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COVER STORY

02-08-2002

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Briefing

CHARIOTS OF FEAR

The Jagannath rath yatra passes without incident, but for Gujarat's Muslims it is life on the edge, for the fifth month running.

A FESTIVE procession in a ghost town. Welcome to Ahmedabad's 125th Jagannath Rath Yatra. While some people in the city celebrated, others abandoned their homes, ran for their lives and hid themselves in mortal fear.

The relief camps in the city were swamped with a sudden exodus of people. After staying in a relief camp for four months, Sayeeda Rafiq Maniyar and her family had returned just 15 days earlier to their looted home in Saraspur, Ahmedabad. Their attempts to settle back into their old life were rudely disrupted by the rath yatra. Fear of further violence made them drop everything and run back to a relief camp in Haj House, Kalupur. "The basti is empty once again. Everyone has left. No one dares to stay there for the rath yatra." Sayeeda's chawl is close to the route of the yatra.

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Anxiety over the yatra reached fever pitch as the day - June 12 - drew near. On the eve of the festival, many of the city's Muslims, especially those living in the Walled City, deserted their homes. In their search for safety, they scrambled into relief camps, relatives' homes or neighbouring bastis which were away from the road and had a large Muslim population.

Chief Minister Narendra Modi pulled out all the stops, to try and use the occasion to prove that law and order had returned to Gujarat. But the atmosphere of fear surrounding the rath yatra was reflective of the mood throughout the State. Despite official attempts to show that the situation was normal, scratching the surface revealed the terror that lay beneath. While the powerful people are upbeat, the marginalised Muslims in the relief camps and the streets hang about the darkest corners. Although large-scale violence that started in March has since abated, they still live in fear, moving between the remains of their homes, relief camps and relatives' houses. Some people who returned to their homes had to retrace their steps to the camps. For many Muslims, it is a desperate search for a place to belong. The rath yatra heightened the insecurity and upset the balance for those who were just about managing to pick up the pieces of their lives and start all over again.

The rath yatra is a 3-km-long procession that winds through the narrow lanes of the Walled City. Many of the participants routinely indulge in wild, chauvinistic rituals, running through the streets of the Muslim-dominated areas, brandishing swords, sticks and trishuls, sometimes shouting provocative communal slogans. In 1985 and 1992, communal clashes erupted during the yatra. This time, Muslims were not taking any chances.

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The local Muslim community already lost more than 1,000 lives, and thousands of homes and jobs in systematic communal attacks by Hindutva mobs against Muslims after February 27 when the Sabarmati Express was burned in Godhra, killing 59 passengers. Ever since, Gujarat's Muslim community has been shaken. They have witnessed the most gory attacks on their people. Picking up the pieces of their lives has proven difficult as they face an economic boycott. Many have seen their homes and shops being razed to the ground to make way for the construction of temples. Living in a State whose government abetted the massacres makes every Muslim fearful.

Ayub Khan, a tailor who lives and works in Dariyapur, finished work for the day and headed off for the Shah Alam relief camp on the eve of the yatra. "It's not safe for us here. We don't trust the rath yatris or the police. During the recent violence, it was the police who fired on innocent people here, even though there was no riot in the area," he says. With the police swarming the neighbourhood ahead of the event for days, fear of the police also drove residents away. As part of the security measures, the police organised rehearsals and drills in the days leading up to the yatra. "The police only target us. Even when we are attacked and run for safety, the police fire at us. We live on the border with a Hindu colony. If anything happens, where will we run?" he asks.

His distrust of the police was echoed by many others. The residents of Punjabi Galli in Dariyapur recently constructed a huge iron gate to keep outsiders away as well as to prevent random police combing operations. "We are scared of the police, not the rath yatris. The rath yatris are people like us. But it was the police who encouraged the killings in the past few months. They entered homes and shot at innocent people," says Rizwana Noormia Sheikh, a Dariyapur resident. While boasting of its ability to restore law and order, the Gujarat government points out that the largest number of people have been killed in police firing while quelling the violence. However, it does not mention that a disproportionately large number of these firings killed the victims of the attacks rather than the criminals. This has made Muslims even more scared since they have no one to turn to. "It's the first time that we are deserting our houses because of the rath yatra. What bigger shame than having to escape from your own home?"

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WHILE most of the 7,000 people who fled in fear of the rath yatra will get back to their homes soon, Ahmedabad's relief camps still house around 30,000 others. They have had no choice but to live in the most unhygienic and inhospitable conditions for almost five months. Their livelihoods and the education of their children have been disrupted. Most of them have been unable to return to their homes, fearing further attacks or because they do not have the money to rebuild their homes. The amounts of compensation doled out to refugees by the Bharatiya Janata Party government have been pathetic, generally ranging between Rs.2,000 and Rs.3,000. Many people have not even received cheques for even these amounts from the government. Yet, the State is trying to shrug off responsibility for the refugees. It is willing to provide supplies to only for of the 20 camps that are now operational in Ahmedabad. The others simply do not exist in government records anymore. Most of the camps in the rural areas, where people live without even shelter during the monsoon, have also been de-listed by the government. The supply of food, water and electricity has stopped. A government that aided and abetted the violence obviously will not bother to help the victims get back on their feet again.

The government's only preoccupation, it would seem, is to hold elections at the earliest opportunity to ride the Hindutva wave generated by the communal attacks orchestrated by the Sangh Parivar. Fear is a key element of its electoral game plan. The Gujarat government brushed off the concerns and anxieties of its Muslim citizens regarding renewed violence during the rath yatra. At the same time, the Chief Minister appealed to Muslims not to take out processions during the Moharrram festival in March. Despite suggestions from top police officials to cancel the yatra this year or change the route, the government remained adamant. Said a police officer: "The rath yatra at such a time is very dangerous from the security point of view. Especially in Ahmedabad, where two to three lakh people celebrate it on very narrow roads. Over the years, the festival has become a Hindutva yatra on the streets. It is hijacked by these elements every year." Over the years, the yatra has become a festival to be dreaded since it threatens to turn into a flashpoint for communal clashes.

But this year, the Hindutvavadis had already sated themselves. After having unleashed widespread violence over the last few months, they spared no effort to ensure that the rath yatra was peaceful. Heavy police security was deployed. The streets were dotted as much with khaki as with saffron. The government probably spent more money on arranging security for the festival all over the State than it has on the refugees in the relief camps. In order to prevent trouble, the yatra was cut to a third of its usual size. Only 35 trucks were allowed on the 15-km route; normally there are around 100. Nothing was going to stop the yatra. The prestige of all the 'true Hindu patriots' in the Gujarat government was at stake.

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Many of these 'Hindu patriots' who wreaked havoