Only Subscribed user can access the archives

Get full access to our 16 year old archives

Subscribe Now

Already subscribed? Sign In

COVER STORY

21-06-2002

fl191200-Cover

Briefing

Nuclear crisis in South Asia

T. JAYARAMAN cover-story

The current crisis in India-Pakistan relations is a direct consequence of the pursuit of nuclear weaponisation by India, followed closely by Pakistan.

THE current India-Pakistan military stand-off is most certainly among the gravest crises in the many that have marked the often antagonistic relations between the two nations. The armed forces of the two countries have been facing each other across the border in a state of high alert, a state that has persisted for several months now. Even if the stand-off is still short of war, the two sides have been shooting at each other with increasing intensity, with armaments of increasing firepower. But it is the concurrent talk, constant and open on both sides, on a scale unmatched over the last four years of the possible use of nuclear weapons in this conflict that marks this crisis off from all the others that have preceded it.

India and Pakistan have earned the dubious honour of being parties to what is arguably the worst nuclear weapons crisis the world has seen since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

The threat of nuclear weapons has been brandished by the highest levels of political leadership of both nations. Early on, soon after India mobilised its troops on the borders following the December terrorist attack on Parliament House, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee made a clear reference to the possible use of nuclear weapons against Pakistan. Speaking in Lucknow on January 3, he declared, "...no weapon would be spared in self-defence. Whatever weapon was available it would be used no matter how it wounded the enemy." (The Hindu, January 4, 2002).

Defence Minister George Fernandes, even while claiming that nuclear deterrence would hold between India and Pakistan, and that Pakistan's leadership would not risk nuclear confrontation, expressed himself in remarkably hawkish terms (in an interview to The Hindustan Times, December 30, 2001): "We could take a strike, survive, and then hit back. Pakistan would be finished."

However, more recently, the nuclear provocation from the Indian side has come predominantly in the form of repeated calls for a 'decisive conflict' with Pakistan, to deal with the problem 'once and for all'. Although these statements were undoubtedly made in the context of dealing with Pakistan's sponsorship of and support for cross-border terrorism, especially after the Kalu Chak incident, the rhetoric clearly ups the ante on a larger scale.

For Pakistan, which has always held that its nuclear weapons are the ultimate guarantee of its territorial integrity and security, these statements must undoubtedly seem to justify General Pervez Musharraf's threat issued in April.

Nuclear weapons are part of the calculation, he emphasised in a widely reported interview to the German magazine, Der Spiegel, especially if Pakistan is threatened with extinction. Both Vajpayee and Musharraf have stepped back somewhat in the past week from these excesses of nuclear rhetoric. On May 30, Musharraf offered the guarantee that his country will not initiate a war. On June 1 in an interview to CNN, he insisted that Pakistan had made no forward deployment of nuclear missiles and expressed his confidence that neither side would be irresponsible enough to go to the limit of nuclear confrontation. From the Indian side there have been equivalent indications of the desire to avoid war even while the theme of a decisive end to cross-border terrorism continues to be emphasised.

There is a now a flurry of diplomacy aimed at lowering tensions in the subcontinent involving all the major capitals of the world. Both Vajpayee and Musharraf are present at the CICA Conference at the Kazakhstan city of Almaty, and one may yet expect that further moves to defuse tensions would be initiated. However, most disturbingly, the chronicle of the recent exchange of nuclear threats between India and Pakistan, veiled or open, does not show any orchestration of the use of nuclear rhetoric as an instrument of policy, dangerous as that may be in its own right.

Even a cursory analysis of media reports of the last several months shows that the picture is far more complex and marked by dangerously impulsive reactions and behaviour on both sides. Assurances of peaceful intentions have alternated with calls for decisive victory. The temptation to play to the most dangerous sections of the gallery has often not been resisted. In the lower rungs of the political leadership, at the level of party politics, and in statements by sections of the bureaucracy, ultra-hawkish statements have been the order of the day.

While Musharraf dismissed the threat of nuclear war on June 1, his envoy at the United Nations reiterated, a few hours earlier, that Pakistan could resort to the use of nuclear weapons even in a conventional conflict if Pakistan judges its losses to be too heavy. Not to be outdone in demonstrating that nuclear insanity knows no borders, Indian Defence Secretary Yogendra Narain has the following chilling observations to make in an interview to the latest issue of Outlook magazine. In response to a question whether India has factored in the possibility of the war turning nuclear, he says: "Certainly. But Pakistan is not a democratic country and we don't know their nuclear threshold. We will retaliate and must be prepared for mutual destruction on both sides."

On the nuclear command structure he claims: "Everything is finalised. It is in the hands of the civilian government and we don't expect any delay in the issuing of orders." The Indian bureaucracy playing the game of nuclear brinkmanship would indeed be a fine Strangelovian spectacle were it not for the millions of hapless lives at stake.

But it would be a gross mistake to accept the over-simplification that New Delhi offers of the origins of the current crisis, rooted solely it would seem in a fundamentalist state's intransigent desire to escalate continually cross-border terrorism and a patient India's refusal to take it any more. On the contrary, as any serious perusal of the record of the last four years shows, the story of the current crisis is one of a disaster foretold, its current, seemingly intractable and dangerous character a direct consequence of the unshakable pursuit of nuclear weaponisation and nuclear-weapons power status by India, followed closely on its heels by Pakistan.

From the days of the original post-Pokhran-II euphoria, the current political dispensation in New Delhi, which was also the architect of the nuclear weapons tests has consistently maintained that it would pursue nuclear weaponisation irrespective of its consequences in the subcontinent. Ignoring the loss of long-term strategic superiority and the lack of tactical flexibility that nuclear weaponisation would entail, it acted as if India had stolen a march over Pakistan to superpower status. While some noises were made regarding India's right to nuclear-weapons status in general terms, the Pakistan-centric nature of India's nuclear weapons was repeatedly and belligerently made clear in the immediate aftermath of the tests.

Indeed, in the two weeks between May 11 and 13 and May 28, when Pakistan conducted its own tests in response at the Chagai hills, the conduct of the Indian government clearly showed that it had no policy framework of dealing with such an eventual response that was all too soon in coming.

Worse still, it made early on an explicit and provocative linkage between nuclear weaponisation and the most contentious issue in India-Pakistan relations, Kashmir. It is worth recalling explicitly (as the experience of the Liberhan Commission shows, memories can be notoriously defective) the statement of Home Minister L.K. Advani, made on May 18, 1998. Stating that "India's decisive step to become a nuclear weapons state has brought about a qualitatively new stage in Indo-Pakistan relations, particularly in finding a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem," Advani called upon the Pakistan government to "realise the change in the geo-strategic situation in the region and the world".

This was an open invitation to Pakistan to respond in kind, making, for its own part, a clear linkage between the Kashmir issue and the issue of any negotiations to reduce the nuclear threat. However, surprisingly enough, this was an option that Pakistan did not push all the way through for a long time.

Pakistan repeatedly offered, throughout the tenure of the ill-fated Nawaz Sharif regime, the prospect of a no-war pact that would include de-nuclearisation by both nations. While Kashmir remained high on the agenda, the link between the no-war proposal and negotiations on the Kashmir issue remained somewhat tenuous.

India's response was to ignore and downplay steadfastly this window of opportunity in India-Pakistan relations. It remained committed to the possession of nuclear weapons, overplaying constantly its no-first-use proposal, that meant in practice quite the opposite of what the proposal meant in terms of international disarmament. The undertone clearly was also one of underestimating Pakistan's nuclear capabilities, even after Chagai.

TODAY, even more dangerously, post-September 11, many Indian senior military and political leaders and analysts believe, according to the Pakistani scientist and anti-nuclear weapons campaigner, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, that Pakistan's exercise of its nuclear options would be effectively restrained by the United States and that the U.S. exercises some kind of operational control over them.

India's strategic complacency, the absurd attitude that all kinds of conventional conflict would be deterred by the multilateral possession of nuclear weapons, was shown up after the disastrous experience of the Kargil conflict. Nothing was learnt from the conflict, though. Close on its heels came the absurdly hawkish draft Indian Nuclear Doctrine, that provoked a prompt and angry response in the Pakistan media, notably from Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar.

India has been constantly warned by democratic and rational public opinion at home of the dangers of dealing with a nuclear-weapons state on its borders that suffers from many destabilising forces in its politics and society. The sometimes tenuous nature of the control that Islamabad exercises on jehadi forces in Pakistani society and the tendency of successive Pakistani governments to appease them at least in part have clearly dangerous overtones in the background of nuclear weaponisation.

The correctness of this warning was immediately apparent in Musharraf's first major policy statement after the bombing of the World Trade Centre towers on September 11. Responding to India's strategy of using this is as an opportunity to outflank Pakistan diplomatically and strategically by raising the issue of cross-border terrorism from Pakistan and Pakistan's support for Kashmiri militants, and seeking to deflect domestic criticism of his decision to go along with the U.S., Musharraf almost predictably linked the issue to nuclear weapons in South Asia: "They want the United States to side with them and to declare Pakistan a terrorist state. They also want our strategic assets and our Kashmir cause to be harmed."

In the light of this statement the current crisis in India-Pakistan relations seems to have almost been predictable, with the U.S. still more prominently placed as the key mediator between the two neighbours on all aspects of their troubled relations. India's moral stance on the issue of cross-border terrorism loses much of its shine on closer examination, precisely because of the refusal of the current Indian government to acknowledge this role of nuclear weaponisation, a role that is evident to large sections of public opinion, both in India and in the world.

While the course of events, post-December 2001, has clearly served to focus world attention on India's problem with terrorism, genuine progress that would put peace on the agenda in the long term requires more far-reaching efforts. India has no moral high-ground to claim with regard to nuclear weaponisation in South Asia. An offer to reconsider the no-war proposal of Pakistan would be a far-reaching and statesmanlike response to any verifiable, serious effort by Pakistan to call a halt to the support of the armed activities of the Kashmiri militants of any brand, jehadi or otherwise. Surprisingly enough, Musharraf has indicated, in response to a question about India's no-first-use proposal, that the no-war proposal is still on the agenda.

Quite apart from the enormous peace dividend of such a move, a peace very much desired by public opinion in India and Pakistan, the return of the issue of Kashmir to the negotiating table would be in vastly different circumstances compared to any other time in the last two decades with the potential role of superpower intervention in India-Pakistan relations being suitably circumscribed.

The road to peace in the subcontinent remains a long one, and one that seems to have lengthened over the years. But this road cannot be traversed, with some kind of discernible signposts, visible even in the current fog, as to the progress being made, if the centrality of the need to halt the nuclear weaponisation of South Asia is not taken into account.

'Deterrence will not always work'

cover-story
Interview with Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy.

Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy is a nuclear physicist who teaches at the Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. He is the recipient of several professional awards for scientific research. He has written and spoken extensively on topics ranging from science in Islam, to issues of education in Pakistan and nuclear disarmament. He produced a 13-part documentary series in Urdu for Pakistan Television on critical issues in education, and two other major television series aimed at popularising science. In this interview with Mohammad Shehzad conducted in Islamabad, Dr. Hoodbhoy speaks on the dark side of the nuclear weapons in the backdrop of current Pakistan-India tension. Possession of nuclear weapons gave Pakistan a false sense of confidence and security, encouraging it into adventurism in Kashmir and initiating a war, he says. Excerpts:

19121251jpg

Have nuclear weapons brought more security or more insecurity to this region?

The evidence is unambiguous - since the nuclear tests of 1998, we have witnessed two full-blown India-Pakistan confrontations. During the Kargil crisis in 1999, we now know, the Pakistan Army - without the knowledge of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif - had mobilised its nuclear-tipped missile fleet. Presumably the Indians were also in a high state of nuclear readiness. The present crisis is yet more dangerous, with India breathing fire and preparing for what it calls 'limited war'. Prime Minister Vajpayee has exhorted his troops in Kashmir to prepare for sacrifice and 'decisive victory'.

Do you think that the subcontinent would have been less violent without nuclear weapons?

Absolutely so. Bellicose, aggressive behaviour has increased sharply since 1998 with the Kargil war being one consequence. In fact, this war will be recorded by historians as the first that was actually caused by nuclear weapons. Possession of nuclear weapons gave Pakistan a false sense of confidence and security, encouraging it into adventurism in Kashmir and initiating a war. Interestingly enough, the Indians shot themselves in the foot by forcing Pakistan to bring out its nuclear weapons into the open. Now they realise that their options in Kashmir are sharply limited, and the risk of mutual annihilation is a very real one.

Today, in spite of General Musharraf's speech of January 12, there is little doubt that militant camps continue to shelter under Pakistan's nuclear umbrella. They are a curse not only to India but also for Pakistan and its civil society. If the September 11 event had not occurred, they would have been stronger still. Sectarian Islamic groups have slaughtered hundreds of innocents in the last two years, including over a hundred doctors in Karachi.

You seem to agree that Pakistan's nuclear weapons have deterred India from attacking it?

There is little doubt that Pakistan's nuclear weapons stopped India from attacking after the December 13 attack by jehadists on the Indian Parliament. So in that sense I agree with you that deterrence did work. It also worked in 1999, and perhaps also in the crises of 1990 and 1987. But will it always work? Islamic jehadists - who must be considered a third force that now operates independently of the Pakistani state - crave for a full-scale war between the two countries. They could easily commit some huge atrocity which turns India into a mad bull dashing blindly into a nuclear-armed Pakistan.

While Pakistani and Indian hawks, who pose as 'strategic analysts' and 'experts', loudly trumpet that deterrence has been proven to work, events since 1998 have completely falsified their predictions. Their published claims had been that overt nuclearisation would create a stable 'balance of terror', making it impossible for either country even to think of attacking the other. They had also predicted smaller expenditures on defence since minimal deterrence had been established. But, as we stand on the brink of a war and in the middle of a full-blown arms race, honesty should compel them to eat their words.

Making an atomic bomb is perceived in Pakistan as a miracle. Is it really a wonder in the world of science?

The first atomic bomb was really a tremendous scientific and technological achievement. It required the finest minds in the world to smash the atom and to get the energy out of it and to create a self-sustaining chain reaction. But no longer! Now you have all this information in books, in journals, and even on the Internet. So today, almost any country in the world, leave aside Somalia and Rwanda, can make bombs. The only thing that you need is money.

At a public seminar on May 20 in Islamabad, one participant said that losing a conventional war was preferable to unleashing a nuclear holocaust. What do you say to this?

This makes eminent sense because states can lose conventional wars and re-emerge stronger. Japan and Germany are examples of countries which suffered greatly in the Second World War, but went on to become leading powers again. On the other hand, if India used nuclear weapons on Pakistan, or vice versa, it would take hundreds of years to recover. Remember, it won't be just one or two bombs as in Japan, but dozens.

Is India not responsible for the nuclearisation of South Asia?

Yes, and it is not just the Bharatiya Janata Party and Hindutva who are responsible. The Indian nuclear programme goes back to the time of Partition. Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister, and Homi Bhabha, the head of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission and a brilliant scientist, conceived making India a nuclear power. The China-India clash in 1962 gave the appropriate pretext, and we saw the results in 1974. But although India is clearly responsible for driving the nuclear rivalry, Pakistan's aims have shifted considerably. To counter India's nuclear weapons has become secondary. Instead, it seeks to use nuclear weapons to achieve foreign policy objectives. There is now the religious dimension too - Pakistan's Islamic parties have claimed the bomb for Islam.

There is a fear in the minds of many people here that the anti-nuclear lobby in Pakistan wants unilateral renunciation of the nuclear option. Do you support this idea of unilateral disarmament?

I am definitely anti-nuclear, but I don't believe unilateral nuclear disarmament by Pakistan at this stage is either possible or desirable. Instead, we need a set of graduated steps by which both India and Pakistan first make their arsenals safer and less useable, and then rapidly move towards their reduction and elimination. The current trend of building more bombs and missiles must be reversed.

In which country is the anti-nuclear lobby stronger: India or Pakistan?

Definitely in India! After the Indian tests, there were protests in all major cities of the country - Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai - which were attended by thousands of people. I wish we could mobilise a fraction of that. India has a more dynamic and vibrant civil society than ours.

This region seems to be on the brink of a nuclear holocaust. How can we move away from this madness?

First, we need to understand what nuclear weapons do. As we sit over here in Islamabad at the Quaid-e-Azam University - just a mile away from the Presidency and Parliament - just think of what an Indian nuclear attack would mean for us. Fortunately, you and I shall have vapourised in a matter of moments. But people who are at a distance of a few miles from the centre of the explosion won't be so lucky. They too will die, but slowly and painfully from physical injury, radiation sickness, poisoning, cancer or the other horrible ways by which atom bombs inflict death and destruction. The public in Pakistan and India need to be informed that there are no winners in a nuclear war, and no cause great enough to justify fighting one.

Can civil defence be effective in the case of nuclear attack?

It cannot reverse tragedy, but definitely can help reduce suffering. Therefore, it is absolutely irresponsible for governments not to make effective provision for civil defence. Imagine that a nuclear weapon has been dropped on a city. Is there any pre-planning about how that city's wounded would be evacuated, and to where? How would the survivors be supplied with non-radioactive food and water? Civil defence here is a complete joke. Today's newspaper carries an item that the total yearly funds earmarked for the Civil Defence Organisation is two million rupees, and even this has not been received yet. Like ostriches, we bury our head in the sand and think that the danger is not there!

To what extent are our nuclear arsenals safe? Are we still vulnerable to a mishap such as the one that occurred at Ojhri Camp, where Central Intelligence Agency-supplied ammunition blew up in the city of Rawalpindi and killed a thousand people?

An assembled nuclear weapon can detonate if there is a fire, accidental explosion, or an airplane carrying the weapon crashes. This nightmare scenario led U.S. nuclear weapon designers to struggle for ten years or more to develop what are called 'one-point safe' nuclear weapons. Pakistani and Indian weapons are unlikely to have these very elaborate safety features, and so the danger of mishaps is non-negligible. Given how prone we are to accidents and sabotage - as evidenced in the Ojhri Camp tragedy of 1987 or the Bhopal gas tragedy - I think there is real reason for worry.

How dangerous is the present crisis in nuclear terms?

In times of crisis, everybody gets nervous. This increases the possibility that wrong information, or deliberate misinformation, could lead to the release of either a missile or an aircraft carrying nuclear weapons. These horrific possibilities become more likely as the level of tension rises and as the size of the two nuclear arsenals increases by the year. We are likely to survive this crisis. I don't know about the next one, or the one after that. The chances are bleak unless we get rid of these terrible toys.

What are the chances of a global nuclear disarmament?

Miserable for the moment! U.S. unilateralism is set to destroy any and all arms control treaties, except those that clearly favour the U.S. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Land Mines Treaty... all have been torpedoed by President Bush. Worse, in January this year, the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) was leaked to the public. This document is obscene and utterly immoral! It calls for the development of operational strategies that would allow the use of nuclear weapons by the U.S. even against those states which do not possess nuclear, chemical, biological or other weapons of mass destruction. Special purpose nuclear weapons such as bunker busters and deep penetration weapons are being developed. Global nuclear arms control is dead - George W. Bush shot and killed it.

How difficult has it been for you to criticice the establishment, being a sort of government servant?

It is not easy at times, the pressure exists. But Pakistan is a more tolerant society than many people think. We have a military regime but it is not oppressive if compared with the draconian regime of General Zia-ul-Haq. Our English language press is probably just as free as the press in India. It is able to criticise Pakistani leaders very directly, without mincing words. This is a sign of hope that Pakistan is not a hopeless case where all its people are brainwashed. But there is a dark side too - Pakistan TV and the Urdu press, which reach many more people than English newspapers, unabashedly promote xenophobia.

You were chosen for the prestigious Pakistani award, the Sitara-e-Imtiaz. Why did you refuse to accept it?

Because I do not consider the process by which awards are given as carrying legitimacy. If you give someone an award in a field of science, only a panel of scientists should decide whether that person deserves it or not. A bureaucrat should not have the right to decide that a person - A or B or C - is worthy of some award. The present procedure serves only to create a culture of sycophancy that rewards flatterers.

Jean Dreze in The Hindu (May 27) quoted a senior Indian defence analyst, K. Subrahmanyam, who said that Indians could still sleep in peace because if Pakistani fingers come anywhere near the nuclear button the U.S. Army will "disarm" Pakistan's nuclear facilities through surgical strikes. What do you say about this?

It is dangerous, and complete nonsense. Pakistan has once again become a client state of the US, but there are definite limits on the pressure that the U.S. can exert upon Pakistan. It is highly unlikely that the U.S. would have knowledge of where the Pakistani nukes are located at any given moment, much less have the will or capacity to destroy them. Remember that nukes mounted on missiles are on mobile launchers and can be moved anywhere in times of crisis. Trying to destroy nukes is something no nation has ever attempted, and the chances of success are very poor.

WAR TALK

ARUNDHATI ROY cover-story
Summer Games With Nuclear Bombs

WHEN India and Pakistan conducted their nuclear tests in 1998, even those of us who condemned them, balked at the hypocrisy of Western nuclear powers. Implicit in their denunciation of the tests was the notion that Blacks cannot be trusted with the Bomb. Now we are presented with the spectacle of our governments competing to confirm that belief.

19120042jpg

As diplomats' families and tourists disappear from the subcontinent, Western journalists arrive in Delhi in droves. Many call me. "Why haven't you left the city?" they ask. "Isn't nuclear war a real possibility? Isn't Delhi a prime target?"

If nuclear weapons exist, then nuclear war is a real possibility. And Delhi is a prime target. It is.

But where shall we go? Is it possible to go out and buy another life because this one's not panning out?

If I go away, and everything and everyone - every friend, every tree, every home, every dog, squirrel and bird that I have known and loved - is incinerated, how shall I live on? Who shall I love? And who will love me back? Which society will welcome me and allow me to be the hooligan that I am here, at home?

So we're all staying. We huddle together. We realise how much we love each other. And we think, what a shame it would be to die now. Life's normal only because the macabre has become normal. While we wait for rain, for football, for justice, the old generals and eager boy-anchors on TV talk of first-strike and second-strike capabilities as though they're discussing a family board game.

My friends and I discuss Prophecy, the documentary about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The fireball. The dead bodies choking the river. The living stripped of skin and hair. The singed, bald children, still alive, their clothes burned into their bodies. The thick, black, toxic water. The scorched, burning air. The cancers, implanted genetically, a malignant letter to the unborn. We remember especially the man who just melted into the steps of a building. We imagine ourselves like that. As stains on staircases. I imagine future generations of hushed schoolchildren pointing at my stain... that was a writer. Not She or He. That.

19120041jpg

I'm sorry if my thoughts are stray and disconnected, not always worthy. Often ridiculous.

I think of a little mixed-breed dog I know. Each of his toes is a different colour. Will he become a radioactive stain on a staircase too? My husband's writing a book on trees. He has a section on how figs are pollinated. Each fig only by its own specialised fig wasp. There are nearly a thousand different species of fig wasps, each a precise, exquisite, synchrony, the product of millions of years of evolution.

All the fig wasps will be nuked. Zzzz. Ash. And my husband. And his book.

A dear friend, who's an activist in the Narmada Bachao Andolan, is on indefinite hunger strike. Today is the fourteenth day of her fast. She and the others fasting with her are weakening quickly. They're protesting because the Madhya Pradesh government is bulldozing schools, clear-felling forests, uprooting hand-pumps, forcing people from their villages to make way for the Maan dam. The people have nowhere to go. And so, the hunger-strike.

What an act of faith and hope! How brave it is to believe that in today's world, reasoned, closely argued, non-violent protest will register, will matter. But will it? To governments that are comfortable with the notion of a wasted world, what's a wasted valley?

The threshold of horror has been ratcheted up so high that nothing short of genocide or the prospect of nuclear war merits mention. Peaceful resistance is treated with contempt. Terrorism's the real thing. The underlying principle of the War Against Terror, the very notion that war is an acceptable solution to terrorism, has ensured that terrorists in the subcontinent now have the power to trigger a nuclear war.

Displacement, dispossession, starvation, poverty, disease - these are now just the funnies, the comic-strip items. Our Home Minister says that Amartya Sen has it all wrong - the key to India's development is not education and health but Defence (and don't forget the kickbacks, O Best Beloved).

Perhaps what he really meant was that war is the key to distracting the world's attention from fascism and genocide. To avoid dealing with any single issue of real governance that urgently needs to be addressed.

For the governments of India and Pakistan, Kashmir is not a problem, it's their perennial and spectacularly successful solution. Kashmir is the rabbit they pull out of their hats every time they need a rabbit. Unfortunately, it's a radioactive rabbit now, and it's careening out of control.

No doubt there is Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism in Kashmir. But there's other kinds of terror in the valley. There's the inchoate nexus between jehadi militants, ex-militants, foreign mercenaries, local mercenaries, underworld Mafiosi, security forces, arms dealers and criminalised politicians and officials on both sides of the border. There's also rigged elections, daily humiliation, 'disappearances' and staged 'encounters'.

19120043jpg

And now the cry has gone up in the heartland: India is a Hindu country. Muslims can be murdered under the benign gaze of the state. Mass murderers will not be brought to justice. Indeed, they will stand for elections. Is India to be a Hindu nation in the heartland and a secular one around the edges?

In the era of the global village, war between India and Pakistan is like a war between Dalits and Adivasis. Who benefits in the long run? Mostly the global zamindars. While we bay for each other's blood the Zs are quietly laying gas pipelines, selling us weapons and pushing through their business deals. (Buy now, pay later.) Britain, for example, is busy arming both sides. Tony Blair's 'peace' mission a few months ago was actually a business trip to discuss a one billion pound deal (and don't forget the kickbacks, O Best Beloved) to sell Hawk fighter-bombers to India. Roughly, for the price of a single Hawk bomber, the government could provide one and a half million people with clean drinking water for life.

"Why isn't there a peace movement?" Western journalists ask me ingenuously. How can there be a peace movement when, for most people in India, peace means a daily battle: for food, for water, for shelter, for dignity? War, on the other hand, is something professional soldiers fight far away on the border. And nuclear war - well, that's completely outside the realm of most people's comprehension. No one knows what a nuclear bomb is. No one cares to explain. As the Home Minister said, education is not a pressing priority.

The last question every visiting journalist always asks me is: Are you writing another book? That question mocks me. Another book? Right now? This talk of nuclear war displays such contempt for music, art, literature and everything else that defines civilisation. So what kind of book should I write?

It's not just the one million soldiers on the border who are living on hair-trigger alert. It's all of us. That's what nuclear bombs do. Whether they're used or not, they violate everything that is humane. They alter the meaning of life itself.

Why do we tolerate them? Why do we tolerate the men who use nuclear weapons to blackmail the entire human race?

Arundhati Roy, 2002

THE LURKING DANGER

After weeks of high rhetoric, Gen. Musharraf begins a "charm offensive", apparently under intense pressure from the West, and the Indian leadership promises a positive response to honest efforts at checking cross-border terrorism. Still, the danger of war looms large.

A MONTH after another cycle of military escalation began on the two sides, hopes that a devastating conflict between India and Pakistan could be avoided hung by a slender thread. An inference that war was not imminent was conveyed by the simultaneous absence from the national capital of the Indian Prime Minister and the Defence Minister, both - curiously - attending conferences on regional security at different points of the compass. That was small and transient reassurance, since the primeval furies that today seem to have become the basis for action provide little room for the antagonists to step back and take rational stock of the situation they have put themselves in. A mix of public nonchalance and fatalism provides an atmosphere that is conducive to reckless adventurism by faltering governments. And both sides of the tense border bristle with the means to actualise the primitive rage that impels their conflict.

19120061jpg

Various credible figures have in recent weeks been published of the numbers that would die in the event of nuclear war in the South Asian region. The figures, expectedly, are horrifying, and yet there has been little public interrogation of the state of deployment of nuclear forces, the care with which they are marshalled, or the hands they have been entrusted to. It is a fair guess though that the procession of peacemakers that has recently made its way through the two countries has not been content with hearing rote repetitions of publicly stated positions. Credible assurances that itchy fingers are not reaching for launch buttons are being demanded, especially by the United States. And such assurances would presumably need to go beyond the rhetorical, to practical demonstrations.

That Pakistan does not have a coherent chain of command in political-military terms was the singular message of the Kargil conflict in 1999. That the Chief of Army Staff then, now self-proclaimed President, General Pervez Musharraf, is willing to take extraordinary risks in pursuit of his mission in Kashmir has also long been evident. All through the cycle of escalation, Musharraf has kept up a consistent refrain: that there is "nothing" happening along the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan. And since making an indiscreet reference to the possibility of nuclear conflict to the German publication Der Spiegel, he has been careful to avoid any impression of recklessness.

Elements within Pakistan have sought to play up the uncertainties in the situation. It is not clear whether this is a matter of deliberate policy or merely a reflection of the well-known incoherence in the chain of command. Few people were amused when the newly appointed Pakistani Ambassador to the United Nations, Munir Akram, announced that his country would not rule out the use of nuclear weapons. Pakistan could not afford to hold out such an assurance, since that would simply be a licence to kill for India, which had the numerical superiority in conventional forces, Akram said.

Persuaded partly by this doomsday threat and partly by Indian diplomatic efforts, the U.S. chose at this juncture to intervene decisively. President George Bush, flanked by his two top security officials - Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - held out the ominous warning that war would not serve the "interests" of either India or Pakistan. "We are part of an international coalition applying pressure to both parties," he said. But then, responsibility for defusing the crisis was not symmetrically apportioned, with Musharraf being rather clearly put on notice that he bore the principal onus: "He must stop the incursions across the Line of Control. He must do so. He said he would do so. We and others are making it clear to him that he must live up to his word."

In follow-up remarks, Powell clarified that it was too early to say that infiltration across the LoC had stopped. And once the movement was stopped, it needed to be made permanent: "I think that what we are expecting President Musharraf to do is to use all the authority he has to stop it and to keep it stopped so that we can put this crisis behind us".

19120062jpg

Musharraf, for his part, responded in public with a bland disavowal of responsibility. International observers were welcome to visit the LoC to verify that "nothing" was happening there, he said. Pakistan had put all its available resources into the task of combating terror and could not be held accountable for every outbreak.

As of now, the U.S. has set itself up as arbitrator and pronounced judgments that, even if they are delayed ones, have been to India's favour. But the delay tells its own story of divided counsel, of the U.S.' compelling need to keep Pakistan on-side. Pakistan still remains for the U.S. the most vital frontline state for the war in Afghanistan. Indeed, over the last two months the war has shifted its main focus into the sensitive tribal areas of northern Pakistan. The media in Pakistan have been speculating about a possible "secret understanding" governing these operations. U.S. and British commando forces, with logistical support from Pakistan, are believed to have raided religious seminaries and other suspected militant holdouts in a search for extremists fleeing Afghanistan.

Quite in contrast to the hushed tones in which these operations are discussed in Pakistan, Musharraf was candid in claiming credit for them in a recent interview to The Washington Post. Responding to a question on the level of military cooperation he was giving the U.S., the General made no effort to understate what he proclaimed as solid achievements: "We wanted to move - actually, these are areas where no troops were allowed for over a century. Never have people moved into that area. And I would request TheWashington Post to give us the credit, that this is the first time that this government has moved in. Our forces moved into areas where nobody went... We moved in the Frontier Corps. And we moved in the Army. And we have got the willing cooperation of the people of that area. Now, this is the biggest point. They have allowed us to come in. And we are doing a lot to pacify that area, to have reconstruction and rehabilitation afterwards in that area, so that people accept us."

The Indian intelligence reading of Musharraf is that he is no novice when it comes to the Northern Territories. He is believed, in fact, to have been a key figure in the crackdown against Shia elements that the military dictator Zia-ul-Haq launched in the mid-1980s. The sectarian resentments arising then could have been a factor behind Zia's death in a mysterious plane crash along with much of the Pakistani army command in 1988. The Northern Territories constitute sensitive terrain as far as the military in Pakistan is concerned. And the consequences of the ongoing operations there are yet unpredictable, particularly since they are to be seen in conjunction with the political transition in Afghanistan.

Although neither Pakistan nor the U.S. is showing any overt signs of concern at the moment, the upcoming grand council of tribal leaders in Afghanistan has been threatened by the return to the fray of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the old American proxy from the days of the jehad against the Soviet-backed Kabul regime. But Hekmatyar today has chosen a new avatar: that of the tribal leader rallying the Pashtun faithful against a U.S.-backed regime that confers undue privileges on other ethnic groups. How far he will bring into play his old allegiances in Pakistan's Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and how far he has gained from recent contacts with Iran are now matters of speculation. But clearly, neither Pakistan nor the U.S. can afford to let its guard down.

This means that the U.S.' public if delayed rejection of Musharraf's insistence that "nothing" is happening on the LoC may bring only temporary benefits to India. The moment the pressure on two flanks begins to undermine the General's domestic credibility, the U.S. will have to devise a rescue operation. What Pakistan craves above all is a political dialogue on the future of Jammu and Kashmir. But since the Kargil conflict, the U.S. has laid down the clear norm that violations of the LoC must cease if the appropriate climate is to be created for a political dialogue. At the same time, it may be forced to reckon with the General's plea that in the prevalent conditions, Pakistan simply cannot accomplish a job that is not up to the capabilities of even India's million-strong Army.

Strategic thinkers in India have demanded global economic sanctions against Pakistan if it persists in sponsoring cross-border militancy. This is unlikely to win the assent of the international community while Pakistan's pleas of helplessness in halting infiltration remain unattended. A face-saving compromise from Pakistan's point of view, which would involve a serious climbdown for India, would be the institution of a monitoring and verification mechanism along the LoC.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who visited India recently, hinted that some kind of a formula is being worked out on Kashmir. He also publicly called upon Pakistan to live up to its obligations under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1373, which was passed shortly after the September 11 attacks in the U.S. At his joint press conference with External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, a specific question on verification mechanisms and procedures was posed. The Minister was evasive and circumlocutory in his response, though its upshot seemed to be that international discussions were proceeding in this direction.

19120063jpg

Shortly before the Agra summit with Pakistan last year, the Indian government announced a plan to ease border crossings for nationals of the two countries. A number of overland transit points were proposed, including two in Jammu and Kashmir. Caught off balance, Pakistan chose to disregard this proposal. It seemed instead to come to Agra in a fixated pursuit of territorial acquisition in Kashmir.

Even with a schism so deep, the dialogue was slated to continue. Until the evening of September 11, the foreign offices in both capitals were busy talking up the positive outcomes of Agra, as they went about the job of scheduling another summit-level meeting.

Pakistan's government has since shown a certain eagerness to partake of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. This apostasy by the principal sponsors of the Afghan Taliban regime has generated strong resentments within Pakistan's domestic constituency for religious militancy.

In a desperate defence against the prospect of an upsurge within, Pakistan's military regime - which had stamped out the prospect of civilised cross-border exchanges at Agra - has decided that it could not possibly yield in its sponsorship of another kind of border crossing. Armed militants have continued to move into the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir for acts of violence that do not differentiate between combatants, civilians, women and children.

19120064jpg

In Kashmir, a leading voice of dissent against India which also called for the curbing of extraneous, fundamentalist influences in the politics of the troubled State, was silenced with the assassination of All Parties Hurriyat Conference leader Abdul Ghani Lone. His immediate family had few doubts that the guilt for the heinous murder lay with the ISI (article on Page 35). Political prudence dawned only after the initial judgment was pronounced. The Lone family has since chosen to maintain a sense of ambiguity about who it holds responsible for the murder.

WE cannot possibly speak to Pakistan, said Prime Minister Vajpayee as he left for a regional security conference in Kazhakstan on June 2. President Musharraf had just the day before said that he would be willing to meet at any level with the Indian political leadership. His only regret was that the element of reciprocity for initiating a civilised dialogue was sorely lacking.

Vajpayee has held out the assurance that India would reciprocate with ample generosity if Musharraf were to fulfils his promises on the ground and contain the torment of cross-border terrorism. But as he seeks to recruit international support, Vajpayee must be aware that the U.S. is unlikely to extend to India the same indulgence that it shows towards Israel in defining the standards of acceptable behaviour. In the grossly asymmetric military situation of West Asia, Israel has arrogated to itself the sole right to determine when the Palestinian side is engaged in terrorism. In the situation of nuclear parity that prevails in South Asia, India may well have to accept that neutral arbiters, even if unwelcome, may be a necessity to safeguard its own credibility.

The Indian government today faces a difficult conundrum: its purported commitment to secularism has been held up to the light and been found wanting. The world community is more than ever today inclined to view the Kashmir issue in the light of the manifest contempt for the rights of religious minorities that Vajpayee's own party demonstrated recently in Gujarat. And the presence of the likes of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leaders Ashok Singhal and Giriraj Kishore at his elbow cannot be a source of great reassurance for Vajpayee.

Pakistani territory will not be used for terrorist strikes against any country, vowed Musharraf as he addressed the nation and the world on January 12. Police and army units were, even as he spoke, swooping down on known havens of religious militants, arresting thousands of people in a conspicuous demonstration of the tough-talking General's earnest intentions.

India believes today that the crackdown lasted precisely three days. U.S. intelligence has concluded that the restraints on militant activity were perhaps in force till March. By then, it appears, the General had begun springing most of the militants from captivity, with certain careful exceptions. Sheikh Ahmed Omar Saeed, implicated in the murder of the American journalist Daniel Pearl, was arrested some weeks after the General's epochal speech. But he has been quickly brought to trial because of the obvious interest that the Western powers have in ensuring that the ends of justice are met in a case involving an American citizen. Other fundamentalist desperados, including Masood Azhar, who was sprung from the hospitable environment of an Indian prison along with Saeed as the blood price for the Kandahar hijacking just prior to the dawn of the millennium, are reportedly living in the security of fortified enclaves in Karachi and Rawalpindi.

There is little question that a perception of Indian vulnerability is guiding Pakistan's approach to the current crisis. Observers of the Pakistani establishment believe that operational plans evolved by Musharraf when he was head of the Military Operations Directorate in the early-1990s constitute the basis of the current deployment. And there is little secrecy about the thrust of these plans, which were spelt out with brutal candour by Musharraf during his recent interview to The Washington Post: "We have forces. They follow a strategy of deterrence... And in case that deterrence fails, we are very capable of an offensive defence... These words are very important... We'll take the offensive into Indian territory... At the moment, if there is anything that they do across the Line of Control, there are thousands, hundreds of thousands of people in Kashmir, Azad Kashmir, our part of Kashmir, who are demanding to be armed. And they will be inside Kashmir... And this will be such - it is going to unleash such dynamics in this area that their forces will be engulfed by forces inside Kashmir who will rise, they have already risen... Let me also tell you that there are 150,000 at the moment - roughly - retired army soldiers in Kashmir. In Azad Kashmir... And they are all our brothers and kin across the border, in Kashmir. They want to fight for them".

Musharraf's reading of Indian intentions presents a bleak picture of virtually pathological animosity: "We are very clear, whether the world believes it or not... They (India) want to destabilise Pakistan. There is no doubt in our minds. They have their own agenda on Kashmir. They don't want to see the realities on the ground in Kashmir, where not one man would like to be with India. And looking beyond Kashmir, the General summoned up a gross and semi-paranoid denunciation of Indian attitudes: "They want a subservient Pakistan which remains subservient to them. They don't believe in sovereign equality..."

A recent opinion poll carried out in Jammu and Kashmir by the reputed research organisation MORI conveys a picture rather different than that drawn by Musharraf. And then, Lone's murder, for the ostensible crime of keeping open a channel of reconciliation within Indian constitutional processes, shows that Pakistan's self-serving perceptions have perhaps caused the greater damage to the genuine aspirations of the Kashmiri people than any other single factor.

As they journeyed to Almaty, with Vajpayee intent on avoiding all forms of contact, Musharraf turned off the belligerence temporarily to step up the charm offensive. There were also reports to suggest that the pivotal Pakistani army formation, the 10 Corps which mans the LoC and constitutes a central element in the strategy of "offensive defence", had been asked to turn its attention to the task of curbing infiltration. After weeks spent scaling the peaks of bellicosity, the rhetoric on either side had begun to cool down. And there was hope yet that the threat of mutual destruction would subside to yield to an uneasy balance of terror.

Seeds of biodiversity

A Paris-based agency comes to India with a large variety of traditional seeds and the message of seed conservation.

IT was started in France in 1991 as a botanical garden for aromatic and medicinal plants. Now it is Europe's best-known non-governmental organisation working for seed conservation.

19120891jpg

Kokopelli sells at cheap rates traditional seeds of over 1,500 vegetables and medicinal plants to 15 European countries through a network of NGOs, city councils, universities and individuals and distributes these free of cost to countries in Africa and Asia. And now 49-year-old Dominique Guillet, the founder of Kokopelli, has landed his seeds in India. "We want to get the seed out of the commercial concept for poor farmers," he says. Half the world's seed market is controlled through patents by 10 large transnational corporations, which also own over 60 per cent of the chemical sector that includes fertilizer, pesticide and pharmaceuticals manufacturers, he says.

Monsanto, the controversial United States-based multinational seeds and biotech products company, is believed to be looking towards the water and agriculture sectors in India. Its managing director, Robert Farley, is quoted by activists working against genetically modified (GM) plants as saying: "What you are seeing is not just a consolidation of seed companies; it's really a consolidation of the entire food chain since water is essential to life."

In an attempt to counter this, Dominique Guillet and his colleagues, agriculturists Bernard and Stephane, have begun a movement called Annadana (the gift of food). They function from a four-acre section of the 50 acres that was purchased by Auroville, a spiritual centre near Pondicherry, two years ago in a bid to regain natural lands that are being flattened by real estate developers.

Since 2000, this Aurovillean movement has supplied free of cost some 50,000 packets of the traditional seeds of vegetables such as brinjal and tomato to NGOs, farmers' networks and Tibetan settlements in India, Sri Lanka and Nepal. All these seeds are organic, obtained from an 'open-pollination' or open-air natural method of pollination environment.

A small but gradually growing number of traditional "seeders" are worried about food security. Poor farmers are unable to afford expensive seeds and their households need traditional varieties as food and as a source of nutrition. With the government promoting only hybridised agriculture through its system of subsidies, the neglect of traditional staples such as millet and sorghum or of non-hybridised vegetables has led to their gradual disappearance.

In Andhra Pradesh, the process of disappearance was speeded up by the State government's Rs.2-a-kg rice scheme, which made the poor, mainly Dalits, disinterested in cultivation. As a result, over 1,000 hectares of land lay fallow. The Deccan Development Society is now highlighting its alternative decentralised PDS (public distribution system) in Medak district. This subsidy-free ration card system, funded by the Union Ministry of Rural Development, is run by women.

Under the scheme, Women's Sanghas (groups) financially supported their members to grow jowar on fallow lands held by the community. Fixed quantities of grain went as loan repayment into a Community Grain Fund. The grain thus collected forms the PDS pool. It is sold to village residents who are its members, at Rs.3 a kg.

In Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal, the Agriculture Department hands out to farmers promotional kits complete with urea and other fertilizers. "It is very difficult to spread the idea of organic seeds because of the government's mindset, coupled with the massive spraying of apple orchards, which destroys all ground-soil crops," says Ajay Rastogi of Ecoserve, Almora.

19120892jpg

Madhya Pradesh's Biodiversity Board, seen as an example of the political will of the State, does not enthuse its seed- saving citizens, however. Though Madhya Pradesh still has a rich receptacle of biodiversity, efforts to save indigenous plants and seeds are sporadic and inconsistent, with no impetus from the Biodiversity Board, says a seed-saver from Indore.

Seed-savers in Uttar Pradesh have had better results in saving traditional oilseeds, pulses and herbs. The Kisan Vigyan Kendra, an NGO, has worked out a model for multiplication based on a survey and a seed collection drive in 40 districts in the Bundelkhand region.

Karnataka's conservation movement, organised through NGOs and research institutions, is "insignificant compared to the trend towards commercialised crops", says Sunita Rao of Kalpavriksh. In 2001, Sunita Rao began documenting, networking and distributing over 140 organically grown vegetable and flower seeds in Uttara Kannada district. "Any biodiversity conservation in genetic resources must endorse the role of women and their home garden," she says.

Whether seeds obtained from an open-pollination environment are capable of producing as much as hybrids or GM seeds is debatable, but most people agree on the high nutritional value and taste of organically grown vegetables. "India has lost over 50 per cent of paddy varieties because of modern agricultural methods, which use seeds not to meet the farmers' needs or to improve quality or productivity, but to enslave them to the vested interests of the seed industry," says Bernard.

All these efforts to conserve traditional seeds are now being incorporated into the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (Frontline, February 2, 2001). The plan, coordinated by Kalpavriksh, envisages garnering traditional seeds with a view to conserving indigenous sources and saving the livelihoods and food security of small farmers and marginalised people. The Ministry hopes that its action plan will be strengthened by the Biodiversity Act, recently approved by Parliament.

The idea of modernising traditional methods has evoked divergent responses. The mainstream school of thought believes that India will lose out if it does not incorporate genetic agricultural technology. Another opinion is that traditional organic agriculture does offer food security to the very poor that modern agriculture is meant to benefit. What remains to be effected is an integrated 'golden mean'.

This article was written on the basis of research undertaken under an NBSAP-linked media fellowship granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Seeds alien and Indian

other
KEYA ACHARYA

KOKOPELLI distributes in Europe nearly 1,500 varieties of traditional, open-pollinated seeds collected from all over the world. These varieties form the official collection of the French National Association of Plant Conservatories. When Dominique Guillet brought 120 varieties from this collection to India for distribution, an academic storm broke out.

But he offered an interesting line of defence: 99 per cent of these seeds are of vegetables such as pumpkin, brinjal, cucumber, tomato and capsicum, which are already in use in India. Moreover, he said, most vegetables being consumed in India, both modern and traditional, had their origins in regions such as Africa and South America. According to him, papaya, corn, pineapple and white sapota originated in Central America, and carrot, onion and garlic are originally from West Asia. "And all these vegetables are eaten by educated city dwellers, not village residents," he said.

Interestingly, Indian agricultural institutes have promoted some of the varieties in Annadana's 'foreign collection'. A tomato variety, P6283 PUSA Ruby, is classified as a vegetable already being grown in India, by Dr. Veeraraghavadatham (A Guide to Vegetable Culture; Ezhil; 1998). Two varieties of watermelons, known as crimson sweet and sugar baby, were introduced in the Indian markets by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute. Farmers cite many more varieties that have been smuggled in from countries such Thailand and Japan.

But the idea remains ticklish in a country that is just waking up to the idea of saving seeds. Dr. Alan Tye, a global invasive species specialist with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, says: "Sometimes even non-invasive plants can hybridise with local native relatives to the extent of hybridising the local species out of existence. As long as the risks are recognised, they can be dealt with. But claiming that the risks don't exist is simply denying the evidence."

Towards trade wars

Protectionist moves by the United States increase friction among the world's major economies, and this is likely to cause greater acrimony in multilateral trade forums such as the WTO.

THE dust that was kicked up by the United States' decision to increase steel tariffs sharply was yet to settle down. However, a new standard in unilateral action by a nation that purports to be the leader in establishing multilateral rules was set by the passage of the U.S. Farm Bill by both legislative chambers early in May. Defying global concerns, President George Bush signed the Bill into law shortly afterwards, providing for a 70 per cent increase in federal subsidies to the farm sector. In the view of most analysts, this could have breached the bounds that were imposed on agriculture subsidies in the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations concluded in 1994. After the hard-fought agreement at the Doha Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) last November, this could set back the new round of negotiations in an area that developing countries have vital interests in.

19120911jpg

The reaction was immediate, though it did not come from the developing countries. The heads of the three bodies that exercise oversight of the global economy jointly issued a strong denunciation. Without naming the U.S., Mike Moore, the Director General of the WTO, Horst Kohler, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and James Wolfensohn, the President of the World Bank, issued a joint statement of an unprecedented sort decrying protectionism: "Such actions will hurt growth prospects when fostering growth is most essential. And they send the wrong signal, threatening to undermine the ability of governments everywhere to build support for market-oriented reforms."

Across the Atlantic, officials of the European Union (E.U.), who had relented under intense pressure to put agricultural subsidies on the agenda for the Doha round of trade negotiations, could barely conceal their fury. The farm bill, said E.U. Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler, "marks a blow for the credibility of U.S. policy in the WTO, where the U.S. has presented a trade oriented agenda wholly inconsistent with the new Bill".

The new farm bill represents another irritant for the E.U., which is scheduled to decide in June upon a range of retaliatory measures for U.S. steel tariffs. E.U. President Romano Prodi has already indicated that sanctions of an equivalent amount on U.S. products are imminent. With the farm bill, European anxieties about the unilateralist course of action that the U.S. seems irrevocably committed to, have been heightened. The E.U.'s external relations commissioner, Chris Patten, mournfully told a British audience early in May: "America's overwhelming pre-eminence has generated increasing pressure within the U.S. to abandon her internationalist past in favour of an unapologetic pursuit of national interest, imposing her will unilaterally and resisting outside obligations that might constrain her freedom of action."

Shortly after the farm bill became law, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved the grant of "trade promotion authority" to President Bush. Under U.S. law, this empowers the President to engage in the WTO trade negotiations, on the understanding that Congress will either approve or disapprove of the new deal as an integral whole. It will not, in other words, tamper selectively with elements of it. The U.S. House of Representatives had granted the President this authority by a one-vote margin last December. Within the format of WTO negotiations, this power is considered vital, since a "trade round" is called so because it is conducted under the "single undertaking" clause, where a number of parallel agreements in diverse areas are negotiated in tandem and take effect concurrently. Since the WTO membership is expected to follow the "all or nothing" principle, it is considered vital that the U.S. President be able to negotiate on the understanding that his efforts will not be dismantled selectively by a recalcitrant U.S. Congress.

Trade promotion authority has, however, come at a price. The U.S. Senate has resolved that it will retain the power to veto any change that is proposed in the anti-dumping regulations that are currently applied. The Bush administration has indicated that this serious qualification in its negotiating powers is not acceptable, but has little option as long as the legislative wing remains susceptible to a multitude of special interests, which have been feeling the heat of economic recession. Certain premature forecasts of the end of the downturn were shattered by unemployment figures for April, which showed the jobless rate running at 6 per cent, the highest figure in nearly eight years.

All this amounts to a very uncertain mandate for the Doha round, which unlike all preceding ones is supposed to address the specific needs of developing countries. Negotiations now are expected to become hostage to the growing imbalances in the world economy, most starkly highlighted by the U.S. trade deficit. All through the economic boom of the 1990s, the U.S. was importing capital on an unprecedented scale, first to finance its budget deficit and then to fund private consumption. On current reckoning, the U.S. needs to import $1 billion a day to meet its balance of payments deficits. Successive years of profligacy have seen the U.S. external debt multiply from 12.9 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 1997 to an estimated 22 per cent today.

Towards the closing years of the Clinton administration, an incipient correction had seemed under way. The federal budget, buoyed by massive corporate tax accruals, moved strongly into surplus, engendering the promise that the national debt could be paid back over a number of years of sustained growth. This calculation was scuttled first by the economic recession. And with the tax cuts that Bush pursued obsessively through his election campaign and implemented with religious zeal as his first priority on assuming office, the budget surplus has been transformed into a gaping deficit.

If the U.S. is to sustain its role as the single engine driving the world economy, then its imports of capital will need to increase substantially. This is not a likelihood in the estimation of most clear-eyed economists. First, there is a growing disenchantment with the unilateralist course of action that the U.S. has felt increasingly at liberty to adopt. Secondly, the collapse of some of the big names in the U.S. corporate pantheon - notably Enron and Global Crossing - and the declining fortunes of the high-technology industry have diminished faith in the integrity of U.S. financial markets. Finally, economies like Japan, which have contributed large volumes of savings to finance the U.S. deficit, are under pressure to retain their capital domestically in a bid to reverse their own plunging fortunes.

The growing loss of synchronicity between the world's major economies is only likely to engender greater acrimony in multilateral forums such as the WTO. In this regard, the recent actions on steel and farm subsidies are best seen as the warning shots of bitter trade wars in the near future.

Birth of a monopoly

The acquisition of the public sector Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Limited by the Reliance Group threatens to unleash a domineering monopoly in the Indian petrochemical industry.

THE recent acquisition of a controlling stake in the public sector petrochemical major, Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Limited (IPCL), by the Reliance Group did not surprise many people. Events since three years ago, after the Central government decided on divesting its stake in the company, had indicated that Reliance was inching towards the takeover of IPCL, a pioneer in the field of petrochemicals in India. (Prior to the deal, the government held 60 per cent of the shares in IPCL.) Reliance's winning bid for the 26 per cent stake of the government, at a price of Rs.231 a share and aggregating Rs.1,491 crores, effectively makes it a monopolist in the petrochemicals business. After the takeover, on an average, taking into account the range of products of the merged company, Reliance controls more than two-thirds of the production capacity in the petrochemicals business. In some segments the control is absolute. The implications are mind-boggling. The control of a wide range of crucial intermediates which go into the production of an array of downstream products implies that the monopoly power of the merged entity will be awesome. The implications for Indian business could be serious, particularly for the hundreds of small and medium units in the plastics and chemical industries.

19120921jpg

Reliance's winning bid was way ahead of the other two bids. While the public sector petroleum major, Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. (IOCL), bid Rs.128 a share, Nirma, better known as a soap-maker, offered Rs.110 a share. After the winning bid was announced on May 18, the Disinvestment Ministry revealed that the adviser on the IPCL deal, UBS Warburg, had presented the government with four alternative valuations based on four different methods. The evaluation committee of the government fixed the reserve price at Rs.131 a share by valuing the company on the basis of the discounted cash flow method. The total cost of Reliance's acquisition would be Rs.2,641.45 crores, including the mandatory 20 per cent open offer that it has made at the same price of Rs.231 a share to public shareholders. Reliance will also have the first right of refusal when the government divests its remaining stake.

In the run-up to the IPCL sale, the government sweetened the offer by making three concessions to the short-listed bidders. Reliance, as the winner, is set to take advantage of all these. The Excise Department in the Finance Ministry withdrew a Rs.600-crore excise duty claim on IPCL. The government justified the move, claiming that if this was not done the contingent liability on account of the excise claims would have depressed the price to be quoted by the bidders. Earlier, the Disinvestment Ministry had taken the initiative by sorting out issues relating to IPCL's long-term contract for supply of gas and its pricing with the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL). The widespread perception among sceptics was that the Disinvestment Ministry had pressured the two public sector companies to offer a deal favourable to the bidders. In particular, there was criticism about the fact that the two public sector companies were entering into a long-term negotiated kerb-side transaction even as the administered pricing mechanism in the petroleum sector was being dismantled. Another sop for bidders came by way of the Finance Ministry's decision to extend sovereign guarantee to IPCL on its World Bank loan of about $100 million.

ESTABLISHED in 1969, IPCL represented India's attempt to develop self-reliance in the field of petrochemicals. Until then the Indian market was dominated by multinational companies such as Hoechst, ICI (then the Imperial Chemical Industries) and Union Carbide. The economies of scale associated with the industry and its capital-intensive nature were significant barriers to the entry of private firms. IPCL specialised in the production of the basic building blocks, where manufacturing scales were crucial. This led to the establishment of hundreds of small-scale units producing other downstream products.

By 1979, IPCL had established the first integrated petrochemical manufacturing complex at Vadodara in Gujarat. Several state-owned companies - among them IOCL, the State Trading Corporation and Engineers India Ltd. - provided crucial support to IPCL at this stage. In the early 1980s, IPCL established its second plant at Nagothane, to use natural gas from the Bombay High oil fields as a feedstock. In the early 1990s the company established its third complex at Gandhar in Gujarat.

As a result of the takeover, Reliance gains control of IPCL's two gas-based crackers with a total capacity of 700 lakh tonnes per annum and one naphtha-based cracker with a capacity of 130 lakh tonnes per annum. In a petrochemical complex, feedstock (either natural gas or naphtha) is chemically reacted in a cracker. Cracking breaks larger molecules into smaller ones, resulting in the production of the basic building blocks of chemicals such as ethane or propane. There are two types of plants producing base chemicals, olefin plants and aromatic reformers. Olefin cracker produces the base chemicals, ethylene, propylene and butadiene. Aromatic reformers produce benzene, toluene and xylenes.

The acquisition of IPCL by Reliance implies that the merged entity will dominate the market in several ways. The acquisition of cracker capacities using both kinds of feedstock means that Reliance will now enjoy greater flexibility in the use of feedstocks. Moreover, the notionally depreciated value of IPCL's assets means that Reliance will enjoy the cushion of significantly high barriers to entry of fresh capacities in the industry. The replacement cost of its existing assets would well exceed Rs.10,000 crores. The merger enables Reliance to enhance further economies of scale in operations and reduce costs.

Prior to the takeover, IPCL sourced about Rs.100 crores worth of feedstock from IOCL annually. This will now be captive to Reliance's own petroleum refining capacity of 27 million tonnes a year, located at Jamnagar. Reliance's takeover of IPCL ensures that it has denied space to competition. By acquiring IPCL, Reliance has effectively denied IOCL the opportunity to move downstream and gain a footing in the petrochemicals industry. The acquisition also enables Reliance to access IPCL's free reserves, currently about Rs.2,700 crores. Significantly, this is more than what the Reliance Group would pay for the takeover.

The most significant result of the acquisition is that in terms of production capacities Reliance will dominate the market in a range of products. For instance, the merged entity holds two-thirds of the ethylene manufacturing capacity in India. Amongst the olefins, ethylene is one of the most important building blocks. Indeed, most plant capacities are measured in terms of their ethylene output. In India, ethylene is used to manufacture polymers, which constitute 70 per cent of the demand for all petrochemicals. Ethylene goes into the production of polyethylene, poly vinyl chloride and ethylene glycol. According to investment analysts such as J.P. Morgan, Reliance is now the largest producer of ethylene in Asia. Reliance, which already dominates the market for intermediate chemicals that meet the demand of the textile industry, will now enjoy an unassailable leadership along the entire petroleum-petrochemicals chain.

J.P. Morgan has welcomed the acquisition, pointing out that "the new petrochemicals giant will wield pricing power in the Indian petrochemical products market". In fact, an interesting aspect of Reliance's own reaction to the fears of monopoly dominance after the merger is that it addresses the concerns of IPCL's shareholders - notionally at least, the public at large - and its own shareholders in two different voices. It has sought to allay the public's fears of a rising monopoly by arguing that the threat of "freely importable" petrochemicals and the government's commitment to reduce tariffs will restrain Reliance's ability to impose prices on consumers. It has also highlighted the subtle distinction between dominance and "abuse of dominance", which it says is what is bad for business. One analyst summed up the deal thus: "We think the intricacies of this deal are beyond the obvious."

However, Reliance, while addressing investment analysts, has pointed to the "science" and "art" of its valuation of IPCL. In particular, it has sought to address the concern in some quarters that it has bid much too high for IPCL. Explaining the "science" of the deal, Reliance pointed out that its valuation rested on its assessment of IPCL's overall earnings - not taking into account interest costs, depreciation and taxes - EBITDA, in short. Reliance explained to analysts that since the Indian petrochemicals industry was entering a recovery phase, IPCL's earnings were projected to increase by about 20 per cent in the next three to four years. The net value of equity was estimated to be Rs. 6,120 crores, implying Rs.240 per IPCL share.

The "art" of Reliance's valuation is more interesting because it reveals the company's own assessment of its monopoly status and the opportunities it provides for profits. Reliance pointed out that the "value of the IPCL share should be even higher" because the assessment of values was based on global and Asian parameters "where growth is much lower than in India." Reliance estimates that the Indian market for polymers is likely to grow at a rate of 15 to 20 per cent in the next decade and that it is likely to grow into the third largest in the world, after the United States and China. "Accordingly," explains the note, "the value of a company like IPCL, which is a leader in the field in India, would naturally be much higher than a global/Asian company, which contends with much lower growth rates of barely 5 per cent per annum."

Media reports since the takeover have quoted Reliance officials as expecting the payback time for the IPCL acquisition to be less than two years. This is sought to be achieved by making capacities work in tandem. According to media reports, Reliance is poised to rationalise products in order to enhance its "dominant market position in the polymer market". Industry analysts say that Reliance's pricing power in the domestic market is the key to the expectation that the payback period will be short. The normal payback time for a petrochemical plant varies between three and 10 years, depending on the point at which entry is made in the business cycle. There is general consensus that Reliance has timed its acquisition right because import duties are still high (ranging from 35 to 50 per cent for most categories). "Even if Reliance does create a monopoly, India does not have strong anti-trust laws to tackle the problem," says an investment banker. "Other than Haldia Petrochemicals Limited, there are very few who will match Reliance's capacities."

Disarmed of the "art" of the IPCL valuation, Reliance's logic is simple: the key to acquisition lies in the assertion of the monopoly power that the takeover provides. Shorn of economic jargon, this means the assertion of the monopolist's ability to command prices for a wide range of petrochemical products in the Indian market. Reliance has argued that the scope for abuse of monopoly power is restrained by a regime of free imports and that tariffs have been steadily coming down. However, this is a generalised argument, not backed by trends and developments in the sector in the recent past. For instance, in his last Budget, Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha doubled the import duty on paraxylene, the market for which was monopolised by IPCL and Reliance. Since December 2001, prices of products in the IPCL-Reliance portfolio have increased substantially. Between December 2001 and February 2002, the price of polyester staple fibre (an old Reliance mainstay) increased from Rs.42,000 a tonne to Rs.48,000 a tonne in February. Polypropylene prices increased from Rs.37,000 to Rs.43,000 a tonne in the same period. Polyethylene prices also increased by a similar magnitude during this phase.

The valuation of an acquisition is always difficult, but when the takeover establishes a monopolist, it is even more so. This is because the merged entity is capable of setting the price in the market without challenge. The point is that, post-merger, the dynamics that governed the valuation prior to the deal are changed beyond recognition in the new situation. The privatisation process will remain controversial as long as public sector companies, particularly those that hold the "commanding heights" in their areas of business, are sold to monopoly interests. The price just cannot be right because the valuation cannot account for monopoly power.

Invoking the stereotype of a stepmother may be politically incorrect, but it best conveys the perception of those who believe that the government has systematically undermined IOCL's attempt to extend its operations along the value chain, especially in the context of the recent opening up of the petroleum sector. The perception that the government, despite being the owner of the company, has not provided IOCL a level playing field has only gained currency in the aftermath of the IPCL sale. In May 1999, when the government announced that IPCL would be put on the block, IOCL, Reliance and Mitsubishi were the only serious contenders. Although IOCL formed a joint venture to undertake the acquisition and completed due diligence on IPCL's assets, the bid documents were not issued by the government.

In early 2001, the government responded favourably to IOCL's suggestion that it acquire IPCL's main and oldest plant at Vadodara on "nomination basis". Documents available with Frontline reveal that the government "agreed that this nomination will not come in the way of Indian Oil's bid for the remaining units of IPCL". IOCL's decision to acquire IPCL's Vadodara plant was based on its assessment that the move will enable the company to integrate its refining operations with the petrochemicals business and generate value addition - from crude to naphtha to polymers. IOCL's assessment after the due diligence process was that the technology employed at the Vadodara plant was "highly unlikely to be superseded by a new breakthrough in the next 10 years". The Vadodara plant also caught the fancy of IOCL because it was a "significant producer" of high-value polymers. The fact that the IPCL plant and IOCL's own flagship refinery in Vadodara are adjacent to each other was also a factor in IOCL's decision to acquire the plant.

Critics allege that while the government, citing fears of an emergent monopoly, has prevented IOCL from bidding for a controlling stake in either Bharat Petroleum Coporation Limited (BPCL) or Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL), the two public sector oil companies that are to be privatised, the same concern has not been reflected in the government's decision to hand over IPCL to Reliance. In February, M.A. Pathan, then chairman of IPCL, had asked the Petroleum Ministry to provide it a level playing field, enabling it to bid for the two oil majors. He said that if the government intended to prevent the formation of monopoly interests, it ought to be consistent and apply it to the case of IPCL also by barring Reliance from bidding.

Although Reliance has issued statements - including one from Anil Ambani, RIL managing director - to the media, welcoming the 14,000 workers into "the family", the staff say they have not heard anything first-hand. A general manager at the IPCL headquarters in Vadodara remarked: "What you tell us is what we know." Referring to the IPCL disinvestment, he added that "these were share holders' decisions, taken at the Ministry level".

The sale of IPCL under the stewardship of Disinvestment Minister Arun Shourie must have been doubly sweet for the Ambanis, the family that controls the Reliance Group. In the mid-1980s, Arun Shourie, as Editor of a prominent English daily, launched a series of scathing attacks on the Reliance Group, exposing the manner in which Congress(I) governments had favoured the group, notably by way of tax policies. The wheel has turned fully since then for the Ambanis.

A law for water conservation

The Andhra Pradesh government brings forward legislation to regulate the exploitation of ground and surface water resources, but shortcomings in the decentralisation of powers and allocation of funds to local bodies may prove to be the undoing of its initiatives in the battle for water.

IN June, the Andhra Pradesh Water, Land and Trees Act, 2002, extolled as one of the most comprehensive pieces of legislation on water conservation and green cover implemented by any State, will come into effect. It is part of a series of measures attempted by the N. Chandrababu Naidu government to combat the crisis of water scarcity and pollution in the State.

19120951jpg

Drought has been a frequent occurrence in several interior districts of Andhra Pradesh. The ever-increasing population pressure combined with the neglect of traditional structures such as tanks and ponds, indiscriminate exploitation of groundwater and improper maintenance of the surface water system has added to the stress. In the last decade, the influx of seawater has led to rising salinity levels in the fertile coastal farmlands. This has been caused by unplanned, heavy drawal of underground water, encroachment of irrigation tanks and a steep fall in river inflows.

The first serious attempt by the government to conserve water resources began in 1994, which it declared as the year of minor irrigation with focus on rejuvenation of tanks. In 1998, a report prepared jointly by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the WWF (formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund) placed Andhra Pradesh among those Indian States that faced the spectre of a freshwater crisis, with millions of people denied access to safe water supply. The crisis, as the report specified, would be largely human-induced and attributable to the existing system of 'water rights', which ensures that groundwater is still seen not as a common resource but as belonging to the landowner. Water, more often than not, is used as a political tool, controlled and cornered by the rich; for the poor, their poverty of incomes, capabilities and opportunities is compounded by water poverty.

In recent years Andhra Pradesh has also seen an increase in the number of energised wells drilled to irrigate cash crops in water-scarce regions, abetted by the provision of subsidised electricity. But the benefits of such subsidies are often cornered by the big landowners, while uncontrolled sinking of borewells led to groundwater being extracted at a rate faster than the rate of recharge. Some 60 per cent of the water used for irrigation is also lost through seepage.

The UNICEF-WWF report suggested legislation to protect groundwater resources in water-scarce areas. The legislation should aim to regulate water extraction and the types of crops grown in identified areas, ensure mandatory construction of recharge structures and prohibit the drawal of water below certain depths for purposes of irrigation and industry. The report recommended the decentralisation of management and regulation of water resources, devolving to local communities - panchayats - the authority and responsibility to manage the water environment. For this purpose they will be given financial support.

Access to water resources is another important issue. In the rural areas, women have to trek long distances to fetch water for household use. In Gurrabbadu village in the Rayalaseema region, for instance, women on an average walk 5 km to fetch 150 litres of water. Among children, it was mostly girls who fetched water; they had to walk long distances and as a consequence faced long-term health problems.

The government projected its Janmabhoomi programme, launched in 1997, as a step forward in the decentralisation of administration. While the Janmabhoomi programmes saw the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) increase its grip on the local bodies, its critics allege that it was widely used to bypass the panchayati raj institutions. The pattern of development and Chandrababu Naidu's concept of micro-planning benefited some areas and groups such as landlords, more than others. The naxalite groups have staunchly opposed the Janmabhoomi programme and entire districts of the State, including the backward districts in the northwest (Telengana), remain excluded from the reform process.

Besides, the All-India Panchayat Adhyakshas Sammelan that concluded in New Delhi earlier this year criticised the Chandrababu Naidu government for failing to meet its constitutional obligation of constituting district planning committees. The DPCs were provided for in Part IX of the 73rd Constitution amendment to consolidate plans prepared by panchayats and municipalities with regard to spatial planning, sharing of water and other natural resources, integrated infrastructure development and environment conservation.

IN May 2000, the government renewed its drive to give an impetus to water conservation efforts by bringing under one mission the various water conservation programmes set up until then. It launched the Water Conservation Mission or "Neeru-Meeru" (water-you) programme to focus on drought and water shortage at a time when groundwater levels had fallen by over three metres in some places.

An ambitious Rs.100-crore project was launched to conserve water on one crore acres (about 40 lakh hectares) of land, across different climatic and geophysical zones. Its success depended largely on the efforts of the local community, especially in the rural areas where gully-plugging, rockfill dams and percolation tanks facilitated better water storage. The programme thus saw the constitution of committees at the State, district, constituency, municipal, mandal and gram panchayat levels, duly involving elected representatives, officials, non-governmental organisations and other agencies concerned. In order to execute conservation works, at the local level separate stake-holder groups or committees such as the Vana Samrakshana Samithi (VSS), water users' association (WUA) and watershed committee were set up.

The new programme also harped on decentralisation by referring to people's participation and the need to facilitate coordination of the conservation efforts of different government departments - forest, irrigation, rural development, horticulture, animal husbandry, mining and groundwater.

In its first year (May 2000 to April 2001), the programme succeeded in raising groundwater tables by a modest one metre. The original goal was to increase the total quantity of rechargeable water from 35,000 million cubic metres (mcm) as recorded in 1993 to 50,000 mcm over the next five years - the maximum achievable. In January this year, another round of reorganisation occurred when the Chandrababu Naidu government modified the village administrative system. The office of the grama sachivalayam will now function as an executive support to the elected sarpanch and replace the village administrative officers (VAO). According to the government, of the 21,930 gram panchayats in the State, only 1,319 notified ones had executive officers. The absence of officials in the others implied a heavy burden on the sarpanch. The office of the grama sachivalayam would function under and be responsible to the sarpanch and will coordinate revenue, development and welfare activities. This will, in effect, ensure government presence in every panchayat rather than bring about greater decentralisation.

It was in October 2001 that the government prepared the draft legislation that comes into effect in June as the Andhra Pradesh Land, Water and Trees Act, 2002. It was conceived as a comprehensive piece of legislation that would regulate the exploitation of ground and surface water resources, while providing for punishment to those violating the guidelines. The Act, prepared by the departments of environment, forests, science and technology, provides for the institution of a water, land and tree authority. The Act will also set up another authority to oversee the progress of efforts made thus far to promote water conservation and increase tree cover.

The authority will include Ministers of the departments concerned as members besides experts in different fields and eminent persons in the field of conservation of land-based natural resources. It will have the powers to ensure that all wells are registered with this authority, which can also prohibit groundwater drawal in certain areas. It will also have the power to order the closure of wells. This authority will have its own separate finances. Proceeds of all cesses, penalties and grants levied by the government will accrue to a separate fund set up to finance the authority. Only with the government's prior approval can it delegate powers to district and mandal level authorities or any government official to carry out the provisions of this legislation.

At the same time, the State government's recent decision to institute "Jala Mitra" awards for outstanding performance in the "Neeru-Meeru" programme shows its continued viability. Its progress measured until February 2002 bears this out. Despite a 4 per cent deficit in rainfall, the average depth to water level in the State was 10.3 metres compared with 10.70 metres at the same time last year. The number of seasonal borewells drying up too plummeted - from 5,747 to 1,361 over the same period. And the number of habitations where drinking water has to be transported dropped from 48 to 18.

On the other hand, in Hyderabad and the once-fertile southeastern parts of Andhra Pradesh there is a need for drastic conservation measures. To tackle the drinking water problem in the cities on a war-footing, the Cabinet recently cleared an action plan to supply 162 million gallons a day (mgd) to the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad and the surrounding municipalities, besides sanctioning an additional Rs.875 crores to ensure supply of water from the Krishna river. Meanwhile, there is also a contingency plan involving a cost of Rs.93.71 crores in place for rural water schemes. This would cover emergency repairs to existing water sources and the supply of pipes that would be taken up as part of the Food-for-Work programme.

The battle for ensuring adequate water supply needs to be multi-faceted. Unfortunately, while the efforts have been well-intentioned thus far, and may even have brought initial success, frequent changes and revamps of existing programmes, the existence of multiple heads instead of one consolidated authority and even inadequate decentralisation of powers and allocation of funds to the local bodies may well prove to be the bane of the ambitious conservation programmes.

Neighbours and friends

the-nation
R. KRISHNAKUMAR

Its name is a tongue-twister - Izhavanthuruthy. But many parts of this panchayat, with its typically rural Malappuram milieu, are now conveniently known as Ward 13, having recently been 'promoted' to be part of Ponnani municipality. More significant is the fact that the people of this panchayat can now enjoy the benefits of being part of an urban body where Kudumbashree activities have been going on for some time, and where the formation of neighbourhood groups (NHGs) of women is suddenly receiving a boost.

APRIL 24, 2002, 4-30 p.m: The smell of a fresh harvest hangs thickly in the air. On the cool verandah of one of the houses adjoining a paddyfield, a neighbourhood group is about to be formed. The trickle of women, some in traditional Muslim attire, started more than an hour ago. The Kudumbashree representatives from the municipality, including the ward councillor and the community organiser finally arrive. "We have been here since three o'clock," one of the elderly women point out, accusingly. The community organiser smiles: "You were supposed to be here by two, you came at three. That is why we decided to come at four." There is a burst of laughter all around.

The mood is set for Shameer, the community organiser and a key grassroot-level worker of Kudumbashree, to address the group: "You are here to become members of a family that will try to eliminate poverty through your own efforts. But what is poverty, really? You would say it is not having any money to make a living. But it is not poverty of income alone that we are talking about here. If you do not have a well in your area, you suffer from poverty of a well. If you do not have a road, you have poverty of a road. Having no sanitary latrine, having no access to educational or health facilities, having no work... all this is poverty. And that is why you are all here at this 'ayalkkoottam' (the Malayalam equivalent for NHG). You must all try and make this a success."

By now the 40-odd women, united in their poverty and differing only in their religious and community denominations, are jostling for space on the tiny verandah, under the distant but watchful eyes of some of the locality's men. "But now we need volunteers from among you women - remember, there will be no men in this ayalkoottam. Who would you like to represent you - to be the president and the secretary of this group?'' asks Shameer.

Two hands tentatively go up, after much hesitation and prompting. Reena and Radha, "known to all, acceptable to all", have just taken the initiative to hold the first public office of their lives. Three more - Baby, Parvathy and Dakshayani, similarly become Community Volunteers for Health, Income Generation and Infrastructure. A "Community Finance Manager" is to be elected later.

Thomas Vaidyan, Project Officer for Kudumbashree in Ponnani municipality, asks the three to give a name to their ayalkoottam, so that they can have an identity of their own. 'Surya'... 'Udaya Surya'... they suggest But other groups have clearly taken these names. "Navodhanam" (Reformation), the new president suggests. Finally, they agree on 'Navodaya'.

Shameer continues his instructions: "You must meet regularly now, to discuss your problems. Write them down in the minutes book, and let us know about them. All of you must start saving some money from now on and bring it to the meeting... Bring a small amount every week. It can be anything from Rs. 5 to Rs. 50. Now, don't start thinking that the money is for us officials. It is for you. We will put it in the bank, in the name of your ayalkoottam, 'Navodaya'. You must realise that other groups are far ahead of you. There are NHGs in Kerala which have Rs. 5 lakhs as savings. And why do we save collectively? Until now when you need some money for an emergency, you had to ask your neighbours or that cut-throat moneylender who charges you Rs.28 for every Rs.100. That is why we are starting a thrift. If one of you, say Parvathy, has put Rs.500 into the collective fund in six months, she will be eligible to get three times that amount as loan from the bank. Do you think this is good?" Like school children, they reply: "It is good."

Shameer goes on: "So now you must start a thrift. The president and the secretary will collect it from you and keep accounts - we will teach them how to do that. You must also identify what needs to be done in your area and do them in the order of priority - like, should you dig a well first or do you need a road immediately? It will be your decision and you will implement it on your own, with the municipality's help. All members of this ayalkoottam, irrespective of caste and creed, are members of a family. Collection of thrift should take place at weekly meetings alone. You should not catch the secretary on the road and say: here, keep this Rs. 5, it is my thrift contribution. All transactions should be at the meetings. This is a programme where you yourself will eradicate poverty from your lives."

Shameer then tests the cohesiveness of the new group with a simple question: "You may all need to take a loan. There may not be enough savings in the bank to satisfy all. How do you then decide who should get a loan first? For example, if Parvathy's child is suddenly ill, she may want an emergency loan. But Fathima, here, may want to buy a pressure cooker. What will the ayalkoottam decide?"

An elderly Muslim woman sitting in the corner does not hesitate even for a moment. "What is the doubt? Parvathy should get the loan. Fathima can buy her pressure cooker later."

For the next half an hour, other officials speak about opportunities awaiting the women; the care they should take in handling their savings and in distributing loans; how their NHG should also become a forum to discuss their problems and solve them on their own through mutual cooperation; and why, men, who had so far taken decisions on their behalf, had no role in the weekly meetings or its decisions.

It is then time for the newly elected secretary to weave her way through the gathering and deliver her maiden speech. "I register my sincere thanks to all those who have come here. The meeting is closed," she says.

The Navodaya NHG of Ponnani shall meet every Sunday - despite the lure of prime-time television.

Women on the move

R. KRISHNAKUMAR the-nation

An emerging 'micro' movement involving mostly poor and vulnerable women is changing Kerala's entrepreneurial reputation.

GOOD business ideas are not hard to come by. Especially, it seems, if one is desperate and poor, and is a woman.

Take the tying of tassels, for instance. Pull bits of threads off the edge of a piece of cloth and tie them into intricate patterns. A tassel is made. It keeps loose threads in check and provides elegance and style. In fact it adds value to an ordinary piece of cloth.

But in Kerala it took a group of 10 desperately poor fisherwomen in coastal Kozhikode to pick up this idea and radically alter their lives. In 13 months, despite the deep-rooted poverty and orthodoxy of their Muslim-majority, fishing neighbourhood, this small group, in the 24-55 age group and belonging to different faiths, have made it a roaring business success.

19120971jpg

The 'Sowhardam Shawl-making Unit', set up at a project cost of Rs.1.40 lakhs, which was met largely with a commercial bank loan and a thrift loan from their neighbourhood group, today buys thousands of metres of cloth and supplies them as tasselled shawls to big textile shops in Kozhikode city and beyond. The unit employs 300 part-time women workers (who work from their homes) as and when business peaks, and pays them as wages the same amount, Rs.3.50 a piece, as the owners themselves. On an average one person works on about 20 shawls a day. After making a loan repayment of Rs.1,500 a month and depositing Rs.500 in a savings account, the 10 women take home a profit of at least Rs.2,000 a month - more during festival seasons - in addition to their own daily wages. Their biggest order so far has been for 10,000 shawls, made from 20,000 metres of cloth. It fetched them Rs.35,000 as wages alone.

Like the nine others in the business, group leader K.T. Remla is therefore the symbol of a life transformed. A few months ago, her family of four was in dire straits, unable to make ends meet with the meagre income that her husband brought from the sea. Today the family is never hungry and lives in a concrete-roof, electrified house. Their elder son, a physically handicapped youth, now runs a petty shop, while the other is a Plus Two student. Her husband has stopped going to the sea and, instead, works with a rice merchant. She herself, like her partners, no longer has to pawn gold ornaments. Her critics in the neighbourhood who branded her as "bad", and pasted nasty posters on walls ridiculing her work as president of the Area Development Society, a corporation ward-level apex body of several neighbourhood groups, have turned admirers. "It has bought a sea change in our lives," she said.

Now business comes to their door and, with that, competition from others who are ready to do the same work for smaller profits. Sowhardam, therefore, is set to diversify into contract-stitching of "ready-made" uniforms for schoolchildren. Work starts at 10 a.m. at Remla's new home, and ends at 6 p.m., before her husband returns from work. In between, they have become a cohesive, happy team of resourceful neighbourhood women with a sharp business sense and a lucrative trade in hand. They have successfully broken the barriers of extreme poverty and social restrictions, and are out to make a difference in their own lives and those of their neighbours.

No men are involved.

POOR women, so far ignored by banks and considered eligible only for anti-poverty doles or charity, are establishing business enterprises in the cities and towns of Kerala, either on their own or in groups of ten.

That they have been able to do so, is the result of a "happening" grassroots-level democratic process that directly addresses their subsistence needs and tries to find solutions for their problems in association with the local bodies. Between 15 and 40 women of a neighbourhood, one from each family, hold weekly meetings to discuss their problems, collect modest amounts as thrift, distribute small loans for personal emergencies or to start income-generating ventures, and bargain jointly for their rights and developmental needs.

Members of such neighbourhood groups (NHGs), who want to enhance their incomes further, are actively encouraged to come up with business ideas, which they can then pursue with other women, either from their own NHG or from similar ones operating elsewhere.

As of March 31, as many as 75,651 NHGs covering 1,459,392 families, had been formed in 700 of the State's 991 panchayats, five tribal areas and all the 58 urban local bodies, including the five corporations and 53 municipalities. All NHGs are not going great guns, but the majority of them meet every week, some others at other regular intervals, and function as 'real' grassroots-level groups linked to the respective panchayat, municipality or corporation.

An indication that these NHGs do function fairly well is the fact that out of the 1,459,392 families in the NHGs, 1,137,161 have started thrift and the accumulated amount so far has crossed Rs.78.4 crores. Once an NHG completes six months of regular functioning, members can avail themselves of thrift loans, at a monthly interest of 2 per cent, and bank loans at standard rates, without collateral. The collection of thrift and the disbursement of small loans have to take place necessarily at the NHG meetings, in the presence of other members. Out of the Rs.78.4 crores, Rs.59.20 crores has been advanced to NHG members as micro-loans.

19120972jpg

Yet, if the regular meetings of the NHGs and the increasing number of their micro-enterprises have gone largely unnoticed, it can only be because of that invisible divide between the creamy sections of society and the poor and their activities. Even mainstream politicians seem unmindful of the level of participation in the NHGs at the grassroots level.

As on March 31, 943 group enterprises benefiting nearly 10,000 people and 12,219 individual projects supporting as many women and their family members had been established in the 58 urban local bodies. More are on the anvil, including projects in emerging sectors such as information technology, biotechnology, food processing, dairy products, solar cookers, IT education and integrated coconut-processing. As the 10-member micro-enterprises grow in popularity, the availability of credit to them becomes less difficult. The shortcomings and weaknesses of individuals are overcome by the collective responsibility and security offered by the group. Starting one such unit helps women from 10 families. Group ventures have been carefully positioned so as to be 'innovative' and 'need-based'.

Now there are women's groups in Kerala to repair water meters (under the name 'Metro Mermaids'), provide post-natal care, act as couriers and home nurses, make paper bags, hollow bricks, tarpaulin and furniture, construct buildings (women do that in Vadakara), process solid waste, run flour mills and mobile stores, and cultivate paddy. Hotels, catering units, drive-in restaurants and day-care centres are run by them and they do direct marketing and vegetable vending. Some individuals (whose take-home pay averages Rs.15,000 a month) and groups have taken a keen interest in direct marketing: this explains, for instance, why an economy brand of tea marketed half-heartedly by the State Civil Supplies Corporation has seen a sudden spurt in sales. Women's groups also run "mobile" beauty parlours, which do quick-fix jobs at fixed rates, such as Rs.5 for "doing one eyebrow".

Awareness of and access to credit, which had so far eluded the poor, are today becoming a liberating factor for these entrepreneurs. Group responsibility absolves these women of the need to provide collateral for bank loans. In place of property or ornaments, what is offered is "moral collateral". In addition, they can make use of funds from anti-poverty programmes provided as subsidy and delivered through the banks by the local bodies. All they need put in for any enterprise they choose to set up is a tiny "beneficiary contribution", their effort, and skills, which they are taught for free.

THE catalyst behind these ventures is a hand-picked, motivated and surprisingly effective government machinery under the State Poverty Eradication Mission, called 'Kudumbashree' (meaning prosperity for the family) and entrusted with the goal of eradicating poverty in the State by 2008. The programme is implemented with the support of the Central government and institutions such as the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Women who venture into business are given assistance to find professional partners and credit, trained in the vocation that they choose, and in business, marketing and accounting practices, and then left to themselves to handle their enterprise on their own.

Kudumbashree "lets them hold its hand and escorts them for as long as they want it to", the Mission's Executive Director, T.K. Jose, told Frontline. Kudumbashree programmes, which closely involve the people's and official representatives of the respective corporations, municipalities or panchayats and are implemented through the local bodies, continue to assist the enterprises by helping them find business avenues, making course corrections, and evolving business techniques. Most important, they help the women wade out of poverty and prosper through their own work and resourcefulness.

There is perhaps no better illustration for the effectiveness of this strategy than Technoworld, the IT-based unit in Thiruvananthapuram, established in September 1999 at a project cost of Rs.2.90 lakhs. Assistant District Mission Coordinator (ADMC) M.V. Gopakumar told Frontline that it was one of the first group enterprises set up under Kudumbashree, and hence got good patronage, especially from government departments, because of the Mission's interventions at critical junctures. The 10 women, who were brave enough to start the venture despite the odds, are today the role-models for the Kudumbashree "family".

The unit undertakes data entry, desktop publishing (DTP), web designing and programming - mostly for big-time clients, including government departments. The biggest project so far (worth Rs.15 lakhs) has been the production of ration cards for several districts of the State. In the first year the unit registered a turnover of Rs.30.5 lakhs and in the second, Rs.43.7 lakhs.

The professionalism of the women running it is impressive. Says Rajam, the unit's secretary: "We are yet to start sharing profits despite our circumstances at home, because we felt we must first establish the business well, concentrate on clearing our debts and in creating assets. The three-year loan was repaid quite early - at the rate of Rs.6,800 a month. We have created assets worth Rs.20 lakhs, including 25 computers. We now work in three shifts and provide part-time employment to 35 others, including a few men who do the night shifts. Instead of sharing profits, we take wages for the work done, which is the same for part-time workers. In one shift of five hours, a person can thus make up to Rs.1,500. Every month, each one of us will be able to take home at least Rs.6,000. In addition, we allow ourselves a bonus every year. Last year it was Rs.3,000. It varies for part-timers, depending on the hours they spend for us."

Clones are born every other day, in all districts, yielding the same results. Some have started selling assembled personal computers (PCs). Technoworld has proved that IT is a venture that is genuinely benign to resourceful women entrepreneurs. The skills required are comparatively of a higher order, as are the investments made, the risks involved and the profits made. But several undertakings have been established in the 'low-risk, low-investment' sectors too. Women who own them have fewer skills but still consider the smaller returns from them "life-changing".

In over 30 such micro-enterprises spread over Kozhikode, Malappuram, Ernakulam and Thiruvananthapuram districts that this correspondent visited in the last week of April, investments ranged in the majority of cases from Rs.50,000 to Rs.2.5 lakhs and were higher in the case of a few of them, including some successful IT firms. Each group enterprise has been providing at least Rs.600 to Rs.6,000 (probably more) to every member each month as wages or as profit, even though the majority of the units are in an embryonic stage. All such units are owned, managed and operated by the members themselves.

Throughout Kerala, the partners in these group enterprises who were till the other day generally excluded from banking services, are also proving to be better at loan repayment than other valued customers. Kudumbashree officials claim that the repayment rate is more than 90 per cent. Commercial banks have in fact started describing the beneficiaries in eulogising terms. The chairman of the State-level Bankers' Committee, who is also the General Manager of Canara Bank, V.A.P. Mallan, described the programme as "exemplary". Mallan said: "Kudumbashree takes very good interest in the women they refer to us for loans. The mission ensures that these women are trained well in the enterprise they are out to set up, and carefully monitors each unit's performance after the loan is disbursed. That has made a significant impact in the way banks relate to Kudumbashree beneficiaries."

Such praise is, to a large extent, the result of a Repayment Information System (RIS) developed by Kudumbashree. The RIS allows monitoring at the grassroots level by the mission's State office, of repayments that fall due and immediate intervention by NHGs. Thus under Kudumbashree, 'peer pressure' is made to work not only to obtain credit without collateral for the beneficiaries of micro-enterprises but also to ensure prompt repayment.

However, vestiges of the traditional mindset remain at the ground level. There are bank managers who continue to speak about "less yield and more costs and risks" involved in providing such small loans to a large number of people. And they are still too far away from allowing these women the luxury of working capital or a sustained banking relationship.

Tenacity is a premium quality that is evident in most group members. A cordial group synergy, high levels of motivation and determination, good skills and resourcefulness, bright hopes about the future and a keen business sense were evident in members of all successful group enterprises that this correspondent visited. Where these qualities were lacking, and where technical training and awareness about competition and markets seemed inadequate, the entrepreneurs seemed unsure about their roles.

But then one has to concede that it is into the volatile and harsh world of business that these women, until the other day largely non-entities even in their own homes, are entering into. "In the initial days, many are perplexed about the delay in getting loans and registration certificates and the difficulty in securing working capital and business premises, exhibit a lack of understanding about target markets and competition, and sometimes are generally disoriented in the new roles that they suddenly find themselves in. This, to a lot of women, can be discouraging," E.P. Kunjabdulla, the ADMC for Malappuram district, said.

The ADMC added said that in many places in the Muslim-dominated Malappuram district and some other areas in north Kerala, the impact of the programme should be seen in the context of the (religious) conservatism and the poverty that prevailed in certain pockets. "I have several uncomfortable experiences of trying to explain the need to join NHGs to rural Muslim women, who would only sit behind a wall, if at all we were allowed to conduct a meeting in their neighbourhoods. But we invariably get the message across. My favourite weapon is to quote the Koran to explain why women can indeed become entrepreneurs," he said.

"But such experiences coexist with the widespread influence of progressive movements that have made drastic changes in our society," said the ADMC for Kozhikode, K.M. Nejma, who is a college teacher now on deputation to Kudumbashree.

According to Project Officer K. Krishna Kumar, some entrepreneurs need only guidance, while others require a lot of assistance - to find working capital, ensure quality in production, marketing and accounting, diversification and sometimes even in making out whether they are making profit or running at a loss. The mission arranges regular training sessions for new entrepreneurs with the help of the Ahmedabad-based Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India.

T.K. Jose claims that the Kudum-bashree programme is one of its kind in the country in terms of quality, variety and the firmness in the monitoring and evaluation of units. "The aim of the programme is not merely to increase the income of poor women but to improve their level of confidence, awareness, access to information, ability to make use of government services and programmes, and interpersonal skills, especially the capability to express themselves," he said.

There is criticism that the Poverty Eradication Mission helps only the skilled and the capable among the poor. But Jose says that the poverty eradication programmes in the past had ignored the fact that unless the beneficiaries are trained in the technical, operational and managerial aspects of the activity they are expected to start, the purpose of giving credit fails. So Kudumbashree selects its beneficiaries and then gives them training and credit to run sustainable ventures. It is not a programme that merely distributes doles.

However, he says, the present programme will be unable to reach destitutes and the most marginal population - the bottom 5-6 per cent of Below Poverty Line (BPL) families - because "all poor people are not enterprising and cannot take up self-employment ventures." Such people, according to him, need more support from society and the government.

The Kerala government had decided to extend the programme to the entire State from April 1, so as to include the 291 panchayats that had been left out initially. This would enable more rural areas to come under Kudumbashree. But this poses many challenges. Monetary and human resources are going to be spread thin, as the mission tries to extend its activities even as it tries to sustain and nurture the existing ones. The target is to bring a whopping 20 lakh BPL families to above the poverty line by 2008. According to Jose, a diversity of human problems call for individual attention by the mission. Resource mobilisation offers its own problems. A variety of players, including political parties, NGOs and various government departments and agencies, have to be brought to a common platform to share a common vision.

At every NHG or enterprise or at the office of Kudumbashree, the question is how to sustain the budding movement and save it from the vicissitudes of local and State politics and bureaucratic transfers. As of now, there is no mechanism to ensure that the NHGs, their thrift and credit operations, and the needs of budding micro-enterprises will continue to be looked after as efficiently as now. The fate of the gram sabhas, which have been in a state of stagnation for more than two years under the decentralised panchayati raj system, is a discouraging example. But what could be a countering influence is the appeal of the thrift and credit programmes that is ingrained in NHG activities.

Kudumbashree officials insist that what has been achieved can in no way be described as remarkable. The numbers of families covered and the neighbourhood groups and micro-enterprises formed are too small when seen against the number of families that are yet to be reached. Poverty eradication is not an easy task. But the hundreds of women who have secured a sustainable, profitable livelihood through the Kudumbashree programme will hesitate to agree.

Making micro-credit work

the-nation
R. KRISHNAKUMAR

NOWHERE has the potential of panchayat-coordinated women neighbourhood groups (NHGs) been demonstrated so well as in Alappuzha district. It was the success of a 1995 prototype Left-initiated experiment in Alappuzha municipality that led to a similar experiment being conducted in both urban and rural areas of Malappuram district and subsequently extended to the entire State.

19121021jpg

On May 11, over 20,000 members of women NHGs, mainly from eight gram panchayats in Alappuzha and other southern districts, came together at the St. Michael's college grounds at Chertala to reiterate their achievements and take a pledge.

The occasion was the inauguration of a seminar on 'Decentralisation, sustainable development and social security', which was organised by the joint committee of panchayats of Aryad and Kanjikuzhy blocks and the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The seminar was to analyse the weaknesses identified in the decentralisation experiment in Kerala and find ways to take it forward. The ILO will be collaborating with the eight panchayats to design and implement a decentralised social security programme.

The highlight of the first day's session, which was inaugurated by Union Minister of State for Rural Development Anna Sahib M. K. Patil in the presence of Chief Minister A.K. Antony and Opposition Leader V. S. Achuthanandan, was an oath, taken by the gathering of women, to boycott toilet soaps manufactured by multinational companies. Instead they vowed to use and promote the use of a brand of soap, made of pure, locally available coconut oil, produced by micro-enterprises of local NHGs of women.

What the women NHG members were indirectly referring to through their high-visibility demonstration was the conflict between the micro-credit model espoused by international development agencies and the Kudumbashree micro-credit NHG model. (While the model espoused by international development agencies provides the State with a minimal role in poverty eradication and links the provision of micro-finance to NGO-led self-help groups, the Kudumbashree model maintains close links to local bodies and various government anti-poverty programmes.)

An important paper presented at the seminar, 'Women Neighbourhood Groups: Towards a New Perspective', co-authored by Thomas Isaac, Michelle Williams, Pinaki Chakraborthy and Binitha V. Thampi, is a severe critique of the World Bank and the micro-credit programmes that it has promoted through NGOs in several countries. This paper argues that the World Bank is attempting to integrate the micro-credit movement with the globalisation process and transform it into a complementary component of its financial sector reforms.

The paper pointed out that the World Bank's support for micro-credit schemes as a form of poverty eradication and its endorsement by a 1997 United Nations resolution have led to a dramatic increase in micro-finance spending in the world. This required the tapping of international financial markets, as the resources of aid donors were inadequate to meet the demand. This meant that the needs of the international commercial lenders had to be incorporated into micro-credit programmes, which was achieved by ensuring the minimisation of the cost of providing such credit and allowing an increase in the "income" from micro-credit lending (that is, the interest rate).

The paper said that the World Bank identified informal mechanisms of NGOs as the most cost-effective method of providing micro-credit . And that the World Bank argues for an increase in interest rates on micro-credit in the belief that the poor can both afford and are willing to pay commercial interest rates and that they are more concerned about the timely availability of credit than how much it will cost them. This is why, the paper argues, the World Bank opposes subsidies on interest rates and promotes the dismantling of subsidised (and competing) alternatives to its micro-credit model, such as priority sector lending, subsidised credit systems and traditional rural credit institutions.

The result is the emergence of a "micro-finance industry" of the World Bank, along with multinational banks and financial institutions at the international level, lending to national-level micro-finance institutions, which in turn either advance money directly to NGOs or refinance the financial institutions that lend them money. At the bottom of this pyramid are the women self-help groups (SHGs).

"Thus, micro-credit programmes are rendered a profitable venture for international finance capital, while also ensuring sufficient outreach and sustainability in order to make a dent in poverty. Poverty eradication through women SHGs is thus made a profitable venture," the authors said.

The paper points out that the World Bank's prescription ignores the fact that globalisation policies are rendering unsustainable the self-employment activities that its micro-credit programmes promote. For them to be viable, they need to be part of a larger development agenda that includes linkages to product markets, local government programmes and community development, it said.

The journey of a progressive economist

obituary
PRABHAT PATNAIK

WITH his gentle and unhurried speech, his calm and composed mien, he looked more like a saint than the man of the world, which an economist is popularly supposed to be. Indeed, even apart from his appearance, there was something saintlike about Iqbal Gulati: he was straight, dignified, considerate, and morally upright.

But this saint, perhaps in common with all saints, also had a core of steel in him. His family had been uprooted from its native place in the far west of Pakistan during Partition. It had suffered great privations, through which Gulati had struggled. From his "home" in the refugee camp in Delhi's Kingsway Camp he used to bicycle every day to the Ministry of Finance where he held a small job; from his meagre earnings he educated himself and his brother and sustained his family.

It may have been his own travails, it may have been the ambience of the Nehru era, or it may have been his exposure to Left Keynesianism through proximity to economists like Nicholas Kaldor (when he visited India in the mid-1950s to prepare a comprehensive scheme of tax reforms and Gulati worked closely with him) - whatever the stimulus, Gulati developed a remarkably progressive outlook as an economist which he never abandoned. Indeed, as time passed and other colleagues of his moved away from progressivism, Gulati's commitment to it became, if anything, even more pronounced.

It is this sympathy for the progressive cause which made Gulati pay a short visit to Trivandrum, soon after the first Communist Ministry under E.M.S. Namboodiripad had been formed in the State, to prepare some economic documents for the government. His living conditions during the stay were spartan; he shared a room with another young economist, Ashok Mitra, who had come on a similar mission and with whom he was to enjoy a close friendship all his life. They were only two out of a galaxy of young idealistic economists who had flocked to Kerala after 1957 to be part of the grand experiment that was being attempted there. Others included Satyabrata Sen and Ashok Rudra.

Gulati was then teaching at M.S. University, Baroda, and Ashok Mitra was on the research staff of the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER). Both had slipped away clandestinely from their respective jobs to help the Kerala government. Discovery in either case would have meant severe harassment. But in those heady days, taking the risk was itself an act of self-fulfilment.

That was the beginning of Gulati's love affair with Kerala. After much meandering - from the teaching job at M.S. University, where he met Leela who was to be his life-partner; to post-graduate research at the London School of Economics; to a variety of official and semi-official employment - Iqbal was to return to Trivandrum permanently in the early 1970s to become a founding faculty member, along with K.N. Raj, T.N. Krishnan, N. Krishnaji and P.G.K. Panikkar, of the Centre for Development Studies.

The year 1957 also marked the start of another love affair for Gulati - with the Left in Kerala. He remained committed to the Left Democratic Front (LDF) throughout and was the Vice-Chairman of the Kerala State Planning Board under both the Nayanar governments, between 1987 and 1991 and between 1996 and 2001.

GULATI did outstanding work in a number of fields in economics, of which I shall mention only two. One, not as well-known as it should be, is international finance, where he wrote a series of pioneering articles unravelling the changing role of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). While during the first oil shock the IMF had been the chief agency for financial recycling to the Third World, through the various "facilities" it had set up, during the second oil shock the proportion of funds recycled through the IMF had fallen quite sharply. Metropolitan banks involved themselves directly in the recycling business to a much greater extent than earlier. But they needed a security cover to operate in the Third World economies, and the IMF, through its "conditionalities", provided that cover.

Within a very short span of time, in other words, the IMF's role had changed from being a major financier of the Third World to that of merely providing security to burgeoning private financiers. To be sure, even when the IMF was at the centre of the recycling business, it discriminated systematically between First World and Third World borrowers, as Gulati showed quite convincingly in his Kale Memorial Lecture on "IMF Conditionalities and the Third World", but the changing role of the IMF he drew attention to was an altogether different matter. This change was in keeping with the ascendancy of "globalised" finance capital, and constituted a good barometer of this ascendancy.

The other field in which Iqbal Gulati was an acknowledged authority was of course public finance. His advocacy of devolution of resources from the Centre to the States and further down to the elected local bodies is well-known, as is his strong criticism of successive governments at the Centre for denying State governments their legitimate rights. (He was very critical of the Eleventh Finance Commission's approach in this regard, apart from being upset at its unfair treatment of Kerala in particular, and was appreciative of the dissenting note by one of the members, who questioned the constitutional legitimacy of some of the provisions.) He wrote extensively on Centre-State financial relations and served with distinction as a member of the Sixth Finance Commission.

What is less well-known, however, is his general approach to public finance, where his early Left Keynesian sympathies made him detest deflation. Iqbal was all for government spending: tax revenue, he felt, could always be raised with a bit of imagination and a bit of political will. His stewardship of Kerala's economy during the period of the first Nayanar government was quite admirable. The size of the budget, on both the revenue and expenditure sides, increased considerably, and the economy, after long years of stagnation in the material production sectors, taken as a whole, gave clear indications of breaking out of it. The LDF government, after a remarkable success in the panchayat elections, felt confident enough to call for early Assembly elections, before its term was over. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and the sympathy wave it generated put paid to the LDF's hopes, but Kerala's economy had begun to stir and its production performance had begun to look up.

GULATI'S second tenure as the Vice-Chairman of the State Planning Board would be long remembered because of its bold experiment of democratic decentralisation within the State which followed in the wake of the Peoples' Plan campaign (Frontline, December 8, 2000). While E.M.S. Namboodiripad led the campaign, the Planning Board was the agency through which it was implemented. And Iqbal Gulati, together with other members of the Board, especially the two "young Turks", T.M. Thomas Isaac and E.M. Sreedharan, threw himself, heart and soul, into the campaign. A 73-year old Iqbal travelled through the length and breadth of Kerala, attended Gram Sabha meetings, addressed panchayat leaders, and spent many sleepless nights until his health could take it no more. When future generations talk, as they no doubt will, of the "Kerala Model" of decentralisation, with its core provision of handing over nearly a third of the State's Annual Plan outlay each year to the local self governing institutions for deployment on projects which they consider worthwhile, these four names - EMS, Gulati, Isaac and Sreedharan - will certainly be remembered with gratitude. And of these four, Iqbal's is particularly remarkable since he came to the positions he took for reasons among which political considerations were the least important.

Indeed, Iqbal's relationship with politics is a fascinating issue in itself. Even though Iqbal's intellectual positions were consistently progressive and he was a steadfast friend of the Left all his life, he was not a Marxist or a Communist. And yet, even apart from his official work for the LDF, Iqbal, towards the end, used to write a regular column in Deshabhimani, which he discontinued only when his failing health would permit it no longer. This journey of a progressive economist towards becoming actively engaged in the Communist movement without necessarily subscribing to Communist theory is instructive: it throws much light both on Gulati as a person and on the Communist movement in the country today.

As the "mainstream" discourse in economics, both in the academic and official terrains, has moved to the Right over time, many who in the old days held views similar to Iqbal's also changed with the times. On the other hand, in the midst of this change a person like Iqbal who consistently adhered to the position he had held earlier appeared increasingly to belong to the Left spectrum within the profession. At the same time, with the collapse of Nehruvianism, inter alia through its abandonment by its own earlier adherents, the Marxist Left enlarged the intellectual space occupied by it by moving into the vacant Nehruvian space. Putting it differently, with the withdrawal of the erstwhile Nehruvians from anti-imperialist positions, the Left became the leading anti-imperialist intellectual force, and shared much common ground with intellectuals like Iqbal. As mentioned earlier, Iqbal was always sympathetic to the Left. But the fact that the bonds between him and the Left became stronger over time was as much a reflection of Iqbal's courage, intellectual consistency, honesty, and self-confidence in sticking to his convictions, as it was of the Left's lack of rigidity, of its suppleness in enlarging its intellectual space in accordance with its changing perception of the nature of the primary contradiction.

The number of persons who have this courage of intellectual consistency, as time has shown, is indeed very small; and Iqbal was one of them. Every loss from this small group is a major blow to the intellectual life of the country. Iqbal's passing leaves a void that is difficult to fill. And for friends - among whom I feel privileged to count myself - there is only the memory: of the gentle voice on the veranda talking of the Partition days, of old memories, of common friends, as dusk turns into night and the first flickering lights appear in the valley below.

Prabhat Patnaik is Professor of Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

A Professor and a planner

Dr. I.S. Gulati, 1924-2002.

LIKE thousands of people displaced from their homes in Pakistan during Partition, Iqbal Singh Gulati was a refugee in New Delhi in the late 1940s. He was born on March 15, 1924 at Bannur in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) as the eldest of nine children of Prabhdayal Singh and Gulab. Partition was a traumatic experience for this family of traditional flower merchants. Gulati was a clerk in the Army in Rawalpindi when the last of the refugee trains were leaving for India in 1947. He took the train to Delhi and his family members undertook a dangerous journey separately from Bannur. His uncle was shot dead by assailants in the train. Most of the family members reached refugee camps in and around Delhi and the family reunited.

19121041jpg

One day in 1950, Gulati, a post-graduate in economics from Punjab University, walked into the office of economist Dr. K.N. Raj at the Planning Commission. Dr. Raj says: "A modest young man came to me at the Planning Commission with the request that he wanted a job. He said he was a refugee from the NWFP staying at the camp in Purana Quila (old fort in Delhi). I was amazed later to learn that the family had used a tarpaulin tent to convert a portion of the dilapidated fort into a home. It was a time when nobody knew much about economic planning or were dismissive about it. The Planning Commission itself was in its fledgling days and, fortunately for him, we were looking for people who could help us, especially on matters of Centre-State finances. He said he had studied economics and I said I will give you a job (as a research assistant) because we needed somebody to make an economic classification of the budget - to classify various items and put it into a form in which it could be analysed by economists without difficulty."

Gulati impressed Dr. Raj and others at the Planning Commission. "Though it is a routine task now, it was not so then, and we were doing it for the first time. He was very good at it. He understood what was involved. It was not such an easy task. It required a knowledge of economics to be able to classify, to see whether something is a transfer item, an expenditure item or a unilateral transfer item and so on. He knew it very well or in a short time he read it up and I was very impressed," Dr. Raj said.

Dr. Raj had suggested that Gulati be appointed a senior investigator at the Planning Commission but the recommendation got entangled in rules and objections. Gulati was once again at Dr. Raj's office with the request that he be sent abroad. Dr. Raj helped Gulati to enroll himself as a research student at the London School of Economics (LSE) and obtain a scholarship. Gulati obtained his Ph.D. in Economics from London University in 1955, where he also served as tutor during 1954-55.

Gulati's thesis on 'Taxation of capital' had attracted some attention. When the Government of India sought in 1956 the advice of Nicholas Kaldor, a Professor at the LSE, on taxation, Kaldor specifically wanted Gulati's assistance as he himself did not know much about India. Gulati served as an 'Assistant to Prof. Kaldor' at the Indian Statistical Institute. In August 1956, he joined M.S. University, Baroda, as Reader in Economics. A year later he married Leela, an economics student from Karnataka, who became a well-known social scientist later. Gulati served as Professor at the university until July 1968.

Another turning point in Gulati's career came when, one day in 1957, another man walked into Dr. Raj's office at the Planning Commission: E.M.S. Namboodiripad, Kerala's first Chief Minister. According to Dr. Raj, Namboodiripad urgently required an expert to help his Ministry prepare its first Budget. Gulati was the natural choice for the post of Economic Adviser.

His visit to Kerala in 1957 was the beginning of a long relationship - emotionally, with the people of the State and ideologically, with the Left movement. In 1972, Chief Minister C. Achutha Menon invited Dr. Raj to establish the Centre for Development Studies (CDS) in Thiruvananthapuram. Gulati joined the Centre as Professor and played an important role in its growth as a premier research institution in the country. Leela Gulati also joined CDS as a Fellow.

"From then on, he became practically a Malayalee. He could understand Malayalam very well and knew more about Kerala than any Malayalee did," Dr. Raj said.

Even as he guided students at CDS, he conducted several studies on Kerala - its tax structure, the effects of the Gulf boom on its economy and the public distribution system. The Gulati Commission Report on Sales Tax is a guiding document on the subject. He soon became well-known as an expert in public finance and a leading exponent of the idea of decentralisation, especially of devolving powers from the Centre to the States and from the State government to the local bodies.

In 1987, when the Left Democratic Front (LDF) came to power in Kerala, Gulati was appointed Vice-Chairman of the State Planning Board. The seeds of decentralised planning in Kerala were sown during his tenure. Says Thomas Isaac, MLA and former Member of the State Planning Board: "In Kerala, Gulati is not just a name. It is a synonym for 'decentralisation'. In 1987, it was Gulati who suggested that the newly-formed District Councils, which marked the first major attempt at decentralisation in the State, should be given a role in the formulation of the Eighth Five Year Plan. He also prepared an action plan for this purpose. But unfortunately his plans did not materialise because it envisaged a major role for the bureaucracy in it. However, it was because of Gulati's efforts that the District Councils were allotted Rs.200 crores during the first year of the Eighth Plan. Unfortunately, however, the Councils were dissolved by the UDF (United Democratic Front) government."

In 1996, when the LDF came back to power with an election promise of more powers to the local bodies, Gulati was again the choice for the vice-chairmanship of the State Planning Board. Under him, the Board played a key role in the formulation and implementation of the People's Plan Campaign for the Ninth Plan. According to Isaac, Gulati was given complete freedom to choose the Board members. Gulati believed that its members should be chosen not on the basis of their academic talents alone but also their organisational skills and democratic credentials. "The Board that he led formulated the plan for the biggest people's movement for development Kerala had ever seen. There were a lot of hurdles in the way of a government department becoming so pro-active. But at every stage Gulati displayed unusual confidence and administrative capability to overcome the hurdles."

In 1995, soon after the three-tier panchayat system came into existence in the State, Gulati, despite his poor health, carried out an energetic campaign for Kerala's development. He travelled the length and breadth of the State along with the younger colleagues in the Planning Board and conducted workshops and awareness campaigns for newly-elected people's representatives and government officials on the importance of making the decentralisation campaign a success. He also wrote prolifically, cautioning the people of Kerala about the fate that befell the District Council experiment and reminding them about the possibilities offered by the new panchayati raj system in the State.

According to Dr. P.K. Michael Tharakan, his student and now an Associate Fellow at CDS, such optimism about Kerala was second nature to Gulati. "He was always optimistic about Kerala. He used to tell us that Keralites were quite diffident in promoting their own State and point out areas that were being neglected," he said.

Recently, when eight States, including Kerala, made a joint move against the award of the Eleventh Finance Commission, which had lowered their share under the criteria of equity and efficiency, Gulati was the unseen force behind them. He had been critical of the Centre's encroachment on the limited financial and other powers of the State. It was his firm view that the States had to be involved in the process by which the Finance Commission was established, the annual awards were examined and a final decision was taken. According to Tharakan, Gulati's main contribution is in the field of Centre-State financial relations.

Gulati was a member of the Sixth Finance Commission and author of several works on Centre-State financial relations. He also served as economic adviser to the West Bengal government.

In August 1968, Gulati joined the United Nations as the Regional Economic Adviser for the Caribbean and as Adviser for the Economic Commission for Latin America, a position which he held till the end of 1971. For a brief period in early 1972, he was Tax Policy Adviser at the International Monetary Fund.

Says Isaac: "Ideologically, Prof. Gulati was not a Marxist. He was never a member of any party either. But his commitment to the Left movement in the country was unshakable. Naturally, on many issues, he had an opinion of his own. But he took care not to express them openly and create controversies."

Dr. Raj said: "I remember Gulati as a very modest person, very soft-spoken. He was not a flamboyant person. Initially, it took some time for me in conversations to understand that in fact he knew quite a bit." Dr. Raj's observation about his colleague for over 50 years is not surprising to those who knew Gulati well.

The U.S. as a Hyperpower

columns

The United States remains unmatched in history in its awe-inspiring military clout, economic might and political weight. But its unilateralism and overbearing power are alienating its own allies.

19121091jpg

NOTHING has highlighted the growing tensions between the United States and its Western European allies as George W. Bush's recent week-long visit to some major capitals in that continent. Bush was greeted by anti-militarist Left-wing protestors in Paris, Berlin, Rome and even Moscow. The reception accorded to him by Western Europe's government leaders ranged from the lukewarm and indifferent to the downright suspicious.

Even loyal ally Tony Blair's attempt to heal the growing "trans-Atlantic divide" or rifts between sympathetic critics of the U.S. in his neighbourhood, and the Europhobes who abound in the U.S. - was not particularly successful. It is only in Putin's Russia, where a remarkably pro-American regime has decided to submit itself to Washington's demands, virtually without negotiation, that Bush was officially received with warmth and enthusiasm.

The open acknowledgement of the trans-Atlantic divide and the impending visits of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are a good occasion for a hard look at the nature and magnitude of American power. The coming Armitage-Rumsfeld visits highlight the stark truth that the U.S. is now the cornerstone of India's foreign and security policies. Under the Vajpayee dispensation, America has become India's principal interlocutor, adviser, ally, partner, and even the virtual arbiter of its fate. The reverse is not true.

That the Indo-U.S. relationship is deeply asymmetrical and one-sided is cause for worry. But policy-makers and officials in both countries exult over the emerging Indo-U.S. "strategic alliance", which they hope will increase the U.S. tilt towards the Vajpayee government. Thus, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca not only described "our two democracies" as "natural partners", but went on to talk about the "transformation" in Indo-U.S. relations as they work "together more intensely than ever before to make the world freer, more peaceful, and more prosperous".

Rocca underlined Indo-U.S. military-to-military cooperation, and the "vibrant relationship" the two countries have built "in the war against terrorism". She noted that "Indians are also excited about the transformation of our relationship as it demonstrates your country's assumption of ever-greater responsibilities as a major power in the region and in the global arena" all within the context of the U.S.-India "strategic partnership", which is entering "an exciting phase".

"Exciting" or not, the U.S. is not known for treating its allies with much respect. Disparities between the U.S. and them, growing since the end of the Cold War, have now reached unprecedented proportions. Never before has the U.S. cared less for its own allies' views on a wide range of sensitive issues: from global warming to the targets and magnitude of its "anti-terror" campaign, and from building "missile defences" to the handling of the West Asian crisis. On each of these issues, America takes unilateral and adversarial positions - riding roughshod over its allies.

Today, as an American diplomat points out, the Europeans have replaced once-non-aligned Third World countries such as India as the principal critics of the U.S., and India is fast replacing the loyal Western Europeans of the 1980s as America's fawning, trusting friend. Yet, both groups are equally impotent when it comes to influencing American policy and conduct - except to a minuscule degree.

WHY is the U.S. so unconcerned about, or contemptuous towards, its allies? Quite simply, because it is strongly asymmetrical in relation to them. America remains unmatched in history as a global power. So do the disparities of power between it and the rest of the world. Says Paul Kennedy, Yale University historian and author of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: "Nothing has ever existed like this disparity of power; nothing. I have returned to all of the comparative defence spending and military personnel statistics over the past 500 years... and no other nation comes close."

"The Pax Britannica", says Kennedy, "was run on the cheap, Britain's army was much smaller than European armies, and even the Royal Navy was equal only to the next two navies - right now all the other navies in the world combined could not dent American maritime supremacy." Kennedy reminds us: "Charlemagne's empire was merely Western European in its reach. The Roman empire stretched farther afield, but there was another great empire in Persia, and a larger one in China." By contrast, the U.S.' empire is truly global in its political clout, military reach and economic might.

Today, the U.S. has 12 armadas or battleship groups, each based on a giant aircraft carrier, like the Enterprise, which patrol the seven seas round the clock. The Enterprise is as high as a 20-storeyed building and 330 metres long. It houses a crew of 5,600 and 70 state-of-the-art aircraft which can take off and land by day or night. Accompanying it at any time are 15 warships, including two attack submarines, two cruisers and six destroyers, and 14,300 men and women. The rest of the world's navies appear puny beside America's carrier force.

The U.S. is the world's sole power which has mastered a combination of four military technologies: precision-guided missiles and bombs that can be delivered from a "safe" distance; Special Operations groups with night-vision equipment, which can conduct round-the-clock operations in any climate or terrain; sophisticated, secure communications that cannot be penetrated by adversaries; and the logistical capability - thanks to large transport aircraft, and 200-plus military bases worldwide - to deploy quickly large numbers of troops in far-flung battlefields. And of course, no one matches America's awe-inspiring arsenal of mass-destruction weapons, which it refuses to dismantle.

The U.S.' annual military budget is a mind-boggling $350 billion, of the same order as India's entire national income. This equals the defence spending of the next 14 highest countries - combined. The Pentagon's demand for an increase in military spending next year - driven by a post-September 11 "national security" obsession - is a staggering $48 billion, or roughly four times India's defence budget, or twice that of Italy's. Today, the U.S. accounts for about 40 per cent of global military spending (India's share is 1 per cent, China's 2 per cent).

America's military spending is disproportionate even to its own economic might, although this has grown greatly. Between the 1960s and 1980s, the U.S.' share of total world product declined steadily, as Western Europe's and Japan's increased. But after the late 1980s, this percentage has grown from 22 to an estimated 30. This increase is partly explained by the collapse of the Eastern bloc, and the relative decline of Western Europe and Japan, and partly by U.S. superiority in contemporary technological fields, for instance information technology, telecommunications, and biotechnology. Also at work are factors such as corporate restructuring, leading to cost-cutting and significant increases in productivity.

THE U.S. economic might is built on great inequalities of wealth and income, and callously inadequate social security. It has ecologically disastrous effects, including global warming, deforestation, and oceanic pollution. But American might is without parallel. Even the European Union - itself a group of mutually competing, disparate national economies - is not about to overtake the U.S. Only China could come somewhere near America in 30 years from now - if it sustains the 8 per cent growth it has recently recorded, and is free of internal strife.

This unique combination of economic and military might permits the U.S. to take an extraordinarily arrogant, imperious, unilateralist stand, defining "threats", and ripostes, as it pleases - ignoring the United Nations and the rest of the world when it likes, using them when that suits it. The U.S. is a giant (for Kennedy, "a 500-pound gorilla") who has not learned to wield his power lightly, with subtlety, or to play a healthy, balancing global role. Rather, the U.S. is a Hyperpower which is reshaping the world in its own image.

No one has summed up the Hyperpower idea (without using that term) more accurately than ideologue and former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who sees the post-Cold War world as consisting of only two categories of states: America's "vassals" and "tributaries". In this world, the U.S. must be free to pursue its interests without hindrance. It will brook no restraint on its choice of instruments, respect no authority, follow no moral or political discipline. It can use, abuse, manipulate, bypass or simply ignore all or some of the rest of the world, depending on its whims.

It is noteworthy that the U.S.' instinctive response to the September 11 attack was to declare war, not on a particular state, but on "global terrorism". The operative principle behind U.S. policy is not this or that conception of the "national interest", but the overarching goal of world domination. The U.S. can extend the "anti-terrorism" war, as and when it likes, to any part of the world, on the solidly irrational foundation of its "Axis of Evil" thesis - ignoring its allies' pleas, for example, against attacking Iraq.

Washington's capacity for greatly increased military spending should not be underestimated. Today, it spends a little less than 3.5 per cent of its gross domestic product on the military. But at its mid-1980s peak during the Second Cold War, the U.S. was spending 6.5 per cent.

Buttressing this military, economic and political clout is U.S. domination of global popular culture through Hollywood, Walt Disney, televised serials, comic strips and music. Nine of the world's 12 biggest media groups are American. Equally important is U.S. leadership in many fields of science and technology. The U.S. accounts for about one-half of the global software market and 45 per cent of the world's Internet traffic. The bulk of the globe's IT and biotechnology firms are in the U.S.

That is not all. About three-quarters of the world's Nobel prize winners in the sciences (including medicine) and economics work or live in the U.S.. Says Kennedy: "A group of 12 to 15 U.S. research universities have, through vast financing, moved into a new super-league of world universities that is leaving everyone else - the Sorbonne, Tokyo, Munich, Oxford, Cambridge - in the dust, especially in the experimental sciences..."

Argues Kennedy: "The top places among the rankings of the world's biggest banks and largest companies are now back, to a large degree, in U.S. hands. And if one could reliably create indicators of cultural power - the English language, ...advertisements, youth culture, international student flows - the same lopsided picture would emerge."

HOWEVER, U.S. domination is unlikely to continue for centuries. America's clout is premised upon relatively robust economic growth through the 1990s. Should growth now falter, or should other powers emerge, America could still become a victim of what Kennedy once called "imperial overstretch".

But until this happens, the U.S. will remain an overwhelming, imperious and unbalanced power. Even in its less powerful days, between 1950 and 1990, it had arrogated to itself the role of the world's gendarme, intervening overtly or covertly in countries as varied as Afghanistan and Brazil, Chile and Greece, Indonesia and Nicaragua, and Panama and Zaire.

It is on such an overpowering "ally" that India's present leadership is now relying for support in its rivalry with Pakistan. Tomorrow, the U.S. could just as easily turn against India as it has tilted in its favour in the last few years - for narrow and self-serving, not principled, reasons. At minimum, the U.S. could play a skewed role in the region. It hardly needs much wisdom or prescience to see the dangers of putting all of India's eggs in the American basket.

Yet, so obsessed are Vajpayee, Advani, Fernandes, Jaswant Singh & Co with trying to settle scores with Pakistan - without convincing proof of its involvement in the May 14 outrage - that they are unlikely to pause and think. If we are not to end up paying the price for their policies and actions, especially through a ruinous war, we citizens must oppose the government's reckless sabre-rattling.

Privatisation and primitive accumulation

columns

A Tata-dominated board decides to use VSNL's cash reserves to invest in Tata Teleservices. Privatisation, in practice, thus becomes a means through which public resources are used to finance private accumulation.

19121111jpg

IN a surprise move, the board of directors of the recently privatised Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (VSNL) announced on May 29 that VSNL would use Rs.1,200 crores of its reserves to buy at par an equity stake of 20 to 26 per cent in Tata Teleservices Limited (TTSL). The decision is proving controversial for a number of reasons.

To start with, although the government is still a major stakeholder in VSNL, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, the nodal Ministry for the industry, was obviously unaware of the fact that such a decision was to be taken.

Secondly, there is no clarity on whether the VSNL board took the decision unanimously or whether one of the government nominees on the board, Rakesh Kumar, Senior Deputy Director-General in the Department of Telecommunications, who was present at the meeting, had dissented. Spokespersons for the Tata Group claim that it was a unanimous decision of the board. Having been informed similarly, the Ministry was allegedly planning to ask the two government nominees to step down. But Kumar himself has reportedly written to VSNL protesting against the statement that he had gone along with the decision and objecting to the inadequate notice provided regarding the date and agenda of the board's meeting.

Finally, there is disagreement between the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and the Ministry of Disinvestment on whether the VSNL board had the right to take such a decision, and whether, if it did, it was an appropriate one in keeping with the spirit of the shareholders' agreement signed after disinvestment.

The controversy points to a fundamental flaw inherent in the process of "strategic sale" employed to privatise companies like VSNL. Strategic sale involves handing over full management control of a public sector entity to a private partner, in return for the purchase of as little as 25 per cent of equity through a bidding process. Bids are evaluated taking into account a "reservation price" for each share, arrived at by the government through a process that is neither specified nor transparent. The controversies that have surrounded such divestment moves in virtually every public sector company hitherto privatised, indicate that there is considerable public and technical scepticism regarding the price at which government equity in and control of public sector corporations is being handed over to the private sector.

The government has often justified the sale price by pointing to the fact that it is significantly higher than the market price at which small lots of shares of these enterprises, that had been previously sold, were being traded in the market. This, of course, is inevitable since the prevailing market price is a floor below which purchase prices cannot fall, especially since the buyer in a strategic sale transaction gets a block of shares and management control. Sceptics would also argue that this price differential helps win small shareholder support for the new management, since these shareholders benefit from a sudden rise in the value of their shares.

What is noteworthy is that in instances where the process of marginal divestment had resulted in a substantial volume of small private shareholding, the price differential in a strategic sale transaction helps the purchaser acquire a much larger block of shares than the government has parted with. Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) guidelines require that any private party acquiring a controlling block of shares in an enterprise would have to make an open offer to acquire the shares of any minority stakeholder at the same price, and since that price tends to be above the market price, the successful bidder most often ends up with a much higher share in equity than that originally acquired. This results in a situation where management control by the purchaser is backed by the material strength that a large shareholding stake, and constant dominance of the board of directors, provides. In the case of the Tatas, since they acquired through their open offer an additional shareholding of 20 per cent of total equity, the group's current shareholding in VSNL is placed at 45 per cent.

This dominant stake gives the acquiring entity the ability to manage the company according to its discretion. Such discretion would extend to the management of any surpluses generated by the divested firm and any cash reserves that have accumulated with it in the past. The possible misuse of such discretion was obviously considered by the government, since it included a clause in the shareholders' agreement requiring an affirmative vote from government nominees, if sums above a certain floor value were to be lent by the company to entities that do not fall in areas which are part of its "normal business". In the case of VSNL, that floor had been set at Rs.50 crores.

However, the recent board decision does not violate that virtually toothless clause, since what is involved is a decision on inter-corporate investment (not lending) and since TTSL, in which it seeks to make the investment, holds basic telephony service licences for six circles in the country. As fixed phone lines are the principal media through which VSNL's business of providing international long distance (ILD) services, which account for 87 per cent of its revenues, are delivered, TTSL can be legitimately considered as a firm that falls within the area of VSNL's "normal business". In fact, both VSNL spokesmen and those of the parent Tata Group have described the decision as being crucial for the viability and survival of the company, since the liberalisation of national long distance (NLD) and ILD services have put it in competition with a number of integrated telecommunication service providers. The acquisition of TTSL would allow VSNL to integrate with the former's customer base, it is argued.

The Tatas are quite forthright. They have a large controlling stake in VSNL after privatisation. They therefore have a right to dominate the new board. And the board's decision reflects good corporate strategy. All this would hold water if TTSL had not been a Tata group company and if the reserves in question had not been accumulated prior to privatisation. Looking back, the privatisation measure, while it did not increase the "efficiency" of VSNL as a service provider, as any Internet buff would vouchsafe, represented a free gift of the state's capacity to garner profits from telecommunications to the Tatas.

The Tata start-up TTSL reportedly plans to make investments totalling Rs.8,247 crores in basic telephony over the next four years, of which Rs.4,352 crores is to be financed with equity. As per current plans, the Tata Group will contribute Rs.2,552 crores, giving it a clear majority stake, and VSNL an additional Rs.1,200 crores, while the balance of Rs.573 crores is to come from non-Tata sources. What the VSNL board's decision does is to allow the Tata Group to hold a controlling stake directly in TTSL, as well as finance the equity required by such a large investment in a manner in which the other significant shareholder would also be a Tata-controlled company. Over time, as the new company establishes itself, this would raise the value of the direct Tata stake enormously, a significant part of which can then be divested for a profit without fear of losing control over TTSL.

RECALL that prior to VSNL's disinvestment, the government got VSNL to pay out a dividend of 500 per cent, through which step, given its 52 per cent equity holding, it mopped up Rs.741 crores of the company's reserves. The total dividend VSNL would have paid out at that time would, based on these figures, have amounted to Rs.1,425 crores. In addition, VSNL was made to pay out a special dividend of 750 per cent, which gave the government Rs.1,111 crores. Here again, the total dividend paid out by VSNL would have been Rs.2,136.5 crores. In this manner, VSNL was stripped of Rs.3,561.5 crores of its cash reserves prior to privatisation. Add to this the Rs.1,200 crores that VSNL is investing in TTSL, and the total works out to Rs.4,761.5 crores - which is more than the total equity capital of TTSL. That is, without resorting to strategic sale the government could not only have retained control of a profitable telecom major like VSNL, but could have through its own investments integrated with the consumer. In hindsight, the government's decision not to give VSNL a basic services licence was a way of preventing it from exercising this option, perhaps forged by the decision to hand the firm over to the private sector.

USING inter-corporate investment as a means to ensure corporate control at low cost is a technique which is used the world over and has been especially common in India, where the representative unit of large capital is not a single giant corporation, but a business group. Since the group consists of a large number of legally independent companies controlled by a single decision-making authority in the form of the extended family or "business house", inter-corporate investments have always been an important means of corporate control in the country. However, such investments are financed from the group's own kitty, making it a legitimate beneficiary of any value enhancement that accrues to shareholders as a result of expansion and diversification. What the specific history of VSNL shows is that privatisation makes it possible to make such investments and garner those gains with the aid of public money.

The VSNL board's decision has allowed the Tatas not just to use the inter-corporate investment-for-control technique, but to do so with reserves accumulated by an acquired company prior to acquisition. This reduces costs of control further. The Tatas no doubt had to pay a price to acquire control over VSNL. The group acquired the 25 per cent stake it bought from the government for Rs.1,439 crores. It paid out another Rs.1,151 crores for the additional 20 per cent stake it bought through the open offer route. But in the process it gained control of that part of the accumulated reserves of VSNL which the government had not siphoned out prior to disinvestment. As a result, it has in the first instance been able to convert Rs.1,200 crores of public money into its own money, as it were, and use it to finance an investment which ensures that it directly and indirectly controls a large stake in TTSL that promises huge financial benefits in the future. Looking at it another way, since the group has access to Rs.1,200 crores of 'free money', it has in essence paid only Rs.1,390 crores, and not Rs.2,590 crores as appears in the books, to acquire a 45 per cent controlling stake in a telecommunications major like VSNL.

Obtaining money 'for free' to finance private capital accumulation, through plunder of or unequal exchange with precapitalist economic formations, including in the colonies, was regarded by Marx as one aspect of the process of primitive accumulation in the early phases of capitalist development in the metropolitan centres. Lacking access to such spaces for plunder or markets to denude, capital in ex-colonial, late industrialising societies had to rely on the state as a means to undertake such accumulation at the expense of the rest of the population. In the past, Indian capital has indeed used its influence on government to obtain protection and favours of a kind that allowed it to accumulate surpluses with little effort and at small expense. This was attributed by advocates of liberalisation to the rent-seeking behaviour typical of regulated regimes, and decontrol and deregulation that they argued would do away with such tendencies that promote inefficiency. That is clearly wrong.

What the VSNL-TTSL decision and its implications illustrate is that there is little that is truly transparent about liberalisation, nor is there any gain in terms of a break in the nexus between capital and sections of the state. What liberalisation seems to have done is just to increase the gains that members of that nexus can derive, since the huge assets accumulated over decades by the state with public money can now be "legitimately" put in the service of the private sector.

War clouds

other

Those who ask the government to take strong measures to stop cross-border terrorism fail to appreciate the fact that we are facing an enemy who is not weak ("War Clouds", June 7).

Pursuing terrorists across the Line of Control or attacking their camps across the border can be counterproductive. India spoke about maintaining the sanctity of the LoC during the Kargil war. If it violates the LoC now, Pakistan can also do so, choosing its own time and place. Then, how can we be sure that action across the LoC will bring an end to cross-border terrorism?

Even a limited war would cost both countries thousands of lives and crores of rupees. There would be severe setbacks to developmental activities. With missiles being deployed, major cities and towns in both countries could be targeted. Pakistan has already threatened to exercise the nuclear option. This opens up the possibility of a nuclear war.

The best option before the two countries is meaningful dialogue. The very process of initiation of talks can bring down tensions.

D.B.N. Murthy Bangalore * * *

The Indian government, dominated by Hindu nationalists, continues to prioritise sectarian and non-secular agendas. India pledges that it will go to war with Pakistan unless Islamic separatists stop their attacks on Kashmir. India continues to insist that the Kashmir problem, which has claimed thousands of lives, is entirely the responsibility of Pakistan and Muslim separatist groups. India's persistent refusal to address the Kashmir issue might well leave the fate of Kashmiris in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. India is yet to take responsibility for its systematic violation of the rights and lives of Kashmiris, while Pakistan continues to use terrorism as state policy.

In addition, in the recent carnage of minority Muslims in Gujarat, militant Hindu dominance was on display. The saffronised government and the police perpetrated violence against Muslims in the State.

Police mistreatment of people belonging to 'lower' castes, classes and minority religious groups, women, tribal people, intellectuals, activists, political groups and others is evidence of the unstable and insecure conditions in which non-dominant communities in India continue to live.

All that is sacred in the Constitution, all that our ancestors struggled for, all that remains of the memory of Gandhiji, are desecrated.

In this situation, the majority of the Hindu Indian business community in the U.S. maintains complicit silence, refusing to accept the vicious consequences of Hindu nationalism. They continue to fund fundamentalist Hindu organisations that are registered as charities in the U.S., ostensibly working to promote and protect Indian heritage and culture. Such organisations utilise funds raised in the name of 'culture' to foment social division and intolerance and encourage the brutalisation of the minorities in India.

The Coalition Against Communal ism and other progressive organisations in the U.S. struggle to build a political culture that can confront Hindu xenophobia. Hinduism, unlike Islam, has a benevolent image in the West as a religion of peace. It is often held and peddled as an abstract textual entity devoid of the radical inequities that make up its cultural and historical reality.

Hard-line Hindu organisations maintain that Hindu culture and Hindus in India are being marginalised, that there is an Islamist plan for the genocide of Hindus, and that Hindu fundamentalism is a fiction conjured by the secular Left.

As an Indian I struggle against the failures of India's democracy and I am horrified at what we have become as a nation and as a people. India must commit itself to creating a secular and democratic society that addresses its injustices and entrenched oppressions. Violence in the name of religion has to stop and minority groups must be accorded full and executable rights. We must defy Hindu nationalism and its systematic use of violence against the minorities. We must examine the present political climate in which relations between India and Pakistan continue to deteriorate and both states commit crimes in the name of freedom. We must take responsibility for the unjust histories through which our nations were conceived. It will require extraordinary courage and commitment to do this.

Angana Chatterji Professor, Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, California Institute of Integral Studies San Francisco

* * * R. R. Sami Thiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu * * * Syed Abdul Khadir Harrow, England * * * Chandan Adhikari Boston, U.S. * * * Swaroop Kommera New York, U.S. Sri Lanka

The reason attributed by Eelam People's Democratic Party leader K.N. Douglas Devananda for Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam chief V. Prabakaran's demand for a separate Eelam cannot be accepted ("Usurping a mandate", June 7). Prabakaran did not give up his freedom struggle in any situation. But Douglas, who called himself a freedom fighter when he was in the armed wing of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), is a full-time politician now. This transformation may be his first step to fulfil his desire to lead a sophisticated life by being a part of the Sri Lankan government.

K.B. Rajaguru Madurai * * * Professor M. Sornarajah Received on e-mail Frontline

I am a regular reader of Frontline. I find the magazine very informative and interesting. It provides in-depth coverage of entire national and international affairs. It is truly national, covering current affairs from every part of the country. I have one suggestion. There are many Indians who do not know English, so they cannot read this magazine. Why don't you start publishing Hindi edition of Frontline so that those people can benefit. I am suggesting this for the benefit of society.

Manoj Kumar Hyderabad * * * Power reforms

There are a number of factual inaccuracies in the statements and figures quoted by Sudha Mahalingam in her article "A reform fiasco in Orissa" (May 24). The article seems to be based mainly on the executive summary of the Soven Kanungo Committee Report, and the conclusions drawn are not corroborated by facts. She has made no effort to get a feedback from various stakeholders on the above report or to investigate the underlying issues in the power sector reform that is currently under way. Any assessment of a process or a model should not be one-sided. An official report can hardly be considered the last word on reform without taking into account the opinions of stakeholders involved in the process.

The following note points out the factual errors in the article. No comments are offered on the author's points of view or value judgments:

"It must be pointed out that the Orissa reforms failed not because the Bank's milestones were not adhered to or because the State government reneged on its commitments to the Bank."

The State government did renege on several of its commitments - to the World Bank, to Gridco and to the Utilities. In July 2001, the Bank suspended the loan to Orissa because even after repeated reminders from the Bank and several discussions between the Bank and the State government, the latter withheld loans from Gridco and the distribution companies. Even after the suspension of the loan was lifted from January 2002, further defaults were made by the State government in passing on Bank loans to the beneficiary utilities.

As on March 31, 2002, the State government and State undertakings owed the distribution companies Rs.230 crores towards the electricity consumed by them. These arrears have been mounting steadily over the last few years, with budgetary provisions being hardly sufficient to meet even a part of the current charges. Repeated assurances of the State government to liquidate the arrears and pay the current charges have not been honoured.

The State government owes the four distribution companies Rs.23.23 crores towards rural electrification subsidy for the year 1999-2000. Though the subsidy was recommended by the OERC in October 2000, no payment has been made.

Repeated assurances that the State government will convert into equity the Rs.400-crore worth Zero Coupon bonds issued by Gridco to the State Government were never honoured.

"Average retail power tariff in the State have increased by 267 per cent since 1991-02 (40 per cent since the reforms began)."

According to a note presented by the OERC to the Kanungo Committee, the tariff rose by 268 per cent during the period 1990-1991 to 1997-98. During the same period the cost of supply rose by 374 per cent. While the OERC's note mentions both the rise in the tariff and the rise in the cost, the Kanungo Committee and the article in Frontline mention only the rise in the tariff.

"Generation capacity stagnates at 2,900 MW and there appears to be a flight of industries from the State."

We have no record of any flight of industries from Orissa. What has happened is that several industries, many of them mineral-based, which were expected to come up in the State did not. This is an all-India phenomenon resulting from the industrial recession and is not Orissa-specific. Far from scaring away industries, a special tariff for the five export-oriented ferro-chrome/charge chrome units in the State has saved them from closure.

"Gridco, the state-owned transmission company which owed Rs.1,667 crores to the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) as on April 1, 1996, for power purchased from the latter during its earlier avtar as the OSEB, now has a staggering Rs.7,310 crores (inclusive of interest) as outstandings to the NTPC and the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC), as on September 30, 2001. The interest liability alone was Rs. 4,262 crores as on that date."

The figures of Rs.7,310 crores and Rs.4,262 crores quoted as dues owed by Gridco to the NTPC and the NHPC are totally erroneous. As on March 31, 1996, (on the eve of the formation of Gridco), the OSEB owed the NTPC Rs.157.72 crores. As on March 31, 2002, the amount went up to about Rs.1,000 crores, including about Rs.226 crores as delayed payment surcharge. The figure of Rs.1,000 crores is after the issue of bonds worth Rs.313 crores by Gridco to the NTPC and bonds worth Rs.400 crores by the three BSES companies to Gridco, which were reassigned by Gridco to the NTPC. The amount owed to the NHPC is about Rs.16 crores and that to the PGCIL is Rs.9 crores. (These are the figures of the Generators; Gridco figures are lower.)

"The figures of transmission and distribution losses, officially reported to be 39.5 per cent of the power supplied at the beginning of the reform period, have since been revised upwards and were acknowledged to be around 44 per cent in 2001."

The figure of 39.5 per cent shown in the World Bank's Staff Appraisal Report was a mistake based on incorrect and incomplete data. This has been acknowledged by the World Bank several times, The audited figure of losses for the year 1995-96 is 46.94 per cent. The April 2002 BST order of the OERC has pegged the overall level of distribution losses in the base year 2001-2002 at 42.2 per cent.

"While a part of the consultancy fee may have come from grants from Britain's Department for International Development (DFID), a substantial chunk is likely to find its way into tariffs charged to consumers."

The DFID assistance to the Orissa power sector reforms was entirely in the form of grant. The Sovan Kanungo Committee, in para 3.9 of its report, states clearly that "the expenditure incurred on consultation services on formulation and implementation of reforms reported so far is Rs.306 crores (Annexure 7) which was largely met out of DFID grants". Hence there is no question of any part of the consultancy expenditure being passed on to the consumers. We have no information on the exact amounts paid to the various consultants.

"Of the $650 million that is slated to come from a variety of other sources, not a cent seems to have materialised."

The Staff Appraisal Report of the World Bank had estimated the total financial requirement of Gridco at $997 million, out of which $350 million was to be a loan from the World Bank and $97 million was to come from the DFID as grant. The DFID grant has come in toto. $246 million was expected from other sources. Against this, the three BSES companies put together have issued bonds totalling Rs.400 crores to the NTPC as explained above.

"Yet the company (AES) had claimed excessive expenses on travel, communications and so on. In its tariff proposals it had claimed expenses of Rs.1.12 crores towards telephone and communication charges, Rs.11.2 crores towards consultancy and level fees, Rs.7.24 crores towards travelling and conveyance, and Rs.2.41 crores towards watch & ward and miscellaneous expenditures - in just two years, 1999 to 2001."

The Kanungo Committee report, in para 3 of Annex 9 (dealing with the exit of AES), makes it clear that while the amounts mentioned in Frontline were as per the tariff filings (projections) of the company, the actual expenses reported by Cesco in October 2001 were less, with the expenses on legal, consultancy and professional charges being Rs.2.79 crores in place of the projected Rs.11.2 crores.

Purabi Das, Public Affairs Officer, Orissa Electricity Regulatory Commission Bhubaneswar

Sudha Mahalingam writes:

My article makes it abundantly clear that it is based on the Kanungo Committee report, of which I have a copy. The Kanungo Committee was an official fact-finding panel appointed by the Government of Orissa and as such had access to official documents. Besides, it heard in person the views of 46 stakeholders from across the spectrum, including legislators, representatives of the World Bank, reform consultants, executives of the distribution companies, officials of the State government, consumer representatives and others. It received written submissions from 78 other stakeholders. Therefore, there is no reason to question the authenticity of the findings of the committee; nor is there any need to corroborate independently the facts presented in the report. I am surprised that the OERC should feel burdened to defend the misconceived reform process in the State and even more surprised by its contention that the Kanungo report should not be considered the "last word" on the reform process.

If the OERC still has reason to dispute the findings of the Kanungo report, its version would be welcome provided it is supported by authentic data and documents, not mere assertions.

Lessons from the FBI experience

columns

An FBI official's indictment of the U.S. agency for negligence in converting information into intelligence that could have led to action to prevent the September 11 catastrophe, occasions some reflections.

19121132jpg

FEDERAL Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller has announced major changes in the FBI's priorities and explained how the fabled U.S. law enforcement agency will be reorganised to meet these. The new focus will be on proactive intelligence-gathering for a frontal assault on terrorism, thereby marking a shift from its current reactive law enforcement mode. In order to achieve this, more than 500 agents will move from criminal investigation to terrorism prevention. This would mean that as many as 2,600 agents would be devoted solely to investigation and prevention of terrorism. The narcotics division, the white-collar crime unit and the violent crime squad will all be made slimmer to provide the needed muscle to quell terrorism.

Mueller's striking agenda comes against the backdrop of an explosive expose by Time magazine (issue dated June 3), according to which the FBI failed to avert the September 11 carnage in spite of being alerted by one of its employees, a woman. Time carries a copy of a missive from Coleen Rowley, chief counsel in the FBI's Minneapolis field office, to the FBI Director that refers to the investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui, a French-Moroccan arrested on August 15, 2001 in Minneapolis after a tip-off from a PanAm flight training school.

Zacarias was identified as a foreigner who spoke bad English and wanted to know how to fly a Boeing 747. Even as the Immigration and Naturalisation Services (INS), acting in tandem with the local FBI unit, held him for overstaying his visa, the FBI checked with the French police on his antecedents. The latter claim that they gave everything they had on him, including details of his past liaison with Islamic militant groups. Armed with information on the dubious past of Zacarias, the Minneapolis field office moved FBI headquarters for permission to obtain a warrant to analyse the contents of his laptop computer. Rowley charges that the FBI headquarters turned down the request made under the Foreign Surveillance Act. The evidence adduced to establish that Zacarias was an agent of a terrorist group or a foreign power did not impress the National Security Law Unit (NSLU) of the FBI headquarters, which is responsible for scrutinising such requests before forwarding them to the Justice Department. Ironically, Zacarias is now the only person on trial for conspiring to commit the September 11 attacks.

In her most outspoken but elegantly-worded indictment, Rowley also refers to an earlier report - possibly from June 2001 - from an FBI agent in Phoenix that raised a suspicion about the phenomenon of several Middle Eastern (West Asian) men enrolling themselves in flight training schools in the U.S. In Rowley's estimate, the Phoenix and Minneapolis reports together provided vital information that could have galvanised the country's law enforcement agencies into action to prevent the catastrophe.

Rowley does not attribute motives. She merely says that the FBI headquarters was negligent in not seeing the whole picture and that it adopted a ruinous high-and-mighty attitude, one that, in my view, characterises higher formations in most law enforcement agencies the world over. Rowley, described as a low-profile and straightlaced lawyer-official, who has been with the FBI since 1980, refers with anguish to Director Mueller's public posture immediately after September 11 that if only they had some kind of an advance warning, Bureau officials could have initiated action to foil the terrorists. What provokes her more is the recent shift in the Bureau's stand, which claims that nothing would have changed even if it had followed up the information received from Phoenix and Minneapolis. According to the FBI, there is little proof that Zacarias was the 20th conspirator.

Rowley's track record is said to be impeccable. It marks her out to be a dedicated public servant actuated by unselfish impulses. This is what enhances her credibility and puts the FBI top brass in a spot. However, in a chat with mediapersons on May 29, Director Mueller was gracious enough to thank Rowley for her letter, and added: "As our focus changes to terrorism prevention, we must be open to new ideas, to criticism from within and without and admitting to and learning from our mistakes." Mueller's candour and humility deserve admiration.

