the FCRA have been left deliberately vague and that the Home Ministry has often used this factor to deny registration to organisations. They allege that the investigating personnel often harass them. At times even undue demands are made and distorted reports sent. That "speed money" is involved in the process of handling applications for registration is also well known, they say.

A geographical analysis done by R. Gopa Kumar from the Charities Aid Foundation India indicated that organisations in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka and Delhi were the major recipients of foreign contributions. Of these States, those in Tamil Nadu received the largest amount of contributions between 1991 and 1997, according to the annual report of the Home Ministry. While Arunachal Pradesh and the Union Territory of Lakshadweep recorded very poor levels of foreign contributions, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Manipur, Mizoram, the Andaman and Nicobar islands, Chandigarh and Pondicherry recorded a decrease in the level between 1995 and 1997. The Bimaru States of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have been traditionally very low recipients of foreign donations. The southern States received nearly 49 per cent of the total contributions, while the Bimaru States managed anywhere between 8.8 and 9.2 per cent. Delhi alone accounted for close to 13 per cent of the total contributions during the period. In the sensitive areas the level has gone up marginally, and in some of the northeastern States it has even decreased compared with the previous year.

In 1996-97, according to the annual report of the Home Ministry, Foster Parents International, based in the United States, was the biggest donor organisation to India, accounting for Rs.78 crores, followed by Missio of Germany with Rs.58.66 crores. Of the 25 major donor organisations, five are related mainly to religious activities, including the Maharishi Ayurvedic Trust of the United Kingdom. It accounts for more than 10.5 per cent of the contributions coming from the U.K. to India. Until at least 1997, there seemed to be no indication of a spurt in foreign contributions in the sensitive areas.

Among the top five recipient organisations are the Sri Satya Sai Central Trust, the Maharishi Ved Vigyan Viswa Vidya Peetham, Foster Parents Plan International Inc, World Vision of India, Gospel for Asia and Action Aid. Twenty-five organisations have been listed, of which three each are based in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, four in Karnataka, seven in Delhi, two in West Bengal and one each in Kerala, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. Figures show that 13.7 per cent of the money has been used for construction/repair of building; 11.1 per cent for health and family welfare activities; 10 per cent for religious activities, including education of priests and bringing out religious publications.

AN amended FCRA is perceived as the "financial wing of POTO", as John Dayal, secretary-general of the All India Christian Council, described it. Council president Joseph D'Souza and John Dayal in a statement circulated among members of Parliament on November 2 maintained that all Christian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and Church groups that received donations and assistance from foreign donors for development and social work submitted duly audited accounts to the government every year. As they worked in the public domain, their activities were also fully known to the local authorities as well as to the beneficiary populations, they said.

The FCRA, the statement said, had been repeatedly used as an instrument of harassment and coercion intended to restrict the work of certain organisations among the poor and in the fields of education and health. Recently, the Union Home Ministry issued notices to 66 organisations seeking details of their expenditure which, the Council said, had been furnished to the government time and again. Terming this as official harassment, it alleged that Christian institutions had been asked to give the details of the vehicles they owned and their employees. It feared that such information would be leaked to the "cadres of the Sangh Parivar", who would use to terrorise people in remote areas. The Council demanded a white paper on foreign donations received by all organisations.

That the FCRA could be used to serve the political interests of the government became evident during the earthquake in Gujarat. It is reliably learnt that FCRA norms were relaxed and organisations were allowed to receive funds even without FCRA registration. The only condition was that they open a separate account to receive foreign funds and inform the Union Home Ministry about it. Such lenience was missing during the Orissa floods and the severe drought in Rajasthan.

A convenient consensus

ANIL SADGOPAL the-nation

The political economy of the Constitution (93rd Amendment) Bill.

ON November 28, 2001, Delhi was witness to two historic events that took place simultaneously. First, the Lok Sabha unanimously passed the 93rd (amended to 86th in the process) Constitution Amendment Bill, presented by the government purportedly to give Education the status of a fundamental right to benefit almost 37 crore children of India (16 crores in the 0-6 age group and 21 crores in the 6-14 age group).

Objections were raised by several MPs from different Opposition parties, including the Leader of the Opposition, Sonia Gandhi, regarding serious lacunae in the Bill. Three MPs tabled separate proposals to amend the Bill, in effect demanding that the relevant age group of 6-14 years as given in the Bill be expanded in scope to include all children from birth up to 18 years of age and that the Bill provide for free education of equitable quality, apart from ensuring that no part of the constitutional obligation is transferred to the parents under the guise of fundamental duties. The MPs knew that the Bill would end up withdrawing, rather than providing, the fundamental right already guaranteed by the Supreme Court in its Unnikrishnan judgment (1993) to children in the 0-6 age group for early childhood care and nursery and pre-school education. Yet, when the time came for final voting, not one dissenting vote was recorded.

The other historic event was taking place about 3 km from Parliament at Ramlila Grounds where 40,000 to 50,000 people from far-flung villages and towns had gathered for a 'Shiksha Satyagrah'. They were mobilised by the National Alliance for Fundamental Right to Education (NAFRE) with the support of CRY, a funding agency active in the field of education and child development. It was probably for the first time in the history of independent India that people had gathered to demand the right to education. These peasants, landless labourers and slum-dwellers, both men and women, demolished the myth promoted by the state and the educated civil society that the poor people are interested only in roti, kapda and makaan (food, clothing and shelter) and not in educating their children. The rallyists were aware that the gains made through the Unnikrishnan judgment would be lost if the Bill was passed. They understood that the Bill had a strong anti-girl child bias insofar as that by not making a commitment to the 0-6 age group, it failed to acknowledge that girls in the 6-14 age group are deprived of education since they are invariably engaged in sibling care. They were also clear that education up to Class VIII, as implied by Article 45, made sense when the Constitution was drafted. No more. Today, without a Class XII certificate, a young person stands little chance of obtaining either employment or admission to professional courses. For the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes, too, the benefits of reservation become available only after Class X or XII as the case may be. Hence the demand for right to education to all children up to 18 years.

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More significantly, the slogans demanded education of equitable quality, irrespective of a child's socio-economic status, for building a Common School System as recommended by the Kothari Commission on Education and accepted in the National Policy on Education (of 1968, 1986 and 1992). In this system, all recognised schools - government, aided or private - will become Neighbourhood Schools. This issue of equity in education was cynically ignored in the Bill. In the Bill's proposal to make it a fundamental duty of the parents to 'provide opportunities for education' to their children, the people suspected a 'hidden agenda' to transfer, in an incremental manner, a constitutional obligation to the parents, apart from creating a basis for a penal legislation against them.

NAFRE had mobilised the people by disseminating the message that if the government did not heed the rally's demands, 10,000 people would sit down then and there on amaran anshan (indefinite hunger strike) until the government agreed at least to review the Bill. Yet, while the Lok Sabha debate was still on, the NAFRE leadership surprised everybody by announcing an abrupt end to the rally, without saying a word about the well-publicised plan for amaran anshan. The rallyists were stunned and felt deceived. Something was amiss. The rally will be long remembered as the 'Shiksha Satyagrah' that never was!

THE new Article 21A approved by the Lok Sabha promises the right to free and compulsory education for the 6-14 age group "in such manner as the state may, by law, determine". Normally, this addition of a conditionality to the provision for a fundamental right need not have caused much alarm but, given the history of policy-making in the decade of the 1990s and the programme content of the much-touted Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, this phrase cannot be dismissed lightly.

The 1986 policy was the first official acknowledgement by the state of beginning to shed its commitment to bring all out-of-school children (almost half of the 6-14 age group) into the school system. Instead of articulating a policy focus on improving of both the access to and quality of government schools, the policy declared that a non-formal stream, parallel to the school mainstream, will be established for the out-of-school children. As the non-formal stream was rejected by the poor children during the next few years, the government in desperation announced in 1993 that the adult literacy classes, originally meant for the 15-35 age group, will henceforth be opened to the 6-14 age group as well. This was a blatant attempt by the state to make literacy synonymous with education.

From 1995 onwards, the World Bank-sponsored District primary Education Programme (DPEP) started introducing parallel streams of cheap and low quality education for poor children under various labels such as alternative schools and Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS) wherein a para-teacher is appointed. The para-teacher scheme, already operating in several States, appoints under-qualified, untrained and under-paid local youth as teachers on a contract basis. What is worse is the likelihood of the government finding even these parallel streams as being too burdensome for the state and then replacing the para-teacher with a postman, as is evident in the November 2000 proposal of the National Council of Education Research and Training of introducing correspondence courses for the 6-14 age group! Anything under the sun but a regular functioning school.

Why did the government not push the Constitution (83rd Amendment) Bill, the precursor to the present Bill, pending in the Rajya Sabha since July 1997? The answer partly lies in the conditionality phrase introduced in the new Article 21A such that it defines the very provision of 'free and compulsory education' while in the previous Bill it defined the enforcement of fundamental right. Thus the new Bill dilutes the 83rd Amendment drafted by the United Front government which in itself had the effect of diluting the impact of the Unni Krishnan judgment.

This perspective helps us to decipher the meaning of the financial memorandum attached to the Constitution (93rd Amendment) Bill, according to which an additional sum of Rs.9,800 crores a year will be provided for the next 10 years in order to implement the Bill. Since the Budget allocation for the current financial year for Elementary Education (that is for the 6-14 age group) is Rs.3,800 crores, the Bill provides for an additional allocation of only Rs.6,000 crores a year, which is merely 0.35 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

This is in contrast to the estimate made by the Tapas Majumdar Committee, whose report in 1999 stated that an additionality of Rs.14,000 crores a year on average would have to be spent for the next 10 years in order to provide school (not cheap and low quality parallel stream) education to half the children in the 6-14 age group who are out of school today. This additional investment works out to 0.78 per cent of GDP. What the new Bill is willing to provide is less than half of what is required to be spent at the existing level of quality. Does one require any further evidence of the government's intention to push its agenda of cheap and low quality parallel streams for the poor children in the name of ensuring a fundamental right? The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has been designed to fulfil exactly this agenda.

NOW, let us explore the following questions: (a) Why did the Opposition parties in the Lok Sabha withdraw their objections to the 93rd Amendment Bill and support the government in unanimously passing the Bill with all its lacunae and distortions? (b) Why did the NAFRE leadership withdraw its programme of indefinite hunger strike while the Lok Sabha was still debating the Bill? There is clearly a common thread between the two events.

As far as the political parties (and non-governmental organisation) are concerned, there is apparently an undeclared consensus among them on acceptance of the Structural Adjustment Programme imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank on the Indian economy as part of the policy of globalisation. Admittedly, various parties may differ in terms of the degree of consensus (even the West Bengal government has accepted the DPEP). This consensus extends to abdication, in an incremental manner, by the state of its constitutional obligation to provide free education of equitable quality to all children. These ideas form the core of given by the Human Resource Development Minister's statement while presenting the Bill.

WHILE acknowledging the criticality of early childhood care and pre-school education for children up to six years of age, the Minister is not willing to place this burden on the government. Yet he contradicts himself by assuring the Lok Sabha that this stage of child development shall receive the government's full attention. As if to resolve this contradiction, the Minister invited 'all voluntary organisations and corporate houses' to help the government in this sector. This plea is tailor-made to fit into the globalisation agenda of reducing the role of the state and increasing the role of the market and the private sector, leading eventually to commercialisation. This is where the government sees the role of NGOs such as NAFRE and CRY. The state shall be happy to open its own coffers as well as to mediate the funds from United Nations and other international donor agencies for those NGOs that agree to legitimise the government's pro-globalisation policy. The 93rd Amendment Bill has been clearly designed in response to the dictates of the Structural Adjustment Programme, rather than to fulfil the commitments made in the Constitution. Hopefully, the convenient consensus in the Lok Sabha on November 28 and the apparent confusion among the people's voices of protest will only be a transient phenomenon. The people are bound to return to Ramlila Grounds at a future date to hold the 'Shiksha Satyagrah', but this time on the strength of their own satya (truth).

Anil Sadgopal is Professor of Education, University of Delhi, and Co-ordinator, Maulana Azad Centre for Elementary and Social Education.

A cloud over the MCI

Medical Council of India President Ketan Desai steps down after the Delhi High Court indicts him on charges of corruption.

THE Medical Council of India (MCI), entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining standards in medical education and in the medical profession, is under a cloud. On November 23, the Delhi High Court asked its president Ketan Desai to step down and pulled up the Central government for not having taken steps to correct the alleged irregularities in the functioning of the MCI and maintain its representative character. A Professor of Urology at B.J. Medical College, Ahmedabad, Ketan Desai, who resigned the presidentship on December 3, was also the chairman of the staff selection committee at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, and a member of its governing body and institute body.

Even before the court gave its order, Ketan Desai was under pressure from the AIIMS faculty to quit his posts at the institute. A prima facie case was established against him in December 2000 following investigations by the Income Tax Department, which had raided his house. Ketan Desai and the Union of India have filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court challenging the High Court order.

The MCI's powers have expanded over the years with the increase in the number of medical colleges. Set up under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1933, the MCI was initially vested with powers to ensure uniform standards in medical education and grant recognition to medical degrees awarded in India and abroad. The Act was amended in 1956 so as to empower the MCI to derecognise degrees given by medical institutions in India and abroad. The MCI had the responsibility not only to fix academic standards for various medical courses but also to ensure that medical colleges have proper infrastructure for education and training. It can depute teams to inspect medical colleges and act on their reports. Any negative report could lead to the derecognition of the college concerned. Medical colleges require the MCI's permission to increase the number of seats. Given the wide-ranging powers of the MCI, any irregularities in its functioning are bound to affect the entire medical system in the country.

It is in this context that the allegations against Ketan Desai acquire importance. Harish Bhalla, a medical practitioner, filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court challenging the appointment of Ketan Desai as president of the MCI and seeking directions to the Central government to constitute the Council. In an interim order issued on May 28, 2001, a single Judge of the High Court ordered the removal of Ketan Desai as MCI president until fresh elections were conducted. The Union of India and Ketan Desai filed appeals against the order. On June 4, a Division Bench of the High Court stayed the order and permitted the MCI to hold elections to the post of president and vice-president as scheduled. Harish Bhalla approached the Supreme Court. The apex court passed an order on June 18 substantially maintaining the Division Bench ruling. It directed the Delhi High Court to dispose of the appeals expeditiously. The petitioner filed an additional affidavit in the High Court. The final hearing began after all parties concerned filed their affidavits, rejoinders and counter-affidavits.

The High Court had three aspects to deal with: the constitution of the MCI, the eligibility of Ketan Desai to hold the post of president and the alleged misuse of office by Ketan Desai. Under the Medical Council Act, the MCI has to be a representative body with people drawn from various sections of the medical community. It was found that the Council had only 77 members against the stipulated 123. Also, the number of nominated members was much larger than the number of elected members. Under the Act, the number of elected members must be more than twice the number of nominated members. But the Council had an equal number of members from each category. A two-member Bench of the High Court pulled up the Central government on this matter. It observed that the Centre had failed to perform its duty of constituting the Council under Section 3 of the Act and that it was owing to this failure that the Council had lost its representative character. The government, it noted, "had not at all made bona fide efforts and not adopted effective measures to ensure that elected members are in place". The order said that the fact that Ketan Desai had won the election to the post of president with an overwhelming majority proved that he sought to retain control over the Council by such manoeuvres.

Despite the gravity of the charges against Ketan Desai, he was renominated to several committees at the AIIMS in August 2001. Union Health Minister C.P. Thakur is the president of the institute and the chairman of the governing body. The AIIMS Faculty Association's plea against Ketan Desai's continuance in the institute body went unheard.

Apart from levelling corruption charges against Ketan Desai, the petitioner questioned his membership of the Council. Ketan Desai was initially appointed against a vacancy and his term was to end on February 19, 2000. However, the Central government nominated him as a member on February 1, 2000. The date was later changed to February 14, 2000. Ketan Desai had got himself elected to the Council as a representative of the faculty members of the medical colleges in Gujarat on March 29, 1999. The petitioner argued that under Section 5 (2) of the Act, Desai could not be a member of the Council in more than one capacity at the same time.

The petitioner also alleged that the MCI's inspection norms were bypassed in the case of Santosh Medical College, Ghaziabad, and the D.Y. Medical College for Women, Pimpri, Pune. According to the petitioner, the inspection reports about the infrastructure and the bed occupancy rates of hospitals attached to these colleges were fake. He also alleged that the admission quota for non-resident Indians (NRIs) was exceeded. Santosh Medical College allegedly exceeded the quota by 40. Similar was the case with Kasturba Medical College, Manipal, according to the petitioner. A total of 18,000 students are admitted to the MBBS course in the 179 medical colleges in the country every year. Of this, 62 were private medical colleges, which accounted for 8,000 seats. Fifteen per cent of these seats are allotted to NRIs, but many private medical colleges do not stick to this quota as NRI seats fetch huge payments. Significantly, Ketan Desai did not dispute the charges relating to excess admissions and the absence of inspections. He only stated before the court that the "Council was taking the necessary steps".

On February 18 and 20, 2000, the Income Tax Department raided the business and residential premises of Ketan Desai and bank drafts for Rs.65 lakhs were found to have been received by him and his family members. The Joint Director of Income Tax (Investigation), Ahmedabad, concluded that prima facie these drafts appeared to be arranged gifts and that further inquiry was needed in this matter. This conclusion was conveyed to the Income Tax Department in Delhi. Investigations by the Joint Directors of Income Tax in Ahmedabad and Delhi revealed that the gift entries were not in lieu of loans and records as claimed by Ketan Desai. The Joint Director of Income Tax (Investigation), Delhi, stated in a letter to his counterpart in Ahmedabad that "these are accommodation transactions in the form of gifts and the alleged donors merely acted as conduits to channelise the unaccounted money of Dr. Ketan Desai into his and his family members' bank accounts."

The minutes of the executive committee meetings of the MCI over the last three years (1998 to 2000) were replete with resolutions leaving the matters of inspection, recognition and admission in medical colleges to the absolute discretion of the president. The court order said that Ketan Desai had managed to manipulate the affairs of the Council in such a way as to exercise complete control over its affairs. Manipulation, the court said, was evident in the presidential election on June 21, 2001, in which he got 69 out of 73 votes. The executive committee, the Bench held, was being used to legitimise his activities as president. It was also found that there was not one instance where the Central government had differed or disagreed with the recommendations of the MCI.

Ketan Desai stated before the court that only Rs.50,000 had been seized from his house during the Income Tax Department raids and not crores of rupees as mentioned in the petition. He produced an income tax order that showed his 'undisclosed income' as nil. Taking cognisance of the order, the Bench noted that it did not "inspire any credibility or confidence in the nature of allegations" made by Ketan Desai against the petitioner. Ketan Desai did not produce any evidence of income tax returns filed either by him or his wife who was running a nursing home. The Bench noted that it was "strange that parties in Delhi, including two doctors, were sending money by way of demand drafts obtained from the same bank in Delhi totalling around Rs.65 lakhs, the drafts being made out in the name of Ketan Desai and his family members". Ketan Desai neither denied the receipt of these payments nor disclosed their source. On the basis of evidence, mainly that furnished by the Income Tax Department, and Ketan Desai's inability to justify these payments, the Bench ruled that there was a prima facie case for the prosecution of Ketan Desai on charges of corruption under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Since there is no provision to debar a person from the membership of the Council before the expiry of his or her term, the court ordered that Ketan Desai step down with immediate effect. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was directed to launch prosecution. Significantly, the court ordered that the CBI would not take any instructions from the Central government or any of its departments and would pursue the prosecution independently. The court also directed the management of B.J. Medical College to initiate disciplinary proceedings against Ketan Desai.

The court directed the government to take steps to constitute the Council as early as possible and appointed S.P. Jhingon, a non-medical person, to officiate as president of the Council until its constitution.

It was not as if the Health Ministry was not aware of the state of affairs in the MCI. During a Rajya Sabha debate on August 6, C.P. Thakur agreed with the criticism by Y. Radhakrishna Murthy of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) of the functioning of the MCI. The member's observations, the Minister said, were "not far from the truth". In this context, it is not clear why the government did not take any action to straighten out matters. In fact, it was only two days after the Rajya Sabha debate that Ketan Desai was renominated to the AIIMS committees.

For the right to learn

the-nation

A rally organised by the National Alliance for the Fundamental Right to Education in Delhi demands substantial changes in the Constitution Amendment Bill.

VASANTHA SURYA

"The masterji does not come.""There is no primary or middle school within walking distance.""How can they threaten to send us to jail for not sending our children to school when the school in our area is so bad?"

THE speakers were daily wage agricultural workers from Etawah and Mirzapur districts of Uttar Pradesh. On the evening of November 28, even as the Lok Sabha unanimously passed the Constitution (93rd Amendment) Bill which would make elementary education for children a fundamental right, though with significant qualifications, an unmistakable groundswell of popular opinion had just manifested itself in the form of a unique "Shikshan Satyagrah" at Delhi's Ramlila grounds. Galvanised by the prospect of a "khokhla" (hollow) Bill becoming law that would place the onus of education on parents - without addressing the needs of children under six, child workers, girl children, and children between 14 and 18 - it was a determined and unprecedented effort to achieve basic educational parity and justice for all children in India.

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The rally was the outcome of 45 days of mobilisation by the National Alliance for the Fundamental Right to Education (NAFRE). While most of the Shikshan Satyagrahis wore blue-and-white badges with NAFRE's logo, a child's fist clutching a pencil stub, about 6,000 people wore yellow or red badges to signify that they were ready to go on an indefinite fast. The participants articulated demands that went beyond what was at last being grudgingly delivered against half a century of promises. The first-ever mass outpouring of its kind, it expressed gyan ka bhookh (the hunger for knowledge), as one organiser termed it. The Shikshan Satyagrah was an expression of outrage against the ominous suggestion of parental compulsion, and the likelihood of cheap, second and third-track alternatives to regular formal schools being thrust on the poor.

THE trip to Delhi had cost many of the participants in the rally Rs.50 to Rs.100 each, and it meant that many of them had to forgo their daily wages during the sowing season. NAFRE had put up a tent at Ramlila grounds. One young volunteer, Vishaal Sethi, said he had contributed 10 per cent of his monthly salary. He said there were many like him in all walks of life who had been sensitised during the 45-day campaign conducted by NAFRE through its various members, many of them non-governmental organisations.

Winding their way through Delhi's streets, the participants in the rally chanted slogans on the theme of equitable, quality schooling for all: "Rashtrapati ho ya chapraasi ka santaan, sab ko shiksha ek samaan" (Child of the President or of a peon, the same education for everyone). They listened to educationist Anil Sadgopal, Dean and former Head of the Department of Education of the University of Delhi, and trade union leader Amarjit Kaur (All-India Trade Union Congress) drive home the need to stand firm on their demands. The participants also listened to social workers and politicians, who congratulated them on their resolve and discipline. "It was midnight when we got our freedom, but dawn has not yet arisen," said independent member of the Rajya Sabha member Shabana Azmi. The Congress(I)'s Rajya Sabha member Eduardo Faleiro read out a message of support from Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi. The message extended total support to NAFRE's proposals for changes to the Bill. The rallyists called for comprehensive and massive investment by the state in the future of the country's children and in its security and development.

"Listen to us. We don't want our children to go to work," said Vittal Laad, leader of a group of men and women of the Warli and Katkari adivasi tribes from Maharashtra. "We want good schools. We want balwadis attached to schools. Builders of an amusement park have got our thumb impressions from us and stolen our land. Such things must not happen to our children."

Poor and uneducated though they were, the rallyists understood enough about the complex web of poverty to realise why they were not able to keep their children, especially daughters, in school. Sibling care claims girls whose mothers are out working. Poor children join late and sometimes have to repeat classes, and to close the school doors on them at the age of 14 was seen as unfair. Nor were they willing to buy the argument that the government did not have the resources. The organisers had taken pains to explain the recommendations made by the Tapas Majumdar Committee in 1997 for financial allocations, and the prevarication employed by the authorities in order to slash funds for formal schools.

WAS the long-awaited 'critical mass' at last being achieved in the mobilisation of the popular demand for equitable, quality schooling for all children? Decades after Independence, it felt like an acid test for the viability of lobbying for people's rights outside the framework of party politics. Moreover, it was perceived as a last chance to establish a proper system of schools for all children in India. Recognising the importance of getting politicians of all parties to take part in the debate, NAFRE had invited several of them to speak at its annual conference in April 2001. However, this time, apart from Shabana Azmi, Eduardo Faleiro and Amarjit Kaur (CPI), no politician turned up. Efforts to meet the Prime Minister failed. Invitations to the Minister for Human Resource Development, Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, to address the rally also drew a blank. He even refused to meet a NAFRE delegation. Although former Prime Minister V.P. Singh's imminent arrival was announced, it was later learnt that his health did not permit him to come. Worst of all, the fast was called off at the last minute. The Brahma Astra (supreme weapon), as Sanjiv Kaura, NAFRE's national convener, termed it, was not launched. And there was no explanation.

