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COVER STORY

10-05-2002

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Briefing

In different voices

cover-story

"I am the voice of Mr. Prabakaran. We are one and the same," declared A.S. Balasingham even as Velupillai Prabakaran broke into a smile. Balasingham, the LTTE supremo's Political Adviser and the organisation's self-proclaimed theoretician, made that remark as several reporters insisted that Prabakaran himself should reply to their questions. The occasion was the press conference addressed by Prabakaran at Kilinochchi on April 10. Balasingham was in full flow. Those familiar with Tamil noted serious differences in content between some of Prabakaran's replies and Balasingham's English translation of those replies. Instead of translating Prabakaran's replies precisely, Balasingham elaborated on and embellished the answers with observations of his own. Not only that, he insisted that as the LTTE's theoretician, he would answer questions that pertained to ideology. Sample the following:

Prabakaran on whether he would consider an alternative to Tamil Eelam that embodied an integrated north-east with substantial devolution of powers: "I don't think the necessity and situation have arisen for that now. It is our people who put forward our demand for Tamil Eelam. The people gave a mandate to the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) for this as early as 1977. We, therefore, with people's support have been fighting for Tamil Eelam till now." Balasingham: "Right conditions have not arisen for the LTTE to abandon the policy of independent statehood. The struggle for political independence and statehood or Tamil Eelam is the demand of the Tamil people. It is not the demand of the LTTE as such. In 1977 there was an election. It was like a referendum where people gave a mandate to the TULF to fight for an independent Tamil state. It is on the basis of that mandate that we are continuing to fight for political independence and statehood."

Prabakaran on whether the LTTE's involvement in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi has come in the way of its request to New Delhi to lift the ban on it: "As long as this case is alive, we are unable to comment on it." Balasingham: "This case is going on. There are four who are condemned to death and they are seeking amnesty from the Government of India. At this crucial juncture, therefore, we do not want to make any comments that might affect their status."

Prabakaran: "This is a tragic incident which took place ten years ago. We don't want to comment further on it." Balasingham: "I know it is a sensitive issue not only for you (journalists from India) but for us also... because we want to have friendly relations with India. You are raising an issue that happened ten years ago. That is what Mr. Prabakaran says. What he is saying is that it is a tragic incident that happened ten years ago and we are not in a position, therefore, to make any comments at this stage."

Prabakaran on whether Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe would give a proposal, as an alternative to Eelam, that would embody the Tamils' right to self-determination, recognise the North and East as the Tamils' traditional homeland, and recognise the Tamils as a distinct nationality: "That is why we have put forward the interim solution. Our aim is that the interim solution should be used to lift the economic embargoes on our people and arrangements made for our people to lead a peaceful life." Balasingham: "Mr. Prabakaran says that we do not think that Ranil Wickremasinghe is capable of addressing the core issues and offering us a permanent solution at this stage... Because you know that the Executive's powers are vested in the President and his (Wickremasinghe's) powers are limited to Parliament. It is because of this that we are suggesting the formulation of an interim administrative set-up so that we can run an administration in the north-east and the LTTE can participate in the interim administration in the north-east..."

Prabakaran on allegations that the LTTE violated the ceasefire in Batticaloa: "We have not yet received any reports on violations of ceasefire [by the LTTE].As soon as we get them, we are prepared to take action on them." Balasingham: "The monitoring committee has not launched any complaint or accusation that we have violated the ceasefire... in the Eastern province. So I want to impress upon you that ceasefire committees have not yet been appointed in certain areas of the North and the East. They are in the process of appointing these committees..."

Prabakaran on whether he was prepared to accept a compromise because there has been so much of destruction of Tamils' properties: "That is why we have put forward the idea of an interim solution." Balasingham in Tamil: "You have seen the cities that have been destroyed in 20 years of war. Kilinochchi and other towns have been greatly affected. We have embarked on this peace process because we want to ensure a 'dawn' for the people and lift them up economically. If we are going for an interim administration as a kind of compromise, it is because we want to provide a dawn to our people..."

Balasingham also answered several questions claiming that they related to the "ideology" of the LTTE. For instance, on what was LTTE's definition of self-determination, he launched into a lengthy discourse on autonomy and self-government. He answered questions on the LTTE's policy towards plantation Tamils, whether the formation of an interim administration in the north-east would not amount to the LTTE accepting the sovereignty of the Sri Lankan State, whether the Tigers were changing their stripes and embarking on a new political path, and so forth.

Prabakaran in First Person

With Political Adviser A.S. Balasingham trying to dominate the press conference in a jungle clearing, LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabakaran fields questions awkwardly, gives no indication of relenting on his extremist goal of Eelam and fails to deny the LTTE's and his involvement in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination.

VELUPILLAI PRABAKARAN, leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, made it plain at a press conference on April 10 in northern Sri Lanka that he has not given up his demand for Tamil Eelam and that any solution acceptable to the LTTE and the Tamil people should be crafted on the basis of three core principles. They are: (1) recognition of the Tamils of Sri Lanka as a distinct nationality, (2) recognition of the Northern and Eastern provinces of the island as the traditional homeland of the Tamils, and of the territorial integrity of this homeland, and (3) recognition of the Tamils' right to self-determination.

Prabakaran made these observations in response to pointed questions at a press conference held in a makeshift structure at Kilinochchi in northern Sri Lanka.

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He revealed that the focus of the forthcoming talks in Thailand between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government would be the formation of an interim administration in the north-east of the island. He insisted that Colombo's ban on the LTTE should be lifted before the talks could begin.

He expressed confidence that the talks would have "a different approach this time because the Norwegian government is taking part as a third-party facilitator. We, therefore, believe that the negotiations this time will be smooth to some extent."

In response to a question whether he was denying the LTTE's and his involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Prabakaran said: "This is a tragic incident that took place ten years ago. We don't want to comment further on it." Informed observers found it significant that the LTTE supremo, who is the first accused in the assassination case, did not deny his organisation's or his involvement in the assassination.

Asked about his reported instruction to his cadres to "kill" him in the event of his abandoning the demand for Eelam, the LTTE supremo said: "It still holds good."

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The press conference, taking place in a surreal setting, lasted about two hours and 15 minutes. Prabakaran, looking more portly than usual, was dressed for the occasion in a safari suit. It covered a wide range of subjects such as the prospects of the LTTE giving up the armed struggle; Prabakaran's underground life; the LTTE's sincerity in the peace process; the ban on the organisation in several countries; its conscripting child soldiers; and its attitude towards the Muslims of Sri Lanka and the plantation Tamils.

The first question raised in the press conference was by Frontline. The question was whether Prabakaran was prepared to consider an alternative to Tamil Eelam if it embodied an integrated northern and eastern province with substantial devolution of powers. The LTTE supremo's response was: "I don't think the necessity and situation have arisen now for that [a consideration of an alternative to Eelam]." He elaborated on this response: "It is our people who put forward this demand for Tamil Eelam. The people gave a mandate to the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) for this as early as 1977. We, therefore, with people's support, are fighting for Tamil Eelam till now."

On whether the time was ripe to give up his demand for Eelam and under what conditions he would give up his armed struggle, Prabakaran responded: "When a solution is put forward incorporating the recognition of the Tamil homeland, recognition of the Tamils' nationality and their right to self-determination, and in the event of our people accepting it, we will reconsider our demand."

When a reporter asked him whether he thought that the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe would come up with such a proposal, Prabakaran said: "That is why we have put forward the interim solution. Our aim is that it is through the interim solution that the economic embargoes imposed on our people should be removed and arrangements made for our people to lead a peaceful life."

The LTTE leader met journalists in a village at Kilinochchi. The venue was a partially open hall with a low wall running on three sides. The hall had been built in a clearing. The press conference attracted international media attention in the background of a ceasefire that has been observed by the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE from February 24. For two decades now, the LTTE has been waging a bloody secessionist armed struggle with the objective of winning Eelam. The ceasefire has raised hopes of a settlement to the ethnic conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives - of civilians belonging to various ethnic communities, thousands of Sri Lankan soldiers, over 17,600 LTTE fighters, hundreds of militants belonging to other Tamil organisations, and several political leaders.

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This was the first time in 12 years that Prabakaran addressed a press conference. He last spoke to journalists, a handful of reporters, in Jaffna on April 1, 1990 - a week after the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) had pulled out of the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka.

A.S. Balasingham, the LTTE's political adviser who seemed to want to dominate the press conference, asserted that the aim of the press conference was to drive home the message that the organisation was committed to peace and a negotiated political settlement. This was in response to a pointed question. Balasingham observed that there was a lot of misunderstanding about the LTTE's position on the peace process and a negotiated settlement. "We, therefore, wanted the international media to be present here," he said, "so that we can explain very clearly and coherently what we stand for and that we are sincerely committed to peace. You must carry this message that the LTTE is for peace and a negotiated political settlement."

About 300 journalists from Sri Lanka, India and various other countries converged on Kilinochchi town on April 9. The LTTE put them up at various places there and at Mallawi in Mullaitheevu district for the night. On April 10, the journalists were woken up around 5 a.m. to be taken to a place called Vadakkachi where the LTTE cadres did a security check on them. This was thorough: pens were taken apart; pages of shorthand notebooks riffled through; audio cassette recorders and video equipment tested for hidden explosives; cameras and videography equipment weighed on electronic scales; skulls of journalists tapped; and heels of shoes poked. Nothing was left to chance, including earrings of women journalists.

The security procedures did not come as a surprise because the LTTE under the direction of Prabakaran has conducted a number of assassinations and violent and terrorist acts over the past two decades. Among other things, the LTTE supremo is the first accused in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, which took place on May 21, 1991, at Sriperumbudur near Chennai. Prabakaran has been declared a proclaimed offender in this case and Interpol has served a red-corner notice for his arrest. India has been seeking his extradition from Sri Lanka to bring him to trial in the case but has not pressed the matter seriously in recent years. The LTTE was banned in India in May 1992 under the Prevention of Unlawful Activities Act and the ban has been extended every two years since then.

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Prabakaran drove to the venue in a van around 5-15 p.m. and walked nervously to the dais. He swivelled his head, looking here and there, and up and down. He looked nervous for a few minutes after he took his seat. There was none from the LTTE's old guard to sit with Prabakaran on the dais - except Balasingham and his wife, Adele. Senior cadres such as Natesan, the LTTE's former Jaffna Police Commissioner; Baby Subramanian; Lawrence Thilagar; and Yogi who would flank Prabakaran when he used to meet reporters in Chennai between 1985 and 1987 were nowhere to be found. Sornalingam, his chief of security in Chennai, was not to be seen either. Yogi is reported to have been sidelined.

An entirely new LTTE leadership team sat around Prabakaran. The team included S.P. Thamilchelvan, who heads the LTTE's political wing; Karuna, its Batticaloa commander; and Paduman, its Trincomalee commander.

During the press conference, Prabakaran often gave halting replies. There were awkward pauses before he answered some questions. Prabakaran answered only in Tamil. When a question was asked and translated, Prabakaran more often than not consulted Balasingham on the answer and responded briefly in Tamil. The microphones picked up the consultations as well. Balasingham translated the responses in English. At times, the translation was a misrepresentation or an inaccurate rendering of what Prabakaran said in Tamil. Balasingham actively embellished his leader's responses, adding content, detail and elaboration in a way that suggested the translator wanted to control the press conference and the message put out to the external world.

If the LTTE leader's replies were any indication, political negotiations for a final settlement were very far from his thoughts. The formation of an LTTE or LTTE-dominated interim administration in the north-east and, as a pre-condition for that, the lifting of Sri Lanka's ban on the LTTE seemed to engage his mind now.

When a reporter pointed out that Wickremasinghe had said he would discuss anything but Eelam with the LTTE and whether the LTTE would go to Thailand with that kind of policy on behalf of the Prime Minister, Prabakaran replied: "No final solution has been reached as yet. We are going to Thailand only to discuss an interim solution."

Balasingham put a gloss on this by translating the reply thus: "So far as the demand for Tamil Eelam is concerned, the LTTE has not made any decision so far, whether to give up the demand or to accept an alternative because the negotiations have not yet started. We are going to Thailand to discuss the interim administration as proposed by the government."

At another point, Prabakaran said that it was in the talks in Thailand that the LTTE would take a decision on the interim administration's powers.

Asked whether he was prepared for any kind of compromise considering the enormous destruction of the Tamils' properties, Prabakaran tersely replied: "That is why we have proposed an interim solution."

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Balasingham's translation of this was expansive: "You have seen the cities damaged and destroyed in 20 years of war. Kilinochchi and other towns have been greatly affected. We have undertaken this peace process to provide a dawn to our people and to give them an economic uplift. At the same time, if we are going for an interim solution as a compromise, it is because we have the high objective that these people should have a dawn in their lives and that they should have an economic uplift. It is therefore for our people that [we are embarking on] this interim administration and these peace efforts."

Balasingham's rendering into English of what Prabakaran said about the Rajiv Gandhi assassination amounted to transcreation, not mere translation. When a reporter asked Prabakaran whether he was denying the LTTE's and his involvement in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, Prabakaran's response was: "This is a tragic incident that took place ten years ago. We don't want to comment further on it." Balasingham's first rendering of this was: "I know it is a sensitive issue not [only] for you but for us also... because we want to have friendly relations with India. You are raising the issue that happened ten years ago. That is what Mr. Prabakaran says. What he is saying is that...'it is a tragic incident that happened ten years ago and we are, therefore, not in a position to make any comments at this stage'."

When pressed further whether the LTTE's involvement in the assassination would not come in the way of its request to New Delhi to lift the ban on it, Prabakaran, after a long discussion with Balasingham, replied: "As long as this case is alive, we are unable to comment on it."

Balasingham, however, put this gloss on Prabakaran's reply: "This case is going on. There are four persons who are condemned to death and they are seeking amnesty from the Government of India. At this critical juncture, therefore, we do not want to make any comments that might affect their status." (The Supreme Court of India had convicted and sentenced Nalini, her husband Murugan, Chinna Santhan and Perarivalan to death for their involvement in the assassination. On a clemency petition from Nalini, her death sentence has been reduced to life imprisonment.)

Balasingham showed annoyance when Indian journalists followed up with questions on the LTTE's involvement in the assassination. He accused some Indian journalists of having "come all the way" from India "to dominate the whole press conference". He said in Tamil: "Sir, a congenial, peaceful atmosphere prevails now. Our people need a bright future. You are digging into the dead events of the past. Please stop such questions for the present. It is a tragic incident. Don't try to dig into the past."

Balasingham hailed India as a regional superpower, the fatherland of Sri Lankan Tamils and so forth. He expressed the opinion that it would be difficult to find a solution to the ethnic conflict without India's support and sympathy. "As a race of people, we are Tamils and we have our roots in India. India is our fatherland. We have respect and love for India, and its people. So whatever happened in the past, we are not going to entertain unpleasant memories. We look forward to establishing new, friendly, constructive relationship with India.... So please don't ask me any such questions."

Balasingham said he had requested India to offer him a "venue" for two reasons. The first was logistical and medical: he had a serious kidney ailment and had undergone a kidney transplant. He would be "pleased" if India provided him with a transit passage to land in any of its cities for medical treatment. Balasingham added: "At least, they [the Government of India] will have to consider this for the sake of our people and the resolution of the conflict." The second reason was that he would have to fly to Sri Lanka to consult Prabakaran once the peace process got under way in Thailand.

Balasingham pleaded for India's "active participation" in the peace process. According to him, such participation was "crucial for the Tamil people because India is a regional superpower and we don't want to alienate or isolate India in the process."

The Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, Balasingham explained, requested the Norwegian government to play a facilitatory role because India was not taking an interest in the peace process. "At the same time, our intention is not to undermine or alienate or isolate India. We want India to play an active role," he explained.

Asked why he was so keen on having friendly relations with India, Balasingham said it would be difficult to find a solution to the ethnic conflict without India's support or sympathy. He said: "We do not want to have any unfriendly relationship with India because we have suffered a lot as a consequence of contradictions between India and the LTTE. So we want to renew our friendship and engage in a positive relationship with India." These contradictions had led to an armed conflict between the IPKF and the LTTE. He wanted India and the LTTE to "mutually forget" these bitter memories.

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PRABAKARAN'S mention of a mandate for Eelam given by the Tamil people to the TULF in 1977 was a reference to the 1977 parliamentary elections, which the TULF contested on the 'Eelam' plank. This was a sequel to the TULF adopting a separatist resolution at its May 1976 conference in Vaddukoddai in the Jaffna peninsula. The resolution proclaimed that the Tamils of Sri Lanka constituted a nation and had a right to self-determination. The resolution incongruously committed the moderate Tamil party to the "restoration and reconstitution of the Free, Sovereign, Secular, Socialist State of Tamil Eelam based on the right of self-determination inherent to every nation."

The three 1976 demands - recognition of the Tamils of Sri Lanka as a distinct nationality, recognition of the north-east as the Tamil homeland, and recognition of the right to self-determination of the Tamils - plus the grant of citizenship and other rights to the plantation Tamils in Sri Lanka formed the four "cardinal principles" that the Tamil parties to the two rounds of the 1985 Thimphu conference brought to the fore, triggering a brusque official Sri Lankan negative response.

When a reporter asked Balasingham to define his concept of self-determination, the LTTE's self-proclaimed theoretician answered that it meant "the right of our people to decide their own political destiny." He explained that the concept could also apply to autonomy and self-government. "If autonomy and self-government are given to our people, then we can say that internal self-determination is met to some extent," Balasingham observed. He, however, warned that if Colombo rejected the Tamils' demand for autonomy and self-government, they would opt for secession as a last resort. "That also came under self-determination," he asserted.

Balasingham went on to say that autonomy and self-government entailed two aspects in "an extreme course". One was that it meant "secession as a last resort." So if Colombo offered the Tamils "a form" of autonomy and self-government that recognised their right to their traditional homeland, the Tamils as a distinct nationality, and their right to self-determination, the LTTE would consider that offer. "If the government refuses to give us proper autonomy and proper self-government, we have no alternative but to fight for political independence and statehood," Balasingham declared. He added that the LTTE had faith in the Wickremasinghe government and pledged to work with it till a solution was forged.

Significantly, Prabakaran said nothing suggesting that the right to self-determination could be abridged or limited to "autonomy" or "self-government" or "internal self-determination".

However, at another point in the press conference, Balasingham offered the opinion that the Wickremasinghe government was not capable of addressing the core issues and offering the LTTE a permanent solution. Balasingham said this after Prabakaran answered a question whether Wickremasinghe would come up with a proposal comprising the three principles. Prabakaran's reply in Tamil was: "That is why we have put forward the interim solution. Our aim is that with the help of this interim solution, the economic embargoes imposed on our people should be lifted and arrangements made for our people to lead a peaceful life."

Balasingham's transcreation of this in English was: "Mr. Prabakaran says that we do not think that Ranil Wickremasinghe is capable of addressing the core issues and offer(ing) us a permanent solution at this stage... because you know that the executive's powers were vested in the President (Chandrika Kumaratunga, who heads the Sri Lanka Freedom Party) and his (Wickremasinghe's) powers are limited only to the Parliament. (Wickremasinghe is the leader of the United National Party.) It is because of that we are suggesting the formulation of an interim administrative set-up so that we can run the administration in the north-east and the LTTE can participate in the interim administration there."

Balasingham continued, "In the meantime, Ranil Wickremasinghe will have enough space to build up southern Sri Lanka economically. Thus, it will be advantageous for both the Tamils and the Sinhalese to work out an interim administration for the time being. Once the interim administration is established, we are prepared to discuss the core issues and negotiate for a permanent settlement to the ethnic question. But we think that Ranil's government is not politically stable or authoritative or powerful enough to take up the core demands of the Tamils and offer us a permanent solution. "

Prabakaran gave an unusually long reply in Tamil when asked whether the Tigers were changing their stripes, considering that for close to 25 years they had waged an armed struggle but now seemed to be embarking on a new political path. The LTTE supremo's answer to the question was: "Our struggle began with peaceful methods. Our previous leaders waged a struggle using peaceful means to win their rights. Since their peaceful methods were crushed and chauvinism was let loose on our people, we were pushed into a situation where we had to take up arms. We were, therefore, compelled to take up arms. Yet, whenever opportunities presented themselves, we never lagged behind in adopting peaceful means to find a peaceful solution."

Asked whether the talks in Thailand would take place only after Colombo lifted the ban on the LTTE, Balasingham answered emphatically: "Yes. That is our position. We have told the Government and we have informed the Norwegians that de-proscription is a necessary condition for the commencement of the talks.... We want to be de-proscribed properly. The provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act should be amended properly so that we can be de-proscribed and accepted as the authentic representative of the Tamil people and so that we will participate in the peace process as representatives of our people with equal status [to that of the Sri Lankan government representatives]. That has been our official position."

It may be recalled that Colombo banned the LTTE in 1998 after the organisation carried out a terrorist attack at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha in Kandy.

As for India's ban on the LTTE, Prabakaran expressed this hope: "As far as India is concerned, we would very much like the ban on us to be removed. Whenever we get an opportunity, we will press India for this."

About the impact of the ban on the LTTE in several countries, Prabakaran said: "We believe that the Sri Lankan government's false propaganda is the reason behind the worldwide ban on us. We have, therefore, put forward the demand that the Sri Lankan government should remove the ban on us in the coming talks. In the event of this ban being removed, an atmosphere will be created where the countries in the world will remove the ban on us."

Balasingham "assured" other political parties that they would be allowed to function in the north-east and participate in the democratic electoral process, "whatever their policies may be."

At another point, while answering a question on the LTTE ruthlessly eliminating moderate and militant Tamil leaders, Balasingham gave an extended reply. He said he did not want to go into the past because there were contradictions between the LTTE and other Tamil parties then. However, all the parties in the north-east were now supporting the LTTE. There were some Tamil armed groups which the LTTE regarded as not political entities but mercenary groups. They carried arms and supported the Sri Lankan armed forces in their war against the LTTE. Under the agreement on a ceasefire between the Government of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, all these groups had to be disarmed. The situation now was that almost all the Tamil parties that contested the Parliamentary elections in the north-east were backing the LTTE. "So... in future there will not be any problem. We will allow the Tamil parties, genuine democratic parties, to operate in the North-East as democratic entities," Balasingham said.

On the allegation that the LTTE used ceasefires to re-arm itself, Prabakaran offered this witty observation: "Only in times of war do we get a lot of weapons. We get much less now." He added that it was during military campaigns such as the attack on the Sri Lankan Army's camp at the Elephant Pass in April 2000 that the LTTE was able to seize "thousands" of weapons.

When it was pointed out that he had told his cadres that they could "kill" him if he ever gave up his demand for Tamil Eelam, Prabakaran said, "It still holds good."

The LTTE chief denied speculation that the LTTE started talking on account of the U.S. action against terrorism in the wake of Al Qaeda's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. Prabakaran explained: "This [assessment] is wrong because we had already unilaterally declared a ceasefire for four months [from December 24, 2000] and we undertook goodwill measures aimed at peace. We had discussions with the Norwegian envoy Erik Solheim, then we unilaterally declared a ceasefire and implemented it too. We, therefore, took part in the peace efforts even before these [September 11] incidents took place."

Prabakaran refuted a suggestion that he had agreed to observe the ceasefire because he was tired of leading an underground life and wanted to lead a normal life. "Don't you see our underground life?" he asked. "If our underground life entails hardship, we are prepared to face it. We are fighting for our fundamental rights.... We are fighting for the welfare of our people, not to enjoy personal comforts."

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He reasoned it was not time for the LTTE cadres to remove the cyanide capsules they wear round their necks. "When our struggle reaches a solution, such activities will automatically stop," the LTTE supremo explained.

Prabakaran denied allegations that the LTTE was engaged in recruiting child soldiers. "We deny the allegation because we have stopped recruiting children for some time now. We integrate those who are above 18 years in our political work. We have plans to provide education to those children who are already with us.'

Reporters raised several questions about the LTTE's expulsion of Muslims from the north in 1990. Balasingham offered the assurance that once normalcy returned to the north-east and an interim administration started functioning, Prabakaran would invite the Muslims to return to the north. The Tamil homeland belonged to the Muslim people and the LTTE leaders never denied the right of the Muslims to own land in the Eastern province, Balasingham asserted. (The LTTE expelled more than 75,000 Muslims from the Northern province in October 1990 and they have been living as displaced persons in Puttalam, Kurunegala and Anuradhapura districts. There have also been killings of Muslims by the LTTE.)

On the plantation Tamils, Balasingham said the organisation was prepared to foster strong ties with them. The LTTE, therefore, had invited two Ministers, Arumugam Thondaman and P. Chandrasekaran, who were elected by the plantation Tamils, for talks with Prabakaran.

Prabakaran expressed hope about the current peace process and twice praised Wickremasinghe for his efforts to get the process going. "I am satisfied with the peace talks. As far as the Sri Lankan Prime Minister is concerned, he takes very bold and firm decisions. I believe that these will bring success to some extent to the peace efforts."

He had more praise for Wickremasinghe when asked how the present ceasefire was different from the ceasefires worked out with Sri Lankan governments in 1985, 1990 and 1995. The LTTE supremo's answer was: "A favourable feature [of the current peace process] is the mediation of a third party. Besides, Ranil Wickremasinghe has taken some bold decisions." And turning to Balasingham, Prabakaran asked: "Has he not?"

On that note, the press conference in the jungle clearing came to a close.

The road ahead

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Bangkok and beyond, the shape of things to come in terms of talks, war and peace.

NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN in Colombo & Kilinochchi

APRIL 10, the day Velupillai Prabakaran emerged from hiding to meet the world's media, was also the day Sri Lanka played New Zealand at Sharjah. But for once in cricket-crazy Sri Lanka, no one was thinking about the match. Instead, it was the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam leader who kept people glued to their television sets late into the night as two channels beamed the event from northern Sri Lanka into homes across the island.

If there was disappointment that the press conference brought no new dramatic policy announcements by Prabakaran, the government at least did not let it show. The next day, Cabinet spokesman and Minister of Constitutional Affairs G.L. Peiris welcomed the event itself as a significant change from the "bunker mentality" of the LTTE. "The very holding of the press conference is a shift from a military machine to a political party," he said.

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At the press conference, Prabakaran, assisted by his consigliere Anton Balasingham, reiterated well-known LTTE positions: commitment to the goal of Eelam with the rider that the only alternative it might be willing to consider was a solution incorporating its demands of the right to self-determination, a homeland and the recognition of Tamils as a distinct nationality.

The difference perhaps was that for the first time in 12 years, none other than the top leader was doing the reasserting of the well-known 1985 Thimphu principles, which were rejected by Sri Lanka then as a virtual recipe for secession. The government, whose main priority at the moment is to keep the peace process moving in the interests of the country's economic recovery, had no choice but to sound upbeat and put a positive spin on the whole event.

As a result, the phrase "internal self-determination" has now gained great currency in the Sri Lankan establishment. Coined by Balasingham to define the concept of self-determination as a right that could be vested in a people without automatically implying secession, especially if they were given autonomy and self-government, the phrase is being projected by the government as evidence of the LTTE's desire for a solution in an undivided Sri Lanka.

"At the press conference, for the first time they have defined self-determination. They mentioned about 'internal self-determination'. They further said external self-determination should be considered only when internal determination is unsuccessful," Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe said, speaking in Parliament.

Evident in the Prime Minister's words was an attempt to keep public euphoria pumped up over the peace process. "This has given us an indication of several points we should take into account in our journey towards a political solution. This also points towards hopefulness for a political solution in an undivided Sri Lanka," Wickremasinghe said.

The Prime Minister went to the extent of saying that the majority of the people in the country now believed that the "self-determination provided for (the Tamils) in the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord was not sufficient".

"So what we should try to find is a political solution that goes beyond the Indo-Lanka Accord, in an undivided Sri Lanka," he said, adding that governing systems with internal self-determination were in operation in many countries, and that they existed even in medieval Sri Lanka.

It was less than two years ago that a political solution going far beyond the scope of the provisions of the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Accord that were incorporated in the 13th Amendment, was sabotaged by Wickremasinghe's party. It could be argued that the United National Party's (UNP) objections to the 2000 draft Constitution presented by the People's Alliance government were not to the devolution provisions contained in it but to the sections that safeguarded the supremacy of the President. However, the party openly encouraged and also participated in demonstrations by Sinhala hardliners who argued that the proposed Constitution gave away too much to the Tamils. Long before then, the LTTE had rejected the whole package as being too little.

Wickremasinghe's new-found generosity on an issue that is a political Pandora's Box might be based on the knowledge that the LTTE is not even remotely interested at the moment in getting into protracted negotiations on constitutional arrangements for a permanent solution. Neither is the government. Such negotiations carry the attendant danger of a breakdown in the process and a return to war. It is a risk that neither the government nor the LTTE can afford to take right now.

Instead, the upcoming talks between the government and the LTTE are to focus on an "interim" solution, an informal administrative set-up for the north-east. Both sides seem to be in agreement that the arrangement will be controlled or run by the Tigers. Thailand is where the details will be thrashed out. The proposed interim administration is expected to give the LTTE political control of the north-east, with the government legitimising its present de facto rule over many parts of it - a throwback to the period between 1990 and 1995 when the LTTE ran Jaffna, but this time with the east thrown in as well, with the consent of the Sri Lankan state. Some would describe this as a de facto Eelam.

At the press conference, the LTTE made it clear that it is in no hurry to push for a permanent solution. The interim arrangement would perhaps give the Tigers much more than what a negotiated permanent settlement might offer. When the 1995 peace initiative failed, one of the reasons given was that President Chandrika Kumaratunga could not have given Prabakaran anything more than what he had then: full control of Jaffna peninsula which he ran like an independent state. The same argument might be true after the setting up of the north-east interim administration.

By now the Tigers know that a de jure independent state is impossible in the present international circumstances. A de facto Eelam is the next best alternative, especially if it can be described as an "interim" solution. That means it does not have to compromise or renounce publicly its goal of an independent Eelam.

For the government, the advantage of an "interim solution" is obvious. Even the LTTE knows it. In an indication of how well the government and the Tigers understand each other these days, at the press conference Balasingham even took it upon himself to spell out what was in it for the government: time and space to rebuild the economy.

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Sri Lanka cannot afford to keep up the war against the LTTE. Last year the economy was in the red with no growth. Tourism was shattered after the July 24 LTTE attack on the airport. The UNP is a party powered by Sri Lanka's big businessmen. The north-east does not figure in their economic calculations, and if the Tigers want to run it in return for keeping the ceasefire going, they are prepared to let them.

For this ad hoc interim set-up, the government does not need parliamentary approval, nor does it need to change the Constitution. In fact, the ruling United National Front (UNF) can even claim a mandate for this plan in the 2001 parliamentary election, because people voted for it in spite of the People's Alliance campaign that it was conspiring to hand over the north-east to the LTTE. Also, Wickremasinghe did say in his election campaign that he proposed to set up an interim administration in the north-east for two years. It is another matter that he did not make it clear who would be running it.

As in the case of the LTTE, for the government too the face-saver lies in the term "interim", an arrangement pending the finalisation of a permanent solution within an undivided Sri Lanka. But the point to remember is that once an interim set-up becomes entrenched, a permanent solution, if it ever comes to that, will have to offer much more than what the LTTE would by then have.

What powers are the LTTE likely to hold in this interim set-up? The press conference provided a few clues. Some of it might have been sheer rhetoric, but was still indicative of a certain mindset. "Ranil Wickremasinghe is the Prime Minister of those who elected him. Here in Tamil Eelam, Mr. Prabakaran is Prime Minister and President," Balasingham said. The region would have its own tax collection system. The LTTE also wants to run a monopoly bus service along the stretch of the recently reopened Jaffna-Kandy road that runs through territory controlled by it, and to levy a highway toll for the maintenance of that stretch. The bottom line is that it will not disarm.

Politically, the LTTE has begun asserting itself as the Big Brother of Sri Lanka's minorities. As part of his quest for legitimacy as the head of a political party rather than the leader of a terrorist group, Prabakaran held a series of meetings with elected politicians of the north-east. He summoned them to LTTE-controlled Kilinochchi for the meetings, and they went. Tamil parliamentarians representing the north-east under the banner of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) were told that the LTTE would be running the interim administration and they had no choice but to agree. This was expected, and if the TNA members are feeling shattered, they have only themselves to blame.

More significant was his meeting with the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Rauf Hakeem. One-third of Sri Lanka's Muslims, all of whom are Tamil-speaking, live on the east coast. The LTTE has treated Muslims as hostiles since 1990. That year, it chased away from Jaffna peninsula nearly 75,000 Muslims who had lived there for centuries. One of the most horrific attacks on civilians by the LTTE was its simultaneous attack in 1993 on two mosques in Batticaloa. It was prayer time, and 160 people were killed. Of late, the Tigers have targeted Muslims for extortion.

But Hakeem, a member of the UNF coalition and a Minister in the Wickremasinghe Cabinet, sees the writing on the wall. He sees the LTTE in control in the north-east, and without losing much time has cut a deal with Prabakaran seeking to ensure the safety and security of Muslims under the coming dispensation. Implicit in the agreement was Hakeem's acceptance of the LTTE as the controller. In return, the LTTE endorsed his leadership of the Muslims and said that in future it would negotiate only with him on Muslim issues. He also got an assurance that even the government was unable to give him: that the talks in Thailand would be tripartite, with the SLMC forming the third party, so that it could discuss power-sharing with the LTTE in an interim administration.

Prabakaran also met two leaders of the plantation labour Indian Tamils, who too are part of the ruling coalition and Cabinet Ministers. It was a sign that the LTTE might have a long-term plan to expand its sphere of influence to the plantations of central Sri Lanka. The workers on the tea estates are Tamils but have so far not indentified themselves with the political aspirations or cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils. But Armugam Thondaman, leader of the Ceylon Workers Congress, and P. Chandrasekhar, leader of the Upcountry People's Front, travelled to northern Sri Lanka, met Prabakaran and pledged their backing to the LTTE. In this their attempt was perhaps to pre-empt any LTTE move to establish itself in their constituency and instead get their own parties endorsed by Prabakaran. But by doing so they have also implicitly accepted his authority over them.

As a result of these meetings, Prabakaran is now the uncrowned king of Sri Lanka's minorities with the leadership of each group submitting itself to him.

Both the LTTE and the government have said that they will begin substantive talks on a permanent political solution once the interim administration is established. But the predominant feeling is that this interim set-up is really the end game. Optimists believe that it might by itself evolve into a permanent Serbia-Montenegro-style civilised arrangement. But that is to assume that the militarised LTTE has no territorial ambitions beyond the borders of the north-east.

If the rest of Sri Lanka is worried over the developments, there is no sign of it. President Chandrika Kumaratunga has been expressing some concern, but her main priority now is not to be seen as a spoiler. There are faint stirrings of protest amongst the Sinhala hardliners, but they lack popular support. The majority of the Sinhala population seems to be in a mood to forgive and forget and as of now is not uncomfortable with the idea of living cheek-by-jowl with an LTTE-ruled north-east, armed to the teeth though it is.

In fact, in one more eerie throwback to the Premadasa era, both Tamils and Sinhalese now see India as the main obstacle in the path to peace. Indian journalists are being accused of trying to sabotage Sri Lanka's efforts towards peace by their aggressive questioning of Prabakaran on the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. Jayalalithaa is being criticised for her tough stand on the LTTE and her demand for the extradition of its leader. The India-wide outrage sparked by Prabakaran's appearance in public seems to have caught its island neighbour by surprise. "If Sri Lanka is willing to forget the killings of Premadasa and all the others, can't India put behind the killing of Rajiv Gandhi?" asked one person. Indeed, this is a fairly common sentiment.

There seems to be hardly any understanding that the Rajiv Gandhi assassination is just one aspect of an entire set of issues that India should start concerning itself about, if it has not done so already, in relation to the Sri Lankan north-east interim administration. What are the security implications of an armed group in control of territory on India's southern flank, with just a narrow strip of water separating it from Tamil Nadu? What are the political implications of having the LTTE, a group wedded to Tamil nationalism, next door to 50 million Tamils? Furthermore, what implications does the arrangement that the Sri Lankan government is about to enter into with the LTTE, have for the Indian nation? India has so far expressed a sort of distant interest in the Norwegian-facilitated peace process, but as yet does not seem to have applied itself seriously to these questions. In that sense, Prabakaran's grim face on TV might have served the purpose of jolting policy-planners into awareness of the developments in Sri Lanka. But New Delhi, still waffling on the issue of allowing Balasingham to obtain medical treatment in Chennai, might have already missed the boat. The interim administration seems a done deal. The Sri Lankan government is preparing to legalise the LTTE ahead of the talks in Thailand, where the two sides might only give formal shape to arrangements that have already been agreed upon. The only uncertainty now is whether Prabakaran will assume a public role or rule from the shadows.

Singing the same tune

V. SURYANARAYAN cover-story

An analysis of the context of the press conference for insights into the LTTE's evolving strategy leads to the important question: Is Prabakaran once again laying a peace trap.

Did the statements made by Velupillai Prabakaran and Anton Balasingham to the international media on April 10, 2002 hold any surprises? The answer from most Sri Lanka watchers in India is a definitive no. The only surprise was that in the run-up to the press conference, most commentators in Sri Lanka raised the expectations of the people. They suggested that Prabakaran would unequivocally renounce the demand for Tamil Eelam, extend his hand of friendship to Colombo, and express his readiness to negotiate a political solution within a united Sri Lanka. Influential sections of the Sri Lankan media were carried away by the occasional Norwegian hints that Prabakaran would be prepared to solve the ethnic problem "within the framework of a united Sri Lanka".

A few significant points have to be kept in mind before one undertakes an analysis of the content of the press conference and its fall-out on the emerging political trends in the island. First and foremost, the press conference was another desperate attempt on the part of the Tigers to come out of growing international isolation. India, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have banned the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or designated it as a terrorist organisation. The European Union and Australia are likely to follow soon. The repeated killing of innocent civilians, the attack on Dalada Maligawa (the Temple of Sacred Tooth), the dastardly assassination of Neelan Tiruchelvam, the savage attack on Katunayake Air Base and Bandaranaike International Airport and the recruitment of young boys and girls as cannon fodder in the pursuit of military objectives have created a sense of revulsion among large sections of the intelligentsia in different parts of the world.

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The LTTE's statements over the last four years have been aimed at winning back international support. Prabakaran is showing the 'velvet glove' to project a soft image of the LTTE as a liberation organisation that is an 'aggrieved party' and a 'victim of oppression', a 'peace-loving group' pitted against 'war mongers'. As an example of his earnestness, Prabakaran has highlighted the cooperation extended by the LTTE to the Norwegian initiative to defuse the crisis in order to begin the peace process. The handling of the Norwegian initiative by Chandrika Kumaratunga's People's Alliance (P.A.) government and its pursuance of the military option enabled the Tigers to mobilise support and sympathy to an extent from foreign governments.

In the press conference, Prabakaran was specifically asked what assurance the Tigers could give that the ceasefire would lead to an eventual peace. Prabakaran's reply was that the talks would have "a different approach this time because the Norwegian government is taking part as a third-party facilitator. We, therefore, believe that the negotiations this time will be smooth to some extent." Balasingham called attention to the fact that it was the Government of Sri Lanka that opted for Norwegian facilitation. "We too decided that Norway would be an appropriate facilitator because of its neutrality and that it has no strategic interest in the region." Prabakaran's political adviser explained that the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE requested the Norwegian government to play a facilitative role because India was not taking an interest in the peace process.

'Tigers are not terrorists'

Prabakaran wants the international community to believe that "the Tigers are not terrorists. We are not mentally demented as to commit blind acts of violence impelled by racist and religious fanaticism. We are fighting and sacrificing our lives for the love of a noble cause, that is, human freedom. We are freedom fighters." Prabakaran wants the world, especially Western democratic countries, "to provide a clear and comprehensive definition of the concept of terrorism that would distinguish between freedom-fighters, based on the right to self-determination, and blind terrorist acts based on fanaticism". He drew attention to the fact that the Tigers came up with the peace initiative even before the September 11 happenings in the United States and, what is more, "the Tigers have issued an official statement condemning the September 11th attack". Balasingham claimed at the press conference: "We are not a terrorist organisation, but a liberation movement. You have to differentiate between a terrorist organisation and a liberation struggle. Those countries that are waging a war against terrorism should come out with a clear-cut definition as to what constitutes a terrorist and who is a liberation fighter. We have been misrepresented all this time."

Step-by-step approach

Of equal significance is Prabakaran's conviction that the peace process should follow a step-by-step approach. Each step will be an end in itself and will also pave the way for the next step. This stance becomes evident if one compares the policy pursued by Chandrika Kumaratunga towards the LTTE during earlier negotiations, which took place in 1994-95. As the Exchange of Letters between the two parties and Balasingham's book, Politics of Duplicity - Re-Visiting the Jaffna Talks, reveal, the two sides were speaking on different wavelengths. According to the LTTE, the peace process should proceed in two stages. In the early stages of negotiation, attention should be focussed on the restoration of normalcy and the creation of a peaceful environment. After normalcy was restored, talks could commence to find a peaceful solution. Chandrika, on the other hand, maintained that there should be simultaneous talks relating to the day-to-day problems of the people and finding a political solution. Finally, the Tigers accused the government of "bad faith" and started the Third Eelam War in April 1995.

Ranil Wickremasinghe, in contrast to Chandrika Kumaratunga, sees sense in the LTTE way of thinking and is prepared to adopt a step-by-step approach. Why should ordinary Tamils be subjected to severe hardships owing to prolonged war? Let the embargoes be lifted, the irksome security controls be removed, and let normalcy return. People irrespective of their ethnic background will develop a stake in peace and security. When normalcy is restored, negotiations can commence on the interim administration in the North and the East. After the interim administration is in place and the two parties have developed sufficient faith in each other, negotiations for a constitutional solution within a united Sri Lanka can begin. Ranil believes that the intervening period will enable him to gain a constituency committed to peace among the Tamils. They will, if the need arises, act as a pressure group on the LTTE. This period can also be utilised by the government to prepare the ground in the South for meaningful negotiations with the Tigers.

But the basic question remains. Can the Tiger be tamed? Will Prabakaran not use the interval to consolidate his power in the North-East, strengthen the Tigers militarily, and start attacking at the appropriate moment? Is history repeating itself? Is Prabakaran once again laying a peace trap?

Prabakaran wins first round

Prabakaran has already won the first round. The Cease-Fire Agreement, which came into effect on February 22, 2002, stresses that the overall objective "is to find a negotiated solution to the ongoing ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka". Four important aspects of this Agreement need to be kept in mind: 1) The clauses relating to military operations are definitely weighted in favour of the Tigers. According to Clause 1.3, the Sri Lankan armed forces "shall continue to perform their legitimate task of safeguarding the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka without engaging in offensive operations against the LTTE." However, Clause 1.2c forbids Sri Lanka from undertaking "offensive naval operations". According to informed sources in Colombo, the Tigers have received two consignments of weapons by sea after the ceasefire was instituted. 2) The Cease-Fire Agreement provides for the creation of a "state within a state". While the Monitoring Team can inquire into ceasefire and human rights violations in other parts of Sri Lanka, it is not empowered to monitor what is happening inside LTTE-controlled territory. What is more, 90 days after the ceasefire agreement comes into force, unarmed LTTE cadres can move around the whole of the North and the East. The Tigers have stepped up recruitment in the East and these new recruits can freely enter LTTE-controlled areas for military training. 3) Clause 1.8 provides that "Tamil paramilitary groups shall be disarmed by the Government of Sri Lanka by D-Day + 30 at the least." The Government of Sri Lanka shall integrate them into its armed services for service away from the North and the East. This provision has naturally affected the fortunes of the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP) under Douglas Devananda, the followers of A. Varadaraja Perumal, the People's liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and others who have been provided arms for self-defence by the Sri Lanka Army. In other words, Colombo has created a situation where no credible non-LTTE force can carry on a political campaign, or even defend itself. 4) The sustainability of the peace process will depend not only on the absence of armed hostilities, the easing of sanctions and embargoes, and the removal of checkpoints, but also on the creation of a political atmosphere in which different points of view can be expressed and debated. This is sadly lacking in the Tamil areas. The Tigers have opened offices and started their political campaign, but no form of dissent is allowed.

The press conference

Prabakaran repeatedly claimed at the press conference that the Tigers were sincerely committed to the peace process. At the same time, in response to a specific question, he made it clear that they had not given up their demand for Tamil Eelam: "I don't think the necessity and situation have arisen now for that." By way of underlining this point, Prabakaran added: "It is our people who put forward this demand for Tamil Eelam. The people gave a mandate to the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) for this as early as 1977. We, therefore, with people's support, are fighting for Tamil Eelam till now."

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His political adviser explained that a satisfactory solution to the ethnic problem could be found if Colombo accepted the concerns and aspirations of the Tamil people, as expressed in the well-known Thimphu principles. These principles, put forward jointly in July 1985 by six Tamil organisations including the LTTE and the TULF, are: 1) recognition of the Tamils in Sri Lanka as a distinct nationality; 2) recognition of Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka as the traditional Tamil homeland and the guarantee of its territorial integrity; 3) based on the above, recognition of the inalienable right of self-determination of the Tamil nation; and 4) recognition of the right to full citizenship and other fundamental democratic rights of the Tamils who look upon the island as their country.

The first three principles were deliberately couched in vague terms. To the Sinhalese leaders, who at that time viewed even federalism as the first step towards separation, these principles were a red rag. The Sri Lankan government delegation responded within a legal framework and rejected these principles outright. Said H.W. Jayewardene, the delegation's leader: "If the first three principles were to be taken at face value and given their accepted legal meaning, they are wholly unacceptable to the government. They must be rejected for the reason that they constitute a negation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, they are detrimental to a united Sri Lanka and are inimical to the interests of several communities, ethnic and religious, in our country."

On several occasions since 1985, the LTTE and other Tamil organisations have reiterated their commitment to the Thimphu principles. In a discussion paper, Rohan Edrisinha, Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, Colombo, has correctly pointed out that "recognising a Tamil nation, a traditional Tamil homeland and its right to self-determination could certainly imply the recognition of an independent Tamil sovereign state." But can these principles be explained, rationalised and accommodated within the constitutional framework of a united Sri Lanka?

What does self-determination mean?

Balasingham's explanation of the concept of self-determination needs closer scrutiny. It must be pointed out that Prabakaran was completely silent when Balasingham launched into a disquisition on the complexities of this issue. As Indian journalists who attended the press conference have pointed out, Balasingham was not translating accurately what Prabakaran said in Tamil. Apart from putting a gloss on the LTTE supremo's answers to key questions, Balasingham held forth with his own views. According to Balasingham, self-determination has two dimensions - the external and the internal. Answering a specific question on what the LTTE meant by self-determination, Balasingham explained: "By self-determination we mean the right of the people to decide their own political destiny - it can also apply to autonomy and self-governance. If autonomy and self-governance are given to our people, then we can say that internal self-determination is met to an extent." However, if the Sri Lankan government rejected the Tamil demand for autonomy and self-government, "then we will opt for secession as a last resort."

In other words, the onus for providing a constitutional proposal incorporating the principle of self-determination is on Colombo. It must spell out the constitutional proposals and, if it is acceptable to the Tigers, negotiations can commence.

The thorny issue of self-determination is likely to dominate the constitutional talks, when they take place, if they take place at all. The Tigers are experts in the art of duplicity and they will use the term 'self-determination' to suit their short-term and long-term needs. The vagueness inherent in the term will enable them to keep their options open. Rohan Edrisinha has pointed out that pro-LTTE spokespersons such as Rudrakumaran and Sornarajah argue that devolution and autonomy are stages en route to the final destination of an independent, sovereign Tamil nation. A paper by Sornarajah (cited by Edrisinha) advocates "the acceptance of a confederal political arrangement as a strategic ploy to further the goal of an independent Tamil nation state". To quote Sornarajah: "The making of a confederacy recognises the distinctness of the Tamil people and their homelands. It will also lead to the demarcation of the boundaries of the homelands in a constitutive document. There are gains to be had. It will bring the war to an end and ensure that the confederate arrangement works as there is the threat of the resumption of war... Strategically, confederation may be considered for the reason that it gives the Tamil homelands clearly defined borders and creates a breathing space for some time... Confederations have generally not worked as solutions to ethnic crises."

Edrisinha points out that scholars like Sornarajah advocate confederacy because they believe that it is doomed to fail. Balasingham's statement that "the Prime Minister, Mr. Ranil Wikremasinghe, is the Prime Minister of those who have elected him" and that "here in Tamil Eelam, our Prime Minister and President is Mr. Prabakaran" has to be clearly understood in the backdrop of the above analysis.

De-proscription of the LTTE

Prabakaran has made it crystal clear that talks cannot be held unless the ban on the LTTE is lifted. He is conscious of the fact that the best way to come out of international isolation is to pressure Colombo to lift the ban on the LTTE, which was imposed soon after it attacked Dalada Maligawa in January 1988. Once Colombo lifts the ban, the Tigers can mount a campaign internationally to get the ban lifted in India, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. In his Heroes' Day speech, Prabakaran asserted: "For us to participate in the political negotiation freely as equal partners, as the authentic political force with the status of the legitimate representative of our people, the ban imposed on our movement should be lifted. This is the collective aspiration of our people." In the April 10 press conference, he echoed the same sentiments. Prabakaran reiterated that if the ban were not lifted, the Tigers would not participate in the proposed talks in Thailand.

Ranil Wickremasinghe's government is caught on the horns of a dilemma. If it does not lift the ban, a stalemate is inevitable. What is more, since this government is prepared to recognise the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamils, it cannot be insensitive to the organisation's concerns. At the same time, Colombo will be very happy if the ban on the LTTE continues in the other countries. According to media reports, the Sri Lankan government is working on a legal formula that will permit it to lift the ban on the LTTE without affecting the ban imposed elsewhere. Sobriety suggests that unless Colombo receives iron-clad guarantees from the Tigers that they will settle for a constitutional settlement within a united Sri Lanka and also uphold the democratic and human rights of various ethnic groups in the island, it should not take any hasty decision in the matter.

Perhaps Colombo can learn from Indian experience (see the author's article in Frontline, May 11, 2001). In India, negotiations have taken place and continue to take place with militant organisations that are banned. G. Parthasarathy, as the emissary of the Central government, negotiated a peaceful settlement with Laldenga of the Mizo National Front to settle the Mizo problem. The Mizo National Front continued to be a banned organisation during the period of negotiations. The same holds true for Nagaland. High functionaries of the Home Ministry have held negotiations with the representatives of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN), a banned organisation, in Bangkok and Amsterdam. These negotiations resulted in a ceasefire in Nagaland. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee recently held discussions with some important leaders of the NSCN in Japan. Although the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka has its own unique features, it will be prudent on the part of Colombo to learn from the experience of other countries that have faced threats to their national security.

The Muslim Dimension

Another important strategy of the LTTE became apparent during the April 10 press conference. Prabakaran wants to extend his political influence among other Tamil-speaking peoples, Muslims and Tamils of recent Indian origin. Sri Lanka's Muslims are scattered throughout the island, although there is a concentration of them in the East. Indian Tamils live predominantly in the central parts of the island, especially in the tea plantations. If Prabakaran succeeds in his objective of winning the support of substantial sections of these two minority groups, Sinhala-Tamil relations may take a new turn to the disadvantage of Sinhala-dominated governments. What is more, such a development can lead to the strengthening of Sinhala chauvinist forces such as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Sihala Urumaya.

The Muslim community in Sri Lanka, constituting about seven per cent of the total population, is in the throes of political change. These Muslims tend to seek their identity in terms of religion, not language. In the early years of independence, the leadership of the Muslim community came from the affluent trading classes based in Colombo. But as the ethnic conflict gathered momentum, the Muslims of the East, who increasingly felt that their interests were not protected by Colombo-based Muslim leaders, rallied round the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC).

What is more, the support of the SLMC became crucial for the survival of President Chandrika Kumaratunga's P.A. government; during the last days of this government, the SLMC withdrew its support and aligned itself with the United National Party (UNP). Given the slender majority of the present UNP government, the SLMC's support is crucial to the government's survival.

The emergence of the SLMC and its stout opposition to the demand for Tamil Eelam led to violent clashes between the LTTE and Muslims. The creation of an armed civilian force, the Muslim Home Guard, further exacerbated the situation. In the early 1990s, the Tigers massacred a large number of Muslims who were offering prayers in their mosques. In October 1990, the Tigers ordered Muslims in Jaffna district to vacate their homes. Nearly 75,000 Muslims fled, leaving behind their property, which was looted by the LTTE. The displaced Muslims have taken refuge in Puttalam, Anuradhapura and Kurunegala districts. Although Balasingham admitted that the LTTE's past policy towards Muslims was a mistake, Tiger-Muslim relations continue to be tense.

The overtures made by the Tigers towards Muslims have to be seen in the context of the Tamil demand for a North-East merger as a precondition for a political settlement. The first indication of a change in LTTE perception came when the Cease-fire Agreement was finalised. The Preamble drew attention to the fact that "the parties further recognise that groups that are not directly party to the conflict are also suffering the consequences of it. This is particularly the case as regards the Muslim population. Therefore, the provisions of this Agreement regarding the security of the civilians and their property apply to all inhabitants." The Agreement, however, did not make any specific mention of the fears and misgivings of the Sinhalese people and Tamils of recent Indian origin, who are also residing in the region of ethnic conflict.

The LTTE's gestures towards Muslims and the subsequent Prabakaran-Rauf Hakeem talks have to be viewed against the backdrop of a large number of recent incidents in the East, where LTTE cadres have subjected Muslims to financial extortion. The LTTE-Muslim animosity has deep roots and it is not easy for Muslims to forget the past. At the same time, the Muslims, being pragmatic, are conscious of the fact that they have to coexist with the Tamils in the East. Will Prabhkaran be prepared to shed his policy of intolerance and open a new chapter in Tamil-Muslim relations? Unless the Muslims are won over to their side, the Tigers will find it very difficult to get a merged North-East. Muslims will continue to oppose the merger because they would become a "mini-minority in a minority state".

Problems of Indian Tamils

On the question of the future of the Indian Tamil community, Balsingham bracketed them with the Muslims and pointed out that the Tigers had invited Arumugham Thondaman, leader of the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), and P. Chandrasekharan, leader of the Up Country Peoples' Organisation, for talks. "We will engage them in constructive discussion to see how we can help to resolve their problems and bring about a final resolution."

Although the Tamils of recent Indian origin share bonds of ethnicity, language and religion with the Sri Lankan Tamils, the problems they face and also their aspirations are in many ways different. Unlike the Sri Lankan Tamil settlements in the Jaffna peninsula, the plantations are surrounded by Sinhalese villages, which are located in the heartland of the Sinhalese people. This stark reality has made the Tamils of recent Indian origin realise that their present and future are closely intertwined with the Sinhalese and they must co-exist with them.

The Indian Tamils do not subscribe to the demand for Tamil Eelam. What is more, their most representative organisation, the CWC, has been part of every government in Colombo since 1978. Even so Indian Tamils are most vulnerable in times of communal conflict. The communal violence of 1977, 1981 and 1983 demonstrated the utter helplessness of these people against lumpen sections of the Sinhalese population. Attempts made by the Tamil militant groups to co-opt the plantation youth into their movements have not made much headway. Except for isolated pockets, the Indian Tamils have remained aloof from Sri Lankan Tamil militants.

However, in the long run, the winds of change will have their impact on the Indian Tamils. The future of the community, and relations between the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Tamils of recent Indian origin, will be determined by the resolution or non-resolution of the question of Sinhala-Tamil relations. As far as a constitutional settlement is concerned, the aspirations of the Indian Tamil community can be fulfilled only if there is further devolution from the provinces to the Pradeshiya Sabhas.

The problems Indian Tamils face can be summed up as follows: Citizenship for the residue of Indian passport-holders and their natural increase, that is, those who have not yet been repatriated to India; identity cards for all Indian Tamils; a monthly living wage for plantation workers; better housing facilities; greater employment opportunities; and better educational facilities so that the community can have upward mobility and play an important role in the social and economic life of the country.

After the death of S. Thondaman, a major leader who provided leadership to the community for several years, there has been a political vacuum in the plantations. A fragmented political leadership will not be in a position to safeguard the interests of Indian Tamils. Fifty-four years into independence, Sri Lanka's Indian Tamils remain underprivileged. If their problems are not solved with sympathy and understanding, it is possible that the LTTE will spread its influence in the plantation areas. If that happens, the plantations, relatively peaceful until recent times, will become areas of political turbulence.

The India Factor

The presence of a large number of Indian journalists at the press conference obliged Prabakaran and Balasingham to explain their position vis-a-vis India. The answers were, to say the least, unconvincing and unsatisfactory. But what is clear is that the India factor looms large in the intellectual horizon of the Tigers.

First, Prabakaran in response to a pointed question characterised Rajiv Gandhi's assassination as a "tragic incident". This implied neither an admission nor a denial of the LTTE's role in the assassination. The Tigers seemed to be appealing for a policy of letting bygones be bygones.

Balasingham repeatedly underlined the important role of India in the resolution of the ethnic conflict: "Without India, this problem will not find a permanent settlement. India is the regional superpower and we need India's backing and support... We do not want to have any unfriendly relationship with India because we have suffered a lot as a consequence of contradictions between India and the LTTE. So we want to renew our friendship and engage in a positive relationship with India."

He added: "As a race of people, we are Tamils and we have our roots in India. India is our fatherland. We have respect and love for India and its people. So whatever happened in the past, we are not going to entertain unpleasant memories. We look forward to establishing new, friendly and pleasant memories... So please don't ask me any such questions."

Prabakaran and Balasingham have clearly underestimated the extent of alienation caused by the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. They also grossly overestimate the influence of pro-LTTE forces in Tamil Nadu - the Nedumarans, the Veeramanis, the Vaikos and the Ramadosses. The mainstream national media, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) Government led by Jayalalitha and the Congress have made their position clear. They do not want the Government of India to have any links with the LTTE. They do not want New Delhi to provide medical facilities to Balasingham on so-called humanitarian grounds. On the contrary, they demand that New Delhi should press the demand for the extradition of Prabakaran to India to face capital criminal charges in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and charges in other cases as well.

Colombo's Response

The UNP government's assessment of Prabakaran's press conference, although guarded, is optimistic. Professor G.L. Peiris, Sri Lanka's Minister for Constitutional Affairs who is expected to lead the official delegation in the talks in Thailand, welcomed Balasingham's explanation of internal self-determination. He characterised it as a "window of opportunity" for further detailed discussion on a constitutional settlement acceptable to all concerned. Peiris no doubt recalls that he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by an LTTE suicide squad on the eve of the last Presidential election. Informed Indian observers of the Sri Lankan scene do not want to place obstacles before the peace process. But since Sri Lanka is not "just another country" and its security is closely intertwined with that of India, they would like to sound a note of caution.

I would like to explain the cautionary note by narrating an Arab folk tale: "A hunter went hunting for sparrows one morning on a cold day. As he carried on the slaughter, his eyes were streaming. Said the young bird to the older one, 'Look, the man is crying.' Said the older bird, 'Never mind his eyes. Watch his hands.'"

Increasing U.S. Interest

The increasing interest of the U.S., and the likely role it will play, in Sri Lanka should be a matter of serious concern for India. The U.S. role in Afghanistan, the help it has given to the government of Nepal in its war against the Maoist rebels, its military assistance to Manila and Jakarta to put down Muslim separatist rebels, its increasing interest in Sri Lanka's domestic affairs - all these are pointers to a greater U.S. role, but also evidence of the bankruptcy of India's foreign policy towards its neighbours. The vocal and interventionist tone of U.S. foreign policy makers is evident from the carrot-and-stick policy adopted by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca. On March 11, the U.S. Embassy in Colombo warned the Tigers against reneging on the Cease-Fire Agreement. Rocca met Wickremasinghe and senior military officials in Jaffna. She fully supported Wickremasinghe's initiative: "We just want him to know that we stand behind what he is doing." It is likely that Colombo is counting on U.S. support - both vocal and military - in case Prabakaran goes back on the peace process.

The rapidly unfolding events in Sri Lanka will have far-reaching implications for India. The ideology that the Tigers represent, which holds that the alienated Sri Lankan Tamils can safeguard their identity and security only within a separate state, runs counter to all that Indian nationalism has upheld and the Indian state stands for - namely, the creation of a pluralist, multi-ethnic, tolerant, federal state. India must fight against this dangerous and reactionary ideology.

New Delhi cannot abdicate its responsibility in Sri Lanka. It should try and persuade Sri Lanka's Prime Minister and President to come together to talk to the LTTE, if the Tigers are willing to talk or tackle the LTTE jointly if the Tigers renege on the peace process. The internationalisation of the ethnic conflict, by encouraging the entry of the U.S. into the region, spells a long-term problem for India's security.

Prof. V. Suryanarayan is former Director, Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras, Chennai.

Singing the same tune

V. SURYANARAYAN cover-story

An analysis of the context of the press conference for insights into the LTTE's evolving strategy leads to the important question: Is Prabakaran once again laying a peace trap.

Did the statements made by Velupillai Prabakaran and Anton Balasingham to the international media on April 10, 2002 hold any surprises? The answer from most Sri Lanka watchers in India is a definitive no. The only surprise was that in the run-up to the press conference, most commentators in Sri Lanka raised the expectations of the people. They suggested that Prabakaran would unequivocally renounce the demand for Tamil Eelam, extend his hand of friendship to Colombo, and express his readiness to negotiate a political solution within a united Sri Lanka. Influential sections of the Sri Lankan media were carried away by the occasional Norwegian hints that Prabakaran would be prepared to solve the ethnic problem "within the framework of a united Sri Lanka".

A few significant points have to be kept in mind before one undertakes an analysis of the content of the press conference and its fall-out on the emerging political trends in the island. First and foremost, the press conference was another desperate attempt on the part of the Tigers to come out of growing international isolation. India, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have banned the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or designated it as a terrorist organisation. The European Union and Australia are likely to follow soon. The repeated killing of innocent civilians, the attack on Dalada Maligawa (the Temple of Sacred Tooth), the dastardly assassination of Neelan Tiruchelvam, the savage attack on Katunayake Air Base and Bandaranaike International Airport and the recruitment of young boys and girls as cannon fodder in the pursuit of military objectives have created a sense of revulsion among large sections of the intelligentsia in different parts of the world.

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The LTTE's statements over the last four years have been aimed at winning back international support. Prabakaran is showing the 'velvet glove' to project a soft image of the LTTE as a liberation organisation that is an 'aggrieved party' and a 'victim of oppression', a 'peace-loving group' pitted against 'war mongers'. As an example of his earnestness, Prabakaran has highlighted the cooperation extended by the LTTE to the Norwegian initiative to defuse the crisis in order to begin the peace process. The handling of the Norwegian initiative by Chandrika Kumaratunga's People's Alliance (P.A.) government and its pursuance of the military option enabled the Tigers to mobilise support and sympathy to an extent from foreign governments.

In the press conference, Prabakaran was specifically asked what assurance the Tigers could give that the ceasefire would lead to an eventual peace. Prabakaran's reply was that the talks would have "a different approach this time because the Norwegian government is taking part as a third-party facilitator. We, therefore, believe that the negotiations this time will be smooth to some extent." Balasingham called attention to the fact that it was the Government of Sri Lanka that opted for Norwegian facilitation. "We too decided that Norway would be an appropriate facilitator because of its neutrality and that it has no strategic interest in the region." Prabakaran's political adviser explained that the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE requested the Norwegian government to play a facilitative role because India was not taking an interest in the peace process.

'Tigers are not terrorists'

Prabakaran wants the international community to believe that "the Tigers are not terrorists. We are not mentally demented as to commit blind acts of violence impelled by racist and religious fanaticism. We are fighting and sacrificing our lives for the love of a noble cause, that is, human freedom. We are freedom fighters." Prabakaran wants the world, especially Western democratic countries, "to provide a clear and comprehensive definition of the concept of terrorism that would distinguish between freedom-fighters, based on the right to self-determination, and blind terrorist acts based on fanaticism". He drew attention to the fact that the Tigers came up with the peace initiative even before the September 11 happenings in the United States and, what is more, "the Tigers have issued an official statement condemning the September 11th attack". Balasingham claimed at the press conference: "We are not a terrorist organisation, but a liberation movement. You have to differentiate between a terrorist organisation and a liberation struggle. Those countries that are waging a war against terrorism should come out with a clear-cut definition as to what constitutes a terrorist and who is a liberation fighter. We have been misrepresented all this time."

Step-by-step approach

Of equal significance is Prabakaran's conviction that the peace process should follow a step-by-step approach. Each step will be an end in itself and will also pave the way for the next step. This stance becomes evident if one compares the policy pursued by Chandrika Kumaratunga towards the LTTE during earlier negotiations, which took place in 1994-95. As the Exchange of Letters between the two parties and Balasingham's book, Politics of Duplicity - Re-Visiting the Jaffna Talks, reveal, the two sides were speaking on different wavelengths. According to the LTTE, the peace process should proceed in two stages. In the early stages of negotiation, attention should be focussed on the restoration of normalcy and the creation of a peaceful environment. After normalcy was restored, talks could commence to find a peaceful solution. Chandrika, on the other hand, maintained that there should be simultaneous talks relating to the day-to-day problems of the people and finding a political solution. Finally, the Tigers accused the government of "bad faith" and started the Third Eelam War in April 1995.

Ranil Wickremasinghe, in contrast to Chandrika Kumaratunga, sees sense in the LTTE way of thinking and is prepared to adopt a step-by-step approach. Why should ordinary Tamils be subjected to severe hardships owing to prolonged war? Let the embargoes be lifted, the irksome security controls be removed, and let normalcy return. People irrespective of their ethnic background will develop a stake in peace and security. When normalcy is restored, negotiations can commence on the interim administration in the North and the East. After the interim administration is in place and the two parties have developed sufficient faith in each other, negotiations for a constitutional solution within a united Sri Lanka can begin. Ranil believes that the intervening period will enable him to gain a constituency committed to peace among the Tamils. They will, if the need arises, act as a pressure group on the LTTE. This period can also be utilised by the government to prepare the ground in the South for meaningful negotiations with the Tigers.

But the basic question remains. Can the Tiger be tamed? Will Prabakaran not use the interval to consolidate his power in the North-East, strengthen the Tigers militarily, and start attacking at the appropriate moment? Is history repeating itself? Is Prabakaran once again laying a peace trap?

Prabakaran wins first round

Prabakaran has already won the first round. The Cease-Fire Agreement, which came into effect on February 22, 2002, stresses that the overall objective "is to find a negotiated solution to the ongoing ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka". Four important aspects of this Agreement need to be kept in mind: 1) The clauses relating to military operations are definitely weighted in favour of the Tigers. According to Clause 1.3, the Sri Lankan armed forces "shall continue to perform their legitimate task of safeguarding the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka without engaging in offensive operations against the LTTE." However, Clause 1.2c forbids Sri Lanka from undertaking "offensive naval operations". According to informed sources in Colombo, the Tigers have received two consignments of weapons by sea after the ceasefire was instituted. 2) The Cease-Fire Agreement provides for the creation of a "state within a state". While the Monitoring Team can inquire into ceasefire and human rights violations in other parts of Sri Lanka, it is not empowered to monitor what is happening inside LTTE-controlled territory. What is more, 90 days after the ceasefire agreement comes into force, unarmed LTTE cadres can move around the whole of the North and the East. The Tigers have stepped up recruitment in the East and these new recruits can freely enter LTTE-controlled areas for military training. 3) Clause 1.8 provides that "Tamil paramilitary groups shall be disarmed by the Government of Sri Lanka by D-Day + 30 at the least." The Government of Sri Lanka shall integrate them into its armed services for service away from the North and the East. This provision has naturally affected the fortunes of the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP) under Douglas Devananda, the followers of A. Varadaraja Perumal, the People's liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and others who have been provided arms for self-defence by the Sri Lanka Army. In other words, Colombo has created a situation where no credible non-LTTE force can carry on a political campaign, or even defend itself. 4) The sustainability of the peace process will depend not only on the absence of armed hostilities, the easing of sanctions and embargoes, and the removal of checkpoints, but also on the creation of a political atmosphere in which different points of view can be expressed and debated. This is sadly lacking in the Tamil areas. The Tigers have opened offices and started their political campaign, but no form of dissent is allowed.

The press conference

Prabakaran repeatedly claimed at the press conference that the Tigers were sincerely committed to the peace process. At the same time, in response to a specific question, he made it clear that they had not given up their demand for Tamil Eelam: "I don't think the necessity and situation have arisen now for that." By way of underlining this point, Prabakaran added: "It is our people who put forward this demand for Tamil Eelam. The people gave a mandate to the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) for this as early as 1977. We, therefore, with people's support, are fighting for Tamil Eelam till now."

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His political adviser explained that a satisfactory solution to the ethnic problem could be found if Colombo accepted the concerns and aspirations of the Tamil people, as expressed in the well-known Thimphu principles. These principles, put forward jointly in July 1985 by six Tamil organisations including the LTTE and the TULF, are: 1) recognition of the Tamils in Sri Lanka as a distinct nationality; 2) recognition of Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka as the traditional Tamil homeland and the guarantee of its territorial integrity; 3) based on the above, recognition of the inalienable right of self-determination of the Tamil nation; and 4) recognition of the right to full citizenship and other fundamental democratic rights of the Tamils who look upon the island as their country.

The first three principles were deliberately couched in vague terms. To the Sinhalese leaders, who at that time viewed even federalism as the first step towards separation, these principles were a red rag. The Sri Lankan government delegation responded within a legal framework and rejected these principles outright. Said H.W. Jayewardene, the delegation's leader: "If the first three principles were to be taken at face value and given their accepted legal meaning, they are wholly unacceptable to the government. They must be rejected for the reason that they constitute a negation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, they are detrimental to a united Sri Lanka and are inimical to the interests of several communities, ethnic and religious, in our country."

On several occasions since 1985, the LTTE and other Tamil organisations have reiterated their commitment to the Thimphu principles. In a discussion paper, Rohan Edrisinha, Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, Colombo, has correctly pointed out that "recognising a Tamil nation, a traditional Tamil homeland and its right to self-determination could certainly imply the recognition of an independent Tamil sovereign state." But can these principles be explained, rationalised and accommodated within the constitutional framework of a united Sri Lanka?

What does self-determination mean?

Balasingham's explanation of the concept of self-determination needs closer scrutiny. It must be pointed out that Prabakaran was completely silent when Balasingham launched into a disquisition on the complexities of this issue. As Indian journalists who attended the press conference have pointed out, Balasingham was not translating accurately what Prabakaran said in Tamil. Apart from putting a gloss on the LTTE supremo's answers to key questions, Balasingham held forth with his own views. According to Balasingham, self-determination has two dimensions - the external and the internal. Answering a specific question on what the LTTE meant by self-determination, Balasingham explained: "By self-determination we mean the right of the people to decide their own political destiny - it can also apply to autonomy and self-governance. If autonomy and self-governance are given to our people, then we can say that internal self-determination is met to an extent." However, if the Sri Lankan government rejected the Tamil demand for autonomy and self-government, "then we will opt for secession as a last resort."

In other words, the onus for providing a constitutional proposal incorporating the principle of self-determination is on Colombo. It must spell out the constitutional proposals and, if it is acceptable to the Tigers, negotiations can commence.

The thorny issue of self-determination is likely to dominate the constitutional talks, when they take place, if they take place at all. The Tigers are experts in the art of duplicity and they will use the term 'self-determination' to suit their short-term and long-term needs. The vagueness inherent in the term will enable them to keep their options open. Rohan Edrisinha has pointed out that pro-LTTE spokespersons such as Rudrakumaran and Sornarajah argue that devolution and autonomy are stages en route to the final destination of an independent, sovereign Tamil nation. A paper by Sornarajah (cited by Edrisinha) advocates "the acceptance of a confederal political arrangement as a strategic ploy to further the goal of an independent Tamil nation state". To quote Sornarajah: "The making of a confederacy recognises the distinctness of the Tamil people and their homelands. It will also lead to the demarcation of the boundaries of the homelands in a constitutive document. There are gains to be had. It will bring the war to an end and ensure that the confederate arrangement works as there is the threat of the resumption of war... Strategically, confederation may be considered for the reason that it gives the Tamil homelands clearly defined borders and creates a breathing space for some time... Confederations have generally not worked as solutions to ethnic crises."

Edrisinha points out that scholars like Sornarajah advocate confederacy because they believe that it is doomed to fail. Balasingham's statement that "the Prime Minister, Mr. Ranil Wikremasinghe, is the Prime Minister of those who have elected him" and that "here in Tamil Eelam, our Prime Minister and President is Mr. Prabakaran" has to be clearly understood in the backdrop of the above analysis.

De-proscription of the LTTE

Prabakaran has made it crystal clear that talks cannot be held unless the ban on the LTTE is lifted. He is conscious of the fact that the best way to come out of international isolation is to pressure Colombo to lift the ban on the LTTE, which was imposed soon after it attacked Dalada Maligawa in January 1988. Once Colombo lifts the ban, the Tigers can mount a campaign internationally to get the ban lifted in India, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. In his Heroes' Day speech, Prabakaran asserted: "For us to participate in the political negotiation freely as equal partners, as the authentic political force with the status of the legitimate representative of our people, the ban imposed on our movement should be lifted. This is the collective aspiration of our people." In the April 10 press conference, he echoed the same sentiments. Prabakaran reiterated that if the ban were not lifted, the Tigers would not participate in the proposed talks in Thailand.

Ranil Wickremasinghe's government is caught on the horns of a dilemma. If it does not lift the ban, a stalemate is inevitable. What is more, since this government is prepared to recognise the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamils, it cannot be insensitive to the organisation's concerns. At the same time, Colombo will be very happy if the ban on the LTTE continues in the other countries. According to media reports, the Sri Lankan government is working on a legal formula that will permit it to lift the ban on the LTTE without affecting the ban imposed elsewhere. Sobriety suggests that unless Colombo receives iron-clad guarantees from the Tigers that they will settle for a constitutional settlement within a united Sri Lanka and also uphold the democratic and human rights of various ethnic groups in the island, it should not take any hasty decision in the matter.

Perhaps Colombo can learn from Indian experience (see the author's article in Frontline, May 11, 2001). In India, negotiations have taken place and continue to take place with militant organisations that are banned. G. Parthasarathy, as the emissary of the Central government, negotiated a peaceful settlement with Laldenga of the Mizo National Front to settle the Mizo problem. The Mizo National Front continued to be a banned organisation during the period of negotiations. The same holds true for Nagaland. High functionaries of the Home Ministry have held negotiations with the representatives of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN), a banned organisation, in Bangkok and Amsterdam. These negotiations resulted in a ceasefire in Nagaland. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee recently held discussions with some important leaders of the NSCN in Japan. Although the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka has its own unique features, it will be prudent on the part of Colombo to learn from the experience of other countries that have faced threats to their national security.

The Muslim Dimension

Another important strategy of the LTTE became apparent during the April 10 press conference. Prabakaran wants to extend his political influence among other Tamil-speaking peoples, Muslims and Tamils of recent Indian origin. Sri Lanka's Muslims are scattered throughout the island, although there is a concentration of them in the East. Indian Tamils live predominantly in the central parts of the island, especially in the tea plantations. If Prabakaran succeeds in his objective of winning the support of substantial sections of these two minority groups, Sinhala-Tamil relations may take a new turn to the disadvantage of Sinhala-dominated governments. What is more, such a development can lead to the strengthening of Sinhala chauvinist forces such as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Sihala Urumaya.

The Muslim community in Sri Lanka, constituting about seven per cent of the total population, is in the throes of political change. These Muslims tend to seek their identity in terms of religion, not language. In the early years of independence, the leadership of the Muslim community came from the affluent trading classes based in Colombo. But as the ethnic conflict gathered momentum, the Muslims of the East, who increasingly felt that their interests were not protected by Colombo-based Muslim leaders, rallied round the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC).

What is more, the support of the SLMC became crucial for the survival of President Chandrika Kumaratunga's P.A. government; during the last days of this government, the SLMC withdrew its support and aligned itself with the United National Party (UNP). Given the slender majority of the present UNP government, the SLMC's support is crucial to the government's survival.

The emergence of the SLMC and its stout opposition to the demand for Tamil Eelam led to violent clashes between the LTTE and Muslims. The creation of an armed civilian force, the Muslim Home Guard, further exacerbated the situation. In the early 1990s, the Tigers massacred a large number of Muslims who were offering prayers in their mosques. In October 1990, the Tigers ordered Muslims in Jaffna district to vacate their homes. Nearly 75,000 Muslims fled, leaving behind their property, which was looted by the LTTE. The displaced Muslims have taken refuge in Puttalam, Anuradhapura and Kurunegala districts. Although Balasingham admitted that the LTTE's past policy towards Muslims was a mistake, Tiger-Muslim relations continue to be tense.

The overtures made by the Tigers towards Muslims have to be seen in the context of the Tamil demand for a North-East merger as a precondition for a political settlement. The first indication of a change in LTTE perception came when the Cease-fire Agreement was finalised. The Preamble drew attention to the fact that "the parties further recognise that groups that are not directly party to the conflict are also suffering the consequences of it. This is particularly the case as regards the Muslim population. Therefore, the provisions of this Agreement regarding the security of the civilians and their property apply to all inhabitants." The Agreement, however, did not make any specific mention of the fears and misgivings of the Sinhalese people and Tamils of recent Indian origin, who are also residing in the region of ethnic conflict.

The LTTE's gestures towards Muslims and the subsequent Prabakaran-Rauf Hakeem talks have to be viewed against the backdrop of a large number of recent incidents in the East, where LTTE cadres have subjected Muslims to financial extortion. The LTTE-Muslim animosity has deep roots and it is not easy for Muslims to forget the past. At the same time, the Muslims, being pragmatic, are conscious of the fact that they have to coexist with the Tamils in the East. Will Prabhkaran be prepared to shed his policy of intolerance and open a new chapter in Tamil-Muslim relations? Unless the Muslims are won over to their side, the Tigers will find it very difficult to get a merged North-East. Muslims will continue to oppose the merger because they would become a "mini-minority in a minority state".

Problems of Indian Tamils

On the question of the future of the Indian Tamil community, Balsingham bracketed them with the Muslims and pointed out that the Tigers had invited Arumugham Thondaman, leader of the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), and P. Chandrasekharan, leader of the Up Country Peoples' Organisation, for talks. "We will engage them in constructive discussion to see how we can help to resolve their problems and bring about a final resolution."

Although the Tamils of recent Indian origin share bonds of ethnicity, language and religion with the Sri Lankan Tamils, the problems they face and also their aspirations are in many ways different. Unlike the Sri Lankan Tamil settlements in the Jaffna peninsula, the plantations are surrounded by Sinhalese villages, which are located in the heartland of the Sinhalese people. This stark reality has made the Tamils of recent Indian origin realise that their present and future are closely intertwined with the Sinhalese and they must co-exist with them.

The Indian Tamils do not subscribe to the demand for Tamil Eelam. What is more, their most representative organisation, the CWC, has been part of every government in Colombo since 1978. Even so Indian Tamils are most vulnerable in times of communal conflict. The communal violence of 1977, 1981 and 1983 demonstrated the utter helplessness of these people against lumpen sections of the Sinhalese population. Attempts made by the Tamil militant groups to co-opt the plantation youth into their movements have not made much headway. Except for isolated pockets, the Indian Tamils have remained aloof from Sri Lankan Tamil militants.

However, in the long run, the winds of change will have their impact on the Indian Tamils. The future of the community, and relations between the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Tamils of recent Indian origin, will be determined by the resolution or non-resolution of the question of Sinhala-Tamil relations. As far as a constitutional settlement is concerned, the aspirations of the Indian Tamil community can be fulfilled only if there is further devolution from the provinces to the Pradeshiya Sabhas.

The problems Indian Tamils face can be summed up as follows: Citizenship for the residue of Indian passport-holders and their natural increase, that is, those who have not yet been repatriated to India; identity cards for all Indian Tamils; a monthly living wage for plantation workers; better housing facilities; greater employment opportunities; and better educational facilities so that the community can have upward mobility and play an important role in the social and economic life of the country.

After the death of S. Thondaman, a major leader who provided leadership to the community for several years, there has been a political vacuum in the plantations. A fragmented political leadership will not be in a position to safeguard the interests of Indian Tamils. Fifty-four years into independence, Sri Lanka's Indian Tamils remain underprivileged. If their problems are not solved with sympathy and understanding, it is possible that the LTTE will spread its influence in the plantation areas. If that happens, the plantations, relatively peaceful until recent times, will become areas of political turbulence.

The India Factor

The presence of a large number of Indian journalists at the press conference obliged Prabakaran and Balasingham to explain their position vis-a-vis India. The answers were, to say the least, unconvincing and unsatisfactory. But what is clear is that the India factor looms large in the intellectual horizon of the Tigers.

First, Prabakaran in response to a pointed question characterised Rajiv Gandhi's assassination as a "tragic incident". This implied neither an admission nor a denial of the LTTE's role in the assassination. The Tigers seemed to be appealing for a policy of letting bygones be bygones.

Balasingham repeatedly underlined the important role of India in the resolution of the ethnic conflict: "Without India, this problem will not find a permanent settlement. India is the regional superpower and we need India's backing and support... We do not want to have any unfriendly relationship with India because we have suffered a lot as a consequence of contradictions between India and the LTTE. So we want to renew our friendship and engage in a positive relationship with India."

He added: "As a race of people, we are Tamils and we have our roots in India. India is our fatherland. We have respect and love for India and its people. So whatever happened in the past, we are not going to entertain unpleasant memories. We look forward to establishing new, friendly and pleasant memories... So please don't ask me any such questions."

Prabakaran and Balasingham have clearly underestimated the extent of alienation caused by the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. They also grossly overestimate the influence of pro-LTTE forces in Tamil Nadu - the Nedumarans, the Veeramanis, the Vaikos and the Ramadosses. The mainstream national media, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) Government led by Jayalalitha and the Congress have made their position clear. They do not want the Government of India to have any links with the LTTE. They do not want New Delhi to provide medical facilities to Balasingham on so-called humanitarian grounds. On the contrary, they demand that New Delhi should press the demand for the extradition of Prabakaran to India to face capital criminal charges in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and charges in other cases as well.

Colombo's Response

The UNP government's assessment of Prabakaran's press conference, although guarded, is optimistic. Professor G.L. Peiris, Sri Lanka's Minister for Constitutional Affairs who is expected to lead the official delegation in the talks in Thailand, welcomed Balasingham's explanation of internal self-determination. He characterised it as a "window of opportunity" for further detailed discussion on a constitutional settlement acceptable to all concerned. Peiris no doubt recalls that he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by an LTTE suicide squad on the eve of the last Presidential election. Informed Indian observers of the Sri Lankan scene do not want to place obstacles before the peace process. But since Sri Lanka is not "just another country" and its security is closely intertwined with that of India, they would like to sound a note of caution.

I would like to explain the cautionary note by narrating an Arab folk tale: "A hunter went hunting for sparrows one morning on a cold day. As he carried on the slaughter, his eyes were streaming. Said the young bird to the older one, 'Look, the man is crying.' Said the older bird, 'Never mind his eyes. Watch his hands.'"

Increasing U.S. Interest

The increasing interest of the U.S., and the likely role it will play, in Sri Lanka should be a matter of serious concern for India. The U.S. role in Afghanistan, the help it has given to the government of Nepal in its war against the Maoist rebels, its military assistance to Manila and Jakarta to put down Muslim separatist rebels, its increasing interest in Sri Lanka's domestic affairs - all these are pointers to a greater U.S. role, but also evidence of the bankruptcy of India's foreign policy towards its neighbours. The vocal and interventionist tone of U.S. foreign policy makers is evident from the carrot-and-stick policy adopted by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca. On March 11, the U.S. Embassy in Colombo warned the Tigers against reneging on the Cease-Fire Agreement. Rocca met Wickremasinghe and senior military officials in Jaffna. She fully supported Wickremasinghe's initiative: "We just want him to know that we stand behind what he is doing." It is likely that Colombo is counting on U.S. support - both vocal and military - in case Prabakaran goes back on the peace process.

The rapidly unfolding events in Sri Lanka will have far-reaching implications for India. The ideology that the Tigers represent, which holds that the alienated Sri Lankan Tamils can safeguard their identity and security only within a separate state, runs counter to all that Indian nationalism has upheld and the Indian state stands for - namely, the creation of a pluralist, multi-ethnic, tolerant, federal state. India must fight against this dangerous and reactionary ideology.

New Delhi cannot abdicate its responsibility in Sri Lanka. It should try and persuade Sri Lanka's Prime Minister and President to come together to talk to the LTTE, if the Tigers are willing to talk or tackle the LTTE jointly if the Tigers renege on the peace process. The internationalisation of the ethnic conflict, by encouraging the entry of the U.S. into the region, spells a long-term problem for India's security.

Prof. V. Suryanarayan is former Director, Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras, Chennai.

Neither war nor peace

RAM MANIKKALINGAM cover-story

SRI LANKA is between war and peace. There are three scenarios that can emerge from the ceasefire agreement between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government: war, peace, or no war-no peace.

War scenario

The war scenario echoes previous failed attempts at turning ceasefires into more long-term settlements. Whether one blames the Tigers or the government, the basic dynamic entails a re-arming, recruiting and re-grouping by both sides. There were signs of this in the run-up to the ceasefire agreement on the Tiger side. As Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe was preparing to travel to Vavuniya to sign the agreement, the Tigers were hurriedly landing armaments. Similarly, Amnesty International reported the aggressive recruitment of child soldiers by the Tigers. Other reports refer to the Tigers raising funds through extortion, particularly from Muslims living in the Eastern Province.

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The Sri Lankan government is also planning a recruitment drive and the purchase of new equipment for the armed forces. These measures by themselves do not indicate that the parties are opposed to peace. Preparation for war is inevitable in any ceasefire situation because there is no guarantee that a ceasefire will evolve into a permanent solution. Still, this dynamic may not be stable, particularly if both sides continue preparing for war, without implementing provisions of the ceasefire agreement. One side or the other may sincerely, or slyly, utilise a delay in implementing the ceasefire as a violation of it, to begin fighting.

While the presence of a neutral third party mediator makes this situation different from previous ones, this scenario unfortunately is still very possible. To get beyond it, the government will engage the Tigers on a series of short-term humanitarian issues - such as humanitarian de-mining and medical services - and medium-term developmental issues - such as the restoration of roads and irrigation. This will lead to the second scenario.

No war-no peace scenario

The Tamil Tigers will utilise the negotiations over humanitarian and development assistance to extend their administrative influence over Tamil majority areas that have hitherto been controlled by the government. They will ask the government to cede control over the Northeast to them in the form of an interim council. This de facto rule by the Tigers will be combined with a massive infusion of rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance from the Sri Lankan government and the international community. It will lead to large-scale humanitarian schemes, medium-scale development projects and significant market integration of the Northeast with the rest of the country. There will be a general easing in the difficulties faced by civilians living in the Northeast in particular, and the country in general, because of the absence of war. These measures can be taken administratively by the government, that is, through the use of executive powers, and will not depend on constitutional reform or even legislative support.

The basic bargain between the government and the Tamil Tigers will be as follows: The government grants de facto control of the Northeast to the Tigers, along with economic assistance and the space to begin development work. In exchange, the Tigers desist from fighting.

The Tigers will seek to extend this scenario in the hope that the interim council will be transformed, with the passage of time, into a de facto separate state. Any attempt by President Chandrika Kumaratunga or Prime Minister Wickremasinghe to thwart this runs the risk of reverting to war. The Tigers will portray the efforts to prevent the formation of a de facto separate state as a disruption of the peace process and start fighting. However, if President Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Wickremasinghe cooperate in addressing Tamil political aspirations while thwarting Tiger separatist ambitions, they may help take the process forward to the peace scenario.

Peace scenario

This involves resolving three conflicts: the armed conflict between the Tigers and the armed forces of Sri Lanka; the political power conflict between the three main forces that currently have a stake in political rule in Sri Lanka - the Tamil Tigers, the United National Party (UNP) and the People's Alliance (P.A.); the ethnic conflict among Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims. The current peace strategy of the UNP-led government appears to be based on solving one conflict at a time, beginning with the armed conflict. While it would be preferable, in theory, if each of these solutions could be tackled one step at a time, the reality is more complicated. A solution to the armed conflict may require or be assisted by a breakthrough in the political power conflict. And a solution to the political power conflict may require some progress in resolving the ethnic conflict. Thus these three conflicts, or at least elements of it, will often have to be addressed simultaneously. And the level of uncertainty can be quite high. Still, many elements of a solution already exist - the new ceasefire agreement signed by the current UNP-led government and the political package drafted by the previous P.A.-led government. These elements can be stitched together in a way that may enable Sri Lanka to bootstrap its way to a solution. Sadly, the failure of the two major political parties to collaborate effectively in resolving the conflict makes the peace scenario the least plausible.

Ram Manikkalingam is a Fellow of the Open Society Institute and an Assistant Director at the Rockefeller Foundation based in New York. This article expresses his personal views and not those of either of the institutions.

Prabakaran unleashed

G. PARTHASARATHY cover-story

Prabakaran has a horrendous track record, and New Delhi must send out a clear signal that it will not hesitate to capture and bring him to justice in India.

ON April 10,the reclusive Velupillai Prabakaran emerged from his hideouts to address the world media in an effort to show that he was now ready to seek a political, rather than a military solution to Sri Lanka's bloody ethnic conflict. Amongst the correspondents who were present was one Swami Vigyanand, dressed in the robes of a monk. The good 'Swami' claimed he was attending the press conference as a representative of a publication of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). According to reports from Sri Lanka that have been featured in newspapers such as the Dawn of Karachi, Vigyanand had visited Sri Lanka on around 10 occasions since 1999. He had travelled extensively in areas controlled by the LTTE, quite obviously with the assistance and concurrence of the LTTE during these visits. Asked about his views on the LTTE, Vigyanand is reported to have replied: "I made it clear to them (LTTE) that we (VHP) have nothing against their struggle," adding: "I said we have a problem with Islam and Christianity and we are trying to build Hindu unity."

The words of Swami Vigyanand need to be placed in perspective, by first recounting some of the ugliest facets of Prabakaran's "struggle". While Prabakaran now claims that he is seeking to protect the democratic rights of the Tamils of Sri Lanka, what emerges from any study of his past actions is that he can only be characterised as a psychopath, with scant regard for human life, or human suffering. The one instance that still remains etched in my memory is the callous manner in which he made a teenage student Thileepan go on a fast and die in 1987, even as he was consuming choice delicacies, while negotiating his demands with Indian High Commissioner J.N. Dixit at the Palaly Airbase in Jaffna in August 1987. But Prabakaran also has a track record of having killed more political leaders from the Tamil community, than from among his proclaimed enemies - the Sinhalas. He started on this course by murdering the popular Mayor of Jaffna Alfred Duraiappa in 1972. He then eliminated the then most popular Sri Lankan Tamil militant leader, Sri Sabarathinam, in 1986, earning the wrath and condemnation of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader M. Karunanidhi, who held Sabarathinam in high esteem.

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Prabakaran's track record of killing prominent Tamils is horrendous. Members of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) still recall and respect the tactical skills and valour of the LTTE's former military commander, Mahattya. It was Mahattya who personally led the fight against the Sri Lankan Army while Prabakaran was for several years living in Tamil Nadu, spending a lot of his time watching video tapes of Clint Eastwood movies. Yet when Prabakaran felt that Mahattya had attained a stature that could pose a challenge to his unquestioned hegemony, he had no hesitation in executing his most successful military commander. Prabakaran's intolerance of any opposition to his hegemony is evident from the manner in which he engineered the killings of respected Tamil politicians like A. Amirthalingam, Alalasundaram and Dharmalingam of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and his assassination of perhaps the most articulate proponent of the Tamil cause, Neelan Tiruchelvam. The list of those whom he killed includes prominent Tamil human rights activist Sam Thambimuthu. But perhaps the most gruesome example of Prabakaran's determination to eliminate physically all potential rivals was the killing of nearly 20 leaders of the rival EPRLF (Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front) group led by its supremo, K. Padmanabha, in broad daylight in the very heart of Madras city. There appears to be little doubt that it was the inaction on the part of the V.P. Singh government in responding to this act of terrorism on Indian soil that emboldened Prabakaran to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.

It is, to say the least, odd that a representative of the VHP should seek to make common cause with the LTTE in building "Hindu unity" in Sri Lanka. Prabakaran has never defined the LTTE's objectives in religious terms. The Tamils of Sri Lanka have never alleged that the Sri Lankan state has curbed their religious rights. Their struggle has always been to meet what they have felt were their legitimate linguistic, political and economic aspirations. It is true that Prabakaran has terrorised Tamil-speaking Muslims in northeastern Sri Lanka, destroying two mosques and killing over 100 Muslims in the Eastern province. He has even driven out over 70,000 Muslims from their homes in northern Sri Lanka. But these pogroms were undertaken for political and not religious reasons. Prabakaran's primary opponents have been the Buddhist Sinhalas. Outfits like the VHP and the Shiv Sena regard Buddhism to be a derivative and an extension of Hinduism. Further, Prabakaran has strong allies in the Anglican Church and is hardly going to please the VHP in fulfilling its goals of curbing the activities of Church groups. But India should remember that it is not in its national interests to promote separatism in Sri Lanka, whatever the justification. Any suspicion in Sri Lanka that groups close to the ruling establishment in India empathise with the LTTE would be highly counter-productive. It is all very well for the VHP to claim that it is involved in promoting Indian spiritualistic values abroad. It is, however, quite another matter when VHP representatives seek to show understanding of groups like the LTTE, or indulge in activities that promote communal suspicions or differences abroad. New Delhi should make it clear it will deal strongly with those who indulge in such activities.

SRI Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe has taken a courageous initiative in seeking to build bridges of peace with the LTTE. But past experience has shown that whenever Prabakaran feels the heat he adopts tactical shifts. He had no compunction in seeking a deal from the short-sighted President Ranasinghe Premadasa when he was under pressure from the IPKF. He then proceeded to assassinate Premadasa when the situation changed. The post-September 11 global environment against terrorism and measures like the passage of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 are placing restrictions on the vast flow of funds that the LTTE receives from Sri Lankan Tamil expatriate communities in countries such as Canada and Australia. Even though there may be some sympathy and support for Prabakaran in sections of the ruling National Democratic Alliance in India, he knows that there is little chance of his receiving support from India in the pursuit of his long-term aims. In any case, he has chosen to remain deliberately vague about his long-term aims and has not renounced either the armed struggle or his claim for a separate "Tamil Eelam".

Given the fact that the LTTE is a banned organisation in India, New Delhi has rightly chosen to avoid any involvement in the proposed dialogue between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. While India should not do anything that would inhibit or hinder the proposed dialogue, it is imperative that it should relentlessly move ahead with measures and moves to secure the extradition of Prabakaran for his role in masterminding the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. New Delhi should not forget that in assassinating Rajiv Gandhi in the middle of a national election campaign, Prabakaran sought to undermine the very basis of India's democratic processes. The people of India can neither forget nor forgive this action of a foreign terrorist group aimed at undermining its electoral processes. It is an action that was as, if not more, outrageous than the December 13 attack on Parliament House. The Tamil Nadu Assembly has now passed a resolution urging that the Government of India send the Indian Army to Sri Lanka, with the consent of the Sri Lankan government, in order to capture Prabakaran if Sri Lanka is unable to extradite him to India.

In these circumstances, it is rather surprising that Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee indicated that he was inclined to consider sympathetically the request of the political ideologue of the LTTE, Anton Balasingham, to visit and live in India for medical treatment. Balasingham has connived with and sought to justify the horrendous acts of terrorism perpetrated by the LTTE for around three decades. There is little doubt that any such approval accorded to Balasingham will be viewed as a serious weakening of India's intention to bring Prabakaran to face trial in India. India is already regarded as a soft state in its neighbourhood. Rather than being seen to be weakening its stand against the LTTE, India should send out a clear signal to Prabakaran, and to the world at large, that although the Sri Lankan Government may have its compulsions in dealing with him, India will not hesitate to use all available means including the use of special forces, to capture and bring Prabakaran to justice in India.

G. Parthasarathy was Information Adviser to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the spokesman of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force in Sri Lanka.

Once more, with hope

Amid growing discontent among their rank and file, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party once again decide to share power in Uttar Pradesh, with Mayawati as Chief Minister.

CLOSE to two months after the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh threw up a splintered verdict, the State is finally on the verge of witnessing the formation of a government. But the whole exercise leading up to the event has been marked by political compromises of an extreme kind, and many question marks hang over the political scenario in the State.

When the results of the 402 of the 403 seats that went to the polls were declared in the last week of February, the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) along with its allies emerged as the single largest formation, with 146 seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies won 107 seats, the former ruling party by itself having won 88 seats. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which contested all the seats on its own, had 98 seats. The Congress(I) won 25 seats. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), an ally of the S.P., won two seats.

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The BJP is now all set to prop up BSP leader Mayawati as the Chief Minister. What was known to be going on under the covers for some weeks was at last made public by the BJP on April 18. Confirming speculation in the media, BJP president Jana Krishnamurthy announced that moves were on to forge an alliance with the BSP to form the government. He also said that the earlier decision of the BJP Parliamentary Board to sit in the Opposition respecting the people's mandate would be reviewed at a meeting "some time next week, in view of later developments". By April 22 or 23 the BJP Parliamentary Board would review its earlier decision and pave the way for the swearing-in of Mayawati as Chief Minister for a third time.

Evidently, the BJP does not know what it means to be "once bitten and twice shy". Despite the fact that it was humbled thrice by the BSP - twice in Uttar Pradesh and once at the Centre when it helped topple the Atal Behari Vajpayee government by voting against it in spite of promises that it would abstain from voting - BJP leaders seem to hope against hope that they would prove "third time lucky" with the BSP and reap the benefits of that party's Dalit vote bank in the next Lok Sabha elections. This appears to be the logic behind the party's decision to join hands with the BSP yet again and to let Mayawati be Chief Minister for a full five-year term in a coalition government. The BSP, in turn, has promised to support the Vajpayee government.

The announcement by the BJP followed a series of meetings BSP leaders Kanshi Ram and Mayawati had with Union Home Minister L.K. Advani and Prime Minister Vajpayee in the context of the Gujarat crisis when it seemed that the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) would withdraw support to the government. The moment he sensed that the National Democratic Alliance government would need fresh support in Parliament, BSP supremo Kanshi Ram declared in a style typical of him that his party, with 13 MPs, was willing to support the NDA if the BJP supported Mayawati's candidature for the Chief Minister's post.

All senior BJP leaders, including Advani, Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, former BJP president Kushabhau Thakre, former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Rajnath Singh, BJP State president Kalraj Mishra, senior leader and the strongest advocate of the alliance Lalji Tandon and former Ministers Om Prakash Singh and Harish Chandra Srivastava attended the April 18 meeting at the Prime Minister's residence, which was held with the specific purpose of discussing the alliance issue, especially because Kalraj Mishra and Rajnath Singh had repeatedly made statements opposing any tie-up with the BSP. Although a formal announcement of the alliance was not made immediately, Krishnamurthy's statement that the Parliamentary Board would meet again to review its decision to sit in the Opposition made it clear that the party had in principle decided to take the plunge yet again.

The final announcement was delayed because, keeping in mind past experience, the BJP wanted details of the arrangement to be worked out in advance. The issue to be decided include the distribution of portfolios, whether or not to create a Deputy Chief Minister's post, who the Speaker would be, and whether the alliance would extend to the national level. However, it is learnt that Mayawati is not keen that the BSP should join the NDA government and she is opposed to the idea of having a Deputy Chief Minister as it might create a parallel power-centre. A common minimum agenda for governance, to be signed by both parties, is also being worked out in order to avoid confusion and confrontation later.

Although the BSP had made its intentions clear over a month earlier when Mayawati resigned her Lok Sabha seat declaring that she would soon head the Uttar Pradesh government, the BJP was not ready to lay its cards on the table. To the dismay of BSP leaders, BJP leaders stuck to their decision to sit in the Opposition. However, the situation changed when the Gujarat crisis posed a threat to the NDA's continuance in power. The first signals that the BJP would eventually go in for an alliance with the BSP came from the Prime Minister during his valedictory address at the BJP's National Executive meeting in Goa. Without naming names, he criticised party leaders (such as Rajnath Singh) who were against the alliance. The Prime Minister quoted a well-publicised statement made by Rajnath Singh - "jeetey koi bhi, sarkaar hum banayenge" (irrespective of who wins the election, we will form the government) - and asked why he was now opposing an alliance with the BSP.

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However, even as the finer details of the renewed BJP-BSP cohabitation are being worked out, there are reports that resentment is brewing among a section of Muslim legislators of the BSP. Senior leader Arif Mohammad Khan resigned from the party protesting against the decision. It was followed by threats from two BSP legislators from Rajasthan that they too would resign from the party. It is also learnt that the majority of the 14 Muslim members of the BSP in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly plan to abstain from voting for the government when it seeks a confidence vote in the House. This could result in the fall of the government as it happened with the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar. The MLAs are worried about their political future, especially in the wake of the anti-minority violence in Gujarat, for their community's reaction to the BSP's alliance with the party that is perceived as the perpetrator of the violence can only be hostile. A prominent Muslim leader of the party said: "The Gujarat riots are not something confined to Gujarat. A message has gone out to Muslims throughout the country. The State administration, run by the BJP, has been seen to be actively encouraging and abetting these riots. We will have no face to show our community."

However, senior BSP leaders deny that there is any resentment. "We are confident of tackling any resentment with the promise of ministerial posts and perks," said a senior BSP leader and Lok Sabha member. He said that no legislator wanted fresh elections and there was no alternative to a BJP-BSP coalition government. "Besides, they are only a few in numbers and cannot split the party as such an action would attract the provisions of the anti-defection law," this BSP leader said.

The BJP too has its share of troubles. Although leaders such as Rajnath Singh and Kalraj Mishra fell in line following the Prime Minister's intervention, resentment is brewing in the party. This was evident when Kalraj Mishra said that the average party worker still supported the idea of a stint for the party in the Opposition. In fact, the grim face of Rajnath Singh, who was standing near Jana Krishnamurthy when the latter made the announcement that the Parliamentary Board would review its decision, seemed to speak volumes about his unhappiness with the decision.

The resentment of the average worker in both the parties is understandable. BJP workers have still not forgotten the days when, despite their party being a partner in the Kalyan Singh government in 1997, Mayawati and Kanshi Ram organised State-wide dharnas and demonstrations against the government, dubbing it "anti-Dalit". At that time, the walls of Lucknow were painted blue with anti-Kalyan Singh and anti-BJP slogans for their "Dalit-Virodhi" mentality. The BSP's actions were provoked by the decision of Kalyan Singh, after assuming charge in the rotational arrangement in September 1997, to issue a government order "to prevent the misuse" of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. State BJP leaders also alleged that the Act was used against the upper castes in rural areas during Mayawati's reign. Party leaders claimed that victimisation of upper-caste bureaucrats had become the order of the day. BJP workers have also not forgotten the way Mayawati, unmindful of their sentiments, organised melas to honour social reformers and Dalit leaders such as 'Periyar' E.V. Ramasamy and Shahuji Maharaj, when she was Chief Minister. She also named several districts after Dalit leaders. Even the name of Chitrakoot, associated with Ram and which finds mention in Tulsi Ramayana, was changed to Shahuji Maharaj Nagar. However, the decision was reversed by Kalyan Singh when he became Chief Minister.

On the other hand, BSP Ministers in the Kalyan Singh government expressed their resentment when Kalyan Singh visited the makeshift shrine in Ayodhya at the site of the Babri Masjid for darshan immediately after taking charge. They announced that they would go to the Ayodhya site and offer namaaz, a move that was endorsed by Kanshi Ram. So acrimonious was the relationship between the two parties that they kept insulting and abusing each other publicly. Ironically, all this happened after Vajpayee blessed the alliance with much fanfare and declared that "we are natural allies, the alliance should last". Similar arguments are used by Vajpayee and other votaries of the alliance now and this has created fears among those who suffered the consequences of the alliance in the past. Last time the BJP joined hands with the BSP hoping to cash in on its Dalit vote bank in the following Lok Sabha elections - a reason that is cited even now by the BJP leaders. However, Mayawati denied the BJP precisely that benefit by portraying the latter as anti-Dalit.

It is no consolation for the State BJP leaders that the details of the agreement are being meticulously worked out. After all, the existence of a detailed plan did not prevent Kanshi Ram from having a fit when the time for handing over the chief ministership to the BJP, as had been agreed, arrived last time. He insisted that the Speaker be changed and a person from the BSP be made the Speaker. It was only with great difficulty that the BJP managed to make Kanshi Ram withdraw his demand. However, it is another matter that the BSP had to pay a heavy price for acceding to the BJP's request not to press for a change of Speaker. That experience is bound to make BSP leaders all the more wary this time.

Politics makes strange bed-fellows, but when it is the politics of Uttar Pradesh, the mismatch often takes bizarre proportions. The BSP has so far had phases of cohabitation with all the three major parties in the State - the S.P., the Congress(I) and the BJP. Political expediency, opportunism and marriages of convenience would seem to have become the order of the day in the politically crucial State, and sleeping with the enemy is no longer taboo. So it seems, with the BJP's help, Mayawati is to arrive yet again at 5 Kalidas Marg, the official residence of the Chief Minister, to rule the State for a third term.

These developments have a message for the BJP's allies too. They have been rendered redundant in the entire exercise. The BJP, which fought the elections with them, did not bother to consult them about the alliance. Among the allies, only Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal, which has 14 MLAs and the support of four independents, has objected to the manner in which they were treated. Clinging to power by any means is the name of the game in Uttar Pradesh.

Start of the countdown

politics

The growing intolerance within the BJP to other viewpoints in the National Democratic Alliance, makes it difficult for the party to sustain the NDA - irrespective of how the crisis over Gujarat is resolved.

SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN V. VENKATESAN in New Delhi

SOMETHING that cannot be replaced - the element of mutual trust - was lost within the ruling coalition at the Centre on April 12. Addressing a public meeting in Panaji that day, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee began with an aggressive denunciation of "jehadi" Muslims. But then, seemingly carried away by the monotonic ideological commitments of his audience, he broadened the attack. Muslims as a rule are not amenable to live in peace with other faiths, he said, and wherever the community was present in significant numbers, there was a problem of terrorism. The violence in Gujarat was undoubtedly terrible, but without the Godhra atrocity, it would simply not have occurred. And it was necessary in this context to identify who was responsible for Godhra and hence for the entire cycle of violence.

Just days earlier, in a pretence of agonised introspection at the Shah Alam refugee camp in Ahmedabad, Vajpayee had lamented out loud that he did not have the "face" to go abroad after the insensate violence and brutality of Gujarat. In Panaji he showed that travel is the best form of education as also of overcoming any undue sense of mortification. He in fact opened his speech with references to the marvels of temple architecture in Cambodia, where he had been just a few days earlier. And implicitly he challenged other faiths to match the record of religious tolerance of ancient Hindu dynasties, which in Vajpayee's ersatz view of history, fought bitter conflicts but never destroyed places of worship.

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Vajpayee's locutions represented a categorical endorsement of the action-reaction theory that had been propounded by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in seeking to rationalise the violence in his State. It was, if anything, more cynical than anything that the disagreeable Chief Minister of Gujarat has said, since it purported to place the origins of the cycle of violence not as recently as the Godhra outrage, but in the medieaval desecration of temples.

Coming after the poetic anguish of his brief holiday in Nainital and the revelations of a scarred conscience at the Shah Alam camp, Vajpayee's Panaji speech suggested a man prone to unpredictable and uncontrolled mood swings. It also showed an alarming fickleness of political commitments that for the Bharatiya Janata Party's many partners in the ruling coalition known as the National Democratic Alliance, was akin to a breach of faith.

Just days before the BJP National Executive was to meet in Panaji, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, whose Telugu Desam Party is by far the BJP's single most important ally, explicitly asked for a gesture of accountability for the violence in Gujarat. Joining the consensus within the Opposition, Chandrababu Naidu indicated that Modi had effectively lost the moral right to continue and should be replaced.

There was some scepticism initially about the timing of Chandrababu Naidu's move. Close to 40 days had elapsed since the violence in Gujarat began. And if Modi's resignation seemed warranted at the time that Chandrababu Naidu pressed for it, it would have been so on any one of those preceding days of mayhem.

As spokesmen for the party were anxious to explain, the TDP's concern was to live up to its role as a responsible partner of the ruling coalition at the Centre. It was willing to give the BJP a great deal of leeway in finding methods of stopping the violence in Gujarat. Beyond a point, though, it would insist on the appropriate norms of political accountability. K. Yerran Naidu, the leader of the TDP in the Lok Sabha, had been part of a parliamentary delegation that visited Gujarat for an assessment of the situation. And it was partly on the basis of his advice that Chandrababu Naidu spoke to Vajpayee shortly after he returned from his educative tour abroad. Shortly afterwards, the TDP formally adopted a resolution calling for Modi's resignation.

Although certain elements were clearly bristling at this demand, the initial response from the BJP remained non-committal. But once the National Executive session began in Panaji on April 12, the mood rapidly turned bellicose. Modi went through the charade of offering his resignation to the party's highest decision-making body, only to be applauded for the manner in which he had handled the Gujarat situation. Far from being asked to resign, he was advised to dissolve the State Assembly and call early elections.

The NDA partners had been kept in relatively quiescent mood by Vajpayee's oft-repeated expressions of distress over the previous month. But the brusque dismissal of the demand for Modi's resignation, coupled with the emphatic manner in which Vajpayee himself had shed all contribution, left most of them incensed. The Politburo of the TDP, meeting the next day in Hyderabad, deplored the BJP's refusal to replace Modi as Chief Minister and just stopped short of condemning the stratagem that had been devised, to dissolve the Assembly and call early elections in the troubled State. This was, it said, nothing but "a covert attempt to clothe narrow and partisan ends with the legitimacy of the democratic process".

As the BJP concluded its National Executive meeting in Panaji on April 14, it was keeping up a public appearance of equanimity. Prime Minister Vajpayee maintained that he would be willing to put to test his strength in Parliament. He also advised Chandrababu Naidu to make a personal visit to Gujarat for an assessment of the situation there before pressing his insistence on a chief ministerial change.

BJP president Jana Krishnamurthy, meanwhile, asserted that it was part of the rules of engagement of the NDA that no constituent party would intervene in the internal affairs of another. He did not cut much ice with the claim that the violence in Gujarat is an internal affair of the BJP, when it has earned India international infamy and attracted the adverse attentions of the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom and the disparagement of the military dictator in the western neighbourhood.

Besides the TDP, Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress, Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janashakti Party, and sections of the Janata Dal (United) and the Samata Party were beginning to be concerned about the mood of truculence within the BJP. The Samata Party went through the deep embarrassment of repudiating its spokesman's demand for the removal of Modi within hours, leading to that official's resignation in deep umbrage. The BJP had, in that brief interval, turned its focus to the Samata Party's most vulnerable spot - George Fernandes' stewardship of the Defence Ministry with its procurement scandals and multiplying fissures within the higher command of the armed forces. That, it turned out, was sufficient to ensure a rapid capitulation.

With Om Prakash Chautala's Indian National Lok Dal also expressing itself in favour of Modi's ouster, the BJP was reduced to a desperate search for potential allies. Part of the damage from the withdrawal of any one or a combination of constituents, it was calculated, could be mitigated by winning over fresh adherents. Jayalalithaa's All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam was identified as a prospective new entrant into the NDA, though only at the cost of the departure of M. Karunanidhi's Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam. An early commitment of support was also received from the Bahujan Samaj Party, just when the NDA seemed to be lurching towards terminal crisis. But clearly the price to be paid, was a reciprocal arrangement in Uttar Pradesh, by which the BJP props up the BSP's Mayawati as Chief Minister.

Shortly before leaving Panaji, Vajpayee gave a broad hint that the arrangement had nearly been clinched. But if finally implemented, the mutual accommodation with the BSP would run the serious risk of deepening schisms within the BJP. Illustratively, the moment active negotiations with the BSP began, sections within the BJP which had been clamouring for precisely such an accommodation began to express their opposition. And in an ironical reversal, the faction associated with former U.P. Chief Minister Rajnath Singh, which had most loudly affirmed its intention to sit in Opposition, began to warm to the idea of again exercising authority within the State.

While party managers plunged into their complicated arithmetic, Vajpayee convened a meeting of the NDA coordination committee in Delhi, immediately on arrival from Panaji. With a wary eye cast on the parallel meeting of the TDP's Parliamentary Party in Hyderabad, the meeting held out one conciliatory gesture. The Gujarat unit of the BJP, it was informally intimated, would not press ahead with its intention of holding early elections. But on the question of a chief ministerial change, the NDA under duress deprecated the demand as an "interference in the democratic functioning of States" which could "completely distort the constitutional balance of federalism".

In Hyderabad, the TDP leadership received this news stoically, but insisted that it would not relent on its demand for Modi's dismissal. But then, in a tacit admission of the many contrary pulls and pressures that it has to work under, it insisted that the question of withdrawing support to the Vajpayee government had not even been discussed.

The TDP's dilemma is apparent. Like most other parties in the NDA, it is averse to the thought of elections at this stage. At the same time, its status as the BJP's numerically most significant ally gives it enormous influence in matters of financial allocation, personnel appointments and policy formation. While disturbed like most other parties are over the affront to political decency that is Gujarat, the TDP is not quite willing to travel that last mile in upholding its principles.

At the same time, an effort is evidently under way on the part of the TDP to distance itself from the BJP. Never comfortable to be within the alliance, the TDP had chosen to extend "external support" to the BJP, even though it had fought the last general elections in an explicit alliance with the party of Hindutva. The only element of reciprocity it demanded was to be granted the post of the Lok Sabha Speaker. The TDP's seeming disinterest in putting forward a nominee to fill this post since the death of G.M.C. Balayogi in a helicopter accident early-March, is a fairly transparent indication of its growing discomfort with the alliance.

THERE only remained the question of choosing the optimal strategy to pursue in the difficult circumstances that the TDP found itself in. The opportunity presented itself on April 15, when Parliament convened to complete the agenda of the Budget session after the customary break. The Opposition parties - with a historic though in the event ephemeral rapprochement having been effected between the Congress(I) and the Samajwadi Party - were united in their demand that no business would be transacted until Modi's resignation was secured. And as they stood up to press this insistence with the presiding officers in both Houses, they were joined by the leaders of the TDP.

Individual party viewpoints could not of course be differentiated in the bedlam that ensued in both Houses. The Opposition initially had evidently no use for a debate, since the case for Modi's summary ouster had been more than conclusively established. The TDP and the Trinamul Congress, it seemed, were inclined to enter into a parliamentary debate and give the BJP one more chance before taking a definitive stand on the issue of Modi's continuance.

These viewpoints too tended to converge soon when the Opposition itself adopted the demand for a substantive discussion in Parliament under Item 184 in the Rules of Procedure. This rule involves a vote after the debate is concluded and the possibility of the government being censured on the floor of Parliament, with all the attendant consequences. The BJP for its part was insistent that Gujarat had been discussed a sufficient number of times and that a further debate, if at all, could only be carried out under Rule 193, which does not involve a vote. The sudden reticence of the BJP on this score seemed curiously at odds with the confidence it had exuded at Goa, with Vajpayee expressing his optimism that the government would easily win a trial of strength in Parliament.

As the paralysis of Parliament persisted and worries started mounting about the necessary business that was being put on hold, Union Minister Pramod Mahajan sought to herd the recalcitrant allies into line. An adverse outcome of a debate under Rule 184 would entail the fall of the government, said Mahajan, and that was not in the interests of any of the parties involved in the NDA. This overture, again, was only partially successful. The TDP maintained its insistence on a debate and Modi's ouster, though it conceded that a parliamentary vote may not be necessary. A like stand was taken by the Trinamul Congress, which, however, thought an easier option was available in simply dismissing Modi and placing Gujarat under President's Rule.

WHATEVER the outcome of this particular impasse, it is obvious that mutual trust between the parties of the NDA has been a major casualty. The BJP itself is torn between competing demands. The impulse to recapture its old plank of Hindutva extremism, which it incorrectly identifies as the talisman which won it a succession of electoral bounties in the 1990s, is strong. At the same time, there is another section of the party which has, more accurately, identified the manifest incompetence of the government today as the single most important contributor to the setbacks the party has suffered. Having made a correct diagnosis, however, these elements are unable to prescribe an appropriate cure, since the famine of creative ideas within the party is acute.

Since the constructive course of reviewing the party's performance in authority and reassessing its policy priorities is ruled out, there is an overwhelming preference within to return to a programme of aggressive mobilisation around ritualistic symbols. Modi has, in this sense, emerged as the mascot of the BJP in the new circumstances, to the extent that Union Food Minister Shanta Kumar, a senior politician within the party and a former Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, was forced to issue an abject apology for remarks that to most reasonable observers seemed eminently well-placed. Shanta Kumar had said in an interview with a major national daily that if he had been in Modi's place, he would have resigned in a gesture of accountability for the mass killings that had occurred. He also tacitly criticised the plan to call early elections by saying that it was contrary to all notions of faith to count votes over dead bodies .

With some credibility, Shanta Kumar's remarks were initially read as serving a surrogate function for Vajpayee. This seemed an element in the deeply troubled Prime Minister's efforts to convince an unruly party flock that it had to uphold minimal norms of accountability if it was to retain political relevance. But Vajpayee's abrupt volte-face in Panaji altered this reading, rudely awakening the naive few who had believed in his innate political decency, to the realities of a recycled Hindutva agenda. In this new mood of intolerance, the BJP may be simply incapable of sustaining the broad and diverse alliances that it has struck over the last few years. And irrespective of how this crisis is resolved, the countdown to the demise of the Vajpayee government may clearly be under way.

Reclaiming Hindutva

The signal from the National Executive meeting of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Panaji is that the party plans to reclaim its militant Hindutva ideology in order to revive its declining political fortunes.

IN moments of grave danger to survival, try to motivate the cadre by drawing inspiration from how similar crises were overcome in the past. At Panaji, Goa, where the Bharatiya Janata Party's 175-member National Executive met from April 12 to 14, the party leadership resorted to this good old strategy, not only to explain the party's defeat in the recently held Assembly and Delhi Municipal Corporation elections, but also to face the mounting challenge from secular parties to the continuance of Narendra Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat, the only State where the party rules with its own majority. (The party runs governments in Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Goa either with limited support from other parties or without a mandate from the electorate.)

Apparently, the stability of the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre is no longer a matter of concern for the BJP. If an obsession with the government's stability led the BJP to dilute its ideology and subscribe to the ruling coalition's National Agenda of Governance (NAG) in 1999, the series of electoral and other political setbacks it suffered since then have made it rethink its plan. In other words, the BJP has started to re-examine the primacy accorded to NAG over its own core ideology.

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In fact, the National Executive was not expected to discuss the factors that caused the party's rout in the Assembly elections. A senior Union Minister said: "When we won, we never knew why and how we won. Similarly, when we lost, the factors that caused our rout could not be identified." However, recognition of this fact did not prevent the party leaders from identifying the probable reasons for the party's overall decline. Union Home Minister L.K. Advani candidly admitted in his remarks made at the meeting that both the government and the party had not been able to measure up to the high expectations of the people. He said: "Indeed, we have not been able to fully measure up to our own very high ideals that inspired us to found the Jan Sangh and later the BJP. This is the main factor responsible for the disillusionment of the people with the party. It is also the basis of the present state of demoralisation among tens of thousands of our karyakartas (workers)."

In fact, it is debatable whether the people who supported the BJP in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections did so because of their belief in the ideals that inspired the party. The 1999 vote was a vote for the NDA as it had been formed before the elections. Those who voted for the NDA might have done so because the BJP had deliberately kept a distance from certain contentious issues that form its ideals, in preference to the NAG.

Advani, in his speech, sought to distort this underlying message of the 1999 elections by suggesting that in the last four years when it was in office at the Centre the party betrayed a tendency to be rather apologetic about its ideological moorings. Advani referred to the party's guiding outlook on "enlightened cultural nationalism", "positive secularism", and social justice and harmony, and deplored the party's "apologetic" stance on all these issues which, he said, had contributed to the people's disenchantment with it.

He cited his own example during the depositions before the Liberhan Commission of Inquiry which looks into the Babri Masjid demolition. Advani said that he defended his belief in the Hindutva ideology before the Commission, though as a Minister in the Vajpayee government he was bound by the NAG. Assuming that Advani took the correct approach, was he hinting that Vajpayee's frequent attempts to pamper the Hindutva and secular parties alternately by his utterances were flawed? Although Advani did not refer to any specific issue, such an inference was inevitable. However, if Advani believed that his was an effective electoral strategy, he did not explain why it failed in the recent Assembly elections.

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Interestingly, Vajpayee's speech, made at the public meeting held to launch the party's campaign for the Goa Assembly elections at Campal Grounds, Panaji, on April 12, reflected what Advani would call an "unapologetic" stance on Hindutva. He not only suggested that the violence against Muslims in Gujarat had been triggered by the Godhra incident, but also did not express any remorse for the failure to prevent the post-Godhra anti-minority pogrom.

Referring to Muslims in Indonesia and Malaysia, Vajpayee said: "Wherever Muslims live, they don't want to live in peace with others." His remark was preceded by an analysis of how Islam had come to acquire two forms, liberal and militant. However, he did not make similar distinctions with regard to Hinduism. Vajpayee also referred to the arrival of Christians and Muslims in India and said how "we" allowed them to worship according to "their" customs despite the threat of conversions. He claimed that small incidents (apparently referring to the violence in Gujarat) got magnified, though the nation had its roots in tolerance. He made an oblique reference to the demolition of Hindu temples by Muslim invaders during the Middle Ages. There were warring Hindu kingdoms in Cambodia with their Kings belonging to different Hindu faiths, but none destroyed each other's temples, he said.

Incidentally, Vajpayee's speech came a week after he had expressed shame and agony over the incidents in Gujarat. Therefore it evoked considerable misgivings about his motives and was recieved with outrage across the country. In Goa, eminent citizens belonging to some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) expressed their anguish that Vajpayee had chosen to make these remarks in Goa, known for the peaceful coexistence of Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

FACED with a nationwide uproar over his controversial remarks and a possible embarrassment abroad with many nations discreetly expressing their apprehensions, Vajpayee soon reverted to the "apologetic" mode. He blamed the media for distorting his remarks and the context in which they were made. Vajpayee claimed that he was referring to jehadi or militant Muslims and not to all Muslims. Even if his clarification is accepted, it does not neutralise the tone and tenor of his speech. More important, his controversial remarks failed to bring forth any applause from the huge crowd that had gathered to listen to him. While some of them were seen leaving the venue, others showed signs of disinterest.

If only Vajpayee had recalled what he said in the wake of the anti-Sikh riots that followed Indira Gandhi's assassination in 1984, he would have understood how wrong he was in explaining away the post-Godhra violence in Gujarat as an inevitable consequence of the burning of a few coaches of the Sabarmati Express which resulted in the death of many Hindu passengers. He had said, while addressing the BJP's National Executive meeting in New Delhi on November 14, 1984, that he was convinced that much of the violence that followed Indira Gandhi's assassination had been engineered. He said: "If the law and order machinery had not remained paralysed and supine as it was, and if at some level in the ruling party this feeling had not been there that the community to which the killers belonged should be taught a lesson, these recent disturbances would not have assumed the dimensions they did."

Why did Vajpayee choose to make the provocative speech? The answers could be found in the events that surrounded the meeting. The National Executive meeting was held amidst a nationwide uproar over Narendra Modi's handling of the violence in Gujarat. Even the BJP's allies had asked for the removal of Modi. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party leader N. Chandrababu Naidu had endorsed the April 11 resolution of his party's Politburo which urged the BJP to effect immediately a change of leadership in Gujarat. In the Samata Party, party spokesperson Shambu Srivastava had quit his post following the party's reluctance to endorse his stand seeking the removal of Modi. BJP leader from Himachal Pradesh and Union Minister for Consumer Affairs Shanta Kumar also had backed the oust-Modi demand, though his stand was attributed to his dislike for Modi who had been the party's general secretary in charge of Himachal Pradesh.

Those who had taken Vajpayee's advice to Modi - during his visit to the relief camps in Ahmedabad - to follow rajdharma as a veiled directive to treat both Muslim and Hindu victims of violence equally in the matter of distributing relief, felt that Vajpayee could indeed decide to sacrifice Modi in order to safeguard his own position. However, that Modi was bold enough to rebuff Vajpayee in his presence saying that he was indeed following rajdharma did not go unnoticed by observers.

It was also felt that if Chandrababu Naidu demanded the removal of Modi nearly a month after the violence had begun, it could not be without Vajpayee's discreet blessings. It was believed that Vajpayee could use the oust-Modi demand of the TDP, the Trinamul Congress, a section of the Samata Party and the Janata Dal (United) to persuade the strong pro-Modi lobby within the Sangh Parivar to see reason and agree to his removal. Apparently, the logic was that Naidu and others had demanded only a change of leadership and not the imposition of President's Rule, and hence it was unlikely to hurt the BJP. The Gujarat government would continue to be a BJP-led one, but with a new leader, and this would have pleased the allies who clearly felt embarrassed to be in the BJP's company in the wake of mounting criticism about Modi's handling of the violence. Risking withdrawal of support by the TDP on the issue would have left the BJP dependent on the support of unpredictable entities such as the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

Unlike BJP president Jana Krishnamurthy, who had publicly opposed the oust-Modi demand before the Goa meeting began, Vajpayee is a man of circumspection. He said the meeting would discuss the issue and that he would listen to what his colleagues had to say. Vajpayee's stand indicated that he had an open mind on the issue and that he was not averse to replacing Modi. The visit of Union Law Minister Arun Jaitley to Ahmedabad on April 11 to meet Modi conveyed the impression that Jaitley was acting on behalf of the Prime Minister in order to persuade Modi to agree to a change of leadership.

When Krishnamurthy, in his presidential address in Goa, condemned the hue and cry raised by those who demanded the head of Modi, some people interpreted it as a conciliatory gesture towards Modi who was on his way out. It was believed that Vajpayee would himself offer to resign if Modi refused to step down, and that this would put pressure on the latter. In the past, Vajpayee's apparent readiness to quit had brought a semblance of discipline in the party and silenced his critics. However, it appears that all these techniques were of no use in the face of the vigorous defence of Modi at the National Executive meeting. For a moment, the Prime Minister appeared to have been isolated, and he soon fell in line with the dominant mood in the party. Understandably, he did not risk expressing his personal views, if he had any.

Was the move by Modi to offer his resignation soon after Krishnamurthy's address on April 12 a pre-planned one? It was certainly not an impulsive decision. Modi offered to resign on the plea that his continuance as Chief Minister would come in the way of party members having a free and frank discussion about his handling of the riots. But he did not have any such guilt feelings when Parliament debated the riots; he did not have any compunction when he set up a Commission of Inquiry to go into the violence.

The National Executive held an unscheduled meeting on the evening of April 12 to discuss Modi's offer. In fact, Vajpayee and Krishnamurthy gave enough indications of what they felt about the demand for Modi's removal at the public meeting that preceded the crucial meeting. Vajpayee by attributing the anti-Muslim carnage to the Godhra tragedy made it clear that he shared Modi's analysis of the events. Unsurprisingly, the meeting rejected Modi's offer and asked him to recommend dissolution of the State Assembly and opt for fresh polls. The resolution on Godhra and its aftermath, passed unanimously by the Executive, claimed that the violence had been brought under control and that the situation in Gujarat was returning to normal. It also praised the State administration. Hence Modi's offer to resign was aimed to pre-empt any critical discussion on his role and to help him maintain a pretence of innocence before the National Executive discussed the issue.

The TDP rejected the Goa resolution, declaring its opposition to the use of the "noble process of polls for achieving blatantly narrow and communal ends". The TDP accused the BJP of trying to make political capital out of a human tragedy and slammed its poll gambit as a covert attempt to clothe its narrow and partisan ends. Although Vajpayee appealed to Chandrababu Naidu to reconsider his stand, his colleagues showed no inclination to soothe the latter. Advani stated that the BJP's allies had no right to decide who should be the Chief Minister of a BJP-ruled State. He even claimed that the decision to let Modi continue was the right one under the circumstances. Advani implicitly rejected the allies' view that the events in Gujarat had their repercussions beyond the internal politics of the NDA and that it was not fair to silence the allies on the issue.

