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COVER STORY

01-03-2002

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Briefing

AYODHYA OFFENSIVE

As the renewed Hindutva build-up towards a temple in Ayodhya escalates, the distant echoes from a period of lawlessness that the Bharatiya Janata Party was deeply implicated in, begin once again to resound across the political landscape.

ON the Assembly election campaign trail in Punjab, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee warned last fortnight of a conspiracy by international terrorist networks to "disintegrate" the country. India, he said, would actively campaign for a global body that would be able to take on the menace. The theme has been a constant refrain in campaign speeches all over by Bharatiya Janata Party luminaries. Home Minister L.K. Advani and Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, to name only two, have been vigorously working the crowds with the promise that the BJP-led government is embarked upon a decisive struggle against terrorism. Victory, they have said, is assured.

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It is a long time since the BJP has been united in quite the same manner around a single theme in its campaign rhetoric. Just under a decade back, the party found a similar cohesiveness over the mission of building a Ram temple at Ayodhya. With Vajpayee merely being a sullen bystander, the BJP declared that the Ram Janmabhoomi matter was beyond the jurisdiction of the courts of law to decide. But as the law of diminishing returns caught up with the stridency of its campaign on Ayodhya, the party of Hindutva shifted from an obsessive single-issue focus to a more accommodative, if equivocal, stance.

The primordial Hindu identity and its centrality to Indian nationalism are no longer the exclusive themes that the BJP chooses to play on. Curiously for a party that held in disdain the authority of civic institutions when it was a matter of convenience for it, the BJP today has chosen to orient its campaign almost solely around the dangers that terrorism poses to the institutions of civic democracy. And as it leads an effort to secure for India a niche in a global coalition against terrorism, the BJP is keen to secure its image as a party dedicated to the rule of law and committed to the equal and symmetric treatment of all religious communities.

Most inconveniently, though, the distant echoes from a period of lawlessness that the BJP was itself deeply implicated in, are beginning once again to resound across the political landscape. Even as the Prime Minister and his colleagues in the BJP were making their lofty pronouncements about the new responsibilities that India was taking on as part of its commitment to the global struggle against terrorism, their confederates in the Hindutva fraternity were, with equal ardour, doing their best to undermine the new posture. And the theatre of their new militancy once again was Ayodhya.

As the Prime Minister worked the campaign trail in Punjab, Ashok Singhal and Ramachandra Paramahans, two luminaries of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) were laying out their concrete plans for the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. Hindus had waited for over 50 years for their temple, they said, and would wait no longer. Beginning March 15, the VHP would begin moving the pillars that had been carved for the temple to the site where the Babri Masjid stood until its frenzied demolition in December 1992. And the construction of the temple would begin shortly afterwards at an auspicious moment to be determined through astrological consultations, they announced.

Singhal was positive that there was little in the Supreme Court's successive rulings or the status of the litigation at any other level to restrain the government from handing over to the VHP all the land surrounding the site where the Babri Masjid stood. The Babri Masjid itself, said Singhal, was a Shia shrine, and lineal descendants of its builder, the Mughal general Mir Baqi, still lived in the vicinity of Ayodhya and Faizabad. Rather than continue with the dilatory judicial procedure, the VHP leader suggested, the government would be better advised to engage in direct negotiations with the descendants of Mir Baqi and leaders of the Shia community, to obtain the disputed land for the construction of a temple.

Seldom known to inconvenience himself with historical facts or with details of judicial pronouncements, Singhal's statement is, quite clearly, contrary to all credible interpretations of the situation as it stands today. Yet his acknowledgment that matters of fact and law may have a bearing on the Ayodhya dispute is undoubtedly an indication that with all his commitments to the Ram temple, he is keen to arrive at a compromise deal that will not endanger the stability of the BJP-led government at the Centre.

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From another quarter, though, an associate of Singhal's from the VHP was sounding a note of the deepest pessimism. The Prime Minister, said Viswesa Teertha Swami of the Pejawar math in Udupi in Karnataka, had quite bluntly ruled out the possibility of any land being transferred to the VHP. According to the Swami's recounting of what happened at the recent meeting between the VHP leadership and the Prime Minister, Vajpayee had said that he would be prepared to quit rather than violate the terms of the compact between the BJP and its coalition partners.

Many of the mobilisational techniques and themes that the VHP had deployed in earlier phases of its agitational campaign were in evidence at the recent sant chetavani yatra that it took out from Ayodhya to Delhi. This, the latest in its sequence of elaborately ritualised processions, drew by all accounts a rather poor public response. Many of the sections that had signed on for the VHP's adventurist politics in earlier phases remained indifferent. The unsubtle timing of the venture with the build-up to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, was a rather transparent indication of crass political calculations.

The BJP, for its part, is deeply divided by the VHP's new provocations. Undoubtedly there is a section which believes that having achieved power, the party should not abandon the cause that propelled it to the forefront of national attention. Others seem dearly to wish that Ayodhya would just vanish as an issue, leaving the BJP at liberty to enjoy the benefits of wielding power, if in uneasy coalition with a diversity of other parties. The price of attracting this broad-ranging support, they argue, was the consignment of Ayodhya as an issue to the lower orders in the party's list of priorities. And as long as the cohabitation continues, it should not be endangered by issues that have a tendency to disrupt the newfound solidarities. The BJP's allies, for their part, have been definitive in their insistence that the government is burdened with sufficient problems without having to take on the VHP's highly divisive agenda also in the bargain.

The VHP decided at the Kumbh Mela last year that it would not wait beyond the Sivaratri festival this year (falling on March 12) before commencing construction work on a Ram temple at Ayodhya. This mixing of Saivite and Vaishnavite motifs has been a constant element in the VHP's strategy of recruiting a broad range of religious figures and spiritual hucksters to its cause.

There was a certain symmetry between the decision taken last year and an event from the prehistory of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, as far back as 1985. On October 31 that year, the VHP organised one in a sequence of conclaves that it has rather grandiosely titled Dharma Sansad (or religious parliament). The purpose then was to revive the flagging momentum of the Janmabhoomi movement that had flickered to life in the last days of Indira Gandhi's regime, but then been extinguished by her assassination and the desertion of a large segment of Hindutva ranks to the Congress. The Dharma Sansad then put down the ultimatum that it would not wait beyond Shivaratri the next year for the Babri Masjid to be thrown open for the worship of the Ram idols that had in its narrative manifested mystically within its confines in 1948.

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There is no clear means of knowing whose was the unseen hand that guided the subsequent course of events. But matters moved so rapidly after this event, particularly after a VHP delegation called on the Congress Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Bir Bahadur Singh, in December 1985 to reiterate the demand, that it is difficult not to suspect an element of orchestration behind it.

On January 31, 1986, a petition was filed before the District Court, Faizabad, praying for the opening of the locks on the shrine. Within hours of an order passed by the Judge the following day, with television crews from the official media in attendance, the doors of the Babri Masjid had swung open to allow the tumultuous entry of thousands of devotees. There was at once an upsurge of communal tension in the country, with serious affrays sweeping through Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir. The cycle of events that would culminate in the tragic demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 had been firmly set under way.

How far will the symmetries between two Sivaratri festivals set 16 years apart go? The government of Rajiv Gandhi had been propelled into authority in 1984 partly on the strength of a Hindu backlash against the secessionist threat that the Punjab militancy seemed to embody. Yet it had no specific obligation to the Hindutva lobby and could well have resisted the strident demand for opening up the Babri Masjid. Yet the Congress, putting expediency above principle, was then engaged in a cynical (if rather delicate) manoeuvre between two kinds of religious extremism. The course that this gambit took is evident from its subsequent actions.

Meeting in New Delhi shortly after the gates of the Babri Masjid had been opened, the Congress Working Committee expressed its concern at the growing activities of "communal and anti-national" organisations. It called upon the government to "crush" these with a "firm hand". Addressing the meeting, Rajiv Gandhi, who was yet to descend from the peak of personal authority that he had scaled in 1984, referred very cryptically to the efforts by "some people" to communalise politics in the country. On the issue of Muslim personal law, he informed the committee that the government was in consultation with "various sections" and had finalised a "package" to resolve the problem.

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Less than a week later, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill was moved in the Lok Sabha, amidst vehement protests by the Opposition benches. The "package" deal to recruit religious extremists from both sides to the cause of the ruling arrangement was complete. But forces had been set in motion that would consume the Rajiv Gandhi government and lead through a bloody sequence of riots and massacres, to the tragic demolition of 1992.

If these were the events that Shivaratri in 1986 presaged, what can be said about the recurrence of that day of piety this year? The VHP looks upon the Vajpayee government's reluctance to hand over the land at Ayodhya as an act almost akin to treachery. Hardline elements within the BJP are directly obliged to the VHP for their current political prominence and would do anything to appease their mentors. But there is a pragmatic section within, which seems to be dominant today, which steered the BJP away from its isolation towards an accommodation with other parties beginning in the mid-1990s. Now engaged in the exercise of wielding the long-sought-for power, they are averse to any disruption until the next general elections.

In the uneasy stasis between these two factions - a state of indecision that could soon be rudely shattered when the VHP puts its plans into effect - there is little room for the consideration of matters of principle. Miscreants who demolished a historic monument - not to mention a structure that was of religious significance to a number of people - have evaded prosecution for years and have now assumed positions of authority. Unable to rebuff decisively another threat to the rule of law, they equivocate and seem to arrive at another expedient compromise with the forces of religious extremism.

All the while, the government is engaged in an assiduous effort to establish India's credentials in global forums as a country committed to safeguarding civic democracy against the depredations of religiously motivated terrorism. The effort clearly calls for the kind of disingenuous make-believe that may go beyond the resources of the government today. Caught between the imperatives of survival and the need to appease a constituency that it owes its current identity to, the Vajpayee government could soon be stumbling towards a crisis that threatens its very existence.

'We cannot control the VHP'

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Interview with Jana Krishnamurthy.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is evidently on the defensive over the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's (VHP) threat to start moving carved stones and pillars to the disputed site in Ayodhya for the construction of a Ram temple. BJP president Jana Krishnamurthy, in an interview to V. Venkatesan in New Delhi on February 11, explains the party's stand on the VHP campaign. Excerpts:

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Are the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government worried about the VHP's threat to start work on a temple at Ayodhya? What will be your advice to the VHP?

The BJP would like to wait until March 15. Let us see what happens. Then only shall we be able to react.

Will it not be too late by then to take any preventive action? The same thing happened in 1992.

But the matter of whether the undisputed land should go to the VHP or not has been pending a resolution for 50 years. On their (VHP's) request, it has been referred to the Law Ministry for its opinion. We would like to wait for the opinion of the Ministry. And I would like to appeal to all concerned to wait for the Law Ministry's view.

You are credited with the view that the VHP's demand for the handing over of the undisputed property acquired by the government near the disputed site to Hindus is logical. Does this not amount to pre-empting the Law Ministry's opinion?

The VHP has been emphasising that a beautiful temple should come up in the place called Ramjanmasthal. And they have been fighting for it. And they have collected historical and archaeological data in support of their claims. Hindu sentiment demands a temple there. The VHP as a representative body of Hindus has been putting forth this demand. And hence I said it is logical.

But there is a problem for us. The BJP is a ruling party. We are bound by the NDA's agenda. This agenda governs us until 2004, when the next elections are due. Until 2004, therefore, the BJP and the government at the Centre cannot go outside the NDA's agenda. I was only expressing the BJP's inability to interfere in the matter except through a court verdict or negotiations between the parties concerned.

The Centre has a responsibility and duty to protect the disputed site, as far as the 1994 Supreme Court judgment is concerned.

As a duly elected government, the NDA government has the responsibility to uphold the rule of law. The rule of law includes accepting the verdict of the court, whether you like it or not, until a higher court sets it aside. That is why we said either through the verdict of the court or by mutual understanding, we could solve the issue. What else can we do?

In the intervening period, until the Allahabad High Court disposes of the Ayodhya title cases, the Supreme Court has said that the Central government, which has acquired the disputed land and the undisputed adjoining areas in Ayodhya, should maintain the status quo with regard to the disputed site. If the VHP gains access to the undisputed areas, will it be possible to maintain the status quo in the disputed area?

The question is, what we are doing. We are not doing anything. The matter is before the court. It is the Supreme Court's order that has come in for interpretation by different persons in different ways. What actually is the ambit of the Supreme Court's order with regard to disputed and the undisputed areas? The VHP also understands that we cannot go in the disputed areas. But there is no bar on the undisputed areas as per the Supreme Court's order. That is what they say. But there is also another view. That is why the Prime Minister has referred the matter to the Law Ministry. That is the only course available for the government.

At the party's National Executive at Palampur in 1989, the BJP had resolved that litigation was no answer to the Ram Janmabhoomi issue and that Ram Janmashthan should be handed over to Hindus, if possible through a negotiated settlement or else through legislation. Is the BJP now conceding that litigation could be an answer?

We took that line with regard to the stand taken by other parties. Because the litigation on the issue had been pending for 50 years and more. That was why we said either through legislation or through negotiation, we could solve the issue. The BJP was the last party to express its opinion on the Ram Janmabhoomi issue in 1989. Before that, all parties had supported the stand of the Babri Masjid Committee. Because we felt political parties should not give their views on this issue. But we were under pressure that the BJP also should spell out its view. The outcome was Palampur. We wanted a temple in Ayodhya. We included this in our election manifestoes until 1998. In 1999, we committed ourselves to the NDA's agenda, which does not mention it. We are bound by the NDA's agenda. That is where we stand.

Is Palampur no longer relevant for the BJP?

Why do you say it is not relevant? Today we are part of the NDA.

But as far as litigation is concerned, you seem to have revised your stand taken at Palampur. You are now willing to be bound by the court's verdict on Ayodhya.

Because we are now the ruling party, and we subscribe to the NDA's agenda.

But were you not bound by the court's verdict as an Opposition party?

We could appeal against the verdict. The Congress(I) government created a precedent when it overruled the Supreme Court's judgment in the Shah Bano case by passing legislation. Even today nothing prevents us from legislation being enacted. But that cannot be done, because we are bound by the NDA agreement.

You have been reported as saying that the Ayodhya issue will not influence the outcome of the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. But how do you explain the timing of the VHP's announcement?

The Ayodhya issue has been pending for a long time. It is not the VHP but the press that raised the issue this time. If the press keeps off the issue, nothing will happen.

It was the VHP that fixed the deadline, during the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad in 2001.

They have only taken a decision. Who can prevent the VHP from taking a decision? Every party can take its own decision and announce it. The VHP is an independent organisation. Its leaders feel they are bound by the decision taken at the Dharma sansad. What actually happens at that time (March 15), let us see.

Do you think the VHP is not serious about what it says?

I don't know. How am I to pass judgment on the VHP? From all their statements, they appears to be very serious. But why should the government think of it?

If they are very serious, the government ought to have done something. But it appears the government is not serious about it, and has not done anything.

We must have some patience.

The Narasimha Rao government also displayed remarkable patience, and the country suffered because of the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.

How did the country suffer? Your views are different. Somebody else will say the country did not suffer. You cannot pass judgment on what happened in history.

The government did not even ask the court to expedite the hearing of the title cases.

We can request. If we come to power in Uttar Pradesh, we have said in the agenda, we will take steps to expedite a resolution. It is the court that should expedite the matter. We can only request.

Don't you think the government ought to take some steps to prevent the VHP from going ahead with its plans?

All these concern the government. The party does not interfere in governmental responsibilities. Who am I to advise the government? It is a matter of administration.

Is there a sense of helplessness in the BJP? You have said that you advised the VHP not to undertake the Chetavani Yatra, but it went ahead. The VHP has also rejected your plea to defer kar seva until 2004, when the Lok Sabha elections are due. You seem to be unable to influence the VHP's decisions.

There is no helplessness. We have ourselves made a similar demand. As a Hindu, I feel there should be a temple there. But I am the president of a party that has taken a stand. And we have conveyed our stand. Who are we to prevent them (the VHP)?

The VHP is part of the Sangh Parivar and you don't have any influence over it?

Parivar, maybe. I have always said the Sangh is like a university. They too studied in that university. We too... We are in a field, they are in a different field. Neither does the VHP have any control over us, nor do we have any control over the VHP or any one of the Parivar organisations.

In the National Agenda of Governance there is a moratorium on individual parties of the NDA pursuing contentious issues. The Prime Minister has, however, not only promised the resolution of the Ayodhya issue before March but also reconstituted the Ayodhya Cell in order to facilitate negotiations between the two communities. Do you think it is a violation of NAG?

When we drew up the agenda, all issues that were not accepted by us were considered to be contentious. Nobody in the NDA objected to the Prime Minister's promise on Ayodhya. The Prime Minister has said that he will try to find a solution. It has not been possible so far.

What has been the contribution of the Ayodhya issue to the BJP's growth? Would you say it was phenomenal, especially before the demolition of the Babri Masjid? Is Ayodhya an issue in the February Assembly elections?

Every election outcome is a cumulative result of many factors, such as a party's organisational structure, its acceptability among the people and its leadership. The Ayodhya issue did contribute to the party's election victories after the Palampur resolution. But I cannot quantify the extent to which we have electorally benefited from the issue. We have never seen it from the viewpoint of seeking electoral mileage. But many changes have taken place since then. Every political party is a growing party. The situation is not static. It is a question of adjustability. Today Ayodhya is not an issue in elections any longer. Not even in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, which have so far seen only a low-key campaign.

The real agenda on test

The conflicting signals from the Sangh Parivar on the Ayodhya issue point to a deliberate design to blunt the opposition from within the ruling coalition to its agenda.

IN December 2000, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was responding to what appeared to be an annual ritual. On the anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, the Opposition parties were agitating within Parliament for some form of accountability from the three Union Ministers who had been charged with culpability for the act. Vajpayee rejected the demand, though he insisted that the law would take its course. But then as Parliament went into one of many adjournments over the issue, he departed from this script in certain offhand remarks made to the media. The movement for building a Ram temple at Ayodhya, he said, was an "expression of national sentiments", and a task that had, regrettably, "remained unfinished".

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Vajpayee did not consider it necessary to withdraw his remarks even in Parliament during a subsequent debate on a Congress-sponsored motion seeking the removal of the three Ministers. The Bharatiya Janata Party's allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) then had been persuaded in numerous offstage confabulations to vote against the motion. They had then made it clear that they would not be amenable to a resurrection of Ayodhya as an issue in national politics. The National Agenda for Governance (NAG), a set of guidelines for political conduct and a mutually agreed programme adopted by the NDA before the formation of the present government, is silent on Ayodhya. But the document committed the BJP and its allies to "national reconciliation" and to a moratorium on raising contentious issues. It promised "genuine secularism" and equality of all religions, besides efforts to create a riot-free order and follow a consensual mode of governance.

Working within the constraints of coalition politics, which was a necessity for the BJP once it hit a phase of electoral stagnation after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the BJP had to suspend its open espousal of three issues that were regarded as distinctive of its political identity: temple construction at Ayodhya, the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, which governs the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to the Indian Union, and the constitutional mandate for the enactment of a uniform civil code. These issues had to be kept out of NAG, not through explicit disavowal but through eloquent silence.

The BJP, for its part, has made no formal move to distance itself from the resolution adopted at its National Executive meeting in Palanpur, Himachal Pradesh, in 1989. This resolution, which records that the Ayodhya dispute cannot be resolved through judicial determination and hence must be settled either through negotiations or through legislation, still remains the formal position of the BJP.

The VHP fixed the March 12 deadline - coinciding with the Sivratri festival - in January 2001 during the Kumbh Mela at Allahabad. This was of a piece with its earlier strategy of setting ultimatums, partly to give the government time to react and partly to mobilise its own forces.

Unwittingly perhaps, when he visited his Lok Sabha constituency of Lucknow in September last year, Vajpayee was drawn into an implicit assurance that this deadline would be honoured. He was also influenced undoubtedly by the imminent elections to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, when the BJP was expected to be queried by its faithful over the continuing default on a promise of over a decade's vintage. But, having made this concession, Vajpayee did seek to deliver. Talks were initiated with various groups with an interest in the land at Ayodhya, and the Ayodhya Cell, which had been functioning within the Prime Minister's Office since the tenure of P.V. Narasimha Rao, was revived.

Both these steps were seemingly designed to test the allies' reactions. NAG was drafted on the implicit understanding that the government would not succumb to the politics of ultimatums on Ayodhya, and would leave the matter to be decided either through the judicial process or through negotiations between the two communities. Faced with the prospect of a testing round of elections, this understanding was effectively breached by the Prime Minister with his assurance that some other procedure was being initiated to settle the longstanding dispute.

The allies, by and large, remained indifferent to this rather transparent violation of NAG. Some of them reasoned that there could really be no objection to the government's efforts to facilitate a peaceful settlement that would not offend either community. The attitude generally was that it was not necessary for the allies to handle the hot potato if somebody else was willing to do so in a manner that would not cause great political damage. Again, in October, the NDA partners' response to the VHP leaders' attempt to break the security cordon at the Ayodhya complex and take control of the makeshift shrine erected there after the 1992 demolition was also muted.

The VHP undoubtedly was keenly reading the signals emanating from the camp of the BJP's allies. When he met the VHP-led delegation in New Delhi on January 27, Vajpayee made it a point to invite NDA convener and Defence Minister George Fernandes into the discussions. Briefing the media on the outcome of the talks, Fernandes conveyed two conclusions: first, that the allies were solidly behind the Prime Minister; and second, that they concurred with the decision to refer the VHP demand for the transfer of the so-called "undisputed land" at Ayodhya - now in the possession of the government - to Union Law Minister Arun Jaitley. Although the legal position is fairly clear, the NDA partners did not ask the Prime Minister to reject summarily the VHP's demand.

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THERE is an ominous similarity between the VHP's moves on Ayodhya now and what it had done in 1992, as a prelude to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Prime Minister Narasimha Rao was engaged in organising negotiations between the representatives of the VHP and the Babri Masjid Action Committee to resolve the deadlock. The first meeting between him and the VHP leaders took place on July 23, 1992, after which the VHP unilaterally gave him three months to resolve the dispute in much the same manner it fixed the March 12, 2002 deadline last year.

Narasimha Rao, as the White Papers on the demolition published by the government and the BJP testify, wanted four months' time. He had assured the VHP that efforts initiated by the previous government for a negotiated settlement would be revived and that, if necessary, the pending litigation on this issue would be consolidated and considered by a single judicial authority whose decision would be binding on all parties. According to the government's paper, on October 29, 1992 each side had given the government its statement of case and comments on evidence furnished by the other. In consultation with the two sides, the next meeting was scheduled for November 8, 1992 and crucial decisions were expected.

Meanwhile, however, the Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal of the VHP met in New Delhi from October 29 to 31 and called for the resumption of kar seva from December 6. There was no further retraction from this, despite a frenetic round of last-minute negotiations.

Narasimha Rao's failure to dismiss the Kalyan Singh government under Article 356 of the Constitution was considered a factor that led to the demolition. Faced with the intransigence of the Hindu Right, the Central government then sought to buy time by organising negotiations, which for the VHP were no more than a pretence since it had no intention of settling for anything less than its maximalist demands.

Today, the Vajpayee government does not seem to reflect even the limited sincerity displayed by the Narasimha Rao government in resolving the dispute in a transparent manner. Mystery surrounds the functioning and role of the Ayodhya Cell, headed by Shatrughan Singh, a retired Indian Administrative Service officer of the U.P. cadre. The government has not planned any negotiations between the two sides, even though the deadline fixed by the VHP is fast approaching. During the January 27 meeting with the Prime Minister, the VHP made two main demands - the 67 acres of undisputed land should be transferred to it for construction, and all the obstacles in the way of temple construction should be cleared by March 12.

Vajpayee's mild admonitions against the VHP for raising this issue when the nation was facing threats from across the border and the U.P. Assembly elections were just round the corner, did not convince it. Indeed, he even threatened to quit, if pushed to the wall by the sants. One of the sants asked Vajpayee what he had done for the temple, when governments led by adversarial parties had done much more. The temple, they pointed out, was formally inaugurated during Jawaharlal Nehru's tenure as Prime Minister. And the shilanyas to construct a worthy temple commemorating the Janmabhoomi was done during Rajiv Gandhi's prime ministership. And the demolition of the offending structure was achieved during Narasimha Rao's tenure.

This narration, of course, is partly a travesty of the truth since Nehru consistently opposed the surreptitious introduction of idols into the Babri Masjid, which had transformed a mosque into a disputed structure. But the sants' rhetoric appears to have forced Vajpayee to seek the temporary expedient of asking Arun Jaitley to examine their main demand today - for the title of the 67 acres of undisputed land. Vajpayee, perhaps feigning ignorance of the VHP's stated position on the judiciary, appears to have understood the delay in the Allahabad High Court's hearings on the long-pending title cases as the main obstacle to the construction of a temple. The VHP has never given any indication that it would abide by the court's ruling on this issue. And yet Vajpayee has asked Jaitley to examine how the High Court could be requested to expedite the hearing of the case.

Two weeks after the Prime Minister referred the issue to Jaitley, the Law Minister conceded that he had not examined the matter. The government's apparent indifference only heightened the VHP's stridency, which bordered on hostility. "We are ready to sacrifice even 10 governments, but no compromise on the Ram temple is possible," senior VHP leader Acharya Giriraj Kishore said. VHP president Ashok Singhal made it clear that the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya would begin any time after March 12 irrespective of the government's decision on handing over to it the acquired land. "Faith is not justiciable and VHP is not prepared to abide by any court decision," he said.

Indeed, a sense of helplessness is already evident in the ruling party. BJP president Jana Krishnamurthy (see interview) admitted that he did try to persuade the VHP not to take out the Sant Chetavani Yatra, which culminated in New Delhi on January 27. The decision to proceed with the yatra was taken at a meeting in Andhra Pradesh on January 2 and 3, which was attended by, among others, Krishnamurthy, Ashok Singhal and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan. Krishnamurthy's plea for caution fell on deaf ears. "We can only advise them, not prevent them from doing something," he explained later.

At the VHP's rally at Ramlila grounds in New Delhi on January 27, the mood among the sants was belligerent. Dharmendra, a prominent member of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, launched a diatribe against Vajpayee, reminding him that he reached his present exalted position only on account of the VHP's campaign on Ayodhya. He chided Home Minister L.K. Advani for describing December 6, 1992 as the saddest day of his life. Advani, he said, would not be the Home Minister today had he not climbed on his Ram rath. Not stopping short of personal vituperation, he advised Vajpayee to get his eyes operated as well, if he could not appreciate the sentiments on the ground. And this entire tirade was delivered in the presence of BJP general secretary Pyarelal Khandelwal.

The VHP's abuse has since continued unabated. On February 9, Ramchandra Paramhans, chairman of the Ram Janambhoomi Nyas, a Trust floated by the VHP, said in Lucknow, in ironic reference to the Prime Minister's promise to resolve the Ayodhya issue by March 12, that he had become a teacher of a school for the visually and aurally handicapped. He alleged that both Vajpayee and Advani indulged in sweet talk but harboured unsavoury thoughts.

The VHP's invective against senior leaders failed to provoke the BJP. Although he warned the VHP that it would face legal consequences if it went ahead with its temple plans, Krishnamurthy thought the demand for the handing over of the undisputed land at Ayodhya was a logical one. Although he did not specify what these consequences would be, observers tend to believe that he might perhaps have in mind the token single day's imprisonment that the Supreme Court imposed in 1994 on former U.P. Chief Minister Kalyan Singh as punishment for violating a commitment made to the Supreme Court that no harm would be caused to the Babri Masjid.

SYED SHAHABUDDIN, convener of the Babri Masjid Coordination Committee, visited Ayodhya recently and was alarmed by the hectic preparations by the VHP to start temple construction. He has demanded that the government ban kar sevaks from entering Ayodhya, confiscate stone engravings and other materials meant for temple construction and hand over the Ram Janmabhoomi complex to the Army. The Centre is unlikely to accept any of these demands as long as the BJP is in power in Uttar Pradesh. Its next move will depend on the outcome of the U.P. Assembly elections.

Whoever forms the next government in U.P., the Centre's neutrality and objectivity, as indeed its commitment to the rule of law, will be critically on test. The stand of the secular parties, both within and outside the NDA, on the VHP's proposed construction plans after March 12 will also be watched keenly.

THE BJP's and the NDA government's reluctance to take on the VHP stems from the ambiguity within the BJP about the likely impact of another round of kar seva on the party's prospects in the Assembly elections. This is because the Ayodhya issue, which may have contributed substantially to the BJP's growth in electoral terms at one stage, turned a negative factor later.

Some observers attribute the increase in the BJP's strength in Parliament and the State legislatures between 1984 and 1991 to the Ayodhya campaign. The BJP's vote share increased from 7.4 per cent in 1984 to 11.5 per cent in 1989; in terms of Lok Sabha seats there was a big jump - from two in 1984 to 86 in 1989. Its vote share increased to 20.1 per cent in the 1991 Lok Sabha elections, with its strength in the Lok Sabha going up to 120.

Logically, if the Ayodhya issue helped the BJP mobilise the Hindu vote in the period before 1992, it should have continued to do so after the demolition too. But since it authored that dark deed, the Hindutva brigade has suffered from fluctuating fortunes. In some elections, the opposition to the BJP has been better consolidated than before, stopping it in its tracks. In others, it has proved unable to expand beyond its core constituencies, since prospective partners have been unable to associate themselves openly with a party with such a dubious track record.

Rather, the BJP began to grow in a slow and erratic fashion, as a result of a mix of diverse factors. Today the BJP is seeking to distance itself from Ayodhya as an issue. Sanjay Joshi, the BJP's general secretary, recently explained to Frontline that Ayodhya has never been a political issue for the BJP. "It was other parties that played up the issue during the elections, and we had to respond to it," he explained.

It would perhaps be naive to assume that the BJP is under the illusion that the VHP's campaign could help revive its sagging fortunes in this month's Assembly elections. The VHP, rather, is seeking to justify its own existence and its own recent record of political interventions. If the public spat between VHP and BJP leaders on the Ayodhya issue is any sign, then the VHP's high-pitched rhetoric could actually end up hurting the BJP in the elections. Some would be inclined to view this public display as a facade meant to project a simultaneous appeal to different sections of voters. But the more persuasive explanation, perhaps, is that the new round of provocations by the VHP signifies a rising tide of restlessness and impatience within the hardcore Hindu Right. The BJP and the NDA government, it appears, are inclined to indulge in this public display of rancour if it does not endanger the government's survival at the Centre. But how long this uneasy disengagement will continue is quite another matter.

Advani and Ayodhya

PRAVEEN SWAMI cover-story

An estranged daughter-in-law makes some charges before the Liberhan Commission of Inquiry and then backs off.

THOSE who tuned in late might be forgiven for believing that Union Home Minister L.K. Advani had nothing to do with the tragic events of December 6, 1992 at Ayodhya.

At his repeated appearances before the Justice M.S. Liberhan Commission of Inquiry, Advani has protested against the slightest suggestion that he had anything to do with the demolition of the Babri Masjid. He insisted that the act was the work of "a few hundred people" who did not heed appeals made by leaders to come down from the domes. During his last deposition on December 28, he denied having made a speech from the Ram Katha Kunj to the mob that was about to bring down the Masjid, and then protested furiously when confronted with an Uttar Pradesh Police intelligence report that recorded the opposite. The Home Minister even suggested that the document, produced by officials of a Bharatiya Janata Party government, might be a fabrication. A day earlier, he had described the demolition of the Masjid as a "big setback" to the BJP, and denied ever having asked during his fateful rath yatra from Varanasi to Ayodhya for kar seva to be carried out with "shovels and bricks."

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Now, someone present at the start of the rath yatra has taken issue with these claims. And she is not just anyone - she is L.K. Advani's estranged daughter-in-law.

Gauri Advani says she witnessed a meeting between L.K. Advani and top Bajrang Dal leader Vinay Katiyar just before the rath yatra began, where Advani issued express orders to bring down the Babri Masjid. "Iska kaam kar do," she alleges Advani told Katiyar, "kya Babri Masjid ka kalank nahin mit sakta" (Can't the stain that is the Babri Masjid be erased, finish it off)? Katiyar, she records, said he was just waiting for permission to do so: "Hum to aapke aadesh ka intezaar kar rahe hain, aur agar aap bole to Masjid ka namo-nishaan mita dein" (We have just been waiting for your orders, and if you permit us, we will remove its every trace). "To intezaar kis baat ki" (Why should we wait?), Gauri Advani claims her father-in-law replied. "Gulami ke nishaan kab tak rahenge? Masjid ko dhwasth ker kar ke dikhao. Sahi samay aa gaya" (Until when will we tolerate signs of slavery? Bring down the Masjid. The time has come).

These extraordinary allegations were hand-delivered to the Liberhan Commission by Gauri Advani's sister on January 7, in a signed nine-page document. The London-based solicitor, who is currently contesting divorce proceedings initiated by L.K. Advani's son Jayant Advani, asked for permission to appear before the Commission, where she offered to make an even more detailed statement on oath, giving evidence on aspects not contained in the statement. Gauri said she had accompanied Advani and his wife Kamala Advani by the North-East Express to Varanasi on November 30, 1992, and was then present during his conversation with Katiyar which took place just before the rath yatra began the next morning. She characterised L.K. Advani's own statements before the Commission as a "bundle of lies," and said she had "relevant and material information" which would help discover the whole truth about the conspiracy to bring down the Babri Masjid.

Then, just as suddenly, she made a volte-face. Four days after her statement was delivered in New Delhi, she faxed from London a letter to the Commission saying that she did not wish to press her application, and requesting that she be permitted to withdraw it.

No one knows just what Justice M.S. Liberhan intends to do with Gauri Advani's statement, which he presumably studied before the Union Home Minister's recent deposition. Gauri, significantly, has only sought in the January 11 fax message to withdraw her application to depose before the Commission. She has made no effort to recant her allegations.

Interestingly, the Commissions of Inquiry Rules of 1972 make no reference to such withdrawal of statements. Clause 2(b) of the rules provide for any person to "furnish to the Commission a statement relating to such matters as may be specified in the notification." After considering such statements, which the rules make clear need not be in the form of affidavits, the Commission may consider whether it is "necessary to record evidence." Justice Liberhan, then, will have to apply his mind to whether Gauri Advani has new evidence to offer - which at first glance seems a very uncomplicated question.

But it is not: the Advani family and their daughter-in-law are embroiled in litigation which, to put it mildly, has been acrimonious. Such a situation is not, of course, all that unusual these days, but it gives rise to questions about Gauri's motives and credibility. Jayant and Gauri Advani met while she was working as the BJP leader's special assistant, handling issues related to his New Delhi constituency. According to Gauri, she had "deep faith in the ideology" L.K. Advani propagated and took whatever he told her as "gospel truth." Her father, New Delhi-based journalist Pran Sabharwal, and L.K. Advani were long-time acquaintances. Jayant and Gauri were married on October 12, 1991, soon after L.K. Advani's first rath yatra, and just before Gauri Advani had completed two years on Advani's staff. But the relationship did not last, and Gauri Advani soon moved to London, where she is now a solicitor.

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In July 2001, Jayant Advani finally sought a divorce. He alleged that Gauri had deserted him seven years earlier but was not agreeing to a divorce as she was interested in promoting her professional and commercial interests by introducing herself as the Indian Home Minister's daughter-in-law. Gauri Advani has not given her take on these allegations, but she filed a counter-suit demanding the return of wedding presents and jewellery claimed to be valued at Rs.3 crores. Again, such moves during divorce proceedings are not unusual, but the subsequent events certainly were. In October 2001, Gauri went public with the allegation that Hardip Singh Puri, India's Deputy High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, threatened her with harm unless she agreed to a divorce by mutual consent. The threat, Gauri claimed, was first made in the diplomat's offices, and then over lunch at a restaurant.

Shortly after that meeting, Gauri moved the Delhi High Court, demanding that the police register a First Information Report against Puri. The incensed Indian diplomat returned the compliment with a libel suit against Gauri in a London court. He said he knew her as a longstanding family friend and had advised her in "avuncular fashion," when she mentioned her marital problems, to part company with her husband in an amicable manner. He strongly denied there had been any threat.

On October 4, a Division Bench comprising Justices Usha Mehra and C.K. Mahajan directed the Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi, its Police Commissioner, and the Tilak Marg Police Station, which had allegedly refused to register an FIR, to file their replies. Subsequently the court ordered that a statement be recorded as a precursor to further action. Whether that statement has been recorded or not, Gauri Advani's family members will not say. Delhi Police officials contacted by Frontline also declined to discuss the matter.

Nor was Pran Sabharwal willing to provide any information or insight relating his daughter Gauri Advani's contrary communications to the Liberhan Commission. L.K. Advani's office responded in similar vein. The Minister's personal secretary, Deepak Chopra, flatly said "the subject is not valid." Pressed further, he remarked that this correspondent was not "reading between the lines." "The matter stands absolutely closed," Chopra concluded. He agreed, however, to receive a fax asking for an interview with the Minister, in which Frontline made clear it sought a response to the allegations about Advani's role in Ayodhya, not to any personal allegations. Till the time of going to press, there was no response.

The subject might not be valid for Chopra, but it is valid for determining who was responsible for the December 1992 outrage at Ayodhya. The question remains: is personal grudge the reason for Gauri Advani's application? Her written statement to the Commission is, indeed, full of bitter recrimination directed at the L.K. Advani household. She complains of being forbidden to engage in Hindu "rites, rituals and ceremonies." She asserts that L.K. Advani and his family members are "basically followers of Sikh religion" and that her father-in-law confided in her that he had "no faith in Hinduism". This particular assertion seems dubious since many Sindhi Hindus, as well as other Hindu sects, privilege Guru Nanak in their religious practices. In her first statement before the Liberhan Commission, she contrasts what she claims to be Advani's private religious beliefs with his public actions seeking to "play with the sentiments of the general Hindu masses to enable the BJP to come to power at the Centre."

Whether solicitor Gauri Advani will press her claims to whatever end, or let them sink without a trace remains to be seen.

Land and legality

A. G. NOORANI cover-story

The award of any part of the land adjoining the site of the Babri Masjid to a Vishwa Hindu Parishad-controlled body will amount to flouting the Supreme Court's clear ruling on the matter.

NO Prime Minister ever receives a delegation comprising persons who speak in the language of menace and worse, who had publicly attacked him. Atal Behari Vajpayee compromised himself by receiving the Vishwa Hindu Parishad delegation on January 27 and parleying with it for two hours. That was at the climax of its seven-day "sant chetavani (warning) yatra" which had culminated at Ramlila Grounds in New Delhi.

That was where, as The Hindu reported on (January 28), "an ultimatum was served on the government to hand over the land at Ayodhya or face a situation in which the 'sants' would forcibly take it over and build a Ram temple. Among those seated on the dais was RSS leader, Madan Das Devi who is the 'link' between the BJP and the RSS...

"Earlier in the morning, the Marg Darshak Mandal meeting of the VHP adopted a resolution demanding that the 67 acres of land acquired by the government in 1993 be handed over to the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas (a VHP trust) to enable it to start construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site on any auspicious day after Shivratri of this year (which falls on March 12)... the sants made it clear that from February 24 onwards the call could be 'Ayodhya chalo' (let us go to Ayodhya) and thousands of 'devotees' with their families would start gathering there, with the crowds increasing daily" - a repeat of December 1992. The VHP's "international" general secretary Pravin Togadia said on February 5 that around a million people would march to Ayodhya and this decision had been communicated to Vajpayee.

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Only a day earlier, on January 26, the leaders of the National Democratic Alliance had demurred to any appeasement. Under pressure from the RSS and from L.K. Advani, The Hindu reported, Vajpayee agreed to the course Advani had suggested - refer the matter to the Law Ministry. Whatever for? "To see if a way could be found for handing over the acquired land to the VHP-controlled trust". Hence Vajpayee's decision, announced at the meeting, to refer to Law Minister Arun Jaitley two points related to the Ayodhya question. One was the expedition of the case before the Special Bench of the Allahabad High Court in Allahabad. The other was "to look at legal and constitutional aspects" of handing over the land acquired by the government in 1993 to the VHP-controlled "Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas". An official statement confirmed this.

This explains a lot. You do not seek legal advice unless you wish, first, to adopt a particular course. Only then do you seek the advice in order to reckon with the legal hurdles. If the course itself is reprehensible, no legal advice is required. The issue here is not legality, but morality. It is utterly immoral to give the land adjacent to the site of the Babri Mosque, demolished on December 6, 1992, to the very organisation which accomplished the heinous deed and to do so in order deviously and forcibly to facilitate its accomplishment of its objective to build a temple on that site. For, once the adjacent land is built on, the site will be surrounded for the VHP to do what it pleases on the site of the mosque.

The Times of India reported (February 4) that the reference for legal opinion "was not an effort to buy time, but a serious move to push for a solution" according to "authoritative sources". The report added: "So even as the BJP has officially announced that the Ram temple was not on the agenda until 2004 (when the Lok Sabha polls are to be held) and the Prime Minister has seemingly adopted a tough and uncompromising line with the VHP leaders... the government is exploring ways of handing over land for the temple construction."

Significantly, BJP president Jana Krishnamurthy said in an interview to The Indian Express (February 6) that he did not consider the VHP's demand "illogical" because in his view "the actual dispute is over 80 ft by 40 ft where the structure known as Babri Masjid was located (and) the rest of the land is not in the disputed site. This land was bought by the VHP and the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas... There is some basis for the demand." The land was actually acquired by the U.P. government to "promote tourism". It was held to be mala fide by the Allahabad High Court. No prizes for guessing the identity of the lawyer who advised the acquisition. The land was bought mala fide also.

Since December 6, 2000, when he raked up the Ayodhya issue in the Lok Sabha, following his conclave with RSS leaders and Advani on December 1, 2000, Vajpayee has been fixing his deadlines to accord with the VHP's ultimatum. The VHP contends that the court's orders are irrelevant. Its pact with Home Minister Buta Singh in 1989 bears recalling, especially since its existence was challenged on February 2 on television by Praveen Togadia. It was published by the V. P. Singh government on October 17, 1990, and is Appendix II to the Government of India's White Paper on Ayodhya.

The White Paper itself makes clear that land adjacent to the site of the mosque, called the "disputed site", was not acquired by the government for disposal as it pleased. To begin with, it is well settled that a government cannot act like a private party. Its acquisitions and disposals of property must be for a "public purpose", not to favour one party or community in a pending dispute or litigation. This is a well-settled rule of constitutional law as well as of administrative law (Seervai, Constitutional Law of India, Fourth Edn., Vol. I, page 933).

Apart from this rule of general application, in the instant case the government explained in a press note, on December 27, 1992, why land adjacent to the site of the mosque was being acquired. It read: "The government has decided to acquire all areas in dispute in the suits pending in the Allahabad High Court. It has also been decided to acquire suitable adjacent area. The acquired area excluding the area on which the disputed structure stood would be made available to two Trusts which would be set up for construction of a Ram Temple and a Mosque respectively and for planned development of the area." Thus the adjacent area cannot be given to the VHP alone.

The press note added: "The Government of India has also decided to request the President to seek the opinion of the Supreme Court on the question whether there was a Hindu temple existing on the site where the disputed structure stood. The government has also decided to abide by the opinion of the Supreme Court and to take appropriate steps to enforce the court's opinion. Notwithstanding the acquisition of the disputed area, the government would ensure that the position existing prior to the promulgation of the Ordinance (for acquisition of land) is maintained until such time as the Supreme Court gives its opinion in the matter. Thereafter the rights of the parties shall be determined in the light of the court's opinion." A total of 67.703 acres of land was thus acquired.

This was quoted by the majority judgment of the Supreme Court on the President's reference to the court for its advisory opinion under Article 143 of the Constitution and on the validity of the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993 (Ismail Faruqui vs. Union of India (1994) 6 SCC 360 at page 383). The court unanimously declined to answer the President's reference. It also unanimously held Section 4(3) of the Act, which aborted the title suits in the Allahabad High Court, to be unconstitutional, being unfair to Muslims. The minority (Justices A. M. Ahmadi and S. P. Bharucha, now Chief Justice) ruled that this vitiated the entire Act. The majority (Chief Justice M. N. Venkatachaliah and Justices J. S. Verma and G. N. Ray) held it was severable from the rest of the Act.

Sections 6 and 7 of the Act read thus:

Section 6(1): The Central Government may, if it is satisfied that any authority or other body, or trustees of any trust, set up on or after the commencement of this Act is or are willing to comply with such terms and conditions as that Government may think fit to impose, direct by notification in the official Gazette, that the right, title and interest or any of them in relation to the area or any part thereof instead of continuing to vest in the Central Government, vest in that authority or body or trustees of that trust either on the date of the notification or on such later date as may be specified in the notification.

(2) When any right, title and interest in relation to the area or part thereof vest in the authority or body or trustees referred to in sub-section (1), such rights of the Central Government in relation to such area or part thereof, shall, on and from the date of such vesting, be deemed to have become the rights of that authority or body or trustees of that trust..." The VHP invokes this - in vain, as we shall see.

Section 7 (1): "Notwithstanding anything contained in any contract or instrument or order of any court, tribunal or other authority to the contrary, on and from the commencement of this Act, the property vested in the Central Government under Section 3 shall be managed by the Central Government or by a person or body of persons or trustees of any trust authorised by that Government in this behalf.

(2) "In managing the property vested in the Central Government under Section 3, the Central Government or the authorised person shall ensure that the position existing before the commencement of this Act in the area on which the structure (including the premises of the inner and outer courtyards of such structure), commonly known as Ram Janma Bhumi-Babri Masjid, stood in Village Kot Ramchandra in Ayodhya, in Pargana Haveli Avadh, in Tehsil Faizabad Sadar, in the district of Faizabad of the State of Uttar Pradesh is maintained." Section 6 provides for transfer of title by the government; Section 7 for management of the land.

The majority ruled: "The justification given for acquisition of the larger area including the property respecting which title is not disputed is that the same is necessary to ensure that the final outcome of adjudication should not be rendered meaningless by the existence of properties belonging to Hindus in the vicinity of the disputed structure in case the Muslims are found entitled to the disputed site. This obviously means that in the event of the Muslims succeeding in the adjudication of the dispute requiring the disputed structure to be handed over to the Muslim community, their success should not be thwarted by denial of proper access to enjoyment of rights in the disputed area by exercise of rights of ownership of Hindu owners of the adjacent properties. Obviously, it is for this reason that the adjacent area has also been acquired to make available to the successful party, that part of it which is considered necessary, for proper enjoyment of the fruits of success on the final outcome to the adjudication.

"It is clear that one of the purposes of the acquisition of the adjacent properties is the ensurement of the effective enjoyment of the disputed site by the Muslim community in the event of its success in the litigation, and acquisition of the adjacent area is incidental to the main purpose and cannot be termed unreasonable. The 'Manas Bhawan' and 'Sita ki Rasoi', both belonging to the Hindus, are buildings which closely overlook the disputed site and are acquired because they are strategic in location in relation to the disputed area. The necessity of acquiring adjacent temples or religious buildings in view of their proximity to the disputed structure area, which forms a unique class by itself, is permissible."

The court added: "However, at a later stage when the exact area which is needed, for achieving the professed purpose of acquisition, can be determined, it would not merely be permissible but also desirable that the superfluous excess area is released from acquisition and reverted to its earlier owner. The challenge to acquisition of any part of the adjacent area on the ground that it is unnecessary for achieving the objective of settling the dispute relating to the disputed area cannot be examined at this stage...".

Thus, to award any part of the adjoining land to the VHP's Trust is to flout the Supreme Court's clear ruling. The fate of the adjoining land depends on the result of the title suit. That cannot be prejudged by gifting government-owned land to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. It would be a patently unconstitutional and dishonest act - even by the fallen standards which the BJP government follows.

The agreement

cover-story

The following is the text of the agreement reached on 27 September 1989 at a meeting held in Lucknow convened by the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh with representatives of the VHP in which the Union Home Minister was also present. The agreement was signed by Shri Ashok Singhal, Shri Dau Dyal Khanna, Mahant Avaidnath and Shri Nrityagopal Das.

A meeting was held in Lucknow by the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh on 27 September 1989 with the representatives of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) during which the Union Home Minister was also present.

In this meeting all aspects of the situation arising in the wake of VHP's programme to perform Shila Poojan in different parts of the country and carry the 'sanctified' bricks to Ayodhya for laying the foundation-stone of Rama Temple on 9 November 1989, were discussed.

Formulations

As a result of these discussions, the following were agreed:

a) The VHP will give prior intimation to the concerned District authorities of the Shila Procession route and agree to change in routes in case the District authorities so desire in public interest.

b) The VHP and its followers would not raise any provocative slogans which may endanger communal harmony.

c) As far as possible the 'sanctified' bricks will be carried in trucks on the routes determined before-hand in consultation with the concerned District authorities.

d) Senior and responsible VHP functionaries would take the responsibility of guiding the procession and will extend full cooperation to the District authorities.

e) The spot in Ayodhya where the sanctified bricks will be collected, will be decided in consultation with the District authorities.

f) The VHP undertakes to abide by the directive of the Lucknow Bench of Allahabad High Court given on 14-8-1989 to the effect that the Parties to the Suits shall maintain the status quo and shall not change the nature of the property in question and ensure that the peace and communal harmony are maintained.

Following representatives of VHP will cooperate/ coordinate with U.P. Government.

1. Sh.Dau Dyal Khanna 2. Sh.Dixit, Ex-DGP (UP) 3. Sh.Onkar Bhave 4. Sh.Suresh Gupta, Ex-Vice-Chancellor 5. Sh.Mahesh Narain Singh, Ayodhya

Signed

Sh.Ashok Singhal Sh.Mahant Avaidnath Sh.Nrityagopal Das Sh.Dau Dyal Khanna

Construction and calculations

JUDGING from the amount of work done in workshops at Ayodhya and at different places in Rajasthan, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's rhetoric of starting temple construction "any day after March 12" has an ominous dimension.

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At the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas Karyashala in Ayodhya, artisans chisel away at huge sandstone and white marble blocks, oblivious of their surroundings. According to Anu Bhai Sompura, supervisor at the Karyashala, 50 workers have been on the task since 1990, when the workshop was started. He claims that more than 3,000 tonnes of sandstone brought from Bansi Paharpur near Bharatpur in Rajasthan has already been carved.

Apparently all the 106 pillars and white marble beams needed to build the ground floor are ready. "To start the temple construction, we only have to dig for the foundation and lay the plinth," claims Sompura. Once the pillars and beams are transported to the Ram Janmabhoomi site, they can be erected in no time and the ground floor completed, or so goes the claim.

For the first floor, which will also have 106 pillars, over 70 per cent of the work is said to be complete. Work on the shikhar too is going on, says Sompura. He believes that VHP leader Ashok Singhal, who visited the workshop along with sants on January 21 before starting off on the sant chetawani yatra, is serious about starting construction this time. "The entire temple construction, from the day we start at the site, will take two years," he says.

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Besides the Karyashala at Ayodhya, three workshops at Pindwara in Sirohi district of Rajasthan are engaged in shaping the red sandstone. Cutting of the white marble beams is done at a workshop in Makrana, Rajasthan. After cutting and polishing, the beams are transported to Ayodhya to be carved.

The finished temple, says Sompura, will be around 260 feet (78 metres) long, 140 feet (42 metres) wide and 128 feet (around 38 metres) high. It will be built of red sandstone and white marble, and no iron will be used. The ground floor pillars will be 16 feet and six inches (about five metres) high and the first-floor pillars, 14 feet and six inches (4.35 metres). The shikhar will be 65 feet and three inches (almost 20 metres) in height.

The cutting and carving of the pillars is done by professional artisans from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. They are paid anywhere between Rs.100 and Rs.500 a day, depending on the amount of work done. Ratan Lal from Bansi Paharpur, for example, is paid Rs.105 daily. However, it is his desire to see the temple built, rather than the money, that has brought him to work in Ayodhya. "My only wish is that the temple should be built in my lifetime," he says. Hari Prasad from Behraich in Uttar Pradesh, who has been working at the workshop since 1990, echoes the sentiment.

Interestingly, since 1990 both Lucknow and Delhi have seen several changes of government. Lucknow had governments led by Mulayam Singh Yadav in 1993 and Mayawati in 1995 and then in 1997, but even they did nothing to stop the work. "We have never been asked by anybody to stop the work; no one has ever intervened," says Sompura. The arrival of the BJP government at the Centre in 1996, albeit for 13 days, emboldened the VHP and it stepped up the work, starting additional workshops at Pindwara, Makrana and Jaipur, all in Rajasthan. The Jaipur workshop was started specifically to build the sandstone model of the temple and was wound up once it was completed.

The model, which was first displayed at the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad last year, is now kept at Karsevapuram in Ayodhya and treated as a real temple. Daily puja is performed, aarti is done and prasad is distributed. One has to take off one's shoes before going to see the model, which is illuminated by 51,000 bulbs. And among the list of prohibited items are cameras, pens and leather bags and belts.

Against the law

V. VENKATESAN cover-story

The provisions of the Ayodhya Act, as interpreted by a majority judgment of the Supreme Court in 1994, constitute a solid defence against the Hindutva forces' attempt to execute their plan to build a temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya.

WHILE introducing the Bill to replace the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Ordinance in 1993, Union Home Minister S.B. Chavan declared the following as its objects and reasons: "As it is necessary to maintain communal harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst the people of India, it was considered necessary to acquire the site of the disputed structure and suitable adjacent land for setting up a complex which could be developed in a planned manner wherein a Ram temple, a mosque, amenities for pilgrims, a library, museum and other suitable facilities can be set up."

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By virtue of the Ordinance, promulgated by the President on January 7, 1993, the right, title and interest in respect of certain areas near the site of the Babri Masjid stood transferred to and vested in the Central government. Nearly a decade has passed since the enactment of what has come to be known as the Ayodhya Act, but the government does not seem to have tried to fulfil its declared objectives. This might be owing to its failure to seek a fair judicial or negotiated settlement that could satisfy both Hindus and Muslims.

The P.V. Narasimha Rao government sought to link the Act with the resolution of the dispute in the hope that a Supreme Court pronouncement on the President's reference under Article 143 - on whether a Hindu temple or any Hindu religious structure existed prior to the construction of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid, including the premises of the inner and outer courtyards of the structure - would lead to a solution. However, the court declined to answer the reference but upheld the validity of the Act in 1994. The majority judgment, given by Justices M.N. Venkatachaliah, J.S.Verma and G.N. Ray, declared Section 4(3) of the Act invalid. But in view of its severability from the other provisions of the Act, it held the Act to be constitutionally valid. Section 4(3) sought to abate all suits, appeals or other proceedings pending before any court, tribunal or other authority in respect of the right, title, and interest relating to any property vested in the Centre by virtue of this Act. The Judges felt that answering the President's reference was superfluous and unnecessary in view of the striking down of Section 4(3). Their opinion meant that with the revival of the cases pending before the Allahabad High Court, the due process would provide an opportunity to deal with the issues framed in the reference.

The minority opinion by Justices A.M. Ahmadi and S.P. Bharucha, the present Chief Justice of India, favoured the striking down of the entire Act while declining to answer the President's reference. According to this opinion, Section 4, inasmuch as it deprived the Sunni Wakf Board and the Muslim community of the right to plead and establish adverse possession of the property and restrict the scope for the redress of their grievance in respect of the disputed site, offended the principle of secularism, a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. It also found arbitrary and unreasonable Section 8 of the Act, which provides for settlement of compensation claims from the previous owners of the land and so on acquired by the government by the Claims Commissioner. The minority opinion, recorded by Justice Bharucha, declined to answer the President's reference on the ground that the purpose of the reference was opposed to secularism as, in their view, it favoured one religious community and disfavoured another. They also said that answering the reference without hearing the parties concerned or evaluating their evidences would impair the court's credibility. "Ayodhya is a storm that will pass. The dignity and honour of the Supreme Court cannot be compromised because of it," they said.

THE Ayodhya storm, however, has returned, with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's deadline to start construction of a temple at the disputed site approaching. While the dignity and honour of the Supreme Court has remained secure owing to its decision not to answer the President's reference, the court now faces the risk of being compromised because of subtle attempts by vested interests to misinterpret its judgment on the Act.

The government's failure to have the objects of the Ayodhya Act fulfilled has not made the Act irrelevant. The Act has stood the test of time, and its provisions, as interpreted by the majority Judges of the Supreme Court in 1994, constitute a solid defence against any attempt by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-VHP-Bajrang Dal combine to go ahead with their temple plans with the help of a partisan government at the Centre.

The minority Judges favoured the striking down of the Act because they felt that the Constitution did not permit the state to acquire a place of worship in order to preserve public order. "Secularism is absolute; the state may not treat religions differently on the ground that public order requires it," it said. The Judges, therefore, suggested a sensible option to the government if the title to the place of worship is in dispute in a court of law and public order is jeopardised: the government may either apply to the court concerned to appoint it as receiver of the place so that it could be held secure pending the final adjudication of its title, or it may enact a law that makes it the statutory receiver of the place. In either case, the Centre would commit itself to handing over the place of worship to the party that won the title suit, the Judges said.

The majority Judges conceded this argument by holding that the disputed area, that is, the 2.7 acres on which the Babri Masjid stood, was 'vested' in the Central government only as a statutory receiver by virtue of Section 3 of the Ayodhya Act. However, the Act's provisions are significant with regard to what the government could do in relation to the 67 acres of undisputed area, which is adjacent to the disputed area and which is acquired by it.

The majority Judges were more concerned about the possible consequences of holding the entire Act invalid. Such a pronouncement, they feared, would automatically revive the worship of the idols by Hindu devotees, which has been curtailed since December 1992, without granting any corresponding benefit to Muslims, whose practice of worship at the disputed structure had come to a stop in December 1949. Therefore, the best solution, according to them, was to maintain the status quo as on January 7, 1993, when the Act came into force. This decision was assailed because it allowed worship by Hindus in a restricted manner and denied a similar privilege to Muslims during the pendency of the litigation. However, the majority Judges felt that it was the best possible manner in which the feelings of Muslims could be assuaged after the demolition "without giving cause for any legitimate grievance to the other community leading to the possibility of re-igniting communal passions detrimental to the spirit of communal harmony in a secular state".

The logic of the decision is debatable, but it is hardly in dispute now. The Hindutva forces seem to be using the subtle distinction made in the judgment between the disputed and undisputed areas to buttress their argument that there is no legal hurdle to the government handing over the undisputed area acquired by it to another authority or body or trust by virtue of Section 6(1) of the Act. This Section enables the Centre to transfer its right over the acquired area to a body or trust set up on or after the commencement of the Act if it is satisfied that such a body is willing to comply with any terms and conditions that the Centre may stipulate. These terms and conditions would necessarily have to include Section 7(2) of the Act, which requires that in managing the property vested in the Centre the government or a person authorised by it shall ensure that the position existing before the commencement of this Act is maintained in the area. The VHP's declaration that it would go ahead with temple construction at the disputed site makes it clear that it cannot guarantee maintenance of status quo in accordance with Section 7(2). There is reason to believe that the VHP will use the undisputed area, if it is transferred to any of its affiliates by the government, to begin construction and engulf the disputed site to achieve its declared goals.

Section 6(3) of the Act makes it clear that the provisions of Sections 4,5,7 and 11 shall apply in relation to such authority or body or trustees as they apply in relation to the Central government, and for this purpose references therein to the Central government shall be construed as references to such authority or body or trustees.

Does the Centre enjoy unlimited discretion to hand over the undisputed area on a platter to anyone it wants to? The justification for acquiring the undisputed area was that the government wanted to ensure that the final outcome of adjudication should not be rendered meaningless by the existence of any property belonging to Hindus in the vicinity of the disputed structure in case Muslims are found to be entitled to the site. The majority judgment said that in the event of Muslims winning the case, their success should not be thwarted by denial of proper access to, and enjoyment of rights in, the disputed area by Hindus exercising their ownership rights over adjacent properties. The judgment, for instance, justified the acquisition of Manas Bhavan and Sita ki Rasoi - buildings belonging to Hindus. The acquisition of such buildings in view of their proximity to the disputed site was permissible, the majority Judges said. However, Justice Verma, who wrote the majority judgment, added an important caveat: "At a later stage when the exact area acquired which is needed for achieving the professed purpose of acquisition, can be determined, it would not merely be permissible but also desirable that the superfluous excess area is released from acquisition and reverted to its earlier owner."

A large part of the undisputed area, the court conceded, comprised properties of Hindus and their titles were not in dispute. But the condition here is the 'determination' of the exact area required to achieve the objects of acquisition and of the surplus areas found unnecessary. By no stretch of the imagination could the government or the VHP claim that this area has been 'determined'. Such determination will hinge on the resolution of the dispute before the court, and therefore this exercise has necessarily to await the Allahabad High Court's decision. Till such time that happens, the government has to maintain the status quo as on January 7, 1993, not only at the disputed site but also in the undisputed area in accordance with the spirit of the Supreme Court's judgment, which has built, perhaps unwittingly, a linkage between the disputed and undisputed areas in the interests of secularism.

Justice Verma held that the embargo on transfer till adjudication in terms of Section 6(1) related only to the disputed area. He made it clear that the retention of excess area by the government till the adjudication of the dispute might be unnecessary. But it is obvious that the determination of the "excess" area should precede the government's exercise of its duty to restore it to the owner if such retention is found to be unnecessary. What the VHP seems to argue is that the entire 67 acres of undisputed land acquired by the government is unnecessary, and that therefore, the excess area could be reverted to its rightful owners. Such an argument is against the spirit of the majority judgment.

From terror to politics

Usman Majid, once a key member of the Jammu and Kashmir Students' Liberation Front, talks of his experiences with the ISI and his relationship with Tiger Memon.

This coming autumn, Usman Majid plans to stand for election as part of a coalition of political figures that have emerged from the powerful pro-India militia groups that almost crushed terrorism in the Kashmir Valley in 1995-1996. The principal focus of his campaign will be on the terrible damage that the terrorist groups have caused to the ordinary people of the State over the last decade. A decade ago he was a top member of one of those terrorist groups.

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In his extraordinary story, told to Praveen Swami, Majid recounts his life as a key member of the Jammu and Kashmir Students' Liberation Front (also known as the Students' Liberation Front, SLF), which went on to forge alliances with Ibrahim Abdul Razzak Memon, one of the main suspects in the Mumbai serial bombing in March 1993. Majid describes his personal relationship with Memon, and the Inter Services Intelligence's (ISI) use of the underworld figure to expand the theatre of terrorist activity outside Jammu and Kashmir to the rest of the country.

NO one was more upset than I was when I heard of the serial bombing in Mumbai. Months before I left for Pakistan, I had told senior officials in Srinagar that something terrible was about to happen. There were plans to bomb eight cities. Men had been trained, and explosives brought in. No one believed me. I didn't have the details they needed, and most officers, some of them still in service, thought I was making up stories. But, you see, I knew it was going to happen. My best friends were going to do it.

My story begins in the winter of 1989. Like hundreds of young people in Kashmir that December, I crossed the Line of Control to train in Pakistan as a member of the SLF. My reasons were much the same as those of everyone else. When you are young, the world seems very simple. You see everything in black and white terms. I felt that India had denied us our legitimate rights and that Pakistan would help us in our struggle for independence. Our victory, then, seemed just around the corner. My father had been a well-known Congress(I) politician. He had died in 1984. Had he been alive, he would have never allowed me to go to Pakistan. My brother also begged me not to leave, but I was just not willing to listen.

IN April 1990, I returned to India, and was appointed the district commander of the SLF for the Baramulla area. I led the organisation in north Kashmir until I was arrested in February 1992. I spent 26 days in jail until I was released in exchange for four civilian hostages that my organisation had taken. But by this time my feelings about our struggle had begun to change. India, it was clear, was not about to pack its bags and leave Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan was not going to go to war, as it had promised us. All that was happening was that Kashmiri was killing Kashmiri. Brother was against sister, mother against son, each against all.

But the fact was, there was nowhere to turn to. I built up a quiet relationship with some people in the security forces, hoping that someday we could find peaceful means to resolve our differences and stop the bloodshed. It was, however, impossible for me to act on the thoughts I had. However, a lot of people within the organisation were beginning to feel the same way. Many of the cadre used to complain that while they were getting killed, our leaders, Hilal Ahmad Baig and Sajjad Keno, were safely sitting at the headquarters in Pakistan. That is when Hilal started sending me faxes, and messages through couriers, saying something very big was being planned.

I came to know what that 'very big thing' was soon enough. About a month or so after the serial bombing in Mumbai, in April 1993, I received orders to meet Hilal in Dhaka, and then proceed to base headquarters. There were several issues that had to be sorted out, not the least of which being the running of our new organisation, the Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen, which we had set up following disputes with the Jammu and Kashmir Students' Liberation Front. I reached Bangladesh, having travelled through Calcutta and the Jessore border, and stayed with Hilal at the Zakaria Hotel in Dhaka. We had tickets to travel to Karachi, through Kathmandu and Bangkok.

Our luck was bad, and we ended up in trouble - or, more precisely, a jail in Dhaka. My passport, made through a sympathiser in Hyderabad, attracted too much attention, as did the documents carried by Hilal and three Pakistani associates who were supposed to travel with us. To make things worse, Hilal was carrying some $40,000 in cash. But Pakistan intelligence came to our aid, through a friend they had in the local police's Special Branch. In return for Rs.2 lakhs, he agreed to ensure our release, and also gave us fresh Bangladesh passports. The officer told us to leave as soon as possible, in case Indian authorities came to know of the affair and pressured the Bangladesh government to repatriate us.

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In the end, we left straight for Karachi, flying business class on Emirates, I think it was! It was during the days before this flight that Hilal told me what he had been up to. Ibrahim Abdul Razzak Memon, the man they call "Tiger", had been put in contact with him by the ISI in early 1993. Our infrastructure had been used to train his men for a series of eight bombings, all of which were to have been carried out that Ramzan. But things went wrong, for one reason or the other, and only the Mumbai hit could be carried out. Now, it seemed, Tiger had big plans for joint actions throughout India. The idea was that with such actions they would hit India where it really hurt, rather than just continue the pointless war in Jammu and Kashmir.

My main job was to raise funds for the Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen, and to liaise with senior politicians and bureaucrats in Pakistan who could help our cause. As the representative of the organisation on the Jihad Council, I used to receive Rs.7 lakhs to 8 lakhs from the ISI on the basis of our performance in executing bombings and attacks on the security forces. These funds were routed through what was called the Refugee Management Cell, which was in fact headed by a 'retired' Colonel-rank ISI officer. Within a few months we had added covert facilities in Singapore, Bangkok, Dhaka and Kathmandu to our two offices at Rawalpindi and Muzaffarabad. With the funds, we also managed to expand our Muzaffarabad office, buy a couple of new vehicles for it and add a small home gymnasium so the members of the office staff could keep themselves fit. The flow of funds to our units within Jammu and Kashmir also increased.

TIGER first came to our office in August or September 1993. Hilal had phoned ahead to tell me to expect a special guest, and we had laid out a lavish lunch for him. I had seen photographs of Tiger, but he had slimmed down considerably - the result, he said, of working out regularly. He was delighted to see the home gym, and spent some time jogging on the treadmill. When he heard I had trained as a boxer, at Amar Singh College in Srinagar in 1983-1984, he insisted on a short sparring bout. I'm afraid it didn't last very long - I hit him a bit harder than I ought to have - but our bonding survived the match!

At the end of that year, Tiger returned to Muzaffarabad, this time to play out what in my view was a ridiculous scam. There was some world pressure on Pakistan to extradite Tiger, and someone in the ISI had thought up a scheme to show he was still in India. We videotaped a mock press conference in the Muzaffarabad safehouse, and sent it to Srinagar where our cadre distributed the tape and let it be known that the meeting was held at Hazratbal. We also took some still photographs. We had enough sympathisers to sell the story in Jammu and Kashmir, and it created a minor furore. The truth, however, soon becomes known, and no one was fooled for very long.

Because of our regular interaction, Tiger and I became fairly close. He was living in style at the time, and told me he had been given a fantastic house in Karachi, along with some Rs.1.5 crore in cash to start a business. He had three cars, one of them a very nice Toyota that all of us used to eye at the office! But bad times were soon upon him. His brother, Yakub, returned to India in July 1994, fed up with his life in Pakistan. Yakub had nothing to do with the serial bombings, and his biggest mistake was leaving his businesses and assets in Mumbai. I suppose his family felt the same way, too.

The ISI thought, probably correctly, that Tiger had a hand in getting Yakub to leave for India and in arranging his escape. Things became pretty bad for Tiger, at least for a while. His cars were withdrawn, and his cash inflow stopped. At one point he disappeared to Peshawar, and then hid out in Dubai. He knew, however, that there was nowhere safe for him to go. He soon returned to Pakistan. He was a slave of the ISI, and that was that. It was a terrible blow to the man. His decision to carry the serial bombings was impulsive, an act of revenge against the communal riots of 1992-1993. I do not think that he ever believed that he would spend the rest of his life as a hunted man.

I met Tiger for dinner one last time before I returned to India, through Kathmandu, in January 1995. It was a quiet evening, barring my delight on seeing Wasim Akram sitting a few tables away. Tiger was back in business by then, but I could not help but sense he was unhappy with the way things had gone. I knew he was in the midst of negotiations with my superiors, Hilal and Sajjad Keno, to set up the Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front (JKIF). Tiger was to provide the JKIF with safehouses and guides in Nepal and Gujarat through his network, enabling them to operate securely in northern and western India.

Things never really worked for the group. Sajjad and Hilal were forced to return to India, to pacify their cadre, who demanded to know why they were not risking their own lives. Sajjad was arrested in early 1995. He escaped from jail that June and was killed by the Jammu and Kashmir Police Special Operations Group (SOG) in January 8, 1996. Hilal died not much later at the SOG's hands, in July 1996. Bilal Baig, our overall boss, is still in Pakistan, but is too incompetent to run the organisation in an effective way. I tried to persuade Hilal to take the same path I had by then taken, but he just wouldn't listen. He had travelled too far down one road, and was too tired to make the journey back.

I had told Tiger my own reasons for returning to India at that last dinner we had together in January. One big reason was Sardar Abdul Qayoom, the senior politician who is now on General Pervez Musharraf's Kashmir Committee. He had just come back from a conference in Casablanca on the conflict, where he had crossed swords with Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah. In private, Qayoom was blunt with us. "I thought you Kashmiris are supposed to be clever," he said, "but I've never seen a bigger bunch of idiots. You've set your house on fire to help your neighbour. Save yourself, and your people if we can." Another person who told me more or less the same thing was a senior ISI officer Colonel Asad Durrani, who, ironically, had helped start the Jammu and Kashmir campaign in General Zia-ul-Haq's time.

Just before I left for India, there was a ferocious showdown over the course of events, with an ISI officer whom we knew as General Liaqat Ali. I was then the vice-chairman of the council of 15 groups active in Jammu and Kashmir. At a meeting in Rawalpindi, I asked him point- blank what Pakistan wanted to do about this aimless war of attrition. He replied that our job was to prick India just enough to make it bleed, but not enough to make it bite back. I became very angry, since we were the ones who were doing the bleeding, not India. Nine of us walked out, and came back only after a great deal of persuasion. I now knew that we were fighting a war for Pakistan, not for Jammu and Kashmir. I just wish that more of the nine people who were with me that day had the courage to take the course I have taken.

But of the future, who knows? Abdul Majid Dar is making some efforts to bring about some change in the Hizbul Mujahideen. The Hurriyat's Abdul Ghani Lone, I know, is committed to peace. I worked with him for many years, and I know where his heart lies.

As for me, I have other things on my mind. While I was in Dhaka, a student asked me where my village, Groora, was. "Don't you know," I joked, "it's the greatest tourist country of the world!''

It's heading that way. We've planted trees over 30,000 kanals of land, for which each person in the village pays Rs.10 a month. We have ducks and even bear in the area now. I've spent Rs.20 lakhs on a school for the area's children. In the next election, I'm going to tell the people I can't solve the Kashmir dispute, but I can make a difference to their lives. After these years of pain and bloodshed, I think that is more important than anything else.

A question of confidence

India insists that Pakistan act convincingly to check the infiltration of terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir before asking it to ease the military build-up on the border.

ALTHOUGH the war clouds over the subcontinent have receded, the armies of India and Pakistan are still in position along the border. Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf recently characterised the continued deployment of Indian troops as "brinkmanship at its most dangerous". Speaking in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) on the occasion of "Kashmir Day" in early February, he said the Indian side had not reciprocated to the Pakistani efforts at rapprochement. He accused India of adopting a "very cynical" attitude even after he launched a crackdown on the Pakistan-based militant groups blamed by India for terrorist activities on its soil.

In January, Musharraf offered to hold talks for a phased withdrawal of troops in order to defuse the tension. New Delhi rejected the offer, saying that meaningful talks could only be held after Pakistan curbed cross-border terrorism and took action on "the list of 20". Musharraf called upon "influential countries" to prevail upon India as bilateralism had failed to ease its confrontational posture. At the same time, he also reiterated the Pakistani position that the Kashmiri struggle was legitimate and the groups fighting in the State had the backing of the Pakistani people.

The General's strong defence of the groups engaged in the freedom struggle in Kashmir evoked strong reactions in Delhi. The External Affairs Ministry spokesperson said that Pakistan was reverting to "yesterday's cliches". The official stated that the President's observations on Kashmir amounted to an interference in the internal affairs of India. A statement issued by the Foreign Office said that Musharraf had turned the clock back by restating "time-worn and untenable positions on terrorism". Indian officials say that his undue focus on the Kashmiri struggle has made them doubt his bona fides and his pledge on curbing terrorism. However, there are reports that despite the tough tenor of Musharraf's speech, Islamabad had started cracking down on militant groups.

Musharraf's speech came in handy for Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee during his election campaign. Addressing a rally in Punjab, he said that Pakistan would not be able to get hold of Kashmir by observing "Kashmir Day". He stressed that India wanted to resolve the Kashmir issue peacefully but insisted that it was up to Pakistan to foster a congenial atmosphere for talks. Vajpayee reiterated the government's stand that the troops would stay deployed as long as Pakistan continued to sponsor cross-border terrorism.

India's seeming reluctance to resume the dialogue process and start de-escalation along the border is viewed with a degree of concern by the international community, with the notable exception of Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov were in New Delhi in early February. Ivanov, concurred with India's assessment of the situation in the subcontinent. In a joint statement issued after talks between Ivanov and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, both sides condemned the "continued acts of cross-border terrorism against India". It said that "these activities from Pakistan and the territory controlled by it, must cease completely". Referring to Musharraf's assertions that concrete steps have been taken by him to curb terrorism, the statement said that such claims "can only be judged by the concrete action Pakistan takes on the ground". Both sides called for an end to the "continued terrorist violence in Jammu and Kashmir as also in other parts of India". They also called for "sustained and irreversible steps" so that an environment conducive to the resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan can be created.

The statement added that the two countries should negotiate bilaterally in accordance with the Simla Agreement. It recommended that future talks between India and Pakistan should be based on the composite dialogue revolving round the eight points agreed upon at Lahore in 1999.

Ilya Klebanov told mediapersons in New Delhi that his country agreed with the Indian demand that Pakistan do something on the ground to display its sincerity.

Washington, on the other hand, apparently wants New Delhi to take steps to de-escalate the military situation. George Tenet, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), testified before an open session of the U.S. Senate's Intelligence Committee in February, that once India and Pakistan launched a conventional war it could escalate into a nuclear confrontation. The West has now found it convenient to raise the nuclear bogey to pressure New Delhi to withdraw its troops. Pressure from Washington may have been one reason why New Delhi and Moscow chose to downplay stories about the proposed sale of nuclear-powered Russian submarines to the Indian Navy. The Russian media had reported that negotiations were at an advanced stage with India for the sale or leasing of two nuclear submarines. It is an open secret that India is keen on acquiring nuclear-powered submarines to give its nuclear deterrence capability more credibility. However, Defence Minister George Fernandes denied that the Navy planned to purchase such submarines.

The international community is generally of the opinion that Pakistan is trying to curb the infiltration of terrorists into Kashmir. India seems to have signalled to the West that it would wait until the snows melt in March/April to come to a definite conclusion about the level of infiltration.

Western diplomats feel that both New Delhi and Islamabad, by conducting their diplomacy in public, are undermining the chances for any meaningful concessions. "The big bang theory will not work," said a diplomat, referring to summits such as the one held in Agra in 2001. They feel that a feasible way out of the long standing logjam is to turn the de facto LoC into a de jure border, with a "minor compromise in geography", citing the Anglo-Irish agreement as an illustration. New Delhi, however, insists that there is no change in its position on the status of Jammu and Kashmir.

The arrest of Aftab Ansari

PRAVEEN SWAMI the-nation

A DAY after claiming credit for the January 22 attack on the American Centre building in central Kolkata, Aftab Ansari had booked himself on a flight to Islamabad. He arrived at the plush Dubai international airport along with his associate Raju Sharma, certain that the local police would, as ever, look the other way. But he was wrong. The top underworld figure and financier of terrorism spent three weeks in jail, hoping that he, like mafioso Abu Salem Ansari, would be quietly released. Instead, he was deported to India without his claims of being a Pakistan national being given a hearing, and without even the formalities of extradition proceedings.

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Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials who arrived in the United Arab Emirates on February 5 were, until the very last minute, nervous about just how their request for Ansari to be handed over would be dealt with. Last year, after the Dubai Police arrested Abu Salem, the UAE authorities dithered, then made requests for additional information, and finally ended up letting the mafioso leave on the basis of his Pakistani passport, issued under a pseudonym. This was of a piece with the UAE's record. India has for long sought in vain the extradition of over 40 Indian criminals, many of them alleged to be involved in terrorism-related crimes.

But the events of September 11 transformed the political situation in the UAE. For one, figures like the Emir of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayid bin Sultan an-Nahyan, were always uncomfortable with terrorists and mafia figures hiding out in the country. Other important sheikhs, notably Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid al-Makhtoum, saw Pakistan as a counterweight to Iran. This lobby triumphed in policy-making, helped not a little by India's own failure during the period of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to extradite Indian nationals wanted for acts of fraud in the UAE. Although the UAE did sign an extradition treaty in 1999, suspicions and policy concerns meant that it was not implemented with any level of seriousness.

Then came September 11. The UAE was the last among the three countries to join the group that recognised the Taliban, and was the first to sever ties with it. But the stigma remained, and the sheikhs realised that they would have to work hard to erase it. Then came stern warnings from Washington calling on Dubai to end the flourishing money laundering activities on its soil, followed, in January 2002, with a formal diplomatic demarche. And after Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller arrived in India and checked up on the events in Kolkata, Indian officials complained bitterly about the UAE. Mueller dropped by in the desert sheikhdom on his way back, and, diplomats say, put in a strong word or two supporting India's position.

In the wake of the Kolkata attack, Indian diplomats had engaged in extensive lobbying with the UAE authorities, making available detailed briefings on Ansari and his activities. Much of the information they had was already known. Ansari, who used the aliases of Aftab Ahmad and Farhan Malik, had met top Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Syed Omar Sheikh, who was released in the December 1999 IC-814 hostages-for-prisoners deal, while both were serving time in New Delhi's Tihar jail. After his release in November 1999, Ansari left for Rawalpindi on an Indian passport issued in the name of Farhan Malik, obtained through fraudulent and corrupt means in Nalanda, Bihar. He was issued a Pakistan passport, bearing the number J 872142, in the name of Safir Mohammad Rana, valid up to the year 2006. He also married a local woman whose brother, Mohammad Tahir, is serving time in Tihar for terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir. She, along with their daughter, lives in a twin-storey home near the Rawalpindi cantonment, with her parents running a pharmaceutical business on the ground floor. Ansari owns a house in Dubai as well.

Sheikh's Pakistan intelligence-facilitated deal with Ansari was a simple one. The Jaish would make its network in India available for Ansari's criminal operations, in return for a part of the money it made. Ansari would recruit cadre for training in Jaish and Lashkar-e-Toiba camps in Pakistan, who would serve both as foot-soldiers of his organised crime activities, and covert operatives for the jehadi groups. The Jaish leader, now wanted for the kidnapping of American journalist Daniel Pearl, is believed to have used funds raised from the abduction of Kolkata businessman Partha Roy Burman to pay Mohammad Atta, one of the suicide bombers who crushed a plane into the World Trade Centre. Burman was released after his family paid a Rs.3.75-crore ransom to Ansari through the hawala channel.

CBI officials say that Ansari has so far made available a considerable amount of detail on his associates, notably their e-mail addresses and telephone numbers. Interrogators are also seeking to establish the precise nature of his contacts with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, and the supply routes through which weapons were shipped in to his group. Asked whether it was the U.S. or the Kolkata Police that was Ansari's main target on January 22, CBI Joint Director Neeraj Kumar said that Ansari had three major motives: signalling that the death of his cadre would be avenged; letting his jehadi associates know that he shared their objectives; and emerging as a serious competitor to underworld top-gun Dawood Ibrahim. FBI officials, sources say, have also been asking for information on the funds that Ansari had transferred to Sheikh, and were then allegedly sent on to Atta.

Ministry of External Affairs officials reacted with delight to the UAE's decision to deport Ansari, and see it as a major turn-around with long-term consequences. That assessment remains to be tested, as it will soon be when India presses for the return of other terrorists and criminals who have found safe haven there. Just how effective U.S. pressure will be in terminating hawala enterprises, which after all are not just used by terrorists but the influential elites and middle classes of South Asia, remains to be seen. Interestingly, India itself has made no great progress in this direction, and new legislation which was to replace the supposedly-draconian Foreign Exchange Regulation Act has not yet been effectively implemented.

Perhaps the most interesting will be Pakistan's reaction. Having first accused India of a role in the Pearl kidnapping, Pakistan has been forced to admit that it was in fact carried out by Sheikh, who it first denied was on its soil, and then refused to extradite to India. The UAE's example will undoubtedly be used to pressure Pakistan to return at least Indian nationals wanted by New Delhi for terrorist crimes, such as Dawood Ibrahim and Abdul Razzak "Tiger" Memon. Just how it reacts could hold out valuable clues for the future of India-Pakistan relations.

In search of stimulus

As Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha readies Budget 2002, the weakening fundamentals of the financial system provide a standing reproach to the ongoing course of economic reforms.

WHETHER Union Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha permits himself to be bound by memories of the past is not clear. But as he enters the period of relative seclusion that is customary in the weeks before the Union Budget, he cannot fail to harbour rather bitter memories of last year. For the first time in four essays, he had then managed to obtain the unequivocal endorsement of business and industry and to dispel the impression that he was only plodding along in a groove that had been sunk by his two immediate predecessors. There was a great deal of talk of "second-generation reforms" that would go beyond tinkering with budgetary figures and rework the fundamentals of the economy. But with all the ambitious extra-budgetary measures that he promised last year - including in areas that the Union Cabinet was yet to reach agreement -Yashwant Sinha has managed to do little since.

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A 'growth oriented' budget is what the Finance Minister was exhorted to produce last year. And that, indeed, is what he was adjudged to have done for two days - certainly the briefest honeymoon in the markets ever enjoyed by a Finance Minister. As he now prepares for the effort at retrieval, he is confronted with the unpleasant realities. Industry is in a slough of gloom, perhaps its worst slowdown in a decade. And over a period that broadly coincides with his tenure, overall economic growth performance has perhaps been the worst since the late-1970s.

For reasons that have never been very clear, the stock markets have in recent times begun to be acknowledged as a barometer of wider economic health. But the malaise that seemed to afflict the markets in the immediate aftermath of last year's Budget has since become generalised.

Yashwant Sinha has often given expression to his intention to boost government spending in a bid to impart a stimulus to the economy, unmindful of the consequences for the fiscal deficit. In this respect, he has shown a willingness to go beyond the orthodoxy of the last decade of reforms, which seemed to put fiscal deficit as the singular variable to target. Where he has been found wanting is in summoning the means to back up his verbal concession that there could be objectives that could take precedence over the fiscal deficit.

In February 2001, the Union government had sought to prepare a favourable environment for the Budget by announcing the privatisation of Bharat Aluminium Co (Balco) in a strategic sale that fetched it just over Rs. 550 crores (Frontline, April 27. 2001). This kicked up a controversy because of the opaque manner in which it was pursued. But the government's intention was clear. After years of ambitious targets and modest achievements from disinvestment of public sector equity, 2001-02 was expected to mark a quantum leap. Signalling this new resolve, the disinvestment target for the year was fixed at Rs. 12,000 crores - representing, in the acerbic assessment of many Opposition politicians, a controversy every fortnight.

The following months of rather desultory performance seemed to indicate that the government, even if it was prepared for an unending cycle of controversy, really had few options on the disinvestment front. Valuation procedures remained contentious, and with share values being subdued and overall economic conditions gloomy, few prospective strategic partners seemed inclined to sink the large sums of money required to take substantial stakes in the public sector giants up for sale.

ON February 5, the logjam seemed to clear with dramatic effect, when Disinvestment Minister Arun Shourie announced the sale of the international telecommunications giant Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (VSNL), and the country's largest stand-alone retail distributor of petroleum products, Indo-Burma Petroleum (IBP Ltd). With the outright sale of a number of hotel properties also being announced, February 5 came to represent a windfall day, with over Rs. 2,500 crores accruing to government coffers.

Yet the reservations were quick to surface. First it was observed that the buyer of IBP was none other than another public sector petroleum company, Indian Oil Corporation Ltd (IOC). With a bid that was almost twice as high as the next competing bid, it seemed that IOC had merely been coaxed into offering an alternative route to transfer large sums from its cash surplus to the government. And with IOC now being proscribed from bidding for the next two petroleum sector disinvestments - in Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum - it is questionable how fruitful these would be.

The more chastening reality is that the proceeds from disinvestment will fall considerably short of target and then would still be inadequate to meet an unforeseen budgetary obligation in the next financial year. After many months of deliberate vagueness, the Unit Trust of India towards the end of December announced that the net asset value (NAV) of its once-popular US 64 scheme stood at Rs. 5.94 a unit. For a long while since the UTI admitted that it had contrived a massive deficit in its holdings owing to a sequence of injudicious stock investments, unit-holders had been placated with the assurance that the NAV would not fall below Rs. 8. They are now being held at bay with the assurance that the government will redeem holdings of up to 5,000 units at the rate of Rs.10.50. There are estimates that this bailout of UTI will impose a cost of Rs.7,000 crores on the government. How far Budget 2002 will provide for this operation is yet unclear. But the Finance Minister will not be able to evade at least a part of the burden.

This task is rendered more urgent by the strong whiff of malfeasance that surrounds the UTI. It has now been revealed that UTI borrowed Rs.6,500 crores early last year to fund a number of redemptions of its stricken US 64 scheme. Large corporate houses with substantial holdings in the scheme managed to cut their losses by redeeming these at Rs. 14. The UTI met these costs at least partly through the mammoth borrowing that it had contracted at an interest rate of 14 per cent.

UTI is, however, only the most visible symptom of the deep-seated crisis in the financial sector. For long buoyed by boom conditions in the stock market - which were themselves premised upon an artificially rosy prognosis of the course of economic reforms - the financial system today is creaking under the burden of a number of reckless exposures in sectors that are vulnerable on account of recessionary conditions. The number of public sector banks that are deemed financially weak is seven, as against three just three years back. The weakening fundamentals of the financial system are a standing reproach to the ongoing course of economic reforms. Not attending to this immediately could induce the large-scale desertion of the only constituency for economic reforms that the Finance Minister has.

If these expenditure commitments are called for merely to stabilise an economy that tends to teeter towards crisis, a number of others seem imperative to propel it on to a viable growth path. Massive investments in infrastructure and agriculture, for instance, seem indicated. Industry associations, alarmed by the precipitate decline in rural purchasing power, have called for a doubling of investment in irrigation and a substantial increase in outlays on rural employment and poverty alleviation programmes.

IT was once considered a feasible proposition to meet some of these additional obligations at least by downsizing government. Trimming payrolls and eliminating much of the workforce deemed surplus, it was held - despite visible evidence of gross under-provision of public services - could free much-needed resources for vital investments. In line with this belief the government on February 5 announced a voluntary retirement scheme for surplus staff. With seemingly generous provisions, the scheme is expected to cut payrolls by 50,000 in the next financial year and by up to 1.1 million over a period.

Even if the optimistic forecasts are met, the government would have to surmount a hump in the next few years when retirement benefits would have to be paid to surplus staff. Although the detailed projections have not been made, it is more than plausible that the savings in the initial years will be more than eroded by costs. There would, in other words, be no immediate stimulus for productive investment.

Other expenditure commitments - such as interest payments which account for 30 per cent of total expenditure and defence which amounts to 17 per cent, afford little flexibility for reduction - though for different reasons. Although subsidies have afforded a soft target over the last 10 years, no absolute reduction has been secured, though its share in the total may have shrunk at some political cost. A further effort to cut subsidies may be presaged by the recent decontrol of sugar and foodgrains. But pushing through the actual changes on the ground will involve serious political risks.

This leaves the option of raising revenues through taxation as the only feasible course that the Finance Minister can pursue. And he enters the fray with a rather shoddy track record. Over the decade of reforms, the Central government's tax revenues have shrunk as a proportion of GDP from well over 11 per cent to under 9 per cent. Within this adverse trend, there has been a sliver of a healthy movement with the share of direct taxes in total revenue growing at the expense of indirect taxes. But the administrative effort to improve tax compliance and widen the net has been conspicuously lacking, which only feeds the impression that between reiterations of the necessity of attending to this task in successive budgets, the Finance Ministry remains largely idle. And there is little prospect that Budget 2002 will induce any changes in that fairly robust summation of Yashwant Sinha's tenure in the Ministry - undistinguished in terms of ideas and lethargic in terms of action.

The churning in Uttar Pradesh

The temple factor essentially loses its fizz for the average BJP voter in Uttar Pradesh even as there is a consolidation of the Muslim vote to strengthen the prospects of the Samajwadi Party and the Congress.

GOING by the mood on the ground, if the Sangh Parivar thought it was helping the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, scheduled to be held on February 14, 18 and 21, by allowing the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to rake up the Ayodhya temple issue once again, it may be mistaken. The VHP's shrill rhetoric that the construction of the Ram temple would begin any day after March 12 seems to have achieved just the opposite result for the BJP. While it has failed to enthuse and unite Hindu voters in the name of the temple, it has certainly contributed a great deal towards the consolidation of the Muslim vote in favour of anyone who is capable of defeating the BJP and who, when in power, will ensure that the VHP's temple designs after March 12 are defeated. In this context, the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) stands to gain the most. However, the surprise development is that the Congress is back in the reckoning when it comes to the Muslim vote.

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Having narrowed down their option to the S.P. and the Congress, the Muslim voters have given the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) a thought only in those areas where its candidates are certain to defeat the official BJP candidate. Incidentally, the BSP has fielded 86 Muslim candidates, the S.P. 47, the Congress 52 and the BJP one. The BSP is down in the rating because the Muslim voters find its leader Mayawati to be "untrustworthy".

"Mayawati has proved to be unreliable. She joined hands with the BJP twice, even to form a government on a six-monthly basis. When we voted for her in the last two elections it was to oppose the BJP, but she insulted our sentiments and joined hands with the BJP. We will never support her again," said Aizaz Ahmad in the Ayodhya Assembly constituency, voicing the feelings of over a dozen Muslims seated with him in his grocery store.

"We have lost faith in the present government. It has failed to prove that it was serious about stopping the VHP if it pushed ahead with its temple programme. There is so much security at the disputed site, yet the VHP leaders went inside the prohibited area and offered puja. We can never forget that there was a BJP government in Lucknow when the masjid was demolished. Now we need someone in Lucknow who can decisively stop the VHP, and Mulayam Singh is the only person who has proved himself on that count. He stopped the kar sevaks in 1990, otherwise the Babri Masjid would have fallen then itself," he said.

I.M. Khan, who runs a pharmacy store in Faizabad, concurs with the view: "We will vote in such a way that this government cannot come back to power. We will vote for any candidate belonging either to the S.P. or the Congress who is in a better position to defeat the BJP."

Similar feelings were expressed by Col. (retd.) M.J. Shamsi, who heads the Internet section of Nadwa-tul-Ulema, an internationally known madrassa in Lucknow. (Shamsi, however, made it clear that he was not speaking on behalf of Nadwa, but in his personal capacity.)

According to Alam Khan, a Food Corporation of India employee in Unnao, although there is a wave in favour of the S.P. in most parts of the State, especially in the Unnao-Kanpur-Etah-Etawah belt, considered Mulayam Singh's stronghold, there is a softening of the attitude towards the Congress too. "We have realised that the Congress is the only party which has never mixed politics with religion. It is not in a position to form the government on its own. Still there are areas where the Congress candidates are strong. If they join hands with the S.P. later to form the government, we will not mind it," Khan said, recounting the popular sentiment in central U.P.

A tour of areas including Lucknow, Mohanlal Ganj, Rae Bareli, Sultanpur, Barabanki, Faizabad, Ayodhya, Unnao and Kanpur in central and eastern U.P. revealed that for the average BJP voter, development issues and the image of the candidate, irrespective of the party she or he represents, are the deciding factors. For the non-BJP voter, especially the Muslim voter whose vote can prove decisive in the majority of seats in the region, what is uppermost in their minds is whether the party that is elected to power will be able to establish the rule of law, whether it will be able to stop the VHP's Ayodhya campaign, and whether it will be able to establish the supremacy of the Constitution and Supreme Court.

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The BJP's pet issues of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance and national security have lost their appeal among the voters. The voter has also realised that it is possible that his vote is not going to deliver a clear verdict and that no party will form the government on its own.

"We will vote for the candidate who has worked for the area. Whether the temple is built or not, we do not care," said Pappu Singh in Harha Assembly constituency in Unnao district. Although for voters like him the BJP as a party has failed to deliver the goods, its candidate, Dr. Ganga Bux Singh, would win hands down even if he had contested as an independent. "He has worked so much for the area. Besides, he is such a nice and helpful man. We would have voted for him even if he did not represent the BJP," Pappu Singh and his friends said.

Similarly, in Kanpur Cantonment constituency, Prem Narayan, Suresh and Abad Hussain expressed similar feelings for the BJP candidate, Satish Mahana. According to them, Mahana would win irrespective of which party fielded him. "We do not support the party (the BJP). It has failed on all counts. It has done nothing for us. It has taken us for a ride on the reservation issue, no jobs have come our way. It is a useless party. But Mahana is a nice man and we will not ditch him," Suresh declared.

The fact that it was the individual's image and his performance, and not the temple issue or the government's performance or terrorism, that mattered for the BJP voter was stated clearly by Dr. Banke Bihari Mani Tripathi, a BJP functionary in Faizabad. Speaking in favour of the BJP candidate from Ayodhya, Lallu Singh, he said he was certain to win because he had got work done even in areas that did not constitute his vote bank. "Temple is not an issue. Ultimately the voter will see whether the person he votes for will work for him or not," Banke Bihari said. The fact that the candidate's performance will prove decisive was even more evident in Mohanlal Ganj (reserved) constituency from where R.K. Chaudhary, who was expelled from the BSP, is contesting in alliance with the BJP. The fact that Chaudhary has done a lot of work in this area is cited as the only reason why people would vote for him. The BSP used to be considered invincible in this constituency owing to the presence of a predominant Dalit population. But this time the contest is mainly between Chaudhary and R.P. Saroj of the S.P. The BSP's Parideen Pasi is not in the reckoning.

THE revival in the Congress' fortunes was visible in most parts of the State which this correspondent visited. "Congress ka to fayeda hi fayeda hai (the Congress will stand to gain). It will certainly improve upon its past performance," said Alam Khan in Unnao district, saying that there is an upsurge of support for the Congress. This was evident in Rae Bareli and Sultanpur, considered Congress strongholds. (Rae Bareli was the constituency of Indira Gandhi.) But it was also clear that a lot depended on the candidate's image, notwithstanding the party's Nehru-Gandhi family aura. In Rae Bareli, for example, Congress candidate Akhilesh Singh's victory is seemingly a foregone conclusion because he enjoys much popular support. "We certainly have feelings for the "family". If anybody from the Indira Gandhi family had contested there would have been overwhelming support for him/her. It is a different matter altogether with Akhilesh Singh. The elections are being held only to announce his victory formally," declared Dinesh Chandra Dwivedi. Although it is clear that the Congress is not set to make any big electoral gains, the change in the voters' perception is visible. Even those who conceded that the Congress was in no position to form the government in Uttar Pradesh, ruefully admit that it is the only party that actually knew how to govern.

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Dr. Raj Dutt Pandey, a district-level functionary of the party in Faizabad, says the Congress would have been better placed if it had given the ticket in Ayodhya to a Brahmin instead of a Thakur. (Ashok Singh is the Congress nominee from Ayodhya.) The BJP's Lallu Singh has an edge in the constituency because the substantial number of Brahmin voters have no choice but to vote for him. The politics of caste has gone against the Congress, says Pappu Singh, a supporter of Ganga Bux Singh in Harha, explaining why the Congress would not be in a position to form the government despite the improvement in its position.

The anti-incumbency factor is strong in U.P. Almost everyone who was spoken to was unanimous that the government had done nothing for the poor people. No work has been done anywhere. When there were kuchcha roads in villages one could at least walk on them, now in the name of building pucca roads, there are only potholes," said Alam Khan.

Pappu Singh says: "We do not know what a government is. We do not know what work it has done. There is nothing to be seen in the villages.''

Prem Narayan and Suresh in Kanpur Cantonment expressed similar feelings: "This is a useless government. Instead of giving jobs to people, it has snatched our means of employment," they said, referring to the closure of many industries in Kanpur in the name of pollution.

Caste loyalties are also pronounced in this round of elections in respect of parties such as the S.P. and the BSP, which are expected to get a massive chunk of Yadav and Dalit votes respectively. Another factor that has emerged is that Kalyan Singh's Rashtriya Kranti Party and Apna Dal, a Kurmi party, which have fielded candidates in over 330 seats each, could substantially damage the BJP's prospects. Yet it is also clear that this election will not yield a clear verdict.

A canal for campaign

As political parties in Punjab and Haryana bicker over the Sutlej-Yamuna canal, the people of both the States show a weary disinterest in what they appear to consider a non-issue.

LAWYERS, it seems, are celebrating the campaign for the February 13 Assembly elections in Punjab. Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal is suing Congress president Sonia Gandhi and State Congress chief Amarinder Singh for defamation. Badal and his son Sukhbir Badal have asked for damages of Rs.5 crores, and made their seriousness known by paying Rs.4,90,350 as court fees at a Chandigarh magistrate's court on February 8. Meanwhile, Pratap Singh Chautala, son of former Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal, has moved the Supreme Court accusing Badal of contempt of court.

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This explosion of litigation is the consequence of the January 15 Supreme Court order, which demanded that Punjab complete the construction of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal within the next 12 months. Shortly after the judgment was delivered, the State Congress put out videotapes and posters that charged Badal with having sold Punjab's interests in return for a 22-acre, Rs.500-crore property at Gurgaon in Haryana. While the Badal family does own this property, which was granted by the Haryana government to construct a hotel complex, it denies that it has anything to do with the SYL canal. With his political career on the line, Badal told party workers at Kurali on January 16 that he would "not implement the court order at any cost. Not a drop of water will be given to anyone even if we have to go to jail".

In Haryana, where the SYL canal issue provokes as much irrational sentiment as it does in Punjab, politicians reacted to Badal's assertion with outrage. The Supreme Court has scheduled the hearings of Chautala's contempt petition, and on the face of it it appears that the Punjab Chief Minister is going to have difficulty explaining his position. But irrespective of whether Badal is re-elected or Amarinder Singh becomes Chief Minister, the State government is determined to seek a review of the January 15 order. It believes that the Supreme Court exceeded its jurisdiction when it issued this order. According to section 11 of the 1956 Inter State Water Disputes Act, "neither the Supreme Court nor any other court shall have or exercise jurisdiction in respect of any water dispute'' of this kind.

An appeal will mean complicated legal battles, which is another reason why lawyers should be happy about the way the election campaign has progressed. What is interesting, however, is that the political affray on the SYL issue has not provoked any real public passion. Part of the reason for this may be that all political parties in Punjab, as in Haryana, agree on the issue. Even the Bharatiya Janata Party unit in Punjab, in a remarkable turnaround on its traditional position, declared on January 29 full support to Badal on the issue. But it may also be that ordinary people see the controversy as part of Punjab's ugly decade of violence, an issue that does not deserve to be centre-stage in the State's political life. No canal has caused so much bloodshed, and few people seem interested in revisiting its awful past.

WHAT then is the SYL canal issue all about? In 1960, India and Pakistan signed the Indus Waters Treaty, which reserved the waters of the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutlej exclusively for India. Six years later, however, the State of Punjab was reorganised, and the new State of Haryana claimed a share of the waters. In 1976, the Union government announced that both States would receive 3.5 million acre-feet (maf) of water from the available annual flow of 15.2 maf. Although Badal had begun the construction of the canal during his first term in 1978, Punjab felt short-changed, and moved the Supreme Court. Haryana also went to court demanding implementation of the Union notification. Five years later, Congress(I) Chief Ministers Darbara Singh and Bhajan Lal of Punjab and Harayana respectively arrived at a fresh agreement. This time the new flow data that were used pegged the water availability at 17.17 maf. This gain enabled a generous redistribution to all the States, with Punjab getting 4.22 maf, Haryana 3.50 maf, Rajasthan 8 maf and Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi 0.20 maf each.

On the streets, however, the issue was acquiring an increasingly ugly form. Politicians of the Sikh Right, who deemed the struggle against the SYL canal a dharma yuddh (holy war), declared that Punjab was being robbed of its waters by a predatory, Hindu-dominated State. Others suggested that international riparian laws ought to apply to the dispute, which would mean that only Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab could lay claim to the waters of the Sutlej, the Ravi and the Beas. When Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Akali Dal leader Harchand Singh Longowal arrived at their historic Punjab accord of July 1985, Clause 9 of the document acknowledged these resentments and agreed to set up a tribunal headed by a retired Supreme Court Judge to settle the issue. The accord also stated that the SYL canal would be completed by August 15, 1986, allowing Haryana and other downstream users to utilize whatever share of water the tribunal would eventually allot them. There was one caveat: that Punjab farmers would get no less than their current usage levels.

Justice V. Balakrishna Eradi began the hearings, and the government of Surjit Singh Barnala resumed construction of the SYL canal. Justice Eradi discovered that the use of Ravi-Beas water by farmers in the three States totalled 9.711 maf. Haryana accounted for 1.620 maf and Rajasthan for 4.985 maf, while Punjab took up 3.106 maf, including the 0.352 maf that Rajasthan could not utilise. This left some 6.6 maf of surplus water to be divided between the two warring States. Justice Eradi made an interim award, giving Punjab 5.00 maf and Haryana 3.83 maf. The numbers, obviously, did not add up. The difference between the 6.6 maf actually available, and the 8.83 maf that Eradi handed out was a creative fiction. The water below the rim stations of the Ravi and the Beas, the lowest points at which flow data were recorded, made up the difference. Punjab correctly pointed out that this water was useless, for the simple reason that no dams or barrages could be built along the Pakistan border to store it.

Subsequent developments made it clear just why the Tribunal had acted in the curious way it did. Senior engineers and workers of the SYL canal were killed by terrorists. In July 1988, Justice Eradi adjourned the Tribunal because of the violence in the State. It was obvious that Punjab received 0.78 maf more than it had in 1981, and Haryana 0.33 maf more than it had agreed to then, to placate their respective fundamentalists. Work on the canal came to a halt, with a length of just a few kilometres remaining to be built, which engineers estimate involves just a few months' work. A mammoth SYL bureaucracy continues to be paid for, even as much of the canal works have degenerated. One abusive exchange on the issue took place in 1994 and involved two Congress(I) Chief Ministers, Bhajan Lal and Beant Singh. After Justice Eradi resumed hearings in November 1997, on Supreme Court orders, the two BJP allies, Badal and Bansi Lal of Harayana, clashed again.

JUSTICE ERADI dealt with the tremendous pressures upon him in the safest possible way: he did nothing. That incensed the Haryana government, which went back to the Supreme Court. Justice Eradi earned an unprecedented ticking off from his former colleagues, but it is hard to see what else he could have done under the given circumstances. With both Punjab and Haryana intractable, and their politicians having turned the issue into a test of manhood, any serious award would have been greeted with outrage in one State or the other. Indeed, it will be fascinating to watch the progress of the contempt litigation against Badal. The fact is that no Punjab Chief Minister is likely to take his political life in his hands by starting work on the SYL canal, Supreme Court or no Supreme Court. A bruising confrontation between the court and the State Assembly could well be in the offing.

In some key senses, the entire SYL furore is exceptional for its senselessness. Shortages of irrigation water in Punjab and Haryana are the consequences not of SYL canal water or the lack of it, but of poor infrastructure and planning. Canals in both States routinely record transmission and distribution losses of over 30 per cent because of poor or non-existent lining. Water-logging caused by leaking canals is a serious problem in many areas, as is excessive groundwater depletion in others. Another major culprit was the massive switch-over to profitable paddy cultivation, which consumes large amounts of water, in both States. Now, with southern and eastern States having improved their production, Punjab and Haryana are both saddled with enormous stocks of paddy that cannot be disposed of. The fuss, then, is driven not by a concern for farmers, but by a concern for votes.

So far at least, the public are not biting. Loud claims by politicians that they are protecting Punjab from ruin have been greeted with weary cynicism. In most constituencies, the vital issues are not those of the supposed prestige or honour of the State, but development, unemployment and corruption. The far-Right Panthic Morcha's efforts to cash in on the SYL canal issue have not resulted even in a cross-party meeting so far, let alone rallies on the streets. Interestingly, other efforts by the Sikh Right to cash in on the issues of a decade ago also seem to have failed.

A disgraceful official order to distribute Rs.1 lakh to each of the 366 prisoners held in Jodhpur on Khalistan-related charges has won the censure of the Election Commission and little support from ordinary people. Earlier, the State government had reinstated two police officers allegedly involved in an attempt to assassinate former Director-General of Police Julio F. Ribeiro, even though the courts had upheld their removal from service.

In 1992, just one, still-unnamed person voted in the village of Panjwar, near Amritsar. And with good reason. The village is home to Khalistan Commando Force (KCF) chief Paramjit Singh Panjwar, one of the 20 terrorists whose extradition India has sought from Pakistan. The KCF had then ordered an election boycott, which resulted in not just the voters but also the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) staying away from elections. Panjwar's 88-year-old father, Arjun Singh, and his brother Sarabjeet Singh, had fled the village at the time, fearing police harassment. Now, both say they intend to play an active role in the elections. As in much of the district, banners and posters of both the SAD and the Congress(I) are visible through the village, and most people believe that the contest between the Congress(I)'s Surinder Singh Kairon and the SAD's Ranjit Singh Bhrampura will be an energetic one.

Punjab's people have put the past behind them. Their politicians, however, just do not seem to be getting the message.

A wave of discontent

In Uttaranchal, the Congress seems set to capitalise on the Bharatiya Janata Party government's non-performance.

IF the general public perception and mood are any guide, the Bharatiya Janata Party is in serious trouble in Uttaranchal, which will have its first Assembly polls on February 14. The public mood is decidedly against the ruling party and is veering towards the Congress, which the hill people had dumped in electoral terms in 1989 and ignored since then. The reasons for this change are not far to seek. Non-performance by the BJP government, which took the reins after the creation of the State over a year ago, has left people thoroughly disappointed.

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In village after village it is the same story - incompetence and corruption of and non-performance by BJP functionaries and government officials. "We rejected the Congress in favour of the BJP in 1989 because the Congress stand on the creation of a new State was ambiguous. We wholeheartedly supported the BJP, but what have we got in return? Only promises that have not been fulfilled, not even when there was the chance to fulfil them," said R.S. Rawat from Pauri Garhwal, who was until recently a government official. He resigned from service because he was disappointed with the BJP government and its policies and joined the Congress. "We were fooled by the BJP from 1989 to 2002. Now is the time for us to settle scores," he said, even as those surrounding him nodded in agreement.

Khajan Singh's dhaba at Lal Tibba in the snow-bound Nagrasu village near Mussoorie has a poster showing Congress president Sonia Gandhi, hands folded in a namaste, and her daughter Priyanka Vadra, cheerily waving. The poster symbolises the change of mood. Said Khajan Singh: "This government has done nothing for us, now our hope is on the Congress. The Congress has done something for us in the past." He claimed that in his part of the State at least a dozen villages had unanimously decided to vote the Congress.

In 25 villages in Tehri district people are totally against the BJP and have decided to vote the Congress. "The BJP will be routed in this area," said Ram Singh of Lundour village near Mussoorie. He belongs to the growing number of educated unemployed in the State, who have lost hope of getting relief from this government. The only son of poor parents, Ram Singh has an M.A. degree but has been unemployed for the last four years. His father, a farmer, is a broken man now. He had to curtail the education of his three daughters so that the son could get a decent higher education and become a "bada officer". Ram Singh now works as a photographer to make ends meet; he takes pictures of tourists and treks miles to deliver them.

Writer Ruskin Bond, who has made Mussoorie his home, felt that if meeting people's aspirations was a yardstick of success, then this government was a miserable failure. "This government has not worked for the people. The people are unhappy with it. They have struggled to see the creation of their own State and, obviously, they had aspirations, which have been ignored by the government," he said, confessing that being an apolitical person he was unable to say which party the people would vote for.

THE Congress seems to have judged the people's mood right and is harping on the government's failure to get a special package for the State despite there being a BJP-led government at the Centre. Besides, realising that over 50 per cent of the State's population is associated, directly or indirectly, with the defence forces, the party is highlighting the coffin controversy, the questionable defence procurements at the time of the Kargil war, and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government's wishy-washy stand on these scams as exemplified by the re-induction of George Fernandes as Defence Minister. These points have acquired emotive overtones in the hills and could prove decisive.

The BJP, taking into account the public anger against the non-performance of its government, shifted the focus of its campaign from the government's achievements to the role the party played in the creation of the State. "Our slogan now is: 'We have given you the State, we will give you good governance too,' " said Devendra Bhasin, the BJP spokesman in Dehra Dun. "We will make the people realise that it is only the BJP that genuinely wants development in the State." Six 'video chariots', three each for Garhwal and Kumaon, took this message to all parts of the State.

The campaigning by party stalwarts, including Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Home Minister, L.K. Advani, Human Resource Development Minister M.M. Joshi, and party president Jana Krishnamurthy, was made tougher by the presence of around 20 rebels, including two Ministers and a Mandi Parishad chairman. The party expelled 18 rebels from its primary membership and warned the others of action. The focus of the rebels' campaign was on the corruption, incompetence and non-performance of the government. The BJP spokesman, who dismissed these charges, said: "The people supported them because they contested on the BJP platform. On their own they can become nothing. Like Kalyan Singh, they, too, will have no political significance." However, in constituencies like Dhanoulti, Rishikesh and Laxmanchowk, people spoke highly of the individual worth of the rebels in their areas and said that they would vote for the individual rather than the party.

Compounding the BJP's problems are its allies, who are contesting more than a dozen seats on their own in various parts of the State. The Lok Jan Shakti of Ram Vilas Paswan, the Shakti Dal of Maneka Gandhi, and the Janata Dal(U) of Sharad Yadav have all fielded nominees against BJP candidates. Though none of these parties has a substantial base in the State, they can damage the BJP's prospects. Though the BJP spokesman does not attach any significance to the presence of the party's allies in the contest, the fact is that it has punctured its claim that only the BJP was capable of taking allies along and giving a stable government.

The Congress, realising that it could gain from the BJP's predicament, roped in all its Chief Ministers for an all-out campaign. Thus, telling the voters how a Congress government meant all-round development were Digvijay Singh of Madhya Pradesh, Ajit Jogi of Chhattisgarh, Ashok Gehlot of Rajasthan and Sheila Dixit of Delhi. But the star campaigner was Sonia Gandhi, and Congress strategists took care to ensure that she addressed an equal number of meetings in Garhwal and Kumaon regions, keeping in view the people's sensitivity of these issues.

"The response to Soniaji has been tremendous. We have sensed a positive swing in our favour all over the State. We are sure of forming the government with no fewer than 45 seats," said Dhirendra Pratap, general secretary and chief media coordinator of the State Congress. He was confident that the anti-incumbency factor and a definite wave in favour of the Congress would carry the party back to power in the State. "Even in constituencies like Kuffkot, Laxmanchaowk and Dehrakhas, where BJP stalwarts such as Chief Minister Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, former Chief Minister Nityanand Swami and senior leader Harbans Kapoor respectively are contesting, the results will be shocking," said Pratap. He added that Kuffkot, Koshiyari's constituency, had no primary health centre, power supply or roads. This was despite the fact that the BJP was a dominant force in the area for the last 13 years, he said.

However, for the Congress, too, it is going to be a long haul. It can reach the post only if it reaches the people. "We are doing door-to-door campaigning. The thrust is more on personal interaction," said Pratap. If the current trend persists, the Congress will stand to gain. It seems politics has come full circle in the hills.

Uncertain in Manipur

Each political party in the State is contesting the two-phase polls on its own, leaving scope for post-electoral alliances.

WITH every important political party in Manipur admitting that it will not be able to win an absolute majority in the two-phase Assembly polls scheduled for February 14 and 21, political prospects in the northeastern State, which has been under President's Rule since May 2001, remain uncertain. Since attaining statehood in 1972, Manipur has witnessed a change of government 18 times. The present round of Assembly elections is the State's ninth, the previous one having been held in February 2000.

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Politics in Manipur is characterised by the presence of a large number of political parties, frequent splits, horse-trading and non-cohesive coalitions. Two new political parties, the Democratic People's Party (DPP) and the Manipur People's Conference (MPC), emerged during the latest spell of President's Rule, taking the total number of political parties in the State to 16. Political instability has been a feature of the State since the 1984 polls, when the Congress(I) was forced to seek the help of independents to form the government despite winning half the seats in the 60-member Assembly. Defection is common, even though several legislators have been suspended for violating the anti-defection law. In 1997, a group of Ministers and legislators, led by former Speaker Wahengbam Nipamacha, broke away from the ruling Congress(I) headed by Rishang Keishing and floated the Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP), which subsequently formed the next government.

This time around, the leaders of most parties have said that they are averse to pre-poll alliances and seat-sharing talks. They would rather wait until the results are declared before entering into any kind of alliance. This implies the inevitability of another coalition government. Such a coalition of convenience may not survive a full term, going by the track record of the various coalitions that have ruled Manipur.

With each party fighting independently, there will be multi-cornered contests in all the constituencies - 40 in the valley and 20 in the hills. Polling will be held on February 14 in the valley and on February 21 in the hills.

After the 2000 elections, the MSCP, which won 29 seats, instigated defections. Nine MLAs from the Opposition, including the Manipur People's Party (MPP) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), joined it. Thus Nipamacha formed a Ministry in coalition with the Federal Party of Manipur (FPM), which won six seats. But the government was wobbly from Day One.

The MSCP-FPM government did not last more than a year. Nipamacha resigned in February 2001, paving the way for a new coalition government headed by Samata Party leader Radhabinode Koijam. The Samata Party, which only won one seat in the last elections, had increased its strength to 12 after 10 of the 11 Congress(I) MLAs, under the leadership of Congress(I) Legislature Party leader Koijam, joined it. Koijam was supported by all Opposition MLAs except the lone Congress(I) legislator, Rishang Keishing. Although the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Samata Party are partners in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre, the BJP with six MLAs did not join the Koijam government. Instead, it supported the government from the outside.

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Meanwhile the MSCP faced a split, following a bout of infighting between Nipamacha and Th. Chaoba, a former Union Minister. The group led by Chaoba was recognised as the real MSCP as per a High Court order. Nipamacha then formed the Manipur National Conference (MNC). (He is contesting this time from his home constituency of Wangoi.) As a result of the internal bickering, 18 MSCP MLAs joined the BJP. Later the total strength of the BJP became 26 when two more MLAs from the FPM joined it.

A fresh crisis soon surfaced, with the BJP wanting to join the government of the Samata Party on condition that the new coalition government would be led by the BJP and that Koijam step down as Chief Minister in favour of BJP leader R.K. Dorendra. However, that was not acceptable to the State unit of the Samata Party. The issue was referred to the high commands of the two parties. But even the intervention of BJP leader L.K. Advani and Samata Party president George Fernandes could not resolve the crisis.

Koijam had then told Frontline that his party had offered the posts of the Deputy Chief Minister and the Speaker to the BJP and had requested it to allow the Samata Party to keep the post of the Chief Minister. This offer was turned down by the BJP. "There was also an offer to rotate the chief ministership between the two parties every two years. This was also rejected," Koijam said. The three-month-long Koijam government collapsed when BJP MLAs voted for a no-confidence motion against Koijam. Manipur was brought under President's Rule on June 3, 2001, but the option of exploring the possibility of forming a popular government remained open. The Assembly was kept in suspended animation.

Immediately after Koijam's fall, Dorendra and some other BJP legislators from the State rushed to Delhi to convince central leaders that the BJP was capable of forming an alternative government with the help of some regional parties. But the Samata Party did not take this step too kindly. The party's central leaders, particularly Fernandes, who is also the convener of the NDA, and Nitish Kumar, even threatened to pull out of the NDA if the BJP's central leaders succumbed to pressure from its Manipur unit. At one stage, the Samata Party also threatened to withdraw support to the BJP-led government in Jharkhand headed by Babulal Marandi. Finally, at a meeting of Samata Party and BJP leaders in Delhi in the presence of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Home Minister L.K. Advani it was decided that neither the BJP nor the Samata would be in the race for power in Manipur.

Meanwhile, a number of political formations came up, each claiming to have the required majority to form the government. Before sending his report to the Centre for the imposition of President's Rule, Governor Ved Prakash Marwah told mediapersons in Imphal that he had listened to the arguments of all political formations but none had been able to convince him fully. Hence, he said, he had recommended President's Rule.

SHORTLY after President's Rule was imposed, the State faced extreme unrest, following the agreement of June 14, 2001 between the Centre and the outlawed National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah) to extend a ceasefire beyond Nagaland to all Naga-inhabited areas in Manipur and other northeastern States. To Manipuris (or Meities), this agreement seemed like a step towards accepting the NSCN(I-M)'s demand for a "greater Nagaland". Mobs set fire to the State Assembly building, government offices and the houses of political leaders in Imphal and also in other parts of the State. However, peace was restored when the particular clause - ceasefire without territorial limit - in the agreement was dropped.

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Not surprisingly, the main campaign issue for all political parties in the coming elections is the protection of the territorial integrity of Manipur. In fact, this has marginalised all other issues.

All 60 MLAs of the last Assembly are in the fray, but most of them do not represent the same parties that they did last time. While the Congress(I) is contesting all the 60 seats, the FPM has fielded 51 candidates, the BJP 48, the MSCP 43, the Samata Party 33 and the MPP 19.

In the face of threats from insurgent groups, no party has held big campaign rallies or invited its national leaders. Instead, they have organised small meetings at the local level. Stalwarts in the fray, apart from Rishang Keishing of the Congress(I) are Koijam (Samata Party), R.K. Dorendra (BJP), W. Nipamacha (MNC), former Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy (NCP), Leishangthem Chandramani, and Ch. Priyokumar (both of the FPM), Okhram Joy (MPP), former Minister of State H. Lokhon Singh and Bijoy Koijam (both of the MSCP).

A Governor's exit

Prabhat Kumar is forced to resign as the Governor of Jharkhand following certain revelations by an accused in a bribery case.

JHARKHAND Governor Prabhat Kumar resigned on January 31, after a prolonged phase of suspense. The action was a consequence of Flex Industries chairman and managing director Ashok Chaturvedi's confession to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that he had paid for three parties hosted at the official residence of Kumar in New Delhi between March 1999 and July 2000 when he was Cabinet Secretary.

The CBI arrested Chaturvedi, his employee John and the Chief Commissioner of Central Excise (Delhi Zone), Someshwar Mishra, on November 7 last, following a tip-off. Mishra was caught allegedly accepting Rs.5 lakhs. The CBI seized another Rs.5 lakhs from a vehicle registered in the name of Flex Industries, parked at Mishra's office premises. The CBI then searched Mishra's home and seized Rs.2.12 lakhs in cash and receipts of fixed deposits worth Rs.6.5 lakhs. It also found that Mishra used a car registered in the name of Chaturvedi. Chaturvedi was alleged to have acted as a middleman between Mishra and the manufacturers of a leading brand of pan masala, for whom Flex Industries supplied pouches.

CBI sources alleged that it was at the behest of Chaturvedi that Mishra decided to remove the Preventive Wing teams that had been posted in several divisions to check excise duty evasion and the free movement of goods. It is alleged that the pan masala industry, which stood to benefit from this decision, paid large sums of money to Mishra and Chaturvedi. Also, at Chaturvedi's intervention, Mishra allegedly dropped an appeal against a tobacco company for under-assessment of excise duty.

Chaturvedi, John and Mishra are now out on bail. Flex Industries, with a turnover of about Rs.700 crores and an asset base of Rs.850 crores, has its corporate office in NOIDA (Uttar Pradesh) and has a unit in Palanpur in Bhind district of Madhya Pradesh. With a staff strength of about 1,800, the Flex Group, of which Chaturvedi is a promoter, once had on its board of directors Samajwadi Party leader and Rajya Sabha member Amar Singh and Rajya Sabha member and former journalist Rajeev Shukla. The company, engaged in flexible packaging, was a private limited company in the early 1980s and became a public limited company in 1989-90.

A diary seized from Chaturvedi's home, according to CBI sources, contained names and contact numbers of some politically influential persons. "The diary can in no way be compared to what we secured during the hawala investigations, which revealed substantial payments to certain politicians by the accused brothers," a CBI source said. Yet, it appears that it could point to significant leads.

THE CBI has not sought the permission of the government or the President to interrogate Prabhat Kumar although it had selectively leaked Chaturvedi's confession to the media. In his statement, Chaturvedi said that he had paid about Rs.44,000 by cheque from Flex Industries' bank account to a catering firm which organised the party on March 5, 1999, and Rs.79,218 for another party, held on February 27, 2000. The bill for the high tea hosted on July 10, 2000 amounted to Rs.10,368. Chaturvedi also reportedly threw a party in honour of Prabhat Kumar on June 14, 2001, when he was Governor of Jharkhand, at a luxury hotel in New Delhi and paid the bill amount of Rs.37,219.

While demitting office, Prabhat Kumar did not deny any of these allegations but claimed that some of the parties that media reports had referred to were not hosted by him, while the payment for the rest was made by him personally. Observers say that an explanation from Prabhat Kumar as to why these parties were held at his official residence could have helped clear the misgivings.

The allegations of a Prabhat Kumar-Chaturvedi nexus would still require substantiation. In order to make out a case under the Prevention of Corruption Act, the CBI may have to come up with more credible evidence on Chaturvedi's motives in paying for Prabhat Kumar's parties although it is not necessary to establish that he returned Chaturvedi's favours by taking certain actions as Cabinet Secretary.

But there can be little doubt that Prabhat Kumar violated one of the salient provisions of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules. Note 2 under Rule 13(1) makes it clear that a government servant shall avoid accepting lavish hospitality or frequent hospitality from any individual, industrial or commercial firms, organisations, and so on, that have official dealings with him. If Prabhat Kumar's defence is that Chaturvedi was his personal friend and he had no official dealings with him, he may not probably be guilty of violating the Conduct Rules. But this needs to be established. It is naive to believe that a businessman like Chaturvedi would have paid from his company's account for a friend's personal party thrice without expecting any favours in return, particularly when that friend happened to be a top bureaucrat.

This is not the first time that Prabhat Kumar has found himself mired in a controversy. He was Principal Secretary (Home) in Uttar Pradesh on December 6, 1992 when the Babri Masjid was demolished. The Liberhan Commission, which has already examined him, is inquiring into his alleged negligence of duty. In fact the government had overruled objections from responsible quarters to his elevation as Governor in view of the dubious role he played during the demolition. Even after the CBI's revelations about the bureaucrat-politician-businessman nexus, the Centre allowed him to continue as Governor for nearly a month, until a wedding in his family was over.

The Central government's lack of commitment to fight corruption in the bureaucracy became clear when it decided to transfer Kailash Sethi, Deputy Director-General, Central Economic Intelligence Bureau (CEIB), as Director (Audit), Customs and Central Excise. Sethi, who tapped the telephone conversations of Chaturvedi, promptly shared the information with the CBI. This led to the arrest of Chaturvedi and Mishra. Sethi's transfer came close on the heels of the arrests.

The Andipatti roadshow

The AIADMK exudes confidence, having pampered Andipatti voters enough to get them to elect party supremo Jayalalithaa.

IT is Jayalalithaa phantasmagoria that rolls through the length and breadth of the sprawling Andipatti constituency in Tamil Nadu. Be it compound walls, temple walls, overhead water tanks, walls of classrooms or of houses, Jayalalithaa's portrait dominates the landscape. But what takes the cake is a tall, newly-built wall in the midst of a vast field at Kandamanur only to carry the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's election slogans. It has Jayalalithaa's picture freshly painted with a slogan asking voters to support one who had received "the blessings of puratchi thalaivar" (revolutionary leader, the late M.G. Ramachandran, AIADMK founder, former Chief Minister and film actor). This is a singular example of the manpower and money-power that the ruling AIADMK has deployed in Andipatti.

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The significance of the Andipatti byelection lies in the fact that AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa, if elected, will become Chief Minister. O. Panneerselvam, who does not feel shy to describe himself as a "temporary Chief Minister", will willingly step aside for her. AIADMK legislator Thanga Tamilselvan resigned from the seat to enable her to contest.

Opposing the puissant might of Jayalalithaa is the soft-spoken 'Vaigai' S. Sekar of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Others in the fray are V. Jeyachandran of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), Dr. K. Krishnasamy of the Puthiya Tamizhagam, a Dalit-based party, and 20 independents. Polling will be on February 21.

Given the political polarisation, with all the allies of the AIADMK having walked out on it, and the financial crisis, with the government having sharply increased milk prices, bus fares and electricity tariffs, the mood is not exactly in favour of the AIADMK. Yet Jayalalithaa may canter to victory chiefly because an MGR-nostalgia wave is sweeping Andipatti, and the Opposition has failed to put up a common candidate against her. The mood of the women voters, who, surprisingly, outnumber men voters here, is this: Our vote is not necessarily for amma but for irattai ilai (two leaves, the election symbol of the AIADMK).

Perumayi at Kunnur was chagrined that the AIADMK government did not distribute free saris and dhotis to poor people during the Pongal festival in January. Yet her vote will be for irattai ilai. She pointed to the sari she was wearing and claimed, "I got it when MGR was alive". MGR died in 1987.

At Marikundu, N. Karuppu Thevar listed the benefits that Andipatti received when people elected MGR (in 1984): roads, water supply, bus service, a sugar factory and a cooperative spinning mill. On a mountain road beyond Varusanadu, where the Vaigai river serenely flows, R. Sothiraj exulted that MGR "levelled a bit of this mountain and laid this road". People want to demonstrate their gratitude to MGR by voting for two leaves. Besides, there is expectation that by voting for Jayalalithaa, employment opportunities would boom in Andipatti, and basic amenities would improve.

There is, however, dissatisfaction over the price rise and the DMK leaders are cashing in on this. At Bomminaickenpatti, AIADMK, DMK and MDMK election offices jostle each other, with flags, buntings and streamers galore. Bomminaickenpatti has 4,300 voters. The Muslim community accounts for 2,100 voters and the rest belong to the Scheduled Castes.

At the DMK office, A. Amsa Mohammed said: "Women are shell-shocked at the massive increase in the electricity tariff, bus fare and milk price. The AIADMK government has stopped the distribution of eggs to children as part of the mid-day meal scheme. There was no distribution of saris and dhotis during Pongal. So people will vote for the DMK."

In his public meetings, T.R. Baalu, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests, referred to the rise in prices. The AIADMK government increased the price of rice sold in ration shops from Rs.3.50 to Rs.9 a kg but then reduced it because of the election, he told the crowd. After a pause, Baalu added, "Once Jayalalithaa is elected, it will go up to Rs.9 again." He went on: "Can you meet her if she is elected? Can you tell her your grievances? She will remain inaccessible to you." But if they voted for Vaigai Sekar, they could meet him and tell him their grievances, he said.

The AIADMK is hard-pressed to reply to these points. What it lacks in the cut and thrust of debate, it has made up in sound and fury. Leading the noise brigade is T.T.V. Dinakaran, AIADMK's campaign manager. He is its Lok Sabha member from Periakulam constituency of which Andipatti forms a part.

At Kunnur village, Dinakaran rode in an open jeep with lights focussed on him. A folk dance troupe performed karagattam to tunes from MGR films. Urchins walking ahead burst firecrackers every few minutes.

An elderly C. Dhanapal, president of the Kunnur panchayat union, who had been with the DMK since its founding in 1949, joined the AIADMK in Dinakaran's presence. Dinakaran asked Dhanapal to join him in the jeep and treated him as if he were a prize trophy.

Dinakaran called Andipatti punya bhoomi (holy soil) because MGR got elected from there. He said Dhanapal crossed the floor because of DMK president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi's "anti-people activities". Dinakaran promised that Andipatti would become "a self-sufficient constituency" if people voted for Jayalalithaa.

Okkarapatti village has defied the electioneering trend. There is no election graffiti or poster. Party flags are taboo too. But party candidates and their supporters can drum up support. Kothampattu village has enforced a similar rule.

THE topography of Andipatti constituency is varied - bone-dry, arid land, lush paddy and sugarcane fields, the Western Ghats clothed with forests and the Vaigai coursing down an enchanting valley. The constituency stretches up to 38 km across at one point but its population is sparse. The total number of voters is 2,08,215(1,01,795 men and 1,06,420 women) compared to four lakhs in a normal Assembly constituency. Piranmalai Kallars account for 35 per cent of the population, Naidus 30 per cent, Dalits 22 per cent and the rest 13 per cent.

After Jayalalithaa announced her candidature on December 4, Andipatti became pampered - metalled roads replaced katcha ones; two water supply projects have been announced; applications for pension for old people, destitutes, widows and the physically challenged have been processed in double-quick time; and Dalit girls have received cycles to go to school. Further, five AIADMK Rajya Sabha members allotted Rs.50 lakhs each from their Local Area Development Fund for developmental activities.

Development issues are the dominant concern of the electorate. The universal demand is for the construction of toilets in villages. In small towns, the voters complain about mosquitoes being pervasive and lack of drainage facilities.

As it happened during the elections in 1998, 1999 and 2001, Dalits, disillusioned with the mainstream parties, are reasserting their identity. They say they will vote for Dr. Krishnasamy. At Thangammalpuram, when a caste Hindu said he was not aware that Dr. Krishnasamy was a contestant, a young Dalit who was cutting sugarcane in the field, enthusiastically announced that "Doctor" was very much in the fray. Dalits everywhere demanded cement-built houses in their colonies.

Two factors, not easy to assess, are at work at Andipatti. With the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), the Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India having decided "not to participate" in this byelection, for whom will their supporters' vote? A. Ponnukutti, a DMK supporter at Marikundu, said the DMK was trying to "convince'' these parties' supporters to vote for Vaigai Sekar. "But the votes will be divided between the DMK and the AIADMK," Ponnukutti conceded. Karuppu Thevar, a Congressman, asked, "How can the party leadership prevent us from voting? We have to vote."

The other factor is the Muslims vote. The TMC, the Congress, and the Left parties have alleged that the AIADMK was getting close to the Bharatiya Janata Party as could be seen from its support to the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO), its silence on issues such as the re-induction of George Fernandes as Defence Minister and the coffin scam. But Muslims are suspicious of the DMK too because of its extant alliance with the BJP. As on February 4, the AIADMK machinery presented a picture of confidence with its systematic work while the DMK machinery showed lack of coherence.

A study in contrast

GUJARAT'S cooperative model, better known as the Anand model, is a big success. Maharashtra tried to emulate it, but the effort was unsuccessful. The reasons for the failure were numerous. Some of them are:

* The Anand model of management is based on a professional set-up with no political interference. In Maharashtra, almost 90 per cent of the cooperatives are controlled by politicians.

* Each village in Gujarat has only one cooperative society. In Maharashtra, there could be as many as 10 cooperatives in one village. Unlike in Maharashtra, there are no taluk-level cooperatives in Gujarat. The system followed in Maharashtra raises operational costs.

* The Gujarat Milk Marketing Federation is the sole buyer and seller of all milk produced by the cooperative sector. In Maharashtra, the cooperatives decide to whom they should sell the milk.

* The Gujarat federation is elected by the cooperatives and comprises actual producers. On the other hand, milk producers are not represented in the Maharashtra State Cooperative Milk Federation.

* Market forces dictate the price of milk in the Gujarat Federation and profits are passed on to the milk producer. In Maharashtra, the price is fixed by the government.

* The Gujarat federation has diversified into commercially viable byproducts such as condensed milk, cheese and ice-cream. Moreover, such products have found a prominent place in the market. Maharashtra's surplus milk is processed to make butter and milk powder which, according to the government, is not profitable. n

Source: Government of Maharashtra reports and the Mckinsey report on the dairy industry in India.

Dairy worries

The new milk procurement policy of the Maharashtra government will affect the livelihood of farmers working in the dairy sector.

TWICE a day, Dattu Sopar Nirmal of Tandulwadi in Baramati district in Maharashtra cycles 3 km to the nearest milk collection centre to deposit 10 litres of milk. His two cows yield enough milk to ensure a reasonably steady income for him through the year. In fact, the income from milk is often higher than that from his three-acre sugarcane field. However, if the Government of Maharashtra implements its amended milk procurement policy, Nirmal will have to contend with the vagaries of free market forces. His income, for which he is largely dependent on the government, will soon depend on who gives him the best price.

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Maharashtra has been the only State in the country where the government fixes a procurement price for milk and commits itself to buying at that rate all the milk offered by producers. The State government now incurs an annual loss of more than Rs.200 crores on this count. Hence, it has decided that it will buy only the quantity it requires, that is, 80 per cent of the 40 lakh litres that reaches its dairies daily. The remaining 20 per cent would have to be sold locally by the producer or the cooperative. Currently, the government collects a surplus of almost nine lakh litres a day. Owing to its procurement commitments, it is losing approximately Rs.45 lakhs a day. Government sources say that if the procurement burden is reduced as planned, the government can save about Rs.70 crores annually. The amended policy was to be implemented on January 1, 2002. However, since the dairy industry in Maharashtra is politicised and civic elections are to be held shortly, its implementation was deferred for a few more months. It is well known that the milk cooperatives in Maharashtra are the preserve of local politicians who look upon them as stepping stones to political power. "The dairy industry has been a major burden on the State," says Ramesh Kumar, Secretary, Dairy Development. "Implementing the policy is inevitable. It will happen within the next few weeks," Ramesh Kumar told Frontline. "Government policies have always been welfare oriented. In order to protect the interests of producers, they have completely ignored the commercial aspect of this industry."

Nirmal and his fellow village residents have little knowledge of the new policy. Nirmal told Frontline that he had faith in the Baramati Milk Union Cooperative, to which his village milk society belongs. "They look after us, we trust them. I am sure the union will take care of this," he said. Union chairman Vittalrao Suryavanshi is angry with the government's decision. "The sale of milk has provided an income to several families below the poverty line, landless labourers, small farmers and several uneducated and unemployed youth. If they do not protect these people's interests, they will be dealing with a lot more problems than surplus milk," he says. Suryavanshi says that milk production has helped thousands of farmers who are hit by the recession in the agriculture sector. He said that if the State did not buy all the milk, a large quantity of it would be wasted. "We will have to declare milk holidays, which we have not done for several years."

Suryavanshi also pointed out that private players were waiting to exploit the situation. "If the system of administered prices is removed, private players will squeeze the producer and the cooperative and buy the milk at the lowest possible price," he said. Suryavanshi, who is a member of the Maharashtra State Milk Kruthi Samiti Dudh Sangh, a committee of milk union representatives who are fighting the government's decision, said: "We in western Maharashtra are better off because sugarcane gives us some income. But they should think about those in Vidarbha and Marathwada, where crops have failed and milk is the only source of income." A representative of the Warana Milk Cooperative Union in Kolhapur, a powerful cooperative, echoed this sentiment.

Dairying would be the third sector in agriculture in the State, after cotton and sugarcane, to undergo fundamental policy changes (Frontline, February 1 and 15, 2002). Along with the announcement of the new procurement policy, the Maharashtra government also outlined a plan to withdraw from the dairy sector. It suggested downsizing and privatisation as the two alternatives. A government report recommended the retrenchment of 1,200 employees out of a total of 12,000 and the privatisation of three State-owned dairies located in Mumbai, the Aarey, Worli and Kurla dairies, which have caused a loss of about Rs.73 crores. "In the changing market situation, running milk dairies is not the kind of business the State should get into," says Ramesh Kumar.

Of the 142 lakh litres of milk collected by 62 unions in the State daily, the government buys 40 lakh litres at an average rate of Rs.9 a litre. The remaining milk is distributed by the cooperatives directly or bought by private dairies at the administered price. Of the 40 lakh litres purchased, nine lakh litres is surplus. The surplus is processed and converted into products such as butter and milk powder. However, only the sale of milk is profitable. It is in the conversion that the government incurs losses, says K.B. Patil, Additional Secretary, Dairy Development, who is also in charge of the government dairies. The cost of converting milk into powder or butter is about Rs.3 a litre. It reaches Rs.5 a litre after the actual revenue realisation. Nine lakh litres of milk means a staggering Rs.45 lakhs a day. "We need only 80 per cent of the quantity we buy. It is up to the cooperative to distribute the rest," Patil told Frontline. Consumer subsidies and other costs raise the loss to over Rs.200 crores a year, against a total expenditure of Rs.1,100 crores.

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A government report says that Maharashtra is the fifth largest producer of milk and the second largest producer of cow's milk in the country. About 75 lakh people depend on the dairy sector in the State for a living. An industry expert said that although the State attempted to emulate the successful Gujarat cooperative model, it did not succeed (see box). It failed mainly because of the politicisation of the cooperatives which, in turn, led to mismanagement. Moreover, the government failed to take advantage of the dairy sector's potential. The expert said that the new policy demanded much more from the cooperatives. "Maharashtra's cooperatives can hardly be defined as cooperatives. They have been no more than a transportation service, ferrying milk from the districts to the metros," he says. However, it will no longer be the same after the implementation of the new policy. For instance, they will be forced to develop a market and a distribution network, take a pro-active role in training farmers to produce quality milk, and set up processing and chilling facilities.

The State follows a three-tier system in the cooperative sector. Milk producers are members of a village-level cooperative. The village cooperative collects milk for the district union. The milk is then sent to various urban dairies for processing and distribution. There are 23,273 village societies and 99 taluk or district-level unions. Of the Rs.9 the State pays for a litre of milk, the village cooperative keeps 40 paise and the union 90 paise. After deducting various other payments, Nirmal, whose cows give him an average of 10 litres a day, will earn Rs.1,500 a cow each month. The village society keeps a record of the milk the producer has deposited and pays him/her every fortnight. Although farmers in Baramati say that the dairy business is lucrative, very few people agree that they make a substantial profit. "Actually, the benefit lies in that we get cash in our hands every 15 days," says Bharat Chavan from Undawadi in Baramati district. However, he says that a large part of the money is spent on the cattle or for repaying loans. "The earnings may be meagre, but at least we manage to fill our stomachs," says Chavan.

If anyone will benefit from the new procurement policy, it is private industry. However, Deepak Jain, executive director of Dynamix Dairy Industries Limited, said that if the cooperatives were better organised and the government became less hostile towards private dairies, the farmer would be the ultimate beneficiary. Dynamix is among the few private players in the dairy sector in the State. The company collects milk from the producer through an agreement with the district cooperative. Unlike the cooperative which pays the producers according to the amount of milk they deposit, Dynamix pays the producer according to the fat content in the milk. It is supposed to provide them an incentive to ensure that their cattle produce quality milk. If the cooperatives concentrate on producing quality milk, they will have no problem finding a market for the remaining 20 per cent the government is unwilling to buy. He says: "Moreover, private industry will make sure that all the milk is bought." Even if the milk producer sells at a low price, he will be selling a larger quantity. With the procurement price in Maharashtra being 10 per cent above the usual price, private players would prefer to set up shop in neighbouring Gujarat, where the price paid to the producer for a litre of cow milk is Rs.7.97. "Maharashtra," Jain says, "has the potential to enter the international dairy export industry. It is just a matter of formulating reasonable policies."

Under the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, India had committed itself to integrating its dairy sector with the world market. Such a move, combined with the reconstruction of the environment in which the sector operates (for instance, the entry of the private sector and the removal of barriers to import), is likely to have a significant impact on the Indian dairy industry. But unless there is a substantial improvement in the earnings of producers like Nirmal and Chavan, the new developments will have little significance.

Land and legality

A. G. NOORANI cover-story

The award of any part of the land adjoining the site of the Babri Masjid to a Vishwa Hindu Parishad-controlled body will amount to flouting the Supreme Court's clear ruling on the matter.

NO Prime Minister ever receives a delegation comprising persons who speak in the language of menace and worse, who had publicly attacked him. Atal Behari Vajpayee compromised himself by receiving the Vishwa Hindu Parishad delegation on January 27 and parleying with it for two hours. That was at the climax of its seven-day "sant chetavani (warning) yatra" which had culminated at Ramlila Grounds in New Delhi.

That was where, as The Hindu reported on (January 28), "an ultimatum was served on the government to hand over the land at Ayodhya or face a situation in which the 'sants' would forcibly take it over and build a Ram temple. Among those seated on the dais was RSS leader, Madan Das Devi who is the 'link' between the BJP and the RSS...

"Earlier in the morning, the Marg Darshak Mandal meeting of the VHP adopted a resolution demanding that the 67 acres of land acquired by the government in 1993 be handed over to the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas (a VHP trust) to enable it to start construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site on any auspicious day after Shivratri of this year (which falls on March 12)... the sants made it clear that from February 24 onwards the call could be 'Ayodhya chalo' (let us go to Ayodhya) and thousands of 'devotees' with their families would start gathering there, with the crowds increasing daily" - a repeat of December 1992. The VHP's "international" general secretary Pravin Togadia said on February 5 that around a million people would march to Ayodhya and this decision had been communicated to Vajpayee.

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Only a day earlier, on January 26, the leaders of the National Democratic Alliance had demurred to any appeasement. Under pressure from the RSS and from L.K. Advani, The Hindu reported, Vajpayee agreed to the course Advani had suggested - refer the matter to the Law Ministry. Whatever for? "To see if a way could be found for handing over the acquired land to the VHP-controlled trust". Hence Vajpayee's decision, announced at the meeting, to refer to Law Minister Arun Jaitley two points related to the Ayodhya question. One was the expedition of the case before the Special Bench of the Allahabad High Court in Allahabad. The other was "to look at legal and constitutional aspects" of handing over the land acquired by the government in 1993 to the VHP-controlled "Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas". An official statement confirmed this.

This explains a lot. You do not seek legal advice unless you wish, first, to adopt a particular course. Only then do you seek the advice in order to reckon with the legal hurdles. If the course itself is reprehensible, no legal advice is required. The issue here is not legality, but morality. It is utterly immoral to give the land adjacent to the site of the Babri Mosque, demolished on December 6, 1992, to the very organisation which accomplished the heinous deed and to do so in order deviously and forcibly to facilitate its accomplishment of its objective to build a temple on that site. For, once the adjacent land is built on, the site will be surrounded for the VHP to do what it pleases on the site of the mosque.

The Times of India reported (February 4) that the reference for legal opinion "was not an effort to buy time, but a serious move to push for a solution" according to "authoritative sources". The report added: "So even as the BJP has officially announced that the Ram temple was not on the agenda until 2004 (when the Lok Sabha polls are to be held) and the Prime Minister has seemingly adopted a tough and uncompromising line with the VHP leaders... the government is exploring ways of handing over land for the temple construction."

Significantly, BJP president Jana Krishnamurthy said in an interview to The Indian Express (February 6) that he did not consider the VHP's demand "illogical" because in his view "the actual dispute is over 80 ft by 40 ft where the structure known as Babri Masjid was located (and) the rest of the land is not in the disputed site. This land was bought by the VHP and the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas... There is some basis for the demand." The land was actually acquired by the U.P. government to "promote tourism". It was held to be mala fide by the Allahabad High Court. No prizes for guessing the identity of the lawyer who advised the acquisition. The land was bought mala fide also.

Since December 6, 2000, when he raked up the Ayodhya issue in the Lok Sabha, following his conclave with RSS leaders and Advani on December 1, 2000, Vajpayee has been fixing his deadlines to accord with the VHP's ultimatum. The VHP contends that the court's orders are irrelevant. Its pact with Home Minister Buta Singh in 1989 bears recalling, especially since its existence was challenged on February 2 on television by Praveen Togadia. It was published by the V. P. Singh government on October 17, 1990, and is Appendix II to the Government of India's White Paper on Ayodhya.

The White Paper itself makes clear that land adjacent to the site of the mosque, called the "disputed site", was not acquired by the government for disposal as it pleased. To begin with, it is well settled that a government cannot act like a private party. Its acquisitions and disposals of property must be for a "public purpose", not to favour one party or community in a pending dispute or litigation. This is a well-settled rule of constitutional law as well as of administrative law (Seervai, Constitutional Law of India, Fourth Edn., Vol. I, page 933).

Apart from this rule of general application, in the instant case the government explained in a press note, on December 27, 1992, why land adjacent to the site of the mosque was being acquired. It read: "The government has decided to acquire all areas in dispute in the suits pending in the Allahabad High Court. It has also been decided to acquire suitable adjacent area. The acquired area excluding the area on which the disputed structure stood would be made available to two Trusts which would be set up for construction of a Ram Temple and a Mosque respectively and for planned development of the area." Thus the adjacent area cannot be given to the VHP alone.

The press note added: "The Government of India has also decided to request the President to seek the opinion of the Supreme Court on the question whether there was a Hindu temple existing on the site where the disputed structure stood. The government has also decided to abide by the opinion of the Supreme Court and to take appropriate steps to enforce the court's opinion. Notwithstanding the acquisition of the disputed area, the government would ensure that the position existing prior to the promulgation of the Ordinance (for acquisition of land) is maintained until such time as the Supreme Court gives its opinion in the matter. Thereafter the rights of the parties shall be determined in the light of the court's opinion." A total of 67.703 acres of land was thus acquired.

This was quoted by the majority judgment of the Supreme Court on the President's reference to the court for its advisory opinion under Article 143 of the Constitution and on the validity of the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993 (Ismail Faruqui vs. Union of India (1994) 6 SCC 360 at page 383). The court unanimously declined to answer the President's reference. It also unanimously held Section 4(3) of the Act, which aborted the title suits in the Allahabad High Court, to be unconstitutional, being unfair to Muslims. The minority (Justices A. M. Ahmadi and S. P. Bharucha, now Chief Justice) ruled that this vitiated the entire Act. The majority (Chief Justice M. N. Venkatachaliah and Justices J. S. Verma and G. N. Ray) held it was severable from the rest of the Act.

Sections 6 and 7 of the Act read thus:

Section 6(1): The Central Government may, if it is satisfied that any authority or other body, or trustees of any trust, set up on or after the commencement of this Act is or are willing to comply with such terms and conditions as that Government may think fit to impose, direct by notification in the official Gazette, that the right, title and interest or any of them in relation to the area or any part thereof instead of continuing to vest in the Central Government, vest in that authority or body or trustees of that trust either on the date of the notification or on such later date as may be specified in the notification.

(2) When any right, title and interest in relation to the area or part thereof vest in the authority or body or trustees referred to in sub-section (1), such rights of the Central Government in relation to such area or part thereof, shall, on and from the date of such vesting, be deemed to have become the rights of that authority or body or trustees of that trust..." The VHP invokes this - in vain, as we shall see.

Section 7 (1): "Notwithstanding anything contained in any contract or instrument or order of any court, tribunal or other authority to the contrary, on and from the commencement of this Act, the property vested in the Central Government under Section 3 shall be managed by the Central Government or by a person or body of persons or trustees of any trust authorised by that Government in this behalf.

(2) "In managing the property vested in the Central Government under Section 3, the Central Government or the authorised person shall ensure that the position existing before the commencement of this Act in the area on which the structure (including the premises of the inner and outer courtyards of such structure), commonly known as Ram Janma Bhumi-Babri Masjid, stood in Village Kot Ramchandra in Ayodhya, in Pargana Haveli Avadh, in Tehsil Faizabad Sadar, in the district of Faizabad of the State of Uttar Pradesh is maintained." Section 6 provides for transfer of title by the government; Section 7 for management of the land.

The majority ruled: "The justification given for acquisition of the larger area including the property respecting which title is not disputed is that the same is necessary to ensure that the final outcome of adjudication should not be rendered meaningless by the existence of properties belonging to Hindus in the vicinity of the disputed structure in case the Muslims are found entitled to the disputed site. This obviously means that in the event of the Muslims succeeding in the adjudication of the dispute requiring the disputed structure to be handed over to the Muslim community, their success should not be thwarted by denial of proper access to enjoyment of rights in the disputed area by exercise of rights of ownership of Hindu owners of the adjacent properties. Obviously, it is for this reason that the adjacent area has also been acquired to make available to the successful party, that part of it which is considered necessary, for proper enjoyment of the fruits of success on the final outcome to the adjudication.

"It is clear that one of the purposes of the acquisition of the adjacent properties is the ensurement of the effective enjoyment of the disputed site by the Muslim community in the event of its success in the litigation, and acquisition of the adjacent area is incidental to the main purpose and cannot be termed unreasonable. The 'Manas Bhawan' and 'Sita ki Rasoi', both belonging to the Hindus, are buildings which closely overlook the disputed site and are acquired because they are strategic in location in relation to the disputed area. The necessity of acquiring adjacent temples or religious buildings in view of their proximity to the disputed structure area, which forms a unique class by itself, is permissible."

The court added: "However, at a later stage when the exact area which is needed, for achieving the professed purpose of acquisition, can be determined, it would not merely be permissible but also desirable that the superfluous excess area is released from acquisition and reverted to its earlier owner. The challenge to acquisition of any part of the adjacent area on the ground that it is unnecessary for achieving the objective of settling the dispute relating to the disputed area cannot be examined at this stage...".

Thus, to award any part of the adjoining land to the VHP's Trust is to flout the Supreme Court's clear ruling. The fate of the adjoining land depends on the result of the title suit. That cannot be prejudged by gifting government-owned land to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. It would be a patently unconstitutional and dishonest act - even by the fallen standards which the BJP government follows.

The agreement

cover-story

The following is the text of the agreement reached on 27 September 1989 at a meeting held in Lucknow convened by the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh with representatives of the VHP in which the Union Home Minister was also present. The agreement was signed by Shri Ashok Singhal, Shri Dau Dyal Khanna, Mahant Avaidnath and Shri Nrityagopal Das.

A meeting was held in Lucknow by the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh on 27 September 1989 with the representatives of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) during which the Union Home Minister was also present.

In this meeting all aspects of the situation arising in the wake of VHP's programme to perform Shila Poojan in different parts of the country and carry the 'sanctified' bricks to Ayodhya for laying the foundation-stone of Rama Temple on 9 November 1989, were discussed.

Formulations

As a result of these discussions, the following were agreed:

a) The VHP will give prior intimation to the concerned District authorities of the Shila Procession route and agree to change in routes in case the District authorities so desire in public interest.

b) The VHP and its followers would not raise any provocative slogans which may endanger communal harmony.

c) As far as possible the 'sanctified' bricks will be carried in trucks on the routes determined before-hand in consultation with the concerned District authorities.

d) Senior and responsible VHP functionaries would take the responsibility of guiding the procession and will extend full cooperation to the District authorities.

e) The spot in Ayodhya where the sanctified bricks will be collected, will be decided in consultation with the District authorities.

f) The VHP undertakes to abide by the directive of the Lucknow Bench of Allahabad High Court given on 14-8-1989 to the effect that the Parties to the Suits shall maintain the status quo and shall not change the nature of the property in question and ensure that the peace and communal harmony are maintained.

Following representatives of VHP will cooperate/ coordinate with U.P. Government.

1. Sh.Dau Dyal Khanna 2. Sh.Dixit, Ex-DGP (UP) 3. Sh.Onkar Bhave 4. Sh.Suresh Gupta, Ex-Vice-Chancellor 5. Sh.Mahesh Narain Singh, Ayodhya

Signed

Sh.Ashok Singhal Sh.Mahant Avaidnath Sh.Nrityagopal Das Sh.Dau Dyal Khanna

Construction and calculations

JUDGING from the amount of work done in workshops at Ayodhya and at different places in Rajasthan, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's rhetoric of starting temple construction "any day after March 12" has an ominous dimension.

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At the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas Karyashala in Ayodhya, artisans chisel away at huge sandstone and white marble blocks, oblivious of their surroundings. According to Anu Bhai Sompura, supervisor at the Karyashala, 50 workers have been on the task since 1990, when the workshop was started. He claims that more than 3,000 tonnes of sandstone brought from Bansi Paharpur near Bharatpur in Rajasthan has already been carved.

Apparently all the 106 pillars and white marble beams needed to build the ground floor are ready. "To start the temple construction, we only have to dig for the foundation and lay the plinth," claims Sompura. Once the pillars and beams are transported to the Ram Janmabhoomi site, they can be erected in no time and the ground floor completed, or so goes the claim.

For the first floor, which will also have 106 pillars, over 70 per cent of the work is said to be complete. Work on the shikhar too is going on, says Sompura. He believes that VHP leader Ashok Singhal, who visited the workshop along with sants on January 21 before starting off on the sant chetawani yatra, is serious about starting construction this time. "The entire temple construction, from the day we start at the site, will take two years," he says.

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Besides the Karyashala at Ayodhya, three workshops at Pindwara in Sirohi district of Rajasthan are engaged in shaping the red sandstone. Cutting of the white marble beams is done at a workshop in Makrana, Rajasthan. After cutting and polishing, the beams are transported to Ayodhya to be carved.

The finished temple, says Sompura, will be around 260 feet (78 metres) long, 140 feet (42 metres) wide and 128 feet (around 38 metres) high. It will be built of red sandstone and white marble, and no iron will be used. The ground floor pillars will be 16 feet and six inches (about five metres) high and the first-floor pillars, 14 feet and six inches (4.35 metres). The shikhar will be 65 feet and three inches (almost 20 metres) in height.

The cutting and carving of the pillars is done by professional artisans from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. They are paid anywhere between Rs.100 and Rs.500 a day, depending on the amount of work done. Ratan Lal from Bansi Paharpur, for example, is paid Rs.105 daily. However, it is his desire to see the temple built, rather than the money, that has brought him to work in Ayodhya. "My only wish is that the temple should be built in my lifetime," he says. Hari Prasad from Behraich in Uttar Pradesh, who has been working at the workshop since 1990, echoes the sentiment.

Interestingly, since 1990 both Lucknow and Delhi have seen several changes of government. Lucknow had governments led by Mulayam Singh Yadav in 1993 and Mayawati in 1995 and then in 1997, but even they did nothing to stop the work. "We have never been asked by anybody to stop the work; no one has ever intervened," says Sompura. The arrival of the BJP government at the Centre in 1996, albeit for 13 days, emboldened the VHP and it stepped up the work, starting additional workshops at Pindwara, Makrana and Jaipur, all in Rajasthan. The Jaipur workshop was started specifically to build the sandstone model of the temple and was wound up once it was completed.

The model, which was first displayed at the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad last year, is now kept at Karsevapuram in Ayodhya and treated as a real temple. Daily puja is performed, aarti is done and prasad is distributed. One has to take off one's shoes before going to see the model, which is illuminated by 51,000 bulbs. And among the list of prohibited items are cameras, pens and leather bags and belts.

Against the law

V. VENKATESAN cover-story

The provisions of the Ayodhya Act, as interpreted by a majority judgment of the Supreme Court in 1994, constitute a solid defence against the Hindutva forces' attempt to execute their plan to build a temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya.

WHILE introducing the Bill to replace the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Ordinance in 1993, Union Home Minister S.B. Chavan declared the following as its objects and reasons: "As it is necessary to maintain communal harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst the people of India, it was considered necessary to acquire the site of the disputed structure and suitable adjacent land for setting up a complex which could be developed in a planned manner wherein a Ram temple, a mosque, amenities for pilgrims, a library, museum and other suitable facilities can be set up."

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By virtue of the Ordinance, promulgated by the President on January 7, 1993, the right, title and interest in respect of certain areas near the site of the Babri Masjid stood transferred to and vested in the Central government. Nearly a decade has passed since the enactment of what has come to be known as the Ayodhya Act, but the government does not seem to have tried to fulfil its declared objectives. This might be owing to its failure to seek a fair judicial or negotiated settlement that could satisfy both Hindus and Muslims.

The P.V. Narasimha Rao government sought to link the Act with the resolution of the dispute in the hope that a Supreme Court pronouncement on the President's reference under Article 143 - on whether a Hindu temple or any Hindu religious structure existed prior to the construction of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid, including the premises of the inner and outer courtyards of the structure - would lead to a solution. However, the court declined to answer the reference but upheld the validity of the Act in 1994. The majority judgment, given by Justices M.N. Venkatachaliah, J.S.Verma and G.N. Ray, declared Section 4(3) of the Act invalid. But in view of its severability from the other provisions of the Act, it held the Act to be constitutionally valid. Section 4(3) sought to abate all suits, appeals or other proceedings pending before any court, tribunal or other authority in respect of the right, title, and interest relating to any property vested in the Centre by virtue of this Act. The Judges felt that answering the President's reference was superfluous and unnecessary in view of the striking down of Section 4(3). Their opinion meant that with the revival of the cases pending before the Allahabad High Court, the due process would provide an opportunity to deal with the issues framed in the reference.

The minority opinion by Justices A.M. Ahmadi and S.P. Bharucha, the present Chief Justice of India, favoured the striking down of the entire Act while declining to answer the President's reference. According to this opinion, Section 4, inasmuch as it deprived the Sunni Wakf Board and the Muslim community of the right to plead and establish adverse possession of the property and restrict the scope for the redress of their grievance in respect of the disputed site, offended the principle of secularism, a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. It also found arbitrary and unreasonable Section 8 of the Act, which provides for settlement of compensation claims from the previous owners of the land and so on acquired by the government by the Claims Commissioner. The minority opinion, recorded by Justice Bharucha, declined to answer the President's reference on the ground that the purpose of the reference was opposed to secularism as, in their view, it favoured one religious community and disfavoured another. They also said that answering the reference without hearing the parties concerned or evaluating their evidences would impair the court's credibility. "Ayodhya is a storm that will pass. The dignity and honour of the Supreme Court cannot be compromised because of it," they said.

THE Ayodhya storm, however, has returned, with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's deadline to start construction of a temple at the disputed site approaching. While the dignity and honour of the Supreme Court has remained secure owing to its decision not to answer the President's reference, the court now faces the risk of being compromised because of subtle attempts by vested interests to misinterpret its judgment on the Act.

The government's failure to have the objects of the Ayodhya Act fulfilled has not made the Act irrelevant. The Act has stood the test of time, and its provisions, as interpreted by the majority Judges of the Supreme Court in 1994, constitute a solid defence against any attempt by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-VHP-Bajrang Dal combine to go ahead with their temple plans with the help of a partisan government at the Centre.

The minority Judges favoured the striking down of the Act because they felt that the Constitution did not permit the state to acquire a place of worship in order to preserve public order. "Secularism is absolute; the state may not treat religions differently on the ground that public order requires it," it said. The Judges, therefore, suggested a sensible option to the government if the title to the place of worship is in dispute in a court of law and public order is jeopardised: the government may either apply to the court concerned to appoint it as receiver of the place so that it could be held secure pending the final adjudication of its title, or it may enact a law that makes it the statutory receiver of the place. In either case, the Centre would commit itself to handing over the place of worship to the party that won the title suit, the Judges said.

The majority Judges conceded this argument by holding that the disputed area, that is, the 2.7 acres on which the Babri Masjid stood, was 'vested' in the Central government only as a statutory receiver by virtue of Section 3 of the Ayodhya Act. However, the Act's provisions are significant with regard to what the government could do in relation to the 67 acres of undisputed area, which is adjacent to the disputed area and which is acquired by it.

The majority Judges were more concerned about the possible consequences of holding the entire Act invalid. Such a pronouncement, they feared, would automatically revive the worship of the idols by Hindu devotees, which has been curtailed since December 1992, without granting any corresponding benefit to Muslims, whose practice of worship at the disputed structure had come to a stop in December 1949. Therefore, the best solution, according to them, was to maintain the status quo as on January 7, 1993, when the Act came into force. This decision was assailed because it allowed worship by Hindus in a restricted manner and denied a similar privilege to Muslims during the pendency of the litigation. However, the majority Judges felt that it was the best possible manner in which the feelings of Muslims could be assuaged after the demolition "without giving cause for any legitimate grievance to the other community leading to the possibility of re-igniting communal passions detrimental to the spirit of communal harmony in a secular state".

The logic of the decision is debatable, but it is hardly in dispute now. The Hindutva forces seem to be using the subtle distinction made in the judgment between the disputed and undisputed areas to buttress their argument that there is no legal hurdle to the government handing over the undisputed area acquired by it to another authority or body or trust by virtue of Section 6(1) of the Act. This Section enables the Centre to transfer its right over the acquired area to a body or trust set up on or after the commencement of the Act if it is satisfied that such a body is willing to comply with any terms and conditions that the Centre may stipulate. These terms and conditions would necessarily have to include Section 7(2) of the Act, which requires that in managing the property vested in the Centre the government or a person authorised by it shall ensure that the position existing before the commencement of this Act is maintained in the area. The VHP's declaration that it would go ahead with temple construction at the disputed site makes it clear that it cannot guarantee maintenance of status quo in accordance with Section 7(2). There is reason to believe that the VHP will use the undisputed area, if it is transferred to any of its affiliates by the government, to begin construction and engulf the disputed site to achieve its declared goals.

Section 6(3) of the Act makes it clear that the provisions of Sections 4,5,7 and 11 shall apply in relation to such authority or body or trustees as they apply in relation to the Central government, and for this purpose references therein to the Central government shall be construed as references to such authority or body or trustees.

Does the Centre enjoy unlimited discretion to hand over the undisputed area on a platter to anyone it wants to? The justification for acquiring the undisputed area was that the government wanted to ensure that the final outcome of adjudication should not be rendered meaningless by the existence of any property belonging to Hindus in the vicinity of the disputed structure in case Muslims are found to be entitled to the site. The majority judgment said that in the event of Muslims winning the case, their success should not be thwarted by denial of proper access to, and enjoyment of rights in, the disputed area by Hindus exercising their ownership rights over adjacent properties. The judgment, for instance, justified the acquisition of Manas Bhavan and Sita ki Rasoi - buildings belonging to Hindus. The acquisition of such buildings in view of their proximity to the disputed site was permissible, the majority Judges said. However, Justice Verma, who wrote the majority judgment, added an important caveat: "At a later stage when the exact area acquired which is needed for achieving the professed purpose of acquisition, can be determined, it would not merely be permissible but also desirable that the superfluous excess area is released from acquisition and reverted to its earlier owner."

A large part of the undisputed area, the court conceded, comprised properties of Hindus and their titles were not in dispute. But the condition here is the 'determination' of the exact area required to achieve the objects of acquisition and of the surplus areas found unnecessary. By no stretch of the imagination could the government or the VHP claim that this area has been 'determined'. Such determination will hinge on the resolution of the dispute before the court, and therefore this exercise has necessarily to await the Allahabad High Court's decision. Till such time that happens, the government has to maintain the status quo as on January 7, 1993, not only at the disputed site but also in the undisputed area in accordance with the spirit of the Supreme Court's judgment, which has built, perhaps unwittingly, a linkage between the disputed and undisputed areas in the interests of secularism.

Justice Verma held that the embargo on transfer till adjudication in terms of Section 6(1) related only to the disputed area. He made it clear that the retention of excess area by the government till the adjudication of the dispute might be unnecessary. But it is obvious that the determination of the "excess" area should precede the government's exercise of its duty to restore it to the owner if such retention is found to be unnecessary. What the VHP seems to argue is that the entire 67 acres of undisputed land acquired by the government is unnecessary, and that therefore, the excess area could be reverted to its rightful owners. Such an argument is against the spirit of the majority judgment.

The DPC chronicle

"The Dabhol dispute feeds a chronic perception among the overseas community that India may not be ready for big-time international investment... It can spell death to potential investments in India."