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The rallyists appeared to be bewildered after news came in the evening that the entire Opposition in the Lok Sabha had voted in favour of the Bill. Under Article 21A of the Constitution, the right to free and compulsory education to all children between six and 14 years of age had been granted in such manner as the state may, by law, determine. Instead of Article 45 of the Directive Principles, the following text was inserted: "The state shall endeavour to provide early childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of six years." (Article 45 said that the state was "to endeavour to provide within a period of ten years from the commencement of the Constitution for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen.") Some members of Parliament requested the government to extend the scope of the Bill. For instance, Renuka Chowdhury of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) argued that the amended Article 45 include both children under six and over 14. Samik Lahiri of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), who is also the general secretary of the Students' Federation of India (SFI), demanded the inclusion of children between the age of one and six. G.M. Banatwala of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) demanded the raising of the age limit for free and compulsory education to 16 years. He demanded assurances that institutions not maintained by the state (often run by religious communities) would not be compelled to provide free and compulsory education to more than 10 per cent of students in every class. Banatwala added that parents should not be penalised.

Apparently, all the parties felt constrained to go along with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government's virtuous projection of itself as the only government so far to take the constitutional goal seriously. This was in striking contrast to the vigorous opposition to the government's efforts to communalise education and rewrite history text books. Surely, this Bill is equally dangerous. It effectively freezes the aspiration for early childhood care and education (ECCE), curtails and limits the right of children between six and 14 years of age, and denies it to those under 18. Moreover, there is an addition to Article 51A on fundamental duties: "A parent or guardian (is) to provide opportunities for education to his child or, as the case may be, ward between the age of six and fourteen years." The gratuitous insult of parental compulsion glosses over the tragic compulsions induced by poverty and oppression.

There is not a word in the Bill on children in the age group of 14 to 18. India is a signatory to the 'International Convention on the Rights of the Child' which accept 18 as a realistic cut-off age for the end of childhood. The appended financial memorandum sets down the amount to be spent by the state to meet its obligations for the education of children between six and 14 as Rs.9,800 crores a year.

"There is nothing more to be said," Bindu, a social worker from Varanasi, said. "What can we tell our people back home?" Some participants raised slogans such as "De de haq hamare, varna joote se marenge" (Give us our right, or we'll hit you with shoes); and "Down with Murli's education". Another participant said that the cancellation of the fast would lead to a loss of faith in the movement. "Some of the NGOs have diasporic connections. They have got scared that their funding is being looked into." That NAFRE has been able to mobilise massive popular support has aroused curiosity and perhaps unease. Sanjiv Kaura said that the Special Branch of the Delhi Police paid visits to them during the days following the rally.

Those in the know had anticipated on November 26 that the government was in no mood to incorporate any changes in the Bill. At a meeting with NGOs and trade unions pressing for the provision of ECCE, the HRD Minister had allegedly called Anil Sadgopal a 'troublemaker' who had 'done nothing for education when in power'. Sadgopal had, however, never occupied any ministerial berth or bureaucratic position.

The Bill, now to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha, is understandably seen by many people as the latest move in a long-drawn-out politico-legal game plan to drain Article 45 of its meaning and to transfer its shell to Article 21 as a fundamental right. A new content is being given to Article 45, the "endeavour" to provide ECCE. In a classic example of doublespeak, M.M. Joshi announced that the amendment was a "revolutionary step as it would make it the duty of parents to send their children to school but would not penalise them for doing so" (The Hindu, November 29). However, Education in India, a publication of the Ministry of Education, states that between 1949 and 1971 about 15 lakh parents in 11 states were prosecuted and fined for failing to send their children to school. The "duty" is just another stick used by local police everywhere to terrorise and extract money from ordinary people.

Above all, the qualifying clause that "the state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the state may, by law determine" gives the game away. Decent schools for all are not on the horizon.

However, Pravin Kumar of the Elementary Education Department of the HRD Ministry, claimed that the present government had both the political will and sense of urgency required to achieve universal elementary education. He said that there has been an increase in the allocation of funds for elementary education, the gender gap has been bridged and the dropout rate has come down. About 79 per cent of the country's children between six and 14 years are in school, he said, and educational levels as well as infrastructure, such as drinking water and toilets, have been provided under the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) funded by the World Bank and the International Development Agency (IDA) and aided by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Netherlands, in 271 districts across 18 States. According to him, under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, all children will be enrolled in school by 2003, complete five years of primary schooling by 2007, and eight years of elementary schooling by 2010.

Sharon's war

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The recent strikes by Israeli forces on Palestinians point to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policy of aggression and war that has the silent backing of the United States.

THE December 13 announcement by Israel that it is severing all official contacts with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat is added confirmation that the West Asia peace process is, for all practical purposes, dead. Israel followed up this announcement with heavy air attacks using F-16 war planes and helicopter gun ships all over the occupied territories, including Ramallah where Arafat currently is. The Israeli government has held Arafat "directly responsible" for the latest round of attacks by Palestinians on Israeli targets inside the occupied territories. The statement issued by the Israeli government said that Arafat "is no longer relevant to Israel, and Israel will no longer have any connection with him". The decision came a few hours after Arafat fulfilled a long-standing Israeli demand to seal the offices of the Islamic fundamentalist organisations, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, going against public opinion in the occupied territories.

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Arafat had said in the second week of December that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is personally targeting him for assassination. His headquarters in Ramallah was bombed, shortly after he left the compound. Israeli tanks have been stationed 300 metres from his compound. A Palestinian Authority (P.A.) spokesman has said that the recent measures taken by Israel constitute a "comprehensive declaration of war". Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabdo stated that the Israeli actions have now made it impossible for the P.A. to crack down on militants.

After the latest round of Israeli actions, the United States Special Envoy to West Asia, Anthony M. Zinni, said that he would stay in the region "for as long as it takes" to hammer out a new deal. While the U.S. government's official line is that it continues to recognise Arafat as the leader of the Palestinians, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell echoed the Israeli line by stating that if Arafat refuses to crack down on "terrorism", the dream of Palestinian statehood may not be realised.

For a very brief while it had seemed that the U.S., the main political and military backer of Israel, would be able to persuade the Jewish state to make some meaningful concessions to the Palestinians. The George Bush administration, gearing to wage a war on terrorism, wanted to appear even-handed in its dealings, especially to the Arab and Muslim world. The reason behind this decision was the priority given to the Palestine issue by Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network in an attempt to justify their jehad against the U.S. and the rest of the Western world. Until early November, senior U.S. officials had sought to convey to the international community the impression that they were indeed serious about bringing about a lasting settlement in West Asia.

In early November, President Bush even went to the extent of suggesting in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly that the creation of a Palestine state was inevitable. Prime Minister Sharon was virtually forced by the Bush administration to apologise for some of his unwarranted remarks against U.S. efforts to bring on board countries and people opposed to Zionism in the "fight against terrorism".

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The U.S. put Sharon on a leash for around two months. Israeli troops withdrew from many of the Palestinian towns they had occupied in September. Colin Powell talked about the need to create an economically viable state of Palestine. Regarding Israeli occupation of Arab lands, Powell spoke of the need to implement U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338 which provide for the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories. But when the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan started going in favour of the U.S. by the middle of November, a change was discernible in the American attitude towards Israel.

The Israeli government was soon back to the game of assassinating Palestinian leaders. The current escalation of the conflict can be directly traced to the assassination of a key Hamas leader and the death of five children, killed by Israeli explosives placed in their path while they were on their way to school. Attacks by Palestinian suicide bombers on Israeli targets followed.

Two more Palestinian children, one of them a toddler, were killed in the second week of December when an Israeli helicopter targeted a passenger car in the West Bank city of Hebron. In all, more than 200 children have been killed so far by the Zionist security apparatus since the uprising resumed. The Palestinians have been demanding the deployment of an international observer group in the West Bank and Gaza to monitor Israeli acts of aggression and violence against civilians.

THE suicide bombings in early December in Jerusalem and Haifa was the excuse that Sharon was looking for. While in the U.S., Sharon made a speech which closely echoed President Bush's speech after the September 11 incident, and then ordered the bombardment of the P.A. offices, airport and the special units providing security for Arafat. Immediately after the events of September 11, Sharon had described Arafat as the "Osama bin Laden" of the region.

Observers of the West Asian political scene would no doubt have found this statement ironical, coming as it did from a man who has been involved in terrorist acts almost from the time of the creation of the state of Israel. There have been demands from human rights groups in many West European countries that Ariel Sharon face a War Crimes Tribunal, at least for the atrocities committed against Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. A superior court in Israel had asked that Sharon take responsibility for those killings. And it was Sharon's controversial visit to the Temple Mount area in September last year, which triggered a new round of violence that has so far killed more than 800 Palestinians and 230 Israelis. That visit had facilitated Sharon's quest for the leadership of the Likud party and the government.

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Successive U.S. administrations have shown seem to suffer from selective amnesia on the issue of terrorism. While the U.S. was raining bombs all over Afghanistan to subdue the rag-tag Taliban militia for over two months, killing innumerable civilians in the process, Israel too started its so-called campaign against terror by targeting both civilian and administrative facilities in areas under the control of the P.A.

The Israeli attacks this time clearly underlined a dual purpose. The random use of helicopter gunships, fighter planes and tanks was meant not only to terrorise Palestinian civilians but also to undermine totally the credibility of the P.A. and its leader Arafat. The attacks continued into the second week of December despite Arafat ordering the arrest of around 30 top activists belonging to the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. The militant organisations had themselves offered a truce in the second week of December, provided Israel stopped its offensive. The Israeli government rejected the offer. On previous occasions, Israeli security forces are known to have targeted Palestinian jails where Palestinian radicals were lodged.

The Bush administration, in a further show of support to the Israeli government, froze the assets of three charitable organisations, accusing them of helping the Hamas. A Bush administration spokesman justified the Israeli attacks by stating that, "obviously Israel has the right to defend itself and the President understands that clearly". U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld also issued statements supporting Israel's latest depredations. Rumsfeld had recently said that "the only way to defend against terrorists is to go after the terrorists".

Zinni, on his first visit to Israel, paid floral tributes at the spot in Jerusalem where Israeli civilians were killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber. There were no such gestures for the victims of Israeli terror attacks.

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Zinni wants the Palestinian side to make all the concessions. Arafat has made many concessions so far, including the arrest of Sheikh Mohammed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas. From available indications, Arafat is now not in a position to deliver any more such concessions. Besides, from his recent statements it is apparent that he has no illusions left about the Americans.

Arafat has openly accused the Bush administration of being pro-Israel, adding that the warplanes which destroyed Palestinian lives and property were bought with the American tax payers' money. The $2.7 billion grant that Israel annually gets from the U.S. is used partly to finance the purchase of fighter planes. The Palestinian people have shown for more than a year now that they are not intimidated by Israeli threats. By targeting Arafat's headquarters and home, Sharon has shown that he does not consider the former as a negotiating partner anymore. His good friend Rumsfeld has already said that Arafat "is not a particularly strong leader". Turkish Prime Minister Bulen Ecevit has said that Sharon told him that Israel wanted "to be rid" of Arafat. Turkey is one of Israel's closest military allies in the region.

Ever since Sharon took over as Prime Minister, the P.A. has been telling all those willing to listen that the Israeli game plan was to undermine it and give the peace process a formal burial. Israel has been trying to accelerate the pace of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza after the Oslo accords were signed. The Likud-led government has made it clear by its deeds that it will never be reconciled to an independent Palestinian state.

THE reaction of the Bharatiya Janata Parliament-led government to the latest crisis in West Asia has been predictable. It has been evident for some time that under its auspices bilateral relations between India and Israel have become extremely close. External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh was among the first to ring up Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Perez to express solidarity with Israel's fight against terrorism after the recent suicide bomb attacks. Just hours after Jaswant Singh's telephonic conversation with Perez, Arafat's residence and offices were attacked.

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In the first week of December, Jaswant Singh expressed in Parliament his "deep concern" at the escalation of violence and terrorist acts that led to the death of innocent Israelis. He however added that there was no change in India's stand on the Palestine issue and that the government remains committed to the goal of Palestinian independence. While "strongly" condemning the "completely unjustifiable" Israeli aerial attacks on Gaza and the West Bank, Jaswant Singh reiterated India's commitment to the U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for the creation of a separate state of Palestine.

It will be difficult for the BJP-led government to abandon unilaterally India's long-held stand on the Palestinian issue just as it has done on other international issues. However, the close military and security linkages that have crystallised between New Delhi and Tel Aviv under the stewardship of the BJP have made many people view Jaswant Singh's formal statements in Parliament with scepticism. It was the same Jaswant Singh, who on his visit to Israel last year, said that India's support for the Palestinian cause was dictated by "vote-bank" politics in India, alluding that the support for the Palestinian cause was guided solely by the opportunistic politics of India's secular parties. Home Minister L.K. Advani, during his trip to Israel, went a step further and talked about deepening security cooperation between the two countries, including in the nuclear field. Advani was of course all praise for Israel's handling of "terrorism".

Israel is at present India's second biggest supplier of defence materiel. For the BJP and its base organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Israel is a "natural ally" in the international arena. Since the Kargil conflict in particular, the present government sees Israel as a virtually indispensable ally for India's national security. Israeli expertise in combating terrorism is rated high in the corridors of power in Delhi, though Israel has not been very successful in securing its own borders. The growing closeness between the two countries is evident in the diplomatic field too. At the World Conference Against Racism held in Durban in the first week of September, the Indian government was among the first to object to Zionism being equated with racism, though the issue was raised only on the sidelines by non-governmental organisations and was not on the conference's official agenda.

In quest of peace - somehow

By voting decisively for the parties that promised talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the people of Sri Lanka seem to have expressed their desire for peace.

AFTER a bloody, no-holds-barred election campaign that ran for over five weeks and claimed several lives, Sri Lanka voted decisively on December 5 against the ruling People's Alliance (P.A.), giving the United National Party (UNP) a majority of the seats in Parliament and thus signalling the people's desire for a change in government as well as governance.

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The UNP-led United National Front (UNF), which secured 45.6 per cent of the vote and 109 seats, did not get an absolute majority but emerged as the single largest political grouping in the 225-member Parliament. Together with the five seats of its ally, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), the UNF has 114 seats, just one past the half-way mark.

The four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which contested in the North-East Province, won 15 seats on the strength of its campaign in support of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). During the campaign it proclaimed that the LTTE was the only representative of the "Tamil nation" but also held out an assurance that that organisation would play no role in government.

For the P.A., it was a terrible crash. From over 44 per cent in the 2000 general elections, its share of the vote fell below 38 per cent. The coalition could win only 77 seats. It contested in 21 of the 22 districts but won in just one. It lost to the UNP even its traditional strongholds.

THE conduct of the elections raised some serious questions. A dozen people were killed on voting day alone; the Army prevented about 80,000 voters living in LTTE-held areas in the North-East from travelling to areas under government control where arrangements had been made for them to cast their ballots; and malpractices were reported from various parts of the island. But in the end, while expressing serious concern over these events and dissatisfaction over the fact that repolling was not ordered in some places, the international election observers went away saying that the final results were an accurate reflection of the will of the people.

Even before the final results were announced on December 7, the P.A. conceded defeat and its Prime Minister, Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, submitted his resignation to President Chandrika Kumaratunga. The P.A. made no attempt to stake claim to form a government. Even with the 16 seats of its potential ally, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which improved its vote-share dramatically, the P.A. would have been far short of the number required.

The P.A's Tamil ally, the Eelam People's Democratic Party, was routed in the North-East; it won only two seats. It won five seats in the last elections. The People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) scraped up enough votes to claim one seat.

ON December 9, Ranil Wickremasinghe, the 52-year-old leader of the UNP, was sworn in Prime Minister. But it was not a simple matter of the guy-next-in-line taking over the baton. Since 1978, Sri Lanka has been governed by an all-powerful Executive President, with the Prime Minister being a figurehead. Obviously, the late J.R. Jayewardene, the wily architect of the present Constitution and the first to occupy the office, did not foresee a situation in which the President and the Prime Minister would be from rival parties. Wickremasinghe has made it plain that he will be no figurehead.

A nephew of Jayewardene, Wickremasinghe was a lawyer before entering politics, and was catapulted to the UNP leadership in 1994 after a series of assassinations by the LTTE decimated almost the entire top rung of the party. He held on to the reins of the UNP despite challenges to his leadership. He also managed to pull all the dissidents together and prevented the party from splitting. Led by him, the UNP finally outmanoeuvred the shaky P.A. in Parliament, forcing Kumaratunga to call early elections.

For the UNP, the victory is no less than a mandate against Kumaratunga, who has been head of government for the past seven years, even though the President's post was not up for election. The UNP also sees in the results a mandate for it to take over the reins of government. According to the party, if Kumaratunga wishes to stay on, it has to be on terms set by its government.

For starters, Wickremasinghe wanted a free hand in forming the Cabinet although it is the constitutional prerogative of the President to name one. Kumaratunga was prepared to let him appoint the Ministers, but was initially keen to retain the Defence and Finance portfolios which she has held since becoming President in 1994.

Expecting a stand-off, the UNP planned counter-moves, including street protests. But on advice from her party members, Kumaratunga decided to let go, heading off a potentially explosive confrontation with the UNP and clearing the decks for the swearing-in of a 25-member UNF Cabinet.

Tilak Marapone, who was Attorney-General in the governments of Ranasinghe Premadasa and D.B. Wijetunga and is a trusted lieutenant of Wickremasinghe, is the Defence Minister. The Finance portfolio has gone to K. Nariman Choksy, an eminent lawyer and a senior leader of the UNP. Tyronne Fernando, a lawyer and a party stalwart, is the Foreign Minister.

The P.A. dissidents who crossed over to the UNP before the elections were not forgotten. Spelling some continuity with the old government, G.L. Peiris has been made Minister of Industries and Constitutional Affairs. Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem has also been given the portfolio he held earlier in the Kumaratunga government - Ports, with the additional responsibility of Shipping.

Kumaratunga remains Comm-ander-in-Chief of the armed forces but for all practical purposes has handed over the reins of government to the Prime Minister. With all the talk of looking to France for a role-model of co-habitation (see following article), it seems as if Kumaratunga might have decided to follow the example set by French Presidents in similar situations - they usually take the credit for any progress made by the government and let it carry the can for everything that goes wrong. Moreover, a politically weakened Kumaratunga stands to gain nothing from an immediate confrontation. Kumaratunga may have opted for a ceremonial role in the face of political reality but no one, least of all the UNP, expects this retreat to be permanent.

THE thinking among the UNP leaders is that it should remove Kumaratunga before she begins to assert herself by exercising the powers vested in her by the Constitution and tries to remove them. She has the power to dissolve the new Parliament as soon as it completes a year and call fresh elections. One year would not be sufficient for the UNP to settle down in government, let alone fulfil its election promises. Before Kumaratunga acts, the UNP is likely to attempt to force her to resign or even impeach her.

As soon as he was sworn in, Wickremasinghe declared his intention to "consult" all parties before forming the Cabinet, spurring speculation that he was exploring the idea of setting up an "all-party" government. There were no takers for this, but indications were that some P.A. members were preparing to defy the party leadership and join hands with a UNF government, if not immediately then later. That would help the UNF build on its slender majority and prepare for the eventuality of a clash with the President. The procedure for impeachment is complicated and requires a two-thirds vote in Parliament.

Assuming that there will be no confrontation, at least not in the foreseeable future, all eyes will be on Wickremasinghe to see if he can deliver on the promise of peace.

India would be watching too. In the last few months, there was palpable dissatisfaction in New Delhi with the Kumaratunga government's handling of the Norwegian-facilitated peace process as well as its own political problems, especially its survival-oriented pact with the JVP.

Immediately on taking charge, Wickremasinghe conveyed to the Indian government a desire to visit New Delhi without any loss of time and his request was readily accommodated. The revival of the peace process would form the centre-piece of his discussions with Indian leaders during his three-day visit from December 22 accompanied by Foreign Minister Fernando.

With nearly 45 per cent of Sinhala-Buddhist voters in the south and over 47 per cent of Tamil voters in the North-East voting for parties that promised peace talks between the government and the LTTE and rejecting those that adopted the line of pursuing a military solution to the nearly two-decades-old conflict, the verdict has to be read as being one for peace.

But in this matter, the attitude of the LTTE would be equally important. Before the elections, its leader Velupillai Prabakaran, in his annual "Heroes' Day" speech, virtually asked voters to dump the P.A. government. Describing the demands of the Tamils as "neither separatism nor terrorism", he gave the impression that he would be ready to talk to a UNP government even on a political solution that runs short of an independent Eelam.

But, giving an "official" interpretation of this message to expatriate pro-LTTE Tamils, his trusted ideologue Anton Balasingham said in London that the LTTE's main aim was to take back control of Jaffna and Batticaloa and that the freedom struggle to "liberate" the Tamil people and Tamil homeland would continue.

The TNA contested the elections promising immediate peace talks. But even with 15 seats, the coalition has no leverage in the new dispensation. With the SLMC making up the shortfall in the UNF numbers, the kingmakers' role that many believed the TNA might have in a hung Parliament scenario has eluded it. But, as Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) general secretary R. Sampanthan says, if the new government does the "decent thing" and begins peace talks straightaway, will the LTTE come to the table and can the TNA guarantee this? Sampanthan, who contested under the TNA banner and won, says that there is no reason to believe that the LTTE will not come for negotiations.

Wickremasinghe had said before the elections that he would put in place an "interim administration" run by public servants in the North-East. He has also talked of asymmetric devolution of power in the region. Will the LTTE play ball with these ideas? There are no answers yet, but for the moment, judging by the vote, it seems the people would be happy if the peace talks begin.

The French example

D.B.S. JEYARAJ world-affairs

The situation that has arisen following the parliamentary elections can work to Sri Lanka's advantage if the political adversaries are ready for administrative "cohabitation", after the French model.

THE Parliamentary election results in Sri Lanka make it clear that the country is going to witness the phenomenon of an executive President from one political party having to contend with the Parliamentary majority of a rival political party. The situation, however, is not unprecedented: the country has witnessed such a situation twice before. But, the current situation is more complicated and, if not handled with finesse, may lead to civil strife that can tear the polity apart.

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The executive presidency was introduced by Junius Richard Jayewardene in 1978 . At that time the United National Party (UNP) held 141 of the 168 seats in Parliament. Ranasinghe Premadasa became Prime Minister and assumed a role that created the impression that the Premier too was a power centre in the new set-up. However, it was more of an image than the reality, and in actual constitutional terms the Prime Minister's office was no longer a powerful one. It was the irrepressible personality and political drive of Premadasa, combined with Jayewardene's acumen, that allowed his deputy such an assertive role, that led to such a perception. The real nature of the prime ministerial office was exposed when an authoritative and domineering Premadasa became executive President and a meek and submissive Dingiri Banda Wijetunga Premier in 1989. The latter held office in a lacklustre manner and the prime ministerial post seemed badly devalued. Later, when D.B. Wijetunga became President and Ranil Wickremasinghe Prime Minister, the situation changed to a limited extent. A working relationship in which the younger and more dynamic Wickremasinghe adopted an active role considerably enhanced the position of the occupant of 'Temple Trees'. The negative waves caused by Wijetunga's ill-conceived political utterances were somewhat contained by Wickremasinghe's moderate and pragmatic approach.

The situation reversed again when Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga became President and her mother Sirima Bandaranaike Prime Minister in November 1994. Kumaratunga, who was Premier earlier, continued to reside in Temple Trees while the grand old lady of Sri Lankan politics remained at her Rosemead Place residence. The sick and feeble Bandaranaike could not discharge her prime ministerial duties efficiently. Moreover, her being a Minister without portfolio rendered her completely " jobless", in practice. Such a state of affairs was unlikely to have been tolerated anywhere else in the world. However, the feudal and hierarchical tradition of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the respect shown by the Opposition leader the "Gentleman" Ranil to Bandaranaike, rendered any criticism mute. After Bandaranaike ceased to be Prime Minister, Ratnasiri Wickremanayake became Premier and took up residence at "Temple Trees". The People's Alliance (P.A.) lost its parliamentary majority during his tenure. A bitter struggle ensued between the government and the Opposition. It culminated in the premature dissolution of Parliament and fresh elections.

Sri Lanka's Presidents in the past, with two exceptions, enjoyed majority support in Parliament, which reduced the chances of friction between the chief executive and the largely ceremonial primus inter pares Prime Minister. The chances of a President-Parliament conflict arose first in 1994 and then in 2001. Both situations were resolved or managed in different ways. Now, with the latest round of elections, a conflict situation has arisen in a manner that far surpasses the previous experience.

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In August 1994, Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power and cobbled together a parliamentary majority with the help of the Muslim Congress and the Up Country People's Front. The President was D.B. Wijetunga of the UNP, who could have sought re-election in November 1994 if he so desired. Wijetunga could have exercised his executive powers and countered every move by Kumaratunga. However, Wijetunga bowed to the will of the people and offered little resistance. Kumaratunga became Prime Minister and for all practical purposes exercised power in a manner akin to the Premiers of the pre-1978 era. Although he retained executive powers in theory, Wijetunga reverted in practice to being a mere constitutional head. Thus a conflict situation was averted. In November 1994, Kumaratunga became President and once again the country had a President, a Prime Minister and a parliamentary majority of the same political persuasion.

The second conflict situation arose in 2001 after Rauff Hakeem and seven members of Parliament of the Muslim Congress crossed over to the Opposition. The events that followed are too well known to be recounted again. That phase was one of intense conflict. The prorogation of Parliament, the lapse of the state emergency, the announcement of a referendum, the pact with the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and so on characterised a conflictual chapter in the country's political history. Finally came the dissolution of Parliament and the elections.

AGAINST such a backdrop, what are the options available to both sides? Given the electoral rhetoric, a conflict situation may well be on the cards. Refusal to cooperate may lead to confrontation and chaos. It is to be hoped that saner counsel will prevail and that rhetoric of the political platform will be forgotten. For both sides, the practical option would be to accept the inevitable and explore the possibilities of achieving a working relationship. The President could voluntarily not exercise her executive powers and instead opt to be guided by Parliament on most counts. Through practice, usage and adoption of a new set of conventions, the President could metamorphose into a titular or constitutional head of state. On the other hand, the Prime Minister could develop into the de facto head of State. Two positive features could evolve as a result. The need to abolish the executive Presidency may be negated and a progressive era of bipartisan cooperation could begin. This could mark a golden period in the country's constitutional evolution.

For the realisation of such an Utopian vision, a period of politico-administrative "cohabitation" between the President and the Prime Minister is required. Cohabitation, which has the same spelling and meaning in both French and English, entered the political lexicon after the French experience. Since the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka is a mixture of the French Gaullist and Westminster models, the temptation to hope for the repetition of a French experience in the Island is great. However, It may be fallacious to draw analogies between the French and Sri Lankan situations. A brief examination of the origin and evolution of the cohabitation concept is relevant to understanding the issues involved.

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The long-festering Algerian revolt against French colonialism imposed tremendous strains on the existing political system in France. The Army wanted guarantees that Algeria would be under permanent French domination and it was in a state of armed rebellion against the civilian government. Public opinion favoured a negotiated peace. The Fourth Republic could neither govern authoritatively nor retain credible respect at that stage. A crisis was averted when the Second World War hero, General Charles de Gaulle, was appointed Premier in 1958. His appointment was based on the understanding that he would present a new Constitution to the country for approval.

The Constitution of the Fifth Republic provided for a strong President who had to share power with a Prime Minister who in turn was answerable to a majority in the National Assembly. In keeping with De Gaulle's political opinion, the Assembly's role was confined to a legislative capacity and its sovereignty was eroded heavily. The new Constitution was ambivalent about the exact role of the President and somewhat vague about his or her relationship with the Prime Minister and the government. The President could appoint and therefore presumably remove the Prime Minister. De Gaulle, like J.R. Jayewardene, was an imposing personality and soon stamped his authority on the new system. Defence and colonial affairs, including Algeria, as well as foreign affairs became his exclusive domain.

The end of the Algerian war in 1962 saw a definite shift of power to the presidency. The President was no longer chosen by an electoral college but elected directly by popular vote. De Gaulle's reluctance to enmesh himself in routine administration and his disdain for domestic policy-making allowed Prime Ministers under him to wield great responsibility and authority.However, subsequent Presidents intervened in governance very often and asserted their authority. The 1981-1986 period under Francois Mitterrand is a case in point. However, there were limits to absolute presidential authority in a country with liberal traditions and values as well as powerful autonomous institutions. Even before "cohabitation" proper occurred in 1985 Mitterrand had begun to delegate responsibility to the Prime Minister and the Government.

In 1986 the "leftist" Mitterrand was confronted with a "rightist" government under Prime Minister Jacques Chirac. It was a major test for the Fifth Republic. Hence, in political terms cohabitation came to mean cooperation between parties for specific purposes without actually forming a coalition. Although cohabitation was essentially a constitutional relationship, it also involved a temporary collaboration where responsibilities overlapped. The Mitterrand-Chirac cohabitation evolved into a state where the government under the Premier legislated on domestic issues while the President confined himself strictly to "advice" and "arbitration". While the portfolios of foreign and European policies were shared, defence and nuclear policies remained the exclusive preserve of the President. The presidency also retained its privileged status.

Interestingly, although cohabitation initially seemed to circumscribe the presidency in theory, actual practice saw it reaping political benefits for the incumbent President. Through adroit political manoeuvring, Mitterrand began to capitalise on the domestic problems of the government. Moreover, by intervening only in issues where the government was at an obvious disadvantage, Mitterrand laid the groundwork for a comfortable victory in the Presidential re-election of 1988 against the badly divided rightist forces. To avert the threat of further cohabitation, Mitterrand promised to reduce the presidential term of office from seven to five years so as to coincide with the life of the legislature. However he failed to apply the pledge to himself, and cohabitation returned in 1993 and went on until Mitterrand bid adieu in 1995. The two periods of cohabitation, during 1986-88 and 1993-95, helped France tide over severe political strains. Moreover, the distinction between the Social Democratic Left and the Right blurred over the years.

It is a moot point as to whether cohabitation in the French example can be relevant in the Sri Lankan context. The political cultures are vastly different and the liberal values of tolerance, cooperation and notions of respecting democratic principles are regrettably absent or insignificant in the case of Sri Lanka. Moreover, there has been a marked reluctance to devolve power and de-centralise authority at multiple levels.

The Venezuelan plot

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The opposition parties in Venezuela, encouraged by the United States, are making moves to unseat President Hugo Chavez, whose policies are seen as posing a threat to U.S. hegemony.

PRESIDENT Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is counted among the most charismatic of world leaders today. Chavez, a former army paratrooper, who has faced the country's electorate twice in two years and won with thumping majorities, now faces a challenge from right-wing groups and a few of his erstwhile political allies. They are subtly encouraged by the conservative officials in charge of the United States administration's Latin America desk.

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Soon after George Bush took office as President, the U.S. Administration put Venezuela in the firing line. Chavez, unlike many other Latin American leaders, had refused to kow-tow to Washington on major international issues. Statements by senior administration officials focussed on the danger posed to U.S. interests in the region by the policies of the Venezuelan leader.

Chavez is an ardent admirer of Cuban leader Fidel Castro though he has emphasised that he is not a Marxist. One of the first countries he visited after assuming office in 1998 was Cuba. Both countries today have strong diplomatic and political ties. Chavez dreams of once again integrating Latin American countries into one confederal entity as envisaged by the 19th century Latin American icon Simon Bolivar. Bolivar, who hailed from Venezuela, had briefly united Latin America.

Chavez is seen by the U.S. right wing as a threat to U.S. hegemony in the American continent. Chavez, while pursuing an independent foreign policy, has been careful in his dealings with the U.S. Besides, the two countries need each other. Venezuela has the sixth largest oil reserves in the world and the U.S. is its biggest customer; around 40 per cent of the U.S.' annual oil imports are from Venezuela. But this has not prevented Venezuela from selling oil to Cuba despite the continuing U.S. blockade of the island nation. In fact, since assuming office, Chavez has expanded the country's oil export, doubling its value between 1998 and 2000.

Chavez has also been playing an activist role in international politics. After Venezuela took over the presidency of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) last year, he embarked on a vigorous diplomatic tour of member-countries of the organisation to drum up support for a united stance on stable oil prices. His visit to Iraq, the first by a head of state to the beleaguered country in a long time, symbolically broke the U.S.-imposed travel embargo on Iraq. And since then many high-level delegations, including one from India, visited Iraq, much to the annoyance of Washington.

Chavez was successful in stabilising the price and output of oil. But in the last few months, international oil prices plummeted for a variety of reasons, raising alarm in Venezuela and other countries that depend largely on oil revenues. Last month Chavez embarked on yet another whirlwind tour of oil-producing countries.

Chavez visited both OPEC and non-OPEC countries to convince them of the urgent need to curtail oil production so as to stabilise price. The trip seems to be paying dividends, as Russia, a significant holdout, has indicated that it will cut production and help boost the price of oil in the international market. Chavez's activism has not been appreciated by Washington. In recent months, domestic oil prices in the U.S. has dipped below one dollar a gallon after many years.

Washington views Chavez as someone who poses a challenge to the established order in the region. Venezuela takes a strong interest in groupings such as the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and Chavez has emphasised the need to establish a multi-polar world in order to check U.S. hegemonism. He is not afraid of taking a principled stance on matters in which the U.S. has important stakes. For instance, he has been critical of the U.S.' massive military involvement in neighbouring Colombia, ostensibly to help the Colombian government crack down on the illegal production of narcotics.

Many people in the region believe that the U.S. military presence is aimed at helping the Colombian military and right-wing militias to wage a war against the two leftist guerilla groups that have been active for more than 40 years. Chavez has maintained that he is all for finding a political solution to the long-running conflict. Any escalation of the war would have an adverse impact on Venezuela, which shares a long border with Colombia. There are more than a million illegal immigrants from Colombia in Venezuela. Besides, it is easy to shift cocoa cultivation and cocaine production from one country to another.

After the U.S. launched its so-called war against terrorism, Chavez expressed concern at the mounting civilian casualties in Afghanistan. He was also among the first to condemn the September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. and Venezuela was among the countries that offered to share military intelligence with Washington. But the Bush Administration, prodded by the Venezuelan elite, which has reason to hate Chavez, seems to be trying to queer the pitch for the government in Caracas.

The two elite-dominated parties, which led Venezuela to the brink of ruin, have now been constitutionally confined to the political dustbin after voters overwhelmingly approved a new Constitution that effectively removed their stranglehold. Armed with new powers, Chavez has gone about implementing his campaign pledge of ushering in land reforms; the government can, by decree, seize and distribute unproductive land. A new "energy law" requires new ventures in the energy sector to have 51 per cent government participation. These moves have not been appreciated by the big landowners and businessmen, especially from North America. Wealthy Venezuelan businessmen are said to have around $120 billion salted away in overseas banks.

The right-wing opposition is trying to employ tactics eerily reminiscent of the kind used in Chile in the early 1970s by forces opposed to the government of Salvadore Allende. Sections of the army are being encouraged to subvert democracy. Despite some erosion in middle-class support in cities such as Caracas, Chavez remains the hero of the rural masses and most of the working class. There is no politician in Venezuela who can match him in popularity despite sections of the Venezuelan and U.S. media portraying him as a leader who cosies up to so-called terrorist states such as Iraq, Cuba, Iran and Libya.

Chavez has also been accused of backing the left-wing guerilla groups involved in the civil war in Colombia. His request that Vladimir Ilich Sanchez, popularly known by his nom de guerre 'Carlos the Jackal', be repatriated to Venezuela to stand trial for terrorism is being cited as yet another illustration that Chavez was soft on terrorism. Carlos, a citizen of Venezuela, is currently incarcerated for life in a high-security French prison. The majority of Venezuelans seem to be of the opinion that he will get justice only in a Venezuelan court.

A shadowy Venezuelan group with links in the U.S., which calls itself the "National Emergency Junta", has been placing advertisements in U.S. newspapers demanding that Chavez either step down or be overthrown. The Far Right in U.S. politics, which has an influential presence in the Bush administration, seems to be orchestrating these none-too-subtle moves to destabilise the popular government led by Chavez. The opposition parties in Venezuela have virtually given an ultimatum to Chavez either to reverse his recent decisions on land reforms and foreign direct investments or to resign.

Chavez has described the opposition demands as the machinations of the "elites of the old, corrupt political class". He has another five years to complete his term in office. Under the new Constitution, he can seek yet another term. From all available indications, he is going to be around for quite some time. He is expected to be the chief guest at India's Republic Day celebrations in 2002 in Delhi.

Dialogue and recalcitrance

SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN world-affairs

Threatened by new U.S. recalcitrance, the global disarmament campaign may well have to resort to new techniques of civil disobedience to achieve a hearing.

AFTER three postponements on account of bad weather, the United States conducted a national missile test on the morning of December 3. Enacting a variant of the scenario of a high-speed bullet hitting another at a combined velocity of over 20,000 km an hour, a 'kill vehicle' was used to intercept and destroy a simulated warhead launched from another location.

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Early on December 3, a missile was launched across the Pacific Ocean from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. On attaining its orbital path, the missile released a warhead and a decoy. In the nuclear war scenarios that have been repeatedly played out in strategic circles, a decoy has the unpleasant consequence of diverting the attention of defence systems while lethally tipped nuclear warheads are allowed through. But the December 3 test did not fail. The 'kill vehicle' launched atop a missile from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific after an interval of 20 minutes, disregarded the decoy, sought out the warhead and destroyed it. The debris from the test was left to float around in near-earth orbit for an indefinite period of time.

With global attention being transfixed by the ongoing U.S. "war for civilisation", reactions tended to be subdued. The Russian government was particularly muted, in marked contrast to early expressions of forthright opposition to the U.S. proposal for a national missile defence (NMD) system. This has lent credence to the expectations that have been freely aired since October, that Russia and the U.S. are working towards an agreement that will provide the U.S. the leeway to proceed with its NMD tests, even while preserving an appearance of compliance with the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

The U.S. has clung to the pretence that the tests as conceived do not constitute a violation of the ABM Treaty. Russia has never made a secret of its belief to the contrary. But faced with U.S. insistence that it will unilaterally walk out of ABM Treaty if it fails in conjunction with Russia to "update" it, the Russian government of President Vladimir Putin may be inclined to make a virtue of necessity and acquiesce in the ongoing testing programme.

China, however, was forthright in its criticism. "Our position on missile defence is very clear and consistent: we are opposed to the U.S. building a missile defence system," said a spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry. China instead believed, she continued, that "the relevant sides should, through sincere and serious dialogue, seek a solution that does not compromise any side's security interests, nor harm international efforts at arms control and disarmament."

Lay opinion, when not beguiled by the technological pretensions of a high-speed projectile striking another in orbital space, remained sceptical. Some wondered about the utility of a system that was postponed successively in the test phase on account of weather conditions. Was this a "fair weather missile defence" system, they asked.

Expert opinion came up with a more robust critique. The Union of Concerned Scientists pointed out that the test design inherently tilted the probabilities towards success by using only one decoy, whereas in a real-life situation, a multitude of decoys should be expected. Further, it said, the simulated warhead used in the test carried a transponder that sent out data and enabled the launch of the kill vehicle to be precisely timed and targeted.

Officials of the U.S. Defence Department justify the use of this transponder on the grounds that the ABM Treaty prohibits the use of a radar of the necessary specifications in the area of the test. But they have somehow been unable to rid expert opinion of the impression that the NMD tests have been doctored to justify enormous financial outlays on an ambitious and ultimately unworkable system.

THE NMD test came as an ironic climax to a month of hectic activity in the global disarmament dialogue. The Committee on Disarmament and Security of the United Nations - otherwise known as the First Committee of the U.N. General Assembly - concluded its deliberations early in November and forwarded a set of resolutions for ratification by the General Assembly. Voting in the First Committee showed a sharp polarisation between the perceptions of the U.S. and the rest of the membership.

A carefully drafted Japanese resolution calling for progress towards total nuclear disarmament in terms of the 13 steps listed in the 2000 review conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), was approved with two votes in opposition. India voted no because the resolution was based on the NPT which it opposed. The U.S., though party to the consensus in 2000, also voted no.

A resolution calling for the preservation of the ABM Treaty and full compliance with its provisions attracted much attention because of U.S. plans for an NMD test. But despite strong efforts by the U.S. to rally numbers to its cause, it was joined by only Israel and Micronesia in voting no.

Most alarming was the voting pattern on a simple procedural resolution calling for the retention of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) on the agenda of the U.N. General Assembly next year. The U.S., which has signed the CTBT, voted against the resolution. This dramatic disavowal of a treaty it had actively sponsored was sharply highlighted by India and Pakistan, which are yet to sign the CTBT but saw little problem with its retention on the agenda.

A U.S. representative explained that his country "did not support the CTBT", a global compact that President Eisenhower had urged as far back as the 1950s and President Clinton as recently as 1996, had described as the "hardest fought and longest sought" objective of international arms control.

The new spirit of recalcitrance was underlined shortly afterwards when a conference on the entry-into-force (EIF) of the CTBT took place on the peripheries of the U.N. General Assembly session. In a calculated diplomatic snub, the U.S. insisted, while staying away, that the name-plate reserved for its delegation should be removed from the conference hall. The organisers, who had no information about the intended boycott till shortly before the conference began, pointedly refused. And even if in keeping with normal diplomatic practice there were few adverse references to the U.S. by name, most participants made little secret of their feelings.

The CTBT was ignominously defeated at its first consideration by a cabal of right-wing Republican senators in October 1999. Disregarding moderate counsel that consideration of the treaty be postponed till a more propitious time, the Republican duo of Jesse Helms and Trent Lott - close associates of President George Bush - insisted on bringing it before the Senate for a vote. The CTBT not merely failed to gain the two-thirds majority required for ratification, it was denied even the modest dignity of a simple majority.

At the recent EIF conference Russia warned in exceptionally strong words of "dangerous trends towards disrupting" the global compact on banning explosive nuclear tests. President Putin's written statement, placed before the conference, said that the CTBT was a "most important instrument" in preserving strategic stability. A senior Russian participant in the conference said that the failure of the U.S. to ratify the treaty could "result in a crisis in the NPT regime" and perhaps fuel "an uncontained spread of nuclear weapons".

Mid-November, President Bush met President Putin in Washington before transferring their summit-level confabulations to the convivial ambience of his Texas ranch. And though the two leaders announced plans to cut steeply their levels of strategic missile deployments within 10 years, they reached no agreement on the ABM Treaty. Putin was definitive in insisting that the Russian position remained unchanged.

THE U.S. is, without great subtlety, signalling that its arms control commitments from now onwards will be unilateral and not bound by treaty. Yet, few are convinced of the prudence of leaving the vital goal of nuclear disarmament to the good faith of the two main nuclear powers. The second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-II) is yet to take effect because of conflicting interpretations about its anchorage within the wider context of arms control treaties. The U.S., for instance, believes that it stands alone, while the Russians believe that the entire sequence of negotiated agreements beginning with the ABM Treaty of 1972 constitute a seamless web. No one component can be removed without jeopardising the entire edifice.

Clearly, the processes followed by existing disarmament forums are proving inadequate to deal with the new spirit of recalcitrance that the U.S. has been displaying. This is a context in which the techniques of civil disobedience that have recently been adopted by various activist groups could achieve greater prominence. A number of such incidents have been reported in recent times, by groups such as Greenpeace International and Trident Ploughshares.

In July this year, 15 members of Greenpeace breached the high security perimeter at the Vandenberg Air Force Base, from where the U.S. was scheduled to launch an ultimately unsuccessful missile defence test. Using patented Greenpeace techniques, part of the group set off in boats, holding banners aloft, while some members swam across the water body that constitutes the natural boundary of the air force station. All 15 activists, along with two freelance journalists, managed to enter the exclusion zone that had been cleared in preparation for the test. Their stated intent was to prevent the test, and in the confusion that they managed to engender, it is likely that the test firing of a missile kill system was fractionally delayed. Unable to clear the exclusion zone in time to exploit his launch window, the base commander ordered the firing of the missile while the group of activists remained under its flight path.

All 15 activists, along with two journalists who accompanied them, were arrested and charged under U.S. security laws dealing with terrorist violence. At the first hearing, U.S. federal prosecutors demanded that all 17 defendants be detained in prison for the duration of their trial. Bail was subsequently granted, but all nine foreign nationals who had been associated with the demonstration were required to stay within the Central District of Los Angeles where the trial was being held. Their passports were confiscated to ensure compliance. One of the defendants is Samir Nazareth, a native of Nagpur and a recent graduate in development economics from the University of Pondicherry.

The Star Wars 17 - as the defendants were soon collectively named - took the plea that their demonstration was perfectly legitimate, since it was intended to prevent the U.S. government from committing an illegal act. As a signatory to the ABM Treaty, the U.S. was obliged not to introduce any system that could be construed as a defence against ballistic missiles. Rather than increasing security, missile defence in the U.S. would only render the world more unsafe, by impelling rival nuclear powers to multiply their offensive capabilities. In protesting the test, the Greenpeace activists argued, they were only seeking to hold the U.S. government accountable for its treaty commitments.

Following an international campaign coordinated by nuclear disarmament groups, all the foreign nationals involved in the demonstration were allowed to leave the U.S. Their trial will resume in January in a climate rendered more hostile by the ongoing "war against terrorism". The judicial precedents that they can call to their defence are rather thin, but interesting. A ruling by a Scottish court in a case involving the Trident Ploughshares group could be something to rely upon. Although it was subsequently reversed in an unprecedented appeal by the British government, the Trident Ploughshares precedent has invaluable lessons for the global disarmament campaign.

In July 1999, three women from the Ploughshares group boarded a barge moored in a Scottish loch and threw some equipment overboard. The barge was a floating laboratory which housed some of the instruments to monitor the movement of British nuclear armed submarines, the Trident fleet. Arraigned before a Scottish court, the Ploughshares activists argued that they were acting out of "absolute necessity", since they were engaged in "crime prevention through the disarmament of illegal and criminal weapons of mass destruction". As a defence prop, they invoked the 1996 finding of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which held that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would in normal circumstances be illegal.

The Scottish court, in a ruling that was justifiably termed historic, held that the defence of the Ploughshares trio was sustainable in terms of international legal convention.

Faced with the prospect of snowballing demonstrations by anti-nuclear activists, the British government sought recourse to rarely invoked judicial process, called the Lord Advocates Reference. Of the four questions posed before the Scottish High Court, the key one was whether customary international law should at all have a bearing on a criminal matter pursued under Scottish law.

The High Court determined all the questions before it to the disadvantage of the Ploughshares protestors. But the movement has acquired a momentum of its own, best symbolised by the award to it last October of the Alternative Nobel Prize or the Right Livelihood Award. Determined action by citizens' groups clearly retains the serious potential to forcefully intrude into the closed world of international arms negotiations. With innovative legal arguments and methods of mobilisation, these movements are emerging as a growing reproach to the indifference of official disarmament dialogue to public concerns.

Discussing democracy

The United Nations' special envoy to Myanmar holds out the promise of progress in the talks between the military junta and the National League for Democracy.

IS a political breakthrough imminent in Myanmar? Have the talks between the military junta, officially known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), and National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi progressed beyond the stage of confidence-building? Is a compromise arrangement possible now?

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While the statements emanating from the United Nations after its special envoy Razali Ismail's sixth visit to Myanmar since September 2000 point to positive answers to these questions, analysing the developments in that country is akin to making an intelligent guess. If Razali, a Malaysian diplomat, is not allowed into Myanmar for some months, it may be a signal that the talks are not going off well. If he is able to visit the country more often and his meetings with Suu Kyi last longer than the earlier rounds, the message is seen as positive. Little information on the state of the dialogue is available for the people of Myanmar.

Although political prisoners have been periodically released (a key issue raised by Suu Kyi), many important political personalities are still in jail. Suu Kyi herself remains under virtual house arrest in Yangon and has not said a word about the dialogue after it commenced.

During his last visit Razali Ismail was quoted as saying that he hoped to see "tangible results" and a "clear road-map by 2002". That was perhaps the most optimistic assessment of the talks until then.

A U.N. spokesperson said in New York on December 3 that Razali was hopeful of "significant progress" towards democracy in the near future and that he had asked the Myanmar government to free more political prisoners. "Mr. Razali was pleased that all parties remained committed to the process of national reconciliation and democracy," he said.

The U.N. envoy had encouraged both the government and Suu Kyi to turn their talks into a "substantive dialogue" as soon as possible. He urged the junta to free political prisoners, especially 19 members of Parliament who were elected in the 1990 elections, in order to "create a political climate conducive to advancing the dialogue".

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An NLD leader in Yangon insisted that the talks were still in the confidence-building stage because many political leaders had not been released.

The ongoing talks constitute the most serious effort to arrive at a political compromise since the junta refused to hand over power to the NLD in 1990. Both sides have tried hard not to jeopardise the dialogue by maintaining absolute silence on its contents. Given the state of Myanmar, the exercise of confidence-building should continue until the end. Putting a bitter past behind them and developing mutual trust will not be an easy task for the two sides.

Any eventual settlement will have to be a compromise. The opening of several NLD offices and the release of prisoners are seen as promising signs. The junta's acceptance of Suu Kyi as an interlocutor, diplomats stress, was the first sign that it had softened its stance. But many leaders continue to be incarcerated and Suu Kyi can hardly be expected to make any "deal" until they are released.

Myanmar needs a massive infusion of foreign capital if it is to develop economically, but there are no signs of the junta handing over power to a civilian government to facilitate such an inflow of funds. It is firmly entrenched in power. The Myanmar regime has considerable support from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN); even Japan has somewhat softened its position towards the country. Whatever ASEAN leaders may say in private to the rulers in Myanmar, publicly they have taken on Western governments, which have tried to browbeat Yangon.

In a sense, the Malaysian-U.N. initiative has so far shown the best chance of succeeding. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed, who has held high-level meetings with SPDC Chairman Than Shwe, has repeatedly stated that change in Myanmar will be a gradual process.

For the dialogue process to go beyond the confidence-building stage the military junta will impose a condition that the 1990 election results be discarded. The recent dismissal of top Ministers has conveyed the impression that it is keen on putting down corruption.

If the U.N. believes there is reason to be upbeat about the current developments in Myanmar, its assessment can hardly be discounted. But, at the same time, it will be important to keep in mind the realities on the ground - a military government which dominates the power structure and a democratic movement that has put all its cards into the dialogue mode as of now.

An aggressive game plan

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad's aggressive stance on the construction of a Ram temple raises the suspicion that the Sangh Parivar plans to spring a surprise in Ayodhya.