Information Technology Minister Pramod Mahajan was confident that the TDP would not withdraw support to the government on the issue even if the BJP stuck to its decision not to remove Modi. "Look at the results of the last elections in Andhra Pradesh. Could the TDP have reaped such a remarkable victory in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections without the BJP's support?" he asked. Apparently, the BJP failed to realise that the TDP's concerns went beyond electoral considerations.

In fact, the BJP's reaction to the TDP's concerns was marked by blatant disregard for an ally's right to express dissent. "Why did Naidu make his demand public? He could have discussed the issue with the Prime Minister in private," said Jana Krishnamurthy. A misplaced confidence that it could replace the TDP's numerical strength in the Lok Sabha with the support of other probable allies, especially the AIADMK and the BSP, marked the Prime Minister's expression of confidence that if necessary he would prove his strength in the Lok Sabha.

Some leaders at the National Executive meet even sought to attribute motives to Chandrababu Naidu. "He wants the post of Vice-President for Andhra Pradesh Governor C. Rangarajan and this is just a posturing to get his demand met," said a member. Others felt he probably misread Vajpayee's view of Modi and wanted to take credit for Modi's ouster by publicly making that demand prior to the Goa meeting.

Behind the debate on the TDP's open disagreement with the BJP on the Modi issue is the perception within the BJP that Modi had brought a ray of hope to the beleaguered party in Gujarat by his handling of the violence. Krishnamurthy said that the advice to Modi to dissolve the Assembly and go in for fresh polls was a response to the Opposition's demand. In fact, neither the Opposition nor any of the BJP's allies had made such a demand. They were critical of Modi's handling of the post-Godhra Violence and sought his removal as a measure to ensure political accountability.

If the BJP did not have an effective replacement for Modi, the viable solution would be the imposition of President's Rule. Several BJP leaders reasoned that if Modi was removed, there would be more violence against minorities. It was pointed out that leaders such as Union Tourism Minister Kashiram Rana or former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, who could have replaced Modi, would be hardly able to control the situation. It may well be true that the Opposition and the TDP might have been wrong in stopping with the demand for the ouster of Modi. They should have also demanded the replacement of Governor Sundersingh Bhandari, a former RSS pracharak, followed by the imposition of President's Rule.

However, some independent observers feel that the BJP misread its electoral prospects in Modi's handling of the violence. They point out that the violence has proved that there was a silent majority in the State that needs to be mobilised by the Congress(I), the main Opposition party; that the riots were mainly confined to north and Central Gujarat, dominated by the BJP's main constituency, the land-owning caste of Patels; that the main Other Backward Class in the State, Kshatriyas, did not join the riots but helped the minorities wherever they could; and that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) bribed a section of the OBCs and Dalits to instigate riots against Muslims.

Thus, if the BJP saw an opportunity to benefit electorally from the current situation in the State, it was not perhaps owing to a possible mobilisation or consolidation of people on communal lines. It was based on the assumption that Muslims would be afraid to vote, and that given the widespread absence of fear of the police and a demoralised Opposition, it would be easy to capture booths and secure a favourable outcome. Such an assumption, which lies behind the BJP's Goa resolution, has ominous portents for electoral democracy. The Election Commission has the onerous responsibility to hold elections in a free and fair atmosphere, and if this is not possible, it can refuse to hold elections. Only a strong Election Commission, it appears, can defeat the BJP's evil designs.

Poverty of strategy

The Congress(I) Chief Ministers' conference in Guwahati fails to come up with a political strategy to rejuvenate the party in crucial States such as Uttar Pradesh in order to play the role of a secular alternative to the BJP, which it has assigned to itself.

AMIDST hype and hoopla and boasts that it is the only alternative to the Bharatiya Janata Party at the national level, the Congress(I), at the two-day conference of its Chief Ministers held in Guwahati on April 12 and 13, glossed over the fact that it lacks grass-roots support in many large States, which account for almost half the members of the Lok Sabha.

The conclave was expected not only to take stock of the performance of Congress Chief Ministers, but also to define a growth track for the party in States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, where it has hardly any mass base. But the party leadership conveyed the impression that it believes that if one ignores a problem for a long enough period, it will go away on its own.

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To the dismay of those who had been looking up to the Congress to provide an alternative to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Guwahati conclave turned out to be merely an exercise in self-adulation. The event was virtually a jamboree, where the traditional Congress culture of prostrating oneself before the high command was in full display. Then there were barbs aimed at Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and the customary innuendo directed at the Sangh Parivar, without, however, any discussion of a logical strategy to counter the communal forces.

The party has evidently chosen to bury its head in sand, instead of addressing the problems that it is facing and taking remedial measures. It is also trying to wish away organisational problems in States where it has lost ground. This attitude was much in evidence at the press conference which Congress president Sonia Gandhi addressed soon after the meet. When she was asked pointedly how the Congress hoped to emerge as the only alternative to the BJP at the national level when it had almost no base in some very large States, she merely said that she was aware of the problem and hoped that the people would give the party a chance after having witnessed the deplorable performance of the NDA government. She gave no hint of any strategy that the party might have to pull itself out of the plight in which it finds itself in States like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

When asked whether the party was in favour of forming a coalition government in case it fell short of the majority mark on its own after the next Lok Sabha elections, she first said it was a hypothetical question which did not merit an answer. Then she said, as an afterthought, that coalition governments had proved to be inefficient. This was enough indication for the non-BJP parties that if it came to the crunch, it could still be a repeat of 1999, when Sonia Gandhi rejected the idea of forming a coalition government and Mulayam Singh Yadav, in turn, refused to support a Congress-led government under Sonia Gandhi.

IT was expected that at the Guwahati conclave, which took place at a time when the NDA government appeared to be doddering, some of the problems that facilitated the formation of the BJP-led government in 1999 would be addressed. But the Congress president's view was that people would support the Congress as they were fed up with the NDA government's non-governance. Moreover, she claimed that the Congress was the only party that could provide a secular government and good governance.

However, the ground realities suggest otherwise. Despite the fact that the Congress rules in 14 States, it is nowhere in the race in a large part of the Hindi heartland, mainly in U.P. and Bihar. In Tamil Nadu and West Bengal it has been relegated to the sidelines. In U.P. and Bihar, caste and communal politics has polarised the polity to such an extent that the Congress has been rendered irrelevant. Parties that play on the caste factor, such as the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), occupy the anti-BJP political space. Therefore, any attempt at government formation in case the party falls short of a majority will require the support of these two parties. In Bihar, RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav is with the Congress; but it is unlikely that S.P. chief Mulayam Singh Yadav will support any Congress-led government at the Centre. In U.P., despite tall claims by Congress leaders, the party remains a fringe force. Nothing illustrates the party's predicament better than the fact that it lost its pocket borough, Amethi, to the BJP's Amita Singh in the recent Assembly elections. Amethi is part of Sonia Gandhi's parliamentary constituency. Yet there is no effort by the party to try and form alliances that could bring it back into the reckoning. In Bihar the party survives at the mercy of Laloo Prasad Yadav and seems unwilling to come out of his shadow.

In Tamil Nadu, the party is caught between the two Dravidian parties and lacks a strategy to rebuild itself. In West Bengal, the Left parties and to an extent the Trinamul Congress continue to call the shots. The Congress is still undecided on how to rebuild itself in the State.

In this situation, the brave words from Guwahati sound hollow. But the conclave had its positive points. In her inaugural address to the Chief Ministers, sidestepping the main issue of performance, Sonia Gandhi said: "My directive to you - I normally do not believe in giving directives, but I am making an exception this time - is that there should be no compromise under any circumstances in the Congress-ruled States with those practising the politics of hate." Without mincing words, she said: "Individuals and organisations practising the politics of hate and threatening the very existence of the country's secular fabric must be dealt with without fear or favour, according to law." This statement makes it clear that the Congress wants to position itself as a secular alternative to the BJP, which is seen to have compromised with the communal elements in Gujarat. Describing the situation in Gujarat as representing the "darkest period" in independent India, she said the nation was now looking up to the Congress and the party must "recognise the historic responsibility" that had devolved on it. However, it remains to be seen whether such statements of good intent will be followed by action on the ground.

The Congress has also indicated that there would be no compromise on the issue of governance. If there was any one point that was emphasised the most after secularism, it was that the Chief Ministers must deliver on their promises and prove that the Congress was the only party that could provide good governance. Warning the Chief Ministers against "resting on their laurels", Sonia Gandhi said that the agenda for good governance included proper utilisation of central funds for welfare measures, special attention to the tribal people, women and the weaker sections, emphasis on micro-credit financing, rural employment, housing, drinking water and sanitation, ensuring the welfare of the unorganised sector and the payment of minimum wages, and continuous monitoring and critical appraisal of their own performance. She advised the Chief Ministers to ensure that bureaucrats did not come between the people and the political leadership and that the commitments made to the people were fulfilled. "This is the only way to counter the anti-incumbency factor," she said. Concluding her address, she said: "The Congress governments must stand out as an ever-expanding silver lining in the dark clouds created by the BJP."

YET another message from the conclave seemed to be that the truce between Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Vajpayee was over. The days of bonhomie, when she was the first person to call up the Prime Minister after the terrorist attack on Parliament on December 16, a gesture that brought tears to the eyes of Vajpayee when he recounted it in Parliament, were over. Now it was time for war. At one point she even said that the Prime Minister was "losing his mental balance", a statement that she later regretted. She said that what she meant was that he was losing his cool more often, as was evident from his varying statements regarding Hindutva, Islamic fundamentalism and the communal carnage in Gujarat. Her comment was in response to the statement made by the Prime Minister in Goa during the BJP's National Executive meeting that a government in Delhi was like "sour grapes" for the Congress and that it was not trying to topple his government only because it was in no position to form one. Sonia Gandhi said that the Congress was not interested in toppling games; the NDA government would crumble under the weight of its own contradictions. Throwing the challenge back at Vajpayee, she declared that the Congress was ready to face elections any time.

The Guwahati conclave, basically a stock-taking of the performance of the Congress governments in 14 States, defined the role the party has enjoined upon itself. But the exercise fell short of defining its political strategy. The party realises that a "historic responsibility" has come its way, but it does not know how to fulfil this responsibility. It hopes that the anti-incumbency factor will shove the NDA government out and usher in Congress rule. And it is not clear about its relationship with other non-BJP parties in case it falls short of a majority on its own.

A treaty questioned

THE chorus calling for a review of the Indus Waters Treaty is growing to operatic proportions. On April 3, the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly called for a review of the September 1960 India-Pakistan agreement, demanding that the State be compensated for losses it had suffered as a result. Speakers who denounced the Treaty ranged from the National Conference's G.M. Bawan to the Bharatiya Janata Party's Shiv Charan Gupta and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami.

Indeed, discontent over the Treaty has been building up throughout the State. The State government claims that clauses in the treaty cost it some Rs.6,000 crores each year. The treaty limits Jammu and Kashmir's right to use the waters of the Jhelum and the Chenab, in particular its ability to build storage reservoirs on the two river systems. This, the State argues, has meant that it has had to sacrifice an estimated potential power generation of 15,000 MW. Jammu and Kashmir believes that it should have received compensatory access to power and water generated on the Ravi, Sutlej and Beas systems.

Seven years of negotiations went into the making of the 1960 Treaty. When it was signed, newspapers in both India and Pakistan hailed the Treaty as a major achievement. Many hoped that it would redress Pakistan's fears about Indian control of the water that fed its key agricultural areas in west Punjab. In essence, the agreement gave Pakistan principal rights to the Chenab and Jhelum systems, while giving India similar rights to eastern rivers. The Treaty restricted India's rights to use the western rivers for domestic non-consumptive purposes, agriculture, and power generation, and placed curbs on the construction of storage reservoirs.

In effect, the Treaty gave Pakistan the power to veto Indian projects on the river systems it was allotted. In the case of the massive Salal Project, for example, Pakistan successfully objected to plans to build anti-siltation sluices. As a result, siltation levels in the 113-metre-high dam have reached upwards of 90 m, curtailing generation capacity. Alternately, in the case of the Lower Jhelum Hydel Project, because of the absence of a storage reservoir it is able to generate just 35 MW although its installed capacity is 400 MW. The August 1998 Report of the Committee on Economic Reforms in Jammu and Kashmir noted that "on the recently commissioned Uri and Salal Hydro Electric Projects, the energy loss is to the order of 44 per cent and 50 per cent respectively."

APART from the matter of power, farmers in Jammu and Kashmir have been pushing politicians to take an aggressive stand on the Treaty. While the Kashmir Valley has traditionally been considered to be water-surplus, successive droughts in recent years have pointed to severe strains on the irrigation system. Farms have spread to the edges of the Kandi area, creating demands that traditional canals simply cannot meet in years of poor rainfall. To the south, the situation is similar. In 1960 much of Jammu was barren, but water-intensive paddy cultivation has now spread as far south as Samba. Farmers of new lands from Reasi to Sunderbani have also been asking for water from the Salal dam.

Part of the problem is the poor marshalling of resources that do exist. The Ranbir Canal, built in 1870, was intended to feed the areas of Miran Sahib, Vijaypur and Madhopur. Poor maintenance has ensured that it can now carry just 300 cubic feet per second of water, rather than the 1,000 cusecs it was designed for. The Pratap Canal, meant to meet the needs of the Akhnoor-Sunderbani belt, has also silted up. And the Ravi Uplift Canal, meant to service southern Jammu, has gone dry - for the twin reasons that Punjab is unwilling to provide any water and there is no electricity to pump it up.

All of this precipitated a minor crisis in the wake of the post-January Army build-up. Indian defensive positions are protected by a series of ditches against a tank assault. When troops sought to fill them up, farmers dependent on the Ranbir and Pratap canals raised a furore. But officials in Jammu and Kashmir say that these systems in themselves would not address the problem. "The fact is that our needs have grown," says a senior State government official. "The population has exploded as has the area under cultivation. Both our large urban centres face water famines each summer, which is an intolerable situation. And when industry revives in the State, the demands both for power and water will increase manifold."

Legal experts point out that any move by India to abrogate the treaty would fly in the face of international law (see "A treaty to keep", Frontline, April 26, 2002). This position, however, finds few receptive ears in the State. "I'm saying something very simple," says Tarigami. "We are suffering because of Pakistan's water needs. Fine, compensate us for what we have lost. And if you cannot do that, review the situation. After all, people make laws." Others in the defence establishment argue that the Treaty has failed to secure its principal raison d'etre from India's point of view. "The whole idea was to reassure Pakistan that our presence in Jammu and Kashmir would not threaten its vital national interests," argues a senior Army official.

No one believes that any dramatic movement on the issue is likely in the near future, notwithstanding the gathering pace of calls to abrogate the Treaty. But the stage seems set for another festering dispute with Pakistan. Water, not terrorism or the future of Kashmir, might just prove to be the reason for any future India-Pakistan war.

Twin massacres in Jammu

The massacres at Dudwar Nagni and Dhandali in Jammu have much to do with the communal polarisation in the region, fuelled by local conflicts that have turned ugly since the redeployment of Army personnel to the Line of Control.

GULSHAN smiles beatifically at visitors, but does not respond to greetings or requests that she tell her name. The five-year-old has not spoken since April 9, the night she watched a group of terrorists murder her mother, aunt and three cousins at their home in the village of Dudwar Nagni, near Gandoh in Doda district of Jammu. The child, injured in the firing along with her 10-year-old sister Fatima, lay among the bodies of the dead until the next morning, when neighbours gathered the courage to help. Now the sisters share a bed at the Jammu Medical College Hospital. In the next ward there are other children and their parents, Hindu victims of the April 7 massacre at the hamlet of Dhandali in Udhampur.

Both massacres came less than a week after Vishwa Hindu Parishad senior vice-president Giriraj Kishore claimed that terrorists were seeking to "terrorise the Hindus of Jammu". The tragic killings of April make it clear that both of the region's religious communities are victims of the Islamic Right's war in Jammu. Hours after the Dudwar Nagni killings, intelligence personnel listening in to a known Hizbul Mujahideen transmission frequency learned that the killings had been carried out "to show everyone what fate informers will meet". Gulshan's father, Ibrahim Gujjar, had been a long-time source of the local Central Intelligence Unit (CIU) of the Army. Late last year he was kidnapped from the house by a Hizbul Mujahideen unit, and was never heard of again.

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It is facile, however, to suggest that the killings were the outcome solely of Ibrahim Gujjar being a CIU asset. Local factors also played an important role. In 1999, five Special Police Officers (SPOs) working with the Jammu and Kashmir Police's Special Operations Group (SOG) in Kishtwar defected to the Hizbul Mujahideen. One of these SPOs-turned-terrorists was killed, while two surrendered later. Mohammad Akhtar, one of these surrendered terrorists, began working for the SOG and was assigned a personal security officer. Akhtar spent his nights at the home of his father-in-law Ahmeda Gujjar, who had a long-running land dispute with Noor Din Gujjar, Gulshan's grandfather. Her mother Beeran believed that Ibrahim Gujjar's death had been engineered because of the land dispute. That same land dispute, investigators believe, could have been a motive for the killings.

Akhtar, now in custody, denies having had anything to do with the massacre, but police officers are sceptical. Several 7.62 mm self-loading rifle empties were found at the site of the killing. The weapon is police standard issue, and four such rifles were stolen by Akhtar's group when it first defected to the Hizbul Mujahideen. Beeran's continuing contact with the SOG, which provoked rumours that she was having an affair with one of its operatives, could have provided the Hizbul Mujahideen reason to cooperate with Akhtar. The proposition is borne out by the fact that the killers went to some length to hide their identities. "The first thing they did," recalls Fatima, "was to put out the fire in the hearth. They asked for the men of the house, and when we told them that my grandfather, father and uncle were not there, they started firing."

LOCAL issues may also have had a role in sparking the massacre at Dhandali. The hamlet is one of four that form the village of Dhansal, which lies in a bowl below the Lapri Dhar heights dividing Arnas from Gool. The region, scene of a major terrorist concentration in recent months, is the last Hindu-majority one north of the Chenab river. Terrorist groups, backing Pakistan's efforts to secure a second partition of Jammu and Kashmir by dividing the State along its ethnic-communal lines, have long sought to drive out Hindus from the area. But this issue explains only in part just what happened in the hamlet.

According to residents of the hamlet, between 15 and 20 terrorists surrounded it around 8 p.m., shouting abuses, threats and anti-India slogans. Shortly afterwards, witnesses claim, Shobha Ram (50) was called out of his home by Sadiq Gujjar, a local resident who had accompanied Lashkar-e-Toiba groups in the area for some time. Investigators later learned that another Dhansal resident, Ghulam Ali, was with the group. Shobha Ram was then stabbed. Meanwhile, Village Defence Committee (VDC) members who were holed up in a home at one corner of the village began an exchange of fire with the Lashkar-e-Toiba men. The exchange continued for almost three hours, until the 11 VDC members ran out of the 100 rounds of ammunition that had been issued to each of them. Slowly, the group evacuated its position, covering the escape of villagers from adjoining homes.

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The Lashkar-e-Toiba cadre then began moving into the village, setting homes on fire and firing at those who tried to run. Among the first victims were Lal Daia (35) and her daughter Shrishto Devi (4). Her older daughter, Sushma Devi, was injured and later died in hospital. Ganapati Devi (40) was killed soon afterwards, along with her daughter Shindo (6). Purushottam Lal (14) and Shankar Das (55) were unable to escape. Nineteen homes were set on fire in the hamlet. Seven of these, interestingly, were of Muslims. The hamlet, investigators believe, may have been singled out because 35 residents, Hindus and Muslims, had signed up as SPOs to man a permanent defensive picket on the Lapri Dhar heights.

But the Dhansal area has also seen periodic communal friction, the result of fights between the mainly Hindu VDC members and their Muslim neighbours. The disputes are rarely expressly communal, and often centre on land and grazing rights. But the flow of arms into the villages, both to VDCs and through terrorist groups, has transformed the character of these struggles. The fact that Shobha Ram was first called out and then stabbed suggests that the Lashkar-e-Toiba unit, or its guides, had at least some personal dispute with the villager. While it is impossible to disarm vulnerable Hindu communities in the area, some means clearly needs to be found to ensure higher levels of discipline among VDC members, and to prevent their misuse to settle personal scores. If the Dhandali VDC had not been able to fight for three hours, it is possible that many more villagers might have been killed: but it is also possible that the outfit had at least some role in precipitating the tragic events of April 7.

ALTHOUGH such massacres are depressingly routine in Jammu, it is hard to miss the causal relationship between the Dhandali killings and larger developments in Jammu and Kashmir. The massive terrorist build-up around Mahore, Gool and Arnas, for example, is the direct consequence of troop withdrawals for forward deployment in January. The scale of the terrorist presence in the area is evident from the fact that Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah's helicopter was fired at with a medium machine gun from Lapri Dhar, three days after the killings. Villagers agreed to remain in the area only after the district administration ensured the rapid handing out of compensation and relief, and promised a full-time police picket. This will do little to address the larger issue of the growing terrorist presence in the area, for no one seems to have a clear idea how resources can be gathered for offensive operations along the Lapri Dhar mountains.

This is because most of the Army personnel are committed along the Line of Control. Until January, the 39 Mountain Division was responsible for counter-terrorist operations in the area. Now, however, the troops have been shifted to Reasi town, in reserve for a full-blown war. Border Security Force (BSF) personnel on Lapri, too, have been moved to secure road routes for war-time movements which seem unlikely to take place. The build-up has also ensured that additional troops, promised in the wake of a series of massacres last summer, have not been made available in Doda. The 5 Sikh Light Infantry, which pulled out of Gandoh last April, has not been replaced. The northern valley systems of Wadwan and Marwah are protected by just a single battalion. To the east of Mahore, the police district of Udhampur has just four BSF companies for counter-terrorist operations, with the Army restricting itself to the task of securing the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway.

While the presence of greater numbers of troops is not in itself a guarantee that no major massacres will take place, their absence has deepened local strains. Few observers have noted that much of the killing in rural Jammu has its origin in resource conflicts which have acquired an ethnic-communal character. Buffalo-owning Gujjar Muslim herdsmen, for example, frequently fight with the mainly Hindu shepherds over access to high-altitude meadows. Disputes between ethnic Kashmiri and Rajput Muslim farmers and Gujjars are also common. Such simmering conflict has been fuelled by the presence of terrorist groups. Another important factor is the struggle for power between new elites from these communities, born of wealth from government contracts or remittances from emigrant workers in West Asian countries, and the traditional Hindu trading class in Jammu.

In the coming months, the deepening of communal tensions seems certain. Traditionally Hindu-dominated areas in and around Jammu, such as Bani, Kathua, Bilawar and Nagrota, have seen an influx of Gujjar migrants in recent years. The migration has been fuelled both by the high prices of milk in urban and semi-urban areas and pressure on the community from terrorists. Hundreds of Gujjars have been killed by terrorists over the last decade, often the result of land feuds of the kind that led to the massacre at Gandoh. But the Gujjar influx, in turn, has fuelled communal insecurities in Jammu. Intelligence officials are also disturbed by the coming up of Gujjar hamlets in the area between the Line of Control and the Jammu-Pathankot highway, particularly along infiltration routes on the Basantar, Bein, and Ujh rivers. Terrorist movement in this area has accelerated sharply over the last two years, and is believed to have been enabled at least in part by the use of guides and harbourers recruited from amongst new migrants.

No easy answers exist to address this welter of problems. But if effective counter-terrorist resources are not deployed to limit violence in Jammu, the region's complex ethnic-communal mosaic will most certainly disintegrate - with tragic consequences.

Feeling vulnerable

The Democratic Front government in Maharashtra is faced with the prospect of instability, but bickerings within the Opposition ensure its survival.

IN its third year in power, the Democratic Front (D.F.) government in Maharashtra, headed by Vilasrao Deshmukh, is going through its most vulnerable period so far. In the 288-member Assembly, the D.F. holds 148 seats - a slim majority, which has been threatened severely during the past six months. The main Opposition, the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance, has a strength of 125, independents hold 12 seats, and two seats are held by the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

The government suffered a setback on March 19 when two MLAs of the CPI(M) withdrew their support, stating that the two major constituents of the ruling coalition, the Congress(I) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), ignored smaller parties and took anti-people decisions. There was no immediate threat to the government as the CPI(M) is supporting the D.F. from the outside. But the withdrawal of support meant that the D.F. could no longer rely on the compulsions of coalition politics when it came to voting. In October 2001, the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) withdrew its support to the D.F. after two of its MLAs defected to the NCP.

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A few days after the withdrawal of support by the CPI(M), the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP), with five seats, and the Janata Dal (Secular), with two seats, also threatened to withdraw their support. Neither carried out the threat, but what is notable in the situation that has emerged is the extent of power that a small party like the PWP has come to wield over the D.F. Recognising its strength, the PWP too has been playing a bargaining game.

The political elbowing started with the civic elections. The coastal district of Raigad has been a PWP stronghold. Its 19 members constituted the largest single group in the Zilla Parishad of 61 members. However, the Shiv Sena candidate was elected President of the Zilla Parishad. The PWP alleges that its defeat was engineered by the NCP's Sunil Tatkare, Minister of State for Urban Development at that time. According to the PWP, Tatkare encouraged NCP members of the Zilla Parishad to vote for the Shiv Sena nominee. In return, the NCP candidate was elected vice-president. The PWP termed this an act of "betrayal" and threatened withdrawal of its support unless Tatkare was dropped from the Council of Ministers. For the Chief Minister, it was a choice between two evils. On the one hand, rejecting the PWP's demand meant a loss of majority support and a possible bid by the Opposition to form the government. On the other, giving in to the PWP's demand meant facing the ire of the NCP.

As the PWP served a 24-hour ultimatum, the Chief Minister accepted its demand, especially in view of the withdrawal of support by the CPI(M) a few days earlier. The loss of support of the five PWP members would have reduced the D.F. government's strength to 143, which is two seats short of a simple majority.

However, the decision to remove Tatkare met with severe opposition from within the ranks of the NCP because he is seen as being responsible for enabling the NCP to consolidate its base in the Konkan region. Moreover, within the NCP there is a section that is opposed to Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal and it is expected that his role in Tatkare's dismissal will be used as an excuse to hit out at him. Bhujbal's detractors in the NCP said that Tatkare's political contributions to the party were not recognised. Bhujbal defended his acceptance of the resignation letter saying that he had to prevent the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance from returning to power.

Despite being a major constituent of the D.F., the NCP has chosen to support the Shiv Sena or the BJP in at least five civic body or zilla parishad elections. "It would seem that Mr. Sharad Pawar still follows his one-point programme of defeating his old partner (the Congress)," said a Congress leader, who pointed out that both Deshmukh and Bhujbal had agreed that the Congress and the NCP would cooperate with each other in those zilla parishads and civic bodies where neither had an advantage. This agreement was adhered to only in the Ulhasnagar civic elections.

The rift is being widened by the byelection to the Maharashtra Legislative Council, where the contest for the seat that was held by the late Arun Mehta is between the NCP and the Janata Dal(Secular). The NCP claims that the seat should go to its candidate, since Mehta had supported the party. In what is seen as a bid to isolate the NCP in State politics, the Shiv Sena-BJP combine is also expected to support the Janata Dal(Secular) candidate.

The Opposition is, of course, watching keenly the turmoil within the D.F. Two and a half years ago, when the D.F. government was sworn in, the Shiv Sena's Narayan Rane, who is now the Leader of the Opposition, promised his party president Bal Thackeray that he would topple the government. However, the Shiv Sena-BJP has had problems of its own. One is of course the not-so-easy task of engineering the defection of at least seven D.F. members. Also, in order to reach the halfway mark, the Opposition will have to lure independents with promises of ministerial positions and other favours. Political observers say that this is the only option for the Opposition since it is unlikely that the PWP will enter into an alliance with either the Shiv Sena or the BJP.

Both the Shiv Sena and the BJP too have in-house problems. The most recent manifestation of the cracks in the Shiv Sena was the manner in which an announcement was made of Union Power Minister Suresh Prabhu's resignation. After much confusion, both Prabhu and the Shiv Sena spokesperson denied any resignation. A former BJP office-bearer said: "It was just one more display of nerves by Bal Thackeray who likes to keep his Ministers on their toes, especially those who do not pay him obeisance regularly. Suresh Prabhu was seen as moving away from the Shiv Sena. He is not a rabble-rouser in Parliament, unlike other Shiv Sainiks. So he became suspect for a while." Political observers say that intra-party politics and the emergence of a new culture within the Shiv Sena were also responsible for the resignation episode. The other public showdown was between the two Shiv Sena scions - Raj, Thackeray's nephew, and Uddhav, Thackeray's son. The power struggle between the two was resolved with Uddhav being informally anointed as Thackeray's successor.

The State BJP is also going through a bad patch. Politicking on the basis of caste has caused rifts within the party. In March, senior leader and former Rural Development Minister Anna Dange resigned from the party, alleging that cliques within the party were splintering it. He said that mid-level functionaries had usurped the decision-making powers.

Dange is not the first person in the party to express discontent. The actions of two other leaders point to emerging divisions based on caste. Suryabhan Wahadne Patil, a senior leader and former BJP State president, along with former Union Minister Jaisingh Gaikwad, accused Union Minister Pramod Mahajan and BJP national vice-president Gopinath Munde of sidelining Marathas in the BJP. Recently, Wahadne had presided over a meeting of Maratha leaders in Shirdi. Groupism runs so deep in the BJP that Gaikwad even shared a platform with NCP chief Sharad Pawar, a Maratha.

At the root of the turmoil in the BJP are renominations. Wahadne wanted to be renominated to the Rajya Sabha. Dange wanted a fourth term in the Legislative Council. However, Wahadne lost out to Ved Prakash Goyal whom the BJP chose since it could nominate only one person. Dange lost to Nitin Gadkari, the all-powerful former Minister who holds the tumultous Vidharbha region for the BJP.

Thus, despite the D.F.'s vulnerability, the Opposition is unable even to make a bid to topple the government. Now, if any serious bid were to become successful, it should be supported by discontent in the ruling coalition.

A difficult transition

The court-mandated switch to compressed natural gas as fuel for buses in Delhi proceeds in fits and starts.

THE Central government and the Delhi State government came in for severe criticism from a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court on April 5 for not complying with its orders on the conversion of diesel-run buses in the capital to the compressed natural gas (CNG) mode. The Bench, comprising Chief Justice B.N. Kirpal and Justices Arijit Pasayat and K.G. Balakrishnan, ruled that its orders could not be nullified or altered by administrative decisions of the Central and State governments.

The decision to continue running diesel buses was in clear violation of the court's orders, it said, and, for the first time, imposed a fine on bus operators whose non-compliant vehicles remained on the road even after the January 31 deadline set by the court. It directed the Director of Transport, Delhi, to collect Rs.500 a bus a day for 30 days and Rs.1,000 a bus a day thereafter. Operators who had placed orders with manufacturers of CNG buses but had not taken delivery were given two weeks to do so or face cancellation of their permits.

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The court also directed the Delhi government to phase out diesel buses at the rate of 800 a month, beginning from May 1 while turning down its plea to restrict the rate of phasing out to 200 buses a month, given the shortage of CNG. The request, the bench observed, was based on an imaginary situation of shortage.

Significantly, the court directed the Union government to ensure that after meeting the transport and fuel needs of Delhi there was enough CNG to be made available to nine other cities where air pollution levels were high. The cities are Agra, Lucknow, Jharia, Kanpur, Faridabad, Varanasi, Patna, Jodhpur and Pune. The Bench also ordered the Centre to give priority to the transport sector, including private vehicles, in Delhi and other high air-polluted cities, and eventually in the entire country, in the allocation of CNG. Only after that it could be allocated to industries, but even here priority would be given to the public sector undertakings and power projects.

The Bench was critical of the repeated pleas for extension of the deadline for conversion of buses in Delhi. "The Central government's intention was to clearly frustrate the orders passed by this court," it observed. "The manner in which it has sought to achieve this object is to try and discredit CNG as the proper fuel, and secondly, to represent to this court that CNG is in short supply and thirdly, delay the setting up of adequate dispensing stations."

The National Capital Territory of Delhi and the Union government had, under one pretext or the other, sought for more than one year extension of time to convert commercial vehicles to CNG mode, the Bench observed. While the "anxiety of the Delhi government, to give it the benefit of doubt, was to see that bus services in the city were not disrupted... the response of the Union of India in this regard is baffling, to say the least," it said.

THE comprehensive order, which covers almost all aspects of CNG and its supply, made clear that there was no shortage of the fuel and criticised the preference given by the Union government to meet the CNG requirements of industry disregarding environmental considerations. The Bench did not attach much importance to the Mashelkar Committee report. "It was naive of the Mashelkar Committee to expect that merely laying down fresh emission norms would be effective or sufficient to check or control vehicular emission," it noted. The Committee, it said, overlooked the fact that such norms had been in place for a long time and were regularly violated.

To explain the untenability of the Mashelkar report, the Bench evoked the "precautionary principle" of sustainable development elucidated in Vellore Citizens' Welfare Forum vs the Union of India. It held that unless an activity was proved to be environmentally benign in real and practical terms, it is to be presumed to be environmentally harmful. Emission and fuel norms had existed for over two decades and the state of the environment continued to be dismal. The government's role therefore could not be limited to specifying norms as this would amount to a clear abdication of its constitutional and statutory duty to protect and preserve the environment and therefore was in the "teeth of the precautionary principle".

On the supply aspect of CNG, the Bench observed that the Centre's plea was incorrect as the indigenous production was far in excess of what was supplied for the transport sector. An overwhelming quantity of CNG was going to industry and power projects and a very small fraction went to transport. Even if there was a shortage, the Bench observed, if crude oil could be imported and supplied to refineries for manufacture of petrol and diesel, there was no reason why CNG could not be imported. Indicating the bias towards industry, it pointed out that while industry bought natural gas at Rs.3.55 a kg, a commercial vehicle owner in Delhi had to pay Rs.13.11 for the same amount.

The Bench ordered Indraprastha Gas Limited to make available 16.1 lakh kg of CNG a day by June 30 to the transport sector and increase its supply as and when needed. It also directed IGL to prepare a scheme, with a time schedule, for supply of CNG to other polluted cities and provide the same to the court by May 9. The court gave the Central government the option to supply, in addition to CNG, liquefied petroleum gas or any other clean, non-adulterable fuel as recommended by the Bhure Lal Committee, as an alternative fuel.

Bus operators and their associations were up in arms at the court order. They had been penalised and also faced the prospect of their buses being phased out. They went on a two-day strike, during which all buses, barring a skeletal fleet run by the Delhi Transport Corporation, remained off the roads. The Delhi government directed the closure of all schools for two days but could do little to ease the plight of office-goers and commuters. Madan Lal Khurana and Sahib Singh Verma, members of Parliament from the Bharatiya Janata Party, declared their intentions to push for an ordinance on the use of multi-fuels. But the move failed, disappointing the bus operators.

The issue of conversion of transport buses to run on CNG has been hanging fire since 1986. Repeated extensions were sought and new deadlines set. At one stage, the very viability of CNG was questioned and ultra low sulphur diesel was discussed as an option. The Delhi government and the Central government kept blaming each other for the lack of progress in the matter. The former was held responsible for the tardy phasing out of diesel buses, while the latter was blamed for not ensuring a steady supply of CNG. The filling stations had long queues, and it took several hours for a refill.

Meanwhile, random accidents involving vehicles retrofitted with CNG kits were reported and all this was seen as a ploy by the rumoured "diesel lobby" to discredit CNG.

On September 23, 1986, the court first directed the Delhi government to file an affidavit detailing the steps taken in the city to control pollution, including vehicular emissions and noise. Several measures were taken subsequently, including the use of very low sulphur diesel and lead-free petrol, the fitting of catalytic converters, phasing out of grossly polluting old vehicles, the lowering of benzene content in petrol and the stipulation that new vehicles - petrol and diesel - meet the Euro-II standards by September 2000.

In the course of the proceedings, the Bhure Lal Committee was set up under the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986. It recommended the phasing out of non-CNG buses and the conversion of diesel buses to the CNG mode. The Committee's report was accepted and on July 28, 1998, the court fixed the deadline for the switch-over to CNG.

The need for an alternative fuel to diesel had been articulated in at least three apex court orders - on October 21, 1994; March 28, 1995; and February 9, 1996. In its April 5, 2002 order the Supreme Court pointed out that much before the receipt of the Bhure Lal committee report, it had, in previous orders, referred to the conversion of government vehicles to CNG, the installation of CNG stations and provision of kits. In fact, in the 1994 order, the court had suggested that in highly polluted cities like Delhi and in other metros as well, government vehicles and vehicles of public sector undertakings, including public transport vehicles, could be equipped with CNG cylinders.

The Bench refuted the argument of the Central government that no other city in the world had introduced CNG buses on a scale as directed by it. The Bench agreed that while most industrialised cities in the world did not have large numbers of CNG-run buses, the share of natural gas-run buses was steadily growing worldwide.

At the moment, there are 3,727 CNG-run buses in Delhi and with the phasing out of an additional number of 6,338 diesel-run buses, the total of CNG-run buses on the roads would be 10,065. Bus manufacturers have contended that 1,500 chassis, which had been ordered, were ready but had not been taken delivery of. The manufacturers, mainly Ashok Leyland and Telco, stated that they were in a position to provide 800 buses a month and that if operators chose to buy new buses, then the entire fleet of diesel-run buses could be phased out within eight months.

Shyam Nath Gola, president of the Delhi Bus Ekta Manch and one of the main representatives of the bus operators, told Frontline that till date the supply of CNG was inadequate and vehicles had to wait for more than 24 hours. Of a total of 94 filling stations, there were only 18 "mother" filling stations, the rest were "daughter" stations that basically picked up CNG from the former. Gola said that not all the daughter stations were functioning and that the number of mother stations was grossly inadequate compared with some 462 diesel filling stations. Several areas, especially in East Delhi and West Delhi where the majority of commuters came from, did not have a single mother station. Amarjeet Singh Sehgal, president of the Delhi Contract Bus Association, echoed this view. He cautioned that buses might go off the roads again if, even after the conversion to the CNG mode, gas was not available owing to the limited infrastructure.

The infrastructure problems will now have to be worked out between the two governments. The onus of supply is on the Union government. The installation of more dispensing stations is high on the agenda and the Delhi government has given some relief to the bus operators by waiving sales tax on CNG. On May 9, Indraprastha Gas Limited has to explain to the apex court the steps it has taken to ensure the supply of CNG to the transport sector. The last word on the CNG conundrum has not been said as yet.

In Mumbai, CNG or nothing

THE Bombay High Court order stating that all 137-D diesel-engine Premier model taxis in Mumbai be either phased out or converted to compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) by May 31, opened a can of worms that has, among other things, exposed the lack of infrastructure to facilitate the change.

The order states that by April 30 all diesel taxis will have to go off the road and by May 31 their registration should be cancelled if they have not been converted to CNG mode. The Mumbai Taximen's Union called the deadline "impossible and impractical". While lauding the move towards a cleaner environment, J.P. Cama, who represents the taximen in court, said, "The immediate implication of the order is that you are taking away livelihoods without providing any alternatives."

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Taxis provide direct employment to about 1.5 lakh people and indirect employment to five lakh people in Mumbai. Of around 55,000 taxis registered in Greater Mumbai, about 15,000 run on diesel. Only around 500 of these have been converted to CNG mode. The reasons for this are many. The CNG kit cannot be retrofitted on to a diesel engine. So the conversion will involve replacing the diesel engine with a petrol one and attaching the CNG kit to it. The total cost of this is Rs.60,000. There are not enough petrol engines to meet the demand and Premier Automobiles Ltd, the makers of Premier Padmini, which constitutes the majority of Mumbai's taxis, exists only on paper. Taximen are thus forced to depend on the secondhand market.

"Naturally it is not possible to find 15,000 secondhand petrol engines so soon," said A.L. Quadros, general secretary of the Mumbai Taximen's Union. At a popular secondhand market in Mumbai, petrol engines are available though not in the required numbers. Initially such purchases were not encouraged because in most cases the engines lacked documents that could establish their authenticity. This problem was overcome with the court agreeing that it was enough that the taximen filed affidavits stating the place of purchase of the engines.

Other hurdles, however, remain. The most time-consuming one among them is retrofitting. "The diesel engine has to be removed, the new petrol engine has to be matched and then tested," said Quadros. At the rate of three cars a day, the 16 authorised retrofitting stations in the city can convert only 48 cars a day. With approximately 25 working days a month, this works out to 1,200 cars a month. That still leaves more than 13,000 taxis to be converted.

While acknowledging the health and environmental concerns arising from automobile emissions, Quadros called for support to the problems of taximen. They have to line up, sometimes for as long as six hours, for a refill at the CNG stations. There are only 23 CNG stations to service the 15,000 CNG taxis (most of the petrol taxis have already been converted to CNG) in the city. The union wants the number to be doubled. Mahanagar Gas Limited has said that it has the capacity to fulfil the demand. However, while the taximen are being urged to convert to CNG, corresponding pressure is not exerted on the administration to provide more filling stations.

Most of the refilling stations are located in the suburbs whereas the majority of the taxis ply in the island city. One cylinder lasts 60 to 70 km, and on an average a taxi covers about 90 km a day. The cylinder has to be refilled every day, and if the filling pressure is low it takes longer to fill.

Many taxi-owners are still paying off loans they took to purchase their vehicles, making it impossible for them to handle the extra burden of Rs.60,000 required for the conversion to CNG. Besides, said Quadros, there were not enough CNG kits available. The union has asked the government to make these easily available and provide financial assistance to taxi-owners.

A revolt in Orissa

Rebel BJD legislators, dissatisfied with Navin Patnaik's style of functioning, are threatening to bring down his government, while the Chief Minister remains indecisive on how to deal with them.

NAVIN PATNAIK, Orissa Chief Minister and president of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), is a worried man today. His rivals have been trying for some time to split the party and now, after the Rajya Sabha elections in March, the rebels have gathered substantial strength to challenge his leadership. By winning the Rajya Sabha election on March 27 as an independent candidate, BJD leader Dilip Ray has made it clear that he has the support of a good number of party legislators. Ten days before the elections, Patnaik expelled Ray, one of the founder-members of the BJD and a former Union Minister, from the party. Ray won amid large-scale cross-voting by legislators of the BJD and its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party. Much to Patnaik's consternation, Ray, who was Industry Minister in Biju Patnaik's Cabinet, managed to get the votes of 14 BJD and eight BJP legislators. Besides, he bagged the votes of two MLAs of the Congress(I), one of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and one independent.