Any critique of the FBI in the context of September 11 should arouse widespread interest as it is of international relevance. No intelligence agency, however large or small, and wherever it is situated, can afford not to draw lessons from it. This is because hardly any region of the world is now impregnable to terrorist designs. The best of minds and the best of technology are today available to a majority of outfits. Also, it is not mere religious fanaticism that propels violent misadventures. There are reasons to believe that human greed driven by economic interests is also not averse to fuelling those with a terrorist predilection.

Every government needs therefore to satisfy itself that its premier intelligence agency has its antennae tuned in to this task and is not taken by surprise. For this purpose, priorities will have to be redrawn and resources reassigned. I can recall how agencies in our country were excessively obsessed with communism till as late as the 1970s. Those operatives with only a modest knowledge of communism and those who were not handling matters linked with it were nearly looked down upon and considered the lower of the species! Luckily, the leadership quickly realised that they were flogging a dead horse. Events like Punjab and the disquieting trends in northeastern India helped bring about a quick transformation in terms of focus and priorities.

Similarly, I remember how Islamic militancy was unknown to many southern States in India till a few years ago. The situation changed beyond belief about five years ago. Discerning this trend, in the new situation, state agencies moved on to study its ramifications and adapted themselves swiftly to the task of containing elements that were distorting Islam to preach hatred and promote violence. This strategic reorientation possibly accounts for the more than a semblance of control currently exercised over many groups. The calm that prevails in Coimbatore and adjoining areas in Tamil Nadu is one example of how law enforcement aided by intelligence can have a grip over a difficult situation. Mumbai is probably another setting that induces confidence, at least for the present.

Rowley's criticism, however, centres not on the FBI's lack of preparedness or its inability to adapt itself to new contours of terrorism, but its failure to put pieces of information together to make sense out of them. The gravamen of her charge is that it was negligent in not converting information into intelligence. This is, however, a typical blame that lies squarely at the doors of many intelligence agencies. The task envisaged here is basically one of sharpening the analytical skills of headquarters staff.

To digress a bit, I remember how we were told at training programmes in the past that if an intelligence agency received information of a sudden flurry of movement of Soviet envoys posted in different parts of the world towards Moscow at about the same time, something extremely important was possibly going to happen in the Soviet Union and the information demanded a follow-up. We were further told that such travel invariably pointed to an unannounced Politburo meeting or a Communist Party briefing on a prospective decision of great consequence. (Incidentally, this often took the Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA, into a spin and made it work overtime to brief its informants on what to look for.) This example may sound simplistic and inarticulate. Nevertheless it highlights how the role of an official who collates and interprets information received from the field is intricate and demanding. It is a role that requires an ability to peer into what on the surface seems an innocuous and a dry-as-bone piece of information and thereafter come up with a sensible argument on why it cannot be ignored. This enviable analytical skill is what is required of headquarters staff, and the absence of it at the FBI headquarters was what Rowley was complaining about. Interestingly, the FBI revamping exercise contemplates greater cooperation between the CIA and the FBI and the drafting of a substantial number of CIA officers into the FBI. This is part of a process aimed at strengthening the analytical segment of the FBI headquarters. In terms of numbers, Mueller hopes to pump in 900 new employees. Of these, 500 would be solely for analysis.

19121131jpg

Do we have anything to learn from what is happening to the FBI? While we may not copy all that it is doing, we should not be dumb and do nothing. Before I dilate on this, readers in India should remember that there is a basic difference in the structure of intelligence agencies in the two countries. The FBI combines the role of both the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). While the I.B. is exclusively charged with the collection of intelligence and purveying it to the government, it has no investigative role, which, incidentally, is the preserve of the CBI. While the I.B. may collect intelligence on terrorist activities, any investigation of offences flowing from these will be done by the CBI.

No doubt the existence of two separate organisations can cause a lack of coordination, especially if the two chiefs do not see eye to eye. Generally speaking, however, the arrangement has worked satisfactorily. Analysis and investigation are two distinct skills and the I.B. and CBI complement each other by performing these two vital functions. A CBI investigator with an I.B. background would be a great asset, and this is what the CBI should aim at in order to build a corps of officers who will investigate complicated terrorist crime.

The current situation in the border with Pakistan also makes induction of a few Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) officers into the I.B. a sensible experiment that is worth trying in a small way. At present, the movement is in the opposite direction. This experiment is also likely to take care of the increasing signs of exclusivism that envelops RAW.

The FBI's reorganisation plans to beef up its counter-terrorist capabilities, even by diluting its role in the areas of narcotic and other routine crime, is likely to revive the debate in India on whether another agency should be set up at the Centre to take care of offences impinging on national security. The Ministry of Home Affairs had till recently shown itself to be enthusiastic about this. But there has been very little support for it from the States, without whose concurrence the Government of India cannot create another police agency for the country. In every such proposal Chief Ministers see a ghost that seeks to eat into the police powers of State governments.

Apart from this hard-to-break mindset and the legal tangle, it is worth pondering whether it will be wise to truncate the CBI's authority. It is an undisputed fact that the CBI has been fulfilling its responsibility in the area of anti-terrorist crime with great aplomb and little fanfare. It has officers of enormous dynamism and energy who rise to the occasion whenever called for. In my view, everything should be done to strengthen the CBI's resources, both manpower and equipment, rather than send a wrong signal that it is unequal to a task that is well within its charter.

Finally, how should the I.B. or the CBI react to a Coleen Rowley? The Indian psyche, with all its pretensions to democracy, frowns on dissent even where it is merited. All of us without exception are prisoners to this feudal mentality. We expect total and soulless subordination from those who report to us. Even assuming Mueller did not have much of an option in the present controversy, his acknowledgement of the cause for which Rowley stood up for is refreshing. This should be taken note of by the leadership of RAW, the CBI and the I.B.

I know that in the past they had been tormented by individual employees, some of whom stood up for the wrong reasons and were squarely guilty of being cantankerous and exhibitionist. But a few did display mettle that warmed the hearts of those who desired professionalism in the three vital agencies. We should encourage these officers who may not necessarily be just whistle-blowers. This is because we need to enhance accountability in public life in the country. I am impressed by what Rowley said to Mueller: "It's true we all make mistakes and I'm not suggesting that HQ (headquarters) personnel in question ought to be burned at the stake, but, we all need to be held accountable for serious mistakes." Can we not engrave these words in gold and display them in all our public buildings?

Proof of connivance

THE National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) released on May 31 its findings and comments on the situation in Gujarat. In the process the Commission expressed its dissatisfaction with the Gujarat government's response to its earlier interventions regarding the violent acts against the minority Muslim community following the Godhra train carnage of February 27. The NHRC's proceedings, approved unanimously by chairperson Justice J.S. Verma and three members, Justice K. Ramaswamy, Justice Sujata V. Manohar, and Virendra Dayal, throw fresh light on the events surrounding the Godhra tragedy, and its aftermath in Gujarat.

While unravelling these painful events, the NHRC has brought out new evidence, which could help in prosecuting the guilty. The proceedings should also help establish the State government's culpability in the violence, on the basis of credible adverse inferences.

In its preliminary comments released on April 1 (Frontline, April 26, 2002), the NHRC had asked the State government whether it had discharged its primary responsibility to protect the rights to life, liberty, equality and dignity of all. In assessing the degree of State responsibility in the failure to protect the rights of the people of Gujarat, the NHRC cited the principle of res ipsa loquitur (the affair speaking for itself). The NHRC observed that the responsibility of the state extended not only to the acts of its own agents, but also to those of non-state players within its jurisdiction and to any action that may have caused or facilitated the violation of human rights. It added that unless the State government rebutted the adverse inferences against it the latter would be deemed accountable.

Ironically, the State government could not use the first opportunity provided by the NHRC to rebut any such inferences. In its report submitted to the NHRC on April 12, the State government testified to the fact that an increasing number of people were being killed or injured or compelled to seek shelter in relief camps. It also confirmed the assault on the dignity and worth of the human person, particularly of women and children. This was sufficient for the NHRC to conclude that there was a comprehensive failure on the part of the State to protect the constitutional rights of the people, starting from the tragedy in Godhra to the violence that ensued. In the NHRC's view, the appointment of K.P.S. Gill as Security Adviser to the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, implicitly confirmed that the State had failed to bring under control the persisting violation of the rights to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the people.

From the sequence of events, it appears that the Gujarat government could have prevented the Godhra incident had it received in time intelligence about the return of kar sevaks from Ayodhya by the Sabarmati Express. The State government claimed that such intelligence came into its possession only in the wee hours of February 28. This made the NHRC conclude that the inability to establish a two-way flow of intelligence between the Gujarat Intelligence Bureau and the Uttar Pradesh Police about the travel plans of the kar sevaks from Gujarat led to the tragedy. The State government was unable to rebut the presumption that there was a major failure of intelligence.

The failure of intelligence, the NHRC noted, was accompanied by a failure to take appropriate anticipatory measures to prevent the spread and continuation of riots. While examining why some districts were more prone to violence than others after the Godhra tragedy, the NHRC wanted the State government to identify certain local factors as well as players who had allegedly overwhelmed the officials responsible for preventing such violence. The State government evaded a specific reply to this, on the grounds that the matter was covered by the terms of reference of the Commission of Inquiry appointed by it. The NHRC found this response to be lacking in transparency.

It is true that the allegations of violence have to be substantiated in a court of law to get their perpetrators convicted. However, the mere appointment of a Commission of Inquiry does not absolve the State law-and-order agencies from their duty to investigate the crimes on the basis of specific allegations made by the victims.

The NHRC's report was prepared after the visit of its team to Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Godhra from March 19 to 22. It was kept confidential until the State government responded to some of the allegations made in it. The NHRC team, led by Justice J.S. Verma, met many prominent citizens and human rights activists, and the report includes a summary of what was revealed by them.

The report has made some specific allegations: 1. State Home Minister Gordhan Zadafia and Health Minister Ashok Bhatt monitored the progress of the riots from the City Police Control room; 2. Urban Development Minister I.K. Jadeja controlled things from Police Bhawan, Gandhi Nagar; 3. Someone stated that he had seen the Home Minister moving about in the riot-affected areas, displaying the "V" signal; 4. Former Deputy Mayor of Ahmedabad, and Member of the State Assembly Maya Ben Kudnani and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Dr. Jai Deep Patel were named by a number of victim families from Naroda Patia; 5. Legislator Usman Bhai alleged that Zadafia was directly monitoring the progress of the attacks on Muslim localities from the office of Home Secretary Ashok Raina; 6. Certain BJP leaders of Vadodara had made provocative speeches on local television, before violence erupted in the city; 7. Certain members of the police force allegedly played a dubious role in fomenting violence against the minorities (the report names them).

The report reveals the identity of persons who were responsible for ignoring the pleas for help made by former Congress(I) MP Ashan Jaffrey, who along with some members of his family and 39 others were burnt alive in Ahmedabad on February 28. Former Chief Minister Amar Sinh Choudhury spoke to the NHRC team about his futile efforts to obtain police protection for Jaffrey. He first contacted the Police Commissioner, P.C. Pande, at 10-30 a.m. and apprised him of the imminent danger to Jaffrey's life. Pande assured Choudhury that police assistance would be despatched quickly. Choudhury reminded Pande again upon receiving another frantic call from Jaffrey. He spoke to the Chief Minister in the afternoon and found him well-informed about the presence of a violent crowd outside Jaffrey's house. Choudhury also spoke to the Chief Secretary and the Home Secretary between 12-30 p.m. and 2 p.m. - all in vain.

In a report to the NHRC on April 24, the Commission's Special Representative in Gujarat, P.G.J. Nampoothiri, observed that almost 90 per cent of those arrested - even for grave offences such as murder and arson - had managed to get bail almost as soon as they were arrested. He also reported that the victims were finding it difficult to record first information reports (FIRs), and to name the guilty. Many persons with political connections, who were named by the victims, defied arrest, he told the Commission. This made the NHRC to emphasise the need to investigate the crimes and prosecute the guilty without any extraneous influence coming into play. Its recommendation to the Centre to refer certain cases to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) - despite the State government's refusal to do so - under Article 355 of the Constitution has to be seen in this context.

The NHRC found that the response of the State government to the security needs of former Judge Justice A.N. Divecha and sitting Judge Justice M.H. Kadri of the Gujarat High Court, was hopelessly inadequate. Justice Divecha's house was burnt down, after he and his family had moved to a safer place. Justice Kadri, the NHRC noted, was compelled to move from house to house because of the pervasive insecurity. And in the case of less prominent Muslims, the NHRC found, the official response to their security needs exposed gross negligence or, as in certain instances, tacit complicity in the violence against them.

On the edge, still

Sporadic violence continues, tensions still run high and the communal forces remain emboldened, even as bomb explosions in public places create panic in Gujarat.

"IT is a kind of peace since people are tired, but you can't really call it peace. The violence has lessened but not stopped. Anything can happen at any time." Human rights activist Trupti Shah's opinion seems to sum up the prevailing situation in Gujarat. Shah lives and works in Vadodara, one of the cities worst affected in the last three months. Her views are echoed by social workers all over the State.

It is a little over a month since K.P.S. Gill arrived in Gujarat. When he arrived, on May 3, officials in the Gujarat government preferred to pretend that they had no idea why he was there, despite his stated designation of Security Adviser to the Chief Minister. Others in the State did not know what to expect, having known only of Gill's tough, no-compromise 'super cop' reputation. One month on, Gill's role still seemed to be unclear. Rohit Prajapati, a human rights activist from Vadodara, says he was mildly optimistic about Gill's presence at first, but it has not really made much of a difference. "He listens to everything with great patience, but at the end of it all there is no action. I don't think he has the power to take any action. He only provides feedback to the Chief Minister. He is just there to create hope in the minds of the people."

19121181jpg

Gill's presence is seen as a token gesture by the State and the Centre. "Appointing him was the government's way of saying they are doing something," says social activist Achyut Yagnik. This view is reiterated by Prajapati who says, "The State never thought to dialogue with the people. It cannot, because it has lost the trust of the people and yet the State has realised that it needs to save face and so it pretends to initiate a dialogue. Obviously an outsider had to be brought and so Gill is here."

This is not to say that Gill is ineffective, but rather that his powers are limited. Prajapati says he specifically asked Gill about the extent of his powers but received no answer. He uses the analogy of a pressure cooker and its whistle. "Everyone needs a breather. Even those who started and fuelled the riots need to get back to their jobs. Gill is the whistle - his presence is allowing people to let off steam. In reality all he is doing is dampening the anger."

The authorities - both administrative and police - are yet to regain the confidence of the people. "Justice can only come after peace," says Prajapati, "and the authorities are not making any effort towards justice." Registering a first information report (FIR) is still a daunting task, with the police either refusing to do so or leaving the formalities incomplete. Even when an FIR is registered, the police often refuse to give the complainants a copy of it. Action is not taken on the basis of the FIRs. Though a few arrests have been made, none of the leaders have been arrested.

In Vadodara, particularly, tensions still run high. Government officials at the so-called 'peace' meetings between Hindus and Muslims do not intervene even though atrocious conditions for 'peace' are laid down by some members of the majority community. Peace, say the Hindu leaders, is conditional on Muslims not wearing caps, not calling out the azaan (call to prayer), not being on the streets after 9 p.m. Prajapati says that "the police are continuing the work of the mobs".

In an interview with Frontline on May 18 Gill had said, "I would wait a while before saying there is nothing to worry about any more." (Frontline, June 7, 2001.) On May 21 the Army began a gradual pullout from Gujarat. Though the paramilitary forces stayed on, the withdrawal of the Army seemed to embolden the communal forces as the following sequence of events indicates.

19121182jpg

On May 24, Godhra town, which had been relatively calm after 11 weeks of communal frenzy, suddenly erupted into violence, leaving two persons dead. However none was injured. On May 25, the suppressed tension in Ahmedabad erupted again in violence, resulting in one death by stabbing. In Godhra, a Muslim owned house was torched. On May 29, a series of bomb explosions threw Ahmedabad into panic once again. Three crude bombs exploded almost simultaneously in three city buses, injuring 16 people. The three bombs, which were placed in tiffin carriers, were the crude country-made type called sutli bombs - essentially explosive material mixed with nails and other sharp items all bound together with rope (or sutli). Two more bombs were defused by the bomb disposal squad.

On May 30, there were two bomb explosions in Godhra. On the same night, the police conducted a combing operation in the Memon colony in Vadodara that was described as a "brutal" one. Two men were killed at Kadi, in Mehsana district, one person was stabbed in Godhra and one was burnt alive in Mehsana.

The immediate reaction of Narendra Modi's government was to label the explosions as "terrorist attacks" inspired by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's "provocative speech" televised the previous day. There are others who said that the May 29 and 30 explosions could have been a reaction to the arrest of three Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists on May 28. The three were arrested in Ahmedabad for their alleged role in burning alive about 60 labourers, most of whom Muslims, in the Naroda Patia area of the city in March.

Operation Crackdown was launched by the Crime Branch of the Ahmedabad police to arrest those accused in the most gruesome cases of violence in the city during the riots - Naroda Patia and Narodia village, in which about 90 people were burnt alive on February 28 and Gulbarg Society, in which the former Congress MP Ashan Jaffrey was killed along with about 40 others. However, the arrests of the accused inspire no confidence. Take, for instance, the May 29 arrest by the Ahmedabad police of the local Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kishan Korani. A member of the board of directors of the Gujarat Minorities Finance and Development Corporation, Korani was arrested in connection with the Naroda Patia massacre. The Gujarat government says that he will stay in his post till proven guilty. Commenting on the arrests made so far, Yagnik says, "There is no qualitative change in the government's attitude even now. If there was, they would be arresting the big fish. All that they are doing is to go for some of the small fry. These are just token arrests."

On May 28, the London based Indian Muslim Federation placed the matter of the communal riots in Gujarat before the United Nations (U.N.) Human Rights Commission in Geneva. They demanded the appointment of a Special Rapporteur and a Special Tribunal to conduct investigations and ascertain responsibility.

In a memorandum submitted to the High Commissioner, U.N. Human Rights Commission, Mary Robinson, the Federation asked for diplomatic pressure as well as economic sanctions to be exerted on India to enact a law in compliance with Article V of the Genocide Convention of 1948. This, the Federation demands, should be applicable to various communal riots in India including the recent ones in Gujarat.

A strike staunched

RAHUL BEDI cover-story

PRIME MINISTER Atal Behari Vajpayee's recent impatient outburst that India ought to have given a "befitting reply" to Pakistan immediately after the suicide attack on Parliament building, could well have stemmed from frustration over a missed military opportunity.

"World leaders told India to keep patience while condemning the December 13 attack. But India won't follow the same advice now. The world should understand there is a limit to India's patience," Vajpayee said at a public meeting during his vacation at Manali on May 27.

Military sources revealed that two weeks after the December 13 attack, the Indian Air Force (IAF) was poised to execute, under a strategy developed over the years, strikes at 50 to 75 militant bases in addition to four to six well-defined targets in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK). These included a major bridge across the Karakoram highway connecting China to PoK and at least three others linking the Kashmir region to Pakistan proper - bridges that had taken nearly 11 years to build. Destroying these bridges would not only prevent Pakistan's military and nuclear ally China from replenishing its weaponry, but would also staunch Islamabad's supply line to forward units concentrated in PoK.

Precision Guided Munitions (PMGs) and other sophisticated ordnance were loaded onto some 20 Mirage 2000H and MiG-27 'Flogger' attack aircraft, and the fighters were ready to take off for bombing raids from various bases in northern and western India, awaiting political clearance.

The first wave of air strikes lasting 15 minutes was to have been followed by a raid on militant training camps by helicopter-borne Special Forces in a multi-tiered operation that involved IAF fighters as escorts. The commando raids were to last less than 45 minutes, after which the Russian Mi-35 gunships would ferry the troops back across the border. The entire operation was timed to be completed within an hour.

Vajpayee, enraged by the Parliament building attack, reportedly favoured the air strikes but senior members of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) cautioned against such action on the advice of the Army that claimed that it was unprepared to meet the retaliation by Pakistan that was bound to follow. The Army was reported to have said that it lacked adequate equipment to deal with a full-blown conflict. It claimed that its armoured columns - that would have to bear the brunt of a counter-thrust into Punjab and possibly Rajasthan's desert region - were not equipped with night-vision devices (NVDs) and hence were "blind" after dark and at the mercy of a better-equipped nocturnal enemy.

"Had we struck then, Pakistan would have been roundly ambushed," an IAF officer said, adding that the attacks would have significantly degraded the enemy's war fighting capability and capacity to retaliate. International opinion too would have been supportive of India, as it was three months after the September 11 suicide attacks in New York and Washington and just nine weeks after the United States-led war against the Taliban was launched.

"The world was enraged enough to have backed India and pressured Pakistan into making a climbdown," said the IAF officer. India lost a golden opportunity that will not present itself again, he added. Apart from the opportunity factor, loading and then unloading the PGMs and other special munitions from the fighters also reduced by half their shelf life, merely enhancing the massive costs inflicted on India by Pakistan through its proxy war.

The military dynamics

The Indian military is evidently eager to seize the opportunity and "call Pakistan's bluff". A look at strategy and state of play.

INDIA and Pakistan are now on the sixth rung of an eight-point conflict escalation ladder, before they cross the nuclear threshold, and Indian military officers predicting imminent hostilities claim that it is only a matter of time before war is thrust upon the country.

19120101jpg

Senior Army officers claim that the "war genie" has been let loose and it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the beleaguered Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party leadership to bottle it again, fully aware as it is that it would face oblivion if it even tried to do so, or blinked this time round.

"If we do not attack now, we never will," a military officer in the Jammu sector said. To wait once again after nearly six months of deployment and acts of intense provocation like the Kalu Chak garrison strike will be counter-productive, he said. "It's like training for the World Cup without knowing when the matches will be called," a senior General who participated in the 1965 and 1971 wars said. The Army has gone through its paces, trained for the offensive, laid minefields and erected defences but now impatiently awaits orders, he added. "We will lose face if we do not fight after such a build-up and withdraw," another officer said. It would only give Pakistan and the world the message that India merely postures and does not follow it up with action, he added.

An internal Army analysis has said that the nuclear-armed rivals, following an "established" pattern, had long crossed the five stages of no-war-no-peace that included daily artillery and mortar duels across the Line of Control (LoC) and the build-up of a crisis over militant strikes followed by political, diplomatic and economic pressure. The next step, already crossed, was a show of force and significant troop mobilisation backed by the naval deployment on the western seaboard within "striking distance" of Karachi harbour through which 90 per cent of Pakistan's oil supplies pass.

Three-dimensional battle groups including frigates, destroyers and submarines from both the Western and Eastern fleets have been deployed off the Pakistan coast, while amphibious units of the Army and the Indian Navy have been shifted from the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago for a sea-borne landing, ready for war. "Karachi is Pakistan's jugular vein and we are poised to choke it," a senior naval officer said. Strangulation at sea, he added, is slow but deadly, and realising that this was imminent, Pakistan had ended the Kargil War by signing an agreement in Washington to withdraw its Army in June 1999.

The rungs that remain to be ascended are border "incidents", a euphemism for military raids into enemy territory, and limited or "surgical" strikes by one or the other side following the breakdown of international diplomatic and political initiatives that are currently under way. This, in turn, would trigger a full-blown conventional war, whose outcome would eventually determine the nuclear, apocalyptic option the world dreads. "We are close to war," said a senior Army officer, declining to be named, adding that the military was as ready as it ever would be.

Some officers indicate that bold plans are in place to launch air strikes - which are being practised - inside Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) in mid-June, before the monsoon sets in over the region, in order to isolate the disputed area from the rest of Pakistan. This would be followed by the Army advancing, in keeping with battle plans honed at the time of the Kargil conflict, to "take over" - and eventually hold - the area from where Kashmir's "proxy war" has raged for 13 years.

According to reports from Almaty, a determined Vajpayee, attending a regional security summit there, told Washington that India would not be "trapped" into a situation that might end up being nothing but a replay of what was witnessed after General Pervez Musharraf's January speech. Then cross-border terrorism declined temporarily, before picking up a few weeks later to levels higher than in previous years. Vajpayee reportedly does not want to neutralise India's offensive "window" with the onset of the monsoon by stepping back, knowing that a "good war" is an election winner.

According to existing operational plans - mooted by the Indian Air Force (IAF) immediately after last December's suicide attack on Parliament House, but shot down by the Army on the grounds that it was premature (see box) - Delhi needs a "two-week attack window" in June.

19120102jpg

The tactic is to execute degrading air strikes that will induce Pakistan into extending the conflict by opening up a wider front. Experience has shown that in an India-Pakistan war, the attacker invariably takes the larger number of casualties as its "do or die" thrust for swift gains stands to weaken its overall fighting potential. India's military, steadily hemorrhaging for 13 years from Pakistan's "proxy war", plans to reverse Islamabad's military capability by at least 30 years and to push it back into the "dark ages", an officer said. "We will call Pakistan's nuclear bluff. It (the nuclear factor) cannot deter us any more," he declared.

The IAF is also delighted that Pakistan will be fighting under an Army General who even more than his Indian counterpart has an insufficient understanding of the Air Force. The Pakistani Army has enjoyed untrammelled political power since Independence, even during the brief democratic experiment in the 1990s, and it has treated the Air Force - and the Navy - like poor cousins. Besides, the IAF feels that the Pakistan Air Force, with around 350 fighter aircraft that include Mirage 5, Mirage III and 28 of 32 operable F-16 fighters, is no match for its 730 combat planes. These include varied fighter planes in the Russian MiG series, Jaguars, Mirage 2000Hs and the upgraded multi-role SU 30 MkIs, 10 of 40 for which orders have been placed will arrive soon.

Military officers hinted that the BJP leadership, having categorically opted to exercise the military option irrespective of Washington's ongoing diplomatic initiative, has embarked on a massive "deception ruse" comparable to the secrecy and duplicity involved in the 1998 nuclear tests. The subterfuge and sheer effrontery surrounding the two rounds of nuclear tests fooled even the ubiquitous Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

"The U.S.-led move to shift non-essential diplomatic staff and their families out of Delhi indicates that Washington has been informed of India's intentions of hitting Pakistan and is taking them seriously," a military officer involved in planning the offensive declared. He also indicated that India had assured Washington that in the event of war it would give the American bases at Jacobabad, Pasni and Dalbandin close to the Afghan border a wide berth. External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh declared at a press conference last month that American presence in Pakistan was not an inhibiting factor in India's military policy determination. Senior Army officers seconded that stand. Reciprocal visits by Indian and U.S. military officials to Delhi and Washington have also helped clarify India's position.

Security sources also hinted that Washington, broadly aware of India's military plans, had slowly begun shifting its military personnel out of Pakistan, with contingency plans for a swift withdrawal. The U.S. is believed to have assured India that despite Pakistan's nuclear belligerence, Washington will ensure that the nuclear threshold is not crossed. Casual but chilling statements by Gen. Musharraf and his United Nations envoy Munir Akram about using nuclear weapons against a conventionally superior India, which sent alarm bells ringing in world capitals, were significantly toned down in the Pakistani President's June 1 interview to CNN television.

"India should not have the licence to kill with conventional weapons while Pakistan's hands are tied regarding other means to defend itself," Munir Akram said two days after being appointed his country's envoy to the U.N. in New York towards the end of May. Islamabad has to rely on the nuclear means it possessed to deter Indian aggression, he said in a statement obviously cleared by Gen. Musharraf.

Under pressure from Washington, Gen. Musharraf allayed concerns over a nuclear war. He toned down his belligerence, declaring on CNN that neither side was "irresponsible" enough to go to the limit of using weapons of mass destruction. "I would even go to the extent of saying one shouldn't even be discussing these things, because any sane individual cannot even think of going into this unconventional (nuclear) war, whatever the pressures," Gen. Musharraf said. He also reiterated Pakistan's desire for a no-war pact with India.

Military officers in Delhi, however, warn that if the present opportunity is not seized, the onset of the monsoon would cause the postponement of the campaign to September or later, and perhaps even indefinitely. This would come as a major disappointment to the now impatient military - jawans and officers alike - which is incensed by the May 14 attack at the Kalu Chak garrison in which soldiers' families were killed. "The militants can attack us, but not our women and children," a soldier in Jammu's Raghbir Singh Pura said. Another soldier at a border post nearby said India must not waste the military build-up now and should "sort" out Pakistan once and for all.

In such an operation "casualties in terms of men and machines will be high and the military has firmly told the politicians to prepare the nation for losses and delayed results as the fighting will be fierce," an Army officer said. According to him, Pakistan has concentrated the majority of its forces in and around PoK and would unleash its Chinese M-9 and M-11 missiles. Most officers anticipate that the conflict would not last more than a week, before the U.S. and other Western countries ensured that it ended, neutralising even the slimmest chance of a nuclear exchange.

MEANWHILE, there is a certain collective arrogance displayed by India's military and political establishment and the media that are of the view that India merely has to declare war on Pakistan for it to capitulate. According to Army assessments, India's edge over Pakistan in terms of conventional weapons has been steadily closing, and stands today at 1:1.4, giving Delhi the slight advantage. While the Indian Army has one of the highest teeth-to-tail ratios of 1:3 or one fighting man for a three-man support group - in the Kargil War this went up to 1:5 because of the harsh terrain - Pakistan has force-multipliers such as its numerous paramilitary forces and thousands of lashkars (militants) who would play a major role during war. Innumerable Pakistani paramilitary units, such as the Sutlej, Thar Sindh and Cholistan Rangers, have traditionally trained alongside the Army in peacetime manoeuvres to enhance its war-fighting capacity.

Pakistan also has the advantage over India of terrain, operating on an "interior line" or relatively shorter lines of communication with the ability to shift forces swiftly from one theatre to the other. Pakistan can "penny packet" its defences, confident that these can be reinforced quickly from an adjoining sector. Pakistan's 1 Strike Corps, also known as Army Reserve North, for instance, can simultaneously tackle the threat to Lahore, Sialkot and Gujranwala. This is Pakistan's only structured strike corps; it comprises two infantry divisions, one armoured division, one independent armoured brigade and one artillery division.

The Indian Army, on the other hand, operating on exterior or longer lines of communication, is forced by the topography to deploy 'stand alone corps' across Jammu and Kashmir and in sensitive areas such as Pathankot and Amritsar and all along the Rajasthan and Gujarat border, each one aware that back-up would be scarce or non-existent. And though the Army's fundamentals - such as jawans and junior officers - are strong, the top leadership does not inspire confidence in the former in the higher management of war. The snafus in the Kargil War do not bear repetition, but the levels of confidence the junior officers have in the top army brass is questionable.

A novel "caste system" governing promotions to the Army's higher ranks that was arbitrarily instituted by the former Chief of the Army Staff, General Ved Prakash Malik, and has been continued by his successor Gen. S. Padmanabhan, is causing widespread resentment amongst officers, who feel that the service has been effectively "Mandalised". Army officers said that such "narrow" promotion policies reversed over 50 years of established practice under which merit was the sole criterion for promotion, irrespective of the arm to which an officer belonged. "The general cadre's aim is to provide able leadership to the Army on merit and not fall prey to a self-defeating system of affirmative action," said one officer. Promotions to higher ranks, he added, had become all the more crucial after the Kargil conflict during which the quality of generalship had seriously come under question from within the force.

The Army also fears that a "Fifth Column" of around 3,000 insurgents across Jammu and Kashmir State will severely degrade its fighting ability in the event of war. Military officers in Jammu recently said that the Pakistan-backed armed guerillas were poised to disrupt the Army's supply lines and sabotage its rear-area security by blowing up bridges and rail lines, attacking soldier convoys and laying siege to National Highway 1A, which is the State's lifeline.

Interdicting Highway 1A has been Pakistan's military objective during the three wars and the Kargil conflict, with the aim of cutting off the Jammu region from the rest of Kashmir. Blowing up a handful of bridges close to Jammu would block quick access to the strategic Rajouri and Poonch. Despite the importance of this area, no alternative routes have been built for over half a century, and the rear area security grid has thinned out as personnel from the Rashtriya Rifles (RR), tasked with protecting the Army's communication lines, have reverted to their parent arms.

Local Kashmiris, strongly opposed to the Army's presence for the last 13 years that the Islamic insurgency has raged in the State, are also likely to try to dilute the military's capabilities during hostilities, an intelligence officer said. "Anticipating war, this brigade strength of armed, trained and highly motivated lashkars are repositioning themselves in key locations in Kashmir waiting to strike," a senior military officer said, declining to be named. A reserve infantry brigade deployed on counter-insurgency operations has recently been withdrawn and relocated to deal with the anticipated threat posed by these "fifth columnists", he added.

According to Military Intelligence, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has specially trained groups of six to ten terrorists each for "hit and run" raids on Indian Army units. Besides in ambushing the security forces, these guerillas are experts in laying mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) at key locations. "Their strategy is to keep the Army under constant threat," a senior military officer said. Security officers said their weaponry had also been upgraded to include anti-aircraft guns, rocket launchers, heat-activated missiles and anti-tank mines.

Around 45 attacks by fidayeen or suicide militant squads on Army bases in Kashmir over the past two years killing scores of soldiers, have demoralised the Army and, revealed to the enemy that India's military simply did not have the numbers to fight and protect itself from internal attacks. Intelligence officers said a Pakistani Army mountain division recently conducted exercises across the LoC alongside some 3,000 insurgents drawn from various militant groups that are fighting Kashmir's war. They said the Army aimed at infiltrating these "irregulars" drawn from the 14-party Unified Jehad Council based in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, to join their tanzeems (militant groups) across the border in order to harass the Indian Army.

Meanwhile, military officers argue that the dynamics of Pakistan's jehadi organisations, nurtured by the military establishment, are such that if not deployed in Kashmir they are likely to turn inwards, leading to heightened violence and turmoil in that country. This is one of the reasons why the Indian military feels compelled to "degrade" Pakistan's military machine, convinced that this alone would end cross-border terrorism and the security threat on its flanks that is severely draining the economy and claiming thousands of lives each year.

According to intelligence estimates, over 30,000 Islamic mercenaries, trained in guerilla warfare and armed with sophisticated weapons, are in Pakistan today, waiting to be transported to the next jehad. And, if Kashmir is taken away from them, the Pakistani junta is in trouble; not only are the insurgents trained in urban guerilla warfare, but they are wholly familiar with the inner workings of the Pakistani military and the ISI. The jehadis are also an ace up Gen. Musharraf's sleeve that is played dexterously in his dealings with the U.S. "The U.S. realises that the fight against terrorism cannot be engaged effectively without dealing with its source inside Pakistan. And it now plans to use its newfound 'proxy', India, to deal with this menace while it doles out placebos to Gen. Musharraf," said an Army officer. It is a case of the strategic interests of India and the U.S. intersecting, he added.

Already there are signs inside Pakistan of proliferating sectarian tensions and unrest, alongside the steady "Islamisation" of society that even the military junta finds incapable of controlling. In his January speech decrying terrorism, Gen. Musharraf said groups such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and the Tehrik-e-Jafria Pakistan (TJFP), representing the Sunni and Shia sects respectively, were in a state of constant strife. This strife claimed over 400 lives across Pakistan last year.

Pakistan's highly Islamised military is also unwilling to abandon the Kashmir struggle. The Pakistan Army's "Islamisation", which is the key to the continuing jehad in Kashmir, began after 1977 when Gen. Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq overthrew Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and it has steadily grown. After launching the jehad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Gen. Zia set out to legitimise his regime in the name of Islam by creating a Muslim theocracy and nurturing Muslim fundamentalist groups.

Under Gen. Zia, the extremist Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) took firm roots within the Army and the ISI. The JeI, like the militant groups it spawned, decrees that Islam is not only a way of life but a complete system of politics, economics and culture. It is virulently opposed to Western secular democracy and socialist doctrines and believes that the Sharia, or Islamic law, is an "organic" set of regulations that govern all aspects of life. The JeI also advocates jehad in order to achieve an Islamic state, and Qazi Hussain Ahmed, its head, has long been articulating the concept of an Islamic Caliphate spreading from Kashmir to Central Asia, including Afghanistan, with Pakistan as its pivot.

Encouraged by the JeI, newly commissioned defence personnel consider themselves to be soldiers not only of the state but also of Islam. And, by making Moscow's eviction from Kabul part of a jehad, Gen. Zia found it easier to receive financial assistance from Saudi Arabia and attract volunteers from other Muslim states such as Egypt, Algeria, Yemen and Sudan, many of whom were members or sympathisers of the extremist, Egypt-based Akhwan-ul-Musalmeen (Muslim Brotherhood). "Gen. Zia officially sanctified the Islamisation of the Pakistani Army, an indoctrination that has got progressively worse, and its consequences are now being felt in Kashmir," said Kalim Bahadur, a Pakistan specialist at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Supported by the CIA, Gen. Zia and the ISI permitted the Islamic parties to recruit serving and retired service personnel to train their cadre in the madrassas and supplied them American weaponry for use against the Soviets. He also inducted religious teachers into the Education Department and recognised madrassa certificates as equivalent to regular university degrees for recruitment to government service. This, in turn, led to increased "Islamisation" of the lower and middle ranks of the defence services and the emergence of a parallel, "freelance" armed force comprising the military-trained and equipped madrassa graduates or an "army within an army". In the early 1990s they began their "death of a thousands cuts" operation in Kashmir, and in the mid-1990s emerged as the Taliban.

A General's troubles

Faced with domestic and international criticism for his failure to keep his promise to deal firmly with the menace of terrorism, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf reiterates his government's commitment on the matter through another "address to the nation".

THE three-week-old shrill of "indiscriminate and unprovoked" firing between the Indian and Pakistani forces on the Line of Control (LoC) and the International Border has been the loudest since the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation war, matched only by a war of words. As Indian and Pakistani leaders kept issuing bellicose statements, Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf went in for another "address to the nation" on May 27.

19120141jpg

It would be a travesty of truth to call it an address to the people of Pakistan. Actually, it was an address to the George W. Bush administration and the so-called international coalition led by the United States in general, and the Atal Behari Vajpayee government in particular. The 25-minute speech was yet another attempt to convince them of the efforts taken by his regime to tackle terrorism. Musharraf's rhetoric regarding the determination of the military and people of Pakistan to "fight till the last drop of our blood" and his missile tests were obviously meant for domestic consumption. Although he talked about the 'Hindutva mindset' and the Gujarat violence, the tone and tenor of the speech was defensive right from the beginning. It was a passionate appeal to the outside world and New Delhi to take his words at face value and strengthen his hand in his country's hour of crisis.

The irony was that it the was nth time since September 11 that Musharraf was on the air speaking about terrorism and his government's commitment to deal with it. The latest address is a clear sign that the "war on terrorism" started by the U.S.-led coalition on October 7 (the day the military operations began in Afghanistan) has slowly but definitely shifted to the soil of Pakistan. Pakistan's status as the frontline state in the battle is under a cloud. The General, hailed as bold and courageous for his decision to side with the U.S. in the aftermath of September 11, is suddenly confronted with enemies from within and without. As if the tension triggered by the May 14 Kalu Chak massacre was not enough, came the cold-blooded murder of Abdul Ghani Lone, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leader.

India seems set to take its fight against cross-border terrorism to its logical conclusion. The U.S.-led coalition forces are getting increasingly impatient over what they believe as the 'slow response' of the Musharraf regime in extending cooperation to the operations against the activists of Al Qaeda and the Taliban who are fleeing Afghanistan to safer havens, supposedly in Pakistan.

The environment in Pakistan also offers no solace to Gen. Musharraf. The President, who 'secured' 98 per cent of the votes in the controversial April 30 referendum, is confronted with opposition from all the mainstream and religious forces for a variety of reasons. The contempt he showed towards the political class in his two-and-a-half-year innings has left him with no friends. The religious parties are annoyed with him for his U-turn on the Afghanistan issue and the measures he has proposed to curb the elements that run the country's jehad factories.

The January 12 address of Gen. Musharraf, hailed as path-breaking by no less a person than Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, does not seem to have helped him win friends in any quarter. It appears to have become an albatross around his neck. Forces on both ends of the socio-political spectrum quote it to indicate their dissatisfaction.

Meanwhile, those who praised him in January are raising questions on the follow-up action. Not only India, but even a section of the civil society in Pakistan has pronounced that the words of January 12 have not been translated into actions. Although some people have characterised the follow-up measures as "half-hearted", they are prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to the General. Their contention is that it is impractical to expect Musharraf to change overnight the 'mindset' of various segments of Pakistani society, including influential bodies of the state apparatus. After all, the 'mindset', almost 25 years old, was actively aided and nurtured by the leader of the present-day coalition against terrorism, the U.S., in revenge against the Soviet Union for the Vietnam debacle.

It is against this backdrop that one has to look at the May 27 address of Gen. Musharraf. He minced no words in articulating the nature of the challenge faced by Pakistan. He said: "We are at a crossroads of history and confronted with a difficult situation. Decisions of today will have intense external and internal repercussions. I understand that in such a situation consultations are of extreme significance. I want to take you in complete confidence."

It was no surprise that the first subject he broached was the gulf between his government and the mainstream political forces in the country. There is little doubt that his regime had not considered the possibility of an actual boycott of the so-called 'all-party meet' convened to discuss the situation arising out of the escalation of tensions on the border in the wake of the May 14 massacre. Although it is difficult to say at this juncture whether he would re-evaluate his approach towards the mainstream political parties in general and towards the two former Prime Ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, in particular, boycott of the all-party meet by 30 odd parties has undoubtedly jolted the Musharraf government.

The President acknowledged that many persons had advised him to re-invite those who did not respond to the first invitation and that he had done so. Conscious of the fact that the suspicions had become too deep, Gen. Musharraf chose to announce the dates for the general elections he had promised in October. He said: "I would like to remove the doubts and suspicions of all politicians. In the first instance I would like to tell the nation that genuine democracy will be established in the country this year in October. Elections will be held from October 7 to 11, 2002. It is my commitment to the nation that these elections will be fair and transparent and all foreign observers who intend to witness them are welcome."

He even offered an elaborate explanation on the controversial referendum and made it a point to apologise for the "excesses, if any" committed by his overzealous supporters and the government machinery in its conduct.

Has the May 27 address helped bring the mainstream parties and the General any closer? No, if their response is an indication. Minutes after the General finished his speech, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) led by Benazir Bhutto expressed doubts about his commitments. The PPP said: "The Monday night address was no more than a regurgitation of pious hopes and vague promises designed only to once again hoodwink the domestic and international public opinion and to perpetuate his illegitimate hold on power...

It would be no exaggeration to suggest that it reflected the sentiment of most of the parties, especially with regard to his attitude towards political outfits and their leaders despite their inherent differences. However, the PPP line on how the General should go about in dealing with the stand-off with India and the problem of extremism is not shared by all. Religious parties have a totally different viewpoint on these two subjects.

Most of the parties are worried that like the former military dictator Gen. Zia-ul Haq, Musharraf might go back on his promise to hold free and fair elections in October 2002 as directed by the Supreme Court. An all-party meet in Lahore, attended by representatives of 30 parties, said in a resolution that the political forces believed that for the elections to be free and free it must be held under a government of national consensus and by an autonomous and independent election commission.

The Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD), which organised the all-party meet, went to the extent of demanding the resignation of Gen. Musharraf.

The most important component of Musharraf's address was directed at India. He reiterated Pakistan's 'commitment' not to allow its soil or territory under its control to be used for terrorist activities anywhere in the world. He specially mentioned Kashmir and reminded the assurance he had given in his January 12 speech that no organisation or individual would be allowed to commit acts of terror in the name of Kashmir.

However, the truth of the matter is that the Musharraf government has been half-hearted in translating his words into actions. The case of Lashkar-e-Toiba best illustrates the point. It made a public announcement on winding up its operations in Pakistan, but there was a rider. It said that it was shifting its headquarters to POK. There are several other militant outfits supposedly operating from POK. After the January 12 address, most of such outfits kept issuing statements from Muzaffarabad, the capital of POK, about their goal to "liberate Kashmir from the clutches of Indian forces". Some even claimed credit for the militant attacks in Jammu and Kashmir. Strangely, there was no reaction from the Musharraf government to these developments. After all, defence of POK is the responsibility of Pakistan, though technically and legally it can argue that it has no control over POK. The United Jehad Council (UJC), presided over by Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin, functions from Muzaffarabad and continues to operate without any hindrance. In fact, the UJC adopted a resolution condemning Abdul Ghani Lone, who was later shot dead in Srinagar for his frank and forthright views on the vicious role being played by "foreign militants" in Kashmir.

Having repeatedly assured the world that it would not allow any group or individual to let the guns do the talking in the name of Kashmir, the Musharraf regime would have to answer a number of questions particularly on the follow-up to his January 12 speech. If his words have to be taken seriously, Gen. Musharraf will have to crack the whip against the militant outfits irrespective of whether they are in Pakistan or in POK.

Musharraf contended in his May 27 speech that the world knew that Pakistan also faced terrorism. He cited the March 17 attack at a church in the capital and the suicide bombing in Karachi in support of his argument. "Hence I understand that these days such terrorism is perpetrated by some organisations or groups who want to destabilise us. We condemn them." It was not clear whether he was hinting at the possibility of the involvement of Al Qaeda and Taliban activists in the incidents.

In his message aimed at the international community, Gen. Musharraf said that in the face of repeated provocation from New Delhi, Pakistan had adopted a policy of tolerance and patience. He urged the world community to persuade India to move towards normalisation of relations, which implies de-escalation, reduction of tension on the borders, and the initiation of a process of dialogue and a cessation of the "atrocities" perpetrated on the people of Kashmir.

In the backdrop of the escalating tensions, a few questions arise with regard to the role of the international community. Until India upped the ante in the aftermath of the May 14 massacre, the Bush administration kept insisting that the Musharraf regime had initiated steps to address the concerns of the world in general and India in particular. Until a few days ago, senior functionaries in the Bush administration were counselling India to give some more time to Musharraf and the U.S.-led coalition so that their efforts on the terrorism front bore fruit.

However, after May 14 and the spate of statements from the Indian government, the U.S. appears to have changed its tune. Incidentally the change in the tone and tenor of the statements from Washington came after New Delhi let it be known that it was very "unhappy" over the "double standards" of the U.S.-led coalition forces. There were even hints questioning the agenda of the U.S. vis-a-vis Kashmir. As the Afghanistan war drifts into Pakistan, there is a discernable change in the attitude of the U.S.-led coalition towards the Musharraf regime. The irony is that it is not just New Delhi that is unhappy with the U.S. Even Islamabad shares the same feeling. The only difference is that the former said it in so many words.

The dominant sentiment in Pakistan is that India must come to the table to discuss the core issue of Kashmir for any reduction of tension in the region and for the normalisation of relations between the two countries. The offer of Russian President Vladimir Putin to use his good offices to facilitate a dialogue between the leaders of India and Pakistan was welcomed not only by the establishment but also by influential people in Pakistani civil society. The pressure on India is to realise the need to resume the Agra process. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has stressed the need to resolve all issues, including Kashmir, between India and Pakistan through dialogue. Now the Putin initiative has come, with the unmistakable support of the U.S. President.

Active interventions

JOHN CHERIAN cover-story

An alarmed international community advocates restraint and offers advice and help to defuse the escalating tensions.

THE looming threat of war in the Indian subcontinent has been a major preoccupation for the international community since the beginning of May. Bellicose statements made by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf in the last few weeks have raised the ante. That the international community considers the threat of war here to be serious is evident from the hectic diplomatic activity of the last few weeks.

19120161jpg

The issue was one of the main subjects discussed at the summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and United States President George W. Bush in Moscow in the last week of May (articles on pages 50 and 52). The two leaders offered to help settle the conflict. Putin also proposed that the leaders of India and Pakistan meet on the sidelines of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures, to begin in Almaty, Khazakstan, on June 4. Both Vajpayee and Musharraf are scheduled to attend the conference.

The Russians are keen that such a meeting should take place. After all it was a meeting arranged under the auspices of the Soviet Union between Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and President Ayub Khan that led to the end of the 1965 India-Pakistan war. Former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral has also come out in favour of a meeting between the two leaders at Almaty.

While the Pakistani side was quick to accept the offer, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), however, quickly ruled out contact at such a high level. "There is no question of Vajpayee meeting General Musharraf. There is no possibility of a Tashkent II," said a senior MEA official. The official said that the Prime Minister will have separate meetings with the Russian President and Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who will also attend the conference. Putin is expected to hold separate meetings with Vajpayee and Musharraf.