COME December, the country hears the rumblings of the Ayodhya issue. This year the noises from the Hindutva brigade have been louder than usual, for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections are just round the corner. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which has been in the forefront of the campaign for the construction of a temple in Ayodhya, however, maintains that its plan to begin the construction in March has nothing to do with the elections. It has announced that the work will start any day after March 12, on a date to be announced by the Dharma Sansad. The VHP has also made it clear that it does not care if its programme leads to the fall of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and that it is ready to face even violent consequences as it did in October-November 1990 when the Mulayam Singh Yadav government opened fire on kar sevaks in Ayodhya.

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Besides mobilising opinion through programmes such as yagnas, the chanting of mantras and the distribution of miniature trishuls (tridents) in Uttar Pradesh, the VHP has launched a comprehensive public relations exercise. The confidence with which VHP leaders speak about the construction programme conveys the impression that there is more to it than meets the eye. Their confidence stems from the belief that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre will not dare to use force on a huge congregation of Ram bhaktas and that when it comes to the crunch Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee could do a Kalyan Singh: refuse to use force against the congregation, own moral responsibility for the failure to maintain the status quo at the disputed site, and tender his resignation. In the meantime, as per the plan, a temple will come up the same way a makeshift temple was erected during the turmoil following the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

Senior VHP leaders told Frontline that most of the groundwork for erecting the temple had been completed, with parts of the temple having been fabricated at workshops in different parts of the country. "At the workshops in Jaipur and Ayodhya most of the basic work has already been done. All that remains is transporting the carved pieces to the site and placing them in the right position. The carving for the entire basic structure has been done. The temple could be erected in a matter of hours," said a VHP leader.

Leaders of the VHP said that once lakhs of people congregated at the designated site, no force in the world could prevent them from doing whatever they desired. The VHP's vice-president, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, said: "At the most they would use force, open fire. But if you remember, all the force at Mulayam Singh's disposal could not stop kar sevaks from climbing atop the dome of the Babri Masjid in 1990 and hoisting the bhagwa dhwaj there. So this time too, what more can they do? Kill some people? We are prepared for that". After February 16, 2002, he said, 20,000 VHP workers will camp in Ayodhya for 100 days, chanting mantras and performing yagnas and other rituals. They would finally start the construction, he said. Asked about Home Minister L.K. Advani's announcement in the Lok Sabha that the government will not allow anyone to change the status quo in Ayodhya, the VHP leader said: "We do not need the government's permission to build the temple. They can say or do what they like. Our programme remains unaltered. If lakhs of people gathered in Ayodhya and surrounded the site, would the government be able to prevent them from doing what they want? When people desire, governments have to give way."

Will not any such action lead to the fall of the Vajpayee government? The VHP does not seem to be bothered about that eventuality. Giriraj Kishore said: "It is not our responsibility to ensure the government's survival. For us, it is the temple that is more important, not the government. In any case, it is not a BJP government. He (Vajpayee) is too dependent on the allies." Regarding the Prime Minister's assurance that all obstacles in the way of temple construction will be removed by March 12, the VHP leader said: "He is the Prime Minister, so we have to believe him. It is good for us that the Prime Minister himself is talking about removing obstacles in the way of the construction of the temple. I wish him luck because he has made this promise to Paramhans Ramchandra Das (chairman of the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas). He has made the promise to a brahmachari and he better fulfil it."

The VHP has launched mass contact programmes. Its volunteers have been meeting politicians of all hues, including parliamentarians, and explaining their stand. VHP leader Ashok Singhal recently met All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary Jayalalithaa.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has offered its support to the VHP's programme. Addressing a press conference on December 6, RSS spokesperson M.G. Vaidya said the Sangh would give unqualified support to the programme. Constructing temples at Kashi and Mathura was also on its agenda, he said. Asked whether the programme would not lead to a confrontation with the NDA government, which has committed itself to maintaining the status quo in Ayodhya, Vaidya said: "There need not be any confrontation. We should trust the Prime Minister, who has said that all impediments to the construction of the temple would be removed before March 12."

The government has indeed expressed its resolve to maintain the status quo in Ayodhya. Its latest public pronouncement on this issue came during the Lok Sabha debate on December 3 on the intrusion of VHP leaders into the makeshift temple on October 17. Replying to the debate, Advani said: "We are responsible for maintaining the status quo in Ayodhya as per the Supreme Court order without in any way changing, altering or adding to the existing structure. We will not allow anyone to change the status quo there. The government will ensure compliance of court orders." But then, how does one explain the kid-gloves treatment that was given to VHP leaders Ashok Singhal and S.C. Dixit after they stormed the disputed area, violating a court directive prohibiting entry? They have been booked for "obstructing government personnel from discharging their duty". Such dichotomy between words and deeds is robbing the government of any credibility it has on the Ayodhya issue, it is being pointed out. "Do you think senior government officials were not present there when Singhalji and Dixitji went inside?" asked Acharya Giriraj Kishore. His observation adds to the feeling that when it comes to the crunch, the administration will remain a mute spectator, as it did on December 6, 1992.

Also, just before the Babri Masjid was demolished, the U.P. government too had expressed its commitment to protect the masjid - in its affidavit in the Supreme Court and at the National Integration Council meeting.

The Sangh Parivar's new aggression has already vitiated the atmosphere. Various Muslim organisations have declared that they will physically intervene if the government fails to stop the VHP's plan to construct the temple at Ayodhya. But the governments at the Centre and in the State do not seem to have been prepared to deal with the VHP onslaught. If the BJP fails to win the Assembly elections in U.P., the problem will only aggravate.

IN an effort to strengthen the Hindutva agenda, the Bajrang Dal has now taken up cudgels on behalf of Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan. According to Bajrang Dal leaders, these countries have been converted into "concentration camps" where Hindus are raped, killed and rendered homeless. They say that atrocities on Hindus in Bangladesh have increased since the Khaleda Zia government took over. Bajrang Dal leader Surendra Jain said: "There is a 10 per cent increase in the influx of Hindus since this government took charge. We demand the government of India to take up the issue with the government of Bangladesh and snap all diplomatic ties with Bangladesh and Pakistan until the atrocities on Hindus stopped." He urged the government to cancel the bus and train services to Dhaka and Lahore. He warned that if these demands were not met, "the Hindu youth will take it upon himself to act". He has set December 26 as the deadline for the Centre to act on these demands.

A Minister's commitment

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The youngest member of the Vajpayee Cabinet, Civil Aviation Minister Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, is said to be enjoying the Prime Minister's confidence on the Ayodhya issue. The NDA government, he says, is bound by the commitment given to the nation by the Prime Minister and Home Minister that the status quo shall be maintained at Ayodhya until a solution to the problem is found either through the courts or through dialogue. Excerpts from an interview he gave Purnima S. Tripathi:

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The VHP has announced its plan to start the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya in March. How does the government plan to tackle it?

We are very clear that there are only two ways in which a solution to Ayodhya could be found: either through the judicial process or through dialogue. In the meantime, the NDA government is bound by the commitment given by the Prime Minister and the Home Minister to the nation that the status quo will be maintained there. We should trust the Prime Minister and the Home Minister.

The Prime Minister has said that the Ayodhya issue will be resolved by March 12. How is this to be done?

The Prime Minister knows best. I can only say that whatever is the solution, it should be acceptable to both Hindus and Muslims. Even if a temple is built there, it should be acceptable to Muslims. Otherwise it would sow the seeds of future discord. Whatever is built at Ayodhya should be a symbol of friendship and peace between Hindus and Muslims.

But the VHP talks of constructing a temple at any cost.

They are merely retaliating to the constant politicisation of the Ayodhya issue by the Congress and the Samajwadi Party in view of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. The Ayodhya problem has been created because of the mishandling of the issue by Congress governments in the past and the party is repeating the same mistake. For them (the Congress and the Samajwadi Party), Muslims have only one problem: the Babri Masjid. So they are trying to appease Muslims by keeping the issue alive. Why don't they talk of real problems such as education, unemployment and backwardness if they are our real well-wishers.

Can you say categorically on behalf of the NDA government that the temple construction will not begin in Ayodhya as announced by the VHP?

Yes, I can give my commitment on behalf of the NDA government that no temple construction will begin until it is acceptable to Muslims also. Suppose a temple is built there and it is not acceptable to Muslims, somebody would go there hundred years later and demolish it again. A lasting solution can only be found if it is acceptable to both Hindus and Muslims.

The run-up in Punjab

With the faction-ridden Shiromani Akali Dal going downhill, the Congress(I) hopes for a landslide win in the February elections to the Punjab Assembly.

CHARAN DAS' ramshackle tyre repair shop has been festooned with Congress(I) flags, advertising the party to travellers zipping down the busy highway that runs past the tiny village of Adda Haddowal near Hoshiarpur. It is not, Das is at pains to explain, a declaration of his ideology. Until Punjab's Lok Sabha elections are held in February, the local unit of the Congress(I) will pay him a small sum for the use of the space. But there are no Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) flags to be seen in this village or, for that matter, anywhere else. "Of course not," the shopkeeper explains, "why would you spend good money on publicity if you know you're going to lose anyway?" With the SAD's core voters torn between the rival groups led by Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal and his arch-rival Gurcharan Singh Tohra, and the State itself in the midst of a growing economic crisis, more and more people share the Hoshiarpur shopkeeper's assessment.

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The more optimistic elements in the Congress(I) assert that the party, despite its own factional power struggles, is headed towards a historic landslide. Even the more cautious among the party's leaders believe that a comfortable majority awaits it in the Punjab Assembly, along the lines of its success in eight of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in the last general elections.

Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee(I) chief Amarinder Singh "maharaja" to many residents of Patiala (the centre of the princely state which his ancestors ruled for centuries), seems confident that he will rule again, this time as Chief Minister. The results of a pre-election survey commissioned by the Congress(I) and carried out by a south India-based market research organisation, had just come in. "Fifty-nine per cent of the people in Anandpur want a new government," Amarinder Singh said happily, "49 per cent in Pathankot, 61 per cent in Wagah and 60 per cent in Kharar. This is going to be a landslide, mark my words."

Chief Minister Badal might pride himself on having led the first Akali government ever to have completed a full term in office, but evidence that voters do not see the period as a happy one is not hard to come by. On December 11, the Congress(I) routed the SAD-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance in the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation elections, winning 13 of the 20 seats. The Chandigarh Vikas Manch, a local organisation of Congress(I) rebels, picked up three seats, with the BJP managing to secure just three seats, and the SAD only one. While Chandigarh residents are not represented in the Punjab Assembly, since the city is a Union Territory, their views tend to mirror those of urban Punjab.

The Chandigarh results, given that the city was until recently something of a BJP citadel, have left little doubt that both Sikh and Hindu urban residents are fed up with the SAD's record in office. If the emphatic rejection of the BJP by voters in Chandigarh is mirrored in major cities across the State during the elections, that in itself would spell serious trouble for the alliance, whose 1996 victory depended largely on urban Hindu votes. But urban voter distrust is not Badal's only problem. An estimated Rs.300 crores owed to commission agents for procuring October's paddy harvest has yet to be paid out. They, in turn, have not been able to make payments to farmers, who therefore have yet to see the record minimum support price secured by Badal turned into money in their hands.

BADAL'S best hope of salvaging something for the ruins, a rapprochement with the Tohra group, now seems out of the question. In November, Akal Takht Jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti issued an appeal to the Akali factions to unite, and work together to defeat the Congress(I). While Sangrur MP Simranjit Singh Mann flatly refused to accept Badal's leadership, Tohra said that he would consider talks with the mainstream SAD if the Chief Minister apologised at the Akal Takht for his "past wrong-doings". Baba Sarbjot Singh Bedi, the head of the coalition of Akali dissidents, the Panthic Morcha, went further at a press conference on December 5, stating that the minimum precondition for Akali unity was that Badal resign.

But Badal flatly rejected the demands. Instead, he moved to secure his flanks from attacks by the religious Right. On November 27, the Chief Minister ensured that his Officer on Special Duty and trusted aide Kirpal Singh Badungar was elected as the new president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee. Badal acted soon after he saw signs that the former president, Jagdev Singh Talwandi, was flirting with the Tohra faction. In the wake of a spate of burnings of copies of the Guru Granth Sahib by followers of religious leader Piara Singh in October, Talwandi had set up an SGPC inquisition into the links of major SAD politicians with the controversial godman. He had then charged Badungar with being a follower of Piara Singh, a thinly veiled attack on Badal.

Badungar's election incensed the Akali dissidents - Tohra camp follower Sukhdev Singh Bhaur even claimed that Badal had manipulated the Akal Takht Jathedar into absolving the new SGPC president of heresy - but could generate very real gains for Badal. Although the emphatic break with Talwandi more or less made any progress towards factional unity impossible, it will ensure that Badal does not face any sniping in the runup to the Assembly elections.

It will also give the Chief Minister some level of control over the SGPC in the probable event of his defeat in February. Such control will be politically crucial, for elections to the General House of the SGPC are scheduled to be held in June 2002. Fortynine lakh voters had registered for the last elections, held five years ago, but less than half that number have come forward so far. Whoever has the resources to push up voter registration will have an obvious advantage when going into the elections.

Another major source of support for Badal is Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Last month, the Prime Minister handed over Rs.1,500 crores for a welter of urban infrastructure schemes, which should help take at least some pressure off Badal's near-bankrupt government. The Punjab government has taken loans from a several financial institutions to fund non-Plan projects handed out by the Chief Minister personally to party-affiliated rural petitioners who attend his Sangat Darshan gatherings, a process which has siphoned money away from serious development activity. From December 1, the government has also sought to appease the BJP's business backers by abolishing octroi.

Some 150 municipalities, which used to gather the octroi, will now have to be refunded upwards of Rs.200 crores, for which the Prime Minister is expected to help with another short-term loan.

THROWING cash at voters is not, however, likely to do much to defuse the palpable anti-government feeling in Punjab. The huge rallies addressed by Amarinder Singh bear witness to the fact that the Congress(I) has become a credible political force in the State once again. The Congress(I) leader's major problem, for the moment, is infighting.

After defeats in byelections at Nawanshahar, Sunam and Majitha, former Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal had led a delegation to New Delhi to complain about Amarinder Singh's management of the party. She, however, received short shrift from the Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi and has since been silent.

Another dissident, Jagmeet Singh Brar, has also been ambiguous in the matter of his support to Amarinder Singh. Spats over seat allocations have already broken out at recent rallies, and could hinder a smooth election campaign.

Should the Congress(I) fail to secure a decisive majority, or should the BJP at a later stage seek to bring down the government, such simmering factional feuds could become significant. The prospect of a post-election coup is, in fact, a very real one. A new Congress(I) government would also have to face the unenviable task of sorting out the financial mess that the SAD government would have left behind. Despite a massive loan waiver of terrorism-related expenditure, Punjab's cumulative debt of Rs.63,000 crores is now larger than its entire annual State Domestic Product. On top of all this, Punjab's traditional wheat-rice agriculture is on the verge of a collapse.

A serious bollworm infestation saw cotton production fall from 270,000 bales in 2000 to just 100,000 bales this year. Much of the countryside is dotted by huge mountains of unsold grain, the consequence of the Union government's flawed food policies. In April, when the next wheat crop begins to come in, there will be no space to store the harvest.

Few of these substantive issues are likely to figure prominently in newspapers, which are likely to be dominated by the mechanics of putting together the final alliances that will go into battle next year. The Communist Party of India has already announced that it will ally with the Congress(I), although the details of seat sharing have yet to be worked out. The BJP and the SAD, too, are in the midst of seat-sharing discussions, which are likely to be problematic since the BJP has asked for a larger number of constituencies than in the past. The Panthic Morcha, for its part, has found a partner in the Bahujan Samaj Party, which could eat into the Congress(I) vote bank in some Dalit clusters. But the real significance of the coming elections will lie not in this fact but in the meaning of the results for Punjab's future.

Amarinder Singh, with his reputation for personal honesty, will have an opportunity to place progress, not arcane religious issues and communal feuds, at the centre of political discourse in Punjab. The Congress(I) leader has ambitious plans to change Punjab's agricultural scene, and to attract industrial investment.

He told Frontline: "We have identified areas of wasteful government expenditure which we can axe, and should raise about Rs.3,000 crores by doing this. We believe that we can also raise another Rs.1,000 crores by doing away with leakages in tax collections. That should help with the day-to-day running of the State...But, in the longer term, we need to break the dependence of Punjab's agriculture on wheat and rice, for which we are already paying far higher than world prices. We need to bring about diversification, and encourage the production of high value crops. We also need to create a better industrial climate, by doing away with the irrational industrial regime which has run textile, engineering and shelling units to the ground."

He is also the first major politician in many years who is talking about the State's appalling record in the field of education - it ranks 15th among India's States in literacy levels, despite its affluence - and about building a social security system for the landless poor and marginal farmers. "The problem with Akali politics is that it starts with Aurangazeb and ends a few years later. No one in the villages today is worried about what someone did or did not do 300 years ago. The issues are unemployment, corruption, and the state of the economy. People want action to combat inflation, they want drinking water, electricity, schools and decent roads."

Whether Amarinder Singh will be able to push through such reform in the face of a system widely believed to have become India's most corrupt in the course of the Badal years, however, is another question. And should the Congress(I) fail to translate its agenda for progress into real economic development, the pendulum will swing again to the religious Right: with potentially calamitous consequences for Punjab.

Talks and obstacles

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R.J. RAJENDRA PRASAD

LIFE in the villages of northern Telangana in Andhra Pradesh has been seriously disturbed by the violence unleashed by the People's War Group (PWG) and the State government.

Successive Chief Ministers from Dr. M. Channa Reddy to N. Chandrababu Naidu have appealed to the PWG to shun the path of violence, join the mainstream of life, win public support for its cause and capture power through elections.

The PWG had ignored these appeals. But in recent months, the organisation has shown signs of a willingness to come to the negotiating table. However, there appears to be no meeting ground. After the spate of explosions that marked the first anniversary of the formation of the People's Guerilla Army, Chandrababu Naidu said that the PWG had taken a clear stand against the development of the State and that the blasts were aimed at scaring away investors. He asked the PWG and the Left parties to look at the progress that China had achieved and the changes it had introduced in governance while remaining a Communist state.

The suggestion that talks be held to end the violence first came from the Andhra Pradesh High Court. In a judgment in 1996, Justice M.N. Rao and Justice S.R. Nayak said that a peace commission should be set up with representation to all the parties involved, inspiring confidence in all sections of society, including the naxalites and the police, and backed by state power and consent, "to bring about a cessation of Police encounters and violence by Naxalites".

Justice M.N. Rao said: "Before closing this case, we feel it our duty to advert to the tragedy that has befallen the State and the continuing traumatic situation into which the State has been entrapped for more than one and a half decades. Between 1981 and 1996, 242 policemen were killed at the hands of naxalites while the civilian casualties attributed to naxalite attacks was 1,805. By May 1996, a total of 1,140 naxalites died at the hands of police. A soft state cannot protect the political and democratic institutions and the representative bodies from which it receives sustenance."

Inspired by the judgment, the Committee of Concerned Citizens (CCC) was formed in 1997 with S.R. Sankaran as convener. This organisation is doing commendable work in preparing the ground for talks. Sankaran, an Indian Administrative Service officer of the Andhra Pradesh cadre, was instrumental in promulgating Regulation 1 of 1971, which prohibits the transfer of land in the Agency areas to anyone other than a tribal person, with a presumptive clause that all land in the Agency area originally belonged to tribal people. He retired as the Chief Secretary to the Tripura government and was himself once abducted by the PWG in the Gurthedu forest of East Godavari district.

In its first report the CCC said that it was possible to find a long-term direction for a democratic restructuring of society which alone can address the basic issues. It pointed out to the government that it was futile to set pre-conditions that naxalites must surrender their arms or give up violence before talks could be held. The CCC said that democratic protests should not be treated as naxalite activities and that the police force should not be used to suppress them. It advised naxalite groups not to coerce elected representatives, to stop cruelty on the part of its activists, and to ensure that innocent people are not killed.

The CCC had a meeting with Chandrababu Naidu in April 1998 and with a representative group of the PWG. The Chief Minister gave an assurance that there would be no fake encounters. He promised that the government would not stand on prestige and would consider regularising lands already taken possession by the poor. He also said that the government was keen to invest in development.

The PWG said that the formation of the CCC was "a good development, and it is favourable to the revolutionary situation when democrats feel the need to act even though without a direct role in the revolution". It said that governments were denying the minimum democratic rights to the people and encouraged "naked exploitation by feudal comprador bourgeois and imperialist forces".

On the other hand, the PWG statement, the people's movement organised struggles as part of self-defence. The forms of resistance included beating up landlords and their agents as part of class struggle, eliminating the cruel ones, taking action against informers to counter the Police repression effectively, killing officers who were aggressive, ambushing police patrols and carrying out raids. "In other words, people are countering the armed repression of the exploitative ruling classes with their own armed resistance," the PWG added.

With such divergence of views, a meeting ground is hard to find.

Naxalite explosion

The People's War Group targets industries in Andhra Pradesh in an apparent change of strategy, and the Central Government responds with a nationwide ban on it.

NAXALITES of the People's War Group (PWG) struck in a big way again in Andhra Pradesh recently, targeting this time industrial establishments owned by corporate houses and political leaders' families. They blew up several factories in the last week of November, causing panic among industrial circles. Industries were not on the hit list of these extremists until this point.

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The government's response to the attacks was quick. A nation-wide ban was clamped on the PWG under the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO), clubbing it with other terrorist organisations. Banned along with the PWG is its close associate, the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) of Bihar. With these two organisations included, as many as 25 terrorist groups stand proscribed under POTO.

Left-wing extremism has been the bane of Andhra Pradesh for over three decades. The State government and naxalites are engaged in a seemingly endless war. At times the police have seemed to gain the upper hand by inflicting severe blows on naxalite cadres. But, the extremists have retaliated at regular intervals, leaving the police in a state of shock.

The Chandrababu Naidu government claims to have scored in the last five years significant victories over the PWG, the most powerful extremist organisation that operates in the State. More than 1,000 PWG activists and sympathisers had surrendered to the police recently. Important cadre,including three members of the Central Committee (the decision-making body of the PWG), were liquidated. The presence of the group in north Telangana, which has been its haven several years, has dwindled.

But there is no let-up in the violence by the PWG. It continues to draw support and sustenance from new sources and strike at specific targets, causing extensive loss to public property and eliminating public figures, including elected representatives.

The latest offensive came in the form of a series of blasts on November 29 and 30, which destroyed a milk factory owned by N.Chandrababu Naidu's family in Chittoor district, a granite unit of Union Minister of State for Defence U.V. Krishnam Raju at Chegunta, and a coffee powder factory of the Tatas at Toopran (both in Medak district). The attacks were carried out to mark the first anniversary of the formation of the People's Guerrilla Army (PGA) on December 2, 2000, which was a significant move by the PWG to regroup itself and shore up the morale of its ranks.

The formation of the PGA was followed by the exposure of PWG representatives to an international seminar organised by the Workers Party of Belgium (WPB) in Brussels. They received support from other Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties - of Brazil, Chad, Mexico, Nepal, the Philippines and Senegal. The Maoist uprising in Nepal too came as a shot in the arm for the PWG. Informed sources say that the PWG is operating on a plan to open a "revolutionary corridor between Nepal and north Telengana (Nepal to Dandakaranya), passing through Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

The targeting of industries will scare away prospective investors and upset the government's plans to create an industry-friendly atmosphere in the State.

The PWG has remained already banned in Andhra Pradesh since 1992 (barring a brief period when N.T. Rama Rao was the Chief Minister in 1995). But the nation-wide ban assumes significance as its operations outside Andhra Pradesh will now come under the close scrutiny of the law-enforcing agencies.

According to police estimates, the strength of the outlawed organisation in the State does not exceed 1,000 members, armed with more than 800 guns, ranging from Chinese-made Kalashnikovs to crude single-shot guns known as tapanchas.

Arms smuggling and raids on the police are the main sources of weapons for the organisation. There have been reports of the PWG having links with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for the supply of arms, but intelligence sources do not confirm them.

Despite the State Government ban, the PWG became well-entrenched by the mid-1990s so much so that the morale of the police, by their own admission, was at its lowest by 1997. Police sources confirm that in 1997 the strength of PWG rose to over 1,800 armed members (consisting of 83 dalams and a special squad). But by the late 1990s, the police managed to gain the upper hand as the naxalite group's strength in terms of cadre and weapons dwindled to 47 and 45 per cent respectively.

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The two-pronged strategy of the government paid dividends. On the one hand, the police dealt a deadly blow to the PWG network by liquidating top cadres, including three central committee members - Nalla Adi Reddy, Seelam Naresh and Santosh Reddy. A phase of surrenders unfolded with scores of PWG cadres, including women activists, giving up the militant path.

While the mass surrender by PWG cadres caused a setback to the movement, recruitment to the PWG went on. PWG leaders turned their attention to the tribal people of the forest areas on the Andhra Pradesh-Orissa border, as the movement of youth from the villages and the universities dwindled. Moreover, the tribal people are known for their physical endurance and ability to learn military tactics fast.