Faced with a rebellion from within his party and from the BJP, Navin Patnaik rushed to Delhi to seek Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's support. Informed sources said that Patnaik lodged a strong protest against the State leadership of the BJP, which, he alleged, had refused to take action against the eight MLAs who supported Ray and had been working in tandem with Ray to unseat him. After meeting the Prime Minister, Patnaik dismissed as speculation reports that moves were afoot to displace him.

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The BJP-BJD alliance in Orissa has been under strain for quite a while. A powerful group in the State unit of the BJP wants the party to pull out of the government and provide outside support as it is "disgusted over the government's non-performance and the Chief Minister's style of functioning". At a BJP Legislature Party meeting early this year, party MLAs criticised the way in which the coalition government was run by the BJD and the Chief Minister's refusal to listen to anyone other than a coterie of bureaucrats. They also said that the party would suffer unless it withdrew from the government.

The conflict between the two parties reached a crisis point during the panchayat elections. Signs of a rift were evident after the coalition partners failed to arrive at a seat-sharing formula. As a result, the BJP performed miserably and also spoiled the BJD's chances at several places, to the advantage of the Congress(I). The coalition was further weakened after the March 16 attack on the Orissa Assembly building by certain Sangh Parivar outfits. Without directly accusing the BJP, Damodar Rout, secretary-general of the BJD, alleged that the Sangh Parivar activists were used by "narrow-minded, corrupt and power-hungry people". He said, "The incident has not only damaged the secular image of the State but exposed the fascist face of Hindutva fundamentalists."

The election of Dilip Ray to the Rajya Sabha has created a new dissident platform, which includes Bijoy Mahapatra, another rival whom Navin Patnaik had expelled in controversial circumstances just before the Assembly elections in February 2000. Patnaik had issued Mahapatra, another founder-member of the BJD and an influential political leader, the party ticket to contest the elections. But on the last date for the filing of nominations Patnaik chose somebody else. Patnaik's calculated action gave Mahapatra little time to complete the formalities required to contest even as an independent.

Within six months of his expulsion, Bijoy Mahapatra floated a new political forum, the Orissa Gana Parishad (OGP). The OGP was backed by leaders of the Janata Dal(United) and Janata Dal(Secular) besides some disgruntled BJP leaders. The State unit of the JD(S), headed by Ashok Das, former president of the undivided Janata Dal in Orissa, enjoys considerable influence in several districts. But the rank and file of the party, who consist mostly of non-Congress(I) and non-BJP elements, are disappointed as the party is politically inactive in the State. Prominent leaders of the OGP are member of Parliament Tathagata Satpathy, former BJP MP Upendra Nayak, State president of the JD(U) Narasingha Mishra and BJP leader Shanti Das.

The OGP, said to be the harbinger of a new regional political party, is the sixth of its kind in the State's political history. The Ganatantra Parishad, the first regional party, was formed in 1950 by Rajendra Narayan Singhdeo and it ruled Orissa in coalition with the Congress for three years from 1957 with Singhdeo as Chief Minister. In 1966, Harekrishna Mahatab left the Congress to form the Jana Congress, which formed the government with the support of the Swatantra Party after the 1967 Assembly elections. It was in power for two years. Biju Patnaik formed the Utkal Congress in 1969. Although Patnaik was defeated in the elections that year, his party, along with the Jharkhand Party and the Swatantra Party, formed the government, which was headed by Biswanath Das, a non-controversial independent member. That government fell within a year and the Congress came to power after a fresh round of elections. The fourth regional party, the Jagrata Orissa, was formed in 1985 by Nandini Satpathy. In the Assembly elections later that year Satpathy was elected but all other party candidates lost. The fifth regional party, the BJD, was formed by Navin Patnaik in 1998.

Soon after he was elected to the Rajya Sabha, Dilip Ray reportedly began making moves to split the BJD with the help of more than a dozen rebel MLAs and bring about a rift in the coalition. The BJD has 73 members, and the coalition has a comfortable majority in the 147-member Assembly. But if 20-odd MLAs break away, Patnaik's government will be in trouble. Speculation is rife that the rebels may first try to split the parliamentary party. Informed sources said that at least four of the party's 10 Lok Sabha members were in touch with Dilip Ray.

State Finance Minister Ramakrushna Patnaik announced on April 6 his decision to resign from the Cabinet. The Minister is reportedly dissatisfied with the state of affairs in the government, particularly the manner in which some people close to the Chief Minister are being "encouraged" to speak ill of him after the Rajya Sabha elections. He was also unhappy with the Chief Minister's treatment of Dilip Ray and the way the latter was ignominiously expelled from the party. The Chief Minister dropped a BJP member and two BJD members from his Cabinet last year.

Now, anticipating a serious threat to his leadership, Navin Patnaik has announced a Cabinet expansion. This is intended to curb the growing dissension within his party. There are reports that the Chief Minister may induct as many as seven members from the BJD and three from the BJP. In order to appease the rebels, especially leaders from the coastal belt, he may induct another five Ministers, taking the size of the Ministry to 37.

A senior BJD leader confided that a mere Cabinet expansion would not deter the rebels as the party has become a personal fief of Navin Patnaik. "Can you offer ministerial berths to two dozen MLAs?" he asked.

Patnaik's misery has stemmed from his failure to ensure the smooth functioning of the ruling alliance. His attempts to eliminate his rivals politically, first Bijoy Mahapatra and then Dilip Ray, have escalated infighting and factionalism. The combined strength of Mahapatra and Ray, observers feel, can pose a serious threat to the Chief Minister's position. The Chief Minister's own men now accuse him of inefficiency. They say that he has failed to take on corruption and also to deal with problems that arose immediately after disasters such as the super-cyclone and obtain the help of a friendly government at the Centre to take up development programmes.

Navin Patnaik appears to be dithering in taking action against those 14 party MLAs who defied the whip and voted for Dilip Ray. The party knows who violated the whip, as there was no attempt on the part of the rebels to keep their stand a secret. Any action against them is likely to cause a split in the party. Observers believe that the combined forces of Mahapatra and Ray would script the next chapter in the State's politics.

For fair governance

The Karnataka Lokayukta, imbued with a new vigour, seeks to offer justice in respect of complaints of maladministration and corruption.

KARNATAKA was the first State in the country to establish, through an act of the State legislature in 1983, the institution of the Lokayukta, an ombudsman-like authority to enforce ethics and accountability in public office. Set up by the Ramakrishna Hegde government in fulfilment of the Janata Party's 1983 election promise of 'value-based governance', the Karnataka Lokayukta is not merely the first of its kind in the country, it is governed by an Act that is the most comprehensive of all the existing Lokayukta Acts. The Karnataka Lokayukta Act, 1984, empowers the institution to improve standards of public administration by investigating allegations of corruption, maladministration, favouritism and abuse of power by public servants, right up to the office of the Chief Minister.

Despite the progressive legislation that underpins it and its wide-ranging powers, the Lokayukta in the last 20 years of its existence led a relatively quiet existence. In recent months, however, it appears to have been imbued with a new vigour, as reflected in the growing numbers of cases that are coming before it, and the media attention that its work is attracting. This sudden burst of activism may be reflective of a heightened public awareness of institutions that offer quick justice in respect of complaints against maladministration and corruption by public servants in the discharge of their duties. It is also in no small measure due to the sense of purpose that the present Lokayukta, Justice N. Venkatachala, has brought to the job.

The creation of the office of an ombudsman or an ombudsman-like authority has been a long-standing demand in India that individuals, groups and parties within the political spectrum have made. More powerful, however, has been the resistance from vested political interests to such a move. In 1968, the Administrative Reforms Commission, headed by Morarji Desai, in a report on the problems of the redress of citizens' grievances, recommended the appointment of a Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in the States. Since then, several draft bills for the establishment of a Lokpal have been brought forward in Parliament, but none has been passed. Several States now have Lokayuktas. "Of all the Lokayukta Acts, Karnataka's is by far the most exhaustive and has the widest coverage," said Justice Venkatachala. "Even the office of the Chief Minister can be investigated under the Act. Although under the original Act the Lokayukta could take suo motu action against the Chief Minister, this provision was amended six months after the Act was passed. Under the present provision, the Lokayukta can investigate a grievance or allegation against the office of the Chief Minister but cannot initiate action on its own."

The ambit of the Act is wide. It empowers the Lokayukta (or the Upalokayukta in respect of public servants earning salaries less than Rs.10,620 a month) to investigate actions of public servants in respect of allegations made or grievances expressed against them. An allegation can range from an affirmation that the public servant has abused his position to favour himself; was actuated in the discharge of his function by personal or corrupt motives; is guilty of corruption, favouritism, nepotism or lack of integrity; or has not acted in accordance with the norms of integrity and conduct to be followed. A claim by a person that he or she sustained hardship as a consequence of maladministration constitutes a grievance. Where the Lokayukta after an inquiry is satisfied that an allegation or complaint is substantiated, it can recommend that the public servant concerned be removed from his or her post. The 'competent authority' (the Governor, the Chief Minister or the State government, depending on the seniority of the public servant under investigation) can reject the Lokayukta's recommendation, but only with good reason. If, however, the 'competent authority' accepts the Lokayukta's recommendation, the public servant has to resign from his or her post. Under the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, the Lokayukta can directly initiate criminal prosecution against a public servant if the Lokayukta is satisfied that a criminal offence has been committed. It is also empowered to issue a warrant to authorise a police officer for a search and seizure operation against a public servant. Every public servant in Karnataka has to submit an annual statement of his or her assets and liabilities, along with those of their family members.

The comprehensive legal powers given to the Lokayukta is, however, not without restrictions. The scope of Section 11, Clause 4 of the Act is wide and could give considerable protection to public servants in special circumstances. In giving evidence, a public servant is not required to furnish information if it "might prejudice the State of Karnataka or the security or defence or international relations of India (including India's relations with the government or any other country or with any international organisation)". Similarly, a public servant need not disclose information which "might involve the disclosure of proceedings of the Cabinet of the State government or any Committee of that Cabinet." These clauses could certainly fetter the reach of the Lokayukta into the higher echelons of administration.

Justice Venkatachala, who assumed office in July 2001, has expanded the scope of his office by introducing several innovative measures. He has started the practice of a touring court, travelling to the districts and holding open court sessions in the district centres. The first round of sessions in the districts has been completed, and he is currently on a second round, touring the remaining district centres. "We have been trying to intervene in situations where the poor are affected," Justice Venkatachala told Frontline. "We are taking up complaints relating to maladministration in district government hospitals, matters relating to government land grants, government housing problems, the condition of remand homes, cases of atrocities committed by the police, improper treatment of prisoners in jails, the running of anganwadis, and so on." In his first round of visits, he heard 950 complaints from 12 districts. Of these, 690 were disposed of, and the remaining are being investigated. The Lokayukta's tour plans are announced in the districts well ahead. All heads of district government departments are required to be present at the Lokayukta's sittings so that the cases can be resolved quickly.

Justice Venkatachala has for the first time appointed Vigilance Directors to help him with his hugely increased workload. Dr. H. Sudarshan, the highly regarded Chairman of the State government's Task Force on Health and Family Welfare, has been appointed Vigilance Director in the Lokayukta in charge of Health, Education and Social Welfare. Accepting this responsibility on a token salary of one rupee, Dr. Sudarshan has already made a difference through his proactive role in cleaning up the administration in the district hospitals. He is also currently investigating a complaint filed by a Bangalore-based journalist demanding an inquiry into violations of the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994, and the failure of the government-appointed bodies concerned to prevent these violations. K.V. Vasudeva Murthy has been appointed Vigilance Director to look into cases concerning the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP), or the city corporation, and N. Veerabhadraiah has been appointed as Vigilance Director to look into cases relating to the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA). They have their offices on the premises of the BMP and the BDA respectively.

It is perhaps for the first time since its establishment that the Lokayukta is beginning to deploy its potential, driven largely by the commitment of the individuals who are running it. A far greater level of public awareness of its role is, however, required if it is to become a powerful political institution that can fulfil the aspirations of ordinary citizens for fair and effective governance.

'No anti-incumbency wave'

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Interview with Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.

Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal is optimistic that the BJP will not only win the Shimla Municipal Corporation elections in April but also sweep the Assembly polls in 2003. Dhumal, who is also the State BJP president, spoke to T.K. Rajalakshmi. Excerpts:

How do you think the BJP will fare in the Shimla Municipal Corporation elections on April 27 and in the Assembly polls next year?

The Congress(I) has been in power since 1986 in the Corporation and these elections are going to be a people's verdict on the performance of that party over the past 16 years. I am confident that we shall win a majority in the next Corporation Council. The Corporation under the Congress(I) failed to provide facilities to the people. The roads maintained by the Corporation and by the government are there for everyone to see. We have started work to create fountains, initiated cleanliness drives and banned the use of recycled polythene bags. Shimla lost its glory under Congress rule and we have started work to regain that glory. Owing to our excellent and balanced work in the State, we have been able to unite the people emotionally. We undertook Vikas Yatras in the State and explained to the people the need for development, and also took suggestions.

What are the chances of an anti-incumbency wave affecting the electoral prospects of your party? Also, a third political alternative seems to be emerging in the State.

There is no threat of an anti-incumbency wave. In 1999, when we lost in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, we won all the four Lok Sabha seats here. There is no question of a third front in Himachal Pradesh. Even if the Congress(I) is united, we will defeat them.

There is a lot of resentment among the people regarding the steep hikes in electricity rates for domestic consumers and the imposition of user and service charges in the health sector and so on.

The Congress(I) introduced user charges for health services and raised them in 1986 and 1994. We have not introduced any new charges, but have formed Rogi Kalyan Samitis (patient welfare associations). The patient pays or donates a small service charge and it goes to the Kalyan Samitis in the hospitals.

Earlier, what was free service actually meant no service. Now the patients will be able to get better services. As for power, we are charging the lowest rates in the country for domestic consumers. For Antyodaya families, it is 70 paise a unit. We have given concessions to industry but on the condition that industries operate in the night as well.

The Himachal Vikas Congress has candidates in 22 wards of the Corporation. Have the relations between the BJP and its coalition partner soured?

Our ties are cordial. Maybe this arrangement favours us.

It is said that Shanta Kumar's statement on Narendra Modi is, in fact, a veiled criticism of your government.

Politics has taken such a turn today that individuals prefer to air their own views.

Unemployment seems to be a serious problem in the State. There are also allegations that you favoured your relatives for government jobs. It is also alleged that you have unduly favoured Hamirpur, your constituency.

We have provided thousands of jobs and young men have to realise that government jobs are limited in number. Several people get enrolled in the employment exchange despite having some kind of an employment. That inflates the figures. Actually, there are only between four and five lakh unemployed people, but the figure shows nine lakhs. There is a lot of false propaganda about unemployment. None of my relatives who are in government jobs have been appointed on grounds other than merit. As for favouring Hamirpur, who does not favour his own constituency?

An uphill task

The challenge the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Himachal Pradesh faces from the Congress(I) and the newly formed Him Loktantrik Morcha in the Shimla Municipal Corporation elections is indicative of the party's prospects in the Assembly elections next year.

IN the aftermath of the reverses suffered by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies in the elections to four State Assemblies, attention is focussed on the coming Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. Himachal Pradesh, with a coalition government of the BJP and the Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC), is one of the few States where BJP-led governments still survive. Given the recent electoral reverses, the BJP-HVC coalition is expected to face a tough challenge in the elections scheduled for February 2003. Unlike in the past, the elections may not be a polarised affair between the ruling alliance and the Congress(I); they could turn out to be a four-cornered contest. An indication of this is available in the line-up of political parties for the Shimla Municipal Corporation elections to be held on April 27. The Corporation elections, despite being a local affair, are perceived in political circles as a referendum on the performance of the State government. In fact, it is the only corporation in the State and is considered a microcosm of the State's polity. The electorate is comprised mainly of State and Central government employees and, given the high literacy levels in the State, it will be an informed public that will be going to the polls.

Interestingly, the HVC has decided to contest alone in the corporation elections. It has fielded candidates in 22 of the 24 wards. Predictably, the presence of HVC candidates will spoil the chances of the BJP nominees.

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However, the serious challenge to the Congress (I) and the BJP is expected to come from a new political formation called the Him Loktantrik Morcha (HLM), which came into existence on February 6. The Morcha, which is a product of the initiative taken by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is almost certain to ensure that the usual polarisation of votes between the two mainstream parties will not take place. The HLM has been campaigning against both the BJP-HVC government and the Congress(I) mainly on economic issues. While there is evident discomfort over the entry of the HLM as it comprises several important parties, both the Congress(I) and the BJP have been quick to label it as a party of "frustrated individuals". The majority of Congress(I) rebels have joined the Morcha, and they include a former Mayor and two former Councillors.

Mohinder Singh Choudhary, convener of the HLM and an independent member of the Legislative Assembly, was previously with the HVC and had held the portfolios of Public Works and Excise in the Prem Kumar Dhumal Ministry. He quit the Ministry after BJP Ministers levelled corruption charges against him. Later, when he was expelled from the HVC, he joined the Lok Jan Shakti, a constituent of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which rules at the Centre. Interestingly, the State unit of the Lok Jan Shakti has been organising agitations against the BJP-HVC government. Of late, non-BJP constituents of the NDA in Himachal Pradesh have taken contradictory positions on several issues vis-a-vis the BJP.

The HLM, which comprises the CPI(M), the Janata Dal (Secular), the Lok Jan Shakti, the Samajwadi Party and some regional secular parties, has been quite vocal in criticising the economic policies of the Dhumal government. The Morcha's viability will be tested on the basis of how successfully it can launch joint struggles in the State. The emergence of such a Morcha became inevitable given the anti-incumbency factor operating against both the BJP-HVC at the State level and the Congress(I) at the municipal corporation level.

FOR the past 16 years, the Shimla Municipal Corporation has been a Congress(I) stronghold. The level of confidence of the Congress(I) has gone up following the party's victories in the Chandigarh and Delhi municipal corporation polls. The party is expected to win, but, as Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Virbhadra Singh put it, only with a "workable majority". Factionalism may be one of the reasons for this modest expectation. Even while denying the existence of factions in the party, Virbhadra Singh said that problems in the State unit started after the organisational elections in 2001. The CLP leader told Frontline that in the corporation polls, the allocation of the ticket had not been made properly. Informed sources in the Congress(I) confirmed that only if Virbhadra Singh and Pradesh Congress Committee president Vidya Stokes, who lead the two major factions in the State unit, worked together could the party win in the Corporation and Assembly polls.

The BJP too has its share of problems. The spat between Dhumal and Union Minister for Consumer Affairs Shanta Kumar has brought factionalism in the party to the fore. Recently, Shanta Kumar criticised the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat and the storming of the Orissa Assembly by Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal activists. In fact, the outburst against Narendra Modi was an expression of Shanta Kumar's anger against Dhumal who is considered close to the Gujarat Chief Minister. The tensions in the BJP also reflect the conditions under which the party under Dhumal was able to form the government despite not winning a clear majority in the Assembly. It was because of the split in the Congress(I) and the support of the HVC that the party was able to form the government. Moreover, the decision of the HVC to go it alone has presented the BJP with a major worry. Speculation is rife about an HVC-Congress(I) tie-up.

The official reason for the HVC opting for an independent path is that even in the past the BJP and the HVC had not contested together. However, HVC sources pointed out that despite repeated suggestions to the BJP that the two parties fight the corporation elections jointly, there was hardly any response. Their relations had been steadily souring over the past two years. In 2001, the HVC even considered joining hands with the HLM. "We will not withdraw from the government as we are committed to supporting the NDA at the Centre as well," said HVC general secretary Sunderlal Verma. "Everyone knows that the HVC was instrumental in forming this government leaving the Congress(I) in the cold."

The BJP's coming to power in the State in 1998 was fraught with uncertainties. Virbhadra Singh, who led the Congress(I) government, dissolved the Assembly a year before his term ended so as to hold Assembly and Lok Sabha elections simultaneously. "We hoped that we could cash in on our achievements," Virbhadra Singh told Frontline. But that was not to be. In the elections held in February 1998 to the 68-member Assembly, the Congress(I) won 31 seats, the BJP 29 and the HVC four. One seat went to an independent, who belonged earlier to the Shanta Kumar faction of the BJP. (Elections were held for only 65 seats as three constituencies remained snow-bound.) The balance could be tilted by the HVC, which found itself in an enviable position. Sukh Ram, the founder of the HVC, split the party and made two of its legislators join the Himachal Kranti Morcha which merged with the BJP. The BJP now had 30 members, for one legislator had died before taking the oath. Meanwhile, the Congress(I) formed the government with 32 seats as it won the support of the lone independent. Virbhadra Singh, who had headed the government twice earlier, was sworn in Chief Minister on March 9, 1998.

But things changed dramatically as the independent went back to the BJP after the party's central leadership intervened. On March 24, 1998, the Dhumal government was sworn in with the support of the two remaining members of the HVC. The BJP also managed to win over one Congress(I) legislator. After the Assembly elections for the remaining three seats were held, the BJP got the support of 33 members, including three of the HVC and the lone independent member. Later, the strength of the BJP and its allies grew to 39 as the alliance won two seats vacated by the Congress(I).

However, there has been growing dissidence in the coalition government in the past two years. In 2000, five BJP legislators, four of them Ministers, accused the government of corruption. Dhumal removed them from the Ministry but later took them back following the intervention of the central leadership. One of their demands was the removal of HVC nominee Mohinder Singh. Dhumal acceded to this and thus alienated the HVC. In 2001, BJP dissidents demanded the removal of Narendra Modi who had been appointed by the central leadership to take charge of party affairs in Himachal Pradesh.

For the BJP, this has been the first time since 1977 that it has been able to complete four years in office. The previous governments of Shanta Kumar in 1982 and 1990 could not complete their terms. Highlighting the comparatively long tenure of his government, Dhumal invited Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to Shimla on March 24, the day the BJP-HVC government completed four years in office.

It is the economic policies of the Dhumal government that have come under attack from the Congress(I) and the HLM. Rakesh Singha, Shimla district secretary of the CPI(M) and a former MLA, told Frontline that the steep hikes in electricity rates effected for domestic consumers while giving concessions to industry, the winter surcharge on electricity rates, and the service charges on health and education had increased the financial burden of the working class and the middle class. Kashmir Singh Thakur, a leader of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), said that there was a lot of resentment among the people as the government was indulging in nepotism. He alleged that relatives of Ministers were appointed in government posts, including university jobs. The number of the educated unemployed had increased though Chief Minister Dhumal told Frontline that the figures were inflated ones.

The Dhumal Ministry is confident that despite the resentment among the people, the BJP will get a majority both in the Shimla corporation polls and in the Assembly elections. "It is all about strategy. The Budget will not be an issue," said J.P. Nadda, Health Minister. Nadda said that the service charges imposed would improve the overall state of health services. However, a senior functionary of the People's Science Movement told Frontline that while government employees could get their medical bills reimbursed, the same could hardly be said of those who were not in a position to afford even Re.1 for the prescription slip.

Neither war nor peace

RAM MANIKKALINGAM cover-story

SRI LANKA is between war and peace. There are three scenarios that can emerge from the ceasefire agreement between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government: war, peace, or no war-no peace.

War scenario

The war scenario echoes previous failed attempts at turning ceasefires into more long-term settlements. Whether one blames the Tigers or the government, the basic dynamic entails a re-arming, recruiting and re-grouping by both sides. There were signs of this in the run-up to the ceasefire agreement on the Tiger side. As Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe was preparing to travel to Vavuniya to sign the agreement, the Tigers were hurriedly landing armaments. Similarly, Amnesty International reported the aggressive recruitment of child soldiers by the Tigers. Other reports refer to the Tigers raising funds through extortion, particularly from Muslims living in the Eastern Province.

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The Sri Lankan government is also planning a recruitment drive and the purchase of new equipment for the armed forces. These measures by themselves do not indicate that the parties are opposed to peace. Preparation for war is inevitable in any ceasefire situation because there is no guarantee that a ceasefire will evolve into a permanent solution. Still, this dynamic may not be stable, particularly if both sides continue preparing for war, without implementing provisions of the ceasefire agreement. One side or the other may sincerely, or slyly, utilise a delay in implementing the ceasefire as a violation of it, to begin fighting.

While the presence of a neutral third party mediator makes this situation different from previous ones, this scenario unfortunately is still very possible. To get beyond it, the government will engage the Tigers on a series of short-term humanitarian issues - such as humanitarian de-mining and medical services - and medium-term developmental issues - such as the restoration of roads and irrigation. This will lead to the second scenario.

No war-no peace scenario

The Tamil Tigers will utilise the negotiations over humanitarian and development assistance to extend their administrative influence over Tamil majority areas that have hitherto been controlled by the government. They will ask the government to cede control over the Northeast to them in the form of an interim council. This de facto rule by the Tigers will be combined with a massive infusion of rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance from the Sri Lankan government and the international community. It will lead to large-scale humanitarian schemes, medium-scale development projects and significant market integration of the Northeast with the rest of the country. There will be a general easing in the difficulties faced by civilians living in the Northeast in particular, and the country in general, because of the absence of war. These measures can be taken administratively by the government, that is, through the use of executive powers, and will not depend on constitutional reform or even legislative support.

The basic bargain between the government and the Tamil Tigers will be as follows: The government grants de facto control of the Northeast to the Tigers, along with economic assistance and the space to begin development work. In exchange, the Tigers desist from fighting.

The Tigers will seek to extend this scenario in the hope that the interim council will be transformed, with the passage of time, into a de facto separate state. Any attempt by President Chandrika Kumaratunga or Prime Minister Wickremasinghe to thwart this runs the risk of reverting to war. The Tigers will portray the efforts to prevent the formation of a de facto separate state as a disruption of the peace process and start fighting. However, if President Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Wickremasinghe cooperate in addressing Tamil political aspirations while thwarting Tiger separatist ambitions, they may help take the process forward to the peace scenario.

Peace scenario

This involves resolving three conflicts: the armed conflict between the Tigers and the armed forces of Sri Lanka; the political power conflict between the three main forces that currently have a stake in political rule in Sri Lanka - the Tamil Tigers, the United National Party (UNP) and the People's Alliance (P.A.); the ethnic conflict among Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims. The current peace strategy of the UNP-led government appears to be based on solving one conflict at a time, beginning with the armed conflict. While it would be preferable, in theory, if each of these solutions could be tackled one step at a time, the reality is more complicated. A solution to the armed conflict may require or be assisted by a breakthrough in the political power conflict. And a solution to the political power conflict may require some progress in resolving the ethnic conflict. Thus these three conflicts, or at least elements of it, will often have to be addressed simultaneously. And the level of uncertainty can be quite high. Still, many elements of a solution already exist - the new ceasefire agreement signed by the current UNP-led government and the political package drafted by the previous P.A.-led government. These elements can be stitched together in a way that may enable Sri Lanka to bootstrap its way to a solution. Sadly, the failure of the two major political parties to collaborate effectively in resolving the conflict makes the peace scenario the least plausible.

Ram Manikkalingam is a Fellow of the Open Society Institute and an Assistant Director at the Rockefeller Foundation based in New York. This article expresses his personal views and not those of either of the institutions.

Prabakaran unleashed

G. PARTHASARATHY cover-story

Prabakaran has a horrendous track record, and New Delhi must send out a clear signal that it will not hesitate to capture and bring him to justice in India.

ON April 10,the reclusive Velupillai Prabakaran emerged from his hideouts to address the world media in an effort to show that he was now ready to seek a political, rather than a military solution to Sri Lanka's bloody ethnic conflict. Amongst the correspondents who were present was one Swami Vigyanand, dressed in the robes of a monk. The good 'Swami' claimed he was attending the press conference as a representative of a publication of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). According to reports from Sri Lanka that have been featured in newspapers such as the Dawn of Karachi, Vigyanand had visited Sri Lanka on around 10 occasions since 1999. He had travelled extensively in areas controlled by the LTTE, quite obviously with the assistance and concurrence of the LTTE during these visits. Asked about his views on the LTTE, Vigyanand is reported to have replied: "I made it clear to them (LTTE) that we (VHP) have nothing against their struggle," adding: "I said we have a problem with Islam and Christianity and we are trying to build Hindu unity."

The words of Swami Vigyanand need to be placed in perspective, by first recounting some of the ugliest facets of Prabakaran's "struggle". While Prabakaran now claims that he is seeking to protect the democratic rights of the Tamils of Sri Lanka, what emerges from any study of his past actions is that he can only be characterised as a psychopath, with scant regard for human life, or human suffering. The one instance that still remains etched in my memory is the callous manner in which he made a teenage student Thileepan go on a fast and die in 1987, even as he was consuming choice delicacies, while negotiating his demands with Indian High Commissioner J.N. Dixit at the Palaly Airbase in Jaffna in August 1987. But Prabakaran also has a track record of having killed more political leaders from the Tamil community, than from among his proclaimed enemies - the Sinhalas. He started on this course by murdering the popular Mayor of Jaffna Alfred Duraiappa in 1972. He then eliminated the then most popular Sri Lankan Tamil militant leader, Sri Sabarathinam, in 1986, earning the wrath and condemnation of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader M. Karunanidhi, who held Sabarathinam in high esteem.

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Prabakaran's track record of killing prominent Tamils is horrendous. Members of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) still recall and respect the tactical skills and valour of the LTTE's former military commander, Mahattya. It was Mahattya who personally led the fight against the Sri Lankan Army while Prabakaran was for several years living in Tamil Nadu, spending a lot of his time watching video tapes of Clint Eastwood movies. Yet when Prabakaran felt that Mahattya had attained a stature that could pose a challenge to his unquestioned hegemony, he had no hesitation in executing his most successful military commander. Prabakaran's intolerance of any opposition to his hegemony is evident from the manner in which he engineered the killings of respected Tamil politicians like A. Amirthalingam, Alalasundaram and Dharmalingam of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and his assassination of perhaps the most articulate proponent of the Tamil cause, Neelan Tiruchelvam. The list of those whom he killed includes prominent Tamil human rights activist Sam Thambimuthu. But perhaps the most gruesome example of Prabakaran's determination to eliminate physically all potential rivals was the killing of nearly 20 leaders of the rival EPRLF (Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front) group led by its supremo, K. Padmanabha, in broad daylight in the very heart of Madras city. There appears to be little doubt that it was the inaction on the part of the V.P. Singh government in responding to this act of terrorism on Indian soil that emboldened Prabakaran to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.

It is, to say the least, odd that a representative of the VHP should seek to make common cause with the LTTE in building "Hindu unity" in Sri Lanka. Prabakaran has never defined the LTTE's objectives in religious terms. The Tamils of Sri Lanka have never alleged that the Sri Lankan state has curbed their religious rights. Their struggle has always been to meet what they have felt were their legitimate linguistic, political and economic aspirations. It is true that Prabakaran has terrorised Tamil-speaking Muslims in northeastern Sri Lanka, destroying two mosques and killing over 100 Muslims in the Eastern province. He has even driven out over 70,000 Muslims from their homes in northern Sri Lanka. But these pogroms were undertaken for political and not religious reasons. Prabakaran's primary opponents have been the Buddhist Sinhalas. Outfits like the VHP and the Shiv Sena regard Buddhism to be a derivative and an extension of Hinduism. Further, Prabakaran has strong allies in the Anglican Church and is hardly going to please the VHP in fulfilling its goals of curbing the activities of Church groups. But India should remember that it is not in its national interests to promote separatism in Sri Lanka, whatever the justification. Any suspicion in Sri Lanka that groups close to the ruling establishment in India empathise with the LTTE would be highly counter-productive. It is all very well for the VHP to claim that it is involved in promoting Indian spiritualistic values abroad. It is, however, quite another matter when VHP representatives seek to show understanding of groups like the LTTE, or indulge in activities that promote communal suspicions or differences abroad. New Delhi should make it clear it will deal strongly with those who indulge in such activities.

SRI Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe has taken a courageous initiative in seeking to build bridges of peace with the LTTE. But past experience has shown that whenever Prabakaran feels the heat he adopts tactical shifts. He had no compunction in seeking a deal from the short-sighted President Ranasinghe Premadasa when he was under pressure from the IPKF. He then proceeded to assassinate Premadasa when the situation changed. The post-September 11 global environment against terrorism and measures like the passage of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 are placing restrictions on the vast flow of funds that the LTTE receives from Sri Lankan Tamil expatriate communities in countries such as Canada and Australia. Even though there may be some sympathy and support for Prabakaran in sections of the ruling National Democratic Alliance in India, he knows that there is little chance of his receiving support from India in the pursuit of his long-term aims. In any case, he has chosen to remain deliberately vague about his long-term aims and has not renounced either the armed struggle or his claim for a separate "Tamil Eelam".

Given the fact that the LTTE is a banned organisation in India, New Delhi has rightly chosen to avoid any involvement in the proposed dialogue between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. While India should not do anything that would inhibit or hinder the proposed dialogue, it is imperative that it should relentlessly move ahead with measures and moves to secure the extradition of Prabakaran for his role in masterminding the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. New Delhi should not forget that in assassinating Rajiv Gandhi in the middle of a national election campaign, Prabakaran sought to undermine the very basis of India's democratic processes. The people of India can neither forget nor forgive this action of a foreign terrorist group aimed at undermining its electoral processes. It is an action that was as, if not more, outrageous than the December 13 attack on Parliament House. The Tamil Nadu Assembly has now passed a resolution urging that the Government of India send the Indian Army to Sri Lanka, with the consent of the Sri Lankan government, in order to capture Prabakaran if Sri Lanka is unable to extradite him to India.

In these circumstances, it is rather surprising that Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee indicated that he was inclined to consider sympathetically the request of the political ideologue of the LTTE, Anton Balasingham, to visit and live in India for medical treatment. Balasingham has connived with and sought to justify the horrendous acts of terrorism perpetrated by the LTTE for around three decades. There is little doubt that any such approval accorded to Balasingham will be viewed as a serious weakening of India's intention to bring Prabakaran to face trial in India. India is already regarded as a soft state in its neighbourhood. Rather than being seen to be weakening its stand against the LTTE, India should send out a clear signal to Prabakaran, and to the world at large, that although the Sri Lankan Government may have its compulsions in dealing with him, India will not hesitate to use all available means including the use of special forces, to capture and bring Prabakaran to justice in India.

G. Parthasarathy was Information Adviser to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the spokesman of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force in Sri Lanka.

Through Tiger country

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN cover-story

Sights and scenes along a war-ravaged land, on the way to Kilinochchi.

AS we drove out of Colombo in a van on the evening of April 8, we had no inkling of what would confront us on our way to Kilinochchi, about 320 km away. It was a varied melange of impressions and experiences of Sri Lanka in its present situation: the yearning for peace among both Tamils and Sinhalese; optimistic predictions that the current ceasefire will hold for a year or two; bustling towns contrasting with ghost towns; a temple in Vavuniya town, alive with devotees, pujas and ringing of bells in comparison with the skeletal remains of a chariot in a bombed-out temple only some miles away; benumbing destruction of Tamils' properties in northern Sri Lanka; the incipient "development" taking place in war-ravaged towns such as Kilinochchi and Mankulam - a hospital being repaired or a church getting a thatched roof; a Tamil in Kilinochchi happily announcing that the price of kerosene in the town had crashed to Rs.35 a litre from Rs.200 after the lifting of the economic embargo in December last; picture-posters on trees warning people against pulling out artillery shells from the ground; and thick yellow ribbons demarcating areas with live landmines.

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The light drizzle in the suburbs of Colombo turned into rain occasionally. It was around midnight that we checked into Miridiya Hotels in the historic town of Anuradhapura, famous for its Buddhist archaeological sites. More cars and vans followed, all with journalists on their way to Kilinochchi in northern Sri Lanka to cover the press conference to be addressed by Velupillai Prabakaran.

The next morning, after a 45-minute drive, we reached Vavuniya, a town largely populated by Tamils, under Sri Lankan Army's control. Vavuniya appeared prosperous and bustling. Posters of the Tamil film "Red" featuring actor Ajith greeted us. Buses were crammed with passengers. Brisk business was under way in shops in the bus terminal, with Sri Lankan soldiers making long-distance phone-calls, and urchins selling lottery tickets.

A passerby in the terminus said there was tremendous relief among people after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and Prabakaran signed a Cease-Fire Agreement on February 22. "Fear used to fill this bus stand earlier with soldiers standing around," he said.

From near the bus terminus, airconditioned mini-buses operated every 30 minutes or so to Colombo. The six-hour journey cost Rs.160. Almost every trip was full after the ceasefire, said a tout hailing passengers.

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According to the owner of a shop selling newspapers and magazines, Vavuniya's population ballooned from 20,000 to one lakh in 10 years, with people migrating from Kilinochchi, Mankulam and parts of the Jaffna peninsula, all ravaged by war. Consequently, the land value shot up. With the ceasefire coming into force, many families started returning to their homesteads.

Some distance away from Vinayagar temple was the LTTE headquarters for Vavuniya district, opened on April 3. The LTTE cadres were dressed in civilian clothes and were not supposed to carry arms. A number of journalists had reached this office as early as 9 a.m. to register themselves to go to Kilinochchi.

Young LTTE boys and girls, looking self-important, took down the journalists' names including the car drivers' names and vehicle registration numbers. People were streaming into the office and voicing their grievances. Nimilan, one of the cadres, said, "We just listen to them but no action is taken."

With our names registered, we pulled out of Vavuniya town and sped towards Omanthai on our way to Kilinochchi. A couple of kilometres from Vavuniya is Thandikulam, partially destroyed in the war. There is an Army checkpost at Thandikulam but soldiers did not check us that day. Buses, vans and autorickshaws have to wait at Thandikulam every day and are allowed to move to Omanthai only in convoys. This is a daily routine.

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On the way to Omanthai, soldiers were seen standing under trees or chatting casually near their bunkers.

Omanthai town is totally destroyed. Until a few years ago, it was home to a few thousand people. Several hundred spacious houses, a rice mill, a vidyalayam (school), St. Anthony's church and temples have disappeared in the aerial bombing and shelling. Tamils alleged that the Army used bulldozers to raze the buildings. People have fled to Mallawi, Nunukkai, Nettankandal, Pandiankulam and Kottakkadu.

The Army has a big camp and an artillery centre at Omanthai. About a kilometre from the Army checkpost is an LTTE checkpost, marking the beginning of LTTE-controlled territory. The atmosphere around the Army checkpost was festive. Hundreds of people had reached there from Colombo and Vavuniya in buses, autorickshaws, cars and vans. They were going to Kilinochchi, Mallawi, Mankulam or the Jaffna peninsula. These vehicles were full of all kinds of goods. Bicycles, colourfully painted, were tied on top of every van and auto. Streamers flew from posts. There was colour everywhere. Alighting from buses, people ran into long sheds queuing up with their belongings to go to the LTTE checkpost, where they would be screened and their names registered before boarding Tamil Eelam Transport Corporation buses operated by the LTTE.

What provided a carnival-like atmosphere was the arrival of 152 runners belonging to a "peace marathon." They were all Sri Lankan policeman who were on a run from Colombo to Jaffna, the heartland of the Tamils, to spread the message of peace. They were dressed in white shorts, white vests and white sneakers. In the vanguard, one of them held aloft a torch. A foreigner - a white person - seemed to be an enthusiastic participant. There were vans with banners hung from their sides, reading "peace rally." A trader from Vavuniya had put up a yellow hoarding. It said, "Peace is our only objective." Another banner said, "We welcome the peace march." There were a couple of CARE vehicles as well. A jeep with a red pilot light drove in. On its sides were written, "Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission," which keeps a tab on how the ceasefire is being observed.

After we gave our names to a soldier at the Army checkpost, we were waved through. Some 300 metres away, a board on the road says: "Beware of mines. Your precaution ensures the prevention of your disablement and even death."

The LTTE checkpost is at Panikkaneeravi, like Omanthai, totally destroyed. Our van develops problems with its radiator and the LTTE men fetch water to cool it. At Pannikkaneeravi, the LTTE is building several sheds to accommodate people going to and coming from Jaffna who might be held up at Panikkaneeravi at night.

Some distance away was the media coordination centre set up by the LTTE for Prabakaran's press conference. This was our gateway to Kilinochchi where the press conference was held. Daya Master, a thin, wiry and active man in his 40s, takes down the journalists' names and hands them a pink piece of paper with the name of a place written on it. For us from The Hindu and Frontline, the slip says "Kilinochchi office." We are asked to reach the LTTE political office at Kilinochchi.

The whites among the reporters are asked to go to Mallawi in Mullaitheevu district. Reporters from Colombo resent this preferential treatment. The government circuit house at Mallawi, which the LTTE has taken over, has big rooms, cots, fans, two mosquito nets for each cot and attached toilets too!

We start off again, clutching the pink slip. At Puliankulam, we see a board, "Tamil Eelam Transport Corporation." Here and there, we see red-coloured buses belonging to the Corporation. There are taxis, operated by the LTTE, which have Tamil Eelam number plates.

Over a distance of 72 km from Omanthai to Kilinochchi, it is an unrelieved picture of destruction of villages and thick scrub jungle all the way. Near Puliyankulam, a temple has been bombed out, and we see only the skeletal remains of the chariot. A small Vinayagar shrine is intact. Another village, Kanagarayankulam, is totally destroyed.

Mankulam is again a ghost village. A board hangs from a badly damaged building. It says, "Under the control of Tamil Eelam."

For long stretches, the A-9 'highway' on which we are travelling becomes nothing but a mud track. At places, it is so narrow that thorny bushes brush against your vehicle. We reach the LTTE political office at Kilinochchi town around 2 p.m. From there, we are guided to another place.

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Here, several LTTE men welcome us. Four houses, freshly painted, are located close to one another. There are lawns with crotons, marigold and canna. In front of one building stands a flag post. We were given tea or a cool drink. After we wash by drawing water from a well, we are taken to the dining hall with a table and a crisp, spotlessly clean white cloth spread over it. There are flower vases too. Tired, we eat in silence. The food comprises a limited quantity of rice, gravy, vegetables and a non-vegetarian dish.

Lunch over, the journalists set out to see the Kilinochchi town guided by a young cadre, Gnanasekaran. The town, which was an economic centre a decade ago in the Vanni heartland of the Tamils, is in ruins now. But it is "developing," thanks to the lifting of the economic embargo on the North and the Cease-fire Agreement.

The greatest handicap people are facing is the lack of a hospital. There has been no supply of electricity in the entire district for the past 15 years, the cadres say. Medicines are not available. According to P. Maniam, "podiyans" (meaning the LTTE boys) use "engines" (generators) to provide electricity to important businesses at higher rates. P. Viswalingam runs into his shop and fetches a lamp - an ink bottle filled with kerosene that looks like an emulsion.

The Kilinochchi district headquarters hospital is totally bombed out. Broken walls rise everywhere. There are deep craters on the floors. At the entrance to the hospital, medical emblems in red are painted on the pillars of the non-existent gates. On top of one emblem is "8 G R". Gnanasekaran says it stands for "8 Gajabahu Regiment" of the Sri Lankan Army.

A Roman Catholic church nearby and a Murugan temple some distance away are badly damaged. So are shopping complexes and a post office. A huge overhead water tank, which stood atop a tall pillar, is on the ground now. While Kilinochchi residents say it collapsed in Army shelling, a journalist from Colombo says the LTTE brought it down. There has been no piped water supply to the town for several years.