At a joint press conference in St. Petersburg, Putin and Bush said that their countries would take steps together to prevent the escalation of the India-Pakistan conflict. Russian commentators have said that Moscow is once again trying to find a serious diplomatic role for itself in the region. After the Cold War, Washington had become the main mediator between India and Pakistan. Russia and the West European countries are not oblivious to the fact that the Bush administration has not been successful in defusing the crisis in both the regions despite having tremendous diplomatic clout with the major players in both the regions.

The tough speech delivered by President Musharraf followed by the round of missile tests conducted by Pakistan in the last week of May seem to have hardened further New Delhi's stance. External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh told mediapersons in New Delhi that Musharraf's May 27 address to the nation was a "disappointing" one as it merely repeated earlier assurances "which remain unfulfilled till this day".

Jaswant Singh added that owing to the belligerent tone of the President's speech, "tension has been added to, not reduced". Jaswant Singh stressed that in his speech Musharraf completely evaded the "central issue of Pakistan's promotion of terrorism". The Minister's statement also reflected the government's ire against the Pakistani President's comments in his televised address on matters of India's internal politics. Jaswant Singh described them as an "offensive and tasteless revilement" of India. He charged that "the epicentre of international terrorism had shifted to Pakistan" after the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan. He added that the terrorists operating from Pakistan receiving "support from state structures" were not only targeting India but other countries too. "The current war against terrorism will not be won decisively until their base camps inside Pakistan are closed permanently," the Foreign Minister said. Replying to a question, Jaswant Singh said that in his speech Musharraf talked very casually about the "nuclearisation" of the conflict.

According to Jaswant Singh, new terrorist camps had sprung up in Pakistan since Musharraf's promise in January to crack down on terrorism. At the same time, the Pakistan government had not bothered to act on the list of 20 terrorists wanted by India. Jaswant Singh alleged that Islamabad had released most of the 2,000 terrorists it had arrested earlier in the year.

Jaswant Singh revealed that the government had shared with the international community evidence about terrorism sponsored from across the border. All those involved in the recent terrorist acts, including the incident at Kalu Chak, hailed from Pakistan. He said that India was not against the resumption of a dialogue with Pakistan, but not "when the pistol of terrorism was pointed at us". He said that India wanted a "conducive climate" for talks to be created first. Most countries in the world appreciated India's position. Without spelling out the government's immediate plans, the Minister said that India had many options. He went to the extent of saying that the presence of U.S. troops in the eastern part of Pakistan had been factored into India's policy calculations. "India has a variety of options," said Jaswant Singh.

MEANWHILE, senior Pakistani officials, including Pakistan's Perma- nent Representative in the United Nations, said that nuclear weapons could come into play if their country's existence itself was at stake. Such statements, coupled with the belligerent postures adopted by the leaders of India and Pakistan, alarmed the international community. A spate of high-level visits to Islamabad and Delhi followed. Among those who came calling to advise restraint were British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, the European Union's Commissioner on External Affairs Chris Patten and Japanese Senior Foreign Minister Seiken Suguira.

19120162jpg

Indian officials are claiming, with some justification, that their "coercive diplomacy" has borne fruit. Almost all the visiting dignitaries tacitly endorsed India's views with regard to the "cross-border" terrorism that has been at play.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who is coordinating his country's approach closely with the Bush administration, told mediapersons in New Delhi that the international community looks to Musharraf for implementation of the promises he had made. He said that the test for Musharraf was "in action, not words". He stressed that terrorists could not be disguised as "freedom fighters". Straw suggested to New Delhi that it take reciprocal measures if and when Pakistan started taking phased action to curb cross-border terrorism.

At this juncture, New Delhi is adopting a tough posture and is indicating that a positive response from its side will only be possible when there is proof of Pakistan having "permanently and irreversibly" ended terrorism. However, there is no change in the stand of the British and U.S. governments on Kashmir's status as "disputed territory". Before heading for the subcontinent, Straw said that the question of "who should run Kashmir was never fully solved". However, both Washington and London are for the time being playing down the idea of third party mediation to solve the dispute. Both governments are stressing that it is for India and Pakistan to resolve their disputes.

Chris Patten too had cautionary words for Pakistan during his visit to New Delhi in the last week of May. He said that "Pakistan's half-baked approach against terrorism was not acceptable". He called on both countries to take steps to reduce tensions so that the dialogue process could be resumed. The E.U. is coordinating closely with the Bush administration in order to defuse tension in the region.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has requested New Delhi to "opt for self-restraint to defuse tensions". At the same time, he has warned Islamabad that Japanese economic aid will be up for review if action is not taken to arrest cross-border terrorism.

Seiken Suguira reiterated these points during his visit to New Delhi. He said that Japan was against war and a potential nuclear conflagration. Suguira said that during his visit to Islamabad he got the impression that the Musharraf government "will take concrete and visible steps to stop cross-border terrorism". The Japanese Minister said that there were no plans on the anvil to impose economic sanctions on Pakistan. However, Indian officials claim that key Western governments have given a commitment that sanctions will be imposed on Pakistan if it fails to live up to its commitments on cross-border terrorism.

There seems to have been a distinct change of perception in the White House too. According to an article in The New York Times (May 31), President Bush was veering to the view that the insurgency in Kashmir was not home-grown but encouraged from across the border by Pakistan. Bush is said to be of the opinion that all that needs for the insurgency to stop is a simple order from Musharraf to his subordinates to seal the border.

Bush had earlier said that Musharraf "should show results in stopping people crossing the LoC (Line of Control) and ending terrorism rather than testing missiles". Recently, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said: "The only thing that counts is that Musharraf stops infiltration across the LoC." U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was a little more circumspect. He evidently still holds the view that a war between India and Pakistan, limited or otherwise, is an unnecessary diversion from the U.S.-led war against terrorism being waged on the eastern borders of Pakistan. There are reports that Pakistan has shifted most of its troops engaged in counter-terrorist operations with U.S. Special Forces along the border with Afghanistan, to the western border with India.

Rumsfeld is being dispatched to the subcontinent by the President in the second week of June. His visit will be preceded by that of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Apparently, henceforth Musharraf, like Yasser Arafat, will be held guilty for all acts of terror on Indian territory, at least until he cracks down on cross-border terrorism.

At the same time, the Bush administration is asking India to exercise restraint. Recent events have only reconfirmed the State Department's belief that the subcontinent is nearing a nuclear flash point. Rumsfeld told reporters in Washington that India and Pakistan should realise that it was in their national interest to recognise how many millions of people would be affected by a war. "Wars can escalate in unpredictable ways," he said. The advice by many Western countries including the U.S. to their citizens to leave India and Pakistan in the last week of May is an illustration of these fears. In a statement on May 30, Bush said that he was making it clear to both Pakistan and India that war will not serve their interests. "We're part of an international coalition applying pressure to both parties, particularly to Musharraf," he said.

Troubled waters

cover-story
NAUNIDHI KAUR

THE hardening of stands on the part of India and Pakistan has had an adverse impact on the annual Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) meet. The three days of talks, which started on May 29, were marred by disagreement. Matters reached breaking point when the six-member Pakistani side threatened to seek the intervention of a neutral expert if the dispute over the Baglihar hydroelectric project in Jammu and Kashmir was not resolved. The meeting ended with Pakistan setting a three-month deadline for the Indian side to meet its demand of a field visit to the project site. For over three years now Pakistan has been demanding field visits to the site. The Indian side remained non-committal. A crisis looms with the inspection remaining suspended.

The PIC, set-up under the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) signed in 1960, meets alternately in India and Pakistan, in a cordial atmosphere. Both countries exchange documents and data to facilitate and continue their water-sharing arrangements.

Pakistan's argument is that the Baglihar project violates the terms of the IWT by providing for submerged spillways with gates. These spillways allow India to increase the storage capacity of the proposed project to 1,64,000 acre feet, far more than that allowed for India under the Treaty. Pakistan says that if these spillways are allowed to be set up, it would lead to an acute water shortage in that country. Inherent in this argument is the fear that once the spillways are built they could be mal-operated by India, leading to serious fluctuations in water supply in the summer months of December-February.

India insists that it is well within its rights to set up the project, which meets all the criteria stipulated under the IWT. India says that it informed Pakistan about the 450 megawatt project on the Chenab in Doda as early as 1992.

The Pakistan side, led by Commissioner Shiraz Jamail Memon, raised the Baglihar issue on the second day of the meeting. A member of the Indian side said: "The delegation emphasised that it would settle for nothing less than a field visit. The Indian Commissioner, A.C. Gupta, held the view that Pakistan should first get back to India on the details which had been sent to it about changes in design made by India. India has also supplied Pakistan data on other technical aspects of the project. The Pakistani side refused to climb down from its demand of a field visit, and threatened to take the issue to the second level of approaching a neutral expert."

Pakistan says that avoidance of meetings and tours by India violates Article VIII (4) (c) (d) and Article VIII (5) of the IWT. Article VIII (4) (c) (d) stand for cooperative arrangements, including a general tour of inspection once in five years to ascertain facts connected with various developments and works on the rivers. Clause (d) stipulates a tour of inspection of such works or sites in the rivers as may be considered necessary to ascertain the facts connected with those works and sites. Such a tour would have to be undertaken on the request of either Commissioner. Article VIII (5) provides for an annual meeting besides any urgent meeting if either of the two commissioners requests one.

The Indian side put forward the view that the tense situation and the military build-up along the Line of Control would make it impossible to conduct field visits.

Pakistan's stand vis-a-vis Baglihar had in fact hardened even before the meeting. At a press conference held on May 6 in Islamabad, its Foreign Office held that if India did not allow an inspection of the site, Pakistan would approach an arbitrator as per the procedure laid down in the Treaty. Earlier on February 16, Pakistan alleged a virtual suspension of the Treaty by India. This was after India suspended inspection by Pakistani engineers of the project site on December 24, 2001.

Now Pakistan is threatening the use of Article IX, which lays down the procedure to be followed in case of a disagreement. The Article states that if the matter cannot be decided by the Commissioners it can be taken to a neutral expert. It gives a line of procedure to be followed before the matter is taken to a neutral expert. This includes the first Commissioner notifying the second Commissioner of his decision to take the matter to a neutral expert. Such a notification would state clearly the paragraphs of the Treaty that pertain to the differences and contain a statement of the differences on a point-to-point basis.

In case of a dispute, the Treaty also provides the option of the formation of a seven-member court of arbitration. Such a court would consist of two members each of either party and three, including the chairman, from a list of six persons given in the Treaty. For the selection of the chairman the list includes the Secretary-General of the United Nations or the President of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. For the selection of the engineer-member, the list includes the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, United States, or the rector of the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London.

ANOTHER point of contention related to Pakistan's attempts to bring the 390 MW Kishenganga hydro-electric project within the ambit of the discussions. India dismissed it saying that it was "never on the agenda, hence cannot be discussed". Kishenganga has been on Pakistan's agenda since 1992. According to Pakistan, the project, on the Neelam river, affects its own Neelam-Jhelum power project. At the May 30 meeting, the Pakistan side repeated its allegation that India was not prepared to discuss the issues it had raised. Therefore it, "sought to take up the issue under relevant articles of the treaty for settlement of differences and disputes," said an official statement from Pakistan.

Ahead of the talks, there was some hullabaloo over the prospects of the Treaty being abrogated. Minister of State for Water Resources Bijoya Chakravarty denied on the first day of the meet of any such move. He said that India was committed to its international treaties and that the meeting of the Joint Commission was being held to honour that commitment.

After all, the IWT was brokered by the World Bank. There is no provision in it under which any party could take a unilateral decision on it. Even if India were to do so it has no storage capacity on the rivers designated to or flowing to Pakistan. For India to set up storage capacity on the three west-flowing rivers of the Indus, the Jhelum and the Chenab, it will take years.

The IWT has often been taken up in international circles as a case study of an agreement between two adversaries that has withstood three wars. It constitutes one of the few successful settlements of a major river basin dispute. Its model of negotiations can be applicable for any similar situation in the subcontinent.

The disarming pitch

RAHUL BEDI cover-story

Peacemakers are also arms sellers. Countries that have launched diplomatic offensives to avert a war between India and Pakistan are also desperate to provide them more arms.

A DELICIOUS irony pervades the efforts of the countries working hard to avert a conflict between India and Pakistan, while they queue up to sell the nuclear rivals military hardware worth billions of dollars.

Led by the Untied States and its close ally Britain, France and Russia have collectively launched diplomatic offensives of varying intensity to stop New Delhi and Islamabad from going to war, fearing it might escalate into an apocalyptic nuclear exchange. Their leaders are sparing little effort at shuttle and telephone diplomacy to ease the tensions over Kashmir, which they have declared to be a "nuclear flashpoint". But paradoxically, backed by their governments, the military industrial complexes of these very countries are either supplying India or Pakistan or both varied military goods or negotiating desperately for access to the world's largest arms market.

The U.S. has taken the lead in this collective hypocrisy by signing in April a $146-million deal with India for eight AN/TPQ-37 fire-finder/counter-battery radar built by Thales Raytheon Systems Corporation of El Segundo, California, at a time when over one million Indian and Pakistani soldiers are locked in a stand-off along the 3,200-km long frontier.

Another 20 "big ticket" military items have been approved by the Bush administration for sale to India. These include 40 General Electric (GE) F404-GE-F2J3 engines and advanced avionics for the indigenous light combat aircraft (LCA) programme, submarine rescue facilities and ground sensors and electronic fencing for installation along the Line of Control. Pakistan too is being sold these satellite-linked sensors made by the Los Angeles-based Cooperative Monitoring Centre of Sandia Laboratories and has unofficially been told that "low key" military sales will resume shortly.

The U.S., which has acknowledged the Indian Navy as a "stabilising force" in the Indian Ocean Region and is keen on working closely with it as it best serves Washington's long-term regional strategic aims, is interested in selling it Sea Black helicopters to replace the ageing GKN Westland Mk 452 Sea King fleet, P-3C multi-mission maritime reconnaissance aircraft and Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

Along with the U.S. Navy, the Indian Navy has begun patrolling the Malacca Straits, ostensibly to combat piracy, but in reality to try and counter the People's Liberation Army Navy as it advances into the Indian Ocean Region, cementing relations with Myanmar and establishing signals facilities off the Coco's islands, 30 nautical miles from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in order to monitor India's missile tests. The U.S. also wants to ensure the smooth flow of oil to close ally Japan from West Asia, over 80 per cent of which passes through the Malacca Straits.

U.S. Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill, imperiously hectoring Delhi to pursue the path of peace and restraint, has declared that U.S.' defence links with India, of which arms sales were a part, were "gaining more altitude". He hinted that measures were being initiated with Congress to release 20 arms licences to New Delhi.

American arms lobbyists speciously argue that the U.S. is merely selling India "defensive military equipment", the kind that is guaranteed not to trigger a regional arms race or enhance its offensive capability. While this analysis is open to debate, the harsh reality is that faced with a shrinking global market, the U.S. military conglomerates have, for years, eyed India as a potential growth area, as it lumbers towards modernising and upgrading its predominantly Soviet and Russian military machinery that has reached collective obsolescence.

Much to Washington's chagrin, Israel stole a march over it in the late 1990s by selling India naval missiles, radar, electronic and other military hardware which was intrinsically American in origin, but sufficiently retrofitted to bypass any U.S. export control regulations. U.S. sanctions following India's 1998 nuclear tests boosted Tel Aviv's sales significantly. Israel is India's second largest weapons supplier after Moscow.

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led federal coalition considers Israel its "natural ally" and strategic partner that is "wholly dependable" in times of conflict. "Russia delivers the hardware - tanks, aircraft and ships - and Israel provides the weapons systems, the radar, the electronic control systems and other high-tech add-ons," a military official said. The only irritation is that the U.S. has not been dealt a hand.

And, while India has declared that it will continue to acquire basic military hardware from Russia and Eastern Europe owing to competitive prices and assured supplies, single service users too are looking "positively" at U.S. manufacturers for force multipliers such as radar, laser-guided bombs and electronic items.

Signing the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) has paved the way for the sale of American military hardware to India and the joint production of weapon systems. GSOMIA was finalised during Defence Minister George Fernandes' visit to Washington earlier this year, weeks after the Indian Army was mobilised along the border after the attack on Parliament building last December. The agreement was ostensibly meant to develop a "long-term strategic" partnership, but its real purpose was for the U.S. to gain access to India's hungry weapons market.

Britain, equally keen to tap India's poverty for its riches, may have dispatched Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to Islamabad and New Delhi to lower tensions in the region, but it is desperate to close the deal with the Indian Air Force (IAF) for 66 BAE Systems Hawk training aircraft worth around Rs.7,000 crores.

"The possibility of war is real and disturbing," a perturbed Straw said in London after tensions between India and Pakistan spiralled following the Kalu Chak militant attack. This is a crisis the world cannot ignore. India and Pakistan both have nuclear weapons and a capacity to use them and have talked about a possible nuclear exchange," Straw added before embarking on his South Asia trip.

In New Delhi, Straw was quick to refute news reports that that Britain had imposed an arms embargo on India and that it had opposed the sale of Hawk trainers. In a desperate damage-limiting manoeuvre, he told Fernandes that the confusion arose from a senior Labour Party leader speaking out of turn. A possible nuclear holocaust, however, did not deflect Straw, with his eye to the economic main chance, from again pushing for the Hawk. The astute Foreign Secretary had pressed equally vehemently for the jet trainer during his visit to India in February, following up the sales pitch of Prime Minister Tony Blair and Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon, both of whom visited India and Pakistan this year to broker peace. If British politicians were insufficient, Sir Kevin Tebbit, Britain's Permanent Under Secretary in the Defence Ministry, too pitched in for the BAE trainer during a visit to Delhi earlier this year as head of a delegation seeking to further "strategic dialogue". It seems that as in previous instances, when AB Bofors, the Swedish company, was economically resuscitated after India bought 410 FH 77B howitzers and the U.K.'s Westland was saved from closure after Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi acquired 21 Westland-30 helicopters in the mid-1980s, Delhi will once again intervene to rescue BAE financially and help avoid hundreds of lay-offs. It is merely incidental that the Bofors kickbacks scandal is still under investigation and that the Westland-30s, bought for 60 million, were sold recently for a pittance after lying around in crates at the Safdarjung Airport in New Delhi for years waiting for a bidder.

Meanwhile, Russia which is calling upon General Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee to meet at a regional security conference at Almaty in Kazakhstan this month, remains the largest military hardware provider to India.

Around 50 of the 310 Russian T-90 main battle tanks (MBTs) that India bought last year for around $700 million have arrived and been absorbed in three 'sabre' or strike squadrons in regiments deployed across Rajasthan against Pakistan's Ukrainian T 80UDs based in Sind. Their operational task is to counter an Indian Army thrust to cut off the southern province from the rest of Pakistan.

Alongside, about 10 of the 40 Su-30 Mk-I fighter aircraft, fully upgraded to their multi-role capability with French, Israeli and locally developed avionics and weaponry, are scheduled to arrive soon. Almost a squadron of upgraded MiG 21 'bis'-93 ground attack interceptor fighters are ready. The deal for the 44,500-tonne Kiev-class Soviet aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov, and the "associated" leasing of two Akula-class Type 971 nuclear-powered submarines, is also nearing fruition.

India is also believed to have invoked its Friendship Treaty and Strategic Partnership Declaration of 2000 with Russia, calling for urgent security consultations between the two countries. Diplomatic sources said that K. Raghunath, the Indian Ambassador to Moscow, called on Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov for talks following a series of meetings in Delhi of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). This bilateral pact signed during Russian President Boris Yeltsin's 1993 visit to India and extended to 2010 by his successor Vladimir Putin, provides for urgent consultations between the two sides in the event of a security threat to either country and for close cooperation to alleviate danger jointly.

FRANCE too is not far behind others in pushing its military wares in the region, but preoccupied with parliamentary elections, it has not dispatched a peace envoy to South Asia. President Jacques Chirac, however, has spoken with both Musharraf and Vajpayee to try and dissuade them from the path of conflict.

Commercially-minded France, however, is not one to miss a business opportunity to exploit a ripe market. Its Direction des Constructions Navales is on the verge of closing a deal with the Indian Navy to build six Scorpene submarines at Mazagon Dock Limited for Rs.900 crores to Rs.1,000 crores. The two sides had last year signed a memorandum of understanding for the Scorepenes and armament industry sources said the contract was "imminent".

Under Project 75, the Indian Navy had initially decided to build a "locally redesigned" version of the German HDW Shishumar, Type 1500, conventionally-powered patrol submarines. Two of the four German boats in service with the Indian Navy were assembled at MDL, but the HDW deal was plagued by allegations of corruption, and two years ago the Navy opened negotiations with DCN for six Scorpenes. Official sources said the first Scorpene boat would take at least five years to build after the deal is signed and for all subsequent vessels the period will be 18 to 24 months. Indian Navy sources said that France had agreed to arm the Scorpenes with Exocet SM 39 anti-ship missiles made by Aerospatiale, giving the Navy a decisive edge over the Pakistan Navy.

DCN is also bidding for the propulsion system for the Indian Navy's locally designed 24,000-tonne air defence ship (ADS) that is to be built at Kochi Shipyard and completed by 2008. The ADS design is based on the blueprint prepared by DCN in the late 1980s.

The IAF too has opened preliminary discussions with Dassault Aviation of France to acquire Mirage 2005 fighter aircraft to enhance its strike and nuclear deterrence capabilities. Official sources in New Delhi said that the IAF plans to acquire 126 Mirage 2005s to equip seven squadrons that will comprise the "backbone" of India's Strategic Nuclear Command (SNC)

Commanded by Air Marshal T.M. Asthana who was recently appointed to head the IAF's Southern Command, the SNC will be based in Thiruvananthapu- ram. Functioning under the newly created Integrated Defence Staff headed by Lt. Gen. Pankaj Joshi, a large proportion of the SNC's air and sea-based assets will eventually be based on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the headquarters of India's first tri-services command established last October.

The IAF, convinced of its pre-eminent strike capability, had wanted sole control of India's nuclear assets and was perturbed when the government announced the raising of the Army's second Strategic Rocket Regiment last year to induct Agni-II, the indigenously designed intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) that entered series production in June 2001. The IAF was of the view that the Army, with a "40 km perspective", was doctrinally unsuited to handle long-range missiles. But the government decided that the Army's missile expertise and its vast manpower, compared with the Air Force's, equipped it to secure and manage nuclear missiles in an able manner.

Official sources said that the IAF wants 36 of the 126 Mirage 2005s to be delivered in completed form with the remainder to be assembled by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in Bangalore. HAL units in Bangalore and Kanpur have been servicing the IAF's Mirage 2000's since 1998 besides making a small range of spare parts.

According to Jane's Defence Weekly, Dassault officials in Paris confirmed that they were engaged in talks with the IAF for a new order for Mirage fighters in addition to the 10 Mirage 2000Hs that India booked two years ago.

India sanctioned Rs.150 crores for the 10 Mirage 2000Hs, delivery of which will begin by September 2003 and be completed a year later. Six of the 10 that are dual-seaters are replacements for the existing fleet of 38 Mirage 2000Hs.

Indian and French officials said the status of bilateral defence relations was shifting from a buyer-seller one to one of joint developer and manufacturer. After India's 1998 nuclear tests the two countries established a Committee of Cooperation for Military Affairs to focus on nuclear arms control, closer cooperation in military affairs and civilian nuclear energy generation.

Missile manoeuvres

cover-story
T.S. SUBRAMANIAN

THE test-firing of three missiles - Ghauri, Ghaznavi and Abdali - by Pakistan on May 25, 26 and 28 - may not have received such widespread media attention but for the heightened tension on the India-Pakistan border. The Indian establishment has dismissed these launches as of no consequence. For, according to it, these missiles were not home-made but imported lock, stock and barrel from North Korea.

While Defence Minister George Fernandes said India was not perturbed by the tests, an External Affairs Ministry spokesperson dismissed them as "missile antics" aimed at Pakistan's domestic audience. An Indian missile scientist sarcastically commented that Pakistan had invented "the technology of label change" in these launches. Instead of their North Korean names, the missiles were given "emotional Arabic names", the scientist said.

A defence analyst, however, was more circumspect. He said: "We cannot afford to ignore these launches because they constitute a threat. We can keep talking of how superior we are to them in missile technology. It does not matter whether their range is 290 km or more or less. Even if they have one missile that can be nuclear-tipped, it changes the scenario." (Ghauri has a range of about 1,500 km and can carry nuclear warheads.) He said the important question was whether Pakistan had the capability to operate these missiles. If it did have, he said, these missiles would constitute a threat because they could reach parts of India. It was immaterial whether they were indigenous or not.

After the launch of Ghauri on May 25, an official statement from Islamabad said: "Pakistan today carried out a successful test-fire of its indigenously developed medium-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile Hatf V (Ghauri). This was the third test of the Ghauri missile system. According to the data collected from the test, all the design parameters have been successfully validated. Ghauri can carry warheads with great accuracy." Pakistan's last missile tests were conducted in April 1999, it said.

A foreign news agency quoted a Pakistani security officer as saying, "Hatf V (Ghauri) can be tipped with any warhead. Any ballistic missile can carry a nuclear warhead." According to him, the missile has a range of 1,500 km to 2,000 km.

Ghaznavi is a short-range version of the surface-to-surface Hatf series. Hatf III, which has a range of 290 km, was test-fired for the first time on May 26. Abdali is also a short-range missile.

According to missile experts, Ghauri is actually the No Dong missile of North Korea. It is a single-stage missile fuelled by liquid propellants. Ghaznavi was also imported from North Korea. It has two-stages fuelled by solid propellants.

Indian missile scientists say they are "not perturbed" by the tests because "we have what we need" and "this depends on our threat perception." According to them, India has a variety of missiles and has developed these missiles sufficiently "to handle Pakistan". They assert that the missile programme of India, which comes under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), is indigenous. The IGMDP, which began in 1983 under the leadership of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, has developed Agni, Agni-II, Agni-1 and Prithvi, all surface-to-surface missiles. Trishul, Akash and Nag also fall under the IGMDP. Trishul and Akash are surface-to-air missiles. Nag is an anti-tank missile. All these are indigenously developed. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has developed Dhanush, Prithvi's naval version. The DRDO has started a project to build an air-to-air missile, Astra, which can be fired from the Light Combat Aircraft.

India also has BrahMos, a supersonic cruise missile. It uses liquid ram jet technology. Its first launch took place from Chandipur-on-Sea in Orissa on June 12, 2001 and the second launch on April 28, 2002. (The product of an Indo-Russian joint venture, BrahMos gets its name from the Brahmaputra and Moscow rivers). The two institutions that form the backbone of the BrahMos company are the DRDO and the Scientific Research Institute of Machine Building, Moscow (NPO-M). Dr. A. Sivathanu Pillai, Chief Controller, Research and Development, DRDO, is the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of the BrahMos company.

Pakistan does not have such a large variety of missiles in its inventory. It has Hatf-1 and Hatf-2, the Ghauri series, Shaheen, Ghaznavi and Abdali. In addition, it has M-11 missiles obtained from China. While Hatf-1 has a range of about 60 km, Hatf-2 has 300 km, Shaheen, of Chinese origin, reportedly has 600 km, M-11 300 km and Ghauri about 1,500 km.

Missile developers in India said Pakistan's missiles fell under two categories. The first comprised those procured from China, such as M-11, and those bought from North Korea, such as No Dong. The second type of missiles are those developed in Pakistan with China's help. Shaheen is of this type.

According to DRDO scientists, Pakistan's interest, as far as India is concerned, is to keep Mumbai and New Delhi within its target range. It is not interested in going deep into India and thus has no need for long-range missiles, they claim.

Ghauri, Ghaznavi and Shaheen are all strategic missiles - surface to surface. "Pakistan is not interested in surface-to-air missiles, they say.

India's strength is that it has a variety of missiles, especially the Agni series and BrahMos. The Agni series, constituting the centrepiece of the IGMDP, consists of Agni, Agni-II and Agni-I, in that order. They are all surface-to-surface missiles. Agni has been launched three times - on May 22, 1989; May 29, 1992; and February 19, 1994. Its range is 1,200 km- plus.

Agni-II was launched twice - on April 11, 1999 and January 17, 2001. It is an intermediate range ballistic missile, which has a range of 2,000 km-plus. It is a two-stage vehicle, both stages powered by solid propellants and capable of carrying conventional or nuclear warheads of 1,000 kg. With the second, successful launch in January 2001, the development of Agni-II was completed and it is fully operational now.

Agni-I, launched on January 25, 2002, can carry a payload of one tonne. It is called Agni-I because it has a shorter range of about 700 km. It was developed in a remarkably short time of about 15 months because the DRDO discovered that there was a big gap between the range of Agni-II, which is 2,000 km-plus, and that of Prithvi-II. A missile engineer said, "Prithvi-II is not able to cover the entire western region (that is, Pakistan) with its range of 250 km. We should have something in-between so that there is no gap. So with some modifications to Agni-II, Agni-I was made. The modification was the removal of the second stage of Agni-II." Agni-I is Pakistan-specific.

The Army has begun the induction of Agni-I. The missile is operational and ready for deployment.

Prithvi-I has been productionised and inducted. The trials of Prithvi-II have been completed and they are ready for induction.

Dhanush, Prithvi's naval version, has been tested successfully from ships. It has a range of 250 km.

Trishul has gone through successes and failures, indicating the complexity of its technology. This surface-to-air missile has been developed for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.

It is also a sea skimmer, one that can counter low-flying anti-ship missiles.

Akash, another surface-to-air missile, is undergoing fine-tuning of its technology.

Nag is a third-generation anti-tank missile. It can change its course according to the movement of the target and smash it.

BrahMos can travel at Mach 3 (three times the speed of sound). An anti-ship missile, it can be launched from any platform - from ships, submarines, aircraft, land and silos. Informed sources said BrahMos is a powerful tool with a range of 280 km. It was launched for the second time on April 28, 2002 from the Interim Test Range at Balasore, Orissa. It is under further development. It has multi-target capability.

Missile match

India's threat perceptions are to be evaluated on the basis of increased evidence that Pakistan's indigenous missile efforts are now on an even keel and its missile strength is evenly matched with that of India.

ASSESSING the ballistic missile threat to the United States, the Rumsfeld Commission said in its report of July 1998: "Pakistan's ballistic missile infrastructure is now more advanced than that of North Korea. It will support development of a missile of 2,500-km range, which we believe Pakistan will seek in order to put all of India within range of Pakistani missiles. The development of a 2,500-km missile will give Pakistan the technical base for developing a much longer-range missile system. Through foreign acquisition, and beginning without an extensive domestic science and technology base, Pakistan has acquired these missile capabilities quite rapidly. China and North Korea are Pakistan's major sources of ballistic missiles, production facilities and technology."

19120181jpg

Three different missiles - the intermediate-range Ghauri and the short-range Ghaznavi and Abdali, in that order - were tested by Pakistan clearly to demonstrate to India that Pakistan's broad-based missile development programme is well on course. Technical details of the tests and missile specifications are, however, not available, except the officially stated ranges of Ghaznavi (180 km) and Abdali (280 km).

The missiles' names can, however, cause confusion. The names Ghaznavi and Abdali were both earlier associated with the long-range missile systems under development - longer than Ghauri-I and II. Missile analysts as well as Pakistani media reports had earlier given these names to Shaheen-II (with a range of 2,000 km) and Ghauri-III (with a range of 3,500 km) respectively. These new short-range missiles have also been officially described as Hatf-II and Hatf-III respectively under the original nomenclature for the family of missiles under Pakistan's missile programme. (In earlier descriptions the long-range Abdali had been described as Hatf-VI as well. Ghauri, however, continues to retain the name Hatf-V.)

Hatf-I and Hatf-II were the first missiles to be developed and deployed by Pakistan during 1989-93. These were based on solid fuel, derived as they were from the French-assisted sounding rocket programme. According to missile analyst S. Chandrashekar, a former scientist with the Indian Space Research Organisation and now with the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, these were of French Duphin or Dragon-III lineage. The former was a single-stage vehicle while the latter was a two-stage vehicle with Hatf-I as the upper stage. These were stated to have ranges of 60 km and 280 km respectively. The indigenous development of the original Hatf-III, with an envisaged longer range, however, ran into problems in the design of a larger diameter solid motor required for its greater range. Its first reported test in 1997 was a failure. It was then that Pakistan, spurred by India's progress with the Prithvi missile, began to shop around for missiles. It is now believed that the original Hatf-III is nothing but the Chinese M-9 missile with a range of 600 km and was tested for the first time on April 15, 1998, and was christened as Shaheen-I. There is also an opinion that it is actually a variant of the two-stage M-11 (of a design range of 300 km) with reduced payload capability.

The latest tests and the associated nomenclatures suggest that a missile with a range between those of the earlier Hatf-I and Hatf-II has been developed and now designated as Hatf-II with the earlier Hatf-II (range 260 km) now assuming the name of Hatf-III. Since there was never any Hatf-IV before, Shaheen-I will perhaps now be called Hatf-IV, followed by Ghauri (Hatf-V). In the absence of further details, it is difficult to comment on the strategic thinking behind the 180-km Hatf-II.

It is widely believed - and confirmed by U.S. intelligence reports - that China has transferred the systems and technology of M-9 and M-11 missiles to Pakistan. Since M-11 is based on liquid fuel and Pakistan does not have a well-developed civilian space programme to have capability in liquid fuels, China has helped Pakistan set up an M-11 fabrication plant. According to reports, China has transferred 34 M-11s with 12-20 mobile launchers costing $185 million and technology costing another $516 million.

The U.S. had imposed sanctions relating to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) on Pakistan and China for these transfers but these have always been of Category-II transfers. However, Gordon Oehler, former chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's Non-proliferation Centre, told a Senate hearing on June 11, 1998, that the Clinton administration did not act upon the evidence indicating the sale of 34 M-11 missiles by China to Pakistan in order to avoid the imposition of Category-I sanctions (more stringent ones, relating to complete missile transfers) against China so that U.S.-China relations were not spoilt. Category-II sanctions are in place against China and Pakistan for missile transfers. These were imposed on September 1, 2001, and were apparently for a fresh round of transfers during 2001. As many as 12 transfers of systems pertaining to Shaheen-I and the planned 2,000-km Shaheen-II had taken place then in spite of China's assurances to the U.S. in their bilateral agreement that it would abide by MTCR guidelines. These sets of sanctions (on China's Metallurgical Equipment Corporation and Pakistan's National Development Complex) are for two years and would run till August 31, 2003. According to the Rumsfeld Commission, based on the technology transferred, Pakistan is developing an indigenous Tamruk missile based on M-11 with an improved range and performance.

In this round of tests, when Ghauri was tested for the third time, the range achieved has not been stated. Ghauri is based on No Dong, North Korea's intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM). So it is not clear whether it was single-stage, liquid-fuelled Ghauri-1 with a range of 1,000 km - which was tested on April 6, 1998 - or Ghauri-II, tested on April 14, 1999 and claimed to be a two-stage missile with a range of 2,300 km. The two stages of Ghauri-II could not be discerned in the picture released soon after its first launch on April 14, 1999. It had looked identical to Ghauri-I.

In any case, according to the analyses by missile experts such as Chandrashekar and David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists and Research Fellow, Security Studies Programmme, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, U.S., Ghauri-I is nothing but the North Korean No Dong-1 missile. North Korea is supposed to have supplied Pakistan 12 No Dong-1 missiles and equipped it with the means to manufacture more. According to analysts, the bought-off missiles may already have been deployed and the current tests may be missiles being now fabricated indigenously on the basis of North Korean know-how. Analysts also believe that China has helped Pakistan with guidance systems for its Ghauri missiles, a technology area in which North Korea may be weak and the Chinese know-how now may have got transferred to North Korea.

While experts say that the single-stage Ghauri-1, like its heritage No Dong-1, has a cluster of four short-range Scud B missile engines (with four separate propellant tanks), Ghauri-II may well be based on No Dong-2, an improvement on No Dong-1 with a weight-reducing aluminium structure. But that alone is unlikely to increase the range by over 1,000 km. So if the claimed range of Ghauri-II is correct, its parameters and characteristics seem to match those of the North Korean multi-stage Taepo Dong-1 missile, the first stage of which is No Dong-1 and the second stage is just Scud B.

However, some experts argue that it is unlikely that this would have been transferred to Pakistan considering that North Korea had not tested it when the Ghauri-II launch took place. There is an opinion that North Korea may well have used Pakistan to get it validated in the face of its inability to do so because of its commitment to the U.S. under the bilateral agreement of 1994. Taepo Dong-1's maiden launch by Korea itself actually took place in the form of a three-stage satellite launch vehicle on August 31, 1998, though it was a failed launch. From a strategic standpoint, it would be prudent for Pakistan to buy Taepo Dong-1 as well, analysts say. Or else, Pakistan may itself have put together a Taepo Dong-1-like missile based on technology and assistance provided by North Korea and China. So in all likelihood, Ghauri-II is just the improved single-stage No Dong, namely No Dong-2, and its claimed range is not to be trusted, especially when Ghauri-I and II are identical in appearance.

19120182jpg

Indeed, the assistance provided by China and North Korea in building up Pakistan's missile infrastructure has been extensive. The Rumsfeld Commission observed that this assistance had enabled Pakistan's missile infrastructure to be more advanced than North Korea itself. As a result, Pakistan has an advanced missile development programme in place now. In fact, there were reports in 1999 that Pakistan had successfully tested an engine for Ghauri-III, which was stated to have a range of over 3,000 km.

This kind of range increase can be achieved only by a different engine configuration altogether. According to experts, a possible route is to develop a single improved engine instead of a cluster of four and a corresponding different rocket stage. According to Wright, a view of Taepo Dong-1, which uses No Dong as its first stage, does suggest that the Koreans have developed the single engine and stage for No Dong. Also, the Iranian Shahab-3, which is based on No Dong-1, also apparently has only one engine. Experts believe that this is a route that countries with borrowed technology would take - using a cluster, which is relatively straightforward, to quickly demonstrate their long-range capability but developing a dedicated engine alongside.

This single-engine and single-stage technology may have been transferred by North Korea to Pakistan. While the 12 No Dong-1s sold are based on the Scud cluster, Pakistan may be developing the improved Ghauri-III indigenously using the new single engine. The way to achieve a vastly greater range is now to cluster the new engines. It is possible that the reported engine test refers to the test of this new cluster.

Ghauri-III will certainly have a range that can target entire India while Ghauri-I could go only up to Hyderabad. However, this Ghauri-III may be some years away still.

THE only significant Indian development has been the single solid-stage short-range variant of Agni. However, its strategic purpose is not clear. Ostensibly, it is to plug the missile gap between Prithvi's range of 250 km and IRBM Agni's 1,500 km. If this indeed is the case, it is not clear why the development of Agni did not begin with this, considering that this Agni-variant is just the first stage of the solid-liquid Agni-1 or the new solid-solid Agni-2. The first stage is nothing but the first stage of the satellite launch vehicle SLV-3. ISRO successfully launched the SLV-3 - an all-solid four-stage rocket - in 1980. Since then India has had the capability to build fully solid ballistic missiles such as Agni-II and the short-range Agni. Therefore, it is not clear why the liquid-fuel route was followed for Prithvi and then why it was used as the second stage for Agni only to go back finally to all-solid missiles.

Agni-2, which was first tested in April 1999 and later in January 2000, carries what is called a "velocity-trimming package". This package corrects the performance dispersion inherent in solid motors. The package consists of liquid-fuelled thrusters, which are small rocket engines. The new short-range Agni is also likely to have the same velocity trimming package. It is argued that since this velocity package concept to increase the accuracy did not exist in the 1980s, the short-range Agni-variant could not have been conceived then.

But this argument is hardly convincing. It is a case of poor conceptualisation of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme, which began in 1983, in terms of the missiles' strategic purposes, Agni in particular.

With the SLV-3 first stage readily available, it would have been sensible to develop and deploy quickly the short-range Agni and then progressively move on to longer-range versions incorporating technologies such as flex nozzle for course correction in solid motors over long ranges.

However, since the only difference between Agni-2 and the short-range Agni is the absence of the second stage in the latter, many subsystems would be in common. This would greatly simplify production, maintenance, and ground handling.

From the Indian perspective, it is sometimes argued that the Indian missile programme is vastly superior because it is entirely indigenous whereas the Pakistani programme is not. This should hardly be an argument because, whether the programmes are indigenous or borrowed, Pakistan now has the requisite missile counterforce capability from short-range to intermediate-range, and soon, intercontinental ballistic missile as well with the development of Ghauri-III. Further, there is evidence that Pakistan's indigenous missile efforts are now on an even keel and its missile strength is evenly matched with that of India. The threat perceptions are to be evaluated from that perspective and strategies planned accordingly.

Making micro-credit work

the-nation
R. KRISHNAKUMAR

NOWHERE has the potential of panchayat-coordinated women neighbourhood groups (NHGs) been demonstrated so well as in Alappuzha district. It was the success of a 1995 prototype Left-initiated experiment in Alappuzha municipality that led to a similar experiment being conducted in both urban and rural areas of Malappuram district and subsequently extended to the entire State.

19121021jpg

On May 11, over 20,000 members of women NHGs, mainly from eight gram panchayats in Alappuzha and other southern districts, came together at the St. Michael's college grounds at Chertala to reiterate their achievements and take a pledge.

The occasion was the inauguration of a seminar on 'Decentralisation, sustainable development and social security', which was organised by the joint committee of panchayats of Aryad and Kanjikuzhy blocks and the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The seminar was to analyse the weaknesses identified in the decentralisation experiment in Kerala and find ways to take it forward. The ILO will be collaborating with the eight panchayats to design and implement a decentralised social security programme.

The highlight of the first day's session, which was inaugurated by Union Minister of State for Rural Development Anna Sahib M. K. Patil in the presence of Chief Minister A.K. Antony and Opposition Leader V. S. Achuthanandan, was an oath, taken by the gathering of women, to boycott toilet soaps manufactured by multinational companies. Instead they vowed to use and promote the use of a brand of soap, made of pure, locally available coconut oil, produced by micro-enterprises of local NHGs of women.

What the women NHG members were indirectly referring to through their high-visibility demonstration was the conflict between the micro-credit model espoused by international development agencies and the Kudumbashree micro-credit NHG model. (While the model espoused by international development agencies provides the State with a minimal role in poverty eradication and links the provision of micro-finance to NGO-led self-help groups, the Kudumbashree model maintains close links to local bodies and various government anti-poverty programmes.)

An important paper presented at the seminar, 'Women Neighbourhood Groups: Towards a New Perspective', co-authored by Thomas Isaac, Michelle Williams, Pinaki Chakraborthy and Binitha V. Thampi, is a severe critique of the World Bank and the micro-credit programmes that it has promoted through NGOs in several countries. This paper argues that the World Bank is attempting to integrate the micro-credit movement with the globalisation process and transform it into a complementary component of its financial sector reforms.

The paper pointed out that the World Bank's support for micro-credit schemes as a form of poverty eradication and its endorsement by a 1997 United Nations resolution have led to a dramatic increase in micro-finance spending in the world. This required the tapping of international financial markets, as the resources of aid donors were inadequate to meet the demand. This meant that the needs of the international commercial lenders had to be incorporated into micro-credit programmes, which was achieved by ensuring the minimisation of the cost of providing such credit and allowing an increase in the "income" from micro-credit lending (that is, the interest rate).

The paper said that the World Bank identified informal mechanisms of NGOs as the most cost-effective method of providing micro-credit . And that the World Bank argues for an increase in interest rates on micro-credit in the belief that the poor can both afford and are willing to pay commercial interest rates and that they are more concerned about the timely availability of credit than how much it will cost them. This is why, the paper argues, the World Bank opposes subsidies on interest rates and promotes the dismantling of subsidised (and competing) alternatives to its micro-credit model, such as priority sector lending, subsidised credit systems and traditional rural credit institutions.

The result is the emergence of a "micro-finance industry" of the World Bank, along with multinational banks and financial institutions at the international level, lending to national-level micro-finance institutions, which in turn either advance money directly to NGOs or refinance the financial institutions that lend them money. At the bottom of this pyramid are the women self-help groups (SHGs).

"Thus, micro-credit programmes are rendered a profitable venture for international finance capital, while also ensuring sufficient outreach and sustainability in order to make a dent in poverty. Poverty eradication through women SHGs is thus made a profitable venture," the authors said.

The paper points out that the World Bank's prescription ignores the fact that globalisation policies are rendering unsustainable the self-employment activities that its micro-credit programmes promote. For them to be viable, they need to be part of a larger development agenda that includes linkages to product markets, local government programmes and community development, it said.

Kashmiris reject war in favour of democracy

the-nation
The results of a major new survey by MORI.

THE vast majority of Kashmiris oppose India and Pakistan going to war to find a permanent solution to the situation in Kashmir and believe that the correct way to bring peace to the region is through democratic elections, ending violence, and economic development. They also believe that the unique cultural identity of the region should be preserved in any long-term solution, and there is virtually no support for the State of Jammu and Kashmir being divided on the basis of religion or ethnic group.

These are the main findings to emerge from a poll conducted by the independent market research company, MORI International, at the end of April (April 20-28, 2002), just before the start of the recent escalation of conflict in the region. Interviews were conducted in Jammu and the surrounding rural areas, Srinagar and its surrounding rural areas and in Leh. Interviewers were set quotas for sex and religion (assessed by the interviewer) to match the population of each region.

Although the vast majority in Jammu and Leh believe that the correct way to bring about peace is through democratic elections, opinions are more evenly divided in and around Srinagar, with a bare majority (52 per cent) agreeing with this view. Nevertheless, the vast majority - 76 per cent - of those in the Srinagar region believe that India and Pakistan should not go to war to bring about a permanent solution. There is a general consensus across the regions that it is not possible to hold democratic elections while violence continues - 65 per cent agree while 34 per cent disagree.

A very clear majority of the population - 65 per cent - believes that the presence of foreign militants in Jammu and Kashmir is damaging to the Kashmir cause, and most of the rest take the view that it is neither damaging nor helpful. Overall, two-thirds of the people in Jammu and Kashmir take the view that Pakistan's involvement in the region for the last 10 years has been bad. Only 15 per cent believe that it has been good for the region, while 18 per cent say that it has made no real difference.

On the issue of citizenship, overall, 61 per cent said that they felt they would be better off politically and economically as an Indian citizen and only 6 per cent as a Pakistani citizen, but 33 per cent said they did not know.

A suggestion that most people do not feel that the current political parties have the solution to the problems in Kashmir is reflected in the fact that around half or more of the population in each region agree with the view that a "new political party is needed to bring about a permanent solution in Kashmir".

People in all regions are in general agreement that "the unique cultural identity of Jammu and Kashmir - Kashmiriyat - should be preserved in any long-term solution". Overall, 81 per cent agree, including 76 per cent in Srinagar and 81 per cent in Jammu.

THERE is also widespread consensus on the types of proposals which will help bring about peace in Jammu and Kashmir. More than 85 per cent of the population, including at least 70 per cent in each region, think that the following will help bring about peace:

* Economic development of the region to provide more job opportunities and reduction of poverty - 93 per cent

* The holding of free and fair elections to elect people's representatives - 86 per cent

* Direct consultation between the Indian government and the people of Kashmir - 87 per cent

* An end to militant violence in the region - 86 per cent

* Stopping the infiltration of militants across the Line of Control - 88 per cent

The critical role that people see for economic development in helping to solve the problems is underlined by the 74 per cent who think that ''people from outside of Kashmir being encouraged to invest in the area to help rebuild Kashmir's economy and tourist industry'' will help bring peace to the State.

There is also a widespread view, held by 80 per cent, that allowing displaced Kashmiri Pandits to return to their homes in safety will help bring about peace.

Views are mixed on the likely impact of ''People in Jammu and Kashmir having the freedom to travel in both directions across the Line of Control''. Those in and around Srinagar and Leh generally feel this would help to bring peace while those in Jammu take the opposite view.

AN overwhelming 92 per cent oppose the State of Kashmir being divided on the basis of religion or ethnicity. There is also overwhelming support - 91 per cent - for a forum in which Kashmiris from both sides of the Line of Control can discuss common interests.

A clear majority - 70 per cent - also support the borders between Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and Indian Kashmir being opened for much more trade and cultural exchange. However, while the views in Srinagar and Leh were very decisive - over 90 per cent support - those in Jammu were much more balanced - 47 per cent support, 53 per cent oppose.

Views are also split on the issue of granting more autonomy to Kashmir. Overall, 55 per cent support ''India and Pakistan granting as much autonomy as they can to both sides of Kashmir to govern their own affairs''. However, while the majority in Srinagar and Leh support this, the majority in Jammu oppose this policy.

There are also mixed views about the role and impact of the Indian security forces. In Srinagar and Leh, at least nine out of ten people believe that security forces scaling down their operations in Jammu and Kashmir would help bring peace, whereas in Jammu opinions are reversed.

There are clearly different perceptions of the behaviour of the Indian security forces. Nobody interviewed in Leh or Jammu believes that human rights violations by Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir are widespread, whereas in Srinagar 64 per cent of the population think they are widespread.

Perceptions are different with respect to human rights violations by militant groups in Jammu and Kashmir. Ninety six per cent of those in Jammu believe that such violations are widespread whereas only 2 per cent of those in Srinagar believe they are widespread (although 33 per cent believe that they are ''occasional'').

A flawed move

The Delimitation Bill which has been passed in Parliament shows limited vision in seeking to effect a delimitation exercise on the basis of 1991 Census figures, instead of the 2001 figures.

THE passage of the Delimitation Bill in both Houses of Parliament during the Budget session, without incorporating certain sensible suggestions made by Members of Parliament and experts, marks a setback to the process of correcting distortions in the delimitation of electoral constituencies. The Bill aims to create a Delimitation Commission that will work towards effecting the process of redrawing the boundaries of constituencies on the basis of population figures in the 1991 Census. The process of delimitation that determined the contours of Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies as they exist today was done on the basis of the 1971 Census figures.

The need for a fresh delimitation exercise was felt owing to uneven growth in population in respect of different parts of the country as well as within the same State, and consequent anomalies in the sizes of constituencies. Migration from one place to another, especially from rural to urban areas, has added to the disparity in the physical sizes of constituencies even within a State. The notification of the 84th Amendment to the Constitution, after its passage in both Houses of Parliament last year, and the consent granted since then to the amendment by more than half the State Assemblies, has now cleared the deck for the setting up of the Delimitation Commission through legislation.

The 84th Amendment to the Constitution (which was numbered as the 91st Amendment Bill before it was passed in Parliament) lifted the freeze on the delimitation of constituencies, as stipulated by the 42nd Constitution amendment of 1976, and allowed delimitation within States on the basis of the 1991 Census. (The freeze imposed in 1976 was to last until the 2001 Census figures were published.) The 84th Amendment amended the provisos to the relevant Articles in the Constitution to extend the freeze on the allocation of Lok Sabha and Assembly seats from the year 2000 to 2026; it also paved the way for readjustment of these seats on the basis of the 1991 Census figures, in order to achieve parity between constituencies, as far as feasible. However, the 84th amendment imposed a fresh freeze on the State-wise distribution of Lok Sabha seats and the strength of individual State Assemblies until 2026. This was owing to because of the fear that the number of Lok Sabha seats from States with a good record in family planning may come down under the constitutional stipulation that the ratio of the population of each constituency as ascertained in the previous Census and the number of seats allotted to the State should remain the same throughout the State as far as possible (Frontline, August 31, 2001).

IN a sense, the flaws in the current Delimitation Bill stem from certain inconsistencies in the 84th Amendment. The database for the delimitation, according to the Amendment, would be the 1991 Census, even though provisional results of the 2001 Census are available. The final results may be published by December 2002.

Between 1991 and 2001, there were significant changes in the population patterns of some States, thanks to migration and the formation of new States. Data from the 2001 Census will, therefore, be an important input for the delimitation process. During the debate in Parliament, some members said that the Delimitation Commission ought to base its work on the 2001 Census data.

However, Law Minister Arun Jaitley, who piloted the Bill in both the Houses, rejected the suggestion and said that the Commission would have to complete its work within two years, so that it would be possible to notify the process of change before the next general elections to the Lok Sabha, due before October 2004. If the 2001 Census data are to be used, the exercise cannot be completed before the next general elections, he said. Jaitley felt that the proposed Commission will have less work when compared to the three earlier Commissions (set up after the 1951, 1961 and 1971 Census rounds) in view of the availability of computer technology, and the fact that no change in the number of Lok Sabha and State Assembly seats is required to be made. His overriding concern appeared to be to help candidates and parties know in advance the shape and size of constituencies before the next Lok Sabha elections, even if the delimitation was based on 10-year-old Census figures. The government did not seem willing to consider whether the publication of the 2001 Census figures could be expedited, in order to enable their use in the proposed delimitation exercise.

The next Census-based delimitation exercise is expected only in 2031, after the current freeze expires in 2026. The objective of correcting anomalies in the size of constituencies would therefore lag behind the times. It appears that short-term political considerations will always come in the way of achieving the real objectives of the Delimitation Commission, unless there is a permanent Delimitation Commission entrusted with the task of redrawing constituencies after every Census.

THE proposed Delimitation Commissions, one for each State, will consist of three core members, of whom one would be a sitting or former Judge of the Supreme Court who would act as the chairperson. The Chief Election Commissioner or an Election Commi-ssioner and the State Election Commi-ssioner of the State concerned be ex-officio members. There will also be 10 associate members in each State: five will be the Members of the Lok Sabha (representing the State) and five will be Members of the State Assembly. The Centre will appoint the chairperson, while the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Speakers of the State Assemblies concerned will choose the associate members, with due regard to the composition of the House or the Assembly concerned.

The earlier Delimitation Commi-ssions had two Judges as members, besides the Chief Election Commissioner who acted as the ex-officio member. According to Jaitley, the government considered that the change in composition would make the Commission more balanced, avoiding over-representation by Judges.

The government rejected demands made by some MPs that the associate members be given voting rights, and be made part of the decision-making process of the Commissions. Jaitley felt that conceding this demand may give a fillip to gerrymandering efforts, and give an opportunity to ruling parties in the States to try to manipulate the Commission's proceedings in order to redraw the boundaries to suit their own electoral interests. The Minister assured Parli-ament that the associate members would be drawn from among different parties, so as to reflect the composition of a House. But the need to broadbase the composition of the Commissions by bringing in more experts cannot be brushed aside. The exclusion of Rajya Sabha members has also been adversely commented upon.

According to the Delimitation Bill, the basis of determining the number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes will be the 1991 Census figures. But the number of general seats, which will remain frozen until 2026, have been determined on the basis of the 1971 Census figures. Some MPs, therefore, expressed the apprehension that in some States the number of reserved seats may go up, while in a few others, it might come down. However, indications are that there will be an overall increase in the number of reserved seats in the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies.

IT is being pointed out that the Commission ought to try and ensure that the constituencies reserved for S.C. candidates are those where the S.C. population is comparatively large, and those reserved for S.Ts are the ones where their population is relatively the largest; because unlike S.Cs, who are dispersed across States, S.Ts are confined to particular areas. It remains to be seen how the the Commission will manage to reorganise the reserved seats in a State, without risking some degree of resistance from the classes that are deprived of a fair share, be it S.C., S.T. or the general category.

The government has rejected the demand of some MPs and experts that seats reserved for S.Cs be rotated at least once in 10 years. The logic behind the demand was that constituencies with very low S.C. population should not be left out of the reservation process. But certain other MPs appear to resist the demand for rotation mainly because it would affect their winning chances in the next election if their current seats are either reserved or dereserved.

The fourth Delimitation Commi-ssion will come into being soon; its performance will be judged in terms of how much it contributes to achieving its objectives, within the constraints it faces. The principle behind the periodic delimitation exercise is to ensure that the value of one citizen's vote is approximately the same as that of another. It may therefore be imperative that the law let the new Delimitation Commission take up the task of readjusting the size of constituencies as per the latest Census figures.

Right-wing resurgence

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The victory of right-wing candidate Alvaro Uribe in the Colombian presidential election spells trouble for the peace process in the country.

THE victory of the right-wing candidate, by a big margin, in the presidential election in Colombia in the last week of May has come as no surprise. Pollsters had been predicting a victory for Alvaro Uribe Velez, the 49-year-old former governor, who till recently belonged to the Liberal Party. Uribe had the unabashed support of the right-wing paramilitary groups and the United States administration.

19120581jpg

The runner-up was the candidate of the ruling Liberal Party, Horacio Serpa. Surprisingly, the candidate of the Left, Lis Eduardo Garzon, came a distant third. In earlier elections, the leaders of Left parties who had sought to run for high office were either liquidated or threatened. Guerilla groups which disbanded voluntarily and went overground to form political parties were annihilated by the right-wing paramilitaries with the tacit support of the Colombian establishment.

Even by the yardstick of Colombian politics, this year's presidential election process was extremely violent. In the last couple of weeks before the elections, the front-running candidate as also the candidates of other parties preferred to campaign from the safety of their homes. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had begun to hit urban areas with virtual impunity. They had engaged the paramilitaries in a ferocious battle near the Caribbean coast. The Colombian Army was nowhere in sight.

The FARC had decreed that Uribe and the parties that support him would not be allowed to campaign in areas controlled by it. The right-wing paramilitaries, on the other hand, had ordered that all votes in areas under their control go to their candidate - Uribe. That apart, the right-wing militias - which go by the name of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) - had issued warnings that entire communities would suffer in areas where there were either large-scale abstention from voting or where the verdict went against Uribe. This was not an idle threat; the right-wing militias are known for their ruthlessness. Sympathisers of the FARC and other left-wing groups often randomly executed in order to force others with similar leanings to acquiesce or leave a particular area.

The FARC, for its part, had vowed to liquidate Uribe. They nearly got him in April when a landmine exploded moments after his armoured car crossed a point on the road. The car was damaged but those inside escaped unscathed. After that, Uribe decided that discretion was the better part of valour. A "virtual campaign" through videotape and television became the preferred mode of electioneering in the month of May for most candidates, including Uribe. There has never been any love lost between the FARC and Uribe, and the enmity has all the characteristics of a blood feud. Uribe's father, a rich cattle-rancher and horse-breeder, was killed by the FARC in 1983. There were allegations that the senior Uribe had links with the notorious Medellin cartel that made billions of dollars out of narco-trafficking.

The President-elect has admitted that his father and the father of the Ochoa brothers, key players in the Medellin cartel, were good friends but that their dealings were confined to horse-breeding and related matters. There have also been allegations that the younger Uribe was a beneficiary of funding from the Medellin cartel when he ran for Governor. In the mid-1990s, when Uribe was Governor of the State of Antioquia he had supervised the creation of paramilitary groups under the guise of civilian patrol groups. These groups evolved into notorious death squads and succeeded in driving the FARC out of the State. The paramilitaries replicated their success in neighbouring States such as Cordoba.

The AUC is led by people known to have close links with the newly elected President. Prominent among them were the Castano brothers. The founder of the AUC was Fidel Castano, whose father, a prosperous cattle-rancher, was killed by the FARC. Fidel too met the same fate in 1994. His brother Carlos has since taken over, and is said to run the paramilitaries even more ruthlessly than his departed brother.

One of the important reasons for the failure of the peace talks between the government and the left-wing rebels to take off was President Andres Pastrana's seeming inability to combat or curtail the violence of the right-wing paramilitaries. Fidel Castano, a professional gambler and drug-trafficker, had after buying up huge tracts of cattle land, embarked on a campaign to kill civilians suspected of being FARC sympathisers.

The FARC had originated as a peasant movement in the 1950s, under the influence of the Communist Party. That was the period of "La Violencia" when peasants owing allegiance to the Liberal and Conservative parties fought against each other to occupy scarce land not yet appropriated by the elite. The FARC as a revolutionary grouping grew steadily until the late 1970s. But in the early 1980s there was a dramatic change. The Colombian political scene became distorted by the huge amounts of money generated on account of the insatiable demand in the United States for illegal drugs. The money generated through narco-trafficking began to leave a sordid trail. Virtually all sectors of society were adversely affected.

The poverty-stricken Colombian peasants, who constitute the FARC support base, had cleared up huge swathes of jungle land, to grow coca, which is a more profitable crop than even poppy. The peasants went to the edge of the rain forest, and each family cleared four to five hectares of land for coca cultivation. With the drug cartels offering huge amounts of money to the peasants for their produce, the FARC leadership, led by Manuel Marulanda, took the position that though it did not approve of drug-trafficking, it was not opposed to the peasants trying to improve their economic status through such business. More than a million-and-a-half of the peasants were displaced persons - most of them uprooted by the paramilitaries.

The aggressive land takeover by multinational oil companies and mining corporations, and their use of paramilitary death squads to drive away peasants from their lands, contributed to the rapid growth of insurgency side by side with the coca cultivation. The FARC levies a heavy unofficial tax on the traffickers. FARC officials say that U.S. demands for an end to coca cultivation are unreasonable till such time as the marginalised farmers are provided with an alternative crop and a market that would help them feed their families. The millions of dollars earned from the trade helped the FARC transform itself by the mid-1990s into a tough fighting force that took on the might of the Colombian Army. By 1998, the FARC could stage attacks and kidnap people in almost all corners of the country. Today, according to Western estimates, it has a battle-hardened force of 18,000 guerillas.

Andres Pastrana was elected President in 1998 on a campaign plank that promised peace to the people of Colombia. He did initiate some moves to end the 40-year-old civil war. The FARC was given an autonomous zone for itself as a prelude to full-fledged peace talks. But ingrained suspicions on both sides led to the peace process collapsing irretrievably in March this year. Among those who opposed the move from the outset was Uribe and the AUC. He along with those advocating a full-scale war on the FARC, and a smaller guerilla grouping called the National Liberation Army (ELN), had gained the upper hand early this year.

The Bush administration as well as its predecessor were also not too happy with Pastrana's peace initiative. They had a strong ally in the Colombian military, which has traditionally had a close relationship with the Pentagon. In the last year of his Presidency, Bill Clinton sanctioned $1.3 billion as aid to Colombia as part of the so-called war against drugs. But for all practical purposes, it was meant for the Colombian Army's war against left-wing guerillas. Today, Colombia is the fourth largest recipient of U.S. military aid, and the biggest such recipient outside West Asia. The Colombian Army has the latest equipment from the U.S. The Pentagon has dispatched "counter-insurgency specialists" to Colombia, and has supplied 72 helicopters and trained three of its army battalions.

THE Bush administration has announced an even greater quantum of military aid to the government in Bogota. It has been effusive in its praise for Uribe and was the first to congratulate him after the results were out. Uribe, who was educated in Oxford and Harvard, said that his first priority will be to defeat the left-wing guerilla groups militarily. While on the campaign trail he had said that he would raise a million-strong volunteer force to fight the guerillas. Many Colombians say that this sounds ominously like the right-wing vigilante groups he had helped create in his home State. Those groups in turn had led to the formation of the AUC, which today controls a big chunk of the drug trade.

It seems that the new President will forge even closer ties with Washington. The genuine attempt at social and economic reconstruction that is being attempted in neighbouring Venezuela is not appreciated by Bogota and Washington. Both had initially welcomed the right-wing coup attempt in Caracas. The Colombian government even gave political sanctuary to Pedro Carmona, the leader of the failed coup in Venezuela, who had escaped from house arrest to seek refuge in the Colombian embassy in Caracas.

The Colombian government has also been accusing the Venezuelan government of providing sanctuary and help to the FARC rebels, but this has been vehemently denied by the Venezuelan authorities. The Colombian Army is also threatening to go in "hot pursuit" of FARC rebels into Venezuelan territory in their anti-insurgency operations.

'A timely and prudent step by the LTTE'

A thaw has set in in the relationship between Muslims in Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after a meeting between LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakaran and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader Rauf Hakeem at Kilinochchi on April 13. Hakeem said after the meeting that the LTTE had assured him that the harassment of Muslims would stop. On April 10, at a press conference addressed by Prabakaran in Kilinochchi district, LTTE's political adviser A.S. Balasingham said: "I made an apology to the Muslim people that what has happened in the past has to be forgotten, that we are willing to talk to them and resolve their problems." Balasingham also assured Muslims that they could return to their homes in the North. He said that the Tamil homeland and the Tamil territory in the North and East "belonged to the Muslim people also".

19120471jpg

The relationship was fractured after the LTTE's attacks on Muslims, especially after it shot dead 103 Muslims on August 3, 1990 in simultaneous attacks on two mosques at Kathangudi in Batticaloa district in the Eastern province (Frontline, December 20, 1991). The LTTE also drove out about 80,000 Muslims from the North, including the Jaffna peninsula. They are now living as refugees at places such as Puttalam and Kurunagela. It was in this background that Hakeem met Prabakaran and Balasingham. The meeting took place after a ceasefire agreement was signed between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE.

Forty-two-year-old Hakeem is Minister for Port Development, Shipping, Eastern Development and Muslim Religious Affairs in the United National Front Government led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickrema-singhe's United National Party (UNP). He was elected to the Sri Lankan Parliament in 1994.

Hakeem was in Chennai on May 23. In an interview he gave T.S. Subramanian and Professor V. Suryanarayan he spoke elaborately on the proposed interim administration for the Tamil areas in the North-East. "We are also willing to forgive what had happened in the past in the hope that they (the LTTE) will be sincere in their attitude towards Muslims," he said.

Excerpts from the interview:

There has been a qualitative change in the Sri Lankan situation as far as the Muslim community is concerned. The LTTE, for the first time, has said that it is sensitive to the aspirations of Muslims and has asked them to forget the past. What has brought about this change of heart?

The rapprochement between the LTTE and the SLMC has certain significant elements which are very progressive. They have realised the inevitable need to engage the SLMC in order to resolve their problems. That is somewhat comforting, although we have not made an emotional response to the statement they have made of late. We have told them unequivocally that we are prepared to forgive and not forget (the past)... We have bitter memories of the past. But it is time we contended with the ground realities. That would mean that the LTTE also has to look at Muslims and their separate political identity as something that has become quite pronounced over a period of time.

It is significant that the SLMC has won eight of the 16 parliamentary seats from the Eastern province. We hold 50 per cent of political power in the legislature although we form only 35 per cent of the population of the East. This is significant. So they (the LTTE) have to be prudent and engage us in a productive dialogue. That is what is happening.

When the interim administration is set up, Prabakaran will demand more powers for the North-East than the other provinces and would like to have complete control over the departments of police and rehabilitation. Will he share power with the SLMC in the interim administration? As the representative of Muslims what kind of safeguards do you expect?

Principally, they will have to display unequivocally their commitment to pluralism.

There is a desire among the Muslim families to go back and settle in Jaffna. There have been droves of people trying to get back and see their abandoned homes and smell the air of freedom. With the assurance given by the LTTE that they will not do anything in future to harm Muslims and that they are willing to recognise that Muslims have got a distinct political identity, I thought it was a timely and prudent step by the LTTE to mend fences with Muslims.

But talking of the interim administration, we need to be satisfied that proper, institutional arrangements will be in place so that the will of the majority will not be imposed...

What concrete safeguards would you like to have?

We are working on various formulas that would be put forward as our ideas about the interim administration. What is important is that there must be an escape clause as far as Muslims are concerned.

Would you like to have veto power in terms of administrative procedure on issues affecting Muslims?

The interim administration must be a time-bound arrangement. At the end of it, there must a right bestowed on Muslims that they can vote in the referendum to be part of the framework.

You mean the referendum on the issue of the merger of the East with the North...

Yes, on the issue of merger. This merger and referendum have been looked at so suspiciously by the Tigers, by all the Tamil parties, that we will rather not talk about that aspect of it. But beyond the merger, looking at the Muslim-dominated pockets, proper checks and balances have to be put in place to provide for greater representation, to provide for double-majority safeguards and the sharing of political power both in the executive and the legislature that will be set up. If some acceptable arrangement can be put in place and once the interim administration rules for a period of time, Muslims must have the right to express their willingness to continue in such an arrangement so that the Tigers and whoever else will be playing the decisive and dominant role will be forced to work along. There should be a structural mechanism in which they will have to satisfy and build confidence among Muslims.

Will the pradeshiya sabha be the basis of devolution of power?

Definitely. The district proportion has to be applied in our administrative districts. Political units have been set up somewhat arbitrarily. As for the administrative units, although the Centre carved out the districts in a disproportionate manner, Muslims in the Eastern province will insist that the district proportion be maintained in land settlement and in sharing all resources. We would like the district proportion to be respected and we would like assurances to be given that equity will prevail.

May 24 marks "D plus 90 days" since the ceasefire agreement was signed by the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. According to the agreement, the entire North and the East becomes politically accessible to the LTTE from that day. The LTTE will have de facto control over the region.

I don't think we should say that they will have de facto control of the North and the East. Their right to move into the government-controlled area is being legitimised. There will not be any restrictions on the number of people who come into the government-controlled areas for political activity. There are limitations to the political activity that they will be engaging in.

The LTTE will have to transform itself in such a way that Muslims will be comfortable in dealing with them. When we met Prabakaran it was apparent that he was keen that he should not be dealing with every Tom, Dick and Harry. He feels that it is important to respect the predominant position of the SLMC and continue to talk with us (SLMC). We welcome the situation where the LTTE does not have any restrictions any more. We would like them to impress sincerely on Muslims that they do not mean any harm (to them), that they are prepared to respect the human rights norms and the law and order machinery. You cannot impose your own law and order mechanism in areas that are controlled by the government. That will create a situation which will erode the confidence among Muslims because law and order is an important issue. The security of Muslims has been compromised so much in the past that we will not compromise our security (anymore) either with the government or with the LTTE.

After a detailed discussion about the interim administration takes place, they (the LTTE) will have to be legitimately empowered to do what they should do. But there must be a certain amount of autonomy as far as Muslims are concerned.

We should have one law and order machinery with an equitable proportion of Muslims in police stations and a share in important positions in the regional police. This is happening in Northern Ireland. They are trying to reform the policing arrangements, sensitise the police force and bring in a proper mix of people.

It is a question of Muslims having confidence in the law and order machinery. If it is going to be run solely by the LTTE, it is not going to work in the short term. They (the LTTE) will have to go a long way in convincing us that we can work in such an arrangement. The (benefits of) devolution have got to be enjoyed by Muslims as well. If it is law and order devolution, it is not merely going down to the territory but to the community. There are practical difficulties in the non-contiguity of the Tamil and Muslim areas (that is, Tamil and Muslim villages alternating). It is going to be a double-edged sword. Just as Muslims do not enjoy a contiguous territory in the East, Tamils do not enjoy a contiguous territory in the region. So it is imperative for us to work together. We should have some coordinating mechanism where these can be resolved if we are to work together in the interim administration and share power. We have to share power effectively in the law and order machinery.

The old idea of having a province for Muslims...

The Tigers say that they are prepared to consider an alternative to our role in the East. We are saying that our role is for fully autonomous Muslim areas in the North and the East. Of course, we are prepared to consider alternatives... They will have to propose those alternatives. As much as they want the Sri Lankan government to give them a viable alternative, we want them also to suggest a viable alternative.

Will it be a coalition of the LTTE and the SLMC in the interim administration?

We have not gone into details about that. We did not go into details which will become contentious. In the interim administration, you cannot expect the government and the opposition to operate. It will be a caucus of political representatives who will run the administration without having a classic Westminster model with somebody sitting in the opposition. So it is inevitable that it has to be a joint effort to control the administration.

Is the LTTE willing to share power? It can bring in some Muslims into the interim administration.

That is something Prabakaran clarified. He said it very significantly. Suggestions were made that other parties too want to come to speak to the Tigers and exchange views on how this problem can be solved on behalf of Muslims. He categorically and emphatically told Anton Balasingham and others that they should not commit the mistake as had been done in the case of Tamils. The divide-and-rule policy. "We must respect the SLMC. We must deal with them." This is what he said. We hope that this approach will be sincerely adhered to; that they will discuss matters with us and deal with one party rather than adopt a divide-and-rule policy. Such a policy is suicidal because the moment mundane politics gets into it and people realise that the LTTE's agenda is simply to spread its hegemony all over, it will have far-reaching implications for sustained peace.

The LTTE realises that the dominance they have gained through guns is not anywhere near the legitimacy they can gain through people's participation. They will use the "D plus 90 days" and beyond to gain that legitimacy through people's participation. It will be ideal for us to have a situation where Muslims will have a chance down the line, after the interim administration is put in place, to say 'yes' or 'no' to a working arrangement.

The East, where Muslims form one third of the population, seems to be in a ferment. UTHR (University Teachers for Human Rights) has alleged that the LTTE is forcibly conscripting boys, extorting money from businessmen and so forth. How has it affected the Muslim community?

That is where the control over law and order machinery comes into focus. We are not a politico-military organisation like the LTTE. We are a political party. We will insist that as far as the Muslim areas are concerned, control over security cannot be compromised.

What exact guarantees would you like to have to protect the interests of Muslims?

Guarantees have to come to ensure that the interim administration will consult the Muslim constituencies when it comes to implementing law and order reforms and ensuring the security of the Muslim population. There is a credibility factor they have to worry about. For the first time, they have held out an olive branch to Muslims and also given us assurances. These assurances have to be made to work on the ground.

They have realised that it is important to deal with Muslims.

We are also willing to forgive what happened in the past in the hope that they will be sincere in their attitude towards Muslims.

There is no other option. We have run out of options. We have to co-exist. Initially you may have to respect the situation where Muslims are feeling anxious about what will happen beyond plus 90 (days), and beyond the interim administration being installed. This is an important credibility issue. I am sure they will not go back to their former ways and use violence against...

Ranil Wickremasinghe spoke enthusiastically about what Prabakaran said at the press conference. However, Wickremasinghe seems to have second thoughts about an interim administration for the North-East. He has said that the entire Sri Lanka, and not merely the North and the East, is the homeland of all people who live in the island. Did Wickremasinghe say that to appease the extremist Sinhala opinion in the South?

He perhaps has not altered any of his positions as such. He has gone to the extent of trying to reiterate the earlier position as far as this homeland theory is concerned. In fact, in the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement, they finally used the term "areas of historical habitation" as a compromise.

Ideological positions and public postures should not be taken as the private convictions of people. We have to differentiate between public postures of a political leader and his private convictions. I feel, therefore, that he has taken this position because that is the prudent thing to do at the moment rather than being seen to be throwing all eggs in one basket. He is trying to instil confidence in the south that the Prime Minister is not going to be carried away and that he will strike a good bargain. That augurs well for the negotiations. It is important for him to emerge as somebody who has strong views on some of these matters. As I told you, these may not be his private convictions.

The relationship between Muslims and Sinhalese in the Sinhala-speaking areas was not all that good during the last months of the People's Alliance government. The riots that took place at Mawanella, near Kandy, had a fallout in Colombo. If the hardline Sinhalese view the coming together of the LTTE and the SLMC with suspicion, how will it affect the majority of Muslims living in the Sinhala areas?

This is a bogey that is sometimes brought about to instil a fear psychosis among the southern Sinhalese. The Sinhala nationalists have been, over a period of time, trying to whip up feelings among Muslims in such a way that if you (Muslims) seek accommodation and reach an arrangement on co-existence with the Tamils, it will impact on the south and that your (Muslims') security will be at stake. What we have got to realise is that there has been violence against Muslims from 1915. From Independence, all minorities have been subjected to violence at different times. More often than not, Muslims have been at the receiving end in many of these areas. But there is a tendency to use these incidents and create an impression among Muslims that it is not possible for them to co-exist with the majority.

As a responsible political leader, I will say that whatever incidents that had happened are typical of the times we live in. Communities are so polarised that there is no sense in pointing an accusing finger and saying, "You did this to me and when we are able to, we will also do this to you one day." The strength of the Muslim community is that there is a strong concentration of Muslims in the East. There is a growing mandate in the south for a force like the SLMC. In fact, my campaign slogan in the Colombo municipal elections was to ask Muslims to give us the mandate to thrash out respectable, dignifiable solutions on behalf of the eastern Muslims.

Women and conflict

other
K.S. SUBRAMANIAN

Speaking Peace: Women's Voices from Kashmir edited by Urvashi Butalia; Kali for Women, 2002; pages 316, Rs.350.

19120751jpg

THE overwhelming desire for peace on the part of women and the more specific and compelling desire of women's groups from Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India to come together for a better understanding of each other's needs and aspirations constitute the main thread that unites the several moving essays, including a photo essay, collected in this volume. A photo exhibition in New Delhi on the plight of Kashmiri women some time ago brought forth interesting and positive responses from the viewers. The responses reinforced the desire and need on the part of these women's groups, indicating the growing strength and self-awareness of women's movements in India. Women's groups that have emerged in Jammu and Kashmir have been too subject to patriarchal mores to organise themselves for social action at the village level as women's groups in the northeastern States, for example, have done. However, the women of Jammu and Kashmir have increasingly articulated a pressing need for an across-the-board dialogue among all groups to help find a peaceful solution to the collective crisis that afflicts the State. However, developments in the State indicate that it is the state machinery that is not interested in promoting dialogue. Therefore, as noted by Yoginder Sikand and Krishna Mehta, the State remains extremely polarised, in sharp contrast to the 'secular and mixed tradition' of the past. The editor hopes that the very publication of these essays would, in some way, promote a climate for a dialogue towards peace and reconciliation. It is when no alternatives seem to be in sight that an alternative may perhaps be expected to take shape!

While Kashmir has been central to political discussions in India, the impact on women and children of the ongoing conflict in the State has received little or no attention. There are no precise estimates, official or non-official, of the number of women widowed or children orphaned. Resounding official silence has attended a recent revelation by a BBC correspondent that the number of children orphaned by conflict in the State was of the order of a hundred thousand and that most of them are engaged in child labour. In this context, the recent initiative by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to look at the impact of armed conflict on children in States such as Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Tripura and Nagaland is to be welcomed. One study in respect of Jammu and Kashmir is in progress and others are to follow. The Government of India has not undertaken similar studies although India is a signatory to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Urvashi Butalia's study shows how more than a decade of conflict has deeply affected people's livelihood, their living environments, health, eating habits, their work and workplaces, their access to education and so on. It is the women of Kashmir who have felt the impact most severely. Yet not much is being written about their response to the conflict. The volume documents the experiences of a wide range of women in coping with the impact of the conflict on their lives and raises relevant questions regarding their coping strategies and the options before them. Interviews with Kashmiri women, personal reflective pieces, excerpts from various reports and books, a photo essay, journalistic dispatches and a socialistic excerpt on the rights and privileges promised to women in the Naya Kashmir Manifesto adopted by the National Conference in 1984 are among the contents of the volume.

The author in her sensitive and insightful introduction traces the historical background to the conflict situation in the State. The aim of the volume is to look at the impact of the recent years of conflict on women's lives as part of an Oxfam project on violence mitigation and amelioration. It is also the outcome of a workshop on Women in Kashmir, organised by a New Delhi-based non-governmental organisation. Women rarely initiate conflict but along with their children are its main victims. Although the Kashmir conflict has generated a vast literature on national security little of it relates to women's lives and concerns. The conflict has created a large number of widows, 'half-widows' (those whose husbands have disappeared with no proof of whether they are dead or alive), mothers who have lost their sons, or those whose daughters have been subjected to rape, young women who dare not step out of the house, women who have been pushed out of employment by the fear and uncertainty of conflict and women who suffer from medical and psychological conditions related to stress and trauma. Conflict can also push women into the public sphere, nudging them to carve out a space for themselves and their humanitarian demands such as locating the 'disappeared' men.

The Oxfam project adopted a two-pronged approach. One involved conducting detailed interviews with the women affected by conflict (Pamela Bhagat in the volume); and the other involved working with locally based groups, holding workshops on stress and trauma and collecting quantitative data on the number of families affected, number of children out of school, number of widows who have received assistance and so on (Sahba Hussain). Stress, trauma, depression, spontaneous abortions and miscarriages are common. The conflict has created a situation of tremendous fear and uncertainty in the lives of women in Kashmir. Another consequence of conflict has been the increasing distrust even amongst family members and growing domestic violence.

Several essays in the volume refer to the problem of the involvement of women's groups from outside in working with Kashmiri women. Autonomous activist groups have been reluctant to get involved in the State's electoral politics. This is perhaps on account of a perceived clash of competing nationalisms - Indian and Kashmiri. The fact that the women's movement in India has not undertaken a full-scale critique and analysis of the role of the Indian state has, in its own way, created ambivalences for mainstream women's Indian groups working in Jammu and Kashmir, where separatist demands exist. Further, the activity of women's groups is often confined to the Valley and work in the area of human rights violations by security forces. More recently, the plight of the Pandit women displaced from the Valley has become an important focus for women's groups working in Jammu and Kashmir. But there is still a certain reluctance to get involved with the problems faced by women associated with the security forces or militant groups, whether as wives, daughters or mothers. In a conflict situation, building trust with those one works with is a complicated process that slows down the process of engagement.

Women perceive peace as a condition free of any kind of violence in society. This implies the co-existence of all people with basic human dignity. This concept of peace begins with one's immediate family and goes on to cover the whole region, country and the world. When there is violence in society, women feel its impact first. Therefore, women must play a decisive role in negotiating the peace process. In order to make this possible, they must be empowered politically, economically and represented adequately at all levels of decision-making. However, state and non-state agencies make no effort to involve women in peace processes. They ignore the impact of conflict on women and marginalise their needs and aspirations.

Mainstreaming gender as a major human rights priority becomes complicated when a technocratic and masculine concept of 'national security' dominates the discourse on conflict-affected areas such as Jammu and Kashmir. An alternative concept of 'human security' has acquired salience in recent global discussions on development. The Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has noted that 'human security' is the key idea in "comprehensively seizing all the menaces that threaten the survival, daily life and dignity of human beings and to strengthening the efforts to confront these threats". As Urvashi Butalia points out, these menaces are nowhere more sharply active than in the strife-torn State of Jammu and Kashmir. She must be complimented for the sensitivity with which the trauma and travails of the women of this most beautiful but also perhaps the most unfortunate State of India has been documented.

A troubling move

A yet-to-be-released strategy paper from the National Commission on Population rejects the "development is the best pill" approach, seemingly reversing the goals set in the National Population Policy.

A PROPOSAL originating from the National Commission on Population (NCP) to reorient demographic goals and the population policy has surprised government and non-government circles. The proposal, which is contained in a strategy paper, calls for a realistic assessment of the demographic situation in the major States and the scenario for the next 25 years. The kind of review it suggests harks back to the approach that has been criticised and discarded over the years, it is pointed out.

19120791jpg

No one claims authorship of the paper and it has not been officially released. Even some senior officials in the Health Ministry have no clue about it. Meenakshi Datta Ghosh, Joint Secretary (Policy) in the Department of Family Welfare, when told about it, said she was "certainly amazed" and added that she did not know how authentic it was. It reached certain sections of the media even before NCP members had access to it. Some members' queries about the paper evoked ambiguous replies from the NCP secretariat. The replies, however, indicated that a rethink is taking place at least in some circles in the NCP and the Planning Commission, on the premises of which are located the NCP's offices.

In essence, the paper rejects the "development is the best pill" approach and aggressively promotes the two-child norm, recommending, among other things, incentives and disincentives. Several States already have mechanisms such as debarring violators of the two-child norm from government jobs and denying them the right to contest local level elections. But it is feared that a Central body recommending similar measures would send alarming signals. The NCP is a statutory body with the Prime Minister as chairperson and the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission as vice-chairperson. Chief Ministers, Union Ministers concerned, representatives of political parties and non-governmental organisations, mediapersons and specialists are members of the Commission.

The NCP's paper has emerged at a time when the latest Census report has brought out an alarming trend in the matter of the juvenile sex ratio. Imposing a two-child norm with incentives and disincentives can only play havoc in a situation where son-preference is a dominant phenomenon.

The paper is critical of the approach advocated by the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo in 1994, that left the choice about the number of children to individuals and stressed on advocacy and the quality of health care services. The Indian government adopted the spirit of the approach and reiterated its commitment to voluntary and informed choice and consent of citizens. It also decided to continue with the target-free approach in the administration of family planning services.

In contrast, the strategy paper argues that the "development approach" has ignored the fact that uncontrolled population is the main reason for the poor quality and coverage of health and family welfare services and the inability to provide other basic necessities in countries such as India. The principles of advocacy, quality of health care services and the right of individual choice, it says, may be relevant for developed countries where population size is not a problem and the health infrastructure is well established. Therefore, instead of demanding more budgetary allocations for and the expansion of facilities in the social sector, the NCP takes the line that the problem lies in the numbers.

It says that the quality and coverage of health and family welfare services remain very poor in most regions of the country. Shortage of doctors and auxiliary nurse midwives, and of contraceptives and drugs, of sub-centres, primary health centres and community health centres, and poor maintenance of infrastructure are cited. The continuous increase in population, it argues, has defeated attempts to cover these gaps. With no major expansion of infrastructural facilities taking place as envisaged in the Tenth Plan and the demand for health care increasing, the goal of making available the kind of quality care envisaged by the ICPD is unrealistic, the paper says. There is a need to break the vicious cycle of an ever increasing number of people chasing limited resources. This, the paper says, has increased the relevance of the "contraception is the best development" approach.

This approach, however, reverses not only what the National Population Policy (NPP) says but also what women's movements and their supporters in the health sector have been arguing for even before the ICPD proposals came up. The views contained in the paper are similar to those of NCP member-secretary Krishna Singh, who says that restrategisation is necessary to meet the goals of the NPP. A change in strategy, it is argued, is very much a part of the NCP's mandate to review, monitor and give directions for the implementation of the population policy. However, the paper's suggestions and Krishna Singh's arguments contradict the spirit of the NPP. The NPP, which was announced in 2000, was the outcome of years of discussions about the nature of the demographic goals that a country like India should have.

The NPP, while stating that stabilising the population was essential to promote sustainable development with a more equitable distribution, says that this is as much a task of making reproductive health care accessible and affordable to all as of increasing the provision and reach of primary and secondary education, extending basic amenities including sanitation, safe drinking water and housing, besides empowering women and enhancing their employment opportunities and providing transport and communications.

The immediate objective of the NPP is to meet the unmet needs of contraception, health care infrastructure and health personnel and to provide integrated service delivery for basic reproductive and child health care. Its medium-term goal is to bring the total fertility rate (TFR) to replacement levels, that is 2.1, by 2010 through the vigorous implementation of inter-sectoral operational strategies. (TFR indicates the number of children a woman would have during her lifetime if she were to experience the fertility rates of the period at each age. The NPP set this target by taking into account the adverse sex ratio at birth and the high maternal mortality rate that prevail now.) Its long-term objective is to stabilise the population at a level consistent with the requirements of sustainable economic growth, social development and environmental protection by 2045. A set of national socio-demographic goals for 2010 have also been laid down in the NPP to meet these objectives.

The NCP's proposal argues that achieving the NPP's medium-term target of a TFR of 2.1 at the earliest is of paramount importance to meet the overriding objective of economic and social development. It says: "A significant decline in the fertility rate even below the replacement level in the major States can greatly facilitate the country emerging as a major economic power in the next 25 years or so... But failure to control population growth will act as the main hurdle in this direction." The replacement level fertility is said to occur when the combination of fertility and mortality lead to a net reproduction rate (NRR) of one. The NRR also indicates the average number of girls that would be born to a birth cohort of women during their lifetime if they experience a fixed pattern of age-specific fertility and mortality.

THE NCP's paper suggests that as against the NPP's target of a TFR of 2.1 by 2010, the adoption of the two-child norm as the national objective may lead to a net reduction in the population of the country in the long run. Evidently, the NCP proposal does not take into account the sex ratio while pleading for a two-child norm as the national objective. The NPP advocates the "small family norm" but refrains from setting a national goal.

To substantiate its basic premises, the NCP's paper states that the NCP members, during their field visits to high-fertility States, observed that there was no visible improvement in the quality and availability of health care and family welfare services in rural areas and urban slums "because of the new approach adopted since 1996". Adoption of family planning methods was left to the free choice of individuals and couples, and doctors and others in the area of health care did not take up any canvassing to encourage couples either to adopt family planning methods or to undergo terminal methods (in the case of couples with two or more children), it says. The number of sterilisation procedures conducted had come down drastically in the high-fertility States of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu performed well in this area.

The strategy paper strongly advocates terminal methods of contraception as compared to the spacing method. It says that since the adoption of the target-free approach in 1996 the advocacy and promotion of terminal methods have received a setback in the high-fertility States. A nationally accepted family size, promoted by an efficient family planning programme and linked to a well-designed scheme of incentives and disincentives, can bring down fertility rates quickly, it states.

The population policy of Andhra Pradesh receives special mention in the paper for having set predetermined targets, especially for terminal methods of contraception. There are several community-based and individual incentives in the State, which is said to have achieved a breakthrough on the population front although it does not have a good record in the matters of female literacy or the age of marriage for girls.

The paper suggests various measures to restrategise the family planning programme. The measures are:

* Declaration of the two-child norm as a national goal and its active promotion by all concerned;

* Implementation of a pro-active family planning programme without any coercion with the primary objective of promoting the two-child norm. The duties and responsibilities of health and family planning functionaries involved in this include advocating and promoting the two-child norm and persuading eligible couples with two or more children to undergo the terminal methods of contraception at the earliest;

* Implementation of suitable schemes of incentives and disincentives by State governments to promote the two-child norm as per local needs and the creation of a district population stabilisation fund, to be operated by a district level family welfare society, to generate additional resources at the local level to implement family planning programmes.

The paper is highly critical of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) and non-governmental organisations supported by it. In India, the paper says, these agencies support the human rights debate relating to incentives and disincentives associated with family planning. According to the paper, this debate ignores the fact that the main reason for the poor quality and coverage of health and family welfare services in developing countries like India is the burgeoning population. It says: "The serious implications of the population explosion for providing quality health care and the need for effective intervention to control population growth is never brought up for consideration in the seminar circuits supported by the UNFPA."

This opinion reflects a mindset focussed on controlling numbers at any cost and the targeting of the UNFPA seems misplaced. Much before the UNFPA adopted this approach, leading women's organisations in the country, which are not supported by the UNFPA, and those involved in public health issues had voiced their apprehensions about setting targets and resorting to coercion in the matter of family planning. They had stressed that among other empowering measures, an enabling environment of equitable development and access to social infrastructure would have a positive impact on checking population growth.

Krishna Singh told Frontline that the Commission is seeking to find ways to implement only proposals that are in conformity with the NPP. According to her, the process of rethinking had been going on for one and a half years and discussions had been on with experts and in steering groups. The proposal would be circulated among the members soon and then forwarded to the Union Cabinet. K.C. Pant, the vice-chairperson of the NCP, would call a meeting of States to discuss this issue.

Krishna Singh said: "If we don't start thinking now, we will never reach where we want to reach. The government has announced some targets for reducing the infant mortality rate as well as for meeting the unmet needs of family planning. All these prescriptions have to be implemented and operationalised. National level prescriptions have no meaning unless they are attuned to State and district level conditions. Without getting moralistic, it should be acknowledged that there are a vast number of people who don't even have the basic necessities of life. It is true that development is the best contraceptive. But the effort has to be translated into action. A certain pace of activity is already on in the country with or without family planning."

Krishna Singh, a senior officer of the Indian Administrative Service, said that one should not make too much noise about women's rights. Women's empowerment would take place only when the burden on the infrastructure was reduced, she said. "We must be clear about whose rights we are talking about. Most women have no choice on many other fronts. The question of choice cannot just be restricted to one thing," she said. The Andhra Pradesh model, according to her, was a successful one. All development benefits had been linked to family planning there. Asked about the disincentive that barred persons with more than two children from contesting local body elections, Krishna Singh said: "What major rights get violated if someone else gets elected?" On the impact of restrategisation on the skewed sex ratio, she said that the problem of sex ratio would not get solved by people having more children. Krishna Singh and Joint Secretary V. Asokan both said that the State governments should not see the NCP's recommendations as an order but as suggestions made in their interest.

Most NCP members are in the dark about the plan to restrategise demographic goals. One of them, Imrana Qadeer, Professor at the Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health at Jawaharlal Nehru University, told Frontline that she wrote to the NCP asking for a copy of the document and got a vague reply. "There has been no formal communication regarding any such document... To the best of my knowledge, the Member Secretary has been keen on inter-sectoral development. There is also no data that refute the present strategy. Unless we improve basic services, how can we say that the strategy has failed?" Qadeer said that NCP members during their visits to high-fertility States noted the virtual absence of services and this figured in their discussions. However, it is the content of the proposal that has come under close scrutiny by the individuals concerned as it is a blueprint of all that was rejected in the early 1990s.

A senior official in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said that the NCP had endorsed the population policy in its first meeting and therefore the restrategisation move had come as a big surprise. Achieving a TFR of 2.1 by 2010 cannot be done by sterilisations alone. "Population stabilisation can never be a numbers game. Setting targets from above has been historically counter-productive. The moment we return to targets, the quality of care suffers and this will further affect the sex ratio," said the official. He explained that the moment a norm was set it was followed by incentives, disincentives and targets from above. There were some basic factors that were non-negotiable, including providing quality care and informed choice to the people. "A target-free approach never meant lack of accountability and governance. What should be striven for is a self-imposed target by the community for the community," said the official. Infrastructural gaps were a reality and that only meant that more investment and better utilisation were required, he said.

The official explained that the population growth momentum could be eased significantly by policies that encourage women to delay childbearing. Over 50 per cent of Indian women in the age bracket of 20-24 are married before the age of 18. The proportion was higher in Bihar, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. A further rise in the age of marriage at the national level can be achieved by increasing the level of female education. Investing in adolescents, with an emphasis on raising the economic and social prospects of girls and enhancing their self-esteem, could be other ways of curtailing the population momentum.

According to the official, the two National Family Health Surveys had found an overall increase in the acceptance of contraception. The permanent method of female sterilisation formed the mainstay of the contraception programme, he said. A rapid decline in the birth rate and the fertility rate neither eliminated poverty nor improved standards of living. Bangladesh, the official said, had reduced its TFR from 6.8 to 3.1 during 1975-1998 but this had not alleviated poverty. China, with a much larger population than India, had a per capita income almost twice that of India. It was not India's large population that was responsible for the slow growth of the economy, he said.

AT a press conference in New Delhi on May 27, representatives of 17 organisations, including women's groups and health forums, protested against the "two-child norm" suggested by the strategy paper and population control strategies adopted by various State governments employing disincentives. The organisations included the All India Democratic Women's Association, the National Federation of Indian Women, the Joint Women's Programme, the Centre for Women's Development Studies, the Young Women's Christian Association, the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, which is part of Jawaharlal Nehru University, the Centre for Health and Allied Themes, the Delhi Science Forum, the Medicos Friends Circle, the Forum for Creches and Child Care Services and the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.

These organisations urged the National Human Rights Commission to ensure that the steps proposed in the strategy paper and the Uttar Pradesh Population Bill are not incorporated in the NPP. The U.P. Bill lists several disincentives and incentives. For instance, it disqualifies persons who marry before the legally prescribed age of marriage from taking up government jobs. Similar disincentives already exist in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

Seeds of biodiversity

A Paris-based agency comes to India with a large variety of traditional seeds and the message of seed conservation.

IT was started in France in 1991 as a botanical garden for aromatic and medicinal plants. Now it is Europe's best-known non-governmental organisation working for seed conservation.

19120891jpg

Kokopelli sells at cheap rates traditional seeds of over 1,500 vegetables and medicinal plants to 15 European countries through a network of NGOs, city councils, universities and individuals and distributes these free of cost to countries in Africa and Asia. And now 49-year-old Dominique Guillet, the founder of Kokopelli, has landed his seeds in India. "We want to get the seed out of the commercial concept for poor farmers," he says. Half the world's seed market is controlled through patents by 10 large transnational corporations, which also own over 60 per cent of the chemical sector that includes fertilizer, pesticide and pharmaceuticals manufacturers, he says.

Monsanto, the controversial United States-based multinational seeds and biotech products company, is believed to be looking towards the water and agriculture sectors in India. Its managing director, Robert Farley, is quoted by activists working against genetically modified (GM) plants as saying: "What you are seeing is not just a consolidation of seed companies; it's really a consolidation of the entire food chain since water is essential to life."

In an attempt to counter this, Dominique Guillet and his colleagues, agriculturists Bernard and Stephane, have begun a movement called Annadana (the gift of food). They function from a four-acre section of the 50 acres that was purchased by Auroville, a spiritual centre near Pondicherry, two years ago in a bid to regain natural lands that are being flattened by real estate developers.

Since 2000, this Aurovillean movement has supplied free of cost some 50,000 packets of the traditional seeds of vegetables such as brinjal and tomato to NGOs, farmers' networks and Tibetan settlements in India, Sri Lanka and Nepal. All these seeds are organic, obtained from an 'open-pollination' or open-air natural method of pollination environment.

A small but gradually growing number of traditional "seeders" are worried about food security. Poor farmers are unable to afford expensive seeds and their households need traditional varieties as food and as a source of nutrition. With the government promoting only hybridised agriculture through its system of subsidies, the neglect of traditional staples such as millet and sorghum or of non-hybridised vegetables has led to their gradual disappearance.