The government reached out to the people in every nook and corner of the State through such activities as building roads, health centres and schools, organising self-help groups such as Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWCRA) and addressing the problems of the people with the help of programmes such as Janmabhoomi. The void in the villages was filled and the presence of the government enhanced significantly. These visible changes curtailed the operations of PWG activists as logistics and material support were hard to come by.

Forced onto the backfoot, the PWG extended its activities to Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Chhattisgarh, with the contiguous forest area facilitating it. As there was no ban on the organisation in these States, PWG activists quietly slipped into safe havens in these States after committing acts in Andhra Pradesh. The increased pressure and presence of the police, perhaps, partly explains the tactical withdrawal of underground dalams from the plains of north Telengana districts in recent years.

The PWG organised a 20-day camp (People's War Congress) in Dandakaranya in February this year, which is believed to have been attended by Communist leaders from Turkey, the Philippines and Nepal.

The People's War Congress caused the formation of the Andhra Pradesh Orissa Border Special Zone Committee (consisting of four districts of Andhra Pradesh and five districts of Orissa) and the Central Military Commission, and attempts to form base areas of Dandakaranya and the contiguous forest areas of the Andhra Pradesh-Orissa border. The creation of special action teams to hit single specified targets was part of the new strategy.

The police perceive the increased emphasis of the PWG on militarisation as a sign of "weakness" of the extremist movement. Police officials argue that people's participation, which is the core element of any revolutionary movement, has dwindled as the naxalite leaders are concentrating on augmenting their memberships strength rather than on enlisting people's support.

The roots of the PWG in Andhra Pradesh are deeper than those of similar extremist movements such as the MCC. The PWG, which ironically swears by the tactics and strategies employed by Mao Zedong during the Great March, holds sway over 15 districts in the State. It formed two primary level guerilla zones, one consisting of five districts of north Telengana and the other comprising the northern coastal districts of Srikakulam and Vizianagaram, the Agency areas of Visakhapatnam and East Godavari districts of Andhra Pradesh, and Malkangiri, Ganjam, Gajapathi, Koraput and Raigarh districts of Orissa.

The guerilla zones and base areas, according to the PWG strategy, denote advanced stages of a revolutionary movement. A guerilla zone is an area where the organisation and the "reactionary" state are equally placed and fighting for control. Base area formation would technically mean a later stage when revolutionaries win the battle with the state and take control of the governance of the area.

Spreading menace

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KALYAN CHAUDHURI

EXTREMIST groups have turned isolated pockets in Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal into veritable war zones. The People's War Group (PWG), also known as People's War (P.W.) in Bihar after it merged with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Party Unity, has extended its operations from Andhra Pradesh to Orissa. The Maoist Coordination Centre (MCC) has shifted its area of operation from Bihar to the newly formed Jharkhand State, while the P.W. has launched attacks in the tribal belt in Medinipur district of West Bengal.

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The spurt in extremist violence in Orissa may be part of the PWG's plan to increase its strike rate. Coming in quick succession, the attacks could also be the PWG's way of celebrating the first anniversary of the formation of the People's Guerilla Army last December. In the first major strike of its kind, a group of naxalites on December 2 blew up the Poteru police outpost and then bombed the house of Arabinda Dhali, Minister for Textiles, Handloom and Cooperation, at Poteru village in Malkangiri district near the Andhra Pradesh border. Reports say that the police presence at Poteru has been insignificant.

According to the police, reports about 50 extremists armed with AK-47 rifles swooped down on the police outpost around 9 p.m. and demanded that the office-in-charge, Gopinath Sethi, hand over all weapons. They ordered Sethi and two constables on duty to vacate the outpost before they blew it up with bombs. They then crossed the Poteru river and proceeded towards Dhali's farmhouse. There they told Dhali's wife, son and nephew to vacate the house and then destroyed the building by detonating dynamite. The Minister was not present at the time of the attack. Dhali, a Bharatiya Janata Party legislator from Malkangiri, was on the naxalites' hit list. He has been given Z category security status.

Before fleeing Poteru, the extremists dropped leaflets which said that the attacks had been conducted to avenge the police operation against PWG activists in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa and the exploitation of the tribal population. "We attacked Dhali's house as he was instrumental in the deployment of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Malkangiri to subdue our struggle against the oppression of the poor tribal people," it said. The PWG's provincial secretary, Jampanna, claimed responsibility for the attack and said that more strikes were planned for December.

Orissa's Director-General of Police, N.C. Padhi, told Frontline that the attacks were "symbolic" as the PWG declared the border districts of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh a war zone. On December 1, PWG extremists triggered a landmine explosion on the Kutru-Bedre road and fired at two police stations in the tribal-dominated Dantewada district in Chhattisgarh. The PWG has a strong presence in two other districts of Chhattisgarh - Bastar and Kanker.

While the left-wing ultras have managed to lay their hands on sophisticated weapons, successive attacks on police stations in Orissa have confirmed that the protectors of the law are ill-equipped to counter extremist threats. The organised attacks could not have taken place without some local support. As in Andhra Pradesh, they feed on rural discontent. Orissa has in the recent past experienced a series of natural calamities, ranging from cyclones to droughts, and there are persistent complaints of neglect of the tribal belt.

The biggest ever naxalite attack in the State took place on August 10 when a group of about 100 extremists killed five policemen and injured 22 in simultaneous attacks on Kalimela and Motu police stations in Malkangiri district. Two P.W. commanders were killed when the police returned fire.

To combat the increasing naxalite menace, the Naveen Patnaik government recently asked the Centre to accord Orissa special category status, and submitted an action plan of Rs.350 crores. State Chief Secretary D.P. Bagchi met Union Home Ministry officials to highlight the nature and extent of the naxalite problem, the measures needed to be adopted to counter it, and the reasons why the State should be granted special status. Bagchi said that if proper steps were not taken soon, the problem could well become as acute as it is in Andhra Pradesh. The State also sought special assistance for the upgradation of police stations and the deployment of more paramilitary forces.

The MCC attack on November 1 on the block office at Topchanchi in Dhanbad district of Jharkhand, which left 13 State Armed Forces jawans dead and five seriously injured, could not have taken place at a worse time. Much to the discomfiture of the BJP Chief Minister Babulal Marandi, the incident took place just before the first foundation day of the State on November 15. The MCC guerillas, who now call themselves Lalkhandis, apparently wanted to take advantage of the heightened media attention on the State. Over 150 extremists attacked the block office, which had a picket of State Armed Forces, and robbed 14 self-loaded rifles and three carbines before disappearing into the nearby forest. The incident was a planned one as it was the village market day. A group of women and young boys, all members of the attacking party, guarded the main entrance of the market on the National Highway. They carried bombs. Five extremists were killed in the shootout.

On November 12, two Rashtriya Janata Dal activists who were earlier members of the Krantikar Kisan Samity (KKS), a MCC front organisation, were gunned down at Makaiatand village in Latehar district of Jharkhand. (The KKS collects 'levy' from farmers and businessmen on behalf of the MCC.) The same day, the extremists blew up railway lines between Karkata and Untari stations in Palaumu district. Simultaneously, they blew up four trucks, a bus and a jeep on the Daltongunj-Aurangabad road.

Jharkhand, formerly south Bihar, is rich in terms of mineral resources and industrial infrastructure compared to its parent State. North and central Bihar are considered hotbeds of MCC activity. The Jharkhand region was relatively less vulnerable to naxalite threats until it was granted statehood. The creation of Jharkhand seems to have helped the MCC deepen its roots in the region as the potential for extortion from contractors, traders and industrial units is greater in the new State.

For the past few months, West Bengal has also been subjected to naxalite violence, particularly in the tribal district of Medinipur on the Orissa border. The incidents took place in the forested areas of Jhargram, Shalboni, Garbeta and Binpur blocks. The MCC-PWG combine has been primarily targeting members of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist). On November 28, naxalites shot dead 57-year-old Sudhir Singha Sardar, a CPI(M) local committee secretary, at Bhimarjun village in Jhargram subdivision.

Intelligence reports say that naxalites from Orissa and Bihar have set up bases in Medinipur and Burdwan districts. The naxalite movement, which originated in West Bengal in the late 1960s, disappeared from the State after the Left Front government came to power in 1977. However, the re-emergence of the extremist force is proving to be a matter of grave concern for the State government. The CPI(M) leadership has put the party's workers and leaders in Medinipur on alert following intelligence reports in the wake of Sardar's murder that at least six key party functionaries were on the hit list of naxalites. A large police contingent has been deployed in Jhargram.

Most of the areas under naxalite influence in Medinipur are inhabited by poor tribal people. "The naxalite leaders lure them with food or money. If the living conditions of these people are improved, they will not join hands with any extremist force," a police official said.

Realising this fact, the Left Front government has evolved a development package for Medinipur and Burdwan districts.

Power sector perils

In Karnataka, higher than expected tariff claims by an independent power producer, claims now accepted by the State government, raise questions essentially with regard to the viability of the government's whole programme of power sector reform.

THE recent decision by the Government of Karnataka to accept the tariff claims made by an independent power producer (IPP), against the strongly argued advice of its own power transmission utility, will impose a stiff financial burden on the State. This burden may be passed on to the consumers in the form of substantially higher tariffs. The cash-strapped Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Ltd (KPTCL), whose objections to the claims by Tanir Bavi Power Company Pvt Ltd (TBPC) have been overruled by the government, will now be forced to buy power at a price much higher than it had bargained for. According to KPTCL sources, a conservative estimate of the additional payment that the corporation will have to make during the project's period of seven years owing to the 'excess' claim made by TBPC will be Rs.1,040 crores. According to KPTCL's computations the actual return on equity (ROE) for TBPC would be of an order substantially higher than 16 per cent that was provided for in the power purchase agreement (PPA).

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"The Advocate-General has given his legal opinion which upholds TBPC's interpretation of the PPA," V.P. Baligar, chairman and managing director (CMD) of KPTCL told Frontline. The matter, he said, would go before KPTCL's Board for approval soon. While most IPPs are costly, he said, TBPC was like a "mini-Enron" (he was alluding to the Dabhol Power Company) with its cost of power at Rs.4.30 per kWh at 85 per cent plant load factor. TBPC sources, on the other hand, told Frontline that the cost of power was Rs.3.89 a kWh. "We believe we are amongst the cheapest IPPs in Karnataka," a company source said. However, KPTCL sources say that as per the invoices of Tanir Bavi in the last few months, the effective cost for KPTCL at the current level of plant utilisation, ranges from Rs.4.65 to Rs.9.20 a kWh.

TBPC, a joint venture of the GMR Group and the U.S.-based PSEG Group, commissioned a 220 MW barge-mounted naptha based power generation plant in June 2001 in Tanir Bavi village, Dakshina Kannada district. The floating power plant was brought on a submersible ship from the Mipo Shipyard in South Korea, and docked in a specially created pier off the Gurpur river, 7 km inland from the coast. The PPA was originally signed between the then Karnataka Electricity Board (KEB) and Chicago Power Inc on December 15, 1997. The GMR Group, which also runs the 200 MW Basin Bridge power plant in Chennai, came into the picture in June 1998 when it bought the majority equity stake from Chicago Power. The PPA was further amended on May 29, 1999. The project cost at the time of financial closure on September 14, 2000 was Rs.934 crores. With a debt-equity ratio of 70:30, the dollar component of the project cost is Rs.820.25 crores and the rupee component Rs.114.40 crores. The plant became operational on June 8, 2001, producing 170 MW in single cycle mode. From November 21 this year it has been producing its full quota of 220 MW power in combined cycle mode. TBPC presented its first tariff invoice to KPTCL for payment in June and has been presenting monthly invoices since then.

KPTCL, immediately upon receipt of the first invoice, objected to the calculation on which the billing was based. It turned to the relevant clauses in the PPA to support the restriction of its payment to what it deemed was the contractual price. According to KPTCL sources, the billing by TBPC was based on an "audacious interpretation of the tariff-related clauses of the PPA", which would increase the fixed cost component of the tariff by at least Re.1 a kWh, that is, from Rs.1.115 to Rs.2.035. The claims and counter-claims, which also involved both parties seeking legal and financial expertise, remained inconclusive until the State government directive in favour of TBPC. An order dated December 1, 2001, endorsing TBPC's tariff claims based upon its interpretation of the PPA, was signed by K.P. Pandey, Principal Secretary, Department of Energy. To it was appended a 13-page legal opinion given by A.N. Jayaram, the Advocate-General. Pandey had in a written submission to the Chief Minister in September backed TBPC's stand, referring to legal opinions obtained by the company. In October 2001, the company also got an opinion from P. Chidambaram, the lawyer who is a former Union Minister, endorsing their stand.

What is the issue at dispute between KPTCL and TBPC?

The KPTCL has objected to the claims of TBPC with regard to the computation of the fixed charge component of the tariff. Typically, a power project has a two-part payment structure. The first is the variable cost that in the main covers all fuel-related reimbursements. The other is the fixed cost which includes the servicing of equity and loans, and payments towards operation and maintenance (O&M). In the case of the Tanir Bavi project, the total fixed charge, according to Section 7.4 of the PPA, comprises a dollar-denominated fixed charge component expressed in dollars and a rupee-denominated other fixed charges component (of Rs.0.145 per kWh). The dollar denominated component provides for a 16 per cent return on foreign equity besides principal and interest repayment of foreign debt. The operational part of the clause, which has been interpreted in different ways by both parties, states: "The fixed charge shall be determined at the time of financial closing and shall be subject to a ceiling of $0.04 per kWh."

According to KPTC, TBPC has interpreted a straightforward sentence in the PPA relating to fixed charges to its advantage. TBPC has taken the ceiling of $0.04 a kWh as an eligible fixed cost due to it, and has billed KPTCL accordingly. In a letter from the company to KPTCL on August 31, 2001, the claim is put forth clearly. "The fixed tariff quoted and accepted is 4 cents/kWh. Out of the 4 cents to be paid per kWh, part of it is paid at the current exchange rate, while the rest is paid at the exchange rate as on the date of financial closing. While the amount paid at the current exchange rate takes care of 16 per cent rate of return on foreign equity plus debt service of foreign loans, the rest takes care of rupee debt, rupee equity plus operation and maintenance charges, etc".

KPTCL sources reject this reading as an "absurd and misleading" one. The cost of servicing the dollar-denominated investment of the fixed charges, according to documents submitted to KPTCL by TBPC itself, is only $0.02054 a kWh. This charge in fact services Rs.820 crores (which constitutes the dollar investment of both debt and equity). Since TBPC assumes that it is eligible for 4 cents a kWh, it accounts for the balance of nearly 2 cents a kWh as the cost of servicing that part of the fixed charges relating to rupee debt and equity and O&M costs. KPTCL sources say that TBPC is double billing them, as they are being charged another Rs.0.145 a kWh under the head of "other fixed costs" to cover O&M costs. This would essentially mean that the balance of $0.0194 would cover the cost related to the rupee investment alone. "How can the cost of servicing Rs.820 crores of the total foreign investment in the project be 2 cents a kWh, and the cost of servicing the balance of the Rs.114 crores rupee investment also be almost 2 cents a kWh?" a highly placed source asked. "That 4 cents a kWh is a ceiling is mentioned several times in the PPA. TBPC has submitted documents on the cost of servicing the dollar-denominated part of the fixed charge, which comes to $0.02054. But it has not provided any supporting documentation of the cost breakdown to claim the additional 2 cents. If it does so, and it is consistent with the PPA, KPTCL could consider paying. In fact, at this rate, on a rupee investment of Rs.114 crores, TBPC recovers approximately Rs.104 crores in the first year itself. This translates into a rate of return of about 700 per cent on the rupee component alone over the seven years. This is an enormous drain on public money, and is especially shocking in the context of the government's keenness to have a transparent reform process which aims to achieve quality power at low cost."

TBPC sources justify their reading of the PPA, and say that their position has now indeed been vindicated. "To begin with, we came to this project through a bid-route," informed TBPC sources said. "Accordingly, the fixed charge component of the tariff was frozen at the bid stage itself at $0.04." Their bid, they claim, was evaluated and approved by the Government of Karnataka in March 1996. The unit cost of power based on a dollar exchange rate of Rs.35 was at that time calculated at Rs.2.62, where the fixed charge was $0.04 and the variable charge $0.035. When asked, the company was however unable to produce proof of any approval by the government of its bid rate. KPTCL sources claim that there is no documentation in support of the claim. Further, they quote a clause in the PPA which states that the PPA is the final expression of the agreement that contractually binds two parties, irrespective of any earlier agreements or understanding.

TBPC argues that Clause 7.3 of the PPA has specified a fixed charge of $0.04 as being applicable over the seven-year period. Section 7.3 provides such a table showing fixed and variable charges over a seven-year period. KPTCL argues that the table only provides notional figures, an illustrative example that would be replaced by the actual fixed charge finalised at financial closure. TBPC, while providing proof of payment for the dollar-denominated part of the fixed costs, amounting to $0.02 a kWh, believes that under the terms of the PPA it is not obliged to provide proof of payment for the remaining $0.02. "We magnanimously agreed that a part of the fixed costs could be reimbursed to us in rupees," a company spokesman said. "We have other costs that the balance amount of $0.0196 will be incurred on in India. For example, there is a rupee debt payment, a 16 per cent ROE on rupee equity, interest on working capital, O&M dollar-denominated costs not covered by the Rs.0.145 other fixed charge component, lease rentals on spare engines, and so on." TBPC sources claimed that their cost of power at Rs.3.89 kWh is among the cheapest of IPPs in Karnataka, and that the cost would come down further in the future. "We too have to be efficient and price competitive," a TBPC source said.

In the final analysis, the issue is not one of semantics or interpretations, KPTC sources argue. A 16 per cent rate of return on equity is considered very high and is the bait that draws foreign investment in the power sector in India. When it can attract investment at this generous rate of return, why would a public utility offer anything substantially higher than that? The point was made forcefully by KPTCL in a written submission. "If the contention of the company is accepted, KPTCL would be incurring excess fixed charges of Rs.1,040.80 crores over a period of seven years without any justification," it noted. "The position maintained by the company on charging the ceiling amount of $0.04 per kWh would imply, as per their own figures, collecting at least Rs.2,503 crores in fixed cost on an investment of Rs.934 crores. This would mean a profit of Rs.1,299.20 crores on a dollar-denominated investment of Rs.275 crores. The ROE in such a situation would be greater than 65 per cent year on year".

Under the Karnataka Electricity Reform Act, 1999, all PPAs have to be approved by the Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC) as laid down in Section 17 (Regulation of Generating Companies and Stations). Section 27 (2) states that all contracts entered into by the government prior to the commencement of the Act shall be deemed to have been approved by the KERC. However, KPTCL has provided details of the Tanir Bavi issue to the KERC, according to KPTCL CMD Baligar. The KERC is in the process of reviewing several PPAs through public hearings and is conducting a public hearing on the contract between KPTCL and Jindal Tractabel Power Corporation, a private power generator. If the KERC does take up a review of the Tanir Bavi PPA, there are likely to be questions beyond that of tariff that the public will demand answers for. These could range from the commercial wisdom of opting for barge-mounted projects, to the very basis of accepting the 'bid-route' process which pushes up the cost of power substantially.

Power sector reform has been the centrepiece of the Karnataka government's programme of economic liberalisation. Its three-point agenda for the power sector, namely, reduction in subsidies, increase in tariff, and greater private sector participation, helped it qualify for a recent World Bank loan of $150 million. Its reform zeal led to the bifurcation of the KEB into two autonomous entities in charge of generation, and transmission and distribution respectively. At this early stage of reform, the heavy-handed manner in which the government has intervened in the commercial decisions of its own power transmission utility, has put a question mark over its promise of according operational autonomy to such bodies, it is being pointed out. At the recent KERC hearings on the draft PPA with the Jindal Tractabel Power Corporation, the KPTCL Director (Finance) blamed the government for directing KPTCL to pay a higher price per unit of power. In all these cases, it is the consumer who must eventually bear the cost.

Once more in Meghalaya

A new government is formed in Meghalaya following the collapse of the E.K. Mawlong Ministry, which was accused of entering into a shady deal to rebuild the Meghalaya House in Kolkata.

THE government in the tiny northeastern State of Meghalaya changed for the sixth time since the February elections following the collapse of the United Democratic Party (UDP) coalition headed by E.K. Mawlong. After month-long political turmoil, the People's Forum of Meghalaya (PFM) formed the government on December 7 with Dr. Flinder Anderson Khonglam as Chief Minister, after it managed to garner the support of 43 of the 60 Members of the Legislative Assembly. The PFM is a combination of defectors from Mawlong's UDP, the Congress(I), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Hill State People's Democratic Party (HSPDP), the People's Democratic Movement (PDM) and an independent. It is apparent that Khonglam, although an independent MLA, has been chosen Chief Minister to avoid any bickerings over the chief ministership among the PFM's constituents. Three BJP MLAs have offered to support the new government from the outside.

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Although his government was reduced to a minority, Mawlong refused to step down; he challenged the Opposition to defeat him on the floor of the Assembly. However, the Assembly could not be called as Governor M.M. Jacob took ill and was taken to Delhi. The secretary of the NCP and former Speaker of the Lok Sabha, P.A. Sangma, who put together the PFM, went to Delhi to convince Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and Union Home Minister L.K. Advani that the political stalemate in the State could only be resolved if a substitute was arranged for Governor Jacob. Arunachal Pradesh Governor Arvind Dave, who was sent to Meghalaya as acting Governor, promptly convened the Assembly.

On the first day of the session, Congress(I) legislator and PFM secretary R.G. Lyngdoh moved a no-confidence motion against the Mawlong Ministry, saying that he had no right to continue in power as he was left with only 13 legislators. Speaker E.D. Marak introduced the motion immediately. This made Mawlong loyalists accuse the Speaker of playing a partisan role.

Pandemonium broke out as Mawlong's supporters rushed to the well of the House demanding that a 24-hour notice be issued for the introduction of the motion, as required under Rule 133 (2A). However, the Speaker decided to go ahead with the motion. Mawlong was moved by means of a voice vote. Only 14 legislators (13 loyalists and the lone Garo National Council (GNC) MLA, Clifford R. Marak) supported Mawlong.

Thereafter, PFM leaders met Dave and staked their claim to form the government. Khonglam submitted a list of 43 MLAs supporting him. Soon after the Mawlong Ministry was voted out, Donkupar Roy, Health Minister in the outgoing Ministry, moved a resolution for the removal of Speaker Marak. The Assembly admitted the motion.

Mobilising strength to overthrow the Mawlong Ministry was not an easy job for Sangma. At one stage, even his own partymen were in two minds about going along with his plans. The NCP had 15 MLAs in the UDP coalition. Even as its State unit president Robert Kharsing, at the suggestion of Sangma, handed over a letter to Governor Jacob on November 15 stating that the party had decided to withdraw support to the Mawlong Ministry, NCP Ministers and MLAs, barring two legislators, attended a meeting convened by Mawlong in his chamber and pledged support to him. In order to prevent defections, Mawlong, without the consent of the allies or the Cabinet members, promoted two NCP Ministers to Cabinet rank and inducted two NCP legislators into the Ministry.

Alarmed at these developments, Sangma went to Shillong from Delhi with a message to party MLAs that the high command was firm in its decision to withdraw support to Mawlong. "We have set a deadline for the NCP Ministers to resign. Those who abide by it and resign will remain in the party, and disciplinary action will be initiated against those who disobey," he said. The strong stand taken by the NCP central leadership forced the legislators to retract and join the rebellion move against Mawlong.

The two-tier Khonglam Ministry has 37 members, including 28 of Cabinet rank, and is the largest in the history of Meghalaya. Most of them held ministerial posts in the Mawlong government. Former Congress(I) Chief Minister D.D. Lapang has been made Deputy Chief Minister. There are 13 Ministers, one each from the NCP and the Congress(I), seven from the Meghalaya United Democratic Party (MUDP), two from the HSPDP and one from the PDP, besides an independent. Sangma said that the Ministry was big because various groups had been represented.

The new government cites fighting corruption as its main objective. But it has at least one member who has come under a cloud in connection with the deal relating to the Meghalaya House in Kolkata, which triggered the revolt against the Mawlong government. The deal, struck by the Mawlong government with a construction company, was allegedly not in the best interests of the State and suited only a few individuals, including Ministers and officials. It led to a public outcry, and constituents of the Mawlong Ministry, including the BJP and the NCP, withdrew support to the government. Mawlong's UDP also split over the issue. The deal allegedly did not have the Cabinet's approval.

An agreement was signed between the government and the construction company to rebuild Meghalaya House after demolishing the old structure on Russell Street. However, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) stopped the demolition on October 1 after it was found that the building was on the KMC's list of 'heritage' structures. The Meghalaya government was reportedly not aware of this fact. But it could not come up with appropriate answers when accusations of entering into a shady deal were hurled against it. Although Power Minister Martle Mukhim resigned over the issue, the UDP failed to convince one of its constituents, the NCP. The NCP demanded a judicial probe and action against the architects of the deal, including the Minister for General Administration and the Chief Secretary and others. Meanwhile, the People's Rally Against Corruption, a conglomeration of several non-governmental organisations in Meghalaya, organised picketing of government offices in early November demanding the resignation of Mawlong "for his complicity in the murky deal".

A peace initiative

The Government of India reacts with caution to an offer of dialogue from the outlawed and beleaguered United Liberation Front of Asom.