"Development," albeit in a very small way, is taking place at Kilinochchi. The church has received a thatched cover. A tiled building is being repaired to house a medical centre. A lathe is coming up. Where cement concrete buildings stood, mud huts are coming up now. Government personnel recently inspected the damaged hospital. For the residents of Kilinochchi, rebuilding the hospital is a priority.

In the market square is a branch of Bank of Tamil Eelam, run by the LTTE. S. Ravindran, manager, concedes that the bank does business only in Sri Lankan currency. It accepts current deposits, fixed deposits and savings bank accounts. The bank has been functioning from 1995. "We give loans to agriculturists, industrialists and businessmen. They return the money promptly," Ravichandran says. Nearby is the District Court of Tamil Eelam.

E. Ayadhurai, Government Agent (Collector) for Kilinochchi district, reports there were 36,000 people in the district and 3,000 in the town. "People want peace. People do not want war. This is one of the reasons why the LTTE went for a ceasefire." According to him, the LTTE, after wresting control of the town from the Army in 1998, cleared more than 40,000 mines in the district using rudimentary tackle. He says there are plans to rebuild the hospital and get the post office working again.

On the road, there is a sudden flurry of traffic. Clouds of dust rise in the air. LTTE policemen, dressed in dark blue trousers and light blue shirts, materialise. There are also commando policemen among them. Veluchamy Ramesh and Kandaswamy Sakthivel say they are not mere traffic policemen but inquire into every kind of crime in town. They quickly bring order to the traffic. The peace marathon from Colombo has reached Kilinochchi.

Lucky Peiris, Senior Superintendent of Police, who is leading the marathon, declares with conviction, "Past is war. Future is peace. I love peace. My officers love peace. All policemen are happy to have peace. The Prime Minister wants everybody to get into the stream of peace."

Peiris says that the peace marathon, which left Colombo on April 6, includes two policewomen and Upali Kumarasiri, Superintendent of Police. A Buddhist monk, Rev. Rambukale Sudamme, is accompanying them in a van. Peiris says the Tamils are welcome to join the peace run. S.K. Warnashantha, policeman, tells us he joined the run with "high expectations of peace and love for the Tamil people." Ranil Sewathi, who lived with Tamils and Muslims in Trincomalee, adds: "With hopes of living in harmony, I am taking part in the race."

It is evening and we visit the "Cemetery of the Warriors" of the LTTE at Kanagapuram, about 5 km from Kilinochchi town. The LTTE calls it "The Sleeping Place of the Great Warriors." A legend in Tamil at the entrance-arch says: "The heroes of history live here. Let us remember them as long as the Tamils live." Spread over scores of acres, the cemetery is kept spic and span. There is total silence. There are lawns and trees all round. The bodies of several hundred LTTE fighters are buried here. The tombstones mention the name of the dead fighter, the place to which he or she belonged and the date of death. There are memorial stones for those whose bodies could not be recovered, including Black Tigers and Black Sea Tigers, who are kamikaze fighters. Every day at 5-55 p.m., the cemetery keeper rings a bell and observes three minutes of silence in memory of the killed fighters.

On our return to our place of stay, we have a meal of lemon rice and vegetables. About 70 journalists are put up in four houses. We sleep on the floor covered with plastic sheets. Each person is given a new mat, pillow and sheet. There are no fans in the long rooms.

A Sinhalese journalist wakes me up around 5-20 a.m. and announces that Prabakaran will meet the press around 7 a.m. Everybody hurries up. There are only about four toilets - all newly built. We bathe near the well, drawing water from it.

An LTTE member accompanies journalists in their cars. After driving a few kilometres, we reach Vadakkachi. It is here that the Tamil Eelam Economic Development Organisation (TEEDO) of the LTTE is situated. The campus is clean with four long halls. In the middle is a quadrangle. Sudha Master, a senior LTTE member, briefs us on the security procedures we have to undergo. Another senior member, Mathi, starts taking down our names. About 350 journalists go through the checks and line up in front of a room.

The procedures leave nothing to chance. Satellite telephones are taboo. LTTE men run a fine tooth comb through everything. They feel the shirt collars including collar pins and shirt sleeves. They open journalists' pens; flip through their shorthand notebooks; test wrist watches, reading glasses and battery cells; scan audio cassette recorders and video camera equipment; weigh still and video cameras on electronic scales; poke the heels of shoes; and ask journalists to remove their shoes, socks and belts. Male journalists have to remove their shirts. Journalists are asked to open their mouth and push out their tongue. If anybody has dentures, they are tapped. Every journalist is videographed and photographed.

By the time the security procedures are completed, it is around 4-45 p.m. The journalists are herded into buses and driven to the venue of the press conference, some distance away. Women LTTE cadres stand on the roadside with assault rifles. Close to the venue is a tank bund. LTTE cadres line up on the bund, armed to the teeth. On the way, streams flow, and there are paddyfields and trees. There are bunkers guarded by men and women LTTE fighters.

The press conference is held in a make-shift hall constructed for the purpose in a clearing. A low wall runs on three sides and on the fourth side was the elevated dais.

About five minutes before Prabakaran drives in, his security guards dressed in battle fatigues and belonging to the "zero group" materialise and take up positions, armed with modified AK-47 assault rifles. They have ear phones. Prabakaran surprises everybody by driving in in a van from behind the venue. As he walks the short distance, his inner security ring dressed in civilian clothes goose-step before him to check whether there are any mines. A few minutes after a nervous-looking Prabakaran takes his seat on the dais with Balasingham beside him, the press conference begins.

For active ageing

PARVATHI MENON world-affairs

The U.N. Second World Conference on Ageing emphasises the need to promote the rights of the aged, especially in poor countries.

A MAJOR achievement of the 20th century was the breakthrough, made through advances in medical technology and better nutrition and healthcare, in extending the human life span. The 21st century must therefore live with the consequences of that far-reaching achievement. One million people cross the 60-year mark every month, and of them 80 per cent are in the developing world. According to United Nations figures, the fastest-growing segment of the older population is also the oldest one - comprising persons who are 80 years or more in age. This group numbers 70 million, and it is projected to grow to five times its present size over the next 50 years.

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Today, the world faces the many-sided challenge that a rapidly ageing population presents. As with every other global issue, this too will be experienced differently by the developing world and the developed world. The phenomenon of ageing, of growing numbers of persons crossing the age of 65, has transformed the demographic profile of world populations. While the increase in life expectancy has added tremendously to human happiness and human capabilities across all social groups and cultures, the consequences of this demographic change in a context of sharpening global inequality are posing a major challenge to individuals, families, communities and governments. This is particularly so in developing countries, where poverty, gender discrimination, urbanisation and - in sub-Saharan Africa - the Human Immunodeficiency Virus-Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV-AIDS) pandemic, have increased the hardships faced by the aged.

It is in this context that the U.N.'s Second World Conference on Ageing was held in Madrid, from April 8 to 12, 2002. The First World Conference on Ageing was held in Vienna 20 years ago. At that conference, an International Plan of Action focussing on the economic, psychosocial and health needs of the aged was prepared, and it called upon governments to approach the issue of ageing with a new sensitivity. Since then the world has changed; the needs and concerns of the ageing population have also altered dramatically. New issues have emerged, such as the impact of globalisation, HIV-AIDS and recurrent armed conflict and displacement. These will surely increase the hardships of aged persons.

The U.N. General Assembly resolved to hold the Second World Assembly in 2002. As in the case of most U.N. conferences, a preparatory committee was established to prepare a draft Plan of Action on Ageing. However, some issues remained unresolved in the draft document. Among them were the role of debt relief and aid to developing countries in addressing this problem; a human rights-based global approach to ageing; the economic options, including pension rights, before an ageing labour force; the special healthcare needs of the aged; and a monitoring mechanism for the implementation of the Plan of Action, including resource mobilisation through aid.

After four days of intense debate, delegates from 160 nations resolved to promote the rights of the aged, with special focus on poor countries. The problems of developing countries, where most of the aged people live in rural areas and where better healthcare and nutrition may quadruple the numbers of the aged by 2005, were highlighted. A 44-page International Plan of Action and a Political Declaration were adopted. Both documents committed governments and policy-makers in international forums to implementing a set of 117 recommendations revolving around three central themes. The themes are: older persons and development, advancing health and well-being into old age, and ensuring enabling and supportive environments for the aged. The primary responsibility for implementing the Madrid Plan of Action lies with governments, which must bring the concerns of aged persons within a policy framework in partnership with civil society, the private sector and the aged persons themselves. According to Juan Jose Lucas, president ex-officio of the Assembly and Minister of the Presidency of the Government of Spain, the Plan of Action is a "framework of development and combating poverty, which emphasised the importance of active ageing, of inter-generational solidarity and the necessity of helping developing countries".

Some of the issues highlighted in the Plan of Action are to:

* Achieve 'secure ageing' by pursuing the goal of poverty eradication and to build on the U.N. Principles for Older Persons;

* Help older persons participate effectively in their social, economic and political milieus;

* Guarantee the economic and political rights of aged people;

* Ensure the elimination of gender-based discrimination amongst aged persons;

* Provide for the special healthcare needs and support for aged people;

* Harness scientific research and expertise towards the individual, social and health implications of ageing, particularly within developing countries.

The Plan of Action urges governments to implement policies that promote access to training for older workers and sets a target date of 2015 for a 50 per cent improvement in adult literacy. Since many of the problems affecting the aged in poor countries are linked to problems of national debt, the Plan of Action recommends that developed countries make concrete efforts towards achieving the target of providing 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Product (GNP) as development aid to developing countries, while developing countries reach the target of providing 0.15 per cent of their GNP as aid to the least developed countries. The Political Declaration provides the international perspective on the issues of ageing and reiterates the necessity of cooperation in addressing them.

The demographic global context to the issue of ageing was provided by a report prepared by the U.N. as a background for the conference. The report suggests that we are moving into a future where the aged will soon outnumber the young. The report says: "The ageing of the population today is without parallel in the history of humanity. Increases in the proportions of older persons (60 or older) are being accompanied by declines in the proportions of the young (under age 15)." By 2050, the report says, the number of aged persons in the world will grow to almost two billion, exceeding the population of children (zero to 14 years) for the first time in human history. This historic reversal in relative proportions of the young and the old took place by 1998 in the more developed countries. By 2050, the proportion of aged persons is projected to reach 21 per cent.

There are marked regional differences in the numbers and proportions of older persons. The highest percentage (54 per cent) of the aged population lives in Asia. The pace of ageing in Asia is much faster and this is evident at the lower levels of socio-economic development. In fact, the fastest growing age group is the oldest-old, which comprises those aged 80 years and above. They are currently increasing at the rate of 3.8 per cent a year and comprise 12 per cent of the total number of aged persons. By the middle of the century, one-fifth of the older persons will be 80 years or older.

Another significant aspect of the demography of ageing is that the majority of the aged are women. Because life expectancy is greater for women than for men, today there are 81 older men per 100 older women. Among the oldest-old there are only 53 men for every 100 women. The ratio of men to women at older ages is lower in the more developed regions (71 men per 100 women) than in the less developed regions (88 men per 100 women), since there are larger differences in life expectancy between the sexes in the more developed regions. Aged women are likely to be far more vulnerable to socio-economic hardship than aged men.

The potential support ratio (PSR) is the number of persons between the ages of 15 and 64 years to one older person aged 65 years or above. This ratio indicates the dependency burden on potential workers. According to the report, the impact of demographic ageing is visible in the PSR, which has fallen and will continue to fall. Between 1950 and 2000, the PSR fell from 12 to nine people in the working ages for each person who is 65 years or older. By mid-century, the PSR is projected to fall to four working-age persons for each person 65 years or older. The PSR is an important indicator in the planning of social security schemes, especially pension schemes where current workers pay for the benefits of current retirees. The work participation levels of the aged in developed and developing countries tend to be different. In the less developed regions, older persons participate more in the labour markets, particularly in the informal sector.

The conference addressed the issues of the three global processes of globalisation, urbanisation and ageing, their impact on developing regions, especially on rural areas, where already a majority of the aged live. Apart from the major divide between the developed and developing countries, within the developing regions themselves factors such as regional and cultural specificities, national laws, the effects of armed conflict and the presence of refugee populations, droughts, the HIV-AIDS pandemic, and so on will impact differently on older populations. Migration processes where young adults leave their villages to seek jobs in cities, leaving behind the older members of the family, have greatly affected the status of the aged. Once remittances from the younger adults of the family dry up, the economic uncertainty combined with the breaking up of traditional extended family support structures will leave the old in rural families very vulnerable.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the HIV-AIDS pandemic, which has wiped out large numbers of young adults, has created new responsibilities for the aged, as child-carers. The issue of the ageing of the rural population, the conference noted, had to be addressed by the developing nations through a range of innovative policy actions. Rural ageing will have implications for food security, patterns of land-holding, health services, labour markets and so on. However, older persons bring to their social and economic environments a wealth of skills, experience and wisdom that are enriching and irreplaceable, the conference noted.

Traditional perspectives on old age as a phase of dependency, sickness and lack of productivity have today been overturned. With better standards of health awareness and nutrition, the elderly are making vital contributions to their societies. The U.N. has put forward the concept of "active ageing" and has called for governments to put in place policies that will keep aged people active for as long as possible, with more opportunities, a supportive environment and a better life.

America's war in the Philippines

world-affairs
WALDEN BELLO

An International Peace Mission suggests that the U.S.-aided hunt for Abu Sayyaf is merely an excuse that enables the U.S. to establish and expand a military presence in the region.

WITH 120 United States Special Forces units assisting 6,000 Filipino troops to flush out the Abu Sayyaf band that made news by kidnapping Western tourists, the island of Basilan in the Philippines has become the so-called "second front" against terrorism.

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"Links to Al Qaeda" is the reason Washington presents for zeroing in on Abu Sayyaf. However, even the Philippine government admits that there is no evidence of ties between Al Qaeda and Abu Sayyaf after 1995. Indeed, several intelligence agencies in the region have instead linked Al Qaeda to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The American presence is of course controversial. The deployment of foreign troops to deal with an internal insurgency or bandit problem is unconstitutional. The government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has sought to retain a modicum of legality by bringing in U.S. personnel under the guise of engaging them in the Balikatan ("shoulder-to-shoulder") joint military exercises. However, this explanation has not mollified critics, who not only question the legality of the U.S. presence but also fear that it will be profoundly destabilising for both the Philippines and the region.

A 14-member International Peace Mission that was composed of parliamentarians, academics, and civil society activists from nine countries visited Basilan and the neighbouring province of Zamboanga between March 23 and 26 to investigate the reasons and consequences of this sudden and expanding military commitment.

Among the issues they probed was what "added value" the U.S. troops brought to the fight against Abu Sayyaf. They found little conclusive evidence.

Indeed, as University of the Philippines Professor Roland Simbulan, a member of the mission, observed, "When it comes to counterinsurgency, the Philippine army, which has been fighting counterinsurgency wars almost continuously for the last 50 years, has probably more to teach the United States." Imparting training in the use of high-tech surveillance equipment, including pilotless spy planes, is said to be a vital contribution by the U.S. to the hunt for Abu Sayyaf. However, after over two months of the Special Forces' deployment and despite the use of high-tech equipment, the situation has not improved. An estimated 60 to 80 bandits continue to hold three hostages, including two American missionaries, and elude over 6,000 troops and their advisers on an island, which is not more than 1,359 square kilometres in area, where much of the primary forest cover has been destroyed by indiscriminate logging.

To members of the peace mission, the continuing failure of the military to quell a mere handful of bandits indicates that the main problem is political in character, not military. Abu Sayyaf appears to have a base in a Muslim majority that is resentful of their steady dispossession by a Christian settler community. More important, the bandits seem to enjoy support in high places, particularly in the provincial government and the regional military command.

Particularly striking was the testimony that members of the peace mission heard from the Catholic priest Father Cirilo Nacorda and other former Abu Sayyaf victims, who claimed that the Abu Sayyaf band that had kidnapped tourists in Palawan last year were allowed to get away after being trapped by the military. According to Nacorda, the ransom money was shared by the bandits, the army officers and the governor of the province, Wahab Akbar, who acted as the go-between.

According to a preliminary report that was drawn up by the head of the mission, if the problem is mainly political, "relying on a military solution is not likely to produce results. Dismantling the structures of collusion and corruption should be the main focus, not adding more troops and firepower." The U.S.' recent request to the Philippine government to add about 300 more troops to the 160 that have already been deployed, has caused the mission to suspect that chasing Abu Sayyaf is merely an excuse for a "strategic intent", which is to "establish and expand a military presence in the southern Philippines directed at Muslim revivalist movements there and in South-east Asia." If this is the case, it warns, "then the Philippines may be sliding into a situation of being a base for a long-term U.S. war against insurgents and revivalist movements, with all the destabilising consequences for the whole region of such an endless war."

Already, the stepped up involvement is creating more than just political problems such as the infringement of sovereignty or the threat of potential conflicts with the Philippines' neighbours, such as Malaysia or Indonesia. There are more mundane issues that could nevertheless be powder kegs, such as the return of the sex trade catering to U.S. troops or the violation of land rights in the acquisition of training sites. However, the process of increased intervention has been set in motion. And the arrival of the Americans is not unpopular. In the province of Zamboanga, the Christian majority is said to favour overwhelmingly the coming of the Americans. In Basilan itself, there is strong support for the U.S. presence in the key towns of Isabela and Lamitan, where Christians are in the majority. However, in the Muslim-dominated interior, there is allegedly much less support.

The fact is that Christians in particular appear to think that the U.S. presence is the magic bullet that will end the 30 years of almost constant warfare that has been waged between them and Muslims who were rendered a minority in their traditional homeland in Mindanao.

Since the roots of Christian-Muslim conflict lie in economic dispossession, political subordination and religious discrimination, this is an illusion that is not likely to survive the destabilising consequences of the U.S. presence.

The U.S.' allies in this unfolding war are themselves likely to be the source of many of its future frustrations. Both the U.S. and Philippine government officials said that they welcomed the mission. However, a few days after the International Peace Mission left Basilan, some island activists who had assisted in organising their trip were fired upon, while several others were arrested without warrants. Like so many other armed incidents in this conflict-ridden province, everybody knew who organised the terror campaign, and it was not Abu Sayyaf.

Inter-Press Service

Walden Bello is Professor of Sociology at the University of the Philippines and executive director of Focus on the Global South, a Bangkok-based research and advocacy institute .

Feeling vulnerable

The Democratic Front government in Maharashtra is faced with the prospect of instability, but bickerings within the Opposition ensure its survival.

IN its third year in power, the Democratic Front (D.F.) government in Maharashtra, headed by Vilasrao Deshmukh, is going through its most vulnerable period so far. In the 288-member Assembly, the D.F. holds 148 seats - a slim majority, which has been threatened severely during the past six months. The main Opposition, the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance, has a strength of 125, independents hold 12 seats, and two seats are held by the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

The government suffered a setback on March 19 when two MLAs of the CPI(M) withdrew their support, stating that the two major constituents of the ruling coalition, the Congress(I) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), ignored smaller parties and took anti-people decisions. There was no immediate threat to the government as the CPI(M) is supporting the D.F. from the outside. But the withdrawal of support meant that the D.F. could no longer rely on the compulsions of coalition politics when it came to voting. In October 2001, the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) withdrew its support to the D.F. after two of its MLAs defected to the NCP.

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A few days after the withdrawal of support by the CPI(M), the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP), with five seats, and the Janata Dal (Secular), with two seats, also threatened to withdraw their support. Neither carried out the threat, but what is notable in the situation that has emerged is the extent of power that a small party like the PWP has come to wield over the D.F. Recognising its strength, the PWP too has been playing a bargaining game.

The political elbowing started with the civic elections. The coastal district of Raigad has been a PWP stronghold. Its 19 members constituted the largest single group in the Zilla Parishad of 61 members. However, the Shiv Sena candidate was elected President of the Zilla Parishad. The PWP alleges that its defeat was engineered by the NCP's Sunil Tatkare, Minister of State for Urban Development at that time. According to the PWP, Tatkare encouraged NCP members of the Zilla Parishad to vote for the Shiv Sena nominee. In return, the NCP candidate was elected vice-president. The PWP termed this an act of "betrayal" and threatened withdrawal of its support unless Tatkare was dropped from the Council of Ministers. For the Chief Minister, it was a choice between two evils. On the one hand, rejecting the PWP's demand meant a loss of majority support and a possible bid by the Opposition to form the government. On the other, giving in to the PWP's demand meant facing the ire of the NCP.

As the PWP served a 24-hour ultimatum, the Chief Minister accepted its demand, especially in view of the withdrawal of support by the CPI(M) a few days earlier. The loss of support of the five PWP members would have reduced the D.F. government's strength to 143, which is two seats short of a simple majority.

However, the decision to remove Tatkare met with severe opposition from within the ranks of the NCP because he is seen as being responsible for enabling the NCP to consolidate its base in the Konkan region. Moreover, within the NCP there is a section that is opposed to Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal and it is expected that his role in Tatkare's dismissal will be used as an excuse to hit out at him. Bhujbal's detractors in the NCP said that Tatkare's political contributions to the party were not recognised. Bhujbal defended his acceptance of the resignation letter saying that he had to prevent the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance from returning to power.

Despite being a major constituent of the D.F., the NCP has chosen to support the Shiv Sena or the BJP in at least five civic body or zilla parishad elections. "It would seem that Mr. Sharad Pawar still follows his one-point programme of defeating his old partner (the Congress)," said a Congress leader, who pointed out that both Deshmukh and Bhujbal had agreed that the Congress and the NCP would cooperate with each other in those zilla parishads and civic bodies where neither had an advantage. This agreement was adhered to only in the Ulhasnagar civic elections.

The rift is being widened by the byelection to the Maharashtra Legislative Council, where the contest for the seat that was held by the late Arun Mehta is between the NCP and the Janata Dal(Secular). The NCP claims that the seat should go to its candidate, since Mehta had supported the party. In what is seen as a bid to isolate the NCP in State politics, the Shiv Sena-BJP combine is also expected to support the Janata Dal(Secular) candidate.

The Opposition is, of course, watching keenly the turmoil within the D.F. Two and a half years ago, when the D.F. government was sworn in, the Shiv Sena's Narayan Rane, who is now the Leader of the Opposition, promised his party president Bal Thackeray that he would topple the government. However, the Shiv Sena-BJP has had problems of its own. One is of course the not-so-easy task of engineering the defection of at least seven D.F. members. Also, in order to reach the halfway mark, the Opposition will have to lure independents with promises of ministerial positions and other favours. Political observers say that this is the only option for the Opposition since it is unlikely that the PWP will enter into an alliance with either the Shiv Sena or the BJP.

Both the Shiv Sena and the BJP too have in-house problems. The most recent manifestation of the cracks in the Shiv Sena was the manner in which an announcement was made of Union Power Minister Suresh Prabhu's resignation. After much confusion, both Prabhu and the Shiv Sena spokesperson denied any resignation. A former BJP office-bearer said: "It was just one more display of nerves by Bal Thackeray who likes to keep his Ministers on their toes, especially those who do not pay him obeisance regularly. Suresh Prabhu was seen as moving away from the Shiv Sena. He is not a rabble-rouser in Parliament, unlike other Shiv Sainiks. So he became suspect for a while." Political observers say that intra-party politics and the emergence of a new culture within the Shiv Sena were also responsible for the resignation episode. The other public showdown was between the two Shiv Sena scions - Raj, Thackeray's nephew, and Uddhav, Thackeray's son. The power struggle between the two was resolved with Uddhav being informally anointed as Thackeray's successor.

The State BJP is also going through a bad patch. Politicking on the basis of caste has caused rifts within the party. In March, senior leader and former Rural Development Minister Anna Dange resigned from the party, alleging that cliques within the party were splintering it. He said that mid-level functionaries had usurped the decision-making powers.

Dange is not the first person in the party to express discontent. The actions of two other leaders point to emerging divisions based on caste. Suryabhan Wahadne Patil, a senior leader and former BJP State president, along with former Union Minister Jaisingh Gaikwad, accused Union Minister Pramod Mahajan and BJP national vice-president Gopinath Munde of sidelining Marathas in the BJP. Recently, Wahadne had presided over a meeting of Maratha leaders in Shirdi. Groupism runs so deep in the BJP that Gaikwad even shared a platform with NCP chief Sharad Pawar, a Maratha.

At the root of the turmoil in the BJP are renominations. Wahadne wanted to be renominated to the Rajya Sabha. Dange wanted a fourth term in the Legislative Council. However, Wahadne lost out to Ved Prakash Goyal whom the BJP chose since it could nominate only one person. Dange lost to Nitin Gadkari, the all-powerful former Minister who holds the tumultous Vidharbha region for the BJP.

Thus, despite the D.F.'s vulnerability, the Opposition is unable even to make a bid to topple the government. Now, if any serious bid were to become successful, it should be supported by discontent in the ruling coalition.

A difficult transition

The court-mandated switch to compressed natural gas as fuel for buses in Delhi proceeds in fits and starts.

THE Central government and the Delhi State government came in for severe criticism from a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court on April 5 for not complying with its orders on the conversion of diesel-run buses in the capital to the compressed natural gas (CNG) mode. The Bench, comprising Chief Justice B.N. Kirpal and Justices Arijit Pasayat and K.G. Balakrishnan, ruled that its orders could not be nullified or altered by administrative decisions of the Central and State governments.

The decision to continue running diesel buses was in clear violation of the court's orders, it said, and, for the first time, imposed a fine on bus operators whose non-compliant vehicles remained on the road even after the January 31 deadline set by the court. It directed the Director of Transport, Delhi, to collect Rs.500 a bus a day for 30 days and Rs.1,000 a bus a day thereafter. Operators who had placed orders with manufacturers of CNG buses but had not taken delivery were given two weeks to do so or face cancellation of their permits.

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The court also directed the Delhi government to phase out diesel buses at the rate of 800 a month, beginning from May 1 while turning down its plea to restrict the rate of phasing out to 200 buses a month, given the shortage of CNG. The request, the bench observed, was based on an imaginary situation of shortage.

Significantly, the court directed the Union government to ensure that after meeting the transport and fuel needs of Delhi there was enough CNG to be made available to nine other cities where air pollution levels were high. The cities are Agra, Lucknow, Jharia, Kanpur, Faridabad, Varanasi, Patna, Jodhpur and Pune. The Bench also ordered the Centre to give priority to the transport sector, including private vehicles, in Delhi and other high air-polluted cities, and eventually in the entire country, in the allocation of CNG. Only after that it could be allocated to industries, but even here priority would be given to the public sector undertakings and power projects.

The Bench was critical of the repeated pleas for extension of the deadline for conversion of buses in Delhi. "The Central government's intention was to clearly frustrate the orders passed by this court," it observed. "The manner in which it has sought to achieve this object is to try and discredit CNG as the proper fuel, and secondly, to represent to this court that CNG is in short supply and thirdly, delay the setting up of adequate dispensing stations."

The National Capital Territory of Delhi and the Union government had, under one pretext or the other, sought for more than one year extension of time to convert commercial vehicles to CNG mode, the Bench observed. While the "anxiety of the Delhi government, to give it the benefit of doubt, was to see that bus services in the city were not disrupted... the response of the Union of India in this regard is baffling, to say the least," it said.

THE comprehensive order, which covers almost all aspects of CNG and its supply, made clear that there was no shortage of the fuel and criticised the preference given by the Union government to meet the CNG requirements of industry disregarding environmental considerations. The Bench did not attach much importance to the Mashelkar Committee report. "It was naive of the Mashelkar Committee to expect that merely laying down fresh emission norms would be effective or sufficient to check or control vehicular emission," it noted. The Committee, it said, overlooked the fact that such norms had been in place for a long time and were regularly violated.

To explain the untenability of the Mashelkar report, the Bench evoked the "precautionary principle" of sustainable development elucidated in Vellore Citizens' Welfare Forum vs the Union of India. It held that unless an activity was proved to be environmentally benign in real and practical terms, it is to be presumed to be environmentally harmful. Emission and fuel norms had existed for over two decades and the state of the environment continued to be dismal. The government's role therefore could not be limited to specifying norms as this would amount to a clear abdication of its constitutional and statutory duty to protect and preserve the environment and therefore was in the "teeth of the precautionary principle".

On the supply aspect of CNG, the Bench observed that the Centre's plea was incorrect as the indigenous production was far in excess of what was supplied for the transport sector. An overwhelming quantity of CNG was going to industry and power projects and a very small fraction went to transport. Even if there was a shortage, the Bench observed, if crude oil could be imported and supplied to refineries for manufacture of petrol and diesel, there was no reason why CNG could not be imported. Indicating the bias towards industry, it pointed out that while industry bought natural gas at Rs.3.55 a kg, a commercial vehicle owner in Delhi had to pay Rs.13.11 for the same amount.

The Bench ordered Indraprastha Gas Limited to make available 16.1 lakh kg of CNG a day by June 30 to the transport sector and increase its supply as and when needed. It also directed IGL to prepare a scheme, with a time schedule, for supply of CNG to other polluted cities and provide the same to the court by May 9. The court gave the Central government the option to supply, in addition to CNG, liquefied petroleum gas or any other clean, non-adulterable fuel as recommended by the Bhure Lal Committee, as an alternative fuel.

Bus operators and their associations were up in arms at the court order. They had been penalised and also faced the prospect of their buses being phased out. They went on a two-day strike, during which all buses, barring a skeletal fleet run by the Delhi Transport Corporation, remained off the roads. The Delhi government directed the closure of all schools for two days but could do little to ease the plight of office-goers and commuters. Madan Lal Khurana and Sahib Singh Verma, members of Parliament from the Bharatiya Janata Party, declared their intentions to push for an ordinance on the use of multi-fuels. But the move failed, disappointing the bus operators.

The issue of conversion of transport buses to run on CNG has been hanging fire since 1986. Repeated extensions were sought and new deadlines set. At one stage, the very viability of CNG was questioned and ultra low sulphur diesel was discussed as an option. The Delhi government and the Central government kept blaming each other for the lack of progress in the matter. The former was held responsible for the tardy phasing out of diesel buses, while the latter was blamed for not ensuring a steady supply of CNG. The filling stations had long queues, and it took several hours for a refill.

Meanwhile, random accidents involving vehicles retrofitted with CNG kits were reported and all this was seen as a ploy by the rumoured "diesel lobby" to discredit CNG.

On September 23, 1986, the court first directed the Delhi government to file an affidavit detailing the steps taken in the city to control pollution, including vehicular emissions and noise. Several measures were taken subsequently, including the use of very low sulphur diesel and lead-free petrol, the fitting of catalytic converters, phasing out of grossly polluting old vehicles, the lowering of benzene content in petrol and the stipulation that new vehicles - petrol and diesel - meet the Euro-II standards by September 2000.

In the course of the proceedings, the Bhure Lal Committee was set up under the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986. It recommended the phasing out of non-CNG buses and the conversion of diesel buses to the CNG mode. The Committee's report was accepted and on July 28, 1998, the court fixed the deadline for the switch-over to CNG.

The need for an alternative fuel to diesel had been articulated in at least three apex court orders - on October 21, 1994; March 28, 1995; and February 9, 1996. In its April 5, 2002 order the Supreme Court pointed out that much before the receipt of the Bhure Lal committee report, it had, in previous orders, referred to the conversion of government vehicles to CNG, the installation of CNG stations and provision of kits. In fact, in the 1994 order, the court had suggested that in highly polluted cities like Delhi and in other metros as well, government vehicles and vehicles of public sector undertakings, including public transport vehicles, could be equipped with CNG cylinders.

The Bench refuted the argument of the Central government that no other city in the world had introduced CNG buses on a scale as directed by it. The Bench agreed that while most industrialised cities in the world did not have large numbers of CNG-run buses, the share of natural gas-run buses was steadily growing worldwide.

At the moment, there are 3,727 CNG-run buses in Delhi and with the phasing out of an additional number of 6,338 diesel-run buses, the total of CNG-run buses on the roads would be 10,065. Bus manufacturers have contended that 1,500 chassis, which had been ordered, were ready but had not been taken delivery of. The manufacturers, mainly Ashok Leyland and Telco, stated that they were in a position to provide 800 buses a month and that if operators chose to buy new buses, then the entire fleet of diesel-run buses could be phased out within eight months.

Shyam Nath Gola, president of the Delhi Bus Ekta Manch and one of the main representatives of the bus operators, told Frontline that till date the supply of CNG was inadequate and vehicles had to wait for more than 24 hours. Of a total of 94 filling stations, there were only 18 "mother" filling stations, the rest were "daughter" stations that basically picked up CNG from the former. Gola said that not all the daughter stations were functioning and that the number of mother stations was grossly inadequate compared with some 462 diesel filling stations. Several areas, especially in East Delhi and West Delhi where the majority of commuters came from, did not have a single mother station. Amarjeet Singh Sehgal, president of the Delhi Contract Bus Association, echoed this view. He cautioned that buses might go off the roads again if, even after the conversion to the CNG mode, gas was not available owing to the limited infrastructure.

The infrastructure problems will now have to be worked out between the two governments. The onus of supply is on the Union government. The installation of more dispensing stations is high on the agenda and the Delhi government has given some relief to the bus operators by waiving sales tax on CNG. On May 9, Indraprastha Gas Limited has to explain to the apex court the steps it has taken to ensure the supply of CNG to the transport sector. The last word on the CNG conundrum has not been said as yet.

In Mumbai, CNG or nothing

THE Bombay High Court order stating that all 137-D diesel-engine Premier model taxis in Mumbai be either phased out or converted to compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) by May 31, opened a can of worms that has, among other things, exposed the lack of infrastructure to facilitate the change.

The order states that by April 30 all diesel taxis will have to go off the road and by May 31 their registration should be cancelled if they have not been converted to CNG mode. The Mumbai Taximen's Union called the deadline "impossible and impractical". While lauding the move towards a cleaner environment, J.P. Cama, who represents the taximen in court, said, "The immediate implication of the order is that you are taking away livelihoods without providing any alternatives."

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Taxis provide direct employment to about 1.5 lakh people and indirect employment to five lakh people in Mumbai. Of around 55,000 taxis registered in Greater Mumbai, about 15,000 run on diesel. Only around 500 of these have been converted to CNG mode. The reasons for this are many. The CNG kit cannot be retrofitted on to a diesel engine. So the conversion will involve replacing the diesel engine with a petrol one and attaching the CNG kit to it. The total cost of this is Rs.60,000. There are not enough petrol engines to meet the demand and Premier Automobiles Ltd, the makers of Premier Padmini, which constitutes the majority of Mumbai's taxis, exists only on paper. Taximen are thus forced to depend on the secondhand market.

"Naturally it is not possible to find 15,000 secondhand petrol engines so soon," said A.L. Quadros, general secretary of the Mumbai Taximen's Union. At a popular secondhand market in Mumbai, petrol engines are available though not in the required numbers. Initially such purchases were not encouraged because in most cases the engines lacked documents that could establish their authenticity. This problem was overcome with the court agreeing that it was enough that the taximen filed affidavits stating the place of purchase of the engines.

Other hurdles, however, remain. The most time-consuming one among them is retrofitting. "The diesel engine has to be removed, the new petrol engine has to be matched and then tested," said Quadros. At the rate of three cars a day, the 16 authorised retrofitting stations in the city can convert only 48 cars a day. With approximately 25 working days a month, this works out to 1,200 cars a month. That still leaves more than 13,000 taxis to be converted.

While acknowledging the health and environmental concerns arising from automobile emissions, Quadros called for support to the problems of taximen. They have to line up, sometimes for as long as six hours, for a refill at the CNG stations. There are only 23 CNG stations to service the 15,000 CNG taxis (most of the petrol taxis have already been converted to CNG) in the city. The union wants the number to be doubled. Mahanagar Gas Limited has said that it has the capacity to fulfil the demand. However, while the taximen are being urged to convert to CNG, corresponding pressure is not exerted on the administration to provide more filling stations.

Most of the refilling stations are located in the suburbs whereas the majority of the taxis ply in the island city. One cylinder lasts 60 to 70 km, and on an average a taxi covers about 90 km a day. The cylinder has to be refilled every day, and if the filling pressure is low it takes longer to fill.

Many taxi-owners are still paying off loans they took to purchase their vehicles, making it impossible for them to handle the extra burden of Rs.60,000 required for the conversion to CNG. Besides, said Quadros, there were not enough CNG kits available. The union has asked the government to make these easily available and provide financial assistance to taxi-owners.

A revolt in Orissa

Rebel BJD legislators, dissatisfied with Navin Patnaik's style of functioning, are threatening to bring down his government, while the Chief Minister remains indecisive on how to deal with them.

NAVIN PATNAIK, Orissa Chief Minister and president of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), is a worried man today. His rivals have been trying for some time to split the party and now, after the Rajya Sabha elections in March, the rebels have gathered substantial strength to challenge his leadership. By winning the Rajya Sabha election on March 27 as an independent candidate, BJD leader Dilip Ray has made it clear that he has the support of a good number of party legislators. Ten days before the elections, Patnaik expelled Ray, one of the founder-members of the BJD and a former Union Minister, from the party. Ray won amid large-scale cross-voting by legislators of the BJD and its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party. Much to Patnaik's consternation, Ray, who was Industry Minister in Biju Patnaik's Cabinet, managed to get the votes of 14 BJD and eight BJP legislators. Besides, he bagged the votes of two MLAs of the Congress(I), one of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and one independent.

Faced with a rebellion from within his party and from the BJP, Navin Patnaik rushed to Delhi to seek Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's support. Informed sources said that Patnaik lodged a strong protest against the State leadership of the BJP, which, he alleged, had refused to take action against the eight MLAs who supported Ray and had been working in tandem with Ray to unseat him. After meeting the Prime Minister, Patnaik dismissed as speculation reports that moves were afoot to displace him.

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The BJP-BJD alliance in Orissa has been under strain for quite a while. A powerful group in the State unit of the BJP wants the party to pull out of the government and provide outside support as it is "disgusted over the government's non-performance and the Chief Minister's style of functioning". At a BJP Legislature Party meeting early this year, party MLAs criticised the way in which the coalition government was run by the BJD and the Chief Minister's refusal to listen to anyone other than a coterie of bureaucrats. They also said that the party would suffer unless it withdrew from the government.

The conflict between the two parties reached a crisis point during the panchayat elections. Signs of a rift were evident after the coalition partners failed to arrive at a seat-sharing formula. As a result, the BJP performed miserably and also spoiled the BJD's chances at several places, to the advantage of the Congress(I). The coalition was further weakened after the March 16 attack on the Orissa Assembly building by certain Sangh Parivar outfits. Without directly accusing the BJP, Damodar Rout, secretary-general of the BJD, alleged that the Sangh Parivar activists were used by "narrow-minded, corrupt and power-hungry people". He said, "The incident has not only damaged the secular image of the State but exposed the fascist face of Hindutva fundamentalists."

The election of Dilip Ray to the Rajya Sabha has created a new dissident platform, which includes Bijoy Mahapatra, another rival whom Navin Patnaik had expelled in controversial circumstances just before the Assembly elections in February 2000. Patnaik had issued Mahapatra, another founder-member of the BJD and an influential political leader, the party ticket to contest the elections. But on the last date for the filing of nominations Patnaik chose somebody else. Patnaik's calculated action gave Mahapatra little time to complete the formalities required to contest even as an independent.

Within six months of his expulsion, Bijoy Mahapatra floated a new political forum, the Orissa Gana Parishad (OGP). The OGP was backed by leaders of the Janata Dal(United) and Janata Dal(Secular) besides some disgruntled BJP leaders. The State unit of the JD(S), headed by Ashok Das, former president of the undivided Janata Dal in Orissa, enjoys considerable influence in several districts. But the rank and file of the party, who consist mostly of non-Congress(I) and non-BJP elements, are disappointed as the party is politically inactive in the State. Prominent leaders of the OGP are member of Parliament Tathagata Satpathy, former BJP MP Upendra Nayak, State president of the JD(U) Narasingha Mishra and BJP leader Shanti Das.

The OGP, said to be the harbinger of a new regional political party, is the sixth of its kind in the State's political history. The Ganatantra Parishad, the first regional party, was formed in 1950 by Rajendra Narayan Singhdeo and it ruled Orissa in coalition with the Congress for three years from 1957 with Singhdeo as Chief Minister. In 1966, Harekrishna Mahatab left the Congress to form the Jana Congress, which formed the government with the support of the Swatantra Party after the 1967 Assembly elections. It was in power for two years. Biju Patnaik formed the Utkal Congress in 1969. Although Patnaik was defeated in the elections that year, his party, along with the Jharkhand Party and the Swatantra Party, formed the government, which was headed by Biswanath Das, a non-controversial independent member. That government fell within a year and the Congress came to power after a fresh round of elections. The fourth regional party, the Jagrata Orissa, was formed in 1985 by Nandini Satpathy. In the Assembly elections later that year Satpathy was elected but all other party candidates lost. The fifth regional party, the BJD, was formed by Navin Patnaik in 1998.

Soon after he was elected to the Rajya Sabha, Dilip Ray reportedly began making moves to split the BJD with the help of more than a dozen rebel MLAs and bring about a rift in the coalition. The BJD has 73 members, and the coalition has a comfortable majority in the 147-member Assembly. But if 20-odd MLAs break away, Patnaik's government will be in trouble. Speculation is rife that the rebels may first try to split the parliamentary party. Informed sources said that at least four of the party's 10 Lok Sabha members were in touch with Dilip Ray.

State Finance Minister Ramakrushna Patnaik announced on April 6 his decision to resign from the Cabinet. The Minister is reportedly dissatisfied with the state of affairs in the government, particularly the manner in which some people close to the Chief Minister are being "encouraged" to speak ill of him after the Rajya Sabha elections. He was also unhappy with the Chief Minister's treatment of Dilip Ray and the way the latter was ignominiously expelled from the party. The Chief Minister dropped a BJP member and two BJD members from his Cabinet last year.

Now, anticipating a serious threat to his leadership, Navin Patnaik has announced a Cabinet expansion. This is intended to curb the growing dissension within his party. There are reports that the Chief Minister may induct as many as seven members from the BJD and three from the BJP. In order to appease the rebels, especially leaders from the coastal belt, he may induct another five Ministers, taking the size of the Ministry to 37.

A senior BJD leader confided that a mere Cabinet expansion would not deter the rebels as the party has become a personal fief of Navin Patnaik. "Can you offer ministerial berths to two dozen MLAs?" he asked.

Patnaik's misery has stemmed from his failure to ensure the smooth functioning of the ruling alliance. His attempts to eliminate his rivals politically, first Bijoy Mahapatra and then Dilip Ray, have escalated infighting and factionalism. The combined strength of Mahapatra and Ray, observers feel, can pose a serious threat to the Chief Minister's position. The Chief Minister's own men now accuse him of inefficiency. They say that he has failed to take on corruption and also to deal with problems that arose immediately after disasters such as the super-cyclone and obtain the help of a friendly government at the Centre to take up development programmes.