In Andhra Pradesh, the process of disappearance was speeded up by the State government's Rs.2-a-kg rice scheme, which made the poor, mainly Dalits, disinterested in cultivation. As a result, over 1,000 hectares of land lay fallow. The Deccan Development Society is now highlighting its alternative decentralised PDS (public distribution system) in Medak district. This subsidy-free ration card system, funded by the Union Ministry of Rural Development, is run by women.

Under the scheme, Women's Sanghas (groups) financially supported their members to grow jowar on fallow lands held by the community. Fixed quantities of grain went as loan repayment into a Community Grain Fund. The grain thus collected forms the PDS pool. It is sold to village residents who are its members, at Rs.3 a kg.

In Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal, the Agriculture Department hands out to farmers promotional kits complete with urea and other fertilizers. "It is very difficult to spread the idea of organic seeds because of the government's mindset, coupled with the massive spraying of apple orchards, which destroys all ground-soil crops," says Ajay Rastogi of Ecoserve, Almora.

19120892jpg

Madhya Pradesh's Biodiversity Board, seen as an example of the political will of the State, does not enthuse its seed- saving citizens, however. Though Madhya Pradesh still has a rich receptacle of biodiversity, efforts to save indigenous plants and seeds are sporadic and inconsistent, with no impetus from the Biodiversity Board, says a seed-saver from Indore.

Seed-savers in Uttar Pradesh have had better results in saving traditional oilseeds, pulses and herbs. The Kisan Vigyan Kendra, an NGO, has worked out a model for multiplication based on a survey and a seed collection drive in 40 districts in the Bundelkhand region.

Karnataka's conservation movement, organised through NGOs and research institutions, is "insignificant compared to the trend towards commercialised crops", says Sunita Rao of Kalpavriksh. In 2001, Sunita Rao began documenting, networking and distributing over 140 organically grown vegetable and flower seeds in Uttara Kannada district. "Any biodiversity conservation in genetic resources must endorse the role of women and their home garden," she says.

Whether seeds obtained from an open-pollination environment are capable of producing as much as hybrids or GM seeds is debatable, but most people agree on the high nutritional value and taste of organically grown vegetables. "India has lost over 50 per cent of paddy varieties because of modern agricultural methods, which use seeds not to meet the farmers' needs or to improve quality or productivity, but to enslave them to the vested interests of the seed industry," says Bernard.

All these efforts to conserve traditional seeds are now being incorporated into the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (Frontline, February 2, 2001). The plan, coordinated by Kalpavriksh, envisages garnering traditional seeds with a view to conserving indigenous sources and saving the livelihoods and food security of small farmers and marginalised people. The Ministry hopes that its action plan will be strengthened by the Biodiversity Act, recently approved by Parliament.

The idea of modernising traditional methods has evoked divergent responses. The mainstream school of thought believes that India will lose out if it does not incorporate genetic agricultural technology. Another opinion is that traditional organic agriculture does offer food security to the very poor that modern agriculture is meant to benefit. What remains to be effected is an integrated 'golden mean'.

This article was written on the basis of research undertaken under an NBSAP-linked media fellowship granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Seeds alien and Indian

other
KEYA ACHARYA

KOKOPELLI distributes in Europe nearly 1,500 varieties of traditional, open-pollinated seeds collected from all over the world. These varieties form the official collection of the French National Association of Plant Conservatories. When Dominique Guillet brought 120 varieties from this collection to India for distribution, an academic storm broke out.

But he offered an interesting line of defence: 99 per cent of these seeds are of vegetables such as pumpkin, brinjal, cucumber, tomato and capsicum, which are already in use in India. Moreover, he said, most vegetables being consumed in India, both modern and traditional, had their origins in regions such as Africa and South America. According to him, papaya, corn, pineapple and white sapota originated in Central America, and carrot, onion and garlic are originally from West Asia. "And all these vegetables are eaten by educated city dwellers, not village residents," he said.

Interestingly, Indian agricultural institutes have promoted some of the varieties in Annadana's 'foreign collection'. A tomato variety, P6283 PUSA Ruby, is classified as a vegetable already being grown in India, by Dr. Veeraraghavadatham (A Guide to Vegetable Culture; Ezhil; 1998). Two varieties of watermelons, known as crimson sweet and sugar baby, were introduced in the Indian markets by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute. Farmers cite many more varieties that have been smuggled in from countries such Thailand and Japan.

But the idea remains ticklish in a country that is just waking up to the idea of saving seeds. Dr. Alan Tye, a global invasive species specialist with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, says: "Sometimes even non-invasive plants can hybridise with local native relatives to the extent of hybridising the local species out of existence. As long as the risks are recognised, they can be dealt with. But claiming that the risks don't exist is simply denying the evidence."

Towards trade wars

Protectionist moves by the United States increase friction among the world's major economies, and this is likely to cause greater acrimony in multilateral trade forums such as the WTO.

THE dust that was kicked up by the United States' decision to increase steel tariffs sharply was yet to settle down. However, a new standard in unilateral action by a nation that purports to be the leader in establishing multilateral rules was set by the passage of the U.S. Farm Bill by both legislative chambers early in May. Defying global concerns, President George Bush signed the Bill into law shortly afterwards, providing for a 70 per cent increase in federal subsidies to the farm sector. In the view of most analysts, this could have breached the bounds that were imposed on agriculture subsidies in the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations concluded in 1994. After the hard-fought agreement at the Doha Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) last November, this could set back the new round of negotiations in an area that developing countries have vital interests in.

19120911jpg

The reaction was immediate, though it did not come from the developing countries. The heads of the three bodies that exercise oversight of the global economy jointly issued a strong denunciation. Without naming the U.S., Mike Moore, the Director General of the WTO, Horst Kohler, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and James Wolfensohn, the President of the World Bank, issued a joint statement of an unprecedented sort decrying protectionism: "Such actions will hurt growth prospects when fostering growth is most essential. And they send the wrong signal, threatening to undermine the ability of governments everywhere to build support for market-oriented reforms."

Across the Atlantic, officials of the European Union (E.U.), who had relented under intense pressure to put agricultural subsidies on the agenda for the Doha round of trade negotiations, could barely conceal their fury. The farm bill, said E.U. Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler, "marks a blow for the credibility of U.S. policy in the WTO, where the U.S. has presented a trade oriented agenda wholly inconsistent with the new Bill".

The new farm bill represents another irritant for the E.U., which is scheduled to decide in June upon a range of retaliatory measures for U.S. steel tariffs. E.U. President Romano Prodi has already indicated that sanctions of an equivalent amount on U.S. products are imminent. With the farm bill, European anxieties about the unilateralist course of action that the U.S. seems irrevocably committed to, have been heightened. The E.U.'s external relations commissioner, Chris Patten, mournfully told a British audience early in May: "America's overwhelming pre-eminence has generated increasing pressure within the U.S. to abandon her internationalist past in favour of an unapologetic pursuit of national interest, imposing her will unilaterally and resisting outside obligations that might constrain her freedom of action."

Shortly after the farm bill became law, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved the grant of "trade promotion authority" to President Bush. Under U.S. law, this empowers the President to engage in the WTO trade negotiations, on the understanding that Congress will either approve or disapprove of the new deal as an integral whole. It will not, in other words, tamper selectively with elements of it. The U.S. House of Representatives had granted the President this authority by a one-vote margin last December. Within the format of WTO negotiations, this power is considered vital, since a "trade round" is called so because it is conducted under the "single undertaking" clause, where a number of parallel agreements in diverse areas are negotiated in tandem and take effect concurrently. Since the WTO membership is expected to follow the "all or nothing" principle, it is considered vital that the U.S. President be able to negotiate on the understanding that his efforts will not be dismantled selectively by a recalcitrant U.S. Congress.

Trade promotion authority has, however, come at a price. The U.S. Senate has resolved that it will retain the power to veto any change that is proposed in the anti-dumping regulations that are currently applied. The Bush administration has indicated that this serious qualification in its negotiating powers is not acceptable, but has little option as long as the legislative wing remains susceptible to a multitude of special interests, which have been feeling the heat of economic recession. Certain premature forecasts of the end of the downturn were shattered by unemployment figures for April, which showed the jobless rate running at 6 per cent, the highest figure in nearly eight years.

All this amounts to a very uncertain mandate for the Doha round, which unlike all preceding ones is supposed to address the specific needs of developing countries. Negotiations now are expected to become hostage to the growing imbalances in the world economy, most starkly highlighted by the U.S. trade deficit. All through the economic boom of the 1990s, the U.S. was importing capital on an unprecedented scale, first to finance its budget deficit and then to fund private consumption. On current reckoning, the U.S. needs to import $1 billion a day to meet its balance of payments deficits. Successive years of profligacy have seen the U.S. external debt multiply from 12.9 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 1997 to an estimated 22 per cent today.

Towards the closing years of the Clinton administration, an incipient correction had seemed under way. The federal budget, buoyed by massive corporate tax accruals, moved strongly into surplus, engendering the promise that the national debt could be paid back over a number of years of sustained growth. This calculation was scuttled first by the economic recession. And with the tax cuts that Bush pursued obsessively through his election campaign and implemented with religious zeal as his first priority on assuming office, the budget surplus has been transformed into a gaping deficit.

If the U.S. is to sustain its role as the single engine driving the world economy, then its imports of capital will need to increase substantially. This is not a likelihood in the estimation of most clear-eyed economists. First, there is a growing disenchantment with the unilateralist course of action that the U.S. has felt increasingly at liberty to adopt. Secondly, the collapse of some of the big names in the U.S. corporate pantheon - notably Enron and Global Crossing - and the declining fortunes of the high-technology industry have diminished faith in the integrity of U.S. financial markets. Finally, economies like Japan, which have contributed large volumes of savings to finance the U.S. deficit, are under pressure to retain their capital domestically in a bid to reverse their own plunging fortunes.

The growing loss of synchronicity between the world's major economies is only likely to engender greater acrimony in multilateral forums such as the WTO. In this regard, the recent actions on steel and farm subsidies are best seen as the warning shots of bitter trade wars in the near future.

Birth of a monopoly

The acquisition of the public sector Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Limited by the Reliance Group threatens to unleash a domineering monopoly in the Indian petrochemical industry.

THE recent acquisition of a controlling stake in the public sector petrochemical major, Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Limited (IPCL), by the Reliance Group did not surprise many people. Events since three years ago, after the Central government decided on divesting its stake in the company, had indicated that Reliance was inching towards the takeover of IPCL, a pioneer in the field of petrochemicals in India. (Prior to the deal, the government held 60 per cent of the shares in IPCL.) Reliance's winning bid for the 26 per cent stake of the government, at a price of Rs.231 a share and aggregating Rs.1,491 crores, effectively makes it a monopolist in the petrochemicals business. After the takeover, on an average, taking into account the range of products of the merged company, Reliance controls more than two-thirds of the production capacity in the petrochemicals business. In some segments the control is absolute. The implications are mind-boggling. The control of a wide range of crucial intermediates which go into the production of an array of downstream products implies that the monopoly power of the merged entity will be awesome. The implications for Indian business could be serious, particularly for the hundreds of small and medium units in the plastics and chemical industries.

19120921jpg

Reliance's winning bid was way ahead of the other two bids. While the public sector petroleum major, Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. (IOCL), bid Rs.128 a share, Nirma, better known as a soap-maker, offered Rs.110 a share. After the winning bid was announced on May 18, the Disinvestment Ministry revealed that the adviser on the IPCL deal, UBS Warburg, had presented the government with four alternative valuations based on four different methods. The evaluation committee of the government fixed the reserve price at Rs.131 a share by valuing the company on the basis of the discounted cash flow method. The total cost of Reliance's acquisition would be Rs.2,641.45 crores, including the mandatory 20 per cent open offer that it has made at the same price of Rs.231 a share to public shareholders. Reliance will also have the first right of refusal when the government divests its remaining stake.

In the run-up to the IPCL sale, the government sweetened the offer by making three concessions to the short-listed bidders. Reliance, as the winner, is set to take advantage of all these. The Excise Department in the Finance Ministry withdrew a Rs.600-crore excise duty claim on IPCL. The government justified the move, claiming that if this was not done the contingent liability on account of the excise claims would have depressed the price to be quoted by the bidders. Earlier, the Disinvestment Ministry had taken the initiative by sorting out issues relating to IPCL's long-term contract for supply of gas and its pricing with the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL). The widespread perception among sceptics was that the Disinvestment Ministry had pressured the two public sector companies to offer a deal favourable to the bidders. In particular, there was criticism about the fact that the two public sector companies were entering into a long-term negotiated kerb-side transaction even as the administered pricing mechanism in the petroleum sector was being dismantled. Another sop for bidders came by way of the Finance Ministry's decision to extend sovereign guarantee to IPCL on its World Bank loan of about $100 million.

ESTABLISHED in 1969, IPCL represented India's attempt to develop self-reliance in the field of petrochemicals. Until then the Indian market was dominated by multinational companies such as Hoechst, ICI (then the Imperial Chemical Industries) and Union Carbide. The economies of scale associated with the industry and its capital-intensive nature were significant barriers to the entry of private firms. IPCL specialised in the production of the basic building blocks, where manufacturing scales were crucial. This led to the establishment of hundreds of small-scale units producing other downstream products.

By 1979, IPCL had established the first integrated petrochemical manufacturing complex at Vadodara in Gujarat. Several state-owned companies - among them IOCL, the State Trading Corporation and Engineers India Ltd. - provided crucial support to IPCL at this stage. In the early 1980s, IPCL established its second plant at Nagothane, to use natural gas from the Bombay High oil fields as a feedstock. In the early 1990s the company established its third complex at Gandhar in Gujarat.

As a result of the takeover, Reliance gains control of IPCL's two gas-based crackers with a total capacity of 700 lakh tonnes per annum and one naphtha-based cracker with a capacity of 130 lakh tonnes per annum. In a petrochemical complex, feedstock (either natural gas or naphtha) is chemically reacted in a cracker. Cracking breaks larger molecules into smaller ones, resulting in the production of the basic building blocks of chemicals such as ethane or propane. There are two types of plants producing base chemicals, olefin plants and aromatic reformers. Olefin cracker produces the base chemicals, ethylene, propylene and butadiene. Aromatic reformers produce benzene, toluene and xylenes.

The acquisition of IPCL by Reliance implies that the merged entity will dominate the market in several ways. The acquisition of cracker capacities using both kinds of feedstock means that Reliance will now enjoy greater flexibility in the use of feedstocks. Moreover, the notionally depreciated value of IPCL's assets means that Reliance will enjoy the cushion of significantly high barriers to entry of fresh capacities in the industry. The replacement cost of its existing assets would well exceed Rs.10,000 crores. The merger enables Reliance to enhance further economies of scale in operations and reduce costs.

Prior to the takeover, IPCL sourced about Rs.100 crores worth of feedstock from IOCL annually. This will now be captive to Reliance's own petroleum refining capacity of 27 million tonnes a year, located at Jamnagar. Reliance's takeover of IPCL ensures that it has denied space to competition. By acquiring IPCL, Reliance has effectively denied IOCL the opportunity to move downstream and gain a footing in the petrochemicals industry. The acquisition also enables Reliance to access IPCL's free reserves, currently about Rs.2,700 crores. Significantly, this is more than what the Reliance Group would pay for the takeover.

The most significant result of the acquisition is that in terms of production capacities Reliance will dominate the market in a range of products. For instance, the merged entity holds two-thirds of the ethylene manufacturing capacity in India. Amongst the olefins, ethylene is one of the most important building blocks. Indeed, most plant capacities are measured in terms of their ethylene output. In India, ethylene is used to manufacture polymers, which constitute 70 per cent of the demand for all petrochemicals. Ethylene goes into the production of polyethylene, poly vinyl chloride and ethylene glycol. According to investment analysts such as J.P. Morgan, Reliance is now the largest producer of ethylene in Asia. Reliance, which already dominates the market for intermediate chemicals that meet the demand of the textile industry, will now enjoy an unassailable leadership along the entire petroleum-petrochemicals chain.

J.P. Morgan has welcomed the acquisition, pointing out that "the new petrochemicals giant will wield pricing power in the Indian petrochemical products market". In fact, an interesting aspect of Reliance's own reaction to the fears of monopoly dominance after the merger is that it addresses the concerns of IPCL's shareholders - notionally at least, the public at large - and its own shareholders in two different voices. It has sought to allay the public's fears of a rising monopoly by arguing that the threat of "freely importable" petrochemicals and the government's commitment to reduce tariffs will restrain Reliance's ability to impose prices on consumers. It has also highlighted the subtle distinction between dominance and "abuse of dominance", which it says is what is bad for business. One analyst summed up the deal thus: "We think the intricacies of this deal are beyond the obvious."

However, Reliance, while addressing investment analysts, has pointed to the "science" and "art" of its valuation of IPCL. In particular, it has sought to address the concern in some quarters that it has bid much too high for IPCL. Explaining the "science" of the deal, Reliance pointed out that its valuation rested on its assessment of IPCL's overall earnings - not taking into account interest costs, depreciation and taxes - EBITDA, in short. Reliance explained to analysts that since the Indian petrochemicals industry was entering a recovery phase, IPCL's earnings were projected to increase by about 20 per cent in the next three to four years. The net value of equity was estimated to be Rs. 6,120 crores, implying Rs.240 per IPCL share.

The "art" of Reliance's valuation is more interesting because it reveals the company's own assessment of its monopoly status and the opportunities it provides for profits. Reliance pointed out that the "value of the IPCL share should be even higher" because the assessment of values was based on global and Asian parameters "where growth is much lower than in India." Reliance estimates that the Indian market for polymers is likely to grow at a rate of 15 to 20 per cent in the next decade and that it is likely to grow into the third largest in the world, after the United States and China. "Accordingly," explains the note, "the value of a company like IPCL, which is a leader in the field in India, would naturally be much higher than a global/Asian company, which contends with much lower growth rates of barely 5 per cent per annum."

Media reports since the takeover have quoted Reliance officials as expecting the payback time for the IPCL acquisition to be less than two years. This is sought to be achieved by making capacities work in tandem. According to media reports, Reliance is poised to rationalise products in order to enhance its "dominant market position in the polymer market". Industry analysts say that Reliance's pricing power in the domestic market is the key to the expectation that the payback period will be short. The normal payback time for a petrochemical plant varies between three and 10 years, depending on the point at which entry is made in the business cycle. There is general consensus that Reliance has timed its acquisition right because import duties are still high (ranging from 35 to 50 per cent for most categories). "Even if Reliance does create a monopoly, India does not have strong anti-trust laws to tackle the problem," says an investment banker. "Other than Haldia Petrochemicals Limited, there are very few who will match Reliance's capacities."

Disarmed of the "art" of the IPCL valuation, Reliance's logic is simple: the key to acquisition lies in the assertion of the monopoly power that the takeover provides. Shorn of economic jargon, this means the assertion of the monopolist's ability to command prices for a wide range of petrochemical products in the Indian market. Reliance has argued that the scope for abuse of monopoly power is restrained by a regime of free imports and that tariffs have been steadily coming down. However, this is a generalised argument, not backed by trends and developments in the sector in the recent past. For instance, in his last Budget, Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha doubled the import duty on paraxylene, the market for which was monopolised by IPCL and Reliance. Since December 2001, prices of products in the IPCL-Reliance portfolio have increased substantially. Between December 2001 and February 2002, the price of polyester staple fibre (an old Reliance mainstay) increased from Rs.42,000 a tonne to Rs.48,000 a tonne in February. Polypropylene prices increased from Rs.37,000 to Rs.43,000 a tonne in the same period. Polyethylene prices also increased by a similar magnitude during this phase.

The valuation of an acquisition is always difficult, but when the takeover establishes a monopolist, it is even more so. This is because the merged entity is capable of setting the price in the market without challenge. The point is that, post-merger, the dynamics that governed the valuation prior to the deal are changed beyond recognition in the new situation. The privatisation process will remain controversial as long as public sector companies, particularly those that hold the "commanding heights" in their areas of business, are sold to monopoly interests. The price just cannot be right because the valuation cannot account for monopoly power.

Invoking the stereotype of a stepmother may be politically incorrect, but it best conveys the perception of those who believe that the government has systematically undermined IOCL's attempt to extend its operations along the value chain, especially in the context of the recent opening up of the petroleum sector. The perception that the government, despite being the owner of the company, has not provided IOCL a level playing field has only gained currency in the aftermath of the IPCL sale. In May 1999, when the government announced that IPCL would be put on the block, IOCL, Reliance and Mitsubishi were the only serious contenders. Although IOCL formed a joint venture to undertake the acquisition and completed due diligence on IPCL's assets, the bid documents were not issued by the government.

In early 2001, the government responded favourably to IOCL's suggestion that it acquire IPCL's main and oldest plant at Vadodara on "nomination basis". Documents available with Frontline reveal that the government "agreed that this nomination will not come in the way of Indian Oil's bid for the remaining units of IPCL". IOCL's decision to acquire IPCL's Vadodara plant was based on its assessment that the move will enable the company to integrate its refining operations with the petrochemicals business and generate value addition - from crude to naphtha to polymers. IOCL's assessment after the due diligence process was that the technology employed at the Vadodara plant was "highly unlikely to be superseded by a new breakthrough in the next 10 years". The Vadodara plant also caught the fancy of IOCL because it was a "significant producer" of high-value polymers. The fact that the IPCL plant and IOCL's own flagship refinery in Vadodara are adjacent to each other was also a factor in IOCL's decision to acquire the plant.

Critics allege that while the government, citing fears of an emergent monopoly, has prevented IOCL from bidding for a controlling stake in either Bharat Petroleum Coporation Limited (BPCL) or Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL), the two public sector oil companies that are to be privatised, the same concern has not been reflected in the government's decision to hand over IPCL to Reliance. In February, M.A. Pathan, then chairman of IPCL, had asked the Petroleum Ministry to provide it a level playing field, enabling it to bid for the two oil majors. He said that if the government intended to prevent the formation of monopoly interests, it ought to be consistent and apply it to the case of IPCL also by barring Reliance from bidding.

Although Reliance has issued statements - including one from Anil Ambani, RIL managing director - to the media, welcoming the 14,000 workers into "the family", the staff say they have not heard anything first-hand. A general manager at the IPCL headquarters in Vadodara remarked: "What you tell us is what we know." Referring to the IPCL disinvestment, he added that "these were share holders' decisions, taken at the Ministry level".

The sale of IPCL under the stewardship of Disinvestment Minister Arun Shourie must have been doubly sweet for the Ambanis, the family that controls the Reliance Group. In the mid-1980s, Arun Shourie, as Editor of a prominent English daily, launched a series of scathing attacks on the Reliance Group, exposing the manner in which Congress(I) governments had favoured the group, notably by way of tax policies. The wheel has turned fully since then for the Ambanis.

A law for water conservation

The Andhra Pradesh government brings forward legislation to regulate the exploitation of ground and surface water resources, but shortcomings in the decentralisation of powers and allocation of funds to local bodies may prove to be the undoing of its initiatives in the battle for water.

IN June, the Andhra Pradesh Water, Land and Trees Act, 2002, extolled as one of the most comprehensive pieces of legislation on water conservation and green cover implemented by any State, will come into effect. It is part of a series of measures attempted by the N. Chandrababu Naidu government to combat the crisis of water scarcity and pollution in the State.

19120951jpg

Drought has been a frequent occurrence in several interior districts of Andhra Pradesh. The ever-increasing population pressure combined with the neglect of traditional structures such as tanks and ponds, indiscriminate exploitation of groundwater and improper maintenance of the surface water system has added to the stress. In the last decade, the influx of seawater has led to rising salinity levels in the fertile coastal farmlands. This has been caused by unplanned, heavy drawal of underground water, encroachment of irrigation tanks and a steep fall in river inflows.

The first serious attempt by the government to conserve water resources began in 1994, which it declared as the year of minor irrigation with focus on rejuvenation of tanks. In 1998, a report prepared jointly by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the WWF (formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund) placed Andhra Pradesh among those Indian States that faced the spectre of a freshwater crisis, with millions of people denied access to safe water supply. The crisis, as the report specified, would be largely human-induced and attributable to the existing system of 'water rights', which ensures that groundwater is still seen not as a common resource but as belonging to the landowner. Water, more often than not, is used as a political tool, controlled and cornered by the rich; for the poor, their poverty of incomes, capabilities and opportunities is compounded by water poverty.

In recent years Andhra Pradesh has also seen an increase in the number of energised wells drilled to irrigate cash crops in water-scarce regions, abetted by the provision of subsidised electricity. But the benefits of such subsidies are often cornered by the big landowners, while uncontrolled sinking of borewells led to groundwater being extracted at a rate faster than the rate of recharge. Some 60 per cent of the water used for irrigation is also lost through seepage.

The UNICEF-WWF report suggested legislation to protect groundwater resources in water-scarce areas. The legislation should aim to regulate water extraction and the types of crops grown in identified areas, ensure mandatory construction of recharge structures and prohibit the drawal of water below certain depths for purposes of irrigation and industry. The report recommended the decentralisation of management and regulation of water resources, devolving to local communities - panchayats - the authority and responsibility to manage the water environment. For this purpose they will be given financial support.

Access to water resources is another important issue. In the rural areas, women have to trek long distances to fetch water for household use. In Gurrabbadu village in the Rayalaseema region, for instance, women on an average walk 5 km to fetch 150 litres of water. Among children, it was mostly girls who fetched water; they had to walk long distances and as a consequence faced long-term health problems.

The government projected its Janmabhoomi programme, launched in 1997, as a step forward in the decentralisation of administration. While the Janmabhoomi programmes saw the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) increase its grip on the local bodies, its critics allege that it was widely used to bypass the panchayati raj institutions. The pattern of development and Chandrababu Naidu's concept of micro-planning benefited some areas and groups such as landlords, more than others. The naxalite groups have staunchly opposed the Janmabhoomi programme and entire districts of the State, including the backward districts in the northwest (Telengana), remain excluded from the reform process.

Besides, the All-India Panchayat Adhyakshas Sammelan that concluded in New Delhi earlier this year criticised the Chandrababu Naidu government for failing to meet its constitutional obligation of constituting district planning committees. The DPCs were provided for in Part IX of the 73rd Constitution amendment to consolidate plans prepared by panchayats and municipalities with regard to spatial planning, sharing of water and other natural resources, integrated infrastructure development and environment conservation.

IN May 2000, the government renewed its drive to give an impetus to water conservation efforts by bringing under one mission the various water conservation programmes set up until then. It launched the Water Conservation Mission or "Neeru-Meeru" (water-you) programme to focus on drought and water shortage at a time when groundwater levels had fallen by over three metres in some places.

An ambitious Rs.100-crore project was launched to conserve water on one crore acres (about 40 lakh hectares) of land, across different climatic and geophysical zones. Its success depended largely on the efforts of the local community, especially in the rural areas where gully-plugging, rockfill dams and percolation tanks facilitated better water storage. The programme thus saw the constitution of committees at the State, district, constituency, municipal, mandal and gram panchayat levels, duly involving elected representatives, officials, non-governmental organisations and other agencies concerned. In order to execute conservation works, at the local level separate stake-holder groups or committees such as the Vana Samrakshana Samithi (VSS), water users' association (WUA) and watershed committee were set up.

The new programme also harped on decentralisation by referring to people's participation and the need to facilitate coordination of the conservation efforts of different government departments - forest, irrigation, rural development, horticulture, animal husbandry, mining and groundwater.

In its first year (May 2000 to April 2001), the programme succeeded in raising groundwater tables by a modest one metre. The original goal was to increase the total quantity of rechargeable water from 35,000 million cubic metres (mcm) as recorded in 1993 to 50,000 mcm over the next five years - the maximum achievable. In January this year, another round of reorganisation occurred when the Chandrababu Naidu government modified the village administrative system. The office of the grama sachivalayam will now function as an executive support to the elected sarpanch and replace the village administrative officers (VAO). According to the government, of the 21,930 gram panchayats in the State, only 1,319 notified ones had executive officers. The absence of officials in the others implied a heavy burden on the sarpanch. The office of the grama sachivalayam would function under and be responsible to the sarpanch and will coordinate revenue, development and welfare activities. This will, in effect, ensure government presence in every panchayat rather than bring about greater decentralisation.

It was in October 2001 that the government prepared the draft legislation that comes into effect in June as the Andhra Pradesh Land, Water and Trees Act, 2002. It was conceived as a comprehensive piece of legislation that would regulate the exploitation of ground and surface water resources, while providing for punishment to those violating the guidelines. The Act, prepared by the departments of environment, forests, science and technology, provides for the institution of a water, land and tree authority. The Act will also set up another authority to oversee the progress of efforts made thus far to promote water conservation and increase tree cover.

The authority will include Ministers of the departments concerned as members besides experts in different fields and eminent persons in the field of conservation of land-based natural resources. It will have the powers to ensure that all wells are registered with this authority, which can also prohibit groundwater drawal in certain areas. It will also have the power to order the closure of wells. This authority will have its own separate finances. Proceeds of all cesses, penalties and grants levied by the government will accrue to a separate fund set up to finance the authority. Only with the government's prior approval can it delegate powers to district and mandal level authorities or any government official to carry out the provisions of this legislation.

At the same time, the State government's recent decision to institute "Jala Mitra" awards for outstanding performance in the "Neeru-Meeru" programme shows its continued viability. Its progress measured until February 2002 bears this out. Despite a 4 per cent deficit in rainfall, the average depth to water level in the State was 10.3 metres compared with 10.70 metres at the same time last year. The number of seasonal borewells drying up too plummeted - from 5,747 to 1,361 over the same period. And the number of habitations where drinking water has to be transported dropped from 48 to 18.

On the other hand, in Hyderabad and the once-fertile southeastern parts of Andhra Pradesh there is a need for drastic conservation measures. To tackle the drinking water problem in the cities on a war-footing, the Cabinet recently cleared an action plan to supply 162 million gallons a day (mgd) to the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad and the surrounding municipalities, besides sanctioning an additional Rs.875 crores to ensure supply of water from the Krishna river. Meanwhile, there is also a contingency plan involving a cost of Rs.93.71 crores in place for rural water schemes. This would cover emergency repairs to existing water sources and the supply of pipes that would be taken up as part of the Food-for-Work programme.

The battle for ensuring adequate water supply needs to be multi-faceted. Unfortunately, while the efforts have been well-intentioned thus far, and may even have brought initial success, frequent changes and revamps of existing programmes, the existence of multiple heads instead of one consolidated authority and even inadequate decentralisation of powers and allocation of funds to the local bodies may well prove to be the bane of the ambitious conservation programmes.

The journey of a progressive economist

obituary
PRABHAT PATNAIK

WITH his gentle and unhurried speech, his calm and composed mien, he looked more like a saint than the man of the world, which an economist is popularly supposed to be. Indeed, even apart from his appearance, there was something saintlike about Iqbal Gulati: he was straight, dignified, considerate, and morally upright.

But this saint, perhaps in common with all saints, also had a core of steel in him. His family had been uprooted from its native place in the far west of Pakistan during Partition. It had suffered great privations, through which Gulati had struggled. From his "home" in the refugee camp in Delhi's Kingsway Camp he used to bicycle every day to the Ministry of Finance where he held a small job; from his meagre earnings he educated himself and his brother and sustained his family.

It may have been his own travails, it may have been the ambience of the Nehru era, or it may have been his exposure to Left Keynesianism through proximity to economists like Nicholas Kaldor (when he visited India in the mid-1950s to prepare a comprehensive scheme of tax reforms and Gulati worked closely with him) - whatever the stimulus, Gulati developed a remarkably progressive outlook as an economist which he never abandoned. Indeed, as time passed and other colleagues of his moved away from progressivism, Gulati's commitment to it became, if anything, even more pronounced.

It is this sympathy for the progressive cause which made Gulati pay a short visit to Trivandrum, soon after the first Communist Ministry under E.M.S. Namboodiripad had been formed in the State, to prepare some economic documents for the government. His living conditions during the stay were spartan; he shared a room with another young economist, Ashok Mitra, who had come on a similar mission and with whom he was to enjoy a close friendship all his life. They were only two out of a galaxy of young idealistic economists who had flocked to Kerala after 1957 to be part of the grand experiment that was being attempted there. Others included Satyabrata Sen and Ashok Rudra.

Gulati was then teaching at M.S. University, Baroda, and Ashok Mitra was on the research staff of the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER). Both had slipped away clandestinely from their respective jobs to help the Kerala government. Discovery in either case would have meant severe harassment. But in those heady days, taking the risk was itself an act of self-fulfilment.

That was the beginning of Gulati's love affair with Kerala. After much meandering - from the teaching job at M.S. University, where he met Leela who was to be his life-partner; to post-graduate research at the London School of Economics; to a variety of official and semi-official employment - Iqbal was to return to Trivandrum permanently in the early 1970s to become a founding faculty member, along with K.N. Raj, T.N. Krishnan, N. Krishnaji and P.G.K. Panikkar, of the Centre for Development Studies.

The year 1957 also marked the start of another love affair for Gulati - with the Left in Kerala. He remained committed to the Left Democratic Front (LDF) throughout and was the Vice-Chairman of the Kerala State Planning Board under both the Nayanar governments, between 1987 and 1991 and between 1996 and 2001.

GULATI did outstanding work in a number of fields in economics, of which I shall mention only two. One, not as well-known as it should be, is international finance, where he wrote a series of pioneering articles unravelling the changing role of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). While during the first oil shock the IMF had been the chief agency for financial recycling to the Third World, through the various "facilities" it had set up, during the second oil shock the proportion of funds recycled through the IMF had fallen quite sharply. Metropolitan banks involved themselves directly in the recycling business to a much greater extent than earlier. But they needed a security cover to operate in the Third World economies, and the IMF, through its "conditionalities", provided that cover.

Within a very short span of time, in other words, the IMF's role had changed from being a major financier of the Third World to that of merely providing security to burgeoning private financiers. To be sure, even when the IMF was at the centre of the recycling business, it discriminated systematically between First World and Third World borrowers, as Gulati showed quite convincingly in his Kale Memorial Lecture on "IMF Conditionalities and the Third World", but the changing role of the IMF he drew attention to was an altogether different matter. This change was in keeping with the ascendancy of "globalised" finance capital, and constituted a good barometer of this ascendancy.

The other field in which Iqbal Gulati was an acknowledged authority was of course public finance. His advocacy of devolution of resources from the Centre to the States and further down to the elected local bodies is well-known, as is his strong criticism of successive governments at the Centre for denying State governments their legitimate rights. (He was very critical of the Eleventh Finance Commission's approach in this regard, apart from being upset at its unfair treatment of Kerala in particular, and was appreciative of the dissenting note by one of the members, who questioned the constitutional legitimacy of some of the provisions.) He wrote extensively on Centre-State financial relations and served with distinction as a member of the Sixth Finance Commission.

What is less well-known, however, is his general approach to public finance, where his early Left Keynesian sympathies made him detest deflation. Iqbal was all for government spending: tax revenue, he felt, could always be raised with a bit of imagination and a bit of political will. His stewardship of Kerala's economy during the period of the first Nayanar government was quite admirable. The size of the budget, on both the revenue and expenditure sides, increased considerably, and the economy, after long years of stagnation in the material production sectors, taken as a whole, gave clear indications of breaking out of it. The LDF government, after a remarkable success in the panchayat elections, felt confident enough to call for early Assembly elections, before its term was over. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and the sympathy wave it generated put paid to the LDF's hopes, but Kerala's economy had begun to stir and its production performance had begun to look up.

GULATI'S second tenure as the Vice-Chairman of the State Planning Board would be long remembered because of its bold experiment of democratic decentralisation within the State which followed in the wake of the Peoples' Plan campaign (Frontline, December 8, 2000). While E.M.S. Namboodiripad led the campaign, the Planning Board was the agency through which it was implemented. And Iqbal Gulati, together with other members of the Board, especially the two "young Turks", T.M. Thomas Isaac and E.M. Sreedharan, threw himself, heart and soul, into the campaign. A 73-year old Iqbal travelled through the length and breadth of Kerala, attended Gram Sabha meetings, addressed panchayat leaders, and spent many sleepless nights until his health could take it no more. When future generations talk, as they no doubt will, of the "Kerala Model" of decentralisation, with its core provision of handing over nearly a third of the State's Annual Plan outlay each year to the local self governing institutions for deployment on projects which they consider worthwhile, these four names - EMS, Gulati, Isaac and Sreedharan - will certainly be remembered with gratitude. And of these four, Iqbal's is particularly remarkable since he came to the positions he took for reasons among which political considerations were the least important.

Indeed, Iqbal's relationship with politics is a fascinating issue in itself. Even though Iqbal's intellectual positions were consistently progressive and he was a steadfast friend of the Left all his life, he was not a Marxist or a Communist. And yet, even apart from his official work for the LDF, Iqbal, towards the end, used to write a regular column in Deshabhimani, which he discontinued only when his failing health would permit it no longer. This journey of a progressive economist towards becoming actively engaged in the Communist movement without necessarily subscribing to Communist theory is instructive: it throws much light both on Gulati as a person and on the Communist movement in the country today.

As the "mainstream" discourse in economics, both in the academic and official terrains, has moved to the Right over time, many who in the old days held views similar to Iqbal's also changed with the times. On the other hand, in the midst of this change a person like Iqbal who consistently adhered to the position he had held earlier appeared increasingly to belong to the Left spectrum within the profession. At the same time, with the collapse of Nehruvianism, inter alia through its abandonment by its own earlier adherents, the Marxist Left enlarged the intellectual space occupied by it by moving into the vacant Nehruvian space. Putting it differently, with the withdrawal of the erstwhile Nehruvians from anti-imperialist positions, the Left became the leading anti-imperialist intellectual force, and shared much common ground with intellectuals like Iqbal. As mentioned earlier, Iqbal was always sympathetic to the Left. But the fact that the bonds between him and the Left became stronger over time was as much a reflection of Iqbal's courage, intellectual consistency, honesty, and self-confidence in sticking to his convictions, as it was of the Left's lack of rigidity, of its suppleness in enlarging its intellectual space in accordance with its changing perception of the nature of the primary contradiction.

The number of persons who have this courage of intellectual consistency, as time has shown, is indeed very small; and Iqbal was one of them. Every loss from this small group is a major blow to the intellectual life of the country. Iqbal's passing leaves a void that is difficult to fill. And for friends - among whom I feel privileged to count myself - there is only the memory: of the gentle voice on the veranda talking of the Partition days, of old memories, of common friends, as dusk turns into night and the first flickering lights appear in the valley below.

Prabhat Patnaik is Professor of Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

A Professor and a planner

Dr. I.S. Gulati, 1924-2002.

LIKE thousands of people displaced from their homes in Pakistan during Partition, Iqbal Singh Gulati was a refugee in New Delhi in the late 1940s. He was born on March 15, 1924 at Bannur in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) as the eldest of nine children of Prabhdayal Singh and Gulab. Partition was a traumatic experience for this family of traditional flower merchants. Gulati was a clerk in the Army in Rawalpindi when the last of the refugee trains were leaving for India in 1947. He took the train to Delhi and his family members undertook a dangerous journey separately from Bannur. His uncle was shot dead by assailants in the train. Most of the family members reached refugee camps in and around Delhi and the family reunited.

19121041jpg

One day in 1950, Gulati, a post-graduate in economics from Punjab University, walked into the office of economist Dr. K.N. Raj at the Planning Commission. Dr. Raj says: "A modest young man came to me at the Planning Commission with the request that he wanted a job. He said he was a refugee from the NWFP staying at the camp in Purana Quila (old fort in Delhi). I was amazed later to learn that the family had used a tarpaulin tent to convert a portion of the dilapidated fort into a home. It was a time when nobody knew much about economic planning or were dismissive about it. The Planning Commission itself was in its fledgling days and, fortunately for him, we were looking for people who could help us, especially on matters of Centre-State finances. He said he had studied economics and I said I will give you a job (as a research assistant) because we needed somebody to make an economic classification of the budget - to classify various items and put it into a form in which it could be analysed by economists without difficulty."

Gulati impressed Dr. Raj and others at the Planning Commission. "Though it is a routine task now, it was not so then, and we were doing it for the first time. He was very good at it. He understood what was involved. It was not such an easy task. It required a knowledge of economics to be able to classify, to see whether something is a transfer item, an expenditure item or a unilateral transfer item and so on. He knew it very well or in a short time he read it up and I was very impressed," Dr. Raj said.

Dr. Raj had suggested that Gulati be appointed a senior investigator at the Planning Commission but the recommendation got entangled in rules and objections. Gulati was once again at Dr. Raj's office with the request that he be sent abroad. Dr. Raj helped Gulati to enroll himself as a research student at the London School of Economics (LSE) and obtain a scholarship. Gulati obtained his Ph.D. in Economics from London University in 1955, where he also served as tutor during 1954-55.

Gulati's thesis on 'Taxation of capital' had attracted some attention. When the Government of India sought in 1956 the advice of Nicholas Kaldor, a Professor at the LSE, on taxation, Kaldor specifically wanted Gulati's assistance as he himself did not know much about India. Gulati served as an 'Assistant to Prof. Kaldor' at the Indian Statistical Institute. In August 1956, he joined M.S. University, Baroda, as Reader in Economics. A year later he married Leela, an economics student from Karnataka, who became a well-known social scientist later. Gulati served as Professor at the university until July 1968.

Another turning point in Gulati's career came when, one day in 1957, another man walked into Dr. Raj's office at the Planning Commission: E.M.S. Namboodiripad, Kerala's first Chief Minister. According to Dr. Raj, Namboodiripad urgently required an expert to help his Ministry prepare its first Budget. Gulati was the natural choice for the post of Economic Adviser.

His visit to Kerala in 1957 was the beginning of a long relationship - emotionally, with the people of the State and ideologically, with the Left movement. In 1972, Chief Minister C. Achutha Menon invited Dr. Raj to establish the Centre for Development Studies (CDS) in Thiruvananthapuram. Gulati joined the Centre as Professor and played an important role in its growth as a premier research institution in the country. Leela Gulati also joined CDS as a Fellow.

"From then on, he became practically a Malayalee. He could understand Malayalam very well and knew more about Kerala than any Malayalee did," Dr. Raj said.

Even as he guided students at CDS, he conducted several studies on Kerala - its tax structure, the effects of the Gulf boom on its economy and the public distribution system. The Gulati Commission Report on Sales Tax is a guiding document on the subject. He soon became well-known as an expert in public finance and a leading exponent of the idea of decentralisation, especially of devolving powers from the Centre to the States and from the State government to the local bodies.

In 1987, when the Left Democratic Front (LDF) came to power in Kerala, Gulati was appointed Vice-Chairman of the State Planning Board. The seeds of decentralised planning in Kerala were sown during his tenure. Says Thomas Isaac, MLA and former Member of the State Planning Board: "In Kerala, Gulati is not just a name. It is a synonym for 'decentralisation'. In 1987, it was Gulati who suggested that the newly-formed District Councils, which marked the first major attempt at decentralisation in the State, should be given a role in the formulation of the Eighth Five Year Plan. He also prepared an action plan for this purpose. But unfortunately his plans did not materialise because it envisaged a major role for the bureaucracy in it. However, it was because of Gulati's efforts that the District Councils were allotted Rs.200 crores during the first year of the Eighth Plan. Unfortunately, however, the Councils were dissolved by the UDF (United Democratic Front) government."

In 1996, when the LDF came back to power with an election promise of more powers to the local bodies, Gulati was again the choice for the vice-chairmanship of the State Planning Board. Under him, the Board played a key role in the formulation and implementation of the People's Plan Campaign for the Ninth Plan. According to Isaac, Gulati was given complete freedom to choose the Board members. Gulati believed that its members should be chosen not on the basis of their academic talents alone but also their organisational skills and democratic credentials. "The Board that he led formulated the plan for the biggest people's movement for development Kerala had ever seen. There were a lot of hurdles in the way of a government department becoming so pro-active. But at every stage Gulati displayed unusual confidence and administrative capability to overcome the hurdles."

In 1995, soon after the three-tier panchayat system came into existence in the State, Gulati, despite his poor health, carried out an energetic campaign for Kerala's development. He travelled the length and breadth of the State along with the younger colleagues in the Planning Board and conducted workshops and awareness campaigns for newly-elected people's representatives and government officials on the importance of making the decentralisation campaign a success. He also wrote prolifically, cautioning the people of Kerala about the fate that befell the District Council experiment and reminding them about the possibilities offered by the new panchayati raj system in the State.

According to Dr. P.K. Michael Tharakan, his student and now an Associate Fellow at CDS, such optimism about Kerala was second nature to Gulati. "He was always optimistic about Kerala. He used to tell us that Keralites were quite diffident in promoting their own State and point out areas that were being neglected," he said.

Recently, when eight States, including Kerala, made a joint move against the award of the Eleventh Finance Commission, which had lowered their share under the criteria of equity and efficiency, Gulati was the unseen force behind them. He had been critical of the Centre's encroachment on the limited financial and other powers of the State. It was his firm view that the States had to be involved in the process by which the Finance Commission was established, the annual awards were examined and a final decision was taken. According to Tharakan, Gulati's main contribution is in the field of Centre-State financial relations.

Gulati was a member of the Sixth Finance Commission and author of several works on Centre-State financial relations. He also served as economic adviser to the West Bengal government.

In August 1968, Gulati joined the United Nations as the Regional Economic Adviser for the Caribbean and as Adviser for the Economic Commission for Latin America, a position which he held till the end of 1971. For a brief period in early 1972, he was Tax Policy Adviser at the International Monetary Fund.

Says Isaac: "Ideologically, Prof. Gulati was not a Marxist. He was never a member of any party either. But his commitment to the Left movement in the country was unshakable. Naturally, on many issues, he had an opinion of his own. But he took care not to express them openly and create controversies."

Dr. Raj said: "I remember Gulati as a very modest person, very soft-spoken. He was not a flamboyant person. Initially, it took some time for me in conversations to understand that in fact he knew quite a bit." Dr. Raj's observation about his colleague for over 50 years is not surprising to those who knew Gulati well.

War clouds

other

Those who ask the government to take strong measures to stop cross-border terrorism fail to appreciate the fact that we are facing an enemy who is not weak ("War Clouds", June 7).

Pursuing terrorists across the Line of Control or attacking their camps across the border can be counterproductive. India spoke about maintaining the sanctity of the LoC during the Kargil war. If it violates the LoC now, Pakistan can also do so, choosing its own time and place. Then, how can we be sure that action across the LoC will bring an end to cross-border terrorism?

Even a limited war would cost both countries thousands of lives and crores of rupees. There would be severe setbacks to developmental activities. With missiles being deployed, major cities and towns in both countries could be targeted. Pakistan has already threatened to exercise the nuclear option. This opens up the possibility of a nuclear war.

The best option before the two countries is meaningful dialogue. The very process of initiation of talks can bring down tensions.

D.B.N. Murthy Bangalore * * *

The Indian government, dominated by Hindu nationalists, continues to prioritise sectarian and non-secular agendas. India pledges that it will go to war with Pakistan unless Islamic separatists stop their attacks on Kashmir. India continues to insist that the Kashmir problem, which has claimed thousands of lives, is entirely the responsibility of Pakistan and Muslim separatist groups. India's persistent refusal to address the Kashmir issue might well leave the fate of Kashmiris in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. India is yet to take responsibility for its systematic violation of the rights and lives of Kashmiris, while Pakistan continues to use terrorism as state policy.

In addition, in the recent carnage of minority Muslims in Gujarat, militant Hindu dominance was on display. The saffronised government and the police perpetrated violence against Muslims in the State.

Police mistreatment of people belonging to 'lower' castes, classes and minority religious groups, women, tribal people, intellectuals, activists, political groups and others is evidence of the unstable and insecure conditions in which non-dominant communities in India continue to live.

All that is sacred in the Constitution, all that our ancestors struggled for, all that remains of the memory of Gandhiji, are desecrated.

In this situation, the majority of the Hindu Indian business community in the U.S. maintains complicit silence, refusing to accept the vicious consequences of Hindu nationalism. They continue to fund fundamentalist Hindu organisations that are registered as charities in the U.S., ostensibly working to promote and protect Indian heritage and culture. Such organisations utilise funds raised in the name of 'culture' to foment social division and intolerance and encourage the brutalisation of the minorities in India.

The Coalition Against Communal ism and other progressive organisations in the U.S. struggle to build a political culture that can confront Hindu xenophobia. Hinduism, unlike Islam, has a benevolent image in the West as a religion of peace. It is often held and peddled as an abstract textual entity devoid of the radical inequities that make up its cultural and historical reality.

Hard-line Hindu organisations maintain that Hindu culture and Hindus in India are being marginalised, that there is an Islamist plan for the genocide of Hindus, and that Hindu fundamentalism is a fiction conjured by the secular Left.