FOR the first time since it was outlawed in 1990, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) has shown some interest in entering into a process of dialogue with the Centre. The ULFA offer came from its chairman Arabindo Rajkhowa on November 27, 2001, on the 11th anniversary of the ban on the extremist organisation. Rajkhowa's statement, issued possibly from his hideout in Bhutan, said that ULFA was willing to sit down for talks, "provided the Indian government is ready to accept our preconditions." In a statement faxed to newspapers in Assam, he said, "A meaningful dialogue is the only way to a peaceful solution of the Indo-Asom conflict."

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Although Rajkhowa did not spell out ULFA's preconditions for the dialogue, it is apparent that the organisation is sticking to its three main demands: that Assam's sovereignty should be the subject of discussion; that the talks should be held in a third country; and that they should be held under the supervision of a representative of the United Nations. On November 28, ULFA publicity secretary Mithinga Daimary contradicted a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) report that Rajkhowa had offered to participate in an "unconditional dialogue" with the Government of India. Daimary said in a press release that ULFA was fully committed to, sincere about and ready for conditional political talks with the government to find out an acceptable solution to the "Indo-Asom conflict". He also said, "There are no differences among the rank and file of ULFA on this issue."

Rajkhowa's offer was immediately welcomed by Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. Gogoi saw the very fact that the banned group has chosen to talk of a "political settlement" as a positive development. He told Frontline that it was for the first time that ULFA had issued a clear statement expressing its willingness for a meaningful dialogue. "We have been repeatedly urging the Centre to initiate a dialogue with ULFA as well as other militant outfits operating in the State in order to resolve the insurgency problem," Gogoi said. He added, "We are hopeful that the Centre will take note of this and come out with its own reaction." He said that he would look for a mediator acceptable to both sides so that the dialogue could take things forward. Gogoi said his government was not averse to declaring a ceasefire in the State to facilitate peace talks. However, any decision on either declaring a unilateral ceasefire or suspending Army operations in the State, even on an experimental basis, to reciprocate an ULFA offer, would have to be taken in consultation with the Centre.

Two influential organisations in Assam, the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) and the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP), asked the State government to initiate political negotiations with ULFA and declare a unilateral ceasefire. The AASU and the AJYCP said that "the venue and conditions for talks" should not be a major hurdle. "Talks should be held with ULFA by any means," they said.

The Centre has, however, reacted to the offer with caution. Realising that ULFA is under tremendous pressure from the security forces and the Royal Bhutan Government, which has initiated action against ULFA activists in hideouts in the jungles of Bhutan, the Centre may not go out of its way to accept immediately the offer for talks. P.D. Shenoy, Additional Secretary (Northeast) in the Ministry of Home Affairs, said the Centre did not want to make a hurried comment on ULFA's statement. "The matter involves a policy decision and since Parliament is in session, policy-makers will react to it after weighing the pros and cons of the statement," Shenoy said. Home Ministry sources said New Delhi would first like to ascertain whether the offer had the approval of ULFA hardliners such as Paresh Barua, its "commander in chief".

However, indications are that the Centre may ultimately yield to pressure from Assam's Congress(I) government and major political parties, besides the members of Parliament from the State, and agree for talks. Informed sources said the Centre would have no problem in agreeing to hold talks in a foreign country as such talks were now being held with the banned National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah), or NSCN(I-M). The Centre has also no problem in accepting ULFA's demand for the suspension of Army operations and the observance of a ceasefire from the day the dialogue would start. But it can in no way agree to the presence of the U.N. observer at the talks. Besides, the Centre wants the talks to be held within the framework of the Indian Constitution.

Observers believe that the ULFA offer is not entirely unexpected. Reports with Central intelligence agencies, however, indicate that the organisation is divided on the question whether talks should be held immediately or after a while.

According to analysts, the immediate reason for the offer of talks could be the pressure mounted by Bhutan on ULFA and other Bodo extremist groups such as the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) operating from Bhutan. Army intelligence sources say that there are about 2,500 ULFA and Bodo militants in Bhutan and they have a large arsenal. Of late some underground Naga militants belonging to the NSCN(I-M) have moved to Bhutan and set up training camps.

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The increasing number of Indian militants taking shelter in Bhutanese territory has now come as a threat to Bhutan. The Bhutan government is for the first time trying to tighten the noose around the insurgent groups from northeastern India, which have well-entrenched bases in the rich topical jungles along the border.

Bhutan has long been asking ULFA and other militant groups to leave its territory. This time, however, it seems to be determined to drive them out.

Before going in for full-fledged military operations against them, the Bhutane government recently staunched the militant groups' supply lines. Although supplies continue to be smuggled into ULFA and NDFB camps on a small scale, bulk supplies have been cut off. The Bhutan government has directed the people, especially those living in Samdrup Jhongkhar, to dissociate themselves from the militants. The bulk supplies, which include ration, clothes and medicines, are carried by traders based at Samdrup Jhongkhar, the southern-most town of Bhutan, which is close to Assam's Nalbari district.

While passing through Kolkata on his way to Thimphu on December 2, Bhutan's Home Minister Lyonpo Thinley Gyamtsho told Frontline that ULFA alone had been running nine camps in southern Bhutan. He said that ULFA had agreed to close the camps. "After a few rounds of discussions held recently with the Bhutan Government, the ULFA leadership has said that they will close four of the camps by December. At the other five they will reduce the strength for now and eventually close them as well," the Minister said. As for the NDFB, he said that the government had held two rounds of discussions following which they had agreed to close their camps.

For ULFA, the situation is getting worse, and the members of its armed squads are on the run. The Central government's move to tighten the vigil along the Indo-Bhutan border by deploying 10 battalions of the Border Security Force (BSF) prevented the possibility of ULFA cadre sneaking back into Assam.

Officials believe that ULFA's offer for dialogue stems from two more problems it now faces, apart from the Bhutan government's action which has deprived it of safe bases and heavy loss of cadre in encounters with the security forces. For one, many of its trusted leaders and activists seem to have given up the struggle and decided to surrender to the Army. For the other, ULFA is fast losing mass support because of the violence Assam has been experiencing for over a decade. The economy of the State has been shattered as no meaningful development work could be undertaken during the last 15 years. Besides, a good number of ULFA cadres have lost all hope of securing an "independent Assam".

New Delhi adopted the same wait-and-watch policy before starting talks with the NSCN (I-M) to settle the Naga issue. Talks were held outside India between NSCN (I-M) leaders and former Prime Ministers I.K. Gujral and H.D. Deve Gowda during the last seven years. In yet another move towards solving this complicated issue, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee held talks with Isaac Chishi Swu and T. Muivah, chairman and general secretary of the NSCN(I-M), at Osaka in Japan on December 8. A brief statement issued by the Government of India on the 30-minute talks read: "At the meeting it was reiterated that a negotiated peaceful settlement remained the objective of the two sides."

Blaming the victims?

A fact-finding committee appointed by the Press Council of India blames journalists as well as the police for the August 12 violence in Chennai and suggests measures to prevent such incidents.

THE police action on mediapersons covering a Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) rally in Chennai on August 12 had raised concern about the threat to the freedom of the media. Thirteen journalists, including women, were injured in the attack, which was particularly directed at representatives of the visual media (Frontline, July 20, 2001). Mediapersons complained that the police resorted to a brutal lathicharge and that some of them were singled out for attack. A fact-finding committee constituted by the Press Council of India (PCI) has concluded that their allegations are not without substance. The report reveals that the police establishment has itself admitted that its personnel could have been guilty of unwarranted attacks on journalists.

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The five-member team comprised Hari Jaisingh (convener), Editor of the Tribune group of publications, Pratap Bhai T. Shah, a journalist with Sourashtra Samachar, Indrajit Mohanty, who represents the Bar Council of India on the PCI, Vijay Darda, an independent member of the Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra, and R. Venkataraman, legal correspondent of The Telegraph.

According to the report, Chennai Police Commissioner K. Muthukarup-pan (who was transferred to the post of Inspector-General, Armed Police, Tiruchi, on December 9) expressed regrets over the "police lathicharge" on journalists and stated that "ill-training" of "young chaps" joining the force, the practice of recruiting "any able-bodied young man" and "low tolerance level" often resulted in "these boys turning criminals in uniform". He reiterated before the fact-finding team his promise that a free and fair inquiry would be conducted by the Joint Commissioner of Police, North Zone, and that an identification parade could be arranged so that mediapersons could identify the police personnel responsible for the alleged attack. Muthukaruppan made no attempt to deny the involvement of the police in the incident. He expressed surprise over the attack and said that "but for that one incident, the entire force would have come out with flying colours".

The committee concluded that "there was a calculated attempt by the police to prevent reporting of the incidents which might be inconvenient to it or to the powers-that-be". Its conclusion is based on its inference about the "intention of the police". The intention, according to the committee, appears to have been to prevent the broadcast or telecast of any photo/video evidence of a severe lathicharge and other methods adopted by the police on the rallyists. The intention, the reports says, stemmed from the fact that the images of the arrest of DMK president M. Karunanidhi on July 1 that were repeatedly telecast by satellite television channels had attracted wide attention, showing the powers-that-be in bad light. The committee has not provided any additional evidence in support of its finding that there was a calculated attempt by the police to prevent the reporting of the incidents in Chennai on August 12.

The committee, which was in Chennai for three days from August 31, interviewed the Chief Minister, the affected journalists and police officials. On the basis of evidence submitted before it, the committee found that a mob from Ayodhya Kuppam, a slum near the DMK meeting venue on the Marina, attacked the police, who were to resort to a lathicharge. However, it said, this could not justify the attack by the police on journalists.

An eight-member fact-finding committee constituted by the Madras Union of Journalists, the Madras Reporters' Guild and the Chennai Press Club had concluded that the attack was a well-planned one and that it had the sanction of senior police officers. It had alleged that the unprovoked attacks on journalists who carried still and video cameras were aimed at destroying all evidence of the complicity of the police in the attack on the rallyists by goondas. Expensive camera equipment were damaged by policemen even as senior police officers looked on, its report said.

Following the August 12 incident, the Tamil Nadu government appointed a commission of inquiry headed by Justice K. Baktavatcha-lam to probe the allegations against the police. The commission was also asked to formulate norms and guidelines for mediapersons, inclu-ding the distance they would have to maintain while covering political rallies. Journalists' organisations protested against this part of the terms of reference of the commission on the grounds that it would infringe their freedom.

The mediapersons may not be entirely happy with the PCI committee's report, which has observed that the media may itself be somewhat responsible for the contempt with which it is being treated. It says: "Over-hyping and pandering of politicians in the media gives them a larger-than-life image, which they do not deserve. This gives the ruling class a sense of arrogance and the feeling that they are above the law and can get away with anything. Even among the journalists, somehow a feeling persists that they are above the law as they are not accountable to anybody. This is undesirable and hence deplorable."

The PCI committee has suggested the formation of a coordinating body consisting of police and State or district administration officials and mediapersons, which could sort out issues well in advance before any procession or other major event. It has also recommended that mediapersons wear some form of identification marks such as bands while covering protest rallies, riots, and so on. Such measures, it is feared, may be misused by the authorities.

It is desirable, the report says, that journalists are not biased. They should be balanced in their approach and keep themselves above the pulls and counterpulls of political groups and parties, it says. According to the committee, a sizable section of the media in Tamil Nadu was sharply divided on party lines and it is natural that "neutral persons" will bear the brunt of this atmosphere of animosity.

The committee has recommended payment of compensation to all journalists who were injured and who lost equipment used for news coverage. It has advised the managements of media organisations to take comprehensive risk insurance policies for the journalists employed by them. It has stressed the need to train policemen properly in handling the media. The authorities, it says, should accept and facilitate the media's right to inform people freely and fearlessly.

Press freedom, it says, should not be treated in isolation as a police-versus-press affair. The Chennai incidents should provoke the nation to set up a system to ensure that the life, liberty and dignity of a citizen are not unjustifiably transgressed by the state authorities, it says. It also calls for a total revamp of the law enforcement and criminal justice systems.

A reshuffle in Delhi

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit fails to carry out the reshuffle of her Council of Ministers according to her own script.

WHILE critics of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit would have liked it to be otherwise, the fact remains that the recent political whirlwind caused by the reshuffle of her Council of Ministers did not affect her chief ministership. The face-saver for her was the clean chit she got in the corruption case filed against her in the Lok Ayukta. Inspite of that, her advisers would no doubt counsel her to tread carefully and nurse some of the bruised egos if the party were to emerge victorious in the Municipal Corporation elections that are barely two months away.

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Factionalism surfaced in the Delhi Congress with questions being raised about the leadership of Sheila Dixit. A Cabinet reshuffle was therefore on the cards for some time. However, what took Sheila Dixit by surprise after she was handed over the common resignation letter of her Ministers was the assertiveness shown by All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary in charge of the Delhi unit, Kamal Nath, in seeking a say in the formation of the new Ministry. By obtaining the mass resignation of her Ministers, Sheila Dixit had emerged as the consummate power player. But she soon realised that securing the resignations was one thing, and forming a new Cabinet was another.

In trying to ensure that the new Council of Ministers included her supporters, Sheila Dixit had to cross swords with Kamal Nath, who was backed by senior party leaders such as Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar. Tytler and Kumar, who have not been able to get their feet back in Delhi politics after their names got embroiled in the 1984 riots, saw the reshuffle as an opportunity to get their sympathisers into the Cabinet through Kamal Nath. Tytler is particularly close to Kamal Nath their association going back to the days when they dominated the Youth Congress under Sanjay Gandhi.

The new Cabinet was announced on December 4. In the tug of war that ensued between Kamal Nath and Sheila Dixit, the latter lost two of her trusted supporters - Power and Industry Minister Narendra Nath and Transport Minister Pervez Hashmi. She, however, managed to oust her opponents, Food and Civil Supplies Minister Yoganand Shastri and Social Welfare Minister Krishna Tirath. What sealed Shastri's fate was the corruption case filed against him in the Lok Ayukta; non-performance was the reason cited for Tirath's expulsion. Finance Minister Ma-hender Singh Saathi and Health Minister A.K. Walia were retained.

It is apparent that Sheila Dixit's position got weakened with the ouster of Narendra Nath and Pervez Hashmi. She initiated the reshuffle in order to drop Shastri and Tirath but ended up axing four Ministers. Narendra Nath and Hashmi expressed to the Chief Minister their resentment over the manner in which they were ousted.

The reshuffle disturbed the Punjabi-Vaishya ratio in the Cabinet, with the balance tilting heavily in favour of the former. The Vaishya community was earlier represented by Narendra Nath. The 25 lakh Vaishyas in Delhi, who have been given adequate representation by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the organisation and in the Central government, are reportedly unhappy with the Congress. Thus, even as the reconstituted Cabinet of Sheila Dixit satisfied many in the AICC establishment, it has caused serious doubts about the party's prospects in the Corporation polls.

Sheila Dixit, however, appears to be confident. She asserted: "My new team is a blend of youth and experience. I will train the new incumbents so that they are able to implement the programmes and policies of the Congress during the next two years in an effective manner."

THE new Cabinet was formed on the basis of guidelines set by party president Sonia Gandhi who, on her part, left it to the two leaders to hammer out a compromise. Senior Congress leader Arjun Singh was also instrumental in finalising the list of Ministers. Sonia Gandhi had made it clear that Jat leader Yoganand Shastri be replaced by another senior Jat leader. That sealed the fate of Deputy Speaker Kiran Chaudhury, whose name was being vigorously pushed by Tytler. Sheila Dixit, who was against Chaudhury's induction, agreed to take into the Ministry Deep Chand Bandhu who was earlier close to Tytler but is now considered a fence-sitter. Bandhu is an old-timer in Delhi politics; he was first elected to the Assembly in 1993. He became the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee (DPCC) president in 1996. However, Sajjan Kumar succeeded in getting a berth for Raj Kumar Chauhan, who represents backward communities, as a replacement for Krishna Tirath. He is also the only Minister representing Outer Delhi.

Sheila Dixit scored a victory by inducting her supporter and second-time MLA from Rajouri Garden, Ajay Maken, nephew of Lalit Maken, the assassinated Member of Parliament from South Delhi. The fourth Minister, Haroon Yusuf, the second-time MLA from Ballimaran, was the choice of both Arjun Singh and Sheila Dixit. Yusuf and Maken had left the party for a brief time when N.D. Tiwari formed his own party. They returned to the Congress(I) after Sonia Gandhi took control of the party in 1998.

Sheila Dixit's next task was to allocate portfolios. She ensured that the sensitive Transport portfolio went to Ajay Maken. Maken now has an arduous task ahead. The Supreme Court's January 2, 2002 deadline for Delhi Transport Corporation buses to switch to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) is not the only challenge before him. He has also to find a good business deal for the Delhi Vidyut Board, which is up for privatisation. Deep Chand Bandhu was allocated the industry portfolio. The test for him would come in September 2002, the deadline set by the Supreme Court for the relocation of Delhi's polluting industries. While Raj Kumar Chauhan was allotted Social Welfare and School and Technical Education, the Revenue portfolio, which was managed by Finance Minister Saathi, went to Yusuf. Yusuf was also allocated Food and Civil Supplies, Development, Irrigation and Flood Control.

Instead of giving important portfolios to one or two Ministers, the Chief Minister distributed them equally among all the Ministers. She split the education, power and industry portfolios, earlier held by Narender Nath, among different Ministers. A performance appraisal of her Ministers conducted by Sheila Dixit a few months ago had shown that Narendra Nath was finding it difficult to do justice to the three departments.

The discontent generated by the reshuffle was apparent at the swearing-in ceremony. Apart from senior leaders like Kamal Nath and Tytler, 31 of the 52 Congress members in the Delhi Assembly cutting across dissidents and loyalist camps stayed away. "Evidently, the Chief Minister's supporters chose to show their displeasure when they realised that some of her detractors had been favoured in the reshuffle," said a party source. A tense Chief Minister, when asked about the boycott by the MLAs, said: "I haven't noticed who has come and who hasn't. People may have had their own work. It is not indicative of anything. It would not be fair to read anything into it."

If the reshuffle weakened Sheila Dixit's position, the clean chit given to her by the Lok Ayukta in the Delhi Jal Board case strengthened her hands. Lokayukt R.N. Aggarwal, who conducted the probe into the irregularities in the award of the contract to a private firm to lay pipelines for a drinking water project, submitted his report to Lieutenant Governor Vijai Kapoor. The report held only two junior engineers guilty of misconduct. It cleared the names of Sheila Dixit, her family members and her Officer on Special Duty of accusations of complicity in the case. "Her detractors hoped to corner her in this case, especially after the way she pushed for Shastri's ouster on the basis of the corruption case filed to the Lok Ayukta," said an informed source.

While this may have given a breather to Sheila Dixit, she still faces the task of mollifying the Vaishya community. One way out is to accommodate the disgruntled elements in the DPCC. The constitution of the DPCC (with the exception of the president's post, held by Subhash Chopra) has been pending for two years. The hitherto rudderless organisation needs to be strengthened in view of the approaching polls. The Chief Minister has a great opportunity here to rehabilitate the few heavyweights dropped from the Ministry as also her other supporters who feel let down, according to a party source.

In terrorist country

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An exclusive account of a trek to Wadwan, a "liberated zone" in the heights of Jammu and Kashmir.

Text & Pictures: PRAVEEN SWAMI

IT is possible, just possible, that the last tourists to have stayed at the Naribal Hotel, were the five Europeans and Americans who were kidnapped and then executed by the Harkat-ul-Ansar near Pahalgam in 1995. With a breathtaking view of the Wadwan valley, leading south to Marwah and north over the 4,410-metre-long pass to Pahalgam, the Naribal Hotel probably has one of the most fantastic locations on offer anywhere. That is, if it were actually a hotel, and not just a small cluster of ramshackle stone huts put up to shelter travellers against snowstorms.

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One hundred men from the SOG along with 15 from the 10 Rashtriya Rifles and one journalist, have checked in for the night. The cuisine, for those still able to eat after the treacherous 35-km non-stop haul across the snowfields and glaciers along the 4,430-m Margan Pass, is spartan: There is pulao, chapatis, vegetable curry and tea heated up inside foil packets using pill-shaped chemical fuel cells. Religious Muslim members of the group observing the Ramzan fast do not even get lunch; they make do with a handful of figs at iftaar time and biscuits. Guests must sleep at least 20 to a room, huddled together against the -15n Celsius night. For entertainment, wireless sets can be tuned to the Jaish-e-Mohammadi communications frequencies.

What must be one of the most difficult, but most successful, anti-terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir began early this summer. Doda Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Ashkoor Wani, a veteran of urban counter-terrorist battles in the Kashmir Valley, had faced much the same problem as that of his predecessors. Terrorists operating in Doda and Anantnag hit targets in major villages and urban centres lower down the mountains, and then retreated into Wadwan.

The groups that executed the series of communal massacres in Doda since in 1996 as well as carried out attacks on Amarnath pilgrims since the summer of 2000 were all believed to have retreated into the safety of Wadwan. Successive Army, paramilitary and police efforts to flush them out had failed.

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In 1998, one of Wani's predecessors and SOG founder Farooq Khan had suggested detailed plans for the use of irregular tactics to address the problems, but the strategy floundered because of the lack of personnel and resources.

Hidden away in Wadwan's forests and mountain caves, these terrorist groups seemed untouchable. For all practical purposes, the region had become a "liberated zone". The Army had put up a camp at the Wadwan village of Inshan, while the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) tried to block the route across the Pir Panjal with summer posts on the Margan Pass and the road head village of Mati Guran. Not a single terrorist was killed in the course of these efforts, just as past enterprises, since 1990, had failed to notch up a single success.

In winter, expensive helicopter-borne operations were even more dismal, resulting in the recovery of just one empty Kalashnikov magazine. Worse, in the summer of 2000, when the forces withdrew, their camps were set on fire by terrorists, sending a clear message to the region's residents.

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This summer, Army and ITBP officials let it be known they had no intention of wasting personnel in Wadwan. Their decision paved the way for the use of the new tactics that Wani had been considering ever since he took control of the Doda police. Over 2,000 Special Police Officers (SPO), who were hired locally on salaries of just Rs.1,500 a month, had received training under regular SOG personnel over the past years. Acclimatised to the mountainous terrain and supremely fit, they were deployed along with regular police personnel. The 10 Rashtriya Rifles pitched in, making available troops skilled in the use of powerful rocket-propelled grenade launchers, essential for effective mountain warfare.

Both the SOG and the Rashtriya Rifles understood that this time failure was not an option. Through much of the mid-1990s, terrorists were allowed to operate unhindered in the mountain heights, since doctrine had it that no real tactical harm was done as long as they were kept off populated areas. Today, the Army and the Jammu and Kashmir police have been forced into a series of bloody engagements with large concentrations of terrorists, sometimes entrenched in concrete bunkers. On November 27, upwards of 10 soldiers are believed to have been killed in an assault on one such concentration in the Surankote area of Poonch. Even more dangerous was the failure to challenge high-altitude terrorist concentrations in areas such as Mahu-Mangat, which has resulted in National Highway 1A, the sole road link between the Kashmir Valley and the rest of India, coming under sustained assault.

On April 13, the SOG-Rashtriya Rifles team launched its first Wadwan operation and claimed five terrorists at the Wadwan village of Virwan. On the night of May 20, seven more terrorists were killed at Rikkenwas; followed by one more at the Pasar Nullah on June 11. During post-monsoon operations, two terrorists were killed at Inshan in October, and in November another three were killed at Mingli.

Some of these operations were launched from the pass leading to Seshnag, others were conducted through Kishtwar, and yet others over the Margan Pass.

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Just one of the seven SOG groups sent into Wadwan this summer failed to claim success. Just three members were lost during these high-risk operations. One major reason for the success was that the SOG and the Rashtriya Rifles personnel were given strict orders to desist from resorting to abuse and assault, which had alienated villagers in the past. Equally important was the special knowledge of the SPOs that helped turn insurgent tactics against the insurgents themselves.

SPEED and surprise are the twin pillars of the last pre-winter operation. The climb from Mati Guran towards Margan begins just after noon. There is a half-hour break for tea at an abandoned stone shelter used by Gujjar herdsmen, which also means waiting for the sun to set. Then, the group makes its way across Margan by moonlight, clambering across slippery frost-covered rock and knee-deep fresh snow. No wireless communication is allowed to maintain contact with other units of the group, nor are torch-lights used to guide us through the darkness. No cigarettes may be smoked, for light travels a long distance in the mountains at night. By the time we reach the burnt-down ITBP post atop the Margan Pass, I am out of breath, the cold has cut through my feather-lined snow suit, and my feet have frozen despite being snuggled inside expensive leather trekking boots.

Assistant Sub-Inspector Surinder Singh and SPO Mohammad Iqbal do not seem to feel the same way as I do though their canvas shoes are sodden, their jackets do not look like they can even keep out a Mumbai monsoon shower, and they are weighed down by 15 kg of light machine-gun ammunition and rocket launcher shells. "Keep going", Surinder Singh tells me softly, every half-hour, "the Naribal Hotel is just another half-hour away."

There is just too much snow in Inshan each winter, the residents of the village say, to bury the dead. Bodies of those unfortunate ones who depart in winter are left out in the snow, to lie covered in ice until it again becomes warm enough to dig graves.