Navin Patnaik appears to be dithering in taking action against those 14 party MLAs who defied the whip and voted for Dilip Ray. The party knows who violated the whip, as there was no attempt on the part of the rebels to keep their stand a secret. Any action against them is likely to cause a split in the party. Observers believe that the combined forces of Mahapatra and Ray would script the next chapter in the State's politics.

For fair governance

The Karnataka Lokayukta, imbued with a new vigour, seeks to offer justice in respect of complaints of maladministration and corruption.

KARNATAKA was the first State in the country to establish, through an act of the State legislature in 1983, the institution of the Lokayukta, an ombudsman-like authority to enforce ethics and accountability in public office. Set up by the Ramakrishna Hegde government in fulfilment of the Janata Party's 1983 election promise of 'value-based governance', the Karnataka Lokayukta is not merely the first of its kind in the country, it is governed by an Act that is the most comprehensive of all the existing Lokayukta Acts. The Karnataka Lokayukta Act, 1984, empowers the institution to improve standards of public administration by investigating allegations of corruption, maladministration, favouritism and abuse of power by public servants, right up to the office of the Chief Minister.

Despite the progressive legislation that underpins it and its wide-ranging powers, the Lokayukta in the last 20 years of its existence led a relatively quiet existence. In recent months, however, it appears to have been imbued with a new vigour, as reflected in the growing numbers of cases that are coming before it, and the media attention that its work is attracting. This sudden burst of activism may be reflective of a heightened public awareness of institutions that offer quick justice in respect of complaints against maladministration and corruption by public servants in the discharge of their duties. It is also in no small measure due to the sense of purpose that the present Lokayukta, Justice N. Venkatachala, has brought to the job.

The creation of the office of an ombudsman or an ombudsman-like authority has been a long-standing demand in India that individuals, groups and parties within the political spectrum have made. More powerful, however, has been the resistance from vested political interests to such a move. In 1968, the Administrative Reforms Commission, headed by Morarji Desai, in a report on the problems of the redress of citizens' grievances, recommended the appointment of a Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in the States. Since then, several draft bills for the establishment of a Lokpal have been brought forward in Parliament, but none has been passed. Several States now have Lokayuktas. "Of all the Lokayukta Acts, Karnataka's is by far the most exhaustive and has the widest coverage," said Justice Venkatachala. "Even the office of the Chief Minister can be investigated under the Act. Although under the original Act the Lokayukta could take suo motu action against the Chief Minister, this provision was amended six months after the Act was passed. Under the present provision, the Lokayukta can investigate a grievance or allegation against the office of the Chief Minister but cannot initiate action on its own."

The ambit of the Act is wide. It empowers the Lokayukta (or the Upalokayukta in respect of public servants earning salaries less than Rs.10,620 a month) to investigate actions of public servants in respect of allegations made or grievances expressed against them. An allegation can range from an affirmation that the public servant has abused his position to favour himself; was actuated in the discharge of his function by personal or corrupt motives; is guilty of corruption, favouritism, nepotism or lack of integrity; or has not acted in accordance with the norms of integrity and conduct to be followed. A claim by a person that he or she sustained hardship as a consequence of maladministration constitutes a grievance. Where the Lokayukta after an inquiry is satisfied that an allegation or complaint is substantiated, it can recommend that the public servant concerned be removed from his or her post. The 'competent authority' (the Governor, the Chief Minister or the State government, depending on the seniority of the public servant under investigation) can reject the Lokayukta's recommendation, but only with good reason. If, however, the 'competent authority' accepts the Lokayukta's recommendation, the public servant has to resign from his or her post. Under the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, the Lokayukta can directly initiate criminal prosecution against a public servant if the Lokayukta is satisfied that a criminal offence has been committed. It is also empowered to issue a warrant to authorise a police officer for a search and seizure operation against a public servant. Every public servant in Karnataka has to submit an annual statement of his or her assets and liabilities, along with those of their family members.

The comprehensive legal powers given to the Lokayukta is, however, not without restrictions. The scope of Section 11, Clause 4 of the Act is wide and could give considerable protection to public servants in special circumstances. In giving evidence, a public servant is not required to furnish information if it "might prejudice the State of Karnataka or the security or defence or international relations of India (including India's relations with the government or any other country or with any international organisation)". Similarly, a public servant need not disclose information which "might involve the disclosure of proceedings of the Cabinet of the State government or any Committee of that Cabinet." These clauses could certainly fetter the reach of the Lokayukta into the higher echelons of administration.

Justice Venkatachala, who assumed office in July 2001, has expanded the scope of his office by introducing several innovative measures. He has started the practice of a touring court, travelling to the districts and holding open court sessions in the district centres. The first round of sessions in the districts has been completed, and he is currently on a second round, touring the remaining district centres. "We have been trying to intervene in situations where the poor are affected," Justice Venkatachala told Frontline. "We are taking up complaints relating to maladministration in district government hospitals, matters relating to government land grants, government housing problems, the condition of remand homes, cases of atrocities committed by the police, improper treatment of prisoners in jails, the running of anganwadis, and so on." In his first round of visits, he heard 950 complaints from 12 districts. Of these, 690 were disposed of, and the remaining are being investigated. The Lokayukta's tour plans are announced in the districts well ahead. All heads of district government departments are required to be present at the Lokayukta's sittings so that the cases can be resolved quickly.

Justice Venkatachala has for the first time appointed Vigilance Directors to help him with his hugely increased workload. Dr. H. Sudarshan, the highly regarded Chairman of the State government's Task Force on Health and Family Welfare, has been appointed Vigilance Director in the Lokayukta in charge of Health, Education and Social Welfare. Accepting this responsibility on a token salary of one rupee, Dr. Sudarshan has already made a difference through his proactive role in cleaning up the administration in the district hospitals. He is also currently investigating a complaint filed by a Bangalore-based journalist demanding an inquiry into violations of the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994, and the failure of the government-appointed bodies concerned to prevent these violations. K.V. Vasudeva Murthy has been appointed Vigilance Director to look into cases concerning the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP), or the city corporation, and N. Veerabhadraiah has been appointed as Vigilance Director to look into cases relating to the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA). They have their offices on the premises of the BMP and the BDA respectively.

It is perhaps for the first time since its establishment that the Lokayukta is beginning to deploy its potential, driven largely by the commitment of the individuals who are running it. A far greater level of public awareness of its role is, however, required if it is to become a powerful political institution that can fulfil the aspirations of ordinary citizens for fair and effective governance.

'No anti-incumbency wave'

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Interview with Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.

Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal is optimistic that the BJP will not only win the Shimla Municipal Corporation elections in April but also sweep the Assembly polls in 2003. Dhumal, who is also the State BJP president, spoke to T.K. Rajalakshmi. Excerpts:

How do you think the BJP will fare in the Shimla Municipal Corporation elections on April 27 and in the Assembly polls next year?

The Congress(I) has been in power since 1986 in the Corporation and these elections are going to be a people's verdict on the performance of that party over the past 16 years. I am confident that we shall win a majority in the next Corporation Council. The Corporation under the Congress(I) failed to provide facilities to the people. The roads maintained by the Corporation and by the government are there for everyone to see. We have started work to create fountains, initiated cleanliness drives and banned the use of recycled polythene bags. Shimla lost its glory under Congress rule and we have started work to regain that glory. Owing to our excellent and balanced work in the State, we have been able to unite the people emotionally. We undertook Vikas Yatras in the State and explained to the people the need for development, and also took suggestions.

What are the chances of an anti-incumbency wave affecting the electoral prospects of your party? Also, a third political alternative seems to be emerging in the State.

There is no threat of an anti-incumbency wave. In 1999, when we lost in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, we won all the four Lok Sabha seats here. There is no question of a third front in Himachal Pradesh. Even if the Congress(I) is united, we will defeat them.

There is a lot of resentment among the people regarding the steep hikes in electricity rates for domestic consumers and the imposition of user and service charges in the health sector and so on.

The Congress(I) introduced user charges for health services and raised them in 1986 and 1994. We have not introduced any new charges, but have formed Rogi Kalyan Samitis (patient welfare associations). The patient pays or donates a small service charge and it goes to the Kalyan Samitis in the hospitals.

Earlier, what was free service actually meant no service. Now the patients will be able to get better services. As for power, we are charging the lowest rates in the country for domestic consumers. For Antyodaya families, it is 70 paise a unit. We have given concessions to industry but on the condition that industries operate in the night as well.

The Himachal Vikas Congress has candidates in 22 wards of the Corporation. Have the relations between the BJP and its coalition partner soured?

Our ties are cordial. Maybe this arrangement favours us.

It is said that Shanta Kumar's statement on Narendra Modi is, in fact, a veiled criticism of your government.

Politics has taken such a turn today that individuals prefer to air their own views.

Unemployment seems to be a serious problem in the State. There are also allegations that you favoured your relatives for government jobs. It is also alleged that you have unduly favoured Hamirpur, your constituency.

We have provided thousands of jobs and young men have to realise that government jobs are limited in number. Several people get enrolled in the employment exchange despite having some kind of an employment. That inflates the figures. Actually, there are only between four and five lakh unemployed people, but the figure shows nine lakhs. There is a lot of false propaganda about unemployment. None of my relatives who are in government jobs have been appointed on grounds other than merit. As for favouring Hamirpur, who does not favour his own constituency?

An uphill task

The challenge the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Himachal Pradesh faces from the Congress(I) and the newly formed Him Loktantrik Morcha in the Shimla Municipal Corporation elections is indicative of the party's prospects in the Assembly elections next year.

IN the aftermath of the reverses suffered by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies in the elections to four State Assemblies, attention is focussed on the coming Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. Himachal Pradesh, with a coalition government of the BJP and the Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC), is one of the few States where BJP-led governments still survive. Given the recent electoral reverses, the BJP-HVC coalition is expected to face a tough challenge in the elections scheduled for February 2003. Unlike in the past, the elections may not be a polarised affair between the ruling alliance and the Congress(I); they could turn out to be a four-cornered contest. An indication of this is available in the line-up of political parties for the Shimla Municipal Corporation elections to be held on April 27. The Corporation elections, despite being a local affair, are perceived in political circles as a referendum on the performance of the State government. In fact, it is the only corporation in the State and is considered a microcosm of the State's polity. The electorate is comprised mainly of State and Central government employees and, given the high literacy levels in the State, it will be an informed public that will be going to the polls.

Interestingly, the HVC has decided to contest alone in the corporation elections. It has fielded candidates in 22 of the 24 wards. Predictably, the presence of HVC candidates will spoil the chances of the BJP nominees.

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However, the serious challenge to the Congress (I) and the BJP is expected to come from a new political formation called the Him Loktantrik Morcha (HLM), which came into existence on February 6. The Morcha, which is a product of the initiative taken by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is almost certain to ensure that the usual polarisation of votes between the two mainstream parties will not take place. The HLM has been campaigning against both the BJP-HVC government and the Congress(I) mainly on economic issues. While there is evident discomfort over the entry of the HLM as it comprises several important parties, both the Congress(I) and the BJP have been quick to label it as a party of "frustrated individuals". The majority of Congress(I) rebels have joined the Morcha, and they include a former Mayor and two former Councillors.

Mohinder Singh Choudhary, convener of the HLM and an independent member of the Legislative Assembly, was previously with the HVC and had held the portfolios of Public Works and Excise in the Prem Kumar Dhumal Ministry. He quit the Ministry after BJP Ministers levelled corruption charges against him. Later, when he was expelled from the HVC, he joined the Lok Jan Shakti, a constituent of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which rules at the Centre. Interestingly, the State unit of the Lok Jan Shakti has been organising agitations against the BJP-HVC government. Of late, non-BJP constituents of the NDA in Himachal Pradesh have taken contradictory positions on several issues vis-a-vis the BJP.

The HLM, which comprises the CPI(M), the Janata Dal (Secular), the Lok Jan Shakti, the Samajwadi Party and some regional secular parties, has been quite vocal in criticising the economic policies of the Dhumal government. The Morcha's viability will be tested on the basis of how successfully it can launch joint struggles in the State. The emergence of such a Morcha became inevitable given the anti-incumbency factor operating against both the BJP-HVC at the State level and the Congress(I) at the municipal corporation level.

FOR the past 16 years, the Shimla Municipal Corporation has been a Congress(I) stronghold. The level of confidence of the Congress(I) has gone up following the party's victories in the Chandigarh and Delhi municipal corporation polls. The party is expected to win, but, as Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Virbhadra Singh put it, only with a "workable majority". Factionalism may be one of the reasons for this modest expectation. Even while denying the existence of factions in the party, Virbhadra Singh said that problems in the State unit started after the organisational elections in 2001. The CLP leader told Frontline that in the corporation polls, the allocation of the ticket had not been made properly. Informed sources in the Congress(I) confirmed that only if Virbhadra Singh and Pradesh Congress Committee president Vidya Stokes, who lead the two major factions in the State unit, worked together could the party win in the Corporation and Assembly polls.

The BJP too has its share of problems. The spat between Dhumal and Union Minister for Consumer Affairs Shanta Kumar has brought factionalism in the party to the fore. Recently, Shanta Kumar criticised the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat and the storming of the Orissa Assembly by Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal activists. In fact, the outburst against Narendra Modi was an expression of Shanta Kumar's anger against Dhumal who is considered close to the Gujarat Chief Minister. The tensions in the BJP also reflect the conditions under which the party under Dhumal was able to form the government despite not winning a clear majority in the Assembly. It was because of the split in the Congress(I) and the support of the HVC that the party was able to form the government. Moreover, the decision of the HVC to go it alone has presented the BJP with a major worry. Speculation is rife about an HVC-Congress(I) tie-up.

The official reason for the HVC opting for an independent path is that even in the past the BJP and the HVC had not contested together. However, HVC sources pointed out that despite repeated suggestions to the BJP that the two parties fight the corporation elections jointly, there was hardly any response. Their relations had been steadily souring over the past two years. In 2001, the HVC even considered joining hands with the HLM. "We will not withdraw from the government as we are committed to supporting the NDA at the Centre as well," said HVC general secretary Sunderlal Verma. "Everyone knows that the HVC was instrumental in forming this government leaving the Congress(I) in the cold."

The BJP's coming to power in the State in 1998 was fraught with uncertainties. Virbhadra Singh, who led the Congress(I) government, dissolved the Assembly a year before his term ended so as to hold Assembly and Lok Sabha elections simultaneously. "We hoped that we could cash in on our achievements," Virbhadra Singh told Frontline. But that was not to be. In the elections held in February 1998 to the 68-member Assembly, the Congress(I) won 31 seats, the BJP 29 and the HVC four. One seat went to an independent, who belonged earlier to the Shanta Kumar faction of the BJP. (Elections were held for only 65 seats as three constituencies remained snow-bound.) The balance could be tilted by the HVC, which found itself in an enviable position. Sukh Ram, the founder of the HVC, split the party and made two of its legislators join the Himachal Kranti Morcha which merged with the BJP. The BJP now had 30 members, for one legislator had died before taking the oath. Meanwhile, the Congress(I) formed the government with 32 seats as it won the support of the lone independent. Virbhadra Singh, who had headed the government twice earlier, was sworn in Chief Minister on March 9, 1998.

But things changed dramatically as the independent went back to the BJP after the party's central leadership intervened. On March 24, 1998, the Dhumal government was sworn in with the support of the two remaining members of the HVC. The BJP also managed to win over one Congress(I) legislator. After the Assembly elections for the remaining three seats were held, the BJP got the support of 33 members, including three of the HVC and the lone independent member. Later, the strength of the BJP and its allies grew to 39 as the alliance won two seats vacated by the Congress(I).

However, there has been growing dissidence in the coalition government in the past two years. In 2000, five BJP legislators, four of them Ministers, accused the government of corruption. Dhumal removed them from the Ministry but later took them back following the intervention of the central leadership. One of their demands was the removal of HVC nominee Mohinder Singh. Dhumal acceded to this and thus alienated the HVC. In 2001, BJP dissidents demanded the removal of Narendra Modi who had been appointed by the central leadership to take charge of party affairs in Himachal Pradesh.

For the BJP, this has been the first time since 1977 that it has been able to complete four years in office. The previous governments of Shanta Kumar in 1982 and 1990 could not complete their terms. Highlighting the comparatively long tenure of his government, Dhumal invited Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to Shimla on March 24, the day the BJP-HVC government completed four years in office.

It is the economic policies of the Dhumal government that have come under attack from the Congress(I) and the HLM. Rakesh Singha, Shimla district secretary of the CPI(M) and a former MLA, told Frontline that the steep hikes in electricity rates effected for domestic consumers while giving concessions to industry, the winter surcharge on electricity rates, and the service charges on health and education had increased the financial burden of the working class and the middle class. Kashmir Singh Thakur, a leader of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), said that there was a lot of resentment among the people as the government was indulging in nepotism. He alleged that relatives of Ministers were appointed in government posts, including university jobs. The number of the educated unemployed had increased though Chief Minister Dhumal told Frontline that the figures were inflated ones.

The Dhumal Ministry is confident that despite the resentment among the people, the BJP will get a majority both in the Shimla corporation polls and in the Assembly elections. "It is all about strategy. The Budget will not be an issue," said J.P. Nadda, Health Minister. Nadda said that the service charges imposed would improve the overall state of health services. However, a senior functionary of the People's Science Movement told Frontline that while government employees could get their medical bills reimbursed, the same could hardly be said of those who were not in a position to afford even Re.1 for the prescription slip.

Sifting the truth

The Liberhan Commission of Inquiry faces the daunting task of probing the truth in the face of contradictory claims made by Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders.

IS it possible for a group of people who have been witness to the same incident, at the same time and from the same place, to come up with different versions when they recount it? If one goes by the depositions before the Justice M.S. Liberhan Commission of Inquiry, it is possible. With the appearance of Murli Manohar Joshi, Union Minister for Human Resource Development, on April 9, all the leaders of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement have deposed before the Commission, which is inquiring into the demolition of the Babri mosque in December 1992.

Although leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) such as L.K. Advani, Joshi, Uma Bharati, Vishnu Hari Dalmia, were present on a dais at the Ram Katha Kunj in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, each had a different and often contradictory version of how the demolition took place.

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While some said that the demolition was visible to them, others said it was not. Dalmia said that the entire range of events connected with the demolition of the structure was visible from the especially erected dais, where he was standing along with Advani, Uma Bharati and Joshi. He said that "all the three domes were clearly visible from the dais." In his deposition, Joshi said that some trees had obstructed the view of the structure from the dais - an aspect that neither Advani nor Uma Bharati mentioned.

According to Advani, only one of the three domes was visible. He said: "The view from the rooftop was very limited and so apart from one of the three domes, nothing else on the ground was really visible except for the milling crowds stretching to a distance."

Both Advani and Joshi said that they could not make out much of what was happening at the disputed structure from the dais. In contrast, Uma Bharati even gave the time of the collapse of the dome.

Although Advani gave a fairly close estimate of the distance between the structure and the dais, Joshi refused to come up with even a rough estimate. Advani said: "I recall that when I went from the site where the kar seva was to be performed to the rooftop, it must have taken me about 10-12 minutes." There was little consistency on the purpose for which the dais was put up. Dalmia said it was meant to observe what was going on. Advani was more explicit when he said that it was intended to serve as a rostrum from which the crowd would be addressed while the kar seva went on.

Both BJP and VHP leaders said that they did not make a speech. The Commission has relied on journalistic accounts and has quoted books in order to get a response from the leaders on their role in instigating the crowds to demolish the mosque. One of the texts that were read out to Advani by Commission counsel Anupam Gupta was from the book "Creating a Nationality", edited by Shikha Trivedy, Shail Mayaram, Ashis Nandy and Achyut Yagnik. According to the book, on December 6, rabble-rousing speeches were made from the Ram Katha Kunj dais by almost all the leaders associated with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. These speeches turned congratulatory in tone when the domes started coming apart. The speeches were accompanied by fiesty slogan-shouting.

Quoting eyewitness accounts, the book says: "Initially, there were some hurried, panicky pleas to the kar sevaks over the public address system to maintain discipline. These were followed by expressions of concern for their safety, as the 500-year-old mosque began to come apart slowly. After a while, the kar sevaks received only guidance and encouragement from the BJP leaders and the sants of the VHP's Marg Darshak Mandal assembled at the Ram Katha Kunj. Singhal grandly announced that the dawn of the Hindu rebellion had arrived, while Vijaya Raje Scindia declared that she could now die without any regret, for she had seen her dream come true." Referring to Uma Bharati and Sadhvi Rithambara, the book says that in her (Uma Bharati) several turns to the microphone she gave the crowds two slogans: "Ram Nam Satya Hai, Babri Masjid Dhvasth Hai" and "Ek Dhakka Aur Do, Babri Masjid Tod Do."

Advani, who estimated that a crowd of one lakh might have been present in and around the Babri mosque, said that no incendiary speeches were made by any of the leaders. Joshi also said the same. Uma Bharati took the line that she could not hear anything as she was "disinterested". However, she is the only person, who has not refuted that the speeches, which were widely quoted in newspapers, were delivered on the day of the demolition. But when Anupam Gupta asked Uma Bharati for details of the speeches made between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. on December 6, she said: "I do not remember anything since there was so much noise and people were thronging all around."

On the use of implements to bring down the domes, Dalmia said that the demolition was not done with bare hands. None of those who have deposed before the Commission has denied the use of implements. Advani said that it seemed that hammers had been used. In her deposition, the Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande told the Commission that the demolition was a "pre-meditated and pre-planned event." In her opinion, the domes seemed to fall sideways and structural engineering skills were needed to bring them down in such a manner.

The only point of agreement among the depositions of Advani, Joshi, Dalmia and Bharati related to the issue of those who were present on the dais. Bharati named Acharya Dharmendra, Swami Parmanand, Sadhvi Ritambara, Baikunth Lal Sharma 'Prem', Ashok Singhal, H.V. Seshadri, Vinay Katiyar, Vijaya Raje Scindia, Swami Vamdev, and Paramahans Ramchandra Das. Their presence was confirmed by Dalmia, Advani and Joshi. However, a major point of difference between the depositions by Advani and Joshi emerged when the latter said that he was on the dais until 2-15 p.m., after which both he and Advani went to a room downstairs. Joshi said: "We were there because after the efforts to prevent those who had climbed on the domes, after our efforts to pacify them to bring them down failed, our security guards said that we should not leave the Ram Katha Kunj." In his deposition Advani did not say that he was confined to the room for security reasons.

The presence of police personnel and journalists on and around the dais was another point of debate. According to Dalmia, there was only one door that led to the dais. He said that though the police were present at the entrance of the door it was left to the members of the VHP to decide who could go up. Dalmia said: "The police only wanted identification that they were the right people who should be allowed to go up and our people provided it." He said that all the arrangements were made by VHP workers. Only Joshi said that his security personnel accompanied him to the dais and stayed with him throughout. None of the others mentioned the presence of security personnel.

There are different versions that explain the presence of journalists on the dais. Advani said that he had spoken with some of them. Joshi insisted that neither journalists nor photographers were present. However, when the Commission produced a photograph showing Uma Bharati embracing Joshi from behind, both made contradictory statements in trying to explain the circumstances surrounding the picture. Uma Bharati said that Joshi was seated on the dais when she went from behind to greet him. She said that the photograph was taken between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. on December 6 and not after the demolition. Joshi said that it was taken after 11 a.m. which was when he reached the dais. Bharati said: "I told him namaskar, it is me. My one arm slid around his shoulder, while Joshiji took my other hand in his hand." She explained that Joshi has a daughter who is of her age and is named Munia. "Even on December 6, when I told Joshiji that it is me, he said in reply, 'so munia it is you'."

Joshi's version was completely different. He told the Commission that the photograph that showed Bharati putting her arms over his shoulders and clasping his hands was clicked when she was actually "trying to touch his feet." In the photograph Uma Bharati's head is above Joshi's and the only way she could reach his feet would have been for her to do a quick somersault. Both these depositions differed from that of the journalist Ruchira Gupta, who in her narration of the events of December 6 told the Commission that "Uma Bharati hugged M.M. Joshi from back and he turned around and hugged her too."

There was consistency in the response regarding the assault on the media. All those who deposed said that they had come to know of the attack only by the day after. Advani said that he came to know of the attack through the press the next day. Ruchira Gupta said that she was molested by kar sevaks on December 6. She said that she had met Advani and told him that journalists were being attacked and that he should make an announcement to the kar sevaks to stop that. "Despite repeated requests he did not make such an announcement," she said.

In his deposition, Advani said that Ruchira Gupta had met him earlier in the day but she had never complained to him after she was attacked. Uma Bharati also said that it was only on December 7 that she met some people who said that they were journalists and had been attacked the previous day. She said: "But before that I had no knowledge of the attack on mediapersons." However, she agreed that they must have been attacked by people around the disputed structure.

The act of the demolition itself evoked different reactions from the leaders. From Uma Bharati's deposition it is apparent that she was relieved at witnessing it. She said to the Commission that she is a person governed by her heart. Uma Bharati said: "It was like somebody is hurting you and humiliating you, you are passing by on the road and before your very eyes that person is assaulted, he is murdered. There is a very strange kind of emotion where you do not want to see somebody's face but even you don't want to kill him and that person is killed in front of you, then the kind of emotions that will take place in your heart - the same thing happened to me."

Advani said that December 6 was the saddest day in his life. "I could visualise that the December 6 demolition would be a big setback for the cause that the BJP was seeking to promote, because the BJP's commitment was not only to support the VHP's movement for construction of a Ram temple at the place supposed to be the site of birth of Ram, but we were committed also to democracy, the rule of law and the supreme position that the judiciary occupies in the entire set-up. We felt that this happening of December 6 would affect our credibility, which is very crucial for a political party in a democracy."

When asked about the length of time they spent at the site of the demolition, Advani, Joshi and Uma Bharati said that they remained at the site until the evening. All of them said that during that time they had failed to convince the kar sevaks not to proceed with the demolition.

On why they did not leave the site either in disgust or as a gesture of displeasure, again, the responses were different. Advani self-righteously pointed out that he was the first one to leave and said that his "responsibilities", including the preparation of a statement condemning the demolition, kept him busy until the evening. Dalmia said that it was not possible to leave because the crowds were agitated and it had become difficult to get past them. Joshi said his security personnel advised him not to leave.

With all the witnesses contradicting one another, the Commission faces the difficult task of sifting the truth from untruth and half-truths.

The text of the lease deed

other

(Translation of a lease deed typewritten in Hindi on four stamp papers of the aggregate value of Rs.10.)

This lease made on the 20th day of March 1992 corresponding to 30th day of Falgun Samvat 1913 (Friday), between the Governor of Uttar Pradesh (hereinafter called "the lessor") of the one part and Shri Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, Sankat Mochan Ashram, Shri Hanuman Mandir, Sector-6 Ramakrishnapuram, New Delhi, declared and constituted under the deed executed by Ramanandacharya Swami Shri Shivramacharyaji Maharaj dated 18th December 1985 and registered on 18th December 1985 in Delhi, and whose present trustees are Messrs Pujya Mahant Paramhans Ramchandra Dasji Maharaj, Digambar Akhara, Ayodhya.

2. Vitrang Sant Paramhans Pujya Swami Bamdevji Maharaj, Anand Vrindavan, Vrindavan (Mathura).

3. Jagadguru Senior Shankaracharya Pujyaswami Shantanandji Maharaj, Jyotishpeeth Daraganj, Prayag; 4. Pujya Mahant Avaidyanathji Maharaj, Gorakshapeeth, Gorakhpur.

5. Pujya Mahant Nrityagopaldasji Maharaj... Chawni, Ayodhya; 6. Jagadguru Madhvacharya Pujyaswami Vishweshatirthji Maharaj, Udipi (Karnataka); 7. Jagadguru Ramanujacharya Pujya Swami Purushottamacharyaji Maharaj, Ayodhya; 8. Pujya... Gyan Jagatji Maharaj, Bodh Gaya (Bihar); 9. Pujya Mahant... Maharaj, Nirmohi Akhara, Ayodhya; 10. Pujya Mahant Ram... Vedanti, Vashisht Bhavan, Ayodhya; 11. Pujya Mahant Dharmadasji Maharaj, Sankat Mochan Mandir, Faizabad Road, Ayodhya; 12. Ex-Judge Shri Shivnath Katji, 25 Tashkent Road Prayag; 13. Shri Mant Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia, Gwalior; 14. Shri Vishnu Hari Dalmiya, Treasurer, 1Tees January Marg, New Delhi; 15. Shri Dau Dayal Khanna, Nand Bihar, Civil Lines, Moradabad; 16. Shri Badriprasad Toshnival, 21 Sadhna Enclave, New Delhi; 17. Shri Ashok Singhalji, Manager, 16/10 Hashimpur Road, Allahabad; 18. Shri Shirishchandra Dikshit, 4/13 Officers Colony, Qaisar Bagh, Lucknow, 19. Shri Devki Nandan Agrawal, 56, Dilkusha Naya Katra, Allahabad; 20. Shri Moropant Pinglay, Dr. Hedgewar Bhavan, Mahal, Nagpur; 21. Shri Brahmadeoji, Sankat Mochan, Hanuman Mandir, Sector-6, Ramakrishnapuram, New Delhi; 22. Shri Suryakrishnaji, Sankat Mochan Hanuman Mandir Sector-6, Ramakrishnapuram, New Delhi; 23. Shri Onkar Bhave, Shree Ram Bhavan, 2, Mahadeo Nagri, Lalkuwan, Lucknow; 24. Shri Yashwant Bhai Bhatt, Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas Office, Ramkot, Ayodhya, hereinafter called "the lessee".

Whereas, the plot of land, situated at Ayodhya, Faizabad District, described in the schedule hereto and delineated on the plan annexed hereto with its boundaries coloured red, is reserved for the development as Shree Ram Katha Park project for the purpose of tourism development by Government of Uttar Pradesh.

And, whereas, the lessee has proposed to implement this project on behalf of "Shree Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas" using its own resources. Upon which it has been decided by the Government of Uttar Pradesh that the aforesaid land be given to "Shree Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas" to implement its project of Shree Ram Katha Park on lease in perpetuity.

Hence, under Government Grants Act (Act No. 15 of 1895), duly amended from time to time, this deed witnesseth that taking into consideration the rent hereby reserved, the lessor hereby demises the entire aforesaid land, described in the schedule hereto and delineated on the plan annexed hereto and thereon shown with its boundaries coloured red, this 20th day of March 1992 A.D. corresponding to 30th day of Falgun Samvat 1913 (Friday) in perpetuity under the following terms:

1. That the lessee shall pay a fixed annual rent in the first week of the month of April every year through treasury challan in favour of Government of Uttar Pradesh. The first such payment of rent shall be made in the first week of April 1992.

2. That the lessee shall pay all such rates, taxes, and other charges which now are or hereafter may be payable in respect of the aforesaid premises or the buildings to be erected thereon by the lessor or the lessee.

3. The lessee shall implement the Shree Ram Katha Park project on the aforesaid land at the earliest and shall develop and protect the aforesaid land for the said project and shall always maintain the construction on the aforesaid building for the said project in good condition and shall undertake repairs etc. from time to time.

4. The lessee shall every year, during day time, grant permission to the lessor or their agents to enter the aforesaid land and the buildings constructed thereon and inspect the same on receiving a 24 hours' notice for this purpose and upon receiving a notice with respect to any renovation or repairs as may be found necessary by them in writing or left by them in the said plot of land, the lessee shall remove such defects and get the repairs done within three months of the receipt of such notice.

5. The lessor is entitled to recover the balance amount of the rent fixed under this deed in the form of arrears of land revenue from the lessee on the Certificate of Secretary, Tourism Department, Government of Uttar Pradesh, which shall be final and binding on the lessee.

6. In the event of any change in the trustees of Shree Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, or a new trustee is appointed in place of any present trustee, the lessee shall give intimation about any such change in writing to Secretary, Tourism Department, Government of Uttar Pradesh, within three months of any such changes.

7. The lessee shall not in any manner assign the land hereby demised or buildings etc. to be constructed thereon without the prior permission of the lessor.

The expressions used heretofore "the lessor" and "the lessee" shall, unless repugnant to the meaning and context thereof, mean and include their successors and agents in case of the lessor and their successors and executors, administrators, representatives and agents, in case of the lessee.

In witness thereof, on behalf of the lessor and authorised by them, the Secretary, Department of Tourism, Government of Uttar Pradesh, has affixed his signature on the dates given below.

The schedule of the property is as follows. Description of the plot (Details excised for reasons of space.)

Copy of the endorsement and documentary evidence.

Sd/- Dr. dated 20-3-92 Reg. No. 15810 Value 2/- for lease deed.

Shri Alok Sinha, Secretary of Uttar Pradesh Government, Tourism Department.

For the lessor and on their behalf and authorised by them.

Stamp vendor Bharat Kumar Gupt LIC No. 1626.

Sd/- Bharat Kumar Reg. No. 15211 S.M. No. 15810 Value 2/-

Sd/- Bharat Kumar Reg. No. 15812 S.M. No. 15810 Value 1/-

Sd/- Bharat Kumar Reg. No. 15813 S.M. No. 15810 Value 1/-

Sd/- Bharat Kumar Reg. No. 15814 S.M. No. 15810 Value 1/-

Sd/- Bharat Kumar Reg. No. 15815 S.M. No. 15810 Value 1/-

Sd/- Bharat Kumar Reg. No. 15816 S.M. No. 15810 Value 1/-

Sd/- Bharat Kumar Reg. No. 15817 S.M. No. 15810 Value 1/-

Sd/- Bharat Kumar Reg. No. 15818 S.M. No. 15810 Value 2/-

Sd/- Bharat Kumar Reg. No. 15819 S.M. No. 15810 Value 2/-

Sd/- Bharat Kumar Reg. No. 15820 S.M. No. 15810 Value 2/-

Sd/- Bharat Kumar Reg. No. 15821 S.M. No. 15810 Value 2/-

Sd/- Bharat Kumar Reg. No. 15822 S.M. No. 15810 Value 2/-

Sd/- Bharat Kumar Perpetual lease registration 1-50.

Copying Fee 6/- Additional Fee 15/- memorandum 2/- Total 29-50. Words about 1,000

Shri Alok Sinha, Secretary of Tourism Department, Uttar Pradesh Government Lucknow has submitted this document on this day the date 20-3-92 between 4-5 p.m. in the office of District Registrar, Faizabad

Sd/- Sachidanand Dube, District Registrar, Faizabad. 20-3-92

Alok Sinha... who is personally known to me...

Sd/- Sachidanand Dube, District Registrar, Faizabad 20-3-92

Alok Sinha

Shri Sachidanand Dube, District, Registrar, Faizabad

Reg. No. 1, Vol. 90, page 376, Registered this day the date 21-3-92. True Copy Sd/-...

A deceitful, invalid claim

The Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad claim, on the basis of a March 1992 lease deed, that they own the land adjacent to the site of the Babri Masjid. When the terms of the lease deed have been brazenly violated, the violators have no claim to its restoration. In fact, any citizen can now move the court for the cancellation of the lease.

THE terms and conditions of the lease deed of March 20, 1992, knock the bottom out of the case of the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas (RJN) and the VHP that they owned the land adjacent to the site of the demolished Babri mosque. The claim was based on deliberate falsehood. It had far-reaching consequences because of its uncritical acceptance. The majority judgment of the Supreme Court in the Ayodhya case, delivered by Justice J.S. Verma, said: "The interest claimed by the Muslims is only over the disputed site where the mosque stood before its demolition. The objection of the Hindus to this claim has to be adjudicated. The remaining property acquired under the Act (The Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993) is such over which no title is claimed by the Muslims. A large part thereof comprises of properties of Hindus of which the title is not even in dispute" (Ismail Faruqui vs. Union of India (1994) six Supreme Court Cases 360, on page 407). He spoke of the "rights of ownership of Hindu owners of the adjacent properties" and asserted: "The adjacent area in respect of which there is no dispute of title and which belongs to Hindus" (page 411).

This was pure obiter and ipse dixit. There was no occasion or need for Justice Verma to say all that. He had absolutely no material before him in its support, but, much in the government's White Paper, which he cited, to the contrary. The VHP cashed in on his remarks and mounted a campaign for the return of the adjacent land even after the crime of December 6, 1992, was perpetrated. It was based on two propositions - the adjacent land belonged to the RJN before the acquisition and its restoration to it and to the VHP, which runs the RJN, will not prejudice the litigation concerning the site. In all 67.703 acres of land was acquired under the Act. The RJN-VHP claim return of 43 acres. The lease deed exposes both propositions to be false. The 43 acres belonged to the State of Uttar Pradesh. It was given on lease to the RJN for specific purposes only. Construction of a temple was not among them; in fact, it conflicted with them. Besides, the RJN-VHP took the land on false pretences. The object in 1992 was to build a temple on the site of the mosque. That is also the object for which its return is being sought now.

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BJP president Jana Krishnamurthy claims: "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 (sic.) by the VHP and the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas... there is some basis for the demand" (The Indian Express, February 6, 2002). Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's statement in Parliament on March 14 belied that: "The Nyas is a permanent lessee of 42 out of 67 acres of this acquired land, adjacent to the disputed site in Ayodhya. It is also the owner of an additional 1 acre out of this acquired undisputed (sic.) land." Why he omitted to mention the conditions of the lease is for him to explain.

The terms of the lease blow sky-high the claim that the land is "undisputed". It was state-owned land, public property in which all citizens have an interest - Muslims included. The terms of the lease were violated, brazenly. The entire transaction was deceitful. Any citizen can move the court now for cancellation of the lease. The violators have no claim to its restoration - in order to commit further breaches.

The object of the lease was "the development as Shree Ram Katha Park for the purpose of tourism development by Government of Uttar Pradesh... The lessee has proposed to implement this project on behalf of 'Shree Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas' using its own resources. Upon which - (that is, on the basis of this representation and for this object) - it has been decided by the Government of Uttar Pradesh that the aforesaid land be given to 'Shree Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas' to implement this project of Shree Ram Katha Park..."

Clause 3 of the deed binds the lessee "to implement" that project. Clause 4 empowers the lessor, the State government, "to enter" the land for inspection - as its owner. The deed explicitly says that the land is demised under the Government Grants Act, 1895. This law was enacted to deprive lessees of state land from the protection which the Transfer of Property Act, 1882 confers on lessees. It makes grants unilateral transfers by the state terminable at will if their terms are violated. The lessee is in fact a grantee.

Deceit is written all over the transaction. The grant was given by the BJP government of Kalyan Singh. The grantee, the RJN, had no interest in the Park as such; its declared object was construction of the temple. It was not a public purpose, but a favour to one side in a litigation. It is void on this ground alone (H.M. Seervai; Constitutional Law of India; Fourth edition; Vol. I; page 933).

The grant, moreover, was part of a larger transaction which was struck down as void in a unanimous judgment of three Judges of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court, delivered on December 11, 1992, on the acquisition of the land in 1991. This forgotten ruling has acquired great relevance today for its thorough exposure of the entire web of deceit. The Judges commented also on the deed of lease.

Justice S.C. Mathur's judgment recorded the basic facts. The RJN's Trust Deed was executed on December 18, 1985: "The first object of the trust is to reconstruct the temple of Sri Ram at Sri Ram Janmabhoomi and the beautification of the spot all around. Rest of the objects are connected with the reconstruction of the temple and re-installation of deities. From this it would follow that the trust is a religious one.... The association of the trustees with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh has also not been disputed."

The 1991 acquisition had a background. Some 55.674 acres of land, well beyond the Babri mosque, were acquired on January 20 and 23, 1989, and on September 27, 1989, for laying out a Ram Katha Park.

The objects of this acquisition were to use the Park "to create experience (sic.) of the cultural aspect emerging from the great epic Ramayana... The park should be integrated with the overall development of Ayodhya... in order to have wider appeal and to uphold secular ideas, the emphasis should lie on philosophic and on the unique aspect of Rama's life rather than on the ritualistic aspect."

It was designed to take the steam out of the VHP's campaign. When the BJP came to power in Uttar Pradesh on June 24, 1991, it latched on to it and perverted it to its own ends. Construction of a Ram temple was promised in the Governor's address to the State Assembly on July 31, 1991. On October 7, 1991, 2.77 acres of land around the mosque were acquired by the government dishonestly - "for the development of tourism and providing amenities to pilgrims at Ayodhya." When this acquisition was challenged in court, the BJP government, in an affidavit dated January 3, 1992, asserted in categorical terms: "No plan for development of Ram Katha Park could be completed without Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Sthal (the site and adjacent land) being included into it, as the Ram Katha Park was designed to be built around Shri Ram Janmabhoomi. With this end in view, the State government has further acquired... 2.77 acres of land of Ram Janmabhoomi Sthal so that an integrated plan can be prepared.... A part of the land of Shri Ram Janmabhoomi will be left vacant for the renovation and reconstruction of Bhagwan Shri Ram Virajman there" (the idols of Ram planted in the mosque in December 1949).

It was the lands thus acquired that were given on lease to the RJN on March 20, 1992. Justice S.C. Mathur remarked: "It is apparent that the land of Ram Katha Park and the present land are to be used for one and the same purpose. The land of Ram Katha Park has already been handed over to a trust whose aims and objects are religious and whose trust board is dominated by members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad." Thus, the acquisition of land in October 1991 and the transfer by lease in March 1992 were part of the same transaction and had the same object - construction of the temple. Justice Mathur's remarks on the trust as a VHP body are significant. He held the acquisition in 1991 to be "camouflaged... in order to give advantage to Hindus in the litigation". He struck down the notification of October 7, 1991, as void. The other two Judges on the Bench fully concurred. The lease cannot survive the striking down of the acquisition.

Justice Brijesh Mathur noted that the acquisition was linked to the proposed temple and said "the only proper thing would have been to wait until the rights of the parties are settled as regards the title of the property." This advice is very relevant now.

Justice S.H.A. Raza recorded the petitioners' contention that the graveyard adjoining the mosque, and the mosque, are "inseparably attached to the religious practice of the Muslims". The Namaze Janaaza (funeral prayer) is said at the mosque before the burial in the graveyard which was waqf (trust) property. Muslims had a clear legal interest in the "adjacent land". He referred to the site-plan filed in the old case in 1885 which "shows the graves over all the four sides facing the outer boundary of the shrine".

The entire land in Ayodhya is "nazul land", that is, State land administered by local bodies which allot them to parties for a specific period after obtaining premium of the land. It is the nazul map of 1931 which has been cited in the case with the plot numbers as shown in the State land revenue records. But the government's notification of 1991 deliberately cited plot numbers from settlement maps of 1961 and 1937 - plots 159 (part), 160, 171 (part) and 172 (part). This created confusion. For instance, plot No.160 cited in the notification incorporated five plots of nazul land including plot No. 586 (as per revenue records) on which the shilanyas was held in 1989.