- Robert D. Blackwill, U.S. Ambassador to India, at a meeting organised by the American Chamber of Commerce in India and the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce on January 28, 2002.

AMBASSADOR Blackwill's warning is not likely to worry India, considering the skeletons that are now emerging from Enron's closet. In fact, foreign direct investment (FDI) in India is not likely to be affected by Enron's shenanigans. The Dhabol Power Company (DPC) perhaps represented the largest single instance of FDI in India. It was clear that both the Indian government and the U.S. energy giant were equally responsible for the power project's problems. In fact, the dubious deal with Enron to buy power from the DPC plant in Ratnagiri in Maharashtra led to the bankruptcy of the once-profitable Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB). The scandal in the U.S. involving Enron has also made Dabhol's Indian investors anxious.

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While the DPC's parent company, Enron Corporation, is today practically non-existent, the power company in India is trying hard to keep its head above water. For over a year, the controversy-ridden, beleaguered 2,184 mega watt, $1-billion-power project has been fighting a protracted legal battle with the Government of Maharashtra over non-payment of dues. Moreover, it is so steeped in debt that the company could not even pay its security guards stationed at the plant. Following the closure of Enron's offices in Mumbai, only four people have been retained on the DPC's pay roll. For some time now, Enron's 65 per cent equity in the DPC has been up for sale. So is the 20 per cent equity that belongs to General Electric and Bechtel. Although Tata Power and BSES Ltd. showed interest in picking up a majority stake, it soon became clear that the tainted project had no takers. For a while, there seemed little hope for the Maharashtra government, for the lenders, and for the DPC.

However, in January there was a breakthrough. Indian financial lenders announced that they had drawn up a restructuring plan. Moreover, hearings in some of the crucial court cases and the verdicts are expected soon. Even the judicial probe that the Congress(I)-Nationalist Congress Party-led Democratic Front government had announced finally got off the ground. In fact, the number of bidders for a stake in the project has risen.

With an exposure of over Rs.6,000 crores to the power project, the Indian lenders are a jittery lot. Perhaps realising that it would go the Enron way if it did not act soon, the Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI), a primary investor in DPC, announced on February 2 a multi-pronged strategy to restructure the project. The plan includes a reduction of interest rates, an increase in the tenure of loans and the conversion of foreign currency loans into rupee loans. Prior to this, the IDBI invited Expressions of Interest (EoI) from Indian and foreign corporates interested in acquiring 85 per cent of the DPC. An IDBI press release said that there were eight bidders in the fray and a confidentiality agreement had been signed by three of them. Meanwhile, the bidders have already begun the due diligence process to check the viability of the project. IDBI and other lenders hope that the DPC will be sold and the project will be back on track by mid-March.

After being stuck in a legal quagmire for about a year, the DPC and the Maharashtra government presented their closing arguments on the critical Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) jurisdiction case on February 7. Pradyumna Kaul, an activist with the Enron Virodhi Andolan, said: "It may take a week or even a month for the verdict, but at least the issue is getting resolved." The case traces its origins to the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), which itself has a controversial history. According to the PPA, the MSEB is to pay the DPC a fixed monthly charge of Rs.90 crores irrespective of whether it buys power from the company or not. As a result of the clause, the MSEB ended up owing the DPC more than Rs.400 crores. The MSEB decided to stop the payments in October 2000, after accusing the DPC of defaulting. The MSEB alleged that in several instances the DPC did not provide power within the stipulated time as defined in the PPA. However, the DPC refuted the allegations and invoked the Central government's sovereign guarantee.

Although the Centre upheld its guarantee once, it refused to do so when the DPC invoked it again. The DPC, in turn, issued notices of political force majeure and later notices of arbitration and termination to the MSEB. In response, the MSEB cancelled the PPA, stopped purchasing power from the DPC and took the case to the MERC. However, the DPC said that it did not recognise the MERC as the quasi-judicial body was formed after the PPA was signed. The DPC challenged the MSEB in the Mumbai High Court on the issue of the MERC's jurisdiction and the case has dragged on ever since.

However, the legal problems of the DPC and Enron do not end with the case. Issues raised by about 10 public interest petitions are yet to be resolved. DPC spokesperson Jimmy Mogul told Frontline that the issues would have been settled earlier had the courts heard them. "We hope that by March-April all the matters will be settled," he said. Mogul says the plant is shut down and that unless the DPC is paid the power plant will not be operated.

Meanwhile, the appointment of a one-man commission to probe the controversial deal between Enron and the MSEB is significant. The commission, headed by Justice S.P. Kurdukar, a retired Judge, will investigate the circumstances in which the PPA was negotiated, cancelled and then renegotiated. Pradyumna Kaul told Frontline that "the commission's hearing and findings will cause ripples in the higher echelons of past governments and their leaders who were considered close to Enron".

Ever since Enron came to India in 1993, it has been mired in controversy. Two State governments and three Central governments have changed since then.

Kaul said that all the governments were involved in the issue. A final consent award signed between the two parties has been made available. The document, according to reports, proves what has been known for some time - the final sell-out was done by the BJP-Shiv Sena government.

Human rights and human development

education

Although the 93rd Constitution Amendment proposes to give constitutional sanctity to the legally enforceable right to free elementary education, it has invited criticism for having restricted the right to children between six and 14 years of age.

C. RAJ KUMAR

"A Constitution may indicate the direction in which we are to move, but the social structure will decide how far we are able to move and at what pace,"

- Andre Beteille

THE passing of the 93rd Constitution Amendment Bill by the Lok Sabha unanimously has indeed resulted in the development of a fundamental right to education as a guaranteed right. It is important to analyse and evaluate the circumstances under which this Constitution Amendment has come to be passed and also the implications of the amendment on human rights and human development policies in India.

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The Constitution of India (Article 45) states that "the state shall endeavour to provide within a period of 10 years from the commencement of this Constitution for the free and compulsory education of all children until they complete the age of 14 years". This commitment was made more than 50 years ago. The Supreme Court of India, in its hearings of two cases in 1992-93 upheld the fundamental right to education. In Mohini Jain vs State of Karnataka, the Supreme Court, speaking through Justice Kuldip Singh, held that the right to education was part of the fundamental rights to life and personal liberty guaranteed by Article 21. In a subsequent case, Unnikrishnan vs State of Andhra Pradesh, the question came up, "whether the Constitution of India guaranteed a fundamental right to education to its citizens". While it was agreed that the right to education emanated from the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution, Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy observed that "...every child/citizen of this country has a right to free education until he completes the age of 14 years and after a child/citizen completes 14 years, his right to education is circumscribed by the limits of the economic capacity of the state and its development". Thus, this was the legal position relating to the right to education within the Constitution before the passing of the 93rd Constitution Amendment Bill.

The 93rd Constitution Amendment, with the insertion of a new article (Article 21 A) to say that "the state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six and 14 years in such manner as the state may, by law, determine", enable any citizen to seek the enforcement of the right by way of resort to writ jurisdiction under Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution. It is in this sense that the amendment has given an enforceable right to education. To have a particular right is to have a claim on other people or institutions that they should help or jointly collaborate to ensure access to that right or freedom. Thus, to assert a human right to free elementary education (as it is done through the 93rd Constitution Amendment) is to claim much more than that it would be a good thing for everyone to have elementary education - or even that everyone should have education. In asserting this right, the Constitution claims that all are entitled to free elementary education and that if some persons avoidably lack access to it, there must be some culpability somewhere in the social systems (Amartya Sen, 2000). This insistence on the enforceability of a right is the crucial dimension of the concept of integration of human rights with human development. But it needs to be observed that the Amendment in its present form illogically and unreasonably restricts the right to education for children between one and five years of age, which was earlier guaranteed by the Supreme Court's decision in Unnikrishnan. While the 93rd Constitution Amendment proposes to give constitutional sanctity to a legally enforceable right that already exists, it should not have narrowed the existing law on this issue by restricting the fundamental right to education for children between six and 14 years of age.

The inclusion of a fundamental right to education in the Constitution has indeed some parallels elsewhere in the world. Most important, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights through Article 26 provides that elementary education shall be free and compulsory, higher education shall be generally available on the basis of merit, and parents have a prior right to choose the type of education. Additionally, the South African Constitution has a provision for adult basic education, and further education, which the state will make available on a progressive basis (Article 29(1)). In France, there is no right to education as such, but the preamble of the Constitution provides for equal access for children and adults to education and training, including cultural education; providing free and secular public education is a duty of the state. Further the Conseil Constituionnel has also recognised a limited "freedom of private education". The Constitution of Argentina authorises Congress to ensure free and equitable public education (Article 75(19)); in Switzerland, the Constitution provides for a provision whereby citizens can seek free elementary education in government schools as well. In Japan, the Constitution provides for a fundamental right to education. All people shall be obligated to have all boys and girls under their protection receive ordinary education as provided by law and such compulsory education shall be free of cost (Article 26). In China, the Constitution provides for a fundamental right to education: citizens have a right as well as duty to receive education (Article 46).

THE Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 20, 1989, and it entered into force in record time on September 2, 1990. As of January 1, 2000, it had been ratified by 191 states. Only Somalia and the United States. remain outside the treaty regime. The Convention's coverage is considerable: it applies to 'every human being below the age of 18 years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier' (Article 1), thus putting the burden on the state to justify instances in which a lower age limit is prescribed. Article 28 of the CRC recognises the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, the states shall in particular make primary education compulsory and available free to all. Thus, the 93rd Constitution Amendment partially fulfils the mandate of the CRC, but with its relevance restricted to children aged between six and 14 years, it has a limited impact. The child's right to education is a matter not only of access (Article 28, CRC), but also of content. An education with its contents firmly rooted in the values of the CRC (Article 29 (1)) is for every child an indispensable tool for her or his efforts to achieve in the course of life a balanced, human rights-friendly response to the challenges that accompany a period of fundamental change driven by globalisation, new technologies and related phenomena. Such challenges include the tensions between, inter alia, the global and the local, the individual and the collective, tradition and modernity, long-term and short-term considerations, competition and equal opportunity, the expansion of knowledge and the capacity to assimilate it, and the spiritual and the material (UNESCO, 1996).

Article 29(1) of the CRC has far-reaching importance. The aims of education that it sets out, which have been agreed to by all states-parties, promote, support and protect the core values of the Convention: the human dignity innate in every child and his or her equal and inalienable rights. The aims are: the holistic development of the full potential of the child (29(1)(a)), including the development of respect for human rights (29(1)(b)), an enhanced sense of identity and affiliation (29(1)(c)), and his or her socialisation and interaction with others (29(1)(d)) and with the environment (29(1)(e). Thus Article 29(1) of the CRC not only adds to the right to education recognised in Article 28 a qualitative dimension which reflects the rights and inherent dignity of the child; it also insists upon the need for education to be child-centred, child-friendly and empowering, and it highlights the need for educational processes to be based upon the very principles it enunciates (The Aims of Education: 17/04/2001, CRC/GC/2001/1, CRC General Comment 1, U.N.). Hence, the State governments in India need to develop educational policies that are well in tune with the social realities.

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Human rights and human development share a common vision and a common purpose - to secure the freedom, well-being and dignity of all people everywhere - and hence both are about securing freedoms. Human rights presuppose that all people have legitimate claims for social arrangements, which protect them against all forms of abuses and deprivations, which entitle all people to the freedom for a life of dignity. Human development is a process of expanding and enhancing capabilities by increasing choices and opportunities so that all people can lead lives of respect and value. Thus, when human rights and human development progress together, they quite obviously support and reinforce each other, thereby expanding all people's capabilities and protecting their rights and fundamental freedoms (Human Development Report 2000, UNDP).

The "goal rights system" (Amartya Sen, 1982, 1985) liberates the system of rights from the narrow confines of constraint-based obligation by demanding active steps towards the fulfilment of rights. The general formulation of the goal rights system leaves open the question of what substantive rights needed to be included as part of societal goals. Amartya Sen himself has argued for considering "capability rights" as the substantive content of goal rights. In this view, societal goals should include the fulfilment of the people's right to capabilities. If one adopts this perspective in the context of the 93rd Constitution Amendment, then the right to education is to be viewed as a proxy for the more fundamental rights to the capabilities that derive from access to education, namely, the capabilities of being free from ignorance, being educated and being able to avoid illiteracy and vegetative existence, being able to participate actively in society, and so on. Thus, the extent to which the people's right to education is fulfilled will then be assessed by the extent to which these capabilities are being attained. Also, the right to education will entail as obligation any action that others can take to improve people's capabilities. This is because capability rights are perceived as goal rights, whose fulfilment is supposed to be part of societal goals (Osmani, 2001).

The human rights and human development policies in India have acquired their meaning, relevance and significance from the Constitution, which has for its credit provisions setting goals for a social revolution - such as the Directive Principles of State Policy, the Fundamental Rights, the articles protecting minority rights, and those assisting the weaker sections which have somewhat diminished the repression of hierarchy and the effects of the indifference among the upper castes and classes to the conditions of the lower castes and classes (Granville Austin, 1999). All these developments have undoubtedly affected the governance administration in India and would continue to do so in the years to come. But the right to education as guaranteed by the new Amendment has a greater role to play, because education is the means of self-realisation and self-expression and the physical, social, emotional and spiritual development of human beings. Education is the only means to help Indian children escape from the infernal cycle of poverty and succeed in their struggle for survival in the street, in servile jobs or in institutionalised ignorance.

THE Constitution has two specific chapters that broadly reflect the human rights and human development policies for governance administration. They are the chapters on Fundamental Rights in Part III and Directive Principles of State Policy in Part IV. The Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all citizens. These rights are fundamental because they are basic human rights and can be interpreted to mean civil and political rights. Articles 12 to 35 of the third chapter of the Constitution elaborate on the fundamental rights and their importance in democratic life. The six fundamental rights mentioned in the Constitution are: 1. Right to Equality, 2. Right to Freedom (of speech and expression, to assemble peacefully and without arms, to form unions and associations, to move freely within the territory of India, to live in any part of India, to practise any profession or occupation), 3. Right against Exploitation, 4. Right to Freedom of Religion, 5. Cultural and Educational Rights, 6. Right to Constitutional Remedies.

Articles 36 to 51 outline an important part of the framers' vision for good governance administration, which unfortunately was given scant regard to for many years by the state, either because of economic limitations or by deliberate political choice. Together, these are known as the Directive Principles of State Policy. Here are some examples of the Directive Principles:

Article 38: The state shall secure a social order for the promotion of welfare of the people; Article 39: The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing - a. that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood; b. that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to subserve the common good; c. that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment; d. that there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women; e. that the health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused, and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength; f. that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment.

The provisions contained in this part are not enforceable by any court of law, but the principles laid down are nevertheless fundamental in the governance of the country and it is the duty of the state to apply these principles in making laws (Article 37, Constitution of India). The object of the Directive Principles is to embody the concept of a welfare state (Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala). Interestingly, the Directive Principles, according to later decisions of the Supreme Court, have been held to supplement fundamental rights in achieving a welfare state. The contemporary relevance of human development policies in India may be traced back to the debate of including the chapter on Directive Principles of State Policy in the Constitution. Some critics received the idea of Directive Principles sceptically. Dr. K.C. Wheare doubted "whether there is any gain on balance from introducing these paragraphs of generalities into a Constitution". Notwithstanding this scepticism, experience has shown that the Directive Principles have been a guide for Parliament and the State Legislatures. The balance between the two is now considered part of the 'basic structure' of the Constitution (the Minerva Mills case).

IN addition to this, the Directive Principles of State Policy have been a great source of legal, jurisprudential and constitutional support for the judiciary in making decisions, besides guiding governmental bodies in formulating human development policies, thereby promoting good governance. The Government of India Fiscal Commission of 1949, for example, recognised that its recommendations should be guided by the Directive Principles. "It is obvious," the report said, "that a policy for the economic development of India should conform to the 'objectives' laid down in the Directive Principles of State Policy." Thus, it may be inferred that the Constitution has the basic framework upon which the human rights and human development polices of the country may be formulated for effective governance. But the integration of these two policies involves an approach that is highly demanding and ambitious upon the judiciary and other wings of government.

The Indian judiciary is mature enough to respond to this challenge of governance administration and hence need to play a pro-active role, thereby guiding Parliament and the executive towards greater integration of human rights and human development policies. The Supreme Court has already, through its creative interpretation of fundamental rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy, given legitimacy to the argument. It remains to be seen how far the other sections of the judiciary, including the High Courts and the lower courts, respond to the arguments of the Supreme Court and whether they are able to use these judgments to influence governance administration at the local, district and municipal levels. Also, the Supreme Court may itself adopt measures in the form of sanctions that would serve as enforcement guidelines to the executive, in the event of its non-adherence to these judgments that affect governance administration.

Human rights are the rights possessed by all persons, by virtue of their common humanity, to live a life of freedom and dignity. They give all people moral claims on the behaviour of individuals and on the design of social arrangements - and are universal, inalienable and indivisible. Human rights express our deepest commitment to ensure that all persons are secure in their enjoyment of the goods and freedoms that are necessary for dignified living. Human development is the process of enlarging people's choices, by expanding human functionings and capabilities. Human development thus also reflects human outcomes in these functionings and capabilities. It represents a process as well as an end. In the ultimate analysis, human development is the development of the people, for the people and by the people (Human Development Report 2000, UNDP).

The fundamental idea of human development, which believes in enriching the lives and freedoms of ordinary people, has much in common with the concerns expressed by various declarations of human rights. Thus, the promotion of human development and the fulfilment of human rights undoubtedly share a common motivation.

It would be interesting to examine as to how far this basic shared motivation between these two concepts to fulfil the commitment to achieve equality and dignity for all lives may be actually transferred for the integration of these two policies. An example of such a harmonious integration is the development of a fundamental human right to education within the Constitution. It remains to be seen how far it has helped to implement the human development policy of achieving literacy.

C. Raj Kumar, a Visiting Researcher at the New York University School of Law, New York, was a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford and a Gammon Fellow at the Harvard Law School.

Delta farmers in distress

S. VISWANATHAN the-nation

Farmers suffer heavy losses owing to a delay in the procurement of the crop and unseasonal rain.

THE month of Thai in the Tamil calendar, corresponding to the period of mid-January to mid-February, traditionally spells hope and cheer in Tamil Nadu. The first day of the month marks the beginning of the harvest festival of Pongal.

For the over 40 lakh people of the Cauvery delta, considered the rice granary of the State, however, Thai brought no cheer this year. Thousands of peasant families have been left in distress. Four days of unseasonal rain (January 31 to February 3) played havoc with the crops. "Samba" crops on between 3 lakh hectares and 4.5 lakh ha in Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Nagappattinam districts and parts of Cuddalore, Tiruchi and Pudukkottai districts (besides the Karaikal region of the Union Territory of Pondicherry at the tail end of the delta) were totally damaged. Many of the crops were under four to five feet of water for nearly a week. Initial estimates put the production loss in respect of paddy alone at between seven lakh and 10.5 lakh tonnes, worth Rs.400-600 crores. Paddy crops ("Thaladi" or "late Samba") on thousands of hectares of land more suffered damage of varying degrees. Pulses and grams grown on over 1.5 lakh ha were hit, resulting in a loss of over Rs.10 crores.

The harvest on about 50,000 ha had been completed before the rain. Last year's Samba output from the sown area of 5.4 lakh ha in the delta districts was 27 lakh tonnes, which formed roughly one-third of the State's total Samba output of 85 lakh tonnes.

Paddy in the rest of the land could not be harvested for want of storage facility. The farmers, mostly small and marginal ones, who generally raise crops with money borrowed at high rates of interest, have necessarily to depend on the Direct Purchase Centres (DPCs) not only for a fair price for their produce but also for storage space. They used to take the harvested paddy direct to the DPCs from the fields. The State government delayed its procurement policy and the DPCs were opened in the first phase by January 1, two weeks later than normal. This caused an inordinate delay in small and marginal farmers launching harvesting operations. Lakhs of agricultural workers, including a large number of those from the neighbouring districts, were rendered jobless.

Chief Minister O. Paneerselvam announced on February 4 that a high-level team of officials would visit the affected areas and assess the damage caused by the rain and on the basis of their report the government would come out with a relief package. He said the State would seek assistance from the Union government's National Calamities Fund. He also ordered payment of solatium to the families of 11 persons who were killed in the rain.

Over 1,000 farmers belonging to the Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam, a mass organisation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), courted arrest on February 9 at seven centres in the delta demanding immediate payment of compensation to the affected people and other relief measures. Sangam secretary K. Balakrishnan told Frontline that it was the government's bungling on the procurement front that exposed the ripe crops on lakhs of acres to the fury of the rain and caused unprecedented loss and hardship to the farmers and farm workers. It was, therefore, incumbent on the government to compensate the farmers fully for the loss they had suffered.

Balakrishnan said that from the very beginning the State government had been reluctant to open procurement centres. It was only in keeping with the Centre's policy of discouraging governmental price support to the farmers, which, in turn, was in compliance with World Trade Organisation norms, he said. Even the few DPCs opened by the government were either non-operational for want of infrastructure and manpower, or were keen on turning back supplies from the farmers for one reason or other, in terms of quality, moisture content, colour and so on.

About 50,000 farmers had participated in demonstrations organised jointly by farmers' and farm workers' organisations of different political parties, including the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, at a number of places across the delta on January 22 demanding speedy procurement operations. Over 10,000 demonstrators were taken into custody. At Paappanadu village in Thanjavur the police resorted to a lathi-charge in which hundreds of men and women were injured. Balakrishnan also led a road roko agitation at Chidambaram pressing the same demand and in the talks that followed the Civil Supplies authorities agreed to step up procurement operations.

By the time the government conceded the demand and increased the moisture content allowed from 18 per cent to 22 per cent, the rain intervened to destroy the crops in a substantial measure.

"WITH harvest yet to be done and no money to spend, Pongal this year was one of the worst for thousands of families in this region," said S. Ranganathan, Secretary, Cauvery Delta Farmers Welfare Association. "The subsequent rain wiped out the entire crop they had raised with money borrowed at abnormal rates of interest," he added.

Ranganathan and Balakrishnan, as also G. Krishnamurti, vice-president, Thanjavur District Farmers Association (Tiruvarur and Nagappattinam), asserted that if the government had stuck to the usual procurement schedule (of commencing the operations by December 15) and had been more realistic with regard to the quality, colour and moisture content, the entire procurement operation could have been completed by mid-January and the crop loss owing to the rain could have been reduced to the minimum.

Leaders of farmers' organisations allege that the crisis in procurement has been engineered by the trader-bureaucrat-politician nexus. They allege that this has been done to favour private trade, forcing distressed farmers to sell their produce to traders rather than the government.

Ranganathan said a timely alert by the Meteorological Department could have saved at least the harvested paddy spread in the open air for drying at many places. He said that the silent sufferers of the disaster were the cattle, whose staple food, straw, had been totally lost.

A cover-up game

JOHN CHERIAN the-nation

Defence Minister George Fernandes denies the Public Accounts Committee access to a CVC report that possibly points to irregular defence deals, belying his professed stance of transparency.

AFTER he first took charge as Defence Minister in 1998, George Fernandes announced amid much media hoopla that under his stewardship there would be complete transparency in defence deals. Eliminating corruption in defence deals, he said, would be among his priorities. He also announced that all major defence deals made since 1989 would be probed, for there were allegations of multi-million-dollar kickbacks. Fernandes acted on his commitment: he sent the files pertaining to 76 defence deals for examination by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) in February 2000.

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Fernandes asked the CVC specifically to look into the allegations about the role of middlemen and agents in defence - any involvement by them in defence-related purchases had been banned. Central Vigilance Commissioner N. Vittal duly examined the files relating to contracts individually exceeding Rs.75 crores and submitted his report to the Defence Minister at the end of March 2001. But the report, which has reportedly pointed out instances of serious irregularities in several defence deals, has been gathering dust. The scandal that erupted in the wake of the Tehelka expose last year also showed that corruption and venality were ingrained in the defence procurement system.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament had also decided to scrutinise some of the defence deals in the wake of the public outcry over the massive arms purchases after the Kargil War. The PAC decided to look into the CVC report much before the Comptroller and Auditor General's (CAG) comments on some of the Defence Ministry's recent purchases were released in December last year. The Defence Ministry has been working overtime in recent weeks to rubbish the CAG's damning conclusions pertaining to the purchase of steel caskets for the martyrs of the Kargil War.

Another defence scandal is the last thing the government wants, especially when the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab are round the corner. Fernandes hence took an easy way out - he invoked the mantra of national security to deny the PAC access to the CVC report. The Defence Minister in his letter to PAC Chairman N.D. Tiwari dated January 17, said that if the CVC's report on post-1989 defence purchases was made available to the parliamentary committee, it had the potential of being prejudicial "to the interests of the state". The letter further stated that since the CVC report was based on "secret" and "top secret" documents of the government, supplied not only by the Ministry of Defence but also by intelligence agencies, it would not be in the public interest to divulge its contents.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has not even bothered to specify what action it took on the original report submitted by the CVC. The only tangible action taken by the government was to allow the re-entry of agents and middlemen into the lucrative Indian arms baazaar. The government said that the CVC's report recommended an open system for the registration of defence agents so that the procurement process could be made more transparent. The CVC is of the view that the registration of agents would help reduce the scope for corruption.

ALL major Opposition parties have strongly criticised the latest actions of the Defence Minister. The Congress(I) has demanded that the Defence Ministry immediately review its "entirely untenable" decision and make the CVC report available to the PAC. Congress spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy said that the decision of the Defence Ministry only showed that it had "a tremendous lot to hide" from the PAC. The PAC is the ultimate authority under the Constitution to look into such sensitive matters, Jaipal Reddy said. He described the Defence Minister's stand as being "highly unacceptable" and said it was similar to the one he had taken on the "Tehelka" and "coffingate" scandals. He added that the Defence Minister had changed his position from one of "unilateral transparency" to "blanket stonewalling". At the same time, Jaipal Reddy said that his party was not for turning the CVC's report into a "public" document.

The Left parties have been highly critical of the government's move. They have objected to the "selective leaks" of the CVC report by the Atal Behari Vajpayee government. The Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said: "In a democratic system, defence contracts involving huge amounts of money must be transparent and accountable to Parliament. To take cover behind grounds such as 'prejudicial to the interests of the state' are untenable." The Communist Party of India in a statement said that the Defence Minister's stand was not acceptable.

It is reported that the CVC is of the opinion that constitutional provisions allow the Chairman of the PAC to see the report, even if the document is categorised as a "secret" one by the government.

Fernandes, however, is inflexible on the issue. He recently stated that Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi had held that the CVC report was a secret document and could not be handed over to the parliamentary committee.

The Left parties have alleged that the government is adopting double standards on the issue. "It is the same George Fernandes who leaked confidential documents to some persons to promote a booklet to defend himself," it was stated. There have been allegations that the Defence Minister, in a bid to defend himself from the serious charges contained in the CAG's report on Kargil-related defence procurements, provided an individual access to key Defence Ministry documents.

R.V. Pandit, a former editor and entrepreneur, who has been championing right-wing causes for many years, recently came out with a booklet attacking the CAG report and giving a clean chit to Fernandes in the "coffingate" scandal. Fernandes has vehemently denied that Pandit was given access to secret documents. But he does not deny that Pandit was given full cooperation by the Defence Ministry to produce his booklet, "The Whole Truth with all the Documents about the Aluminium Caskets bought by the Defence Ministry in 1999-2000".

The booklet, which is very critical of the media coverage on the "coffingate" scandal, gives a clean chit to the Defence Ministry and all officials involved in the scam. Pandit holds Army and Defence Ministry officials responsible for only "minor goof-ups". He has, on the other hand, castigated the media, for their coverage of the report, and the CAG. Fernandes said that "Pandit's documented story is very different from what the press published, and based on what it published, accused the Ministry of Defence, the NDA government, and me, personally, of irregularities, wrong-doing and corruption". He went on to say that Pandit's booklet, "with documents, showed that the CAG review to be not entirely factual" and that the media accounts pertaining to the CAG reports were "largely exaggerated and untruthful".

The Opposition parties have criticised Fernandes' espousal of Pandit's recent journalistic efforts. CPI(M) leader Somnath Chatterjee said that the only purpose of the booklet was to malign the office of the CAG and those sections of the media that made critical observations about the functioning of the Defence Ministry. He has written to the Prime Minister, drawing the latter's attention to the flouting of established procedures for dealing with CAG reports by Parliament.

Somnath Chatterjee wrote further: "Fernandes has in open violation of all norms and conventions sponsored Pandit to launch a frontal attack on the CAG and he has approvingly forwarded the same with a view to join in the campaign against a high constitutional authority." The veteran parliamentarian requested that the Prime Minister take appropriate action and reassure the nation that such violation of established conventions will not be permitted. He also said that the continuance of Fernandes in the cabinet has become even more "untenable". But the NDA government's priority now seems to be to silence those sections of the media that have sought to expose corruption in defence purchases. The use of state machinery to hound tehelka.com is an illustration.

Ram Jethmalani, who earlier held the Law portfolio in the Vajpayee Cabinet, described the prevailing political situation as worse than that which existed during the "emergency". He, along with another former Law Minister, Shanti Bhushan, was addressing a press conference in the first week of February, after stories started appearing in the media suggesting that the First Global, a company that has a financial stake in the "Tehelka" portal, had links with Pakistani intelligence agencies. Shanti Bhushan said that he was appalled at the government's attempts to characterise the media's efforts to expose corruption in defence deals as "anti-national activity".

The Andipatti roadshow

The AIADMK exudes confidence, having pampered Andipatti voters enough to get them to elect party supremo Jayalalithaa.

IT is Jayalalithaa phantasmagoria that rolls through the length and breadth of the sprawling Andipatti constituency in Tamil Nadu. Be it compound walls, temple walls, overhead water tanks, walls of classrooms or of houses, Jayalalithaa's portrait dominates the landscape. But what takes the cake is a tall, newly-built wall in the midst of a vast field at Kandamanur only to carry the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's election slogans. It has Jayalalithaa's picture freshly painted with a slogan asking voters to support one who had received "the blessings of puratchi thalaivar" (revolutionary leader, the late M.G. Ramachandran, AIADMK founder, former Chief Minister and film actor). This is a singular example of the manpower and money-power that the ruling AIADMK has deployed in Andipatti.

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The significance of the Andipatti byelection lies in the fact that AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa, if elected, will become Chief Minister. O. Panneerselvam, who does not feel shy to describe himself as a "temporary Chief Minister", will willingly step aside for her. AIADMK legislator Thanga Tamilselvan resigned from the seat to enable her to contest.

Opposing the puissant might of Jayalalithaa is the soft-spoken 'Vaigai' S. Sekar of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Others in the fray are V. Jeyachandran of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), Dr. K. Krishnasamy of the Puthiya Tamizhagam, a Dalit-based party, and 20 independents. Polling will be on February 21.

Given the political polarisation, with all the allies of the AIADMK having walked out on it, and the financial crisis, with the government having sharply increased milk prices, bus fares and electricity tariffs, the mood is not exactly in favour of the AIADMK. Yet Jayalalithaa may canter to victory chiefly because an MGR-nostalgia wave is sweeping Andipatti, and the Opposition has failed to put up a common candidate against her. The mood of the women voters, who, surprisingly, outnumber men voters here, is this: Our vote is not necessarily for amma but for irattai ilai (two leaves, the election symbol of the AIADMK).

Perumayi at Kunnur was chagrined that the AIADMK government did not distribute free saris and dhotis to poor people during the Pongal festival in January. Yet her vote will be for irattai ilai. She pointed to the sari she was wearing and claimed, "I got it when MGR was alive". MGR died in 1987.

At Marikundu, N. Karuppu Thevar listed the benefits that Andipatti received when people elected MGR (in 1984): roads, water supply, bus service, a sugar factory and a cooperative spinning mill. On a mountain road beyond Varusanadu, where the Vaigai river serenely flows, R. Sothiraj exulted that MGR "levelled a bit of this mountain and laid this road". People want to demonstrate their gratitude to MGR by voting for two leaves. Besides, there is expectation that by voting for Jayalalithaa, employment opportunities would boom in Andipatti, and basic amenities would improve.

There is, however, dissatisfaction over the price rise and the DMK leaders are cashing in on this. At Bomminaickenpatti, AIADMK, DMK and MDMK election offices jostle each other, with flags, buntings and streamers galore. Bomminaickenpatti has 4,300 voters. The Muslim community accounts for 2,100 voters and the rest belong to the Scheduled Castes.

At the DMK office, A. Amsa Mohammed said: "Women are shell-shocked at the massive increase in the electricity tariff, bus fare and milk price. The AIADMK government has stopped the distribution of eggs to children as part of the mid-day meal scheme. There was no distribution of saris and dhotis during Pongal. So people will vote for the DMK."

In his public meetings, T.R. Baalu, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests, referred to the rise in prices. The AIADMK government increased the price of rice sold in ration shops from Rs.3.50 to Rs.9 a kg but then reduced it because of the election, he told the crowd. After a pause, Baalu added, "Once Jayalalithaa is elected, it will go up to Rs.9 again." He went on: "Can you meet her if she is elected? Can you tell her your grievances? She will remain inaccessible to you." But if they voted for Vaigai Sekar, they could meet him and tell him their grievances, he said.

The AIADMK is hard-pressed to reply to these points. What it lacks in the cut and thrust of debate, it has made up in sound and fury. Leading the noise brigade is T.T.V. Dinakaran, AIADMK's campaign manager. He is its Lok Sabha member from Periakulam constituency of which Andipatti forms a part.

At Kunnur village, Dinakaran rode in an open jeep with lights focussed on him. A folk dance troupe performed karagattam to tunes from MGR films. Urchins walking ahead burst firecrackers every few minutes.

An elderly C. Dhanapal, president of the Kunnur panchayat union, who had been with the DMK since its founding in 1949, joined the AIADMK in Dinakaran's presence. Dinakaran asked Dhanapal to join him in the jeep and treated him as if he were a prize trophy.

Dinakaran called Andipatti punya bhoomi (holy soil) because MGR got elected from there. He said Dhanapal crossed the floor because of DMK president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi's "anti-people activities". Dinakaran promised that Andipatti would become "a self-sufficient constituency" if people voted for Jayalalithaa.

Okkarapatti village has defied the electioneering trend. There is no election graffiti or poster. Party flags are taboo too. But party candidates and their supporters can drum up support. Kothampattu village has enforced a similar rule.

THE topography of Andipatti constituency is varied - bone-dry, arid land, lush paddy and sugarcane fields, the Western Ghats clothed with forests and the Vaigai coursing down an enchanting valley. The constituency stretches up to 38 km across at one point but its population is sparse. The total number of voters is 2,08,215(1,01,795 men and 1,06,420 women) compared to four lakhs in a normal Assembly constituency. Piranmalai Kallars account for 35 per cent of the population, Naidus 30 per cent, Dalits 22 per cent and the rest 13 per cent.

After Jayalalithaa announced her candidature on December 4, Andipatti became pampered - metalled roads replaced katcha ones; two water supply projects have been announced; applications for pension for old people, destitutes, widows and the physically challenged have been processed in double-quick time; and Dalit girls have received cycles to go to school. Further, five AIADMK Rajya Sabha members allotted Rs.50 lakhs each from their Local Area Development Fund for developmental activities.

Development issues are the dominant concern of the electorate. The universal demand is for the construction of toilets in villages. In small towns, the voters complain about mosquitoes being pervasive and lack of drainage facilities.

As it happened during the elections in 1998, 1999 and 2001, Dalits, disillusioned with the mainstream parties, are reasserting their identity. They say they will vote for Dr. Krishnasamy. At Thangammalpuram, when a caste Hindu said he was not aware that Dr. Krishnasamy was a contestant, a young Dalit who was cutting sugarcane in the field, enthusiastically announced that "Doctor" was very much in the fray. Dalits everywhere demanded cement-built houses in their colonies.

Two factors, not easy to assess, are at work at Andipatti. With the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), the Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India having decided "not to participate" in this byelection, for whom will their supporters' vote? A. Ponnukutti, a DMK supporter at Marikundu, said the DMK was trying to "convince'' these parties' supporters to vote for Vaigai Sekar. "But the votes will be divided between the DMK and the AIADMK," Ponnukutti conceded. Karuppu Thevar, a Congressman, asked, "How can the party leadership prevent us from voting? We have to vote."

The other factor is the Muslims vote. The TMC, the Congress, and the Left parties have alleged that the AIADMK was getting close to the Bharatiya Janata Party as could be seen from its support to the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO), its silence on issues such as the re-induction of George Fernandes as Defence Minister and the coffin scam. But Muslims are suspicious of the DMK too because of its extant alliance with the BJP. As on February 4, the AIADMK machinery presented a picture of confidence with its systematic work while the DMK machinery showed lack of coherence.

People's carnival at Porto Alegre

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The Second World Social Forum at Porto Alegre, Brazil, was not just a rejection of undemocratic globalisation but even more, a celebration of the more positive aspects of internationalism.

THE Brazilians love festivities, and of course they are also very good at them. And so when they hosted the Second World Social Forum between January 31 and February 5, at the town of Porto Alegre, it really became a wonderful carnival, as only the Brazilians can do it, but with the essential and enthusiastic participation of large numbers of people from across the world.

The First World Social Forum was held in this town last year, in counterpoint to the World Economic Forum that is usually held at Davos, Switzerland, to indicate that the true concerns of people were not just ignored but increasingly trampled upon by that meeting of corporate capital and its assistants. Since then the World Social Forum has grown in both stature and attraction, and can no longer be defined in terms of the "other", since it has become a gathering of those seeking to reclaim the spirit of internationalism for people across the world, away from the undemocratic globalisation of corporate capital.

So this huge mela was much more than a simple anti-globalisation protest or even an attempt to bring together critiques of the current system. Rather, it was a much more positive exercise to show that there are alternatives which are both attractive and feasible, and to indicate the spread and proliferation of dissent as well as of creative options.

THE sheer size of the event required very impressive organisation. There were more than 15,000 delegates (8,000 from outside Brazil) and more than 40,000 participants in the public events such as the opening march and rally and the subsequent festivities up to the emotional closing ceremony. The delegates were from 117 countries, taking part in more than 500 officially organised conferences, seminars and workshops along with other public events and spontaneous activities, as well as a wide range of cultural performances, including street and open air performances of various kinds. A youth camp involving tens of thousands of young people was held simultaneously in a major park in the city, with joyous late night concerts and other attractions.

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To a large extent this extraordinary event was possible because of the specific character of Porto Alegre, which is the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, one of the richest provinces of Brazil. For the past ten years it has been governed by an explicitly socialist party, the Workers Party (Parti Trabalhadores or PT), which also took control of the provincial government two years ago. This very competent socialist government has ensured public infrastructure and efficient services that are significantly better than those in many First World cities. The willingness and ability of the PT and the government it controls, to host this very large and varied gathering was obviously crucial in ensuring its success.

The opening ceremony itself, with its impressive starting march and rally, with strains reminiscent of Woodstock as well as the more recent major social protest movements across the world, set the tone for what was to follow. While there was much that was greatly serious and important, in terms of analysis and critique of the current world order and presentation of alternatives across a range of areas, there was also a very strong sense of fun and enjoyment throughout. This was evident in the crowds milling around the campus of the Catholic University where many of the events occurred, the spontaneous displays on the streets, the large and motivated audiences that filled halls and even distant warehouses and gymnasia around the city that hosted some of the events.

The mainstream press internationally has been quick to downplay this event, or to sneer at its enthusiasm. Thus, The Economist of London described the World Social Forum as "the Disney World of the Left", and others tried to focus on more extreme or fringe elements among the participants to pretend that the Forum was less representative than it actually was. But all that could not squelch the vitality and gusto of the participants. Certainly the basic spirit of the whole jamboree reflected an earlier slogan of the PT: "We are not afraid to be happy".

Of course, it is not as though this happiness is something that would automatically emerge from the current state of the world. And indeed most of the conferences and workshops highlighted and brought into sharp focus the many and growing problems associated with aggressive capitalism and unequal development, as well as the difficulties of dealing with rampant U.S. imperialism which has been made even more belligerent by the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

But despite this, the overall sense was one of great positive energy. Partly it was simply the realisation that there are so many different groups all over the world, very different in many ways, but sharing a basic aversion to exploitative capitalism. Partly it was the knowledge being shared of other experiences, the awareness of other struggles and sometimes of small but impressive victories. Partly it was the emphasis on going beyond critiques to presenting clear and viable alternatives to present strategies.

It was also the presence in one place of so many inspiring figures, ranging from Noam Chomsky and Manuel Escobar to Rigoberta Menchu from Guatemala, Makal Aref from Afghanistan and Nawal el Saadawy from Egypt, and a host of others, including activists from India such as Medha Patkar. And then there was the infectious enthusiasm of the tens of thousands of young people who thronged the meetings and listened for hours to the heated discussions. There was the grateful participation of so many cultural groups - artists, musicians, dramatists - who enlivened the proceedings daily and constantly. When all this was put together with the spirit of Brazil, with its huge capacity for spontaneous celebration, it was a heady mix.

MUCH is written in the mainstream press disparaging the anti-globalisation movement. And certainly it is true that insofar as it is a movement, it is unlike those of the past, both in its international orientation and in its very nature. In a succinct exposition, Walden Bello from the Philippines underlined some of the key features of the current movement: it is decentralised and flexible, it is relatively suspicious of representative democracy and prefers "direct" democracy, its leadership is not elected but "emerges" more in the form of moral authority, it is explicitly both national and global in its focus.