As an Indian I struggle against the failures of India's democracy and I am horrified at what we have become as a nation and as a people. India must commit itself to creating a secular and democratic society that addresses its injustices and entrenched oppressions. Violence in the name of religion has to stop and minority groups must be accorded full and executable rights. We must defy Hindu nationalism and its systematic use of violence against the minorities. We must examine the present political climate in which relations between India and Pakistan continue to deteriorate and both states commit crimes in the name of freedom. We must take responsibility for the unjust histories through which our nations were conceived. It will require extraordinary courage and commitment to do this.

Angana Chatterji Professor, Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, California Institute of Integral Studies San Francisco

* * * R. R. Sami Thiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu * * * Syed Abdul Khadir Harrow, England * * * Chandan Adhikari Boston, U.S. * * * Swaroop Kommera New York, U.S. Sri Lanka

The reason attributed by Eelam People's Democratic Party leader K.N. Douglas Devananda for Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam chief V. Prabakaran's demand for a separate Eelam cannot be accepted ("Usurping a mandate", June 7). Prabakaran did not give up his freedom struggle in any situation. But Douglas, who called himself a freedom fighter when he was in the armed wing of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), is a full-time politician now. This transformation may be his first step to fulfil his desire to lead a sophisticated life by being a part of the Sri Lankan government.

K.B. Rajaguru Madurai * * * Professor M. Sornarajah Received on e-mail Frontline

I am a regular reader of Frontline. I find the magazine very informative and interesting. It provides in-depth coverage of entire national and international affairs. It is truly national, covering current affairs from every part of the country. I have one suggestion. There are many Indians who do not know English, so they cannot read this magazine. Why don't you start publishing Hindi edition of Frontline so that those people can benefit. I am suggesting this for the benefit of society.

Manoj Kumar Hyderabad * * * Power reforms

There are a number of factual inaccuracies in the statements and figures quoted by Sudha Mahalingam in her article "A reform fiasco in Orissa" (May 24). The article seems to be based mainly on the executive summary of the Soven Kanungo Committee Report, and the conclusions drawn are not corroborated by facts. She has made no effort to get a feedback from various stakeholders on the above report or to investigate the underlying issues in the power sector reform that is currently under way. Any assessment of a process or a model should not be one-sided. An official report can hardly be considered the last word on reform without taking into account the opinions of stakeholders involved in the process.

The following note points out the factual errors in the article. No comments are offered on the author's points of view or value judgments:

"It must be pointed out that the Orissa reforms failed not because the Bank's milestones were not adhered to or because the State government reneged on its commitments to the Bank."

The State government did renege on several of its commitments - to the World Bank, to Gridco and to the Utilities. In July 2001, the Bank suspended the loan to Orissa because even after repeated reminders from the Bank and several discussions between the Bank and the State government, the latter withheld loans from Gridco and the distribution companies. Even after the suspension of the loan was lifted from January 2002, further defaults were made by the State government in passing on Bank loans to the beneficiary utilities.

As on March 31, 2002, the State government and State undertakings owed the distribution companies Rs.230 crores towards the electricity consumed by them. These arrears have been mounting steadily over the last few years, with budgetary provisions being hardly sufficient to meet even a part of the current charges. Repeated assurances of the State government to liquidate the arrears and pay the current charges have not been honoured.

The State government owes the four distribution companies Rs.23.23 crores towards rural electrification subsidy for the year 1999-2000. Though the subsidy was recommended by the OERC in October 2000, no payment has been made.

Repeated assurances that the State government will convert into equity the Rs.400-crore worth Zero Coupon bonds issued by Gridco to the State Government were never honoured.

"Average retail power tariff in the State have increased by 267 per cent since 1991-02 (40 per cent since the reforms began)."

According to a note presented by the OERC to the Kanungo Committee, the tariff rose by 268 per cent during the period 1990-1991 to 1997-98. During the same period the cost of supply rose by 374 per cent. While the OERC's note mentions both the rise in the tariff and the rise in the cost, the Kanungo Committee and the article in Frontline mention only the rise in the tariff.

"Generation capacity stagnates at 2,900 MW and there appears to be a flight of industries from the State."

We have no record of any flight of industries from Orissa. What has happened is that several industries, many of them mineral-based, which were expected to come up in the State did not. This is an all-India phenomenon resulting from the industrial recession and is not Orissa-specific. Far from scaring away industries, a special tariff for the five export-oriented ferro-chrome/charge chrome units in the State has saved them from closure.

"Gridco, the state-owned transmission company which owed Rs.1,667 crores to the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) as on April 1, 1996, for power purchased from the latter during its earlier avtar as the OSEB, now has a staggering Rs.7,310 crores (inclusive of interest) as outstandings to the NTPC and the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC), as on September 30, 2001. The interest liability alone was Rs. 4,262 crores as on that date."

The figures of Rs.7,310 crores and Rs.4,262 crores quoted as dues owed by Gridco to the NTPC and the NHPC are totally erroneous. As on March 31, 1996, (on the eve of the formation of Gridco), the OSEB owed the NTPC Rs.157.72 crores. As on March 31, 2002, the amount went up to about Rs.1,000 crores, including about Rs.226 crores as delayed payment surcharge. The figure of Rs.1,000 crores is after the issue of bonds worth Rs.313 crores by Gridco to the NTPC and bonds worth Rs.400 crores by the three BSES companies to Gridco, which were reassigned by Gridco to the NTPC. The amount owed to the NHPC is about Rs.16 crores and that to the PGCIL is Rs.9 crores. (These are the figures of the Generators; Gridco figures are lower.)

"The figures of transmission and distribution losses, officially reported to be 39.5 per cent of the power supplied at the beginning of the reform period, have since been revised upwards and were acknowledged to be around 44 per cent in 2001."

The figure of 39.5 per cent shown in the World Bank's Staff Appraisal Report was a mistake based on incorrect and incomplete data. This has been acknowledged by the World Bank several times, The audited figure of losses for the year 1995-96 is 46.94 per cent. The April 2002 BST order of the OERC has pegged the overall level of distribution losses in the base year 2001-2002 at 42.2 per cent.

"While a part of the consultancy fee may have come from grants from Britain's Department for International Development (DFID), a substantial chunk is likely to find its way into tariffs charged to consumers."

The DFID assistance to the Orissa power sector reforms was entirely in the form of grant. The Sovan Kanungo Committee, in para 3.9 of its report, states clearly that "the expenditure incurred on consultation services on formulation and implementation of reforms reported so far is Rs.306 crores (Annexure 7) which was largely met out of DFID grants". Hence there is no question of any part of the consultancy expenditure being passed on to the consumers. We have no information on the exact amounts paid to the various consultants.

"Of the $650 million that is slated to come from a variety of other sources, not a cent seems to have materialised."

The Staff Appraisal Report of the World Bank had estimated the total financial requirement of Gridco at $997 million, out of which $350 million was to be a loan from the World Bank and $97 million was to come from the DFID as grant. The DFID grant has come in toto. $246 million was expected from other sources. Against this, the three BSES companies put together have issued bonds totalling Rs.400 crores to the NTPC as explained above.

"Yet the company (AES) had claimed excessive expenses on travel, communications and so on. In its tariff proposals it had claimed expenses of Rs.1.12 crores towards telephone and communication charges, Rs.11.2 crores towards consultancy and level fees, Rs.7.24 crores towards travelling and conveyance, and Rs.2.41 crores towards watch & ward and miscellaneous expenditures - in just two years, 1999 to 2001."

The Kanungo Committee report, in para 3 of Annex 9 (dealing with the exit of AES), makes it clear that while the amounts mentioned in Frontline were as per the tariff filings (projections) of the company, the actual expenses reported by Cesco in October 2001 were less, with the expenses on legal, consultancy and professional charges being Rs.2.79 crores in place of the projected Rs.11.2 crores.

Purabi Das, Public Affairs Officer, Orissa Electricity Regulatory Commission Bhubaneswar

Sudha Mahalingam writes:

My article makes it abundantly clear that it is based on the Kanungo Committee report, of which I have a copy. The Kanungo Committee was an official fact-finding panel appointed by the Government of Orissa and as such had access to official documents. Besides, it heard in person the views of 46 stakeholders from across the spectrum, including legislators, representatives of the World Bank, reform consultants, executives of the distribution companies, officials of the State government, consumer representatives and others. It received written submissions from 78 other stakeholders. Therefore, there is no reason to question the authenticity of the findings of the committee; nor is there any need to corroborate independently the facts presented in the report. I am surprised that the OERC should feel burdened to defend the misconceived reform process in the State and even more surprised by its contention that the Kanungo report should not be considered the "last word" on the reform process.

If the OERC still has reason to dispute the findings of the Kanungo report, its version would be welcome provided it is supported by authentic data and documents, not mere assertions.

Proof of connivance

THE National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) released on May 31 its findings and comments on the situation in Gujarat. In the process the Commission expressed its dissatisfaction with the Gujarat government's response to its earlier interventions regarding the violent acts against the minority Muslim community following the Godhra train carnage of February 27. The NHRC's proceedings, approved unanimously by chairperson Justice J.S. Verma and three members, Justice K. Ramaswamy, Justice Sujata V. Manohar, and Virendra Dayal, throw fresh light on the events surrounding the Godhra tragedy, and its aftermath in Gujarat.

While unravelling these painful events, the NHRC has brought out new evidence, which could help in prosecuting the guilty. The proceedings should also help establish the State government's culpability in the violence, on the basis of credible adverse inferences.

In its preliminary comments released on April 1 (Frontline, April 26, 2002), the NHRC had asked the State government whether it had discharged its primary responsibility to protect the rights to life, liberty, equality and dignity of all. In assessing the degree of State responsibility in the failure to protect the rights of the people of Gujarat, the NHRC cited the principle of res ipsa loquitur (the affair speaking for itself). The NHRC observed that the responsibility of the state extended not only to the acts of its own agents, but also to those of non-state players within its jurisdiction and to any action that may have caused or facilitated the violation of human rights. It added that unless the State government rebutted the adverse inferences against it the latter would be deemed accountable.

Ironically, the State government could not use the first opportunity provided by the NHRC to rebut any such inferences. In its report submitted to the NHRC on April 12, the State government testified to the fact that an increasing number of people were being killed or injured or compelled to seek shelter in relief camps. It also confirmed the assault on the dignity and worth of the human person, particularly of women and children. This was sufficient for the NHRC to conclude that there was a comprehensive failure on the part of the State to protect the constitutional rights of the people, starting from the tragedy in Godhra to the violence that ensued. In the NHRC's view, the appointment of K.P.S. Gill as Security Adviser to the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, implicitly confirmed that the State had failed to bring under control the persisting violation of the rights to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the people.

From the sequence of events, it appears that the Gujarat government could have prevented the Godhra incident had it received in time intelligence about the return of kar sevaks from Ayodhya by the Sabarmati Express. The State government claimed that such intelligence came into its possession only in the wee hours of February 28. This made the NHRC conclude that the inability to establish a two-way flow of intelligence between the Gujarat Intelligence Bureau and the Uttar Pradesh Police about the travel plans of the kar sevaks from Gujarat led to the tragedy. The State government was unable to rebut the presumption that there was a major failure of intelligence.

The failure of intelligence, the NHRC noted, was accompanied by a failure to take appropriate anticipatory measures to prevent the spread and continuation of riots. While examining why some districts were more prone to violence than others after the Godhra tragedy, the NHRC wanted the State government to identify certain local factors as well as players who had allegedly overwhelmed the officials responsible for preventing such violence. The State government evaded a specific reply to this, on the grounds that the matter was covered by the terms of reference of the Commission of Inquiry appointed by it. The NHRC found this response to be lacking in transparency.

It is true that the allegations of violence have to be substantiated in a court of law to get their perpetrators convicted. However, the mere appointment of a Commission of Inquiry does not absolve the State law-and-order agencies from their duty to investigate the crimes on the basis of specific allegations made by the victims.

The NHRC's report was prepared after the visit of its team to Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Godhra from March 19 to 22. It was kept confidential until the State government responded to some of the allegations made in it. The NHRC team, led by Justice J.S. Verma, met many prominent citizens and human rights activists, and the report includes a summary of what was revealed by them.

The report has made some specific allegations: 1. State Home Minister Gordhan Zadafia and Health Minister Ashok Bhatt monitored the progress of the riots from the City Police Control room; 2. Urban Development Minister I.K. Jadeja controlled things from Police Bhawan, Gandhi Nagar; 3. Someone stated that he had seen the Home Minister moving about in the riot-affected areas, displaying the "V" signal; 4. Former Deputy Mayor of Ahmedabad, and Member of the State Assembly Maya Ben Kudnani and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Dr. Jai Deep Patel were named by a number of victim families from Naroda Patia; 5. Legislator Usman Bhai alleged that Zadafia was directly monitoring the progress of the attacks on Muslim localities from the office of Home Secretary Ashok Raina; 6. Certain BJP leaders of Vadodara had made provocative speeches on local television, before violence erupted in the city; 7. Certain members of the police force allegedly played a dubious role in fomenting violence against the minorities (the report names them).

The report reveals the identity of persons who were responsible for ignoring the pleas for help made by former Congress(I) MP Ashan Jaffrey, who along with some members of his family and 39 others were burnt alive in Ahmedabad on February 28. Former Chief Minister Amar Sinh Choudhury spoke to the NHRC team about his futile efforts to obtain police protection for Jaffrey. He first contacted the Police Commissioner, P.C. Pande, at 10-30 a.m. and apprised him of the imminent danger to Jaffrey's life. Pande assured Choudhury that police assistance would be despatched quickly. Choudhury reminded Pande again upon receiving another frantic call from Jaffrey. He spoke to the Chief Minister in the afternoon and found him well-informed about the presence of a violent crowd outside Jaffrey's house. Choudhury also spoke to the Chief Secretary and the Home Secretary between 12-30 p.m. and 2 p.m. - all in vain.

In a report to the NHRC on April 24, the Commission's Special Representative in Gujarat, P.G.J. Nampoothiri, observed that almost 90 per cent of those arrested - even for grave offences such as murder and arson - had managed to get bail almost as soon as they were arrested. He also reported that the victims were finding it difficult to record first information reports (FIRs), and to name the guilty. Many persons with political connections, who were named by the victims, defied arrest, he told the Commission. This made the NHRC to emphasise the need to investigate the crimes and prosecute the guilty without any extraneous influence coming into play. Its recommendation to the Centre to refer certain cases to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) - despite the State government's refusal to do so - under Article 355 of the Constitution has to be seen in this context.

The NHRC found that the response of the State government to the security needs of former Judge Justice A.N. Divecha and sitting Judge Justice M.H. Kadri of the Gujarat High Court, was hopelessly inadequate. Justice Divecha's house was burnt down, after he and his family had moved to a safer place. Justice Kadri, the NHRC noted, was compelled to move from house to house because of the pervasive insecurity. And in the case of less prominent Muslims, the NHRC found, the official response to their security needs exposed gross negligence or, as in certain instances, tacit complicity in the violence against them.

On the edge, still

Sporadic violence continues, tensions still run high and the communal forces remain emboldened, even as bomb explosions in public places create panic in Gujarat.

"IT is a kind of peace since people are tired, but you can't really call it peace. The violence has lessened but not stopped. Anything can happen at any time." Human rights activist Trupti Shah's opinion seems to sum up the prevailing situation in Gujarat. Shah lives and works in Vadodara, one of the cities worst affected in the last three months. Her views are echoed by social workers all over the State.

It is a little over a month since K.P.S. Gill arrived in Gujarat. When he arrived, on May 3, officials in the Gujarat government preferred to pretend that they had no idea why he was there, despite his stated designation of Security Adviser to the Chief Minister. Others in the State did not know what to expect, having known only of Gill's tough, no-compromise 'super cop' reputation. One month on, Gill's role still seemed to be unclear. Rohit Prajapati, a human rights activist from Vadodara, says he was mildly optimistic about Gill's presence at first, but it has not really made much of a difference. "He listens to everything with great patience, but at the end of it all there is no action. I don't think he has the power to take any action. He only provides feedback to the Chief Minister. He is just there to create hope in the minds of the people."

19121181jpg

Gill's presence is seen as a token gesture by the State and the Centre. "Appointing him was the government's way of saying they are doing something," says social activist Achyut Yagnik. This view is reiterated by Prajapati who says, "The State never thought to dialogue with the people. It cannot, because it has lost the trust of the people and yet the State has realised that it needs to save face and so it pretends to initiate a dialogue. Obviously an outsider had to be brought and so Gill is here."

This is not to say that Gill is ineffective, but rather that his powers are limited. Prajapati says he specifically asked Gill about the extent of his powers but received no answer. He uses the analogy of a pressure cooker and its whistle. "Everyone needs a breather. Even those who started and fuelled the riots need to get back to their jobs. Gill is the whistle - his presence is allowing people to let off steam. In reality all he is doing is dampening the anger."

The authorities - both administrative and police - are yet to regain the confidence of the people. "Justice can only come after peace," says Prajapati, "and the authorities are not making any effort towards justice." Registering a first information report (FIR) is still a daunting task, with the police either refusing to do so or leaving the formalities incomplete. Even when an FIR is registered, the police often refuse to give the complainants a copy of it. Action is not taken on the basis of the FIRs. Though a few arrests have been made, none of the leaders have been arrested.

In Vadodara, particularly, tensions still run high. Government officials at the so-called 'peace' meetings between Hindus and Muslims do not intervene even though atrocious conditions for 'peace' are laid down by some members of the majority community. Peace, say the Hindu leaders, is conditional on Muslims not wearing caps, not calling out the azaan (call to prayer), not being on the streets after 9 p.m. Prajapati says that "the police are continuing the work of the mobs".

In an interview with Frontline on May 18 Gill had said, "I would wait a while before saying there is nothing to worry about any more." (Frontline, June 7, 2001.) On May 21 the Army began a gradual pullout from Gujarat. Though the paramilitary forces stayed on, the withdrawal of the Army seemed to embolden the communal forces as the following sequence of events indicates.

19121182jpg

On May 24, Godhra town, which had been relatively calm after 11 weeks of communal frenzy, suddenly erupted into violence, leaving two persons dead. However none was injured. On May 25, the suppressed tension in Ahmedabad erupted again in violence, resulting in one death by stabbing. In Godhra, a Muslim owned house was torched. On May 29, a series of bomb explosions threw Ahmedabad into panic once again. Three crude bombs exploded almost simultaneously in three city buses, injuring 16 people. The three bombs, which were placed in tiffin carriers, were the crude country-made type called sutli bombs - essentially explosive material mixed with nails and other sharp items all bound together with rope (or sutli). Two more bombs were defused by the bomb disposal squad.

On May 30, there were two bomb explosions in Godhra. On the same night, the police conducted a combing operation in the Memon colony in Vadodara that was described as a "brutal" one. Two men were killed at Kadi, in Mehsana district, one person was stabbed in Godhra and one was burnt alive in Mehsana.

The immediate reaction of Narendra Modi's government was to label the explosions as "terrorist attacks" inspired by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's "provocative speech" televised the previous day. There are others who said that the May 29 and 30 explosions could have been a reaction to the arrest of three Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists on May 28. The three were arrested in Ahmedabad for their alleged role in burning alive about 60 labourers, most of whom Muslims, in the Naroda Patia area of the city in March.

Operation Crackdown was launched by the Crime Branch of the Ahmedabad police to arrest those accused in the most gruesome cases of violence in the city during the riots - Naroda Patia and Narodia village, in which about 90 people were burnt alive on February 28 and Gulbarg Society, in which the former Congress MP Ashan Jaffrey was killed along with about 40 others. However, the arrests of the accused inspire no confidence. Take, for instance, the May 29 arrest by the Ahmedabad police of the local Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kishan Korani. A member of the board of directors of the Gujarat Minorities Finance and Development Corporation, Korani was arrested in connection with the Naroda Patia massacre. The Gujarat government says that he will stay in his post till proven guilty. Commenting on the arrests made so far, Yagnik says, "There is no qualitative change in the government's attitude even now. If there was, they would be arresting the big fish. All that they are doing is to go for some of the small fry. These are just token arrests."

On May 28, the London based Indian Muslim Federation placed the matter of the communal riots in Gujarat before the United Nations (U.N.) Human Rights Commission in Geneva. They demanded the appointment of a Special Rapporteur and a Special Tribunal to conduct investigations and ascertain responsibility.

In a memorandum submitted to the High Commissioner, U.N. Human Rights Commission, Mary Robinson, the Federation asked for diplomatic pressure as well as economic sanctions to be exerted on India to enact a law in compliance with Article V of the Genocide Convention of 1948. This, the Federation demands, should be applicable to various communal riots in India including the recent ones in Gujarat.

Orchestrated terror

Reports of fact-finding teams sent by organisations with a Left and secular outlook reveal credible evidence of official complicity in the post-Godhra violence against the minority community in Gujarat.

"We lost all hope when the police came with the crowds."

- statement made by a Vatva resident to the fact-finding team from a women's organisation.

THE extent of the tragedy in Gujarat and the insidious role the Bharatiya Janata Party government and its ideological allies played in it would not have drawn so much public attention and opprobrium but for the efforts of several organisations. The reports of their fact-finding teams, record boldly the testimonies of survivors; delineate the inimical role played by sections of the media, especially the Indian language ones, and expose the bias and mistrust among the State's medical community. Most of the reports bare the ugly face of majority communalism, which has been abetted by government agencies as well as lumpen elements of the Right wing. In contrast, reports brought out by commissions appointed by Parliament, such as the National Commission for Women, present wishy-washy accounts of the situation.

19121211jpg

The fact-finding reports have been a visible manifestation of a secular response to the state-sponsored communal carnage. While mainstream political parties have confined themselves to limited street action and the constituents of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to mouthing platitudes, organisations with a Left and secular outlook have reached out to expose the various dimensions of what actually happened in the State.

Reports by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPI(M), All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT), which appeared in the early weeks of March, indicted severly the Gujarat government, the State police and outfits such as the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Several other reports containing almost similar findings were released in March and April. The report by a group, which comprised a journalist and representatives of the Muslim Women's Forum (Delhi), National Alliance of Women (Bangalore), Nirantar (Delhi), Sahrwaru (Ahmedabad), Accord (Tamil Nadu) documented the atrocities committed on women in particular. The report was released on April 16.

Its purpose was to lay bare the character and impact of the violence against women and children, list evidence of the role of the police, identify the new elements in the current phase of violence, and determine the role of organisations such as the VHP and the Bajrang Dal in perpetrating the violence. The report, titled "How has the Gujarat massacre affected minority women: The survivors speak", is a testimony to the barbarity committed on hapless women and children, in the name of teaching Muslims a lesson.

Another report, titled "Gujarat Carnage - 2002: A Report to the Nation", released on April 10, was compiled by Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Associate Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University; S.P.Shukla, former Finance Secretary and former member, Planning Commission; K.S. Subramanian, former Director-General of Police, Tripura; and Achin Vanaik, Visiting Professor, Third World Academy, Jamia Millia Islamia University. While the main focus of attention of the team was the "truth of the Godhra incident", it also looked at evidence of official complicity in the subsequent conflagration. The Police Commissioner of Ahmedabad commanded a 10,000-strong police force, including a force of 3,000 armed men and 16 companies of the Special Reserve Police. Yet mobs of about 5,000 men were allowed to run amok, loot, rape and murder, the report states. A senior police officer told the team members that the problem was not "lack of force, but lack of will".

The report looks into the background of communal violence in the State and rules out categorically the application of the word "riot" in respect of the recent carnage. The first major communal riot since Independence took place in 1969. The next occasion when a communal conflagration occurred was in 1984, when the anti-reservation agitation acquired communal overtones. The largest number of communal riots took place in 1990, during L.K. Advani's infamous rath yatra, when the violence spread to rural areas. A communal atmosphere was being created steadily through various channels, including the media and public lectures, the report states.

The report rules out the possibility that the tragic attack at Godhra was a planned one. Neither available information, nor the circumstances that prevailed at the time of the incident support the theory of a conspiracy with or without the involvement of foreign agencies. In fact, what seemed planned is the subsequent attack on Muslims and their houses and establishments. The report says that it is evident that the lists had been prepared over a period of time and that the Godhra incident merely gave the communal elements an excuse to carry out their agenda. The use of buses and trucks and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinders points to the planning behind the carnage, it says.

The report of the Editors' Guild of India, titled "Rights and Wrongs: Ordeal by fire in the killing fields of Gujarat", narrates the positive and negative aspects of the way in which the New Media were used. Computer-generated handbills and clandestinely printed pamphlets were circulated widely. The e-mail facility was used to threaten and intimidate and to send hate mail. Members of the Guild team were shown pamphlets that called for an economic boycott of Muslims and warned Hindus against sending their children to Christian schools and praying at dargahs - (monuments of Sufi saints). The team came across reaction that showed the extent to which suspicions on communal lines had seeped into a significant section of Gujarat society.

The team found a deliberate attempt by the VHP to spread "facts" about the "pre-planned" Godhra incident through a widely distributed publication titled "Godhra and After". The teams cross-checked these "facts" with district officials, railway authorities and local journalists but found no corroboration. Several print and television journalists told the Guild team of the harassment that they faced from the VHP. The Resident Editor of The Indian Express told the team members that the office van had been searched repeatedly by armed mobs looking for Muslims and that he himself had received a lot of hate mail.

The Editors' Guild report noted the mischievous role played by certain Gujarati newspapers such as Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar, and some local cable television channels. But the coverage by the national media and some sections of the Gujarati media was exemplary. The report has expressed the Guild's reservations and anguish over Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee's speech in Goa where he used the "us" and "them" paradigm to drive home the point that "India was secular even when Muslims hadn't come here and Christians had not set foot on this soil."

The report by the Medico Friends Circle documents the massive brutality and the systematic use of rape as an instrument of violence. It points out the gross deficiency in the provision of amenities and medical care in the relief camps. In some of the camps, that the team visited, many children reported acute respiratory infections and diarrhoea. The team found that psychological trauma was one area that had been grossly neglected. The report notes that the efforts by the State and municipal services have been commendable, given that even in normal times the functioning of the health services was inadequate.

A comprehensive approach to health care in this context would necessarily include treatment for severe injuries, chronic illnesses and psychological trauma resulting from experiencing or witnessing brutal acts of violence. The existing services do not address the psychological trauma or the specific health needs of women, especially pregnant or lactating women. The medical community could have provided medical evidence to prove instances of sexual assault, the report states. No serious efforts have been made by the government to protect the health services and ensure that people have access to them. The report notes that at several places Bajrang Dal and VHP activists had threatened Muslim patients from going to hospitals. There were also attempts to assault patients within hospitals.

The report expresses concern over the trend of medical professionals propagating the ideology of hatred. Notable among persons facing this accusation are Praveen Togadia, international general secretary of the VHP; Maya Kodnani, MLA from Naroda Patiya; and Jaideep Patel, joint secretary of the VHP. The medical community in the State was found wanting in its attempts to safeguard the rights of their patients and even their peers.

THE report by the journal Communalism Combat, titled "Genocide: Gujarat 2002", exposes the magnitude of the brutality that took place across 16 districts; the systematic hate propaganda unleashed through pamphlets, posters as well as school textbooks over the years; and, most important, the role of the State government, the police and Right-wing outfits such as the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. With the help of many testimonies, the report exposes the role of some Ministers and key members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. The report makes use of powerful photographs to convey the scale of the bestiality that was unleashed. The build-up to the violence included the orchestration of communal rhetoric by several prominent persons. One of the chief issues was the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya. The report states that the economic decimation of the Muslim community was one of the prime objective of the attacks. It documents the selective destruction of Muslim establishments with the help of information collected from the Registrar of Companies and the Revenue and Sales Tax departments.

All reports point to overwhelming official complicity, evidence of which was gathered either from official sources or from direct testimonies of the survivors. So far, what is common in all the fact-finding reports is the dominant role played by the Bajrang Dal and the VHP in inciting and leading mobs. The women's panel have put together testimonies of survivors across seven relief camps in the rural and urban areas of Ahmedabad, Kheda, Vadodara, Sabarkantha and Panchmahals districts. Broadly, the reports point to a planned and targeted form of violence, under-reporting of sexual violence against women, official complicity in perpetrating violence, unprecedented attacks on women in rural areas, ghettoisation of the Muslim community in rural areas and the role played by the Indian-language press, particularly in provoking sexual violence against women.

From the testimonies of survivors as well as eyewitnesses, it is apparent that the most extreme forms of sexual violence were committed between February 28 and March 3. Minor girls were also not spared. The team heard narratives of rapes, gang -rapes, mutilation and then murder by burning. The testimonies were corroborated through the versions of victims' relatives located in scattered camps.

A resident of Vatva told the women's team: "we lost all hope when the police came with the crowd." She said that the police told the Muslims: "Tum lad lo. Jitni takat hain mukabla kar lo." (You fight the mobs with whatever strength you have). The police excesses did not stop even as late as March 20. Farzana, a young resident of Vatva, was killed as the police fired indiscriminately in response to some commotion. A young man was killed and a physically challenged girl was shot in the leg. Several women told the panel that a new form of harassment had started in the form of combing operations in which several young men were being picked up randomly.

As each fact-finding report comes out, it is becoming clear that the post-February 27 incidents in Gujarat were not an aberration. It was a Sangh Parivar-sponsored carnage, a truth that will refuse to die despite denial and repeated references to the Godhra incident.

Pro-incumbency pointers

other

Ruling parties and coalitions make gains in a round of byelections across the country.

SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN T.S. SUBRAMANIAN

A SLEW of byelections in various parts of the country brought a surprising assertion of an incumbency advantage. Ruling parties and coalitions in West Bengal, Maharashtra, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu all managed to consolidate their positions with convincing victories.

The largest number of seats at stake was in U.P., where Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) held on to the Lok Sabha seat of Akbarpur, vacated recently after she won a seat in the U.P. Assembly. The Raheri Assembly seat witnessed a significant contest. The Samajwadi Party (S.P.) candidate, a Muslim, who won the election in February, was murdered in a daylight attack outside the Raj Bhavan in Lucknow. Both the S.P. and the BSP fielded Muslim candidates. The BSP's victory is seen to indicate that it has managed to retain the allegiance of sections of the community despite entering into a coalition arrangement with the BJP.

The BSP also retained the Jehangirganj Assembly seat, which was one of the two won by Mayawati in February. Rajbir Singh, son of former Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, won the Dibai seat. Kalyan Singh contested the seat on the Rashtriya Kranti Party ticket in February and won. Kunda, where polling and counting had been disrupted by accusations of gross irregularities, witnessed an astonishing winning margin of over 80,000 seats for Raghuraj Pratap Singh, alias Raja Bhaiyya, an independent backed by the BJP. A member of the erstwhile feudal dynasty, he is much feared in the area for his willing recourse to the use of force in political campaigning.

G. Vijayakumari, the widow of former Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi, won the Amalapuram Lok Sabha seat on the Telugu Desam Party ticket. The Congress, the principal Opposition party in the State, had chosen not to put up a candidate against her in a gesture of respect to Balayogi.

Shibu Soren, the veteran Jharkhand leader, won from Dumka on the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha ticket, defeating a BJP candidate by over 90,000 votes. This is perhaps the only outcome of the round of byelections where a ruling party or coalition in a State suffered a setback. Shortly after the results were announced, Chief Minister Babulal Marandi of the BJP sought a hasty truce with the disenchanted members of the Samata Party. After having fallen out over the allocation of a Rajya Sabha seat that had been held by the Samata Party, the two parties have patched up their differences, with all the Ministers belonging to the Samata choosing to withdraw their resignations.

IN Tamil Nadu, the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) won the byelections to the Vaniyambadi and Acharapakkam Assembly seats. The victory was not a surprise but the margins were. More impressive was the fact that the AIADMK wrested the Acharappakkam constituency from the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK).

The AIADMK fought the byelections on its own as its allies in the Assembly elections of May 2001 - the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), the Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the PMK - had walked out of the alliance. What benefited the AIADMK was the fact that these parties did not band together as an alliance. The PMK joined the main Opposition party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), and the CPI(M) rejected the 'third front' idea mooted by the Congress. Thus the anti-AIADMK votes did not effectively transfer to the parties that opposed it.

In the Saidapet constituency in Chennai city, where a byelection was held, the Election Commission of India (ECI) stopped the counting and ordered a broad-based inquiry after examining complaints filed by various parties. The DMK, the PMK, the CPI(M) and the CPI demanded a repoll in the whole constituency. DMK president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi showed mediapersons blank community certificates signed and issued by the tahsildar of Mambalam-Guindy taluk, coming under the Saidapet constituency, with the seal affixed. Karunanidhi charged that thousands of such certificates, blank ration cards, driving licences and photo identity cards were used by AIADMK workers to cast bogus votes. (These are among the 19 documents listed by the ECI and the voter must produce one of these at the polling booths as proof of his/her identity.) He said that AIADMK workers, with the help of the police, seized 70 per cent of the polling booths in the constituency. Elections in the State, according to him, had become a farce. Karunanidhi said: "I consider it a sad day because democracy's jugular has been slit. I will not, therefore, celebrate my birthday" (His birthday is on June 3). He asked his partymen not to meet him on his 79th birthday to convey their greetings. On that day, DMK and PMK members of the Assembly and Parliament offered fast in New Delhi to press their demand for a repoll.

N. Varadarajan, State secretary of the CPI(M), said that while instances of bogus votes being cast had occurred in the State in the past, those of polling booths being seized were unprecedented. Capturing booths and committing other irregularities at counting centres (by the AIADMK) began with the Chennai Corporation elections last year and reached a peak in Saidapet, he said. R. Nallakannu, secretary of the CPI State Council, said a repoll would be the democratic solution in Saidapet. Vaiko, general secretary of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), wanted repoll in booths where complaints had been made.

The byelections were caused by the death of V. Perumal (DMK, Saidapet), A. Selvaraj (PMK, Acharapakkam), and M. Abdul Latheef (Indian National League, Vaniyambadi).

It was a key fight in Saidapet. Karunanidhi has a sentimental attachment to Saidapet from where he got elected in 1967 and became Public Works Minister in C.N. Annadurai's Cabinet. The DMK's candidate was Ma. Subramanian and the AIADMK fielded film actor Radha Ravi. The CPI(M) and the MDMK were in the contest, with T. Nandagopal and P. Subramani as their candidates. The PMK backed the DMK while the CPI and the TMC backed the CPI(M). There were altogether 26 candidates.

For Vaniyambadi, AIADMK general secretary and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced the candidature of R. Vadivelu, brushing aside the INL's claim. (The AIADMK and the INL were allies in the May 2001 elections). In the AIADMK's reckoning, the INL had become "a letter-pad party" in Tamil Nadu after the death of Latheef. Jayalalithaa rejected the conventional electoral strategy of major parties fielding a Muslim candidate from Vaniyambadi, where Muslims form 32 per cent of the population. The DMK's candidate was E.M. Anifa. The INL fielded Nawaz and the MDMK, R. Lakshmikanthan.

IN Acharapakkam (reserved), A. Buvaragamoorthy of the AIADMK, D. Parventhan of the PMK, P.S. Ellappan of the CPI and 11 others contested. The PMK had the backing of the DMK, the MDMK and the BJP. The CPI was supported by the Congress(I), the TMC and the CPI(M).

Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa toured the three constituencies.

There was unabashed display of manpower and money power by the AIADMK. At Vaniyambadi, eight Ministers, 36 MLAs, four MPs and several thousand men from outside campaigned and the electorate was overawed by the show of opulence.

In 2001, Latheef had defeated J.M. Haroon Rasheed, who was backed by the DMK, by 11,873 votes. Poll analysts attributed the bigger margin this time to the polarisation of Hindu votes but this is a debatable point. Sundry Hindu outfits, including the Hindu Munnani, worked for the AIADMK. The Muslim vote bank did get split between Anifa and Nawaz to some extent. Obviously, the electorate preferred a candidate from the ruling party.

At Acharapakkam, Dalits largely preferred the AIADMK to the PMK, basically a party representing the Vanniyar caste. Vanniyars and Dalits are at daggers drawn in Tamil Nadu. The PMK has lost its credibility because it has kept switching sides between the AIADMK and the DMK in every round of elections.

A fractured verdict in Goa

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party fails to win a majority but manages to put together a coalition government.

GOA, which was liberated from Portuguese colonial rule about 40 years ago and which attained statehood in 1987, has a history of political instability, characterised mainly by defections. Naturally the results of the May 30 elections to the 40-member State Assembly rekindled fears that the malaise would continue, because no single party won a majority. The election turned out to be a race between the two major national parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress(I). Although the swearing-in of Manohar Parikkar of the BJP as Chief Minister, leading a three-party coalition, on June 3 allayed such fears for now, there are suspicions about the means he might have used to muster a majority.

19121281jpg

Parrikar managed to win the support of five non-Congress(I) legislators - two each from the Maharashtra Gomantak Party (MGP) and the United Goan Democratic Party (UGDP) and an independent. All five have been accommodated in the Cabinet. The MGP and the UGDP, which fought the elections together, had pledged in their common election manifesto that they would not align with the BJP.

Speaking to mediapersons after being sworn in, Parrikar denied that the ministerial berths given to non-BJP legislators were the 'price' for their support. He told Frontline that the BJP now shared power with the MGP and the UGDP. "The only way to accommodate them was to give them Cabinet berths," he said. Parrikar also disclosed that the BJP had requested Mathany Saldana, the only other legislator of the UGDP, to join the government. Saldana, a former schoolteacher, has apparently agreed to extend issue-based support. The Chief Minister has to prove his majority during the vote on account in the Assembly.

The BJP may have moved in swiftly with an intention to thwart the Congress (I)'s efforts to form the government, but Parikkar will now have to run the government with the support of a Cabinet colleague against whom he has filed a police complaint. Politically too, it was a climbdown for Parikkar because he dissolved the Assembly in February seeking a clear mandate.

The elections produced a fractured verdict. Although the Congress (I) won 38.2 per cent of the vote compared to the BJP's 35.38 per cent, it fell behind in terms of seats. The BJP emerged as the single largest party, with 17 seats, whereas the Congress(I) won 16. They had won ten and 21 seats respectively in the previous elections in 1999. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which had projected itself as the third force in Goa, won just one seat and 5.8 per cent of the vote. The alliance of the MGP and the UGDP, the once-powerful regional parties which traditionally fought for the Hindu and Roman Catholic Christian votes respectively, won five seats (MGP 2 and UGDC three). The Shiv Sena and the Goa Suraj Party drew a blank.

Both the Congress(I) and the BJP claimed that they had the support of the three UGDP legislators. Each hoped that the MGP-UGDP alliance would either break or enter into a coalition with it.

An indication of the BJP's strategy in the post-election period came during the election campaign, when Parrikar reacted angrily to a press report that quoted him as saying that he preferred a Cabinet that had only eight members, that is 20 per cent of the Assembly's strength. Forming a Cabinet of that size would have been difficult as he would have to accommodate 'friendly' legislators.

PARRIKAR, who was elected the leader of the BJP Legislature Party, met the Governor on June 1 to stake claim to form the government on the grounds that his party was the single largest group in the Assembly. According to BJP spokesman Subhash Salkar, it would be "an insult to the electorate" if the single largest party in the Assembly sat in the Opposition. Party leaders had no answer to the query as to how they could justify a coalition government when Parrikar had dissolved the Assembly two years before it could complete its term saying that he wanted a clear mandate from the people.

The Congress(I), in a memorandum submitted to the Governor, demanded that he should consult the leaders of all political parties before taking a decision on the next government. Nirmala Sawant, outgoing president of the Goa Pradesh Congress(I) Committee, told Frontline that the Governor should follow the precedent set recently by the Uttar Pradesh Governor who recommended President's Rule, ignoring the claims of the Samajwadi Party, the single largest party in the Assembly.

A coming together of the non-communal parties - the NCP and the MGP-UGDP alliance - and the independent would have helped the Congress(I) form the government. But political observers had doubted whether most of the legislators, who had reportedly spent large amounts of money, would be influenced by ideological considerations.

The importance accorded to the Goa elections, the first major electoral exercise after the carnage in Gujarat, was evident from the fact that all top leaders of the Congress(I) and the BJP campaigned in the State. In fact, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's controversial speech at the BJP's National Executive in Panaji on April 12 marked the launch of its campaign. Leaders such as L.K. Advani, Pramod Mahajan, Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh campaigned for the BJP.

The Congress(I)'s campaign was spearheaded by its president Sonia Gandhi. Among the other major campaigners were party general secretary Ambika Soni, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit and former Union Ministers Jagdish Tytler, Kamal Nath and Manmohan Singh. For the NCP, all its top leaders, including Sharad Pawar and P.A. Sangma, campaigned.

Congress(I) leaders stressed that the elections were crucial in the context of the political struggle to protect India's secular image. Congress(I) candidates sought to use the controversy over the cassette of Hey Ram, a video film on the Gujarat carnage. The BJP, with the help of the police and the Chief Electoral Officer, managed to stop its screening in many instances. The police also sought to ban the special issues of Communalism Combat, a journal published from Mumbai.

All parties, however, contended that the happenings in Gujarat did not influence the voting pattern in a big way.

Some observers argued that there was an undercurrent of disapproval of the Gujarat carnage, pointing out that the ruling BJP did not win a majority. In the run-up to the elections, the facts that were highlighted among Muslims were the indictment of the Narendra Modi government by the National Human Rights Commission for its role in the violence, the vandalising of a mosque at Succor and the subsequent closure of the police case against the main culprit, and the BJP government's patronage of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad-sponsored bandh that paralysed life in Panaji.

But the electorate did not wholeheartedly favour the Congress(I). The biggest criticism against the Congress(I) was its going back on the commitment that it would not nominate defectors and "scamsters". As it turned out, "winnability" was the criterion for the choice of candidates. Another factor that affected the Congress(I)'s prospects was its delay in the choice of candidates. Dissidence was a major problem and many Congress(I) rebels won nomination as NCP candidates. The presence of the NCP cut into the votes of the Congress. The attempt to form a Congress(I)-NCP coalition failed, following differences over the division of seats. Such an alliance, it is said, would have prevented the BJP's victory in at least four seats - Tivim, Solim, Vasco da Gama and Mandrem. The BJP won these seats by narrow margins.

The Congress(I)'s performance in southern Goa, which has a large Roman Catholic population, was less than impressive. The party, which bagged 13 seats in 1999, managed to win only nine this time. Similar was its performance in the 'old conquest' taluks (Goa is divided into three 'old conquest' taluks and 11 'new conquest' taluks). The BJP made inroads into its base in the 'old conquest' taluks of Salcete, Bardez and Tiswadi. In Salcete, the Congress(I) failed to retain three of the seven seats it had won in 1999.

THE BJP is the major beneficiary in the elections. In the early 1990s, it outplayed the MGP in the race for Hindu votes. The party has established a strong presence in the State, thanks to a subtle but growing communal divide between Hindus, who form around 65 per cent of the population, and Roman Catholics, who constitute about 28 per cent. Muslims make up around 5 per cent of the population. The BJP's vote share has gone up from 0.47 per cent in 1989 to 35.4 per cent this time. In the Lok Sabha elections of 1999, it won both the seats from Goa. That was the first time that the party won a parliamentary election in Goa. Sripad Naik of the BJP won Goa North (Panaji) by a margin of over 36,721 votes, establishing leads in 17 of the 19 Assembly segments. In Goa South (Marmugao) Ramakanth Angle won by a margin of 14,457 votes, establishing leads in 14 of the 21 Assembly segments. The Congress(I) was its main rival in both seats.

However, it was not a smooth ride for the BJP this time. Sripad Naik, who resigned as Union Minister of State for Shipping to contest the Assembly elections, lost to Ravi Naik in the Ponda constituency. Sheikh Hasan, the BJP's only Muslim candidate, and Ulhas Asnodkar, Deputy Speaker of the last Assembly, were the other major losers among the BJP candidates.

A breach of trust

other

WHEN the Karnataka Police forcibly took away Nakkheeran reporter P. Sivasubramanian in November 2001, and both the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu police subsequently filed six cases against him, their next target was expected to be Nakkheeran Gopal, the Chennai-based Tamil magazine's editor. And on May 28 Gopal received a notice from the Tamil Nadu police that he had been included as an accused in the abduction of Kannada film actor Rajkumar by forest brigand Veerappan in July 2000. The notice, sent by the Inspector of Banglapudur police station, said Gopal should surrender before the Judicial Magistrate, Sathyamangalam, within ten days of receiving the notice. Besides, he should present himself at the Thalavadi police station every day for 15 days.

19121331jpg

Three days earlier, on May 25, journalists from Chennai had criticised the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka police for violating established lawful procedure against Sivasubramanian. Some asserted that the two State governments had formed "an alliance to liquidate" the magazine Nakkheeran. The arrest was aimed at intimidating vigorously oppositional media in Tamil Nadu, they said. N. Ram, Editor, Frontline, said Sivasubramanian, a journalist, "has been made a scapegoat for the failures of governments, with some collateral motive [at play]". The two State governments, he pointed out, had made "solemn promises" when they decided to send Gopal, Sivasubramanian and other members of the Nakkheeran team as emissaries to rescue Rajkumar. One of the promises was that "no criminal prosecution will be set in motion against Nakkheeran Gopal and his associates on any future date in respect of any of their activity during this mission". The Home Secretaries of the two States had given these assurances in writing on October 9, 2000. So "a breach of trust has been committed," Ram asserted, in the criminal cases piling up against Sivasubramanian. He added that the issue was whether Gopal, Sivasubramanian and others in the Nakkheeran team were entitled to the procedure established under law, the right to life, the right to liberty and freedom of expression.

Under the terms agreed to by the two governments, "Nakkheeran Gopal and his associates shall be given immunity against penal provisions if any of their activity is secretive or contrary to the obligations under law". A third promise was that Gopal and his associates "will not be summoned to give evidence against Veerappan and his men" in any criminal case against the latter in the matter relating to Rajkumar's abduction.

Sivasubramanian was the first journalist to interview the notorious sandalwood smuggler, elephant poacher, gangster and serial murderer, Veerappan, in April 1993. Nakkheeran published the interview with photographs when the Special Task Force (STF) of the two States were hunting for Veerappan for months. The two State governments appointed Gopal and Sivasubramanian as their official emissaries to negotiate with Veerappan when he abducted ten Karnataka Forest Department personnel in July 1997, and, later, Rajkumar.

The popular film actor's abduction created a crisis in Karnataka. Chief Minister S.M. Krishna met the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi several times. Rajkumar was finally released in November 2000.

A year later, on November 20, 2001, Karnataka police personnel took away Sivasubramanian from near his home at Athur, near Salem in Tamil Nadu. Seven cases were filed against him. A case filed at Ramapura police station in Karnataka, charged him with offences under Sections 212 (harbouring offender) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code. A few days later, another case was filed against him at Chamarajanagar (East) police station, Karnataka, for offences under sections of the Indian Penal Code, Sections 27 and 325 of the Arms Act and Sections 3, 5 and 6 of the Explosive Substances Act. The Tamil Nadu police included Sivasubramanian as an accused in the case relating to Veerappan and his men attacking a police station at Vellitiruppur, near Erode, and snatching firearms.

The fourth case saw Sivasubramanian as an accused in the murder of a Kandavel, allegedly committed by Veerappan. The case was filed at Anthiyur police station in Tamil Nadu. The fifth case related to a landmine blast, allegedly triggered by Veerappan and his men on April 19, 1993, in which Special Task Force (STF) officer Gopalakrishan was injured and 22 policemen were killed. This case was reopened at M.M. Hills police station in Karnataka, this year. In the sixth case, Sivasubramanian is an accused in the abduction of Rajkumar by Veerappan. This case was filed at the Thalavadi police station in Tamil Nadu. Towards the end of May, Sivasubramanian was included as one of the accused in the case relating to the murder of a certain Bhaktavatchalam, allegedly committed by Veerappan.

Sivasubramanian has obtained bail in all cases except those relating to the blast and Rajkumar's abduction. Gopal has been made an accused now in the abduction case. Gopal obtained anticipatory bail from the Madras High Court on December 10, 2001. He said the cases were registered because Nakkheeran had exposed the atrocities committed by the STFs of the two States against the tribal people.

On June 3, journalists in Coimbatore held a demonstration protesting against the police harassing Sivasubramanian. In Chennai, the Madras Union of Journalists, the Madras Reporters' Guild, the Chennai Press Club and the Journalists' Action Group issued a joint statement on May 30 demanding that the Tamil Nadu government drop Nakkheeran Gopal and his associates from the list of accused in the Rajkumar abduction case.

T.S. Subramanian

Other Issues

View All