The mosque itself is on nazul plot no. 583 and falls in revenue plot nos. 146, 158 and 160. Nine of the 23 disputed plots of which the court is seized fall within the four revenue plots acquired by the government. More than half of the disputed area, including the shilanyas site, has been acquired. A jubilant general secretary of the VHP, Ashok Singhal, summed up the result for all to see on October 14, 1991 - only a mere 3,200 square feet near the mosque itself has been excluded. But included in the acquisition were the famous Ram Chabootra, within the compound of the mosque, the Sumitra Bhavan, the Sankat Mochan Mandir and the Sakshi Gopal Mandir. The RJN destroyed 16 temples.

The High Court's judgment of December 11, 1992, exposed the fraud behind the lease. Justice Verma's obiter gave the VHP some hope. The terms of the lease, read with the High Court's judgment, should dispel all misconception about the so-called "undisputed" character of the adjacent land. The deed of March 20, 1992, should be formally cancelled. If the government will not, the courts should.

However, the incontrovertible position is that the land now vests in the State of U.P. and the RJN-VHP claim to its return to them rests on the lease deed. That document is based on fraud. Its terms were broken, anyway. It cannot be acted on or enforced.

Even if the acquisition is denotified, the 43 acres should not revert to the RJN-VHP, for two reasons: the lease deed itself was a fraudulent one and the lessees violated it recently. Now nothing survives of the lease. It is state land to be used only for a public purpose; as citizens Muslims have a legal interest in the public purpose for which the land will be used hereafter.

Media and intellectuals

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A. G. NOORANI

Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline by Richard A. Posner; Harvard University Press; pages 408; $29.95.

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RICHARD A. POSNER is a federal judge, a law professor and author. Justices G.B. Pattanaik and Ruma Pal berated Arundhati Roy, whom they described as one "stated to be an author of name and fame", for "drifting away from the path on which she was traversing by contributing to the art and literature." A litterateur is not supposed to speak on public affairs, apparently.

The target of Posner's wrath is different. It is the specialist who talks on a subject on which he knows little, especially the ones who provide instant comment. He has a point. There is a loss of quality as well as dignity in, say, a lawyer giving instant opinion to the media on a complex question of law on which he has had little time even for a modicum of study and reflection. Like some campaigners, Posner is given to excesses of his own in his sweeping censures of "academics" writing outside their field or, "what often turns out to be the same thing, writing for a general audience." Why not, if they know what they are talking about? For instance, Arundhati Roy's utterances on the Narmada Dam reveal that she had bothered to visit the site, listen to the grievances of the people affected and familiarise herself with the facts and the issues involved. Does the fact that her chosen field is literature debar her from commenting on the dam?

Posner was provoked by the "surprisingly low quality" of public commentary on Bill Clinton's impeachment trial - which he supported - "by philosophers, historians and law professors" (emphasis added, throughout). So, even specialists can lapse into "low quality". Posner wrote a book, An Affair of the State, on the impeachment. His "public intellectuals" are "intellectuals who opine to an educated public on questions of or inflected by a political or ideological concern". Another provocation was his appointment as mediator in the complex Microsoft anti-trust case. It drew "a raft of public commentary from economists and law professors... most of the commentary by this segment of public intellectual community, to the extent disinterested, reflected only a superficial engagement with the facts..."

This, then, is not a warning to the cobbler to stick to the last - since even the specialists lapsed - but a counsel to all who come to perform competently and honestly. A footnote says: "Some of the commentators were in the pay of Microsoft or its competitors."

The author disavows "blanket condemnation of the modern public intellectual". A major cause of disappointment with such, he holds, is the rise of the modern university and the think-tank "and the concomitant trend to an ever greater specialisation of knowledge". For, "the depth of knowledge that specialisation enables is purchased at the expense of breadth, while the working conditions of the modern university, in particular the principle of academic freedom backed by the tenure contract, make the intellectual's career a safe, comfortable one, which can breed aloofness and complacency. These tendencies are furthest advanced in American universities. That may be why so many of the most distinguished academic public intellectuals active in the second half of the 20th century were foreigners - such as Raymond Aron, Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, Jurgen Hebermas, Friedrich Hayek, Leo Strauss and Amartya Sen - even though American universities achieved ascendancy over foreign universities during this period. But of course they did so in part by hiring refugees, such as Aremdt and Strauss, and other foreigners, such as Sen."

Not all the references are as polite. "Nowadays, moreover, because of the information overload under which the public sweats and groans, to gain traction as a public intellectual an academic normally must have achieved, however adventitiously, a degree of public fame or notoriety. Without that it is difficult to arouse the interest of even a sliver of the nonacademic public in one's opinions on matters of concern to that public. Many public intellectuals are academics of modest distinction fortuitously thrust into the limelight, acquiring by virtue of that accident, sufficient name and recognition to become sought-after commentators on current events. Some of them are what the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu calls le Fast Talker... Perhaps including Bourdieu himself, though he is a distinguished scholar. His book Acts of Resistance Against the Tyranny of the Market (1998)... is in fact a superficial left-wing rant against the market economy."

The plaint is spread out with copious naming of names. One gets a good flavour of some intellectual currents in the United States, but it seems that in most cases the ones he finds agreeable are those who agree with him. His elaborate attacks on Ronald Dworkin reflect the trait.

Posner's remarks on judges reveal a lot about himself. Judges have not become "political eunuchs". During the Reagan and Bush administrations, several conservative academics (myself included) were appointed to federal courts of appeals in the hope of correcting a perceived liberal ideological tilt in those courts. One of these academic lawyers made it to the Supreme Court (Scalia) and another (Bork) was tripped up at the threshold... Recently a number of Reagan and Bush judicial appointees have been criticised for accepting invitations to seminars sponsored by conservative think-tanks; it has even been argued that some of their votes in cases have been swayed by the conservative 'brainwashing' they received there. Some conservative judges socialise with conservative public intellectuals, moreover - and some liberal judges with liberal public intellectuals...

"At the higher levels of the judiciary, where the conventional materials of decision cannot resolve a case and the judge must fall back on his values, his intuitions, and, on occasion, his ideology, public-intellectual work may have an effect on the judicial process. How large an effect one cannot say. But what is clear is that the work of public intellectuals is only one of the non-legal influences on judges, others being temperament, life experiences, moral principles, party politics, religious belief or non-belief, and academic ideas." The politicisation of the U.S. Supreme Court was revealed in the dishonest majority ruling in the case concerning the presidential election. The book is fascinating and exasperating; instructive in some parts and pretentious in some others.

Groundwater capitalism in Gujarat

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DIONNE BUNSHA

Tubewell Capitalism: Groundwater Development and Agrarian Change in Gujarat by Navroz K. Dubash; Oxford University Press, 2002; pages 300, Rs.595.

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WATER, or the lack of it, has often been a subject of controversy in Gujarat. Whether it is the Narmada dam, drought in Kutch and Saurashtra, water riots or falling water tables in north Gujarat, tussles over water have been central to the survival of Gujarat's people. In his book Tubewell Capitalism, Navroz K. Dubash has offered some insights into village realities that shape people's access to this growingly scarce resource.

Delving into the factors that determine the nature of water markets in two villages of north Gujarat where groundwater depletion has been acute, Dubash examines the growth pattern of private tubewells. The book, based on an academic study carried out by the author, analyses how the interaction of various forces like physical and hydrological features, social structures, government policy, local institutions and local history has shaped the character of groundwater commercialisation. Since tubewell markets are amongst the most developed in north Gujarat, the study has focussed on this region. Moreover, widespread well failures have also been reported here.

Groundwater irrigation in India has expanded rapidly. In 1993-94, 53 per cent of the net irrigated area in India depended on groundwater sources. In north Gujarat, this percentage would be substantially higher. This, despite the fact that 70 per cent of the public expenditure on irrigation is spent on major and medium surface irrigation projects. Most well irrigation has been driven by private investment. Since the spurt in well coverage has remained unregulated, there has been what the writer describes as "a race to the bottom of the aquifer". Water table levels have plummeted to more than 150 feet (almost 46 metres). The largest well in Ratanpura, one of the villages in Dubash's study, is 700 feet (213 metres) deep. "While the rate of overexploitation of groundwater in India as a whole remains a relatively low 31 per cent, a few States that are heavily dependent on groundwater, such as Gujarat, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana and Tamil Nadu, show more disturbing trends," Dubash points out. In Gujarat, the number of taluks where overexploitation was reported rose from six in 1984-85 to 26 by 1992-93, a four-fold jump in a matter of eight years.

Severe depletion of aquifers has led to a high number of well failures in some areas of north Gujarat. Farmers who invested heavily in newer technology and deeper wells went bankrupt when their wells ran dry. In the quest for more water, farmers drilled deeper. The mounting costs associated with further boring resulted in the formation of group wells by large farmers, who pooled the investment amongst themselves and sold the surplus to others. This laid the foundation for water markets in the two villages of Dubash's study, Ratanpura in Visnagar taluk, Mehsana district, and Paldi in Deesa taluka, Banaskantha district, which are less than 100 km apart. Dubash traces the growth of groundwater irrigation in these villages to the 1960s when diesel engines were first used, to the conversion to electric pumps through to the more recent drilling for deeper aquifers.

The manner in which groundwater markets developed in both villages was shaped by geographical as well as societal institutions. Their expansion has affected not only the ecology but also patterns of agricultural production, caste and agrarian relations within the villages. In these districts, groundwater exploitation gave a huge spurt to the Green Revolution between the 1970s and 1990s resulting in a shift from food to cash crops such as mustard, cumin and castor. The subsequent commodification of the economy led to the pauperisation of the artisans and serving castes of these villages, and pushed them towards insecure agricultural wage labour.

Higher investments in deeper wells also meant that the lower castes were excluded from the benefits of groundwater exploitation owing to their limited access to land and credit. The benefits of the new technology were cornered mainly by the land-owning castes, such as Patels, further centralising control over water and widening the gap between the rich and the poor. Dubash found only one "Harijan group" well during the course of his study. But the "Harijan group" had relinquished control over the well to the upper castes as it could not sustain the business for long. However, the study found that an increase in demand for labour owing to cash crop cultivation improved the terms of labour and tenancy contracts. But he warns that this demand may not be sustainable. Overuse of groundwater could lower demand for labour, creating a group called 'ecological refugees' among agricultural workers.

In comparing the two villages, Dubash found several differences in the hydrology, caste composition, agrarian relations, groundwater technology used and water transactions. "In Ratanpura, water is sold as a free-standing commodity while in Paldi it is still closely associated with sharecropping," says Dubash. He also observes that Paldi is far more stratified socially and castewise than Ratanpura. His findings reveal that in Ratanpura, where water transactions have been institutionalised, the exploitation of and control over the groundwater resource by sellers is limited. In Paldi, where bilateral negotiations underlie the exchange process, the restrictions on water exploitation are fewer. Commenting on how the benefits have been distributed, Dubash writes: "Where institutional form, technology and local politics result in the social construction of stable exchange systems, as in Ratanpura, small farmers and tenants share in the benefits of groundwater, while it lasts. Where exchange is constructed around the exercise of class power, however, as in Paldi, groundwater is segmented by class and can serve as a further tool for the impoverishment of disadvantaged groups."

Skilfully straddling the territory between traditional political economy, new institutional economics (NIE) and economic sociology, Dubash's study tests the tenets of these approaches through his study. He points out that traditional political economy has viewed agrarian institutions purely as a means of surplus extraction through the exercise of power, ignoring the role of the environment in shaping outcomes. The more fashionable NIE approach, which assumes that institutional efficiency can overcome the problems of imperfect information availability, also provides a limited view. It fails to consider economic institutions as being embedded in social life, and which do not necessarily throw up the most efficient outcomes. Dubash rules out generalisations while looking at groundwater institutions. "Landholding configurations, caste composition, existing norms of exchange in a village and the ecological context of exchange, all provide considerable insight into the potential range of institutional forms. Nonetheless, there remains a measure of indeterminacy in the emergence of local institutions, which poses a considerable challenge for the development of policy around groundwater use and management."

While his observations may be insightful, Dubash's policy recommendations do not correspond to his findings. He advocates the setting out of formal property rights over groundwater to address the problem of depletion. However, he fails to explain how, what in essence would be privatisation of a public resource would curb depletion. Dubash advocates increases in electricity rates through power sector reforms as a means to more efficient use, but fails to consider its adverse impact on small and marginal farmers. Moreover, he ignores the fact that cost considerations did not deter the better-off well owners from drilling deeper.

Finally, Dubash turns his attention to the Model Bill to regulate groundwater use in Gujarat. The Bill would require the establishment of a state authority that would notify areas where groundwater extraction should be controlled. These areas would be monitored, and government permission would be needed for all wells. Dubash feels that such a 'heavy-handed' act is unlikely to succeed in its objective. He considers the government incapable of the monumental task of monitoring and enforcing groundwater use. Instead, he advocates providing incentives for self-regulation by local institutions, like the more organised water markets in Ratanpura. Local institutions, which are participants in groundwater markets, are partly responsible for aquifer depletion. It seems optimistic to leave the governing of groundwater to them. The more powerful groups amongst them are likely to corner and exploit this power to further their commercial interests rather than think of groundwater conservation.

Women and society in colonial Punjab

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NAUNIDHI KAUR

Gender, Caste, and Religious Identities: Restructuring Class in Colonial Punjab by Anshu Malhotra; Oxford University Press, 2001; pages 231, Rs.545.

SUBSERVIENCE to the husband is the central quality of a pativrata. A women who tries to live up to the role of a pativrata has to perform innumerable tasks for the husband. These include waking up before him in order to finish her ablution and keep herself free to fetch water, bathe him, cook and serve him and eat only after he has finished his meal. The afternoon should be spent looking after the house, stitching and spinning so that the evening can be set aside for preparing dinner. A woman's salvation is routed through seva or the performance of daily domestic chores, especially those undertaken to please the husband.

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Reprimands are reserved for kupattis (quarrelsome women), who do not want to conform to this role. It is acknowledged that such women exist. There are instances when such women are known to be disrespectful to their husbands. These women would address "their husband-kings" with pejoratives such as tu, oye or ve instead of appropriately respectful forms of ji, maharaj or aap. Such women "are so rude as to suggest burning his legs in the chulha (clay oven) rather than wood." What lies in store for such women is rebirth in "hell, be reborn again and again as she-ass, bearing burden and getting beaten".

The intimate advice given by a mother to her daughter at the time of her marriage would include this: "Do not show your body to any one other than your husband, for we have given your body to him. Now this body is a possession of your husband, and you do not have claim over it. It is up to him to be good with your body or to spoil it, to nurture it or beat it, even we have no control over his actions."

As the excerpts above reveal, Anshu Malhotra has effectively pieced together the social history of the Punjab using hitherto unused sources. To substantiate her account, a part of the text above has been extracted from an undated pamphlet issued by the Khalsa Tract Society, titled "Patibrat Dharm". She understands her territory. In this study, Punjab refers to the pre-Partition region.

It is the study of gender relations and not caste that interests Anshu Malhotra. She has produced a book on middle class women - both Hindu and Sikh - in the period between 1870s and 1920s in Punjab. She explains how caste became a significant ingredient of class formation in colonial Punjab, how the understanding of caste grew under British rule, and what the nature of the changes introduced in the caste set-up by the British was. This has been done against a concise and impressive summation of theories that explain the role of the colonial state in the politics of caste. However, it is evident that the study of caste is a corollary and not the main thrust of the work.

Gender relations being the focus, the work would have benefited from roping in people from the low castes in the analysis. Anshu Malhotra acknowledges this when she states that there is further scope for research in this regard.

Early on, Malhotra explains the significance of the sources she has used. She writes: "The specificity of some of these sources related to firstly their 'newness', in the sense that these materials have not been used by historians to construct a 'social history' of Punjab, if they have been used by them at all." Her primary sources are products of the new print revolution of the second half of the 19th century. They include journalistic pieces, tracts, pamphlets, novels, jhagrras and kissas. Jhagrras and kissas are considered by the author as minefields of material that effectively depict the changes taking place in contemporary Punjab. "They transcended the gap between written word and oral tradition in a significant way," she states.

Anshu Malhotra has highlighted the aspects of jhagrras that are full of lascivious talk of women's excessive sexuality or men's legitimate sexual needs. She has shown how jhagrras and kissas were used to control women. They were more commonly written by men of the Khatri caste, which is high in the social order. In this context, she explains that there was a strain in relation between the high-minded Singh Sabha and Arya Samaj reformers. The latter kept away from sexual innuendoes while instructing women to be subservient to men.

Other sources used include school journals - the Kanya Mahavidyalaya's Panchal Pandita and Sikh Kanya Mahavidyalaya's Punjabi Bhain, to cite two of them. Anshu Malhotra says that these "journals were major vehicles for the transmission of the ideologies of the Arya Samaj and the Singh Sabha movements to women, and their readership was not confined only to those associated with schools." The articles, which were written by both men and women, were "topical, historical, informative or morally instructive in nature." Some of the periodicals that have been used include The Arya, The Arya Patrika and The Regenerator of Aryavarta - all written in English. The sources written in the Gurumukhi script include tracts and pamphlets, particularly those published by the Khalsa Tract Society, which was set up in 1894 by Singh Sabha reformers. Writes the author: "A study of these tracts has been rewarding from many points of view. First, they have uncovered the peculiar mind-set of an emerging middle class, high-caste society, with its own phobias and insecurities." The novels used for the study include those written by Bhai Amar Singh and Bhai Vir Singh.

No doubt, these sources are untapped material, which has been analysed by Anshu Malhotra. She has performed a laborious task in collecting and going through them. A pertinent question that arises in this context is how much credibility can be placed on these materials in the depiction of contemporary Punjab. One measure of gauging this would be to note its readership. This question is addressed by Anshu Malhotra when she admits that in terms of the readership of such material, she is "dealing with no more than a few hundred concerned individuals". She adds: "The school journals, on the other hand, had a captive audience amongst their students, but these will again amount to a very limited number." She concludes by saying that there must have been a common, almost an imperceptible, agreement on the mode and contents of education between the parents who sent their girls to school and the teachers who tutored them. One is left wondering about this possible agreement.

NOTWITHSTANDING these doubts, the book is a welcome addition to gender studies. The first chapter examines how the colonial state affected the middle classes of Punjabi society. It holds that the colonial perceptions of Punjabi society created a sense of insecurity among the middle classes, which then turned to reformist organisations. This introspection meant a change in their attitude towards women which restructured the patriarchy in this period. The author then takes the argument to class formation, arguing that control over women's sexuality increasingly became the index of being high-caste and became an intrinsic part of middle-class identity. There is no doubt that a variety of factors led to the reform movements in Punjab. The contribution of colonial rule in causing such movements cannot be ignored. However, one is left wondering if the author is not being too simplistic in ascribing too much importance to the impact of colonial rule on the reform movements.

The chapter details how the Arya Samaj and Singh Sabha movements pushed forward the idea of a pativrata which, Anshu Malhotra says, was a "weapon with which to subjugate all women".

The second chapter gives details of social ills, including infanticide and the gifting and selling of daughters. It explains the various kinds of marriages that were taking place in Punjab. These included pun, without price; takka for a bride price; and vatta, by exchange involving a reciprocal betrothal. One gets to know that vatta or marriage by exchange was looked down upon as it involved the taking of money for the hand of a daughter or a sister. The genesis of the Punjabi taunt sala can thus be traced to the uncomplimentary role of the brother that was evident in such marriages. This chapter also highlights the changing attitude of the British to some of these practices. There was hardly any condemnation of the selling of child brides, "reflecting a shift in the state's earlier morally righteous stand in relation to infanticide to a more pragmatic attitude."

The third chapter includes a detailed discussion of widowhood, which was considered a problem by upper caste reformers, the colonial state, and the missionaries in Punjab. It explains the Arya Samaj's growing embarrassment over the doctrine of niyog, which envisaged once-a-month sexual congress with suitable partners chosen by the community elders. This gave a special urgency to finding ways to manage the widowhood issue in Punjab by Arya Samajis, the author asserts. Remarriage of widows came to be seen as a good option where it tied the widow's sexuality to one man who in any case was considered an enlightened and progressive person if he agreed to such a match.

The chapter on the topic of controlling women has some interesting details. It explains how women were told that the best way of 'controlling' their men was by serving them. "If women were willing to accept their subordination, then, they could be invested with an artificial power and moral authority," writes the author.

This and the last chapter show how at times the repressive model of the pativrata created its own space for women to fight oppression. There is then always some scope to look at the other side of the coin. Now that it is more than a century since some of the problems that Anshu Malhotra has written about emerged, it is a little bit more possible than it was earlier to look at them with detachment. At the same time, most of the social ills that Anshu Malhotra has written about remain in one form or the other in Punjab even today. In this context, one is often left wondering, if at times the element of detachment is missing in this obviously painstaking work of research.

Dissecting Parkinson's

A major workshop on Parkinson's disease offers insights into the nature of the disease, the medical challenges involved and the state-of-play of research advances.

AN international workshop on "Parkinson's disease and other movement disorders" was held in Chennai in mid-February. Hosted by the T.S. Srinivasan Department of Clinical Neurology and Research (at the Public Health Centre) and the Madras Institute of Neurology (at the Madras Medical College), the workshop brought together over 300 Indian and international delegates - neurologists, clinicians, neuro-physicians, geneticists, imaging experts, surgeons, neuro-psychiatrists, paediatricians, and radiologists - to discuss the incidence of Parkinson's disease, its manifestations, methods of treatment and key research findings. Its sponsors included the Movement Disorders Society (the umbrella organisation of all movement disorder groups the world over), the Institute of Neurology, London, and the Wellcome Trust, United Kingdom.

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Parkinson's disease, which was first described in "An Essay on the Shaking Palsy" in 1817 by a London physician James Parkinson, has probably existed for thousands of years. Its symptoms and treatment methods find mention in the texts of Ayurveda, the system of ancient Indian medicine, and in the first Chinese medical text, Nei Jing, some 2,500 years old.

According to Stanley Fahn, who is Professor of Neurology, Columbia University, United States, and Director, Centre for Parkinson's Disease, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Centre, "Since the 1960s, when Dr. George Cotzias administered the miracle drug Levodopa on patients, dramatically changing their lives, no breakthrough has been made in treating the disease. Though the world over many facets of the disease - pharmacology, genetics, surgery and transplantation - are being researched, the cause of Parkinson's disease still remains elusive".

Parkinson's disease is a progressive neurological disorder caused by the degeneration of nerve cells (neurons) in the region of the brain that controls movements. The destruction of neurons leads to a shortage of the brain-signalling chemical or neurotransmitters called dopamine, responsible for the pigmentation of neurons (a normal outcome of metabolism that begins after birth and is completed at the age of 18) in the mid-brain or the Substantia nigra. Pathological studies indicate that the loss of the pigmented nerve cells, of which there are some 4,000 in the Substantia nigra, causes Parkinson's disease. Also, when dopamine starts depleting, various other areas in the brain such as the thalamus, Globus pallidus and the subthalamic nucleus start to malfunction. Since these areas send signals to other parts of the brain, malfunctions in these small areas lead to widespread brain dysfunction.

In the normal course, at least 2,000 neurons in the Substantia nigra are lost every year. But when a person loses 40 per cent of the neurons (160,000) in the Substantia nigra, symptoms of the disease develop. Sometimes the rate of loss of neurons accelerates. According to Professor Fahn, accelerated loss of cells remains a mystery. The sudden loss could be due to a genetic defect, because of an internally-produced chemical (a naturally occurring free radical), or because of contact with an external chemical (a toxin that breaches the cell defences).

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Although the exact cause of Parkinson's disease is not known, the current thinking is that both genetic and environmental factors might be responsible. While genes like the alpha-synuclein and Parkin can trigger Parkinson's disease on their own, for a majority of patients, without a family history of the occurence of Parkinson's disease, it might be one gene that is susceptible to some toxic element in the environment that might cause Parkinson's disease.

Available treatment methods can only treat the symptoms. The first symptom of Parkinson's disease is usually tremor of the limb which spreads gradually from one side to the other, especially when the body is at rest. Other symptoms include slow movement (bradykinesia), inability to move (akinesia), rigidity of limbs, shuffling gait and stooped posture. Affected people often show reduced facial expression and speak softly. There may be other symptoms such as depression, dementia, sleep disturbances, personality change, speech impairment and sexual dysfunction.

The symptoms appear first around the age of 60, though in 15 per cent of the cases they occur before the age of 50. It is estimated that one in every 100 persons over the age of 60 is affected by Parkinson's disease. Most people who develop symptoms of primary Parkinson's disease are said to have "idiopathic Parkinson's disease", as its causes are unknown. Secondary Parkinson's disease, or Parkinsonism, occurs not because of loss of pigmented neurons but because the melanin cells or pigmented neurons in the Substantia nigra are affected due to a viral attack or trauma. Affected people develop the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, but the symptoms disappear as the infection wanes or when the trauma-induced problems are corrected. Japanese encephalitis, a viral infection, is known to cause Parkinsonism. In India, drug-induced Parkinsonism is common.

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According to Professor Andres Lozano of the Department of Surgery, Toronto Western Hospital, Canada, Parkinson's disease is treated mainly by replacing the missing dopamine. Today, the best drug available is Levodopa, the miracle drug developed in the 1960s that got patients out of wheel-chairs. But it is effective only for a few years. After some years of therapy, not only does the drug become less effective but it causes side-effects such as involuntary movement, or dyskinesia. Then options such as surgery are considered.

There are three types of surgery: ablative or destructive, which involves locating, targeting and then destroying a clearly defined area of the brain, deep brain stimulation where a probe or an electrode is implanted into a clearly-defined abnormal brain region such as Globus pallidus, thalamus or subthalamic nucleus, and transplantation or restorative (implanting dopamine-producing cells into the striatum).

Surgery was employed to treat tremors a century ago but it ceased to be a useful option after Levadopa arrived in the 1960s. With developments in diagnostic techniques and following problems caused by the extended use of Levodopa, surgery was revived in the 1970s. This was aided by developments in imaging techniques leading to a better understanding of the targets, and improvements in surgical methods.

Surgery is effective in treating tremors (reduction to an extent of 80 per cent), rigidity and akinesia (60 per cent), gait and postural disturbances (50 per cent) and dyskinesia. Surgery can reduce and even eliminate the use of drugs.

But, according to Dr. Lozano, surgery could lead to psychiatric disturbances, urinary problems, sexual dysfunction, and difficulties in swallowing and speech. Also, the deep-brain stimulator, which is put inside the targeted area with counter current to stop brain cells from degenerating, costs Rs.4 lakhs and it could get infected.

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Molecular approaches to surgery such as infusing drugs that protect neurons from dying or implanting genes that help produce more dopamine are in various stages of development. Transplantation is another possibility - using stem cells exogenously or from patient's own tissues, to repopulate dead cells and reconnect defective circuits in the brain.

According to Professor N.H. Wadia, Director, Department of Neurology, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai, studies show that the prevalence of Parkinson's disease is the lowest among Nigerians, followed by Chinese, Japanese, Afro-Americans and Indians. The prevalence rate is higher in Western countries. For example, the incidence of the disease among Italians is 11 times higher than among the Chinese. The prevalence of Parkinson's disease varies across communities too. For instance, in India, the incidence of the disease is higher among Parsis.

In India, the crude age-adjusted prevalence rate of Parkinson's disease per 100,000 population is 14 in northern India, 27 in the south and 16 in the east, while it is 363 for Parsis in Mumbai. The rate is 100 to 200 in the U.K.

According to Uday Mutane, Assistant Professor, Neurology, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore, who analysed neurons in 84 brains from brain banks in London and Bangalore, the loss of pigmented melanin cells in the Substantia nigra is 40 per cent lesser among Indians. The reasons are not clear.

Dr. Maduri Bihari from Delhi found from a study of 377 Parkinson's disease patients that several factors such as family history, drinking of well water for a long time, vegetarian diet, rural residence, exposure to herbicides and insecticides and excessive alcohol intake increased the risk of acquiring Parkinson's disease. These results need to be corroborated with more studies.

A NIMHANS study concentrated on the ethnic roots of Parkinson's disease. In India, Anglo-Indians are found to be less prone to the disease. While 19.5 per cent of Indians at large have Parkinson's disease, only 4 per cent of Anglo-Indians are affected.

According to Professor Jean Aicardi, a paediatrician attached to Hospital Robert Bebre, Paris, while children are generally not affected by Parkinson's disease, some 4 per cent of children are affected by a movement disorder called tic, an involuntary movement of muscle. It is mostly benign and disappears with age.

According to Dr. E. S. Krishnamoorthy, Assistant Director, (Research), National Neuroscience Institute, Singapore, treating movement disorders is expensive, This is particularly true in the case of newer treatment methods such as the Botolinum stimulation injection. India, he said, has the scientific base to develop Botolinum injections that can bring down the treatment costs significantly. "The future of treatment lies in pharmacogenomics that links drug treatment to the response of genes," he says.

Professor Kailash Bhatia from the Institute of Neurology, London, conducted a workshop on Botulinum treatment methods with patients with dystonia, writer's cramp and so on.

The Chennai workshop concentrated on epidemiological studies, which offered clues and insights into the risk factors involved in Parkinson's disease and other movement disorders; genetic studies - computational models, gene-based research and treatment; newer drugs to treat not only movement disorders but also cognitive disorders such as memory loss and depression arising as side-effects from taking traditional drugs that are dopa-based, or MAO inhibitors; and surgical techniques and management including stimulation of certain areas in the brain and transplantation.

The Chennai workshop brought out the need for India to set up national registers and do a number of multi-population epidemiological studies with nested controls, particularly as the country is diverse in environment, culture, diet and ethnicity.

Hope lies in slowing the rate of progression

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Professor Stanley Fahn, H. Houston Merritt Professor of Neurology at Columbia University, and Director, Centre for Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Centre, has done pioneering work in some lesser-known subspecialities of movement disorders such as dystonia and Huntington's disease. He is also the founding member and the first president of the Movement Disorder Society, besides being president of the American Academy of Neurology. The awards he has received include the American Academy of Neurology award for excellence in research and the A.B. Baker award for outstanding teaching. He is on the advisory board of several international committees on movement disorders.

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Recently, he was in Chennai to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Neurosciences India group, on which occasion he also delivered the 22nd T.S. Srinivasan Endowment Lecture.

Professor Fahn spoke to Asha Krishnakumar on movement disorders, the role of the environment, genetic factors, the status of research on Parkinson's disease, and the future for patients with movement disorders. Excerpts:

Why do the dopamine-producing cells die?

There are several theories. One is that along with dopamine, other monoamin cells also die. Every time the cells metabolise, hydrogen peroxide is formed which has to be got rid of quickly as it reacts with other parts of the cell to form free radicals, which attack the protein, the cell membrane, the DNA and eventually kill cells.

Researchers are trying different approaches to get rid of the hydrogen peroxide and slow the progression of the disease. They are trying drugs that block protein aggregation and so on. None of the treatments can slow the disease. We can only treat the symptoms.

How much does the environment impact the onset of the disease?

Studies on twins gave us some clues. Only in those cases where one twin has Parkinson's disease before the age of 50 did the other twin get it too. The later onset of Parkinson's disease is more due to environment than genes. But many feel that where one twin had early onset of Parkinson's disease, the other twin may not have been infected as they did not live long. Thus the current thinking is that both genes and environment are important.

Have there been epidemiological studies on Parkinson's disease? What is the incidence of the disease?

There are a number of epidemiological studies. Parkinson's is the second most common neuro degenerative disease, after Alzheimer's. The highest prevalence rate is probably in the U.S. - 200 per 100,000. According to studies by Professor H. Wadia in Mumbai, the prevalence rate of Parkinson's disease among Parsis settled in Mumbai is 363 per 100,000. So, some genetic factor is responsible for the high prevalence of the disease among Parsis. In the U.S. there are over 60,000 new cases a year.

The prevalence rate among men is higher than women at 3:2. Some theories are floating around such as estrogen acts as a protective measure for women or that men eat more meat and get more iron, which accumulates and triggers the disease and so on. But no one knows for sure.

The prevalence rate is higher in older age groups. But though women live longer than men, they have lower prevalence rates.

Are diagnostic techniques well-developed?

Parkinson's is still diagnosed clinically. The family history of the patients and physical examination can almost always diagnose Parkinson's correctly.

Can Parkinson's disease be cured? What are the different treatment methods?

The treatment was discovered over a century ago. Some plants and herbs were used to treat some of the symptoms. In the 1950s, many of these compounds were synthesised chemically and became the standard treatment. It was more or less discovered by accident in France. But in the 1960s some scientists discovered that dopamine deficiency in animals can mimic Parkinson's. This led to the understanding that dopamine deficiency in the brain caused Parkinson's disease. Brain autopsy showed that most symptoms were related to dopamine deficiency. Then it became known that this was happening because dopamine-producing cells were dying in the brain's Substantia nigra region. The picture then became clear.

It was also learnt that a dopamine replacement therapy could reverse Parkinson's disease conditions. Levodopa did wonders - patients' stiffness and tremors vanished, they could walk, talk and do their chores better. Levodopa is the immediate precursor to dopamine.

Then why do we not use dopamine instead of Levodopa?

Levodopa is used because dopamine does not cross the blood-brain barrier. But Levodopa has amino acid and hence is an active transport system. It can cross the blood-brain barrier and enter the brain where it can be converted into dopamine. This is still the best-perfected and the most powerful treatment for Parkinson's disease.

In the 1960s, George Cotzias, who discovered Levodopa, worked out how to get it into the brain without causing many side-effects. Some drugs (such as Carbidopa) have been developed to be taken with Levodopa to tide over some of its problems. A combination of the two drugs, called Sinemet, is prescribed extensively for Parkinson's disease. Such drugs as Agonists that behave like dopamine have also been developed. Recently, a group of drugs called Comt was prescribed with Levodopa to prolong the latter's action and to decrease some of its side-effects. But Levo-dopa still remains the standard and the most powerful treatment for Parkinson's disease.

Can Levodopa be administered to all patients suffering from Parkinson's disease?

Not all patients can take Levodopa because of its side-effects. The next most powerful group of drugs is called dopamine Aganus which acts directly on dopamine receptors. Dopamine Aganus drugs are milder than Levodopa. Unfortunately, they have their own side-effects - swelling in the ankle, drowsiness and so on. Mostly patients start with these weaker drugs and when the symptoms worsen and they need to take powerful drugs they are put on Levodopa.

Levodopa revolutionised treatment as it got wheelchair-bound patients on their feet. However, many patients developed complications and the drug had to be stopped as they became dyskineseous (having abnormal involuntary movements). That is a very common problem in Levodopa therapy. The trick is to get the dosage right. The longer the patients are on Levodopa, the more sensitive the receptors get and over-react. It is difficult to treat such patients.

Another big problem with Levodopa is that it has a very short half-life - it does not stay very long. Initially the patient does well and it does not matter when you take Levodopa. But after some years complications develop and the frequency of drug use has to be increased.

New drugs have been developed to extend the period of effective use of Levodopa. Various combinations of drugs are also administered. It is an art treating patients with complicated Parkin-son's disease.

What is the state-of-art of research in the diagnostics, pharmacology and treatment of Parkinson's disease?

Genetic research is fairly dominant as it gives clues to the genesis of the disease. As the extended use of Levodopa leads to complications, drug companies are working on methods to overcome its common side-effects.

The most exciting research is on slowing the rate of progression of the disease. There are as yet no positive clues to slowing down its progression. But hope lies in this area of research.

When there will be a cure, one is not sure. People are speculating on cell transplants, gene therapy and so on. But already embryonic dopamine cells have been implanted onto the brains of patients. The results were published a year ago. We have shown that these cells from the foetus can grow and survive in the brain and make dopamine reducing the need for Levodopa. But it does not work in older patients. Also, people might end up with too many dopamine-making cells and hence producing too much dopa. So they end up being dyskinesious (hyperactive). So, we concluded that unless we know how to control the cells, cell transplants should not be done.

The same is true with stem cells. The idea with stem cells is that they can be converted to dopamine cells by growing them in a test-tube. The important thing is to know how to control the cells so that they do not grow tumorous, get cancerous or not make too much dopamine. Research is on in this area.

Another potential area of stem cell research is to grow other cells besides dopamine-producing cells such as neuro-tropins. This could probably be an answer to Parkinson's disease.

So, what is the hope for Parkinson's disease patients right now? It is still a symptomatic treatment method that is followed.

Every year we make advances. Thirty years ago we did not have Levodopa. Now we have it. We have other drugs that overcome Levodopa's side-effects. Surgery can treat some of the side-effects. The hope is in the studies which are on to slow the progress of the disease. We are not there as yet.

Kharagpur's legend

Indian Institute of Technology - Kharagpur, the first of the IITs, has come a long way from its modest beginnings.

INDIAN Institute of Technology- Kharagpur, the oldest among the IITs, was formally inaugurated on August 18, 1951 by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Over the next 50 years it not only set the standards for other similar institutions, but became a key contributor to the technological self-reliance of the country through numerous research projects sponsored by the scientific departments of the government and by other organisations.

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The idea of IITs was first conceived in 1946 by a committee set up by Sir Jogendra Singh, member of the Viceroy's Executive Council, Department of Education, Health and Agriculture. The 22-member committee, headed by N.R. Sarkar, recommended the establishment of four institutions for higher technical education in the eastern, western, northern and southern regions of the country. The objective behind the establishment of these institutes for undergraduate and post-graduate studies and research was to meet the demands of national development in the post-Independence period.

Initially the institute started functioning from 5 Esplanade East, in the heart of Kolkata. It later shifted to Hijli in Midnapore district in September 1950. The idyllic, sylvan setting of Hijli, 120 km from Kolkata, was chosen to give students a peaceful atmosphere. The historical significance of Hijli must also have been taken into account while choosing the site. The Hijli Detention Camp building - in which the IIT's first classrooms, laboratories, and administrative office were housed - was established in 1930 in order to incarcerate freedom-fighters. It was here that two unarmed detainees - Santosh Kumar Mitra and Tarakeswar Sengupta - were shot dead by the British police on September 16, 1931. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose himself came to Hijli to collect their bodies. All national leaders, including Rabindranath Tagore, condemned the shooting. The camp was closed in 1937, reopened in 1940 to detain freedom-fighters, and closed finally in 1942.

Since its modest start, IIT-Kharagpur has been engaged in a continuous process of development in terms of both infrastructure and research and development. In 1952, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru laid the foundation stone for the main building, which was completed and inaugurated in 1956. In the first convocation address the same year, he said: "Here as I stand in this place and my mind inevitably goes back to that infamous institution, for which this place became famous, not now but 20 or 30 years ago - the Hijli Detention Camp. Here in the place of that Hijli Detention Camp stands this fine monument of India, representing India's urges, India's future in the making. This picture seems to be symbolic of changes that are coming to India."

Today the old jail complex is no longer a symbol of British colonialism; instead it houses the Nehru Museum and the offices of some government departments. The Indian Research Organisation, the Vinod Gupta School of Management, and the chemical engineering complex have come up in its vicinity. In place of the marshes that surrounded the jail complex, now there are gardens and forest management projects.

When the first session started in August 1951, there were just 42 teachers and 224 undergraduate students in three departments. These students completed their four-year professional training in 1955. The first batch of post-graduates finished their course in 1954, after a one-year programme. IIT-Kharagpur has come a long way from those days to reach its present position of pre-eminence. It now has 450 teachers and 22 undergraduate and 64 post-graduate programmes, offered by 26 academic departments and schools. On September 15, 1956, Parliament passed the Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur) Act making it an institute of national importance. It was also given the status of an autonomous university.

The President of India is the Visitor of all the IITs and is at the apex of the IIT administration. There is a Council to coordinate the activities of all the IITs. Each IIT has a board of governors to guide it in general policy-making. The head of each board is the Chairman, who is nominated by the President. The Director is the chief supervisor of the academic and administrative activities of the Institute. He is advised on all academic matters by the Senate, comprising senior members of the Institute and nominees from various sections.

The first Director of IIT-Kharagpur was the eminent scientist Jnan Chandra Ghosh. The first board of governors was formed with Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy as chairman and N.R. Sarkar, Sir Jehangir J. Gandhi, Dr. Tara Chand, K.R.K. Menon, T. Sivasankar, S.S. Bhatnagar and Humayun Kabir as members. Eminent scholars from Europe, such as Prof. R.A. Kraus and Prof. H. Tischner, joined the institute in its formative years. Tischner was also the first head of the Electronics and Communication Engineering department.

In the beginning, IIT-Kharagpur laid emphasis was on producing trained manpower of the highest quality for the benefit of major industries that came up in the post-Independence era. In the 1970s, however, MTech and PhD programmes on specialised areas of study were given emphasis. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Institute focussed more on research and application of research for societal needs. Apart from training its own students, IIT-Kharagpur took part in a programme of continuing education. Teachers from other technical institutions came to IIT-Kharagpur for higher studies under the Quality Improvement Programme launched in 1972. By 1994, this programme was consolidated under the Continuing Education Centre, which had a new dean at its helm.

Despite being about 120 km west of Kolkata, IIT-Kharagpur is well connected by train services and roads to all major cities in the country. It is only about 5 km from the Kharagpur railway station, which has the longest railway platform in Asia. The Institute is a fully residential, self-sufficient unit. It has its own water and electric supply substations and all services such as the maintenance of campus amenities, buildings and roads are provided by the Institute itself. It has its own security service for the sprawling 600-hectare campus. A modern telephone facility with ISDN and smart card service, and a hospital with 60 beds are maintained by the Institute. For the recreation of students, there are two indoor and outdoor stadia, an outdoor swimming pool, s football ground, a cricket field and tennis courts. The Institute also has its own market where provisions are available. Four nationalised banks and six privately owned restaurants are located on the campus. For the education of the children of the faculty, there are four schools - the Hijli High School, a Kendriya Vidyalaya, the DAV Modern School and the St. Agnes School (which has up to Class Five).

For the students there are 16 halls of residence, including one for married research scholars and one for defence personnel who study at the Institute. New residential halls are being constructed in view of an expected increase in student intake, and a multi-storeyed apartment complex is being built for the faculty. The total population at the Institute is around 20,000. There are also three guesthouses and a visitors' hostel.

The campus has many auditoriums and an open-air theatre that can seat over 3,000 people. A new building is also being constructed to house some departments that have expanded. The new building will have lecture halls with seating capacities of 800 each. Apart from its main campus, IIT-Kharagpur has two extension campuses - in Kolkata and in Bhubaneswar - which provide the venue for continuing education programmes, seminars, exhibitions and distance learning courses.

Unlike many other institutions in the country, IIT-Kharagpur was never shackled by any kind of regionalism. The Spring Fest organised by the students is arguably the most famous and popular college festival in the entire eastern region. Its participants come from as far away as Shillong and Hyderabad. All those associated with the Institute live on the campus. They come from different parts of the country and belong to different religions, communities, classes and language groups, but are bound by one common goal - pursuit of excellence in technical education.

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Oct 9,2020