While these can be seen as positive features, each of them also can create problems, in particular when viewed in relation to the much more organised and powerful enemy that it seeks to confront. And of course, this in turn means that the anti-globalisation "movement" is not really one movement at all, but a huge coalition of what are often very disparate and differing forces.

But this may be precisely why it is so important to have gatherings like the World Social Forum, which allow for more detailed elaboration and working through of the differences as well as the commonalities, which in turn lay the ground for much more effective future struggles. The conferences, seminars and workshops - and indeed the subsequent discussions that seemed to continue far into the night in the bars and even at noisy public concerts - served to make positions explicit, to clarify and sharpen understanding. This was important not only because it is necessary to be aware of the precise nature of the differences and the common ground. Eventually, it should serve to empower those involved in their own local and national struggles, and to make for more effective action in one's own context.

The possibilities were encapsulated at one level in the experience of the Planning Secretary from East Timor, a very bright woman whose newly independent government is being led slowly but surely by the World Bank into the now standard external debt trap. She described how the sessions made her realise that many of the proposals made by foreign consultants, which her government has already unwittingly accepted, are actually detrimental to her people's interests, and how she can now think of exploring alternative strategies.

So such a gathering can have truly positive learning effects. But even apart from these, and from the unique opportunity to mingle with such a wide range of broadly progressive people from across the world, there were other invigorating effects of these few days for most of the participants. Most of all, because the very gathering served as a strong reaffirmation of the basic slogan of the World Social Forum: "Another world is possible".

Central Asian ambitions

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The Bush administration's military and diplomatic blueprint for Central Asia alarms even some of its allies.

BEFORE the United States-led "war on terrorism" started in early October, the Bush administration had obtained permission from the governments of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan for base facilities for U.S. troops. Russia and China had no objections to the temporary use of the bases for what was generally thought would be a short war against the Taliban militia in Afghanistan. The U.S. had then assured Russia that it would wind up the bases once the Taliban was wiped out and a friendly government was installed in Kabul. But it is now clear that the Bush administration had long-term military plans for the region - as many people had predicted.

Senior officials and diplomats in Moscow had warned Russian President Vladimir Putin against trusting Washington too much in the aftermath of September 11. Moscow was evidently lulled into complacency by repeated statements from top U.S. officials that Russian strategic interests in the region would not be harmed and that Washington continued to acknowledge that Central Asia was in the Russian sphere of influence.

In order to underline further his credentials as a staunch ally of Bush, Putin announced the unilateral withdrawal of Russia from the important military facility it had in Cuba. Simultaneously, Moscow decided in October to withdraw from the Cam Ranh naval base in Vietnam. This decision was an expected one as the base was of little strategic importance given the diminished role of the Russian Navy, but the electronic listening centre in Lourdes is said to have provided Moscow with 75 per cent of its intelligence on the U.S.

Instead of showing reciprocity, Washington reacted by walking out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, increasing its defence budget dramatically and preparing the ground to set up a ring of military bases in Central Asia. Indications are that the Bush administration is getting ready for another war, in tune with "the doctrine of perpetual war" being propounded by the Pentagon currently. In his State of the Union address in January, President Bush identified the next set of enemies, making it clear that the war on terrorism was not over yet. Top on the current U.S. list are Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

The Saudi Arabian government has asked for the winding up of American bases on its territory. The U.S. presence there has deeply hurt the sensitivities of the Saudi people. The ouster of U.S. troops from Saudi territory was accorded the highest priority by Osama bin Laden in his statements and interviews before he disappeared from the radar screen. The loss of Saudi bases would hamper U.S. efforts to wage new wars in the region. This is one of the reasons why Washington is keen to set up new, permanent military bases in Central Asia.

THE other important reason is that the region has one of the largest deposits of oil and gas in the world, much of it still untapped. There are billions of dollars to be made in the laying of oil and gas pipeline projects. One of the pipelines that could be expedited is the one from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, passing through Afghanistan. The U.S. wants to extend this to India. The former Taliban Ambassador to Islamabad had said that the war in Afghanistan was waged not to catch Osama bin Laden but for the oil and gas resources of the region. Some American commentators are of the opinion that the presence of the U.S. military in Central Asia is directly linked to the interests of American big business.

China has reasons to feel threatened with the growing American military presence in the region as the Central Asian republics share borders with it. The hawks in the Bush administration and several leading think tanks in the U.S. have identified China as a looming threat to U.S.' superpower status. Observers say that the U.S. has started the second "Great Game", one in which it has substituted Britain. The main rivals this time will be Russia, China and Iran. The prize: total control of the Central Asian energy resources.

Even the U.S.' allies are alarmed by the Bush administration's attempt at global overreach. Only New Delhi and Islamabad seem to be unperturbed about the U.S.' military blueprint for Asia. Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf and his senior officials have at least not articulated their opinions openly about the U.S.' military and diplomatic moves. External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh told U.S. journalists in late January that New Delhi was not averse to the U.S. presence in Central Asia. "I don't think that America can give up its Central Asian presence now.... You will be criticised. The presence troubles Russia and China," he said. For good measure, he added that the U.S. troops should stay on in Pakistan.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who was in New Delhi in the first week of February, called for closer cooperation among Moscow, Beijing and New Delhi. With the dramatic growth in the U.S. presence in the region, there was a new sense of urgency for triangular cooperation, which was also shared by Beijing, he said. New Delhi tried to put Ivanov's proposal on the back-burner. But Russia's persistence seems to have worked to the extent that before Ivanov's departure, the Foreign Office signalled that India was willing to work "slowly and steadily" towards the goal of triangular cooperation.

Reports appearing in influential sections of the U.S. media have said that the Pentagon has started working on the physical infrastructure of a military presence in Central Asia "that could last for years". American military engineers are constructing an air base in Kyrgyztan and improving base facilities in Uzbekistan and Pakistan. The U.S. decision to deploy 3,000 troops in Kyrgyztan came after the war in Afghanistan was virtually over. Over 1,500 U.S. soldiers are stationed in Uzbekistan. The country has been granted $160 million in aid, evidently for supporting the military action.

UZBEK President Islam Karimov, in the meantime, conducted a referendum in late January, which extended his term of office by another two years. According to the government in Tashkent, 91 per cent of the voters approved the change in the Constitution although local Opposition and human rights groups have a different story to tell. Washington which otherwise keeps a hawk's eye on human rights abuses and undemocratic acts by authoritarian governments in the region, preferred to give Karimov a free hand, for obvious reasons.

U.S. officials say that the new bases will be able to accommodate F-15 multi-role fighters. The Manas air base in Kyrgyztan has the longest runway in the region. Before the war on Afghanistan started, the U.S. had explained that the bases were needed to stage air attacks and plan logistics.

In fact, U.S. diplomatic activity in the region has increased. There has been a flurry of high-level visits to the region. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, while on a visit to Tashkent in January, said that the U.S. would build up its presence in the region in order to further the country's interests. The American presence would be a "long-term" one, he said.

Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the U.S. Central Command (Centcom) chief, tried to allay the fears in the region by stating that the U.S. had "not at all made any long-term arrangements for a presence either in Uzbekistan or in any of the other states in Central Asia". Franks was touring the region in late January. He told mediapersons in Tashkent that while the U.S. did not intend to have permanent military bases in the region, it would have a military presence "in certain places for certain periods of time". Another senior U.S. official, Rear Admiral Craig Quigley, Director of Public Affairs, Central Command, tried to give a spin to the issue. He told the media in Tashkent that the U.S. had "no intention" to establish a chain of permanent military bases throughout Central Asia but added that a time-limit had not been set for U.S. deployment because the war on terrorism was not over.

The Americans have replaced the Russians as the new trainers of the Kyrgyz army and special military units, after the two countries signed an agreement during Gen. Franks' visit. According to Russian military experts, the way the U.S. expanded the Khanabad airport in Uzbekistan indicated that its troops are preparing for a long stay.

The opacity of Camp X-Ray

VIJAY PRASHAD world-affairs

The prisoners of the Fifth Afghan War at Guantanamo Bay represent yet another example of violation of international norms by the United States in its own interests.

ON January 29, President George W. Bush stood alongside Afghanistan's interim leader Hamid Karzai in front of the White House in Washington and told the press that "there's no evidence that we're treating (the Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners in Cuba) outside the spirit of the Geneva Conventions, and for those who say we are, they just don't know what they're talking about. I'm looking at the legalities involved with the Geneva Conventions. However, I make my decision, these detainees will be well treated."

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Karzai, who was in the United States to attend Bush's State of the Union address and the World Economic Forum in New York ("Davos on the Hudson") nodded his assent. The Afghans held in cages in the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, he indicated, neither posed a legal anomaly nor did their conditions raise substantial issues about human rights violations. Before the National Press Club, Karzai noted sharply, "They are criminals. I don't see them as prisoners of war. They brutalised Afghanistan. They killed our people. They destroyed our land. There was no war there. It was plain killing fields. Very plain killing fields. And these people are the perpetrators of that atrocity." Given his record of being enthralled by the powerful (the Taliban when they were in power, the Central Intelligence Agency when his offer to work for the Taliban at the United Nations was rebuffed), it is hardly surprising that Karzai should endorse wholeheartedly the U.S. position against the interests of many of his own countrymen.

As the Fifth Afghan War winds to a close, the U.S. holds 482 prisoners both in its jails in Afghanistan and in the detention jail in the U.S.-held part of Cuba. These prisoners, it turns out, are not only Taliban regulars (thereby being Afghans), but they are also those "Afghan Arabs" and others who came to the region during the 1980s and afterwards, first to fight the left-of-centre regimes and then to take shelter under Taliban rule. Many of the latter hail from Saudi Arabia and Yemen (the two largest contributors), as also from Sweden, Britain, France and Australia. (The U.S. says that the prisoners come from 25 nations, but only these six countries have identified themselves.)

The U.S. has thus far only found one of its citizens among the arrested, John Walker Lind, who is being tried in a U.S. Federal Court under various charges that amount to treason and sedition. Two prison uprisings in Afghanistan and the massacre of several arrested combatants by Northern Alliance troops (with CIA agents nearby) have reduced the number of prisoners, but by all accounts those that are being sent to Cuba seem to be Al Qaeda and Taliban forces with information about networks that the U.S. wants to secure.

Within days of the arrival of the 158 prisoners in Cuba, several of the U.S.' main allies began to offer criticisms of the detention policy. The prisoners arrived at the eastern end of the controversial U.S. base in shackles and with hoods over their faces. The U.S. military transferred them into wire cages where they live exposed to the elements, with no protection against the snakes and rats that run rife over the undomesticated regions of Cuba. Winds, heat and rain will batter the exposed prisoners as they sit, with one Koran among them, to pray, to eat and to suffer the indignity of their capture. These are not conditions in which the U.S. troops live, a marker of their conditions as prisoners of war (PoWs) as reported by the 1949 Geneva Conventions to which the U.S. is a signatory. For this reason, the International Red Cross, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among other international human rights groups, immediately challenged the U.S. legal position. The governments of France and Britain also weighed in with their concerns: France over the treatment of all the "suspects", and Britain over the treatment of five Englishmen held at the camp.

The Cuban government, up to the challenge of this most recent provocation at Guantanamo, denounced the use of the base as a holding pen for the statusless persons as well as the conditions of the camps themselves. The U.S. could very well have taken these prisoners onto the mainland and settled them at any number of the penitentiaries set up during the prison boom of the last two decades, so it is significant that the government chose Cuba as the site for Camp X-Ray.

In late January, Saudi Arabian Interior Minister Prince Nayef weighed in with comprehensive criticism against the treatment of the hundred Saudis at the camp (the largest detachment). "I know about them," he said, "but we don't know the charges against them except that they were arrested in Afghanistan. The issue of prisoners is important to us and we ask that they be handed over to us so we can interrogate them, since they fall under the kingdom's regulations." In response, the Pentagon's spokesperson, Victoria Clarke, noted that the U.S. military would return those prisoners to "those countries that we feel will handle them appropriately. We have no desire to hold on to large numbers of detainees of any kind for any great length of time. But we want to make sure these people are not back out on the streets." The aim of the camp, by this declaration, is not to hold the prisoners until trial, but to retain them in a situation of life imprisonment forthwith.

The issue of names for the prisoners is central to the dispute over Camp X-Ray. The U.S. claims that these "detainees" are not PoWs, that their dangerous behaviour and tendencies lead them to be held in cages that deny them any privacy. The Pentagon, therefore, insists that the 158 people held in Cuba are "unlawful combatants", an illogical phrase that has no room in international law but which was used in 1942 by the U.S. Army to define arrested German saboteurs. In the Geneva Conventions there are only two kinds of people: combatants and civilians, where combatants are those in the armed forces "of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces," or else "members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organised resistance movements" where the marks of a militia are, among others, that they bear arms, that they have a "fixed distinctive sign recognisable at a distance" (Article 4.1 and Article 4.2. a, b and c). The Taliban forces and officials certainly fall under the first part of the definition and the Al Qaeda forces fit the latter description since they are a volunteer, but organised detachment that, by U.S. accounts, worked alongside the Taliban regulars.

National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice released a letter on January 28 in which she defended the government's stand, saying particularly that the Geneva Conventions do not apply here because the Taliban was an illegal government and that these prisoners did not fight in a standing army. The Conventions, however, do state that even if the government in the conflict is not recognised (as the U.S. claims of the Taliban), the status of PoW is accorded without qualification to "members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognised by the detaining power" (Article 4.A.3). In response to the statement by Rice, Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth noted: "The U.S. government cannot choose to wage war in Afghanistan with guns, bombs and soldiers and then assert that the laws of war do not apply. To say that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to a war on terrorism is particularly dangerous, as it is all too easy to imagine this 'exception' coming back to haunt U.S. forces in future conflicts."

Why, then, is the U.S. government adamant on Camp X-Ray? Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld intimated that the conditions are not as bad as many think because Cuba is a tropical island and it is not horrendous to sleep outdoors. This cavalier attitude belies the U.S.' own use of the base as a settlement site for Haitian and Cuban refugees in 1994, when the refugees stayed in stark, inhospitable, but at the very least permanent hard-walled shelters. This time there are no walls, only fortified wire mesh. If the refugees stayed in enclosed shelters, if the U.S. troops stay in barracks, why should these prisoners sleep in the open?

Early on in the process, the Defence Department noted that these prisoners would be interrogated for information about Taliban-Al Qaeda links and the Al Qaeda networks around the world. Paul Wolfowitz, former U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia and now Deputy Secretary of Defence, warned that "going after Al Qaeda in Indonesia is not something that should wait until after Al Qaeda has been uprooted from Afghanistan." And indeed by late January, 650 U.S. "advisers" made their way to the Basilan Islands of the Philippines to take on the Abu Sayyaf group so that, in the words of U.S. Pacific forces commander Admiral Dennis C. Blair, "Asia is not the last bastion of Al Qaeda" and to "make it inhospitable for terrorists to come here". The forward strategy of the U.S. requires intelligence from those human beings who had been part of the Al Qaeda network and can perhaps provide the CIA with names and information on the networks.

The interrogations in Afghanistan proved difficult, and the most hardened and senior people in the Taliban and Al Qaeda are now in Cuba where they will be asked to "cooperate" with U.S. intelligence. What better strategy to "soften up" the prisoners than to expose them to the elements and to give them as little intellectual stimulation as possible. The U.S. military and intelligence forces will not, most probably, emulate the Israeli Defence Forces' techniques for the extraction of information - mainly involving highly developed torture. Short of that, the brutal conditions at Camp X-Ray may assist the U.S. intelligence officers to extract information on Al Qaeda networks in Indonesia, the Philippines and the rest of the oil lands, in order to enable the U.S.' ongoing operations in the area.

The U.S. signed the 1994 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, whose second article notes, "no exceptional circumstance whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture". This means that the terrible events of September 11, 2001, do not suffice as a reason for the U.S. to use extraordinary means to extract information on future attacks on its soil. If the prisoners in Cuba are designated as PoWs, then they are only obliged to offer their name, rank, serial number and date of birth, and nothing else. The Geneva Convention do not prevent the detaining power from interrogating prisoners and asking them all manner of questions, but the prisoners are not obliged to answer unless offered tangible rewards such as immunity from prosecution. Camp X-Ray sidesteps these conventions (as also the U.S. statutory law, Title 18, Section 242 of the U.S. Code, that prohibits the transportation of persons for torture) to allow the "torture of conditions" to "break" the prisoners' fortitude.

According to the human rights community, what is going on at Guantanamo Bay is nothing short of a violation of the Geneva Conventions, even as it could also be argued that the conditions amount to torture. To most of the world, Camp X-Ray is another example of the U.S. flagrantly violating international norms in its own interests, unconcerned about the niceties of law and precedent or the criticisms of even its own allies.

Vijay Prashad is Associate Professor and Director, International Studies Programme, Trinity College, Hartford. He recently published War Against the Planet: The Fifth Afghan War, U.S. Imperialism and Other Assorted Fundamentalisms (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2002).

Peace moves in Cyprus

Economic interests and a desire for European Union membership force the ethnic Greeks and Turks in Cyprus to start negotiations for a peaceful future together.

"I was born in 1955. I was eight when the violence started and my brother went missing. I remember those events clearly, with a child's eye for detail. My mother was wearing a red scarf and a flowing skirt. Not only did my mother lose her elder son, but I, a child of eight, lost my mother because she withdrew into herself. We have not had any news of him since. My mother refuses to talk about him. She is now 78 and very frail. My father died last year. But our wounds are as fresh as ever."

NESSIM METIN, a Turkish Cypriot, is a senior mechanic with the car-maker Fiat in Paris. He is married, with two teenage sons. Life is good, but he complains of a void, one that cannot be filled until his family receives answers about the disappearance of his brother in clashes between Turkish and Greek Cypriots in 1963.

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Metin said: "The question of missing persons is at the heart of the Cypriot problem today. What happened to my brother? Was he detained? Was he tortured? Killed? He was not amongst the people released soon after the violence ended. My brother was lost in the first wave of violence in 1963. Many others died or went missing in the attempted coup backed by the Greek military junta, in 1974. Unless the relatives of missing persons on both sides are given details - because there were many Greeks who are missing too - and unless bodies are exhumed, this question can never be settled, these wounds will never heal."

For 27 years, since the Greek-backed coup against the President, Archbishop Makarios in 1974, the people of this Mediterranean island, the Turks in the north and the Greeks in the south, have lived separate, divided lives. The United Nations has established a buffer zone to keep the two communities apart. Nicosia is perhaps the world's last divided capital.

Although talks resumed in mid-January between Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders on how to map a peaceful future, the unknown fate of some 2,300 people who disappeared in successive waves of violence is at the heart of the differences separating them.

Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash and Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides met for the first time in four years on January 11. The two aging men are old friends, despite their political disagreements, and have resolved to solve the problems by June. They agreed to formulate separate proposals on what steps could be taken to shed light on the fate of the missing people. The proposals were exchanged in the last week of January through the good offices of U.N envoy Alvaro de Soto and talks, with twice-weekly meetings, will begin on February 16.

"What can one say about the Cyprus problem except that once again it was created by the British and is a legacy of colonialism? In 1878, Britain gained sovereignty of the island from the Ottoman Empire. When the Empire finally crumbled in 1914, the British annexed Cyprus, which became a crown colony. The anti-British, pro-independence movement was launched in 1955 and in 1960 the British gave Cyprus independence with a Constitution that stipulated power-sharing between Turkish and Greek Cypriots. It was an uneasy situation and it would have been better if there had been two republics right from the start," says Turkish journalist Sarah Erden.

TROUBLE broke out in 1963 when President Makarios proposed changes to the Constitution that would abrogate the power-sharing arrangements with the Turks. Cyprus saw its first serious inter-communal clashes with Turkish Cypriots fleeing to zones controlled by their own militia.

A year later, the U.N. sent in peacekeepers. However, this fragile peace was disrupted when the colonels seized power in a military coup in Greece in 1967. In 1974, the Greek military junta backed a coup against Makarios. He escaped assassination attempts by those backing union with Greece. In response, Turkey quickly landed troops in northern Cyprus creating the stalemate that still prevails. Several thousand Turkish troops are on the island today. An estimated 160,000 Greek Cypriots fled to the southern part of the island during the Turkish invasion. About 50,000 Turks fled in the opposite direction. In 1983, Rauf Denktash declared a breakaway republic, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which only Turkey recognises.

Now, with Cyprus starting membership negotiations with the European Union (E.U.), there is renewed pressure on both sides to resolve their differences amicably. Turkey and Greece have both threatened to take action if a divided Cyprus is allowed to join the E.U. The scheduled date for Cyprus' entry into the E.U. is 2004. The island, the economy of which is booming (Cyprus is a tax haven for off-shore companies), fulfils all of E.U.'s membership requirements, although there are questions about money-laundering and other dubious financial activities.

The southern part of the island, which benefits from its close association with Greece and the E.U., is thriving. In summer its beaches and towns are besieged by European tourists. By contrast, the Turkish-controlled northern part is poor and isolated. Turkish Cypriots desperately want to join the E.U. and end their poverty and isolation.

Turkey says that if Cyprus is allowed to join the E.U. in its present state, it will annex northern Cyprus. Greece has said that it will block the entire E.U. expansion process unless an acceptable solution is found to end the stalemate.

For the first time since they broke off their last round of U.N.-sponsored talks four years ago, Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders now show signs of a genuine desire for peace. Rauf Denktash says he is looking for a new partnership, but that his people's genuine security concerns must be addressed. "Security for us, liberty, non-domination, Turkey's backing - the guarantee that saved us from utter destruction - is of paramount interest for us. These concerns have to be satisfied before Cyprus can be united," he said in a recent interview. He said that he was prepared to engage in give-and-take with his Greek counterparts but on condition that the security concerns of his people were met.

These claims have not, as in the past, been discounted by Greek Cypriot leaders. "I think both sides have to be prepared to address the concerns of the other side. For instance, we acknowledge that the Turkish Cypriots have a very increased sensitivity on issues of security. We can address those. But they too must address our main concern, which is that no settlement can contain elements that could lead to the legal partitioning of the country," said Cyprus Foreign Minister Ioannis Cassoulides.

MEMORIES of violence and clashes persist and most Turkish Cypriots are of the opinion that a settlement could be possible on condition that the North retains a certain degree of autonomy. "The two communities can no longer mix, can no longer live together the way they once did," says Nessim Metin. After his brother's disappearance his family left the island to make a new life for itself in France. But his uncles and cousins continue to live in Cyprus. "We know that without the presence of Turkish troops we would have been overrun a long time ago. So any settlement must ensure that the Turkish Cypriot minority does not lose its rights, and that there is no attempt to dominate us."

This feeling of fear, of being dominated by the southern Greek majority, is very real. "In any future solution, we should live side by side, not together. We need time, both to forgive and to forget," says Mystafa Erulgen, the northern Cypriot spokesman. "I believe the Turkish side and the Turkish Cypriot side won't show the same obstinacy they did once," Greek government spokesman Christos Protopappas said.

The Cyprus problems has proved intractable for the past 30 years. Mediators are keeping their fingers crossed, saying such a historic opportunity should not be missed. The two sides have sharply differing views on what should constitute a solution. Denktash wants a degree of sovereignty for the North in a two-state confederation. The Greek Cypriots, who enjoy recognition as the government of the whole island, reject that position and want a settlement based on a close-knit federation within a single state.

Economic interests and a desire to belong to the E.U. may now push both sides to show more flexibility.

Politics of an eviction

other

ON February 5, in a move that can only be construed as political vendetta, personnel of the Directorate of Estates, Ministry of Urban Development attempted to evict the Delhi unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) from its 14 Vithalbhai Patel House office located on Rafi Marg. The Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) was also told to vacate its office, located on the same premises, the same day. No eviction order or notice had been served to either party and the entire operation was conducted in the presence of a posse of policemen. The CPI(M) has been strongly critical of the policies of the present government. The Delhi unit had been functioning from the Rafi Marg office since 1970. The rooms had been allotted to the party. Recently the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government issued an order stipulating that offices in residential areas, such as V.P. House, could be allotted only to political parties that had more than 50 Members of Parliament. It was clear that only two parties would qualify in that category.

Pushpinder Grewal, the State secretary of CPI(M), told Frontline that on February 1, officials of the party's State unit met Achala Sinha, Director, Estates, and explained that the quarter Number 14 and 8, which comprised three rooms, could be allotted against the entitlement of Rajya Sabha Member S. Ramachandran Pillai. The Director agreed and told the delegation to make a request in writing. The letter was given on February 4 and the next day the eviction team appeared, claiming that the letter bore no government order or formal noting. Grewal tried to contact the Director and her office, but to no avail. Finally, it was after prolonged deliberations between Union Minister Ananth Kumar and CPI(M) MPs A. Vijayaraghavan, S. Ramachandran Pillai and Nilotpal Basu that the matter was resolved. "I can only see a political motive behind this move. If they want to fight the CPI(M), they should do it politically," observed Grewal.

As news of the attempted eviction spread, support poured in from groups and individuals from various parts of the country. Led by Communalism Combat, a journal based in Mumbai, a statement was issued denouncing the "hasty and intemperate move" to evict SAHMAT from its "small space within the V.P. House premises." Rajendra Prasad, the spokesperson of SAHMAT, said in the statement that it was not simply a bullying or threatening act but a warning to small groups not to dare challenge the dictatorial policies of the government. Others who signed the statement included Shubha Mudgal, classical Indian vocalist; Farookh Shaikh, actor; Javed Akhtar, poet and lyricist; Shabana Azmi, Member of Parliament; Nikhil Wagle, Editor, Mahanagar; and Javed Anand and Teesta Setalvad, editors, Communalism Combat.

T.K. Rajalakshmi The search for Veerappan

MEDIA reports that sandalwood smuggler and poacher Veerappan has been surrounded by the Special Task Forces (STFs) of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and that his henchman Sethukuli Govindan has been arrested have turned out to be speculation. The bandit remains holed up in the forests and the police are unaware of his whereabouts.

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Veerappan and his gang were last sighted in Chemanthimalai (in the Western Ghats near the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border) in January 2001 when a tribal person, who was asked by the bandits to cook food for them, informed the police (Frontline, March 2, 2001). However STF sources said that there had been an intelligence tip-off in early January that the brigand was holed up in the vicinity of the Bargur, Malai Mahadeshwara Hills (M.M. Hills) and Satyamangalam forests. Combing by both STFs on either side of the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border, including an attempt to block the exit and entry points to these forests, has been unproductive. As an STF source pointed out, there was no foolproof system to sanitise the vast forests, which together occupy 4,000 square kilometres.

The operations involve sustained combing and gathering of intelligence. While combing has had some success - the teams split up and spend up to a fortnight in the forests looking for the gang - intelligence is certainly at a premium. Groups of STF personnel and informers move about in the forests posing as labourers in a bid to gather information about the gang's movements. Ironically, it would seem that Veerappan continues to have a better intelligence gathering network than the security forces.

Senior STF officers, including the chief of the Karnataka STF, Additional Director-General of Police Subash Bharani, and its commander, Inspector-General of Police Kempaiah, are non-committal about the success of the present operations. While Bharani said that the forces were "persistently and consistently looking for Veerappan", that combing was going on and that the "end for Veerappan would come" (but did not say when), Kempaiah preferred to avoid the media.

The STFs have fallen back on the only tangible lead that they have had in recent times - the emissaries who secured the release of Kannada film actor Rajkumar and three others from the custody of the gang in 2000. A Tamil Nadu STF party is expected to visit Bangalore to question Dr. Bhanu, Ram Kumar and A.P. Shanmugasundaram again. Rajkumar and the other former hostages are also expected to be questioned. Police sources pointed out that Kolathur T.S. Mani, another emissary who was recently released from judicial custody, will also be questioned.

Mani told Frontline that he was prepared to undertake a journey into the forests to try and persuade the brigand to surrender. He said: "If the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments say yes, I will go in. But all that the two governments have so far been saying is that if Veerappan wants to surrender he could do so at the nearest police station." Mani was unsure whether Veerappan, who has reportedly made the granting of a general amnesty for him and his gang a precondition for surrender, would do so.

But both the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments are firm that the brigand, who according to police records has killed 138 people (including 32 police and 10 forest personnel), would not be given a general amnesty. Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna reiterated the two governments' stand when he said: "The question of granting amnesty to Veerappan is ruled out."

Ravi Sharma

A question of confidence

India insists that Pakistan act convincingly to check the infiltration of terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir before asking it to ease the military build-up on the border.

ALTHOUGH the war clouds over the subcontinent have receded, the armies of India and Pakistan are still in position along the border. Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf recently characterised the continued deployment of Indian troops as "brinkmanship at its most dangerous". Speaking in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) on the occasion of "Kashmir Day" in early February, he said the Indian side had not reciprocated to the Pakistani efforts at rapprochement. He accused India of adopting a "very cynical" attitude even after he launched a crackdown on the Pakistan-based militant groups blamed by India for terrorist activities on its soil.

In January, Musharraf offered to hold talks for a phased withdrawal of troops in order to defuse the tension. New Delhi rejected the offer, saying that meaningful talks could only be held after Pakistan curbed cross-border terrorism and took action on "the list of 20". Musharraf called upon "influential countries" to prevail upon India as bilateralism had failed to ease its confrontational posture. At the same time, he also reiterated the Pakistani position that the Kashmiri struggle was legitimate and the groups fighting in the State had the backing of the Pakistani people.

The General's strong defence of the groups engaged in the freedom struggle in Kashmir evoked strong reactions in Delhi. The External Affairs Ministry spokesperson said that Pakistan was reverting to "yesterday's cliches". The official stated that the President's observations on Kashmir amounted to an interference in the internal affairs of India. A statement issued by the Foreign Office said that Musharraf had turned the clock back by restating "time-worn and untenable positions on terrorism". Indian officials say that his undue focus on the Kashmiri struggle has made them doubt his bona fides and his pledge on curbing terrorism. However, there are reports that despite the tough tenor of Musharraf's speech, Islamabad had started cracking down on militant groups.

Musharraf's speech came in handy for Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee during his election campaign. Addressing a rally in Punjab, he said that Pakistan would not be able to get hold of Kashmir by observing "Kashmir Day". He stressed that India wanted to resolve the Kashmir issue peacefully but insisted that it was up to Pakistan to foster a congenial atmosphere for talks. Vajpayee reiterated the government's stand that the troops would stay deployed as long as Pakistan continued to sponsor cross-border terrorism.

India's seeming reluctance to resume the dialogue process and start de-escalation along the border is viewed with a degree of concern by the international community, with the notable exception of Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov were in New Delhi in early February. Ivanov, concurred with India's assessment of the situation in the subcontinent. In a joint statement issued after talks between Ivanov and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, both sides condemned the "continued acts of cross-border terrorism against India". It said that "these activities from Pakistan and the territory controlled by it, must cease completely". Referring to Musharraf's assertions that concrete steps have been taken by him to curb terrorism, the statement said that such claims "can only be judged by the concrete action Pakistan takes on the ground". Both sides called for an end to the "continued terrorist violence in Jammu and Kashmir as also in other parts of India". They also called for "sustained and irreversible steps" so that an environment conducive to the resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan can be created.

The statement added that the two countries should negotiate bilaterally in accordance with the Simla Agreement. It recommended that future talks between India and Pakistan should be based on the composite dialogue revolving round the eight points agreed upon at Lahore in 1999.

Ilya Klebanov told mediapersons in New Delhi that his country agreed with the Indian demand that Pakistan do something on the ground to display its sincerity.

Washington, on the other hand, apparently wants New Delhi to take steps to de-escalate the military situation. George Tenet, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), testified before an open session of the U.S. Senate's Intelligence Committee in February, that once India and Pakistan launched a conventional war it could escalate into a nuclear confrontation. The West has now found it convenient to raise the nuclear bogey to pressure New Delhi to withdraw its troops. Pressure from Washington may have been one reason why New Delhi and Moscow chose to downplay stories about the proposed sale of nuclear-powered Russian submarines to the Indian Navy. The Russian media had reported that negotiations were at an advanced stage with India for the sale or leasing of two nuclear submarines. It is an open secret that India is keen on acquiring nuclear-powered submarines to give its nuclear deterrence capability more credibility. However, Defence Minister George Fernandes denied that the Navy planned to purchase such submarines.

The international community is generally of the opinion that Pakistan is trying to curb the infiltration of terrorists into Kashmir. India seems to have signalled to the West that it would wait until the snows melt in March/April to come to a definite conclusion about the level of infiltration.

Western diplomats feel that both New Delhi and Islamabad, by conducting their diplomacy in public, are undermining the chances for any meaningful concessions. "The big bang theory will not work," said a diplomat, referring to summits such as the one held in Agra in 2001. They feel that a feasible way out of the long standing logjam is to turn the de facto LoC into a de jure border, with a "minor compromise in geography", citing the Anglo-Irish agreement as an illustration. New Delhi, however, insists that there is no change in its position on the status of Jammu and Kashmir.

A Governor's exit

Prabhat Kumar is forced to resign as the Governor of Jharkhand following certain revelations by an accused in a bribery case.

JHARKHAND Governor Prabhat Kumar resigned on January 31, after a prolonged phase of suspense. The action was a consequence of Flex Industries chairman and managing director Ashok Chaturvedi's confession to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that he had paid for three parties hosted at the official residence of Kumar in New Delhi between March 1999 and July 2000 when he was Cabinet Secretary.

The CBI arrested Chaturvedi, his employee John and the Chief Commissioner of Central Excise (Delhi Zone), Someshwar Mishra, on November 7 last, following a tip-off. Mishra was caught allegedly accepting Rs.5 lakhs. The CBI seized another Rs.5 lakhs from a vehicle registered in the name of Flex Industries, parked at Mishra's office premises. The CBI then searched Mishra's home and seized Rs.2.12 lakhs in cash and receipts of fixed deposits worth Rs.6.5 lakhs. It also found that Mishra used a car registered in the name of Chaturvedi. Chaturvedi was alleged to have acted as a middleman between Mishra and the manufacturers of a leading brand of pan masala, for whom Flex Industries supplied pouches.

CBI sources alleged that it was at the behest of Chaturvedi that Mishra decided to remove the Preventive Wing teams that had been posted in several divisions to check excise duty evasion and the free movement of goods. It is alleged that the pan masala industry, which stood to benefit from this decision, paid large sums of money to Mishra and Chaturvedi. Also, at Chaturvedi's intervention, Mishra allegedly dropped an appeal against a tobacco company for under-assessment of excise duty.

Chaturvedi, John and Mishra are now out on bail. Flex Industries, with a turnover of about Rs.700 crores and an asset base of Rs.850 crores, has its corporate office in NOIDA (Uttar Pradesh) and has a unit in Palanpur in Bhind district of Madhya Pradesh. With a staff strength of about 1,800, the Flex Group, of which Chaturvedi is a promoter, once had on its board of directors Samajwadi Party leader and Rajya Sabha member Amar Singh and Rajya Sabha member and former journalist Rajeev Shukla. The company, engaged in flexible packaging, was a private limited company in the early 1980s and became a public limited company in 1989-90.

A diary seized from Chaturvedi's home, according to CBI sources, contained names and contact numbers of some politically influential persons. "The diary can in no way be compared to what we secured during the hawala investigations, which revealed substantial payments to certain politicians by the accused brothers," a CBI source said. Yet, it appears that it could point to significant leads.

THE CBI has not sought the permission of the government or the President to interrogate Prabhat Kumar although it had selectively leaked Chaturvedi's confession to the media. In his statement, Chaturvedi said that he had paid about Rs.44,000 by cheque from Flex Industries' bank account to a catering firm which organised the party on March 5, 1999, and Rs.79,218 for another party, held on February 27, 2000. The bill for the high tea hosted on July 10, 2000 amounted to Rs.10,368. Chaturvedi also reportedly threw a party in honour of Prabhat Kumar on June 14, 2001, when he was Governor of Jharkhand, at a luxury hotel in New Delhi and paid the bill amount of Rs.37,219.

While demitting office, Prabhat Kumar did not deny any of these allegations but claimed that some of the parties that media reports had referred to were not hosted by him, while the payment for the rest was made by him personally. Observers say that an explanation from Prabhat Kumar as to why these parties were held at his official residence could have helped clear the misgivings.

The allegations of a Prabhat Kumar-Chaturvedi nexus would still require substantiation. In order to make out a case under the Prevention of Corruption Act, the CBI may have to come up with more credible evidence on Chaturvedi's motives in paying for Prabhat Kumar's parties although it is not necessary to establish that he returned Chaturvedi's favours by taking certain actions as Cabinet Secretary.

But there can be little doubt that Prabhat Kumar violated one of the salient provisions of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules. Note 2 under Rule 13(1) makes it clear that a government servant shall avoid accepting lavish hospitality or frequent hospitality from any individual, industrial or commercial firms, organisations, and so on, that have official dealings with him. If Prabhat Kumar's defence is that Chaturvedi was his personal friend and he had no official dealings with him, he may not probably be guilty of violating the Conduct Rules. But this needs to be established. It is naive to believe that a businessman like Chaturvedi would have paid from his company's account for a friend's personal party thrice without expecting any favours in return, particularly when that friend happened to be a top bureaucrat.

This is not the first time that Prabhat Kumar has found himself mired in a controversy. He was Principal Secretary (Home) in Uttar Pradesh on December 6, 1992 when the Babri Masjid was demolished. The Liberhan Commission, which has already examined him, is inquiring into his alleged negligence of duty. In fact the government had overruled objections from responsible quarters to his elevation as Governor in view of the dubious role he played during the demolition. Even after the CBI's revelations about the bureaucrat-politician-businessman nexus, the Centre allowed him to continue as Governor for nearly a month, until a wedding in his family was over.

The Central government's lack of commitment to fight corruption in the bureaucracy became clear when it decided to transfer Kailash Sethi, Deputy Director-General, Central Economic Intelligence Bureau (CEIB), as Director (Audit), Customs and Central Excise. Sethi, who tapped the telephone conversations of Chaturvedi, promptly shared the information with the CBI. This led to the arrest of Chaturvedi and Mishra. Sethi's transfer came close on the heels of the arrests.

A study in contrast

GUJARAT'S cooperative model, better known as the Anand model, is a big success. Maharashtra tried to emulate it, but the effort was unsuccessful. The reasons for the failure were numerous. Some of them are:

* The Anand model of management is based on a professional set-up with no political interference. In Maharashtra, almost 90 per cent of the cooperatives are controlled by politicians.

* Each village in Gujarat has only one cooperative society. In Maharashtra, there could be as many as 10 cooperatives in one village. Unlike in Maharashtra, there are no taluk-level cooperatives in Gujarat. The system followed in Maharashtra raises operational costs.

* The Gujarat Milk Marketing Federation is the sole buyer and seller of all milk produced by the cooperative sector. In Maharashtra, the cooperatives decide to whom they should sell the milk.

* The Gujarat federation is elected by the cooperatives and comprises actual producers. On the other hand, milk producers are not represented in the Maharashtra State Cooperative Milk Federation.

* Market forces dictate the price of milk in the Gujarat Federation and profits are passed on to the milk producer. In Maharashtra, the price is fixed by the government.

* The Gujarat federation has diversified into commercially viable byproducts such as condensed milk, cheese and ice-cream. Moreover, such products have found a prominent place in the market. Maharashtra's surplus milk is processed to make butter and milk powder which, according to the government, is not profitable. n

Source: Government of Maharashtra reports and the Mckinsey report on the dairy industry in India.

Dairy worries

The new milk procurement policy of the Maharashtra government will affect the livelihood of farmers working in the dairy sector.

TWICE a day, Dattu Sopar Nirmal of Tandulwadi in Baramati district in Maharashtra cycles 3 km to the nearest milk collection centre to deposit 10 litres of milk. His two cows yield enough milk to ensure a reasonably steady income for him through the year. In fact, the income from milk is often higher than that from his three-acre sugarcane field. However, if the Government of Maharashtra implements its amended milk procurement policy, Nirmal will have to contend with the vagaries of free market forces. His income, for which he is largely dependent on the government, will soon depend on who gives him the best price.

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Maharashtra has been the only State in the country where the government fixes a procurement price for milk and commits itself to buying at that rate all the milk offered by producers. The State government now incurs an annual loss of more than Rs.200 crores on this count. Hence, it has decided that it will buy only the quantity it requires, that is, 80 per cent of the 40 lakh litres that reaches its dairies daily. The remaining 20 per cent would have to be sold locally by the producer or the cooperative. Currently, the government collects a surplus of almost nine lakh litres a day. Owing to its procurement commitments, it is losing approximately Rs.45 lakhs a day. Government sources say that if the procurement burden is reduced as planned, the government can save about Rs.70 crores annually. The amended policy was to be implemented on January 1, 2002. However, since the dairy industry in Maharashtra is politicised and civic elections are to be held shortly, its implementation was deferred for a few more months. It is well known that the milk cooperatives in Maharashtra are the preserve of local politicians who look upon them as stepping stones to political power. "The dairy industry has been a major burden on the State," says Ramesh Kumar, Secretary, Dairy Development. "Implementing the policy is inevitable. It will happen within the next few weeks," Ramesh Kumar told Frontline. "Government policies have always been welfare oriented. In order to protect the interests of producers, they have completely ignored the commercial aspect of this industry."