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Ghaffar Lone seems surprisingly cheerful for a man who has just been woken up, at 4.00 a.m. by the armed SOG troopers who had surrounded his village an hour earlier. "The terrorists stopped spending nights in our villages after your last raid," he tells Sub-Inspector Zamir Husain. "Ever since you shot those three at Mingli, they just come for a couple of hours in the day for food. It's just too risky, they say, because you might raid the villages at any time. There were three Pakistanis here yesterday afternoon, but they must be up in the mountains by now. Would you like a cup of tea?"

The village mosque at Inshan maintains a diary that records births and deaths, disputes, and other events of note. Someone points out the entry dated February 27, 2001 - the only day since 1990 when no terrorist visited the village. No one, however, seems to have good words for the people who have, for all practical purposes, ruled their lives. Some of the reasons are obvious. "We have little enough as it is," says shopkeeper Bilal Ahmad, "but these people have broken our backs. They walk into my shop almost every day, take kilos of figs and biscuits and sweets, and fling a few rupees at me as if they are doing me a favour. We live on trumba (a local coarse cereal but have to feed them wheat rotis and chicken."

But the real reasons for anti-terrorist sentiments here run deeper. Only people in four of Wadwan's 14 villages - Inshan, Virwan, Afti and Mingli - manage to make some kind of living out of agriculture and trade. Homes with at least one person on government payrolls manage to get by; the rest depend on casual summer work of the kind that violence has hit hard. This April, for example, the Army stopped Wadwan horsemen from crossing the Pir Panjal to cater to pilgrims travelling to the Amarnath shrine. The decision was taken after terrorist attacks on pilgrims fuelled fears that the high passes might be used for further strikes.

Terrorist strikes in Chamba in 1999 put an end to another important source of income - winter jobs as porters and road workers across the border in Himachal Pradesh. "The people and police there look on us with suspicion, the atmosphere is not pleasant," says Lone. "Before these troubles began," says horseman Liaqat Ali, "I used to make at least Rs.15,000 a month in May and June, from foreigners who used to come here for treks. Now, I'm lucky if I can feed my family twice a day."

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Terrorism had also put an end to work on the road that was being built from Kokernag to Wadwan in 1988. That means the poorest in the State have had to pay a further price for their poverty. Food and fuel must be ferried from Mati Guran to Wadwan on horseback, at great cost. In Inshan, kerosene sells at Rs.30 a litre and tea dust at Rs.200 a kg. The absurdly high price of fuel has generated a serious ecological problem, with villagers plundering forests for firewood. The Food Corporation of India stocks a shed in the village with winter grain supplies, but it does not seem to be enough to meet the Rs.325 a quintal payments that are due to horsemen. "They owe me over Rs.2 lakhs," says Abdul Aziz Sultan, "but I'm grateful for the bits I get once in a while. If we stop carrying the grain, we will all starve."

Sadly, terrorism seems to have become something of an excuse for the state not to discharge its obligations. There is no explanation, for example, on why the road could not be built even though roads have been built in other areas of the State that are just as hard-hit by violence. Says village headmaster Ghulam Mohiuddin Mehroh: "We have 90 children in our primary school, but just three teachers. The secondary school at Afti has 14 clerical employees, but just three teachers. That is better than the Health Centre there, which has no doctor. Or the Horticulture Department, which, as you can see, has a building but no staff. Or the Roads and Bridges Department, which has only a watchman to look after its building. We have only had one visit from a Block Development Officer in three years."

Inshan is not as badly affected as some other villages. Its fields can sustain a crop of rajma beans, which are sold in Mati Guran to offset the village's debts. The few walnut and fruit trees around the village offer some source of additional income. But the existence of its residents is as perilous as that of others in Wadwan. For example, serious sickness means almost certain death.

There seems to be little prospect of things getting better. Only the few relatively rich people in Wadwan can afford to pay for their children's higher education in Anantnag or Kishtwar, particularly when incomes have shrunk. In addition, there have been years of indignity when villagers complain, soldiers routinely resorted to collective beatings for failure to deliver information on terrorists. In the adjoining Marwah valley, things were even worse: 10 unarmed villagers where shot dead at Qadrana village by troops on Id day in 1998.

Perhaps the real question in Wadwan, then, is why so few young people have joined the terrorists. "Our Abdus Salaam, an orphan, was in the sixth standard when he joined the Hizbul Mujahideen in 1990," the village headmaster said. Once in a while he comes back to the village and tells the children not even to think of joining the terrorists. He is going to die, he tells them, for nothing.

IN May, the Jaish-e-Mohammadi and the Hizbul Mujahideen put up a memorial for the five cadre they had lost to the SOG at Virwan. A bright blue board records the names of the killed terrorists. They included a local school boy, Akhtar Husain, who had been press-ganged into cooking and cleaning dishes for the group. Sub-inspector Zamir and SPO Iqbal read through the list of the man they had shot dead. "Salim Khan," Iqbal turns and says, "he was from Kishtwar, just like me. Strange world."

Until the summer of 1996, Iqbal used to work as a carpenter in the small village of Dugli, near Kellar in Kishtwar. In a good month, he made between Rs.200 and Rs.300. During winter, along with other men from Dugli, he worked on construction projects lower down the mountains, or even in the plains. "The contractors at the Dul-Hasti dam in Kishtwar, used to take slips from us saying they had paid us Rs.70 for a day's work. In fact, we would only get Rs.40 or so. Still, it was better than nothing," Iqbal recalls. Then, in 1996, after a string of communal massacres across Doda, former SSP Farooq Khan announced that he would be recruiting SPOs. Iqbal, despite his family's fears, was among the first to join up.

Now merely a year after his formal induction into the Jammu and Kashmir police as a full-time constable, Iqbal is unromantic about the reasons for taking up the job. "Ever since 1990,' he says, "terrorists started visiting our village, insisting that young men join their ranks. At other times they would ask for labour to haul food and ammunition up the mountains. Those who refused were beaten. Then, the Army would show up and beat us again for helping the terrorists. Life became a nightmare. The only choices young men had were to join the terrorist groups, or to seek jobs in the Army or the police. There was no way of living quietly in the village. Becoming an SPO seemed better to me than becoming a terrorist, so I joined up."

Today, like the 2,000-odd SPOs deployed on operational duties along with the SOG in Doda, Iqbal receives Rs.1,500 a month for risking his life. Should he be killed in the course of an encounter - as many SPOs have been - his family will receive only Rs.1.5 lakhs as compensation, which the Jammu and Kashmir government hands out to all civilian victims of violence. He is not allowed medical allowances, housing benefits, uniforms, or even money to purchase food during his long operational tours. Interestingly, regular SOG troopers are not much better off either. Their risk allowances were withdrawn recently, and there is no provision for special high-altitude equipment like snowboots or warm uniforms. "Frankly," says Doda SSP Wani, "I don't know what keeps my men going. You can't simply put it down to the prospect of being permanent police constables. I suppose it is just a very tremendous commitment to rid their villages of violence."

After more than four days of marching through the snow - sometimes for up to 18 hours at a stretch - Wani's proposition begins to make sense. Much of the banter between the SPOs and the troopers of the SOG and the Rashtriya Rifles are on issues such as leave and pay. Rashtriya Rifles soldiers are given up to 10 days leave at the end of a successful high-altitude encounter - something neither the SOG nor the SPOs enjoy. The Army's warm winter gear and more important, hot food supplies, are another source of envy. In Jammu and Kashmir, inter-force rivalry has been a major source of trouble during counter-terrorist operations. Often, Army soldiers see the police as something approaching traitors, while police personnel often complain that their olive-green uniformed counterparts are communally prejudiced and heavy-handed. But among themselves, this joint unit has managed to build up remarkable camaraderie. The Rashtriya Rifles soldiers share their food supplies and additional blankets without having to be asked, while the SPOs often volunteer to help haul heavy rocket-propelled grenade shells. Remarkably, for a society fissured by caste and religion, pots, pans, glasses and even half-eaten meals are shared without murmur.

Given the conditions though, it is perhaps unsurprising that the SPO project has had its share of serious problems. Most of the more than 7,000 SPOs deployed in Doda are assigned not to operational duties, but to Village Defence Committees (VDC). The VDCs are armed volunteer groups, set up to help vulnerable communities in remote mountainous regions to defend themselves. But the salary of Rs.1,500, shared by several VDC members, hardly allows volunteers to make a living. Many of them migrate in search of seasonal work, leaving their weapons behind, and thus subverting the raison d'etre of the VDC. Significantly, hundreds of SPOs have been assigned the personal security of obscure politicians, mainly from the Bharatiya Janata Party. They end up running errands, doing the cooking - and, if critics are right, rigging elections in Muslim-dominated areas of Doda.

None of these problems, however, is a reason to end the SPO scheme: it just highlights the need for a proper regulatory framework. Ever since he took office, Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police A.K. Suri has been lobbying with the Union government to increase the remuneration to SPOs, and to introduce a wider induction framework. "Few people in the country," he says, "are aware just how much we owe these underpaid, overworked SPOs. For a start, I have asked the Union government to increase their salaries by just another Rs.1,000. But we need much more than that in the long run. We need to give them proper equipment, social security, and perhaps even in the long term think of creating dedicated regional anti-terrorist scout units, modelled on the lines of the Ladakh Scouts."

Wadwan illustrates how the problem confronting the Indian security establishment's high-altitude operations in Jammu and Kashmir can be addressed. Excellent cooperation between the police and the Army, the use of recruits who are familiar with the terrain, quality intelligence inputs, and above all the confidence of mountain communities: all these together give the Doda SOG the exceptional success that it has had in Wadwan. These successes could well be built on this winter. SOG officials have been lobbying for a winter helicopter-supplied station in Wadwan, which would then send out smaller patrols into each village. This, they point out, would ensure that terrorist are left with stark choices between armed engagement or death by starvation. So far no progress has taken place in this direction, but some enterprise is clearly needed if the gains of the summer are not to be frittered away.

Few people understand the real importance of the largely invisible battle on the Pir Panjal. If India fails to make gains on this grim terrain, terrorists will remain free to assault key roads, installations, and other high-profile strategic targets in the plains. Wadwan shows that the battle can be won. Whether planners in New Delhi are listening to the message is, of course, another question altogether.

Propaganda vs persuasion

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C.T. KURIEN

Propaganda and the Public Mind: Conversations with Noam Chomsky, Interviews by David Barsamian; Madhyam Books, Noida; pages 247, Rs.250.

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PROFESSOR Noam Chomsky's recent visit to India and the excellent coverage that Frontline gave to the meetings addressed by him in different cities would have created renewed interest in the views of this outstanding thinker and bold social critic. Those who had the opportunity to listen to him would agree that Chomsky is at his best when he responds to questions. Prepared speeches, carefully read out, are fine. But the responses during the "question hour" enable one to get an idea of the vast body of knowledge that he carries in his mind and the manner in which that mind works, and to appreciate his subtle sense of humour. Having correct information is part of Chomsky's creed. In response to the question "How do you give criticism?", Chomsky replied: "Accurately. The right way to do it, whether you can handle it or not, is not to be in an adversarial fashion but just accurately." It also fits in with his basic approach: "I'm not a charismatic speaker, and if I had the capacity to be one I wouldn't. I'm really not interested in persuading people. What I like to do is to help people persuade themselves."

The book under review consists of a series of interviews that David Barsamian had with Chomsky between May 1998 and June 2000 and covers a wide range of topics. As a social critic Chomsky's primary concern is to enable people to understand what society is or, perhaps more accurately, how to approach society. This issue came up in one of the interviews, and Chomsky replied: "Generally, what you should do when you're looking at any society is to begin by asking, 'How is power distributed? Who makes the main decisions? Who is going to be in the political world? Who makes the decisions that are going to affect people's lives?"' And, from this it follows that the key to evaluating any public issue is to consider how it will affect the lives of people - the majority of people, the ordinary people. This is important because usually social policies and programmes are projected (by those in power) as being beneficial to "society". Obviously those people who sponsor them do so because it is good for them and they assume (or pretend) that what is good for them must be good for everyone else.

This is the subtle role of propaganda. Normally propaganda is associated with dictatorships and authoritarian regimes of all kinds. Sure enough; such regimes have their machinery for propaganda. But strange as it may appear, Chomsky draws the attention of his listeners and readers to the role of propaganda in democracies. The logic is clear. "Because in a democracy you have to control people's minds. You can't control them by force." Under such conditions the role of propaganda is to reduce citizens to be spectators of action, instead of being participants.

But how can one know what is genuine information and what is propaganda? Chomsky has the answer. Any major issue related to life in society is so complex that arriving at a unanimous view about it is virtually impossible. Hence, he says, anything that is being given with near-unanimity should be suspected and one should immediately ask "Is it correct?" The question is not to be just posed. One should probe into it, become as accurate as possible and place before the public the alternative explanation. This may be the path of dissent, but dissent is an important element in a democracy provided, of course, that the alternative version is based on accurate facts and sound judgment. Chomsky suggests that this is a major responsibility of intellectuals in a democracy, but notes also that ironically "intellectuals are both the main victims of the propaganda system and also its main architects".

Chomsky substantiates this observation with reference to two specific cases. The first relates to military interventions which are justified on the ground that they had become unavoidable on "humanitarian grounds". The latest instance of this kind was the intervention by the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in Kosovo in 1999, which many intellectuals described as fighting for "principles and values". Chomsky examines the evidence, particularly the sequence of events, to show that it was nothing of that kind. He looks at some earlier instances, such as Mussolini's attack on Ethiopia, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, the U.S. involvement in Nicaragua and Indonesia's military intervention in East Timor, and comes to the conclusion that "virtually every use of military force is described as humanitarian intervention". This does not mean that Chomsky is a pacifist. According to him in the post-Second World War period, there were two military interventions that could be defended on humanitarian grounds - the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia to get rid of Pol Pot and the Indian invasion of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in 1971, which stopped a huge atrocity.

IN the realm of economics, Chomsky finds a rich source of subtle propaganda with intellectuals playing a major role in it. The cases and examples he gives are taken from the U.S. and may not be particularly relevant for India, but the logic used to unmask propaganda comes through clearly. A case discussed in some detail is the clamour to reduce social security provisions. The main argument of those who press for it is that with the increase in life expectancy more and more retired people will be dependent on the contributions of those who are actually working and that, therefore, soon social security for the aged will turn out to be a burden for society.

Chomsky argues that if the proportion of those going out of the workforce is increasing, but of those yet to enter it is decreasing (because of a fall in the birth rate and the longer period of training) the dependency ratio may not be becoming adverse at all. Further, if those who are too old to earn a living must be cared for, the expenses have to be met either collectively through the agencies of the state or by those who are directly responsible for such care, and so social security provisions do not necessarily add to society's burden. To those who suggest that social security provisions can be individualised and privatised through appropriate insurance procedures, Chomsky points out that social security is not just for retired workers, but for their spouses, for disabled workers and so on and that therefore the real issue is whether society has a responsibility towards the aged, the infirm and the indigent and that that question cannot be settled by economic considerations alone.

To those who claim that the "free market" is the solution for all economic problems Chomsky refers to the Russian experience of market imposition after "the reforms" and claims that if the market is imposed on backward and poor countries, there will be starvation, demographic catastrophes and sufferings of all kinds. He also says "Reform" is one of those words you should watch out for because "changes are called reforms if the powerful are in favour of them". Is this the reason why planning and nationalisation will not be considered "reforms" but liberalisation and privatisation will?

Many more topics are scrutinised in the volume - globalisation and the role of finance capital in it; the manner in which the U.S. consistently ignores the United Nations Security Council and defies the International Court of Justice when its own interests have to be protected, as if to proclaim to the world, "In Force we trust"; the use and abuse of the information technology revolution; the Israel-Palestine conflict, and so on.

Here is an anecdote about Chomsky that he himself narrated in one of the interviews. Born to Jewish parents, Chomsky was first named Avram, that is Abraham. But his parents did not want the son to be called Abie, and decided to call him by his second name Noam. Later in life, when Chomsky obtained a copy of his birth certificate from the city office, he noticed that Noam had been changed in pencil to the more familiar Naomi which, however, is a feminine name. But, said Chomsky: "They didn't change M to F, so I was still male."

Madhyam Books deserves to be thanked for making this ''Chomsky'', originally brought out in the U.S., available to Indian readers at an affordable price.

A study in fundamentalism

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A. G. NOORANI

Political Islam in the Indian Subcontinent: The Jamaat-i-Islami by Frederic Grare; Manohar and Centre de Sciences Humaines; pages 134, Rs.200.

IT became de rigueur to ban the Jamaat-i-Islami whenever the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was banned despite two vital differences between them; which are, the Jamaat has no volunteer corps and has not been indicted by any commission of inquiry for complicity in communal riots. Its forte is sheer religious bigotry. This book provides an ably documented account of its credo and growth in the entire sub-continent. In keeping with its stand on Kashmir, the Jamaat's outfit in the State is independent of the ones in India and Pakistan and is itself a house divided. There is also a separate branch in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). The Amir in Kashmir, G. M. Bhatt, is a pacifist and born conciliator. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the Jamaat's representative in the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, is known as a hardliner.

Dr. Frederic Grare is Director of the Centre de Sciences Humaines in New Delhi which is part of a network of research centres of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Its activities are focussed on four main themes; namely, economic growth and sustainable development, international and regional relations, international structures and political construction of identity and urban dynamics. The author is an alumni of the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva. While accomplishing his aim - portrayal of political Islam in the persona of the Jamaat - he reveals to the reader the vast store of learning on the subject in the French language. One wishes one could have English translations of works of authorities; Olivier Roy, for instance.

Set up in 1941 in Pathankot, the Jamaat stridently opposed the demand for Pakistan. Its founder Maulana Abul Ala Maududi won fame for his erudition, originality, skills in polemics and, after Partition, as an astute Pakistani politician. He was highly regarded in Saudi Arabia and Egypt and influenced Hassan el Bauna and Sayyed Qotb, founders of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

"Political Islam, which has now become an important issue in international relations, has assumed, in the eyes of the public, a negative image apparently for two reasons. Its eruption on the international political arena is perceived as a regressive phenomenon, reminiscent of a supposedly outmoded era in which irrationality competed with violence. It is, moreover, almost systematically identified with terrorism, with the media adding to the growing confusion between Islam and Islamism. It is also often identified with extreme religious fervour, with groups claiming affiliation with Islamism becoming concretely involved in some of the conflicts which are the bane of our world today. Their supposed potential for destabilisation, both within the Muslim states of which they are a part, as also within societies where Islam is not predominant, are a cause of worry to governments. These factors combine to strengthen each other with the result that, rightly or wrongly, Islamism is represented as being one of the perils endangering our world at the close of the century."

Tersely, the Jamaat seeks to build an Islamic state which can enforce Islamic law, the Sharia. Its set-up is totalitarian. The Amir inspires blind loyalty. But the Jamaat has failed dismally in successive elections in Pakistan. Yet, "it influences in a significant manner the perception of Pakistan by the outside world, which is very often out of proportion to its real influence."

The scope of the work is best stated in the author's own words. It "aims at analysing the working of the movement and its will and capacity to influence events, both in the Indian sub-continent as well as outside it. It attempts to examine its plan of work, its organisation and its policies, as also to identify its networks in order to highlight its actual sphere of influence. It thus aspires to bring out the regional and international strategies of the Jamaat and to underscore thereby the points of convergence as well as the limits to the cooperation between Islamist movements. It then tries to uncover the mechanisms through which the Pakistani authorities make use of the Jamaat to promote their regional interests, particularly in Kashmir and Afghanistan, as also the way in which Pakistan's rivals, India particularly, make use of these same mechanisms to bring disparagement to Pakistan. By doing so it aims to highlight the links between the state and religious groups as well as the ambiguous relationship forged through reciprocal instrumentalisation prevailing between state authorities and Islamist movements. Through the study of the Jamaat-i-Islami this research hopes to explain how a specific religious group can support the objectives of a political system by acting as a 'torch bearer' of irredentist ambitions."

Such movements present the facade of a monolith but are ever in a state of crisis; torn between the claims of ideology and the imperatives of political expediency. The study traces the Jamaat's progress since its birth, its rise to influence in Pakistan, the travails of the unit in India and Britain. Intolerant of dissent, Jamaatis turn violent on university campuses but become lambs when tempted with power as Zia-ul-Haq discovered. "Fifty years after the creation of Pakistan, the Jamaat remains an eternal opposition party whose singularly limited social base prevents it from hoping to be anything other than a catalyst for dissent and protest." It has a considerable nuisance value - but no more than that.

In pursuit of status

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SUSAN RAM

Nobodies to Somebodies: The Rise of the Colonial Bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka by Kumari Jayawardena; LeftWord Books, New Delhi, 2001; pages xxx + 412, Rs. 650.

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IN an obituary essay for Sirima Bandaranaike following her death in October 2000, British journalist John Rettie reminded readers of the privileged social milieu from which both she and her husband, Solomon "Solla" W.R.D. Bandaranaike, sprang. As Mudaliyars from the top goyigama caste of landowners, the politically driven husband-and-wife team drew upon a wealthy, socially assured heritage characterised by its anglicised culture, aristocratic pretensions and instinctive hauter. United in 1940 by what was described at the time as "the wedding of the century", Sirima and Solla proved more than capable of remodelling themselves to meet the challenge of new times, in particular the mass politics ushered in by Independence. The 1950s saw Solla, who had resigned from the United National Party (UNP) in 1951 to form the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), fashion a new political idiom embracing democratic socialism and Sinhalese resurgence. Following his assassination in 1959 at the hands of the Buddhist monk, his widow stepped up the momentum, in the process building and defending a central position for herself and her family in Sri Lankan politics that endures to this day.

That the Bandaranaikes successfully drew upon their socially and economically advantaged inheritance, using the headstart it conferred as a basis for political innovation and family empire building, is an unsurprising story by no means confined to the "dynastic democracies" of South Asia. But as Kumari Jayawardena reminds us in her richly textured, wide-ranging new study, today's 'Somebodies' were once - and often not so long ago - 'Nobodies', part of the great anonymous human mass whose lives remain hidden from history.

In the case of the Mudaliyars of Sri Lanka, their claims to aristocratic lineage seem particularly far-fetched: their rise out of obscurity began only a couple of centuries ago, in the context of colonial rule and the opportunities it afforded indigenous 'Nobodies' with middleman aptitudes. But as the first away from the starting line, the Mudaliyars enthroned themselves on the high ground, looking down disdainfully on the strivings of subsequent waves of social upstarts. Behind this complex jockeying for position, this tapestry of family tales, inter-caste rivalries and dreams of upward mobility, a new class - the Sri Lankan bourgeoise - was taking shape, cutting across caste and ethnic boundaries while never quite liberating itself from the grip of the past.

In her new book, Kumari Jayawardena, a distinguished political scientist currently teaching in the Women's Studies Programme at the University of Colombo, seeks to grapple with the process of class formation in all its intricate, contradictory ways. Rejecting traditional caste-based interpretations of Sri Lanka's modern economic history (which, with their focus on individual castes, necessarily compartmentalise and fragment experience), she applies a "wide spectrum lens" that seeks to encompass the rise and development of the bourgeoisie as a totality. In the process, she attempts to enrich and extend conventional Marxist analysis, with its focus on the economic roots of class, by applying her lens deep into the social realm and into the play of politics. The result is an ambitious, densely textured portrait of class formation, one which lights up the past while also offering new perspectives of Sri Lanka's troubled present.

The organisation of the book reflects the author's concern to dissolve orthodox academic barriers in pursuit of a more rounded, and detailed, engagement with historical reality. The first two parts follow the track of economic history, unearthing the origins of the bourgeoisie, identifying the process of capital accumulation which fuelled its rise, and providing a broad characterisation of the class as it developed in the context of a colonial plantation economy. In Part Three, there is a shift to sociology as the author seeks to establish connections between economic realities and the construction of caste and ethnic identities. Further exploration of the cultural domain follows in Part Four, where Kumari Jayawardena broadens the debate still further, analysing the fledgling bourgeoisie in terms of its relationship to cultural assimilation, religious revivalism and the changing position of women. In the book's fifth and concluding part, she pursues her themes into the political realm, tracking the Sri Lankan bourgeoisie's political involvements before Independence, and suggesting continuities with what came later.

Academic convention is further challenged by Kumari Jayawardena's resolve, throughout her study, to zoom her lens into close-up mode, shifting from large themes and broad conclusions to focus on specific lived experience. As in her earlier book The White Woman's Other Burden (and exploration of independent-minded Western women who ventured to colonial South Asia to pursue agendas quite district from those of the burra memsahib), she proposes biography not as a rarefied literary pursuit but as a valid tool for the social sciences, integral to the whole project of retrieving the past.

There results, in her latest book, a rare dialogue between generalised finding and individual case history. At every stage, the author seeks to flesh out her arguments with stories, to draw sustenance for her findings from chronicles of past lives. Family histories spill out of this book; patriarchs pursue ambitious upward paths; conflicts smoulder or erupt; fortunes are made and squandered. Each story is meticulously documented, underlining the author's commitment to scrupulous, painstaking archival research; there is an almost forensic quality to her unearthing skills, her attention to detail.

What emerges is a portrait of the nascent Sri Lanka bourgeoisie that captures its parasitical traits and contradictions in all their complexity. As Kumari Jayawardena notes, the development of capitalism in Sri Lanka, as in other colonial economies, was to prove "unfinished business", bequeathing a combined formation in which "the archaic and the modern were yoked together". Under the specific conditions of an enclave plantation economy, the emergent indigenous bourgeoisie would never grow beyond its rentier roots to become an entrepreneurial class; locked into backwardness, it indulged in conspicuous consumption and the pursuit of status, investing in land over industry, holding fast to traditional norms and retaining a robust caste consciousness.

Kumari Jayawardena locates the roots of this rentier formation in the early phase of colonial rule, when European rulers, whether Dutch or British, required indigenous factotums to mediate with the local population. The first set of Sri Lankan 'Nobodies' to exploit such openings were the Mudaliyars, low country Sinhalese landowners who proved adept at recruiting labour, collecting revenue and maintaining law and order - services for which they were rewarded with tax-free grants of land. But soon other categories of 'Nobodies' got wind of the enticing new opportunities. And nowhere were the rewards more ample, the returns more tempting than in the arrack trade.

One theme which every reader of Kumari Jayawardena's study will carry away with them is the bond between the production and marketing of alcohol, thrust upon an exploited and vulnerable working population, and the rise of a bourgeoisie much given (in later days) to vaunting its purported high status and cultural finesse. For the British, seasoned drug-pushers whose opium trade would cut deep into the fabric of Chinese society, arrack in Sri Lanka represented a growth market and a rich source of revenue. Rather than control the trade directly, they instituted a revenue farming system by which arrack rents were auctioned to the highest bidder. The beauty of the arrangement, from the renters' point of view, was that once the agreed rent was paid to the government an open season for rapacity could be declared. Kumari Jayawardena, on the basis of an impressive amassing of evidence, argues that arrack represented the major source of local capital accumulation in Sri Lanka in the first half of the 19th century. In a real sense, it was the engine of growth of the bourgeoisie.

With the advent of plantation capitalism in the 1830s, the arrack trade feasted on a swiftly expanding market. Among the renters, the transition from 'Nobody' to 'Somebody' became ever more telescoped; as the author notes, "in one generation there was a social transformation from tavern-keeper to gentleman planter." Among the stories she provides by way of illustration, none is more graphic than the rise of the Warusahennedige Soysa family, karavas from the south-western coastal belt with a background in trade. In the space of five years, from 1829 to 1834, the family patriarch, Jeronis Soysa, would propel himself from a small-time tavern renter at Kadugannawa paying an annual rent of 38.5 to the position of having under his control the entire rents of the Central Province. The family would never look back.

The prominence of such rack-renting rentier capitalism, within the context of a colonial plantation economy, would have important implications for the subsequent development of the Sri Lankan bourgeoisie. Kumari Jayawardene argues that, to a significantly greater degree than in India, what took shape in Sri Lanka was a dependent capitalism incapable of making the transition to industrial entrepreneurship.

Dependency in the economic sphere found reflection in cultural practice: Sri Lanka's 'Somebodies', whether old or new, looked to assimilate with their colonial masters, mimicking their taste in fashion and furnishings, adopting Western names, not infrequently abandoning their own religious faiths to embrace Christianity. At the same time, facets of tradition lived on or were reinvented in the face of new exigencies. While growing occupational mobility cut at the roots of caste as a mode of division of labour, caste consciousness retained its potency, and caste links, cemented through marriage alliances, helped build business empires. Ethnic identity, too, proved persistent and malleable, whether within the emergent Tamil professional middle class, the Muslim trading community or among the island's Eurasians.

In the political sphere, Sri Lanka's bourgeoisie would prove incapable of even the limited, compromised opposition to colonial rule offered by its Indian counterparts. In the book's concluding section, Kumari Jayawardena chronicles a less-than-inspiring story of intra-class Whig-Tory squabbles over who exactly was to occupy seats in the Legislative Council. Limited reforms introduced by the British in the 1920s (partly in response to the Moderate Ceylon National Congress and its gentlemanly pursuit of greater political representation) coexisted with the retention of a very narrow franchise that enabled members of the bourgeoisie to take a firm grip on local politics. Even the introduction of universal adult suffrage in 1931 could make little impact on a political system readying itself for a long, entrenched existence. After 1947, Kumari Jayawardena argues, "the stamp of the old order remained, and leadership in politics in Sri Lanka continued, with a few exceptions, to be exercised by the same families whose rise to fame and fortune had occurred in the 19th century. The 'Somebodies' of the past held on and the 'Nobodies' who had become 'Somebodies' in the early twentieth century also emerged as the 'leaders of the people'."

In a real sense, the "dynastic politics" that has proved so dominant a feature of Sri Lanka's post-Independence experience can be traced to the weak, collaborative, consumption-minded bourgeoisie that, with its pockets full of arrack money (as well as riches from other sources), took shape in the 19th century.

Kumari Jayawardena's attempt to piece the story together, to extrapolate from the past in such a way as to render it comprehensible while retaining a sense of nuance and detail, is both impressive and persuasive. At time, the deployment of her wide-focus lens results in a certain fuzziness: the sharpness of her discussion of the economic roots of the bourgeoisie in the opening two parts of the book is not always sustained in later sections. It is, for example, not always clear how her explorations of ethnic identity and the position of women tie in to the central theme of class formation. There is also an element of repetitiveness (arguments are on occasion restated without reference to their appearance earlier in the book) which tighter editing could have eliminated. But, such quibbles apart, this ambitious, category-defying book succeeds both as a work of scholarship and as an open-ended engagement with the past. To read it is to be pushed beyond established ways of seeing, to acquire something of the author's audacity, her resolve to step across boundaries to think things afresh.

The Partition of India

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A.G. NOORANI

THE Partition of India ranks, beyond a doubt, as one of the 10 greatest tragedies in human history. It was not inevitable. India's independence was inevitable; but preservation of its unity was a prize that, in our plural society, required high statesmanship. That was in short supply. A mix of other reasons deprived us of that prize - personal hubris, miscalculation, and narrowness of outlook.

While Mohammed Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League bear heavy responsibility - since they demanded and pressed for Pakistan - the Congress cannot escape blame. Least of all the hypocritical Sangh Parivar. Its chief mentor V.D. Savarkar formulated the two-nation theory in his essay Hindutva, published in 1923, 16 years before Jinnah came up with it. The Hindu Mahasabha leader Lala Lajpat Rai wrote in The Tribune of December 14, 1924:

"Under my scheme the Muslims will have four Muslim States: (1) The Pathan Province or the North-West Frontier; (2) Western Punjab (3) Sindh and (4) Eastern Bengal. If there are compact Muslim communities in any other part of India, sufficiently large to form a province, they should be similarly constituted. But it should be distinctly understood that this is not a united India. It means a clear partition of India into a Muslim India and a non-Mulsim India." This was 16 years before the League adopted the Pakistan Resolution in Lahore, on March 23, 1940 (emphasis added, throughout). Prof. Muhammad Aslam Malik claims: "The present study concentrates only on how the resolution was shaped. It deals with the subject exhaustively and explains some of the intriguing questions objectively... Nevertheless, it is not the last word on the subject." This stroke of modesty is preceded by a sustained belittling of all others who wrote on the subject. In bringing to light important archival material, the author renders high service. In proceeding to analyse them, however, he only amuses the reader when his aim, apparently, is to enlighten him. One who can confidently assert that B. Shiva Rao was "the proprietor of The Hindu", that the hill-station Matheran, which Jinnah loved, was an "island", and that Sir Chimanlal Setalvad was a Parsi, can assert anything. He draws freely on his imagination. "It can be imagined that Jinnah would have agreed to favour Sir Sikandar only when the latter agreed to support the League's Pakistan proposition, which he had vehemently opposed at the Delhi meeting of the Working Committee. It can also be visualised that, for the sake of saving his face, Sikandar should have demanded the inclusion of some of his suggestions in the 'outline'..."

The author is out to prove a thesis which some people in India also espouse - Jinnah was for Partition from the mid-1930s and the Lahore Resolution was not a bargaining counter. He thinks that his leader is belittled if the contrary is averred. One is reminded of the judge who said "this court may often be in error, but it is never in doubt."

There were four forces at work then. The historians of the Hindu Right, R.C. Majumdar and A.K. Majumdar, refer in Struggle for Freedom (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan; 1969; page 611) "to one factor which was responsible to a very large extent for the emergence of the idea of Partition of India on communal lines. This was the Hindu Mahasabha..." Recently, the veteran socialist Prem Bhasin wrote: "The ease with which a large number of Congressmen and women - small, big and bigger still - have walked into the RSS-BJP boat and sailed with it is not a matter of surprise. For, there has always been a certain affinity between the two. A large and influential section in the Congress sincerely believed even during the freedom struggle that the interests of Hindu Indians could not be sacrificed at the altar of a united Independent India. Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya and Lala Lajpat Rai had, for instance, actually broken away from the Congress and founded the Nationalist Party which contested elections against the Congress in the mid-twenties" (Janata; Annual Number, 1998). G.B. Pant was the architect of the Ayodhya problem.

Gandhi and Nehru opposed such elements doggedly, but they were not prepared to relent on their preference for a centralised federation. Meanwhile, the Muslim Right had begun to play with the Partition idea since Iqbal's famous address to the League session in 1931. But his group of Muslim provinces was confined to western India as a member of the Indian Union. Jinnah did not subscribe to such schemes. He was a belated convert and for tactical reasons.

Both the Congress and the League were opposed to the federal part of the Government of India, 1935. Nehru wrote to Rajendra Prasad on July 21, 1937: "During the General Election in U.P. there was not any conflict between the Congress and the Muslim League. It was the decision of both the parties to avoid conflict as much as possible and to accommodate each other." In October 1937, the League adopted as its objective complete independence and became a mass party. That that round of the Congress-League parleys for coalition failed was bad enough. Far worse, as Tej Bahadur Sapru wrote to Shiva Rao, was the behaviour of Congress Ministries. Jinnah's talks with Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose failed dismally. The Congress took a fateful step. It began advocating the establishment of a Constituent Assembly as a solution to the problem. As K.M. Panikkar pointed out in a brilliant memorandum, dated October 10, 1945, no such Assembly can succeed except on the basis of a Congress-League accord and unless "a procedure of bringing the parties together on some minimum basis of agreement is evolved before the Constituent Assembly meets."

In 1939 the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, asked Jinnah whether he had "a constructive policy", any alternative to the Assembly which Jinnah dreaded because he was certain to be outvoted there. The Viceroy invited Jinnah for talks on March 2, 1939. In these talks, Jinnah, despite his opposition to federation, presented his conditions for accepting it. He told the Viceroy that "the only form of federation which would appeal to him would be one that contained what he described as an equipoise." By this he meant, as Jinnah himself explained, "an adjustment of votes and of territorial division which would give a Hindu-Muslim balance." He added that this equipoise was to be "obtained by a certain degree of gerrymandering" - weightage of votes or seats. Various variants of the Pakistan scheme were then under active consideration within the Muslim League. The Premier of Punjab Sir Sikander Hayat Khan's scheme sought the division of India into autonomous "zones" within a federal India.

The League appointed two bodies. A foreign committee was set up in December 1938 and a constitutional subcommittee was set up in March 1939. Authors of the various schemes cooperated with both. Jinnah "told the Muslim League Council, on April 8, 1939, 'There were several schemes in the field including that of dividing the country into Muslim and Hindu India', but the (Sub) Committee was not pledged to any particular scheme."

On September 11, 1939, the Viceroy announced suspension of the federal part of the Act. Jinnah, true to form, kept his counsel to himself. For the first time he propounded the theory that Hindus and Muslims constituted two separate nations in India. In an article in the journal Time and Tide of London (January 19, 1940) Jinnah asserted that "there are in India two nations, who both must share the governance of their common motherland". This implied clearly a pact to govern a united India. The theory was aimed at asserting a claim to equality in standing. Only two months later in Lahore on March 23, 1940 the Muslim League demanded Partition in a Resolution which did not mention the two-nation theory at all. The omission is all the more remarkable for the fact that the theory very much figured in the Resolution adopted by the League's Working Committee on February 6, 1940. Its five points provided "the outline" of the Pakistan proposal.

It was based on draft prepared by the Foreign Committee on February 1, 1940 at a meeting with the authors of schemes. The Constitutional Sub-Committee had apparently gone into hibernation. The text of the League's draft is appended to the book (Appendix C). When Jinnah met the Viceroy on February 6 he argued that "he and his friends were disposed, on the whole, to take the view that to publish in full their fundamental opinion as to the constructive steps to be taken for the future, would at this stage, from their standpoint, be inadvisable since it would needlessly expose surface (sic) to criticism". But Linlithgow pressed him to provide his alternative scheme.

THE League's historic Lahore session met in Lahore on March 21. The next day proved crucial as the Working Committee deliberated on the Pakistan resolution. The first preliminary draft, which the Subjects Committee discussed on March 23 for adoption by the session in the plenary, provided for an All-India Centre. The provisions read thus: "(e) That the regions may, in turn, delegate to a Central agency, which for the convenience may be designated the Grand Council of the United Dominions of India, and on such terms as may be agreed upon, provided that such functions shall be administered through Committee on which all regions (dominions) and interests will be duly represented and their actual administration will be entrusted to the Units. (f) That no decision of this Central Agency will be effective or operative unless it is carried by at least a two-thirds majority. (g) That in the absence of agreement with regard to the constitution, functions and scope of the Grand Council of the United Dominions of India, cited above, the regions (dominions), (9) shall have the right to refrain from or refuse to participate in the proposed Central structure... (i) That the peace-time composition of the Indian Army shall continue on the same bases as existed on the 1st April, 1937." (Appendix D).

The author need not have lost himself in reverie, as he does on the fate of this draft. He should have consulted Evolution of Pakistan edited by Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada (Royal Book Co, Karachi; 1995). He has reproduced in facsimile the draft prepared by Sir Sikandar with corrections therein by Jinnah, Malik Barkat Ali, an opponent of Sikandar, and others. There is a bracket suggesting omission of clauses (e) (f) and (g) concerning the Centre.

This explains Sikandar's speech in the Punjab Assembly on March 11, 1941. "I have no hesitation in admitting that I was responsible for drafting the original Resolution. But let me make it clear that the Resolution which I drafted was radically amended by the Working Committee, and there is a wide divergence between the Resolution I drafted and the one that was finally passed. The main difference between the two Resolutions is that the latter part of my Resolution, which related to the Centre and coordination of the activities of the various units, was eliminated." He, however, continued to remain a Leaguer.

But the Resolution as adopted contained a significant paragraph at the end. "This session further authorises the Working Comm-ittee to frame a scheme of constitution in accordance with these basic principles, providing for the assumption finally by the respective regions of all powers such as defence, external affairs, communication, customs and such other matters as may be necessary." In his masterpiece Pakistan or The Partition of India (1946), Dr. B.R. Ambedkar reproached Gandhi for not putting searching questions to Jinnah on the text when they met in 1944. "What does the word 'finally', which occurs in the last para of the Lahore Resolution, mean? Did the League contemplate a transition period in which Pakistan will not be an independent and sovereign State?" (page 411)

Ayesha Jalal holds: "By apparently repudiating the need for any centre, and keeping quiet about its shape, Jinnah calculated that when eventually the time came to discuss an all-India federation, British and Congress alike would be forced to negotiate with organised Muslim opinion, and would be ready to make substantial concessions to create or retain that centre. The Lahore resolution should therefore be seen as a bargaining counter, which had the merit of being acceptable (on the face of it) to the majority-province Muslims, and of being totally unacceptable to the Congress and in the last resort to the British also. This, in turn, provided the best insurance that the League would not be given what it now apparently was asking for, but which Jinnah in fact did not really want" (The Sole Spokesman; page 57).

Meanwhile, the Foreign Committee soldiered along to produce the "scheme of constitution" promised in the last para and submitted its Report dated December 23, 1940 to Jinnah. It said:

"The Lahore resolution of the League does not look forward to the proposed regional states assuming immediately, as they are formed, powers of defence, external affairs, communication, customs, etc. This argues that there should be a transitional stage during which these powers should be exercised by some agency common to them all...

Jinnah disowned it and even repudiated the Committee's locus standi. (For the text of the Report vide The Pakistan Issue edited by Nawab Nazir Yar Jang Bahadur; Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, Lahore; 1943; pp 73-92). It was not unanimous. A leak to the press created a sharp controversy. But these lines in the Report showed keen perception: "A common coordinating agency would be necessary...; for, under the third principle of the Resolution, it will be impossible to implement effectively the provisions of safeguards for minorities without some organic relationship subsisting between the States... an agreed formula has to be devised whereby the Muslims shall share the control at the Centre on terms of perfect equality with the non-Muslims" (page 88). In plain words, Pakistan would spell the ruin of Indian Muslims unless it had an "organic relationship" with the rest of India.

Jinnah did not wish publicly to concede a Centre. Confident of his tactical skills, not unjustifiably, he thought he would, when the chips were down, "pull it off". He miscalculated. The Congress was not interested in sharing power. His abrasive rhetoric impaired his credentials as an interlocutor. Nehru wrote in his jail diary on December 28, 1943: "Instinctively I think it is better to have Pakistan or almost nothing if only to keep Jinnah far away and not allow his muddled and arrogant head from (sic) interfering continually in India's progress" (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; First Series; Vol.13; page 324). He accurately predicted: "I cannot help thinking that ultimately the Muslims of India will suffer most" (ibid; page 24).

That Jinnah's adherence to the Resolution of March 23, 1940, with its tantalising last para, was tentative emerges clearly from a consistent record of concessions on his part. Muslim leaders in U.P. like Chaudhury Khaliquzzaman and the Nawab of Chhatari expressed disquiet. On October 22, 1940, Jinnah asked Chhatari to come out "with a definite scheme of his own" and promised that he would bear that scheme in mind while making a final decision in this regard (page 200). Chhatari suggested that "We must get as many Hindus out of the Congress as possible to join hands with us". His suggestion clearly implied establishment of an all-India federation. The League was not unanimous on Pakistan even after the Lahore resolution.

Chundrigar, a Leaguer close to Jinnah, told H.V. Hodson, the Reforms Commissioner, in April 1940 that the object of the Lahore Resolution was not to create "Ulsters" but to achieve "two nations... welded into united India on the basis of equality". It was, he added, an alternative to majority rule; not a bid to destroy India's unity. Jinnah himself told Nawab Mohammed Ismail Khan, one of the few who thought for himself, in November 1941, that he could not come out with these truths "because it is likely to be misunderstood especially at present". But, "I think Mr. Hodson finally understands as to what our demand is". Hodson regarded it as a bid for a set-up on "equal terms" motivated by the fear that Muslims might be reduced to being "a Cindrella with trade union rights and a radio in the kitchen but still below stairs."

UNFORTUNATELY, the author's work does not take note of Prof. R.J. Moore's work Endgame of Empire published in 1983, in which he refers to a file in the Jinnah Papers in the Government of Pakistan's archives containing his correspondence with Cripps in 1942 on "the creation of a new Indian Union". Significantly it is still embargoed.

Jinnah emerged from the polls in 1946 with his representative status established. At his very first meeting with the British Cabinet Mission on April 4, 1946, he demanded Partition; but only to concede foreign affairs, defence and communication to the centre.

On April 25, 1946, he was offered two alternatives - the Pakistan as it came to be established in 1947 and an Indian Union superimposed on groups of Muslim provinces. Jinnah rejected the first and said he would consider the second if Congress did the same. His own proposals of May 12, 1946 envisaged, not Pakistan, but a confederation. If pressed he would have accepted a federation. He did so. He accepted the Mission's Plan.

The Mission propounded its plan on May 16, 1946 rejecting Pakistan and plumping instead for a Union confined to defence, foreign affairs and communication and based on three groups of provinces. It was, an "organic" union with enormous potential for growth.

Jinnah accepted it. Gandhi condemned grouping immediately and persisted in the opposition till the end. The Congress professed to accept the plan but so quibbled on grouping as to wreck the proposals.

THE Cabinet Mission's plan of May 16, 1946, envisaged an Indian federation based on three groups of provinces. The provinces were free to secede from the groups in which they were placed by a vote in the first general election after the scheme took effect. But they could not secede from the Union. India's unity was preserved. All they could ask for was "reconsideration of the terms of the Constitution" - a Sarkaria Commission - after 10 years and no more. It would have been open to provinces of Group A (the States which now form the Union of India) to confer on the Union voluntarily subjects beyond the minimum subjects of defence, foreign affairs and communication. Group B comprised Punjab, Sind, Baluchistan and the NWFP. Far from establishing a "weak" Centre, it would have yielded a strong centre for India of today in a federal union with Pakistan, in which India though had a majority, though confined to defence, foreign affairs and communication.

The plan broke down because the Congress refused to accept this grouping formula. It had 207 members in the Constituent Assembly against 73 of the League. In the crucial Group C, comprising Bengal and Assam, it had 32 members against 36 of the League, in a House of 70, with two Independents. Since the League would have had to provide a chairman to work the group, it would have been left with 35 members against 32 of the Congress. How could the League possibly have prevented Assam's secession? Yet it was this bogey which destroyed the last best chance for preserving India's unity.

As late as March 19, 1947 - less than three months before the Partition plan - the Viceroy, Lord Wavell, wrote to the Secretary of State for India, Pethick-Lawrence, that, having met Jinnah recently, Colin Reid, correspondent of The Daily Telegraph "got the impression that he might accept the Cabinet Mission's plan if the Congress accepted it in unequivocal terms". Mountbatten tried to secure that and failed. The Congress preferred India's partition to sharing power with the League in a united India.

In an interview with Jalal in 1980, a Punjab League leader, Mian Mumtaz Daultana, said that Jinnah never wanted a Pakistan which involved the Partition of India and was all in favour of the Mission's proposals. The Cabinet Mission's Plan was wrecked by the Congress as Chimanlal Setalvad rightly held.

The Congress was not consistent on the Partition. On April 2, 1942, the Congress Working Committee criticised the secessionist idea - only to add: "Nevertheless, the Committee cannot think in terms of compelling the people of any territorial unit to remain in the Indian Union against their declared and established will..." Its election manifesto of 1945 reiterated this principle, thus setting at naught the Jagat Narain Lal resolution, adopted by the All India Congress Committee (AICC) on May 2, 1942, which ruled out "liberty to any component State or territorial unit to secede."

Rajaji's formula, in March 1944, accepted plebiscite on Partition in areas "wherein the Muslim population is in absolute majority." On September 24, 1944 Gandhi himself offered Jinnah his plan for "two sovereign independent States" with a Treaty of Separation on defence, foreign affairs, etc. Thus, from 1940 onwards, the trend was unmistakably against India's unity. Both Gandhi and the Congress had accepted the principle of Partition, based on consent of the areas concerned. Time was fast running out on India's unity.

THE British government's statement on December 6, 1946 rejected the Congress interpretation of the grouping formula and ended with these words: "There has never been any prospect of success for the Constituent Assembly except upon the basis of the agreed procedure. Should a Constitution come to be framed by the Constituent Assembly in which a large section of the Indian population had not been represented, His Majesty's Government could not, of course, contemplate - as the Congress have stated they would not contemplate - forcing such a Constitution upon any unwilling parts of the country." This gave the Congress one of two choices - unqualified acceptance of the Mission's Plan or Partition. It preferred the latter. Once again, Gandhi rejected the Plan. He advised Assam not to join the Group (c) with Bengal, retire from the Constituent Assembly and frame its own constitution. "Each unit must be able to decide and act for itself" (Harijan, December 29, 1946).

Richard Symonds describes graphically the havoc that followed Partition. He was a relief worker among the refugees when the massacres took place in Punjab at Independence. Tai Yong Tan and Gyanesh Kudaisya, academics at the University of Singapore, describe the aftermath and its lasting impact on Punjab, especially on Sikhs. The opening chapter on "the celebration of independence" in both countries is, like the rest of the scholarly work, excellently documented. Their comments on Radcliffe's work are devastating. "The Radcliffe Award for the Punjab, a six-paragraph document describing the dividing line between the east and west of the province, 'wobbled from communal to economic to strategic factors', followed no natural dividing features such as rivers or mountain ranges, cut across villages, canal systems and communication lines, in the process separating communities and bisecting homes. Large populations of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs found themselves on the wrong side of the border. It was the same for Bengal, where the boundary created large pockets of minorities in East Pakistan as well as West Bengal. Its impact was tremendous, and the trauma of Partition has left an indelible mark not only on Indo-Pakistan relations but upon the lives of millions of Indians and Pakistanis."

The last chapter is on "the legacies of Partition". They write: "Since the late 1940s Muslim political leaders have realized that 'partition proved positively injurious to the Muslims of India, and on a long term basis for Muslims everywhere'. However, since the 1980s, the community has faced new challenge to its political status as political parties, raising the banner of Hindu majoritarian cultural nationalism, have questioned the very basis of India's secularism. The Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Mosque controversy and the larger, continuing mobilization for Hindutva have profound implications for the future of the community, as several scholarly studies have shown."

The Sangh Parivar's ancestors existed even in the 19th century as Joya Chatterjee's superb work Bengal Divided (1995) establishes. Partition weakened the cause of secularism in India and all but destroyed it in Pakistan.

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