Nirmal and his fellow village residents have little knowledge of the new policy. Nirmal told Frontline that he had faith in the Baramati Milk Union Cooperative, to which his village milk society belongs. "They look after us, we trust them. I am sure the union will take care of this," he said. Union chairman Vittalrao Suryavanshi is angry with the government's decision. "The sale of milk has provided an income to several families below the poverty line, landless labourers, small farmers and several uneducated and unemployed youth. If they do not protect these people's interests, they will be dealing with a lot more problems than surplus milk," he says. Suryavanshi says that milk production has helped thousands of farmers who are hit by the recession in the agriculture sector. He said that if the State did not buy all the milk, a large quantity of it would be wasted. "We will have to declare milk holidays, which we have not done for several years."

Suryavanshi also pointed out that private players were waiting to exploit the situation. "If the system of administered prices is removed, private players will squeeze the producer and the cooperative and buy the milk at the lowest possible price," he said. Suryavanshi, who is a member of the Maharashtra State Milk Kruthi Samiti Dudh Sangh, a committee of milk union representatives who are fighting the government's decision, said: "We in western Maharashtra are better off because sugarcane gives us some income. But they should think about those in Vidarbha and Marathwada, where crops have failed and milk is the only source of income." A representative of the Warana Milk Cooperative Union in Kolhapur, a powerful cooperative, echoed this sentiment.

Dairying would be the third sector in agriculture in the State, after cotton and sugarcane, to undergo fundamental policy changes (Frontline, February 1 and 15, 2002). Along with the announcement of the new procurement policy, the Maharashtra government also outlined a plan to withdraw from the dairy sector. It suggested downsizing and privatisation as the two alternatives. A government report recommended the retrenchment of 1,200 employees out of a total of 12,000 and the privatisation of three State-owned dairies located in Mumbai, the Aarey, Worli and Kurla dairies, which have caused a loss of about Rs.73 crores. "In the changing market situation, running milk dairies is not the kind of business the State should get into," says Ramesh Kumar.

Of the 142 lakh litres of milk collected by 62 unions in the State daily, the government buys 40 lakh litres at an average rate of Rs.9 a litre. The remaining milk is distributed by the cooperatives directly or bought by private dairies at the administered price. Of the 40 lakh litres purchased, nine lakh litres is surplus. The surplus is processed and converted into products such as butter and milk powder. However, only the sale of milk is profitable. It is in the conversion that the government incurs losses, says K.B. Patil, Additional Secretary, Dairy Development, who is also in charge of the government dairies. The cost of converting milk into powder or butter is about Rs.3 a litre. It reaches Rs.5 a litre after the actual revenue realisation. Nine lakh litres of milk means a staggering Rs.45 lakhs a day. "We need only 80 per cent of the quantity we buy. It is up to the cooperative to distribute the rest," Patil told Frontline. Consumer subsidies and other costs raise the loss to over Rs.200 crores a year, against a total expenditure of Rs.1,100 crores.

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A government report says that Maharashtra is the fifth largest producer of milk and the second largest producer of cow's milk in the country. About 75 lakh people depend on the dairy sector in the State for a living. An industry expert said that although the State attempted to emulate the successful Gujarat cooperative model, it did not succeed (see box). It failed mainly because of the politicisation of the cooperatives which, in turn, led to mismanagement. Moreover, the government failed to take advantage of the dairy sector's potential. The expert said that the new policy demanded much more from the cooperatives. "Maharashtra's cooperatives can hardly be defined as cooperatives. They have been no more than a transportation service, ferrying milk from the districts to the metros," he says. However, it will no longer be the same after the implementation of the new policy. For instance, they will be forced to develop a market and a distribution network, take a pro-active role in training farmers to produce quality milk, and set up processing and chilling facilities.

The State follows a three-tier system in the cooperative sector. Milk producers are members of a village-level cooperative. The village cooperative collects milk for the district union. The milk is then sent to various urban dairies for processing and distribution. There are 23,273 village societies and 99 taluk or district-level unions. Of the Rs.9 the State pays for a litre of milk, the village cooperative keeps 40 paise and the union 90 paise. After deducting various other payments, Nirmal, whose cows give him an average of 10 litres a day, will earn Rs.1,500 a cow each month. The village society keeps a record of the milk the producer has deposited and pays him/her every fortnight. Although farmers in Baramati say that the dairy business is lucrative, very few people agree that they make a substantial profit. "Actually, the benefit lies in that we get cash in our hands every 15 days," says Bharat Chavan from Undawadi in Baramati district. However, he says that a large part of the money is spent on the cattle or for repaying loans. "The earnings may be meagre, but at least we manage to fill our stomachs," says Chavan.

If anyone will benefit from the new procurement policy, it is private industry. However, Deepak Jain, executive director of Dynamix Dairy Industries Limited, said that if the cooperatives were better organised and the government became less hostile towards private dairies, the farmer would be the ultimate beneficiary. Dynamix is among the few private players in the dairy sector in the State. The company collects milk from the producer through an agreement with the district cooperative. Unlike the cooperative which pays the producers according to the amount of milk they deposit, Dynamix pays the producer according to the fat content in the milk. It is supposed to provide them an incentive to ensure that their cattle produce quality milk. If the cooperatives concentrate on producing quality milk, they will have no problem finding a market for the remaining 20 per cent the government is unwilling to buy. He says: "Moreover, private industry will make sure that all the milk is bought." Even if the milk producer sells at a low price, he will be selling a larger quantity. With the procurement price in Maharashtra being 10 per cent above the usual price, private players would prefer to set up shop in neighbouring Gujarat, where the price paid to the producer for a litre of cow milk is Rs.7.97. "Maharashtra," Jain says, "has the potential to enter the international dairy export industry. It is just a matter of formulating reasonable policies."

Under the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, India had committed itself to integrating its dairy sector with the world market. Such a move, combined with the reconstruction of the environment in which the sector operates (for instance, the entry of the private sector and the removal of barriers to import), is likely to have a significant impact on the Indian dairy industry. But unless there is a substantial improvement in the earnings of producers like Nirmal and Chavan, the new developments will have little significance.

Added costs

WITH the Karnataka Legislative Assembly session having been adjourned sine die on January 31 after seven days, issues relating to the power sector which were to have been raised by the Opposition in the House remained to be discussed. A day before the start of the session, A. Ramdas, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of the State legislature, had in an open letter to Chief Minister S.M. Krishna raised the matter of the escrow account of Tanir Bavi Power Company Pvt Ltd, and asked for another look at the power purchase agreement (PPA) signed by independent power producers in general and Tanir Bavi in particular.

Following the publication by Frontline of a report on the situation created by the high costs of power purchased from the Tanir Bavi company (January 4,2002), a competent and senior officer of the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Limited (KPTCL) was transferred. Frontline has learnt from informed sources in the energy sector that the officer concerned was held accountable for the "leak of privileged information" to Frontline. The story was actually based on information drawn from a range of sources, including from the company, and much of the information was drawn from documents such as the PPA, which are in any case in the public domain.

The high costs of power purchase from Tanir Bavi, and its negative implications for privatised distribution, have been noted in the Privatisation Strategy Paper prepared by the CMS Cameron McKenna-led consortium. The Tanir Bavi project will have a "significant impact" on the privatisation of any part of KPTCL, the report notes. The PPA and the escrow and Disbursement Agreement provides for 35 divisions within the State to be dedicated to paying Tanir Bavi's dues. This amounted, in 2000, the first year of the project period, to Rs.930 crores, or 28 per cent of the proceeds from KPTCL's electricity sales. The Strategy Paper notes that the power purchase cost from the 220 MW Tanir Bavi power plant is "disproportionately high". While the company contributes to just 3 per cent of KPTCL's overall capacity requirement, it accounts for 22 per cent of KPTCL's total power purchase cost.

Undistributed risks

The Karnataka government is pushing through a proposal for the privatisation of electricity distribution, one that is widely seen as hurriedly conceived and too risky for the government.

If privatisation is conducted in ways that are widely viewed as illegitimate and in an environment which lacks necessary institutional infrastructure, the longer-run prospects of a market economy may actually be undermined. Worse still, the private property interests that are created contribute to the weakening of the state and the undermining of the social order, through corruption and regulatory capture.

- from the keynote address "Whither Reform? Ten Years of the Transition", by Joseph E. Stiglitz, former senior vice-president and chief economist of the World Bank and winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, 2002, at the annual World Bank conference on Development Economics.

STARTING the last week of January, the Cauvery Bhavan headquarters of the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Ltd (KPTCL) in Bangalore has been under virtual siege by angry farmers. Organised under the banner of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), they articulate a demand - that KPTCL should restore power supply in an uninterrupted manner and for longer hours for agricultural operations - that has the State's energy administrators wincing. Karnataka's power sector is set on the path of aggressive reform. Subsidies are to be phased out and a privatisation programme has been set in motion that the government hopes will meet its objectives of an efficient, commercially viable and competitive industry which will provide quality power at affordable costs to the consumer.

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The demands made by the KRSS can hardly be accommodated in this scheme. On the other hand, the farmers represent a constituency that the State government can ill-afford to displease, particularly when a crucial Lok Sabha byelection in the State is just around the corner - at Kanakapura. For the government, which is engaged in a difficult balancing act, the order recently issued by the Karnataka Regulatory Commission (KERC) turning down the tariff proposals of KPTCL could only have come as a blessing in disguise. On the one hand it must adhere to an exacting World Bank schedule of reform if it is to qualify for the Bank's next tranche of a $150 million loan. On the other, it can ill-afford to alienate popular constituencies when a high-stakes byelection is being fought.

World Bank loan disbursements are contingent on the State achieving certain milestones in respect of reform. Power reform is central to the conditionalities laid down by the Bank, which has time and again indicated the direction that reform in the sector must take. "The ultimate objective of power sector reforms is for the government to withdraw from the power sector as an operator and regulator of utilities" (Report No. P7453, May 25, 2001). The government believes that the crisis it is facing is a systemic one that can only be resolved by its withdrawal from the power sector and its place being taken by the private sector.

Today the financial crisis in the power sector is at its worst. KPTCL faces financial bankruptcy. The gap between its revenue and expenditure has been increasing sharply over the years, necessitating huge government subsidies. Its revenue gap in 2001-2002 is estimated at Rs.2,389.49 crores, while the government subsidy for the same year is estimated at Rs.1,779 crores, leaving a net gap of Rs.610.49 crores. Adding to its problems are delayed disbursements from the government, resulting in a continuous cash crunch. The Tanir Bavi Power Project (Frontline, January 4, 2002) will continue to be a major drain on its resources. According to KPTCL sources, the cost of purchasing power from Tanir Bavi Power Company Private Ltd. will account for over 10 per cent of its revenue outflow, and KPTCL has not been able to clear that company's bills fully for the last three months.

It is in this context that the State government is pushing through what is viewed in energy circles as a hurriedly conceived and unprecedented proposal for the privatisation of electricity distribution, a proposal that even World Bank representatives have sounded a cautionary note on. Proposed by a consortium of consultants led by CMS Cameron McKenna, an international law firm, the investment banking firm of N.M. Rothschild and Sons, and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, one of the 'Big Five' auditing and consulting firms, the plan departs radically from conventional proposals for privatisation. It should ordinarily have been debated extensively and evaluated with greater care. The consultants' proposals were circulated by the KERC to a group of distinguished Indian energy experts, a majority of whom expressed strong reservations on the proposal and its workability. The consultants responded to the criticisms at a workshop held by the Department of Energy on January 22 where some of the experts were present. Despite the overwhelming lack of support for the proposal, it was sent the same afternoon to the State Cabinet with a recommendatory note by the steering committee headed by the Chief Secretary.

ACCORDING to the consortium's proposals, the State's electricity distribution system is to be divided into four distribution zones, each to be corporatised as a separate distribution company. Through a bidding process, 51 per cent or more of the equity of each of these four companies is to be offered for sale to investors. Central to the proposal is the concept of the distribution margin (DM), which seeks to guarantee an assured income to the distribution company while insulating it from the normal risks associated with such businesses. The consultants argue that unless special measures in the form of risk-insulation are offered to investors in the distribution business, there will be no takers in this high risk arena. Their Draft Privatisation Strategy Paper states this as follows:

"The Government of Karnataka must bear many of the risks of the distribution business until such time as the electricity industry has achieved a stable and sustainable financial condition."The idea of a "transition phase", a period of handholding by the government for the private investor, is central to the distribution margin concept.

"We propose that at the time of the privatisation transaction the new private sector owners should be protected from some of the major financial risks facing the industry. These risks should transfer to the privatised businesses once the industry has reached financial sustainability."

The risks to be borne by the government as envisaged in the plan are: tariff risks (the risk that the regulator will not move tariff levels to full recovery costs); collection risks (the risk that collections from agriculture and government entities will not be increased); and commercial losses risk (the risk that commercial losses owing primarily to theft cannot be reduced).

According to the DM model, the distribution business has a first claim on the revenue it collects to meet its distribution margin (a specified sum that is meant to cover the operating cost and capital recovery cost of running the electricity distribution business). But the point of departure in this model is that the permitted revenue to the distributor is not reduced by the occurrence of risk, which is allotted to the State government. In other words, the government has to bear all the losses in the game.

Orissa's disastrous experience in privatising distribution underlines the need for a more innovative approach to make privatisation successful. The consultants believe that the DM model will help overcome the faults inherent in Orissa type privatisation. Orissa's failure lay in the private distribution companies defaulting heavily on their power purchase costs to the State transmission utility. "Shorn of its technicalities, the DM model is a 'Heads I win, tails you lose' proposition," an energy expert told Frontline. "Unlike in Orissa, in this model the distribution companies are not paying KPTCL a power purchase price at all. They are merely acting as monopoly agents in a given distribution region for KPTCL without taking on risks associated with power purchase. This puts no pressure on the distributor to improve the efficiency or procure power in a more cost-effective manner. It merely assures him a profit irrespective of what happens to the business."

The criticisms of the DM proposal by the energy experts consulted relate to its risk allocation argument, transition phase issues, and the role it envisages for the regulator and tariff fixing mechanisms. "A single buyer selling power to the distributors, who in turn bear no risks but merely collect their margins, does not seem to be a convincing marketisation of electricity supply industry in the country," argues M. Govinda Rao, Director of the Institute for Social and Economic Change, in written comments to the KERC.

E.A.S. Sarma, former Energy Secretary, Government of India, and Principal of the Administrative Staff College of India, also points to the disproportionate share of risks that the government must bear: "In effect, while handing over valuable distribution assets to the private investors, the Government of Karnataka will have to assume responsibility for almost all risks including many that are predominantly within the managerial domain of the private investor!" Sarma also points to the large and ever uncertain financial burden that the State will have to bear under this model. In addition to the extra subsidy burden on the State during the transition phase, it will have to underwrite the distribution margin and risks of the private distributor without any certainty that the company will assume the risks at the end of the transition phase. In other words, what happens if the distribution company, having made its profits from the distribution margin, decides to pack its bags at the end of the transition period?

T.L. Sankar, former Chairman of the Andhra Pradesh State Electricity Board, argues that the risks outlined in the DM proposal are exaggerated. The proposals, he says, "are totally unacceptable and are based on an exaggerated view about the risks, and the solution suggested would make a mockery of the power reform process and would be vehemently opposed by consumers."

S.L Rao, former Chairman of the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission, has questions with regard to the core of the model. If the distributor is to be protected from major financial risks till the industry has reached "financial sustainability", who is to determine financial sustainability, and by what method, he asks. Furthermore, freeing the investor from the obligation to meet the full amount of generation and transmission costs, as the model proposes, amounts to "a blank cheque to allow padding and cheating", he notes.

Former Karnataka Chief Secretary T.S. Satish Chandran, who is "inclined to support the distribution margin approach suggested by the consultants", underlines that it should only be seen as a transition period scheme. "This arrangement," he notes, "transfers commercial risks to the State government which, in the normal course, must be borne by the investor. It has the flavour of a one-sided contract; therefore, it cannot be a permanent arrangement."

AN area of concern to several energy experts relates to the statutory role of the KERC as envisaged in the DM proposal. According to E.A.S. Sarma, there are several areas where the KERC's authority is likely to become limited as a consequence of the DM scheme. The arrangement leaves the KERC constrained in the matter of tariff fixation and in setting performance standards. While the KERC can set the pace of cost recovery in tariff fixation, it will be "graduated to suit the interests of privatisation," according to Sarma.

Secondly, the licence contract entered into between the licensee, the single buyer and the Government of Karnataka will in effect become the agreement that will govern the functioning of the sector, thus marginalising the role of the KERC.

In its formal response to the DM proposal, the KERC has considered critically a series of assumptions made by the consultants including risk allocation and the role set out for the regulator. It ends with a call for transparency in the licence issuing process and during the finalisation of contractual terms.

The proposal for distribution privatisation is now before the State Cabinet for its approval. If accepted in its present form, changes in the KERC Act will also be necessitated. One lesson from the collapse of Enron is that regulatory processes should have teeth in a deregulated and free market. Stunting the role of the regulator in a private power market would erode some of the stated principles of reform such as transparency and monitoring. It would also close the only channel where public and consumer voices can be heard.

This, however, is only one of the possible consequences of the DM proposal under consideration. The more immediate question is whether the proposal will solve or further intensify the acute financial crisis that threatens the State's energy sector.

High and dry

The Centre decides to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam, inviting criticisms of violation of the rights of the displaced families.

IN a shocking turn to the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) controversy, the Union government decided on January 25 that the height of the dam should be raised from 90 metres to 100 m by June 2002. In October 2000, the Supreme Court had allowed the construction to proceed up to a height of 90 m from 83 m, evoking sharp reactions from the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), which represents the project-affected families (PAFs) (Frontline, November 10, 2000).

The announcement came in the wake of a meeting the Prime Minister held with the Chief Ministers of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, Narendra Modi and Digvijay Singh respectively, in New Delhi. An indication that the government was pulling all the stops out in an effort to raise the dam height was provided by the presence of a number of high-level functionaries at the meeting. Among them were the Prime Minister's Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra, Gujarat State Chief Secretary G. Subba Rao, Narmada Water Resources Secretary N.B. Desai and Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd Chairman Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, Vice-Chairman V.B. Buch and Managing Director K.C. Kapur. Conspicuous by their absence were representatives of Maharashtra and Rajasthan, the other riparian beneficiaries of the SSP.

The Prime Minister's intervention is expected to expedite the clearance for the resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) and environment subgroups of the inter-State Narmada Control Authority (NCA).

"Petty political expediencies," is how the NBA summed up the latest government move. "It may be a pre-Assembly election bonanza for Narendra Modi or a bargain for Madhya Pradesh, which is seeking to privatise another controversial dam on the Narmada - the (Indira) Sagar Complex. Either way the decision subverts the judicial directive and commits contempt of court," the NBA said.

The latest government decision has several flaws. The issue of the dam height has been through a prolonged legal process, and the Supreme Court's October 2000 directive on the SSP is yet to be implemented. Two, the designated authority, the NCA, has been given official responsibility for all decisions relating to the dam construction. Three, the Union government seems to think that all the displaced people can be rehabilitated in the space of one month despite there having been no official master plan for R&R for almost 20 years. Four, representatives of Maharashtra and Rajasthan were not present when the decision was taken.

It is an accepted fact that any construction can be sanctioned only by the NCA, after it has received the necessary clearances from its R&R and environment subgroups. It is on record that the subgroups have not approved the raising of the dam height from 90 m to 93 m. They actually refused clearance, yet the Gujarat government pushed the construction plan ahead. While the operative portion of the majority judgment of the Supreme Court stated that the R&R subgroup had decided to permit the construction up to 90 m, its chairperson, Asha Das, had on two occasions denied this. She continues to maintain that the decision was solely the Supreme Court's.

The time-frame agreed upon at the January 25 meeting is so unrealistic that it can only be assumed that there is no intention to follow the set guidelines. In its October 2000 judgment the Supreme Court had asked for a preliminary R&R report. This is yet to be submitted. But it was decided at the meeting that the R&R process would be completed so that work could start by June, which is practically impossible.

According to the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT), the raising of the dam height has to be preceded by the rehabilitation of families that, would be affected by that, one year in advance. The Supreme Court has upheld this rule. If this had been followed in letter and spirit, those affected at 90 m would have had R&R arrangements made by June 2000. This did not happen. Even the acquisition of land for the residents of villages that would be submerged at 90 m was not completed.

As per the stipulations of the Tribunal, PAFs at 90 m should have been allotted cultivable land, with irrigation facilities, and house plots at R&R sites capable of accommodating the entire village and provided with civic amenities. By now they should have taken possession of the lands and been well on the way to proper rehabilitation. This has not happened, and this fact is recorded in the official correspondence of February 19, 2001, in which the chairperson of the R&R subgroup has directed the Chief Secretaries of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh to complete by March 2001 the resettlement of those affected by the increase in the dam's height to 90 m.

In fact, both Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have officially admitted that they have no land suitable for resettlement. Even until September last, Digvijay Singh reiterated this. Madhya Pradesh filed a civil suit demanding a new Tribunal in order to replace the land-for-land policy with cash compensation. And in violation of the Tribunal Award, it started disbursing cash compensation. The Supreme Court has taken a strong stand in the matter of "land for land" instead of "cash for land".

The October 2000 judgment says: "The displacement of the people due to major river valley projects has occurred in both developed and developing countries. In the past, there was no definite policy for the rehabilitation of displaced persons associated with the river valley projects in India. However, there were certain project-specific programmes for implementation on temporary basis. The compensation of land was given under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. The cash compensation was the practice which resulted in the resettlement of displaced families becoming unsustainable due to squandering away of compensation money. This type of rehabilitation programmes deprived the poor and illiterate tribals from their lands, houses, wages, natural environment and their socio-economic and cultural milieu. Realising the difficulties of the displaced persons, the requirement of R&R of PAFs in the case of Sardar Sarovar Project was considered by the NWDT set up in 1969 and the decisions and final orders of the Tribunal in 1979 contained detailed directions in regard to the acquisition of land and properties, provision of land, house plots and civic amenities for the resettlement and rehabilitation of the affected families. In view of this, a rehabilitation policy has emerged and developed along with SSP."

In a petition before the Supreme Court regarding the height of the SSP, Madhya Pradesh had argued that the higher the dam, the more the number of families to be resettled. After the January 25 meeting, the Madhya Pradesh government agreed to withdraw the petition. The NBA attributes this to vested interests. Madhya Pradesh plans to construct another giant dam, called the Narmada (or Indira) Sagar Project. Withdrawing the petition is essentially a means to obtain clearance for the new dam. This will also help hasten the progress on the Maheswar dam, the construction of which has been suspended in view of lack of finances and the non-existence of R&R.

Maharashtra has accepted that all existing data need to be reviewed before locating land to rehabilitate the PAFs in the 33 villages coming under the SSP in the State. The Justice Daud Committee has exposed the reality of displacement and rehabilitation, forcing the government to admit that a clear picture will emerge only after the completion of the Task Force survey.

According to the NBA, "more than 30,000 PAFs are waiting to be rehabilitated. In the past 22 years the State governments have shifted less than 10,000 families, and their rehabilitation is still incomplete. Officially, all families affected at 90 m height have been resettled. However, a survey of the 66 affected villages, conducted by the NBA, reveals that 1,061 families remain to be resettled in Maharashtra, 1,960 families in Madhya Pradesh and 195 families in Gujarat. The NBA has submitted the list to the NCA, which is verifying the list for Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

Inaction and poor documentation on the part of the government have compounded the situation. The number of PAFs in Madhya Pradesh has increased from 33,014 to 35,716 with the possibility of further increases. The extent of submergence has increased from 20,722 hectares to 23,425 ha. The NBA says, "The increase in the PAFs is yet to be reflected in the R&R subgroup and NCA records, which retain the old figures." Maharashtra admits that there are 2,555 claims from families yet to be declared affected in addition to the 3,221 families already listed. Gujarat has also admitted that the number of PAFs will increase. It is not clear how many families will finally be affected by the project, just one indicator of how out of touch the government is with the realities of the dam project.

Under the Tribunal Award, a clear and fair system exists for R&R. Any change in the Award or any attempt to amend or bypass the procedures of the NCA and its subgroups would amount to subversion of the law and violation of the rights of the displaced families.

Family feuds

The Shiv Sena is looking for new faces. I told the older ones (corporators) that you have eaten enough from the coffers of the (Birhanmumbai Municipal) Corporation. Now, let the others get a chance. The Municipal Corporation has become a milch cow for all.

- Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, at a rally on January 19 to launch the Shiv Sena-BJP campaign for municipal elections.

REVOLTS in the Shiv Sena by disgruntled old faces in the run-up to the municipal elections in Mumbai point to cracks within the party's inner circle. In what was once a "disciplined" political organisation, where no one dared question the authority of Bal Thackeray, 15 local leaders have rebelled. Also, three State leaders - Suresh Jain, Gurunath Desai and Shantaram Nandgaonkar - quit the party after resigning their membership of the Assembly or the Council.

Many people believe that Thackeray's nephew Raj Thackeray orchestrated the revolt after his rivalry with Thackeray's son Uddhav touched a new low in the last few weeks. In a newspaper interview, Raj spoke about tensions with his older cousin and admitted to being upset with the manner in which he was being sidelined. Several party members considered close to him were denied the ticket for the elections by Uddhav, who drew up the list in consultation with his father.

Although Raj was quickly summoned by the boss and given a dressing down, many see in the revolt the signs of a split in the party. It will take more than a conciliatory meeting to salve Raj's wounds. "I had this gnawing feeling for the last three to four years that I was not part of the decision-making process in the party. I am being pushed to the sidelines," he said in a newspaper interview. He is not the only one feeling left out.

The ageing autocrat has snubbed several other top leaders, including former Chief Ministers Manohar Joshi and Narayan Rane, even pulling them up in the columns of the party newspaper Saamna for failing to perform. Each of the eight senior leaders in the party had been assigned certain cities to nurture for the elections. He wrote: "Find out if these leaders ever visited the areas assigned to them. Do they want to sit smugly in Mumbai and run the party? Why should they now complain that they have not been taken into confidence while finalising the Sena's list of nominees?"

Meanwhile, some of those who were denied the ticket filed their nominations as independent candidates and were promptly expelled from the party. Manik Koli, the corporator from Dahisar, is undeterred by her expulsion and is contesting as an independent against the new Shiv Sena face. "This is an injustice against me. Balasaheb has always taught us to fight injustice. Why should we stop now? Once the election is over, or whenever they need me, they will take me back," she said. Koli still professes her loyalty to Bal Thackeray. "I met Balasaheb the day before the list of candidates was announced. He told Uddhav that I should be given the ticket. Yet, the next day my name was not on the list. The Vibhag Pramukhs (local leaders) have become agents and are collecting huge amounts," she alleged.

The Shiv Sena denied the ticket to 59 of its 103 corporators. The decision to field new candidates may stem partly from Uddhav's need to assert himself, but many people also allege quid pro quo deals in allotting the ticket. Some sitting corporators in Mumbai and Thane, the party's strongholds, have accused the party of denying them the ticket simply because they did not pay up.

The Shiv Sena first came to power in the country's largest Municipal Corporation, which has a budget of around Rs.5,000 crores, in 1985. The Tinaikar Committee that was set up to look into the reasons for the Corporation's deficit of Rs.215.95 crores, found irregularities in several departments, especially those where contracts involving large sums were granted. Moreover, in recent times the Shiv Sena chief has publicly scolded the party's corporators for their lavish lifestyles in recent years and has promised measures to curb excesses.

Obviously, there is a lot at stake, financially and politically. With the boss increasingly withdrawing from public life, rivalry between the two young leaders is likely to grow, although Raj denies any interest in becoming party chief. He seems to be a rebel without a cause.

A task force and unfinished tasks

The Maharashtra government appears set to wind up the Special Task Force that it constituted to act on the Srikrishna Commission Report on the 1992-93 riots in Mumbai.

WHO says the Mumbai Police are not doing their bit to retain the city's secular fabric? They went all out to celebrate 'Communal Harmony Week' in January, organising seminars, meetings and even a pop concert, mobilising the support of film stars, singers, socialites and politicians. But the high-profile public relations exercise could hardly hide the pain and anger of the victims of the communal riots of December 1992 and January 1993. They have a different story to tell.

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Some of the persons who allegedly committed heinous crimes during the riots go around scot-free, while those affected by the riots still have cases pending against them. Police officers accused of murder and pillage during the riots have even been promoted since then. This is despite the fact that the Justice Srikrishna Commission, appointed by the State government to probe the causes of the riots, recommended strict action against them.

One such person let off the hook is Assistant Police Inspector Nikhil Kapse. On January 10, 1993, he opened fire on people offering namaz at Hari Masjid on RAK Marg, killing six of them. Farooq Mapkar was one of those who suffered a bullet injury. "We were inside the masjid when they opened fire. A boy had a bullet injury in his leg and was trying to run out when Kapse shot him in the chest at point-blank range," said Mapkar. After that, the 100-odd people at the masjid were arrested and kept in the lock-up for 15 days, without medical treatment. False cases were registered against them. The police alleged that arms were kept inside the masjid. However, no arms were found in the masjid premises. "In our neighbourhood, there was no Hindu-Muslim animosity. It was the police who were against Muslims. They were solely responsible for provoking riots," said Mapkar.

The Srikrishna Commission found Kapse guilty of "unjustified firing", "inhuman and brutal behaviour" and "suppressing evidence". But, the police-run Special Task Force (STF), set up in August 2000 by the Congress(I)-Nationalist Congress Party government to act on the recommendations of the Srikrishna Commission Report, claimed that no criminal case could be registered against him. This was despite the Commission finding sufficient evidence to indict Kapse. Mapkar still has cases pending against him and he has to appear in court at regular intervals. "The police don't hesitate to file false cases against ordinary people. But they turn a blind eye to the evidence when it involves their own staff," said Mapkar. Ironically, the job of punishing the guilty has been given to the same force that committed the crimes.

The police registered cases against only nine of the 31 policemen against whom the Srikrishna Commission recommended strict action for various criminal acts. The others were either let off the hook or subjected to a departmental inquiry. For example, the Commission asked for action to be taken against six constables from the Antop Hill police station who "passively permitted pillaging mobs and sometimes even encouraged and joined them". They "failed to protect the lives and properties of Muslims". The police also did not take action against those involved in the kidnapping of an 18-year-old girl and the brutal murder of a handicapped person, suppressed evidence and sabotaged investigation, the Commission said. Only one of the policemen was dismissed and four others had their pay reduced to the minimum level for three years. No criminal cases were registered against them despite the violent nature of their crimes. "Even the nine cases filed against the policemen are very weak. They are not interested in collecting evidence properly or implementing the Commission's recommendations. It is just an eye-wash," said Shakeel Ahmed, a human rights activist who is part of the Nirbhay Bano Andolan.

The Srikrishna Commission's findings indict the Shiv Sena, the police and powerful politicians for their complicity in the riots, in which 900 people were killed and 2,036 people, mainly Muslims, were injured. The previous Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance government rejected the report since it stated that the 1993 riots were engineered by the Shiv Sena. Now, the Congress(I)-NCP government, without accomplishing much, is all ready to wind up the STF, claiming that it has completed its task. However, it cannot shut shop without the permission of the Supreme Court, before which a petition demanding the implementation of the Srikrishna report is pending.

"Most of the STF's work is over. The court cases will go on," said Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, a Shiv Sena rebel who was keen on setting up the STF seemingly to avenge old rivalries. "Since there is not much left to do, we reduced the number of staff. The existing staff members have been given dual duties in other departments. We cannot keep them idle," Bhujbal added. But the fact remains that the STF's track record in bringing the riot-accused to book has been abysmal.

Around 60 per cent of the riot-related cases (1,358 cases) were closed unlawfully during the tenure of the Shiv Sena-BJP government as being "true but undetected". The Srikrishna report recommended that these be reopened. It also noted that the "police investigations appear to be lackadaisical, arbitrary and crime reports are written routinely without any serious investigative effort being put in". Despite this, the STF reopened only 112 of the 1,358 cases. Of these, all except 15 were closed once again. "It was very difficult to get evidence after all these years," said P.K. Raghuvanshi, Additional Commissioner of Police in charge of the STF. The STF also filed eight new cases, and 27 policemen were charge-sheeted for serious offences in five of these cases.

The STF's main achievement related to netting the big fish - powerful politicians and policemen involved in the riots. The most celebrated case was that of former Police Commissioner R.D Tyagi, who joined the Shiv Sena after his retirement. He was indicted for "excessive and unnecessary firing resulting in the death of nine innocent Muslims in the Suleman Bakery incident at Pydhonie". The STF filed a case against him but he is now out on bail. Cases were also registered against Gajanan Kirtikar, who was Minister of State for Home in the Shiv Sena-BJP government, in connection with inciting riots.

The State Home Department under Bhujbal's charge also initiated action against Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray. Although the Shiv Sena-BJP government managed to have most of the charges against him dismissed, two cases dealing with his writings in the Shiv Sena newspaper Saamna were opened in June 2000. Thackeray threatened that the city would burn if he was arrested. The Magistrate Court dismissed the case, but the State government pursued the case in the Mumbai High Court, where it awaits a hearing.

Families of the 173 "missing" persons, whose bodies were never found, were initially not considered eligible for compensation. Then, the Srikrishna Commission recommended that the government pay compensation (Rs.2 lakh each, a lakh each from the State and Central governments) immediately. So far only 44 families have received the compensation - 41 of them from the Shiv Sena-BJP government and three from the present government. "Some have been denied compensation on the excuse that they have re-married and are hence not entitled," said Shakeel Ahmed. Moreover, those given compensation are being asked to deposit a bond of Rs.6,000 - just in case the missing person reappears.

While it is unlikely that the ghosts will reappear, the policemen continue to haunt their prey. Abdul Haq Ansari's workshop in Byculla was gutted in the December 1992 riots. When he called the police to register a complaint, he and his workers were arrested and cases were framed against them. After his release Ansari moved to Dharavi. Subsequently, when he became a witness before the Srikrishna Commission, he was stalked by Inspector Ram Desai, the policeman against whom he testified. Desai was transferred to Dharavi. Ansari received threats on the phone and one night his son was abducted allegedly by plainclothesmen. He was released only after the residents of Dharavi held a demonstration outside the police station.

The departmental inquiry initiated against Desai exonerated him. "If the media had not highlighted my case, I would probably have been killed in an encounter by now," said Ansari. "I am not demanding compensation, only justice. We have given them all the proof, but the case is not presented properly. They are not interested in punishing the guilty."

A striking symmetry

War and Diplomacy in Kashmir 1947-48 by C. Dasgupta, Sage Publications, Delhi, 2002; pages 240, Rs.250.

THE point of reference of War and Diplomacy in Kashmir lies more than half a century in the past. And yet it presents citations from the official correspondence that have little less than an astonishing bearing on contemporary events.

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Here, for instance, is the Prime Minister of India in December 1947, addressing his counterpart in the United Kingdom: "Unless Pakistan takes immediate steps to stop all forms of aid to the attackers, who are operating from bases in Pakistan and therefore strategically enjoy a great advantage over us, our only hope of dealing with them effectively would lie in striking at them at their bases. This would involve our entering Pakistan territory. Such a step would be justified in international law as we are entitled to take it in self-defence."

Substitute "cross-border terrorist" for "attacker" and mark up by one notch India's demand on Pakistan: not merely ceasing all sustenance for militant activity in Jammu and Kashmir, but also initiating punitive action against the elements responsible for it. This passage could then well be an excerpt from correspondence between the prime ministerial incumbents in India and the U.K. The only concession to the passage of a half century since the lines were written, would be the U.K.'s subsidiary position in the United States' global imperium. The U.K. would not today be the principal referee in the neighbourhood dispute in South Asia, but merely a subsidiary lease-holder of the U.S.' overweening global authority in resolving military issues.

In 1948, the broader constraints which impeded the West from responding to India's appeals on Kashmir were typified in this communication that the British Foreign Office addressed to the British Prime Minister: "The Foreign Secretary has expressed anxiety lest we should appear to be siding with India in the dispute... over Kashmir... With the situation as critical as it is in Palestine, (Foreign Secretary) Mr. Bevin feels that we must be very careful to guard against the danger of aligning the whole of Islam against us, which might be the case were Pakistan to obtain a false impression of our attitude in the Security Council."

Substitute "war against terrorism" for "situation in Palestine", and there is again a striking symmetry with current events. Then, as now, India was seeking keenly to enlist Western backing for a military incursion into Pakistan and failing, because of the larger interests of the West in preserving an appearance of amity and concord with the Islamic world.

MOST accounts of the history of the long-running dispute over Kashmir miss out on certain crucial events that followed the Pakistan-sponsored tribal invasion of October 1947, which in turn precipitated the hurried accession of the State to India. Right-wing commentators, particularly those with a Hindutva orientation, have held Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru responsible for squandering the military advantage secured in the first phase of the war and sacrificing India's strategic interests by referring the matter to the United Nations. Dasgupta's narrative, scrupulously attentive to the high diplomacy of that period as also the ground-level balance of military force, provides an overdue corrective to this oversimplified picture.

This study is unique in that it focusses attention on the peculiar constraints faced by newly independent states in conflict situations. An autonomous state must have the discretion to order its ultimate instrumentality - the armed forces - into action to serve its paramount interests. At the time of Independence, neither India nor Pakistan had this essential element of autonomy. As with all the other assets at the time of Partition, the British Indian Army too had been apportioned between the inheritor states of the Raj. But neither state had managed yet to develop autonomous command structures. Both the Indian and Pakistani armies remained under the overall tutelage of British generals who owed their loyalty to London rather than the states they were nominally responsible to.

Conflicts between successor states could, in this situation, well come down to a battle between British soldiers entrenched by fortuitous circumstances in enemy positions. Mindful of the sensitivities involved, the explicit order for British officers caught up in conflict situations between dominions was to "stand down", that is, to disengage from actual hostilities and only with the rarest exceptions, from the strategic planning exercise itself. The "stand down" principle, Dasgupta shows, worked remarkably smoothly when India and Pakistan lurched towards possible military strife over Junagadh. But Kashmir was an entirely different proposition.

In the immediate aftermath of the Pakistan-sponsored invasion of Kashmir, the Indian government's priority was to restore order and a sense of confidence. The British generals in the Indian Army saw little to object to in the early defensive manoeuvres which saw the airlift of troops and materiel to Srinagar and the expulsion of the marauders from the Jhelum valley. Friction began when the Indian government shifted its attention to the business of clearing out the Poonch region.

The Sudhan and Satti tribes in the Poonch region had been a fertile recruiting ground for the British Indian Army. After Partition, these military units had been allotted almost entirely to Pakistan. An Indian armed operation in the Poonch region would have almost certainly have drawn stiff resistance from these elements and been a serious embarrassment for the British commanders they reported to.

This aside, an influential section within the British Commonwealth Relations Office (CRO) had, after the first phase of hostilities in Kashmir, begun to veer around to the view that the State belonged rightly in Pakistan. This belief was influenced primarily by the communal calculus: with the empire having been partitioned on religious lines, no State with a Muslim majority had any business remaining in a truncated India. There was also an intuitive sense that Kashmir was strategically a vital asset without which the survival of Pakistan as a nation would be imperilled. First, Kashmir controlled the head reaches of all West Punjab's water sources. And secondly, sovereignty over Kashmir would enable India to extend its reach right up to the Frontier Provinces of Pakistan, where the Pushtun tribes under Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan's leadership were not proving amenable to any prospect of reconciliation within Pakistan.

Dasgupta finds that by the end of 1947, the British generals commanding the armies on either side of the partitioned empire had - under explicit instructions from the CRO - subtly modified the "stand down" directive. The disengagement by British elements, it was felt, would impact more adversely on Pakistan than on India, which was still capable of mustering a viable fighting force and providing it with an appropriate level of leadership.

NEHRU had committed himself to Kashmir's right to self-determination but insisted that the exercise of ascertaining the will of the people could only begin after expelling the last of the invaders from Pakistan. Although from the beginning he pushed for tough and purposive military action, he was restrained by Governor-General Lord Mountbatten and by a flurry of correspondence from his British counterpart Clement Attlee. The British generals in the Indian Army concurrently sought to provide as bleak a picture as possible on the prospects of a military offensive achieving the results sought.

Yet India was using every inch of the autonomous military space it enjoyed to implement its own military plans. On December 28, 1947, the British High Commissioner in Delhi issued a communication to London where he expressed concern at the recently detected tendency on the part of "Nehru and the Inner Cabinet" not to discuss "their military plans frankly with Mountbatten or (Army Commander-in-Chief) Lockhart". The Indian Cabinet, warned the High Commissioner, had "been taking advice from Indian 'military experts'."

Over the following year, India fell back increasingly on its own military devices, while the British generals began surreptitiously at first and then with little subtlety, to provide Pakistan with vital strategic inputs to buttress the positions it had taken in Kashmir. A spring offensive by India produced very ambiguous results, since Pakistan army regulars had begun to take up positions alongside the tribal raiders, moving heavy military assets into strategic positions. Skirmishes continued all through the year, as did frenetic diplomatic activity, now bound up with the strategic calculations of the incipient Cold War.

In December 1948, India made a determined thrust in the Poonch sector that earned it major strategic gains. Pakistan responded with a counter-offensive of its own, planned in the main by a British general, which threatened to cut through Indian positions in the Noushera sector. Nehru was outraged at the evidence of British conniving, and for a while it seemed that the tactical skirmishes of the last year would burgeon into full-scale war. But the stakes had by then become too high and with the U.N. stepping in with a proposal that addressed many of India's longstanding concerns, a cessation of hostilities seemed the most civilised course.

DASGUPTA'S riveting narrative obviously has important lessons for contemporary times. But how far our decision-makers today are clued into these lessons is a debatable question. As an illustration of all the wrong lessons being learnt from history, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh (then Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission) had this assessment to offer of the conduct of the 1948 military operations in Kashmir: "It is noteworthy that there did exist a Defence Committee of the Indian Cabinet. It was almost a direct descendant of the wartime Defence Committee of the Viceroy, but at least it was there, which is more than what we witness in later years... Notwithstanding this Defence Committee of the Cabinet, at no stage did any deeper strategic analysis of the vital nature of the whole State of Jammu and Kashmir ever take place. The approach was limited and purely military; and in that too it consisted only of containing and repulsing the invading force" (Defending India, Macmillan, 1999).

Jaswant Singh's appreciation of the Defence Committee's role and input into the war effort is curiously divorced from the realities of that body's deliberations. When the Indian government was contemplating vigorous military action, it was the Defence Committee that counselled restraint. Although obviously chafing at the numerous fetters placed upon his autonomy, Nehru was constrained to accept the realities of the situation. And yet he did seek to outflank the British generals who were then determining India's military strategy. In late 1947, he told Defence Minister Baldev Singh that the Defence Committee did not quite dictate the entire range of India's military options: "This does not mean that we should not be completely prepared to defend our territory or even to convert our defence to an attack on certain bases, if necessary, in Pakistan territory... My own impression... was that such a plan was being prepared... I saw no particular advantage in putting up the plan we had prepared before the motley crowd that attend the Defence Committee meetings."

Clearly, the "motley crowd" was part of the problem, rather than the solution. There could be a case made for the utility of a committee that institutionalises the political and strategic oversight of military operations, but the issue then was more basic - it pertained to autonomy. To an extent both the issues of political oversight and military autonomy have now been reasonably well addressed. But the imperial powers remain engaged in the Kashmir dispute as deeply as they were in 1948. Perhaps the final message from Dasgupta's book is the depressing one that the more things change, the more they remain constant.

An uneasy partnership

The United States and Pakistan, 1947-2000: Disenchanted Allies by Dennis Kux; Woodrow Wilson Centre Press, 2001; pages 469, $30.

DENNIS KUX was on diplomatic assignments to Pakistan twice - once in 1957 and then in 1969. He was also interested in India. Being of a scholarly bent of mind, Kux spent five years studying and writing about relations between the United States and India. He worked for another five years to write this book, on relations between the U.S. and Pakistan. For over five decades now, relations between the two countries have not been steady; they have been at times volatile.

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This book was written before the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington. The author has made use of official U.S. documents, both classified and unclassified. He could not get such documents in Pakistan. Therefore, he conducted extensive interviews with people who were involved or who are knowledgeable.

Kux has neither broken new ground nor brought to light any sensational material. The book is an honest appraisal of the relations between the two countries. The merit of the book lies in the fact that it gives in one volume all the significant happenings and assesses them objectively.

When Pakistan was founded, the U.S. government was not particularly interested in the new state. Ordinarily, even Americans of some standing are not interested in the affairs of other countries. Often, one is amazed at their ignorance or even indifference. Kux quotes from a dispatch from a British diplomat about Liaquat Ali Khan's lunch engagement in Los Angeles. At the function, an American businessman asked the Pakistani Prime Minister whether the blank space between the twin flanks of Pakistan (West and East Pakistan; the latter became Bangladesh subsequently) as shown in the menu card was Africa.

But after the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) came into existence in 1954, its principal architect being U.S. Secretary of State John Forster Dulles, there was a new-found interest in Pakistan. A conversation between Dulles and one of his foremost critics, the journalist Walter Lippmann, is revealing. Dulles told Lippmann that he wanted the fighting men of South Asia. According to him, Pakistanis were the real fighters. The U.S. could not do without the Gurkhas. Lippmann clarified that Gurkhas were not Pakistanis but Indians. (In fact, they are from Nepal.) Dulles replied that even if they were not Pakistanis, at least they were Muslims. Lippmann explained to the Secretary of State that Gurkhas were in fact Hindus. Given this background, it is not surprising that in the course of his electoral campaign, when asked about the Taliban, George W. Bush said that it might be a rock band.

Kux mistakenly compares Kashmir with Hyderabad. It is not true that the Indian Army went into Hyderabad without giving the Nizam any time to change his adamant stand. Besides, he had already declared that his state would be independent. He even wanted to have diplomatic relations with Pakistan. All this was beyond the scope of the Partition scheme approved by leaders of both India and Pakistan.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had his own worldview and did not want India to be embroiled in Cold War politics. This annoyed the Americans. They thought Pakistan was more amenable. It is noteworthy that whenever relations between the U.S. and Pakistan were at a low ebb, some international situation developed, which in turn would help Pakistan reverse the unfavourable trend. This does not mean that the U.S. was always enthusiastic about helping Pakistan financially or militarily. It was the politics of the Cold War that brought the two countries closer. It was, however, merely a marriage of convenience.

This is why we find President Dwight D. Eisenhower complaining about the burden of helping Pakistan. Initially, the U.S. was to give a small amount; but it ballooned to $500 million. Eisenhower wrote to the National Security Council: "We had decided some time ago that we wanted Pakistan as a military ally. Obviously it had proved costly to achieve this objective. In point of fact we were doing practically nothing for Pakistan except in the form of military aid. This was the worst kind of a plan and decision we could have made. It was a terrible error, but now we seem hopelessly to be involved in it." This hopeless involvement has been carried on to this day.

Ironically, it was during Eisenhower's presidency that the American involvement in Pakistan grew significantly. Peshawar was chosen as a base for U-2 spy planes that had to be stationed near the borders of the erstwhile Soviet Union. In exchange, Pakistan received F-104 planes, which had been denied to it for quite some time.

It was Pakistan's military dictator Muhammad Ayub Khan who broke the ice with China and resolved the border dispute. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto built on this base and gradually the two countries came closer. The Americans were suspicious of this relationship. But when the U.S. wanted to open a new chapter in its relations with China, Pakistan served as a broker.

Using substantial documentation Kux points out that although Pakistan raised objections, both John F. Kennedy and his successor Lyndon B. Johnson wanted to improve relations with India. Neither President succumbed to Pakistan's plea to make aid to India conditional. Pakistani leaders came under fire from their own countrymen for playing second fiddle to America which, they pointed out, was extending more aid to India than Pakistan. Of course, this criticism is not valid, as the per capita aid to India was lower when compared to Pakistan.

The policies of President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger changed the balance in the subcontinent. In order to establish good relations with China, they requested Pakistan to play the role of a middleman. Kux gives the details about all these dealings and also criticises the duo for lying to the Chinese as well as to the American public and for giving false information to the Pakistani leaders that China would put pressure on India in case it attacks East Pakistan. Both Chinese and Soviet leaders did not buy the argument of Nixon and Kissinger that India would extend the war to the West and decimate the Pakistan Army. In this context, Kux could have quoted the then Soviet Ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly F. Dobrynin, who conveyed to Nixon and Kissinger the finding of Soviet sources that India had no such intention. According to Kux, Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Z.A. Bhutto agreed informally to accept the Line of Control in Kashmir as the international border. He could have sourced reliable material on the issue from P.N. Dhar's book Indira Gandhi, the 'Emergency,' and Indian Democracy.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan radically changed the situation in the subcontinent. It gave Pakistan President General Zia-ul-Haq an opportunity not only to advance his politics of hegemony but also to checkmate his political rivals. He started madrassas in order to impart religious education. As Kux rightly points out, it was the madrassas that became the recruiting centres of the Taliban. Saudi Arabia provided large amounts of money for this venture. Meanwhile, the Americans, who were engaged in defeating the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, poured huge amounts of money and weapons into that country through Pakistan. Although Z.A. Bhutto initiated Pakistan's nuclear programme, it was Zia who made striking progress on this front. The Americans were suspicious on this count, but it seems they were willing to be deceived. Thus, the 1980s brought the two countries closer.

After the withdrawal of the Soviet Army from Afghanistan, the U.S. also withdrew from the scene, leaving Pakistan to fend for itself. Meanwhile, the Pakistan Army and the whole system became more corrupt and came under the influence of fanatics. Kux has correctly analysed the malady, which has corroded the body politic of Pakistan. The U.S. warnings about the Taliban came too late. Moreover, Pakistan always played down this menace. If the U.S. had acted tough, it could have reined in Pakistan in time. With the war in Afghanistan taking an unexpected turn, once again Pakistan is getting substantial help from the U.S. Nevertheless, serious differences exist between the two on issues such as terrorism and nuclear devices.

According to Kux, Pakistan should put aside its obsession with India and try to solve its political and economic problems. Pakistan should ask itself why very often, it finds itself on the verge of bankruptcy. This time the war on terrorism has helped Pakistan. But it may not be sufficient. Besides, the war on terrorism might unleash forces within Pakistan that may pose it serious problems.

This book was written before September 11, after which the situation has changed radically.

For farmers' rights

Moves towards the effective implementation of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act make significant progress.

RULES give life to an Act: they are the blueprint to implement the law. Hence, the framing of rules to implement an Act is an exacting process that must involve everyone likely to be impacted by the law. One such in focus today is the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act (PPVFRA), which got the President's assent three months ago.

To help frame the rules and to discuss the efficient utilisation of plant genetic resources in the Asia-Pacific region, the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) collaborated to organise a three-day international consultation from January 20 at the MSSRF in Chennai. There were 85 participants from 10 countries, including farmers, plant breeders, environmental lawyers, gender experts, politicians, policy-makers, representatives from private and public sector companies, and experts from the FAO and the international agricultural research centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). They discussed the rights of farmers, breeders and researchers, and the issues related to protecting the public interest. Also discussed were the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture adopted by the FAO General Conference in November 2001 as it had a special section on the operationalisation of farmers' rights.

The expert group came out with a number of recommendations for the implementation of the Act in India and also discussed issues pertaining to the effective use of the world's germplasm resources. It decided to set up an independent and autonomous authority to oversee the implementation of the Act. An appeal was made to integrate the implementation of the PPVFRA, the Biodiversity Act (yet to be approved by Parliament) and the Seed Act (the revised Act is before Parliament). The integration was deemed necessary in order to give all farmers access to good and appropriate seeds.

The group recommended the creation of resource centres for farmer-breeders and conservers to get them recognition and rewards under the Act. These centres will mobilise a corps of lawyers to travel in the rural areas and help members of panchayati raj institutions and families of farmers to understand the provisions of the PPVFRA, especially their entitlements. The need to recognise deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) fingerprinting for conflict resolution was emphasised.

The group felt that the National Gene Fund, as proposed in the Act, should be employed to recognise and reward the tribal people who conserved and enhanced agro-biodiversity. Recommending that administrative costs be kept to the minimum and be borne by the Centre, the consultants suggested the creation of a standing committee on farmers' rights not only to create awareness about the Act but also to work out transparent and credible methods to recognise the contributions of individuals and communities.

The National Gene Fund, it was recommended, should also be used for on-farm conservation measures, particularly in areas rich in agro-biodiversity such as Kolli Hills in Tamil Nadu, Wayanad in Kerala, Kutch in Gujarat, the Jeypore tract in Orissa and the northeastern States.

A novel idea floated by Supreme Court lawyer M.C. Mehta was the seed right - the right of seeds to survive. According to him, over 200 laws relating to environment protection was practised more in their breach. He suggested the development of food and health security sanctuaries in areas rich in food and medicinal genetic resources on the model of national parks and protected areas for wildlife.

Periodic training programmes on various aspects of the legislation should be undertaken in local languages, especially for the tribal people and farmers' families. For this, it was suggested that agricultural universities make use of the rural agricultural work experience (RAWE) programme to train students to help farmers' families access their rights.

For effective implementation of the Act, the consultants recommended the creation of institutional structures such as an autonomous national institute for varietal research to assess varieties for recognition under the Act. The institution should directly report to the authority set up to oversee the implementation of the PPVFRA. For this, the government can make use of existing institutions such as agricultural universities, laboratories of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and Krishi Vigyan Kendras to assess the distinctness, uniformity and stability of particular varieties.

The group pointed out the absence of a mandatory funding mechanism and assured sources of funds as the major weakness of the FAO-steered International Treaty on Implementing Farmers' Rights. In the case of integrating various sui generis systems of implementing farmers' rights, the group felt the need to examine the value of harmonising the various systems of farmers' protection and also following minimum international standards of protection.

Pointing to the resource crunch faced by CGIAR systems and other institutions, the group noted that there was a need to collaborate with the private sector. However, all such collaborations must make research products available to the resource-poor farmers.

As the Asia-Pacific region had several common problems, the group felt the need to develop a regional cooperative network programme to share technical and other support systems. In the case of genetically-modified organisms, the group felt the need for an objective assessment; a biotechnology policy in each country to take care of biodiversity and biosecurity; and international trials to adhere strictly to national laws and regulations of the country in which the trials were conducted.

According to Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, the proposed amendments and the draft rules prepared by the group would be submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture. It is expected to facilitate the speedy implementation of the landmark Act and make a difference to the Indian farmer.

Economics and values

The Values of Economics - An Aristotelian Perspective by Irene van Staveren; Eburon Publishers, 2001; pages 242, 18.99.

IN her book The Values of Economics - An Aristotelian Perspective, Irene van Staveren discusses how the values of freedom, justice and care have been kept beyond the pale of modern economics and examines related issues incisively. She won the Gunnar Myrdal Prize for 2000 for her dissertation "Caring for economics - An Aristotelian perspective", from which this book evolved. Staveren is a lecturer in Labour Market Economics of Developing Countries at the Institute of Social Studies at The Hague.

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The study of economics in universities is dominated, by a large extent, by the neoclassical or orthodox approach, which rests on axioms about consumer preferences and on the assumption of rationality of consumer behaviour. The actor is constructed as the 'rational economic man' or Homo Economicus. Economics is introduced as a subject that deals with the price system, rational utility maximising individuals who are price takers, their demand curves, the profit maximising firms' supply curves, indifference maps, constrained maximisation behaviour, and the Pareto optimal situation in which no one can be made better off without making someone else worse off, which is learnt by the calculus method, more recently by using set theory. Quotations from the Fable of bees: Or Private Vices and Public Virtues by Bernard Mandeville (1670-1730) and from Adam Smith - regarding each one's maximisation of self-interest leading to maximum social good - are often adverted to.

The concept of Utils though can be argued as being analogous to weight, volume and temperature, its measurement in numbers being nothing but the whim of the author. In this book the author looks at the missing ethical capabilities of the rational economic man and at what has been lost in the evolution of the dominant strand of economics. She conducts an elaborate inquiry into this and offers a reasoned critique. The book encourages students of economics to look beyond the world of axioms, constrained maximisations and optimisations.

The author lays emphasis on the value domains of Freedom, Justice and Care, how closely they are interwoven and how an excess or deficiency in one can result in an inability to feed on one another and how an excess of one can create problems. The preface of the book starts with the passage, "Somewhere along the route of modernisation economics has lost its connection to the most basic characteristics of human behaviour. It has come to disregard human motives, emotions, evaluation and the different forms of interaction through which human actions in economic life provide for themselves and for others. With this neglect the discipline not only lost much of its charm but also became less persuasive."

The author narrates the case of two victims who suffered brain damage in accidents but were later cured. One of them, Phineas Gage, who was 25 years old at the time of the accident in 1848, was a foreman. A 1.10-metre-long iron bar weighing 6 kg pierced his skull from the left cheek, passed through the front of his brain and the top of his head, and landed 30 metres away. After treatment for two months, he was cured, though he lost one eye.

However, Gage's personality underwent a metamorphosis. The polite, precise and committed person became rude, blasphemous, stubborn and capricious. He lost his job, broke up his family and ended up as a vagabond. He was incapable of planning ahead or earning a living, though he had not lost his rational capabilities or his ability to read and talk, remember and process information and to direct his hands to do a task. The author characterises this person as a real- life clone of the rational economic man. The deficiency of the rational economic man is that he interacts with society without being influenced by it and he interacts only through an ideal market in which prices form the only means of communication. He is depicted as having a utility function and his foremost aim is to maximise it.

Values are not ends in themselves. According to the author, commitment, emotional attachment, deliberation and human interaction all express human values, and to some extent all these values are shared and contested among individuals in a society. The problem conceived by the author is how to address the role of such values in economics without, on the one hand, moving too far away from economics into sociology and without, on the other hand, reducing values to axioms that exclude any meaningful rationality, as in the case of neoclassical economics. Neoclassical economics is not value neutral. It takes value freedom for granted. She cites passages from Free to Choose, authored by Milton Friedman, and Rose Friedman, to bring home this point. The commitment to liberty in neoclassical economics is expressed as free individual, free choice and free exchange. The defence of liberty is based on a free exchange that leads to efficient markets.

Justice is described as a natural counter-value to freedom. Excessive pursuit of freedom will have negative consequences for others. For example, a pursuit of profit that results in the exploitation of workers, the unequal distribution of gains from international trade and so on. The author also cites from John Rawls' A Theory of Justice (1971). Can the poor suffer for the cause of a Pareto superior utility gain, the aggregate of which may benefit only or mainly the rich? Thus free exchange will not occur without a substantive form of justice.

CARE is another value that the author says modern economists excluded from the sphere of the subject. "Species activity that includes everything that we do to maintain, continue and repair our world so that we can live in that as well as possible" (Joan Tronto, 1993). In economics the relevance of caring commitments were recognised by Amartya Sen (1981), Jon Elser (1983) and Robert Frank (1988). Feminist economists have also made contributions on caring labour.

The author cites an interesting example of Sen's illustration of Ali, an immigrant shopkeeper in London who has a friend called Dona. Dona gets information about some racists planning to attack Ali and does not know how to warn him. Complaining to the police is not of any use as they dismiss Dona's story as a product of paranoid fantasy. Dona knows that Ali keeps Charles, a business contact informed about his movements. The only way she can warn Ali is by breaking into Charles' room and leaving a message about the planned attack. Under utilitarian thinking and justice reasoning there is no reason for breaking into Charles' room. Charles is a self-centered egoist, who will be more disturbed by his room being broken into than by Ali getting beaten up. From a justice perspective, there is no justification as Ali's life is not in danger, only his health and dignity. From a utilitarian perspective Charles' utility will decrease and Ali's further utility loss as a consequence of the bashing will be less than the utility gains by ten racist attackers. Does the very idea appear preposterous? If so, you value care as an end in itself. Sen encourages Dona to follow her "deeply held and resilient conviction that she must save Ali". Care is one's responsibility toward the community that one feels part of. Without responsibility, negative external effects will rapidly restrain the economic process, says the author.

Staveren says that Adam Smith's contribution to the domain of justice and care has been undervalued. Smith, widely known as the author of Wealth of Nations, had also authored The Moral Sentiments. He recognised the two objects of the economy: "first to provide a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people, or more properly to enable them to provide such a revenue or subsistence for themselves; and secondly, to supply the state or commonwealth with a revenue sufficient for public services" (Adam Smith, 1776, Book IV; Introduction: 428).

Smith also recognised the role of the care economy at home in moulding the labour force of the future. He recognised that labour, like capital, is a produced factor. His writing quoted below evidences Smith's contribution to the domain of justice: "No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed and lodged." (Smith 1776, Book I. VIII: 96).

The author examines the views of John Stuart Mill, Plato and Karl Marx in his writing. Margaret Reid's pioneering contribution to home economics is also discussed. The idea of care economy was developed from the experiences of women, their role as consumers and as unpaid labour at home. Her idea of a 'fair market' from a consumers' point of view has been dealt with by the author in Consumers and Market (1942). Another researcher on the home economy of care introduced by the author is Charlotte Perkins Gilman who wrote her books at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century - The Home (1903) and Women and Economics (1899).

Gilman argued that the unpaid care labour of women at home is not compensated for by the income earned by their husbands. She described care as a basic human sphere and considers the valuing of the sympathy and care of a mother in market terms as unthinkable. Staveren considers this view more realistic than Pigou's famous statement that gross domestic product (GDP) decreases when a man marries his housekeeper. To generate a hypotheses on the behaviour of economic actors and each value domain, the author employed unconventional research methods - at least in economics, field surveys and focus groups. She also discusses the extended utility function espoused by Garry Becker and McCloskey's methods for a via media between individual and social approach.

The values of freedom, justice and care cannot be aggregated into one value, as they are incommensurable. They cannot be made to occupy a hierarchy of importance. They cannot be subordinated to utility. Staveren hopes that the outline of the empirical framework can guide further theoretical enquiry into care and other values in economics.

In dealing with care economics she deals with the issue of privatisation of health-care. For more than a decade or so, hard-boiled votaries of privatisation and some half-boiled experts have considered privatisation a magic wand that can exorcise the ghost of inefficiency that they attribute to the public sector. The importance of cost recovery fees, including in health care, is insisted upon in revival packages. In the health sector, privatisation results in making healthcare more expensive and this can in turn result in a lower demand for privatised healthcare. This case of a downward sloping demand curve can hardly be found objectionable by neoclassicals. This reduced demand will cause an increase in malnutrition and health problems, particularly for women and children. This has the effect of undermining the productivity of future generations in the labour market.

Cuts in health budgets, which aim to peg fiscal deficit at a fixed per cent of GDP, whatever the cost, and the draining of capable doctors from the public to the private sector, will cause longer waiting lists and queues in clinics. People who cannot afford expensive healthcare need more care at home. This will mean that women have to divert more time to care at home and less to other activities. This is a typical case of the substitution effect described in economics textbooks. The argument of efficiency is actually an argument of false efficiency, causing intergenerational loss of productivity and intragenerational loss of output. This is a classic case of privatisation adversely affecting productivity and output. It is interesting to note how the author uses concepts of traditional economics to show how its conclusion is unworkable. The magician who is recommended for exorcising public sector inefficiency is chased away using his own magic wand.

The author also points out how the oft-criticised 'inefficient state organised distributive measures' have in fact aided the growth of GDP in newly industrialising South-East Asian countries. Studies by believers of neoclassical paradigms of growth have shown that a fair distribution of income has in fact stimulated GDP growth. (Robert Baro 1991; Nancy Birdstall, David Ross and Richard Sabort 1995; United Nations Development Programme 1995, 1996, 1997; Sen 1998). Other things being equal, economies with lower inequalities at the start of 1960-85 grew faster (Birdstall, Ross and Sabort 1995; 50).

THE author identifies the domain of values - freedom, justice and care. When one is deficient it cannot adequately perform a role in the economy. "A deficient value domain is not able to feed into the other value domains to diminish the respective deficiencies." Each domain needs a threshold to feed the other. She argues that in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the domain of freedom was deficient, which led to substantial inefficiencies in the economy. In post-1990s Russia, the domain of justice is deficient. Likewise, the excess of any one domain is also problematic. Excesses in the domain of justice lead to bureaucratic over-regulation and oppression. Virtue is considered a mean between deficiency and excess. This develops through the rational behaviour of actors in each domain using all their ethical capabilities to further each domain's value, and therefore involves a 'balancing act' between them.

One most likely answer to the criticism of the rational economic man with missing ethical capabilities is that only in theory is the abstraction and ruling out of external influences permissible. The author does not disagree with this but adds, by way of caution, that the abstraction should reflect, although it is abstract in form, real, healthy human behaviour if it intends to explain the economic behaviour of human beings. Kaushik Basu is of the opinion that even though he has criticised conventional economics and positive political economy, he does not mean to detract from the many achievements of modern economics. The discipline's rigour and comprehensiveness have undoubtedly contributed to our understanding of the marketplace. A regrettable consequence is that it has spilled over to domains where we have little reason to be confident. Not only the individual self-interest but institutions also matter (Kaushik Basu, Prelude to Political Economy).

The book gives a good exposure to the basic idea of the value domains of freedom, justice and care and the limitations of looking at economics from the neoclassical point of view. It discusses writers and their ideas, which get little importance in the economics curriculum of the universities today.

V. Surjit and R. Mohan are research scholars at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram.

A creditable record

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The experience of Kerala and West Bengal in the matter of land reforms, as discussed at an international conference in Kolkata.

VENKATESH ATHREYA

THE policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation followed in India through the 1990s by successive governments at the Centre and in many States have been characterised also by attempts to reverse even the limited land reforms carried out in the decades immediately following Independence. In particular, attempts are under way to remove or raise land ceiling levels, and to enable agribusiness corporations to buy or lease land for capital intensive farming of high value commercial crops. Yet, available evidence and the historical experience suggest that basic land reforms, which greatly reduce inequalities in the ownership and operation of the most crucial productive asset of an agrarian economy, namely land, and break the economic and social power represented by large tracts of landed property, constitute an important prerequisite for the elimination of the more extreme forms of deprivation and socio-economic oppression.

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Land reforms were part of the agenda of the freedom movement, and included three components: tenancy reforms, enactment of land ceiling legislation and distribution of ceiling-surplus land to the landless and the land-poor, and promotion of consolidation of landholdings and of various forms of cooperation among the recipients. Yet, soon after the achievement of Independence with the participation and crucial contribution of the landless and the land-poor, peasant struggles having receded, the issue of land reforms was all but ignored, except to the extent of abolishing the zamindari system and absentee landlordism, with a view to promoting capitalist development in agriculture without breaking land concentration, and providing some security of tenure to encourage investment in agriculture by tenant cultivators. An idea of the failure in respect of redistribution of land can be had from the fact that, as late as 1992, only 2 per cent of the operated area in the country had been redistributed. Ownership rights were conferred on tenants only with respect to 3.8 per cent of total area operated. Except in the case of three States, the land area redistributed is less than 1 per cent of the area operated. Not surprisingly, the concentration of owned as well as operational holdings remains high, with that for operational holdings having in fact increased between 1960-61 and 1990-91. The important exceptions to this generally abysmal picture of implementation of reforms have been Kerala and West Bengal under Left-led governments.

The international conference on 'Agrarian Reforms and Rural Development in Less Developed Countries' held in Kolkata from January 3 to 6, 2002, discussed in some depth the land reforms experience of Kerala and West Bengal. There were two papers on West Bengal and a presentation on Kerala.

Surjya Kanta Mishra (West Bengal Minister for Panchayats and Rural Development) and Vikas Rawal (Jawaharlal Nehru University) provided in their paper a clear picture of agrarian relations in West Bengal following land reforms carried out over nearly three decades under the leadership of the Left, starting with initiatives taken by the United Front governments of 1967 and 1969, and climaxing in Operation Barga and the redistribution of ceiling surplus lands by successive Left Front governments under the leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) since 1978. They also discussed the challenges ahead for rural development in the context of globalisation and the policies followed by the Indian state. In his paper, Nirupam Sen (West Bengal Minister in charge of Industry) set out the major achievements of land reforms and issues facing the peasantry and rural labour in the State.

The major objectives of land reforms included:

* Weakening the domination of landlords and providing security of tenure to sharecroppers and land to landless and poor peasants;

* Stimulating the growth of productivity and output in agriculture by eliminating feudal and semi-feudal land relations;

* Expanding rural markets by means of a significant redistribution of productive assets, especially land, and by adequate public investment in the agrarian economy;

* Improving human development levels through investments in education and health;

* Empowering women, Dalits and tribal people, with a view to tackling caste and gender oppression.

The achievements in this regard are remarkable. Through Operation Barga, a movement to register sharecroppers and provide them security of tenure through appropriate legal enactments as well as popular strength, 14.98 lakh sharecroppers have been formally provided security of tenure. Of these, 4.25 lakhs are Dalits and 1.7 lakh belong to the Scheduled Castes. Registered sharecroppers cultivate 11 lakh acres (4,45,156 hectares) of land. In terms of redistribution of ceiling surplus land, 13.81 lakh acres (5,58,873 ha) was acquired by the government, of which 10.55 lakh acres (4,26,945 ha) was distributed to 26.01 lakh landless and marginal cultivator households.

To put West Bengal's achievements in this regard in perspective, it only needs to be noted that though the State accounts for only 3.8 per cent of total agricultural land in India, land acquired under the State's land reforms process accounts for 18 per cent of all land acquired in the country under such reforms. Land distributed in the State accounts for an even higher share of 20 per cent of all land distributed in the country. Further, of the 26 lakh households which have received ceiling surplus land, over 56 per cent belong to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Also, about 4.25 lakh titles have been given either jointly in the names of spouses or exclusively in the name of women. Besides, about five lakh poor households were given homestead land.

The pro-poor impact of land reforms was enhanced by the emergence of the system of decentralised local government put in place by the Left Front in 1978 soon after coming to office. The change in the balance of class forces brought about by land reforms, in turn, was reflected in the social and economic composition of the members of the panchayats. Peasants owning less than 2.5 acres (about a hectare) and the landless account for between 70 per cent and 85 per cent of all panchayat members, and the proportion of members from the Scheduled Castes and Tribes is greater than their presence in the general population.

THE papers on West Bengal, while summarising these achievements, also focussed on a number of issues which have emerged, and which need to be addressed. As Mishra and Rawal put it, "The major demands of the peasantry in the face of liberalisation and globalisation relate to provision of non-land inputs, institutional credit and infrastructure, and support in terms of prices." Inadequate supply of institutional credit, which provides space to moneylenders and leads to high rates of interest, was acknowledged as a problem in post-reform rural West Bengal. Since the State has little control over commercial banks, it has been trying to tackle the issue by expanding the network of cooperative banks. Thanks to the high proportion of small and marginal farmers in cooperatives in the State, two-thirds of the agricultural credit from these banks go to such farmers, whereas the proportion is only 30 per cent for India as a whole. In addition, self-help groups are being organised through these banks with the aid of the mass organisations of peasants and agricultural labourers, largely to meet the short-term consumption credit needs of the poor. Mishra and Rawal identified "proactive land use planning, measures to promote cropping pattern diversification and provision of sustainable and efficient irrigation" as needed interventions.

Nirupam Sen highlighted the issues of fragmentation of holdings and the need for consolidation, the implications of market-determined cropping patterns for land use, irrigation needs and food security, the viability of small farms with increases in real wage rates and the implications of urbanisation and resulting diversion of agricultural land for other uses.

Discussing the challenges facing West Bengal with regard to agriculture and rural development, the participants raised several issues, such as the slowing down of the growth of real wages and the increasing rate at which rural households were becoming landless in recent years, the impact of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the role of local bodies in helping farmers in this context, the privatisation of groundwater resources, the ecological implications of chemical-intensive farming, and so on. The importance of class relations and the ongoing class conflicts, and the need to handle them in a manner that united peasants and agricultural labourers against imperialism was highlighted by Surjya Kanta Mishra and Nirupam Sen, and this view found a wide degree of acceptance among the participants.

The presentation on Kerala by Professor P.K. Michael Tharakan (of the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram) focussed more on the lacunae in land reforms in Kerala and the need to address them. It was argued that while the middle classes in rural Kerala had gained substantially from land reforms, these had not substantially benefited the landless agricultural labourers, the tribal people or the fisherfolk. Land reforms in Kerala, Tharakan argued, had essentially benefited the tenants - especially Syrian Christians and Ezhavas - but had led to little redistribution.

IN the discussions, it was pointed out that the reforms in Kerala had several historic achievements to its credit. The process broke the back of landlordism and abolished the janmi system. By 1993 it had conferred ownership rights/protection on 28 lakh tenants, and 6 lakh acres (2,42,812 ha) had accrued to tenants.

Thirdly, 5.28 lakh persons, mostly agricultural labourers, many of them belonging to the Scheduled Castes, had received allotments of house sites and dwellings. Apart from the direct benefits, the movement for land reforms had led to a series of successful struggles against caste oppression, for mass education, public health, and public distribution of food and essential commodities, thanks to the leadership of the movement by the Left. However, land reforms had remained incomplete.

On the current situation in Kerala, the coexistence of high wages in agriculture and high levels of unemployment was noted as an issue that had to be addressed by bringing about cooperation between peasants and agricultural labourers, and promoting investment in agriculture.

It was pointed out that periodic change of governments had made it difficult for the Left in Kerala to implement land reforms in a thoroughgoing manner. The major challenge of declining prices of agricultural products in the context of globalisation and liberalisation was a key issue, and had to be seen as being as important as the land issue. The problems of management of an open economy like Kerala in the era of globalisation was a task that had to be addressed.

In his response, Tharakan clarified that he was in agreement that land reforms in Kerala had many achievements. But the needs of the groups that had been largely neglected in the process had to be addressed. Tharakan saw the land issue as one of continued relevance in Kerala.

The discussions at the conference contributed considerably to clarifying many aspects and issues of land reforms in the two States where some genuine land reform has taken place.

Dr. Venkatesh Athreya is Professor and Head of the Department of Economics, Bharatidasan University, Tiruchi.

Towards responsible tourism

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A conference on ecotourism in South Asia discusses ways towards a balanced tourism policy that will help protect biodiversity and distribute the benefits equitably for the overall development of the region.

SUHRID SANKAR CHATTOPADHYAY in Gangtok

THE year 2002 has been declared the International Year of Ecotourism (IYE) by the United Nations. The year was formally launched in New York on January 28 by the World Tourism Organisations and the United nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

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The IYE, which will include a range of activities, including a World Ecotourism Summit to be held from May 19 to 22 in Quebec, Canada, has been met with enthusiasm by many official tourism bodies and tour operators, but with scepticism and concern by many non-governmental organisations (NGOs), particularly those in Third World countries. The concern involves the complex debate about how to make tourism a more sustainable activity than it is today. It is felt, for example, that the sudden growth in ecotourism may not necessarily work in the interests of both local and indigenous people in destinations in the countries of the South.

For instance, Tourism Concern, an educational NGO based in the United Kingdom, while supporting sustainable and responsible tourism, points out that the problems of unsustainable tourism development cannot be solved by promoting ecotourism, which is a small niche market and also, by its very nature, necessitates the development of tourism infrastructure and facilities in environmentally fragile and sensitive areas. This could be fraught with difficulties if demand for ecotourism grows significantly.

IT is in such a context that the South Asian Regional Conference on Ecotourism (SARCE) was held in Gangtok, Sikkim, from January 21 to 24. One of the main thrust areas of the conference related to involving local communities in the conservation of biodiversity and enabling them to benefit economically and socially from ecotourism. Organised by the Ecotourism and Conservation Society of Sikkim (ECOSS) in partnership with The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and the Mountain Institute, the conference saw over 80 delegates, from Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and India, discuss a variety of issues related to the planning, development, regulation and monitoring of ecotourism in South Asia. It was one of the six such events being held around the world as part of the IYE.

Inaugurating the conference, Union Minister for Tourism Jagmohan stressed the need for the equitable distribution of resources, which would not only conserve the environment but also improve the quality of life for the local people, to whom the benefits of ecotourism hardly reach. Jagmohan described the lack of equity in the world as the "mother of all problems". Giving a brief overview of India's tourism policy, he promised that the issues raised at the conference would be taken into account in formulating the new tourism policy, which would be announced on March 31.

Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling spoke of ecotourism as a means to develop the rural economy of the State. He stressed the importance of involving local communities, which would be the ultimate beneficiaries, for the the all-round development of ecotourism.

The global tourism scene has undergone a major transformation over the past 30 years. According to experts, it was the "sea sand and the beach" that attracted tourists in the 1970s. However, by the 1980s the focus shifted to "cultural tourism", which involves visits to historical sites and cultural spots. Then the interest shifted to nature. "It is the uniqueness of an experience that discerning travellers are looking for these days. It does not matter to them how plush a hotel is. They can get that experience anywhere. What they are looking for is something that is very different," Jose Dominic of the Casino group of hotels told Frontline.

Citing the case of Kerala, which, according to the National Geographic, is one of the top 50 destinations of the world recommended for tourists, Dominic said: "People now come for the inherent attraction of a particular region. The environment of the region has to be protected, and the local communities have to be drawn in, for it is they who provide the traveller a unique experience by being a part of it." This is completely in line with TIES' definition of ecotourism, first adopted by its founding board of directors in 1991: "Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment and sustain the well-being of the local people."

Megan Epler Wood, president of TIES, told Frontline: "Tourism has a tendency to become something like a steamroller wherever it goes. It can completely destroy natural places. Ecotourism is about trying to stop that." Rahula Perera, council member of the Ecotourism Society of Sri Lanka, said that current tourism policy in the region concentrated more on "high volume and low impact". "Ecotourism is not about 100 people coming and paying $10 each. It is more like 10 people paying $200 each for an experience that is worth it," Perera added. According to him, even though the tourism scenario in Sri Lanka is bad, partly because of the internal turmoil and partly because of the shifting interests of the tourist, there is a conscious effort to remedy the latter cause. An example for this effort is the case of Ranweli, which was earlier a popular beach holiday spot. It has been turned into a nature-based resort with a strong local flavour. "We are trying to see what we can offer as an experience that is unique to the region," said Perera.

Another successful experiment involving the local community is the Sirubari Village Tourism Project in Nepal. Tony Parr, consultant, Nepal Village Resorts, said in his presentation: "The basic concept used at Sirubari is one of home-stay packages, where guests live largely as part of an individual family." Each household that participates in the project is a signatory of the rules and regulations set down by the village. This way the tourist gets a first-hand experience of village life and at the same time, the community benefits financially.

India, despite its enormous size and potential for ecotourism, hosts on an average only about 1.6 million foreign tourists a year. The situation, according to Dominic, will change if the country positions itself as a destination for the discerning traveller. "To do this the government should play a role in promoting the country as a destination for ecotourism and in the conservation of natural areas rather than seeing itself as an entrepreneur," Dominic said.

Fergus Tyler Maclaren, Director, IYE, said that the political situation, precipitated by the border tensions between India and Pakistan was one of the major reasons why foreign tourists felt unsafe to travel in the region. "Besides, a lot of foreign tourists have a problem with the poverty in the country. It is not something they are used to and many cannot deal with it," Maclaren told Frontline. He also said that greater emphasis need to be given to domestic tourism. "India has so much to offer. One does not have really to leave India to experience something unique and different," he said. But better market research is essential to develop products that guarantee consumer satisfaction and ensure profits that will facilitate conservation and benefit the host communities, according to him.

The participants recognised the need for proper regulation and monitoring in ecotourism. The general view was that though it was primarily the government's task to enforce regulations meant for the conservation and protection of sensitive natural areas and the safety of tourists, the local people should have an important role in framing the regulations. "They are the ones who know their region best and are better aware of what is important for it,'' it was argued at a workshop on planning and regulation. "Before working out the regulations, it is important to study some key issues relating to the region, such as how many tourists frequent it, what kind of effect tourism has on the local community, and, most important, whether the local community wants tourism in the region at all," said Megan Epler Wood.

The participants agreed on the need to establish and enforce standards for ecotourism facilities and activities that would not be incongruous with regional conditions. Such standards, it was felt, should be enforced by multi-stakeholder bodies that represented the government, the private sector, non-governmental organisations and local communities.

Another concern was the need for the certification of quality services. "There are two kinds of certification - performance-based and quality-based. It is the latter that we are looking at for promoting ecotourism," said Wood. However, there was much debate on who should be the certifying authority. Although many participants felt that the government was ideally suited for the task, the majority was of the opinion that that job should be left to an independent body that may or may not be funded by the government.

Another opinion that was highlighted was that the various regions in South Asia had to work together not just to promote ecotourism in the region as a whole, but to tackle issues relating to it at multilateral and bilateral levels. "Sadly, there is a lack of regional cooperation. It is important that we all work together for the promotion of ecotourism in the region as a whole and let the fighting be left to the politicians," said Rahula Perera.

A key issue discussed at SARCE was the need for financial support to promote ecotourism, both at the national and international levels. It was agreed that at the national level, the government should provide incentives and financial assistance to small and medium enterprises that promoted ecotourism. It should also ensure the flow of revenue to local communities. It was also felt that international funding bodies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund should come into the picture in a bigger way.

The conference ended with Chamling officially declaring the year 2002 the International Year of Ecotourism. "Man must change and understand that we are deeply connected and utterly dependent on our biodiversity... This is to be understood first even before we embark on any development agenda," he said at the concluding session. He added that merely holding meetings and conferences would hardly serve the purpose. "What is needed, indeed, is a follow-up of all decisions made and resolutions adopted."

One of the primary achievements of the meeting was that it was an eye-opener for a lot of people. "Earlier there was not much knowledge of what was going on in the field of ecotourism in the different countries in the region. But now, with so much discussions and exchange of information, there is a greater awareness of one another's activities. Apart from putting India on the global map as a destination for ecotourists, the summit also enabled us to establish greater contact with our neighbouring states," P.D. Rai, chairman, ECOSS, said. Throughout the discussions and deliberations at the conference, the final objective of ecotourism was never lost sight of - how to balance conservation with tourism and how to maintain the equitable distribution of profits for the overall development of the region.

The three countries in South Asia that were conspicuous by their absence at SARCE were Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Maldives. The Maldives pleaded to be excused as it was preparing for its own tourism conference. But Pakistan and Bangladesh, sources said on condition of anonymity, could not make it as their representatives were not issued visas by the Indian government.

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Oct 9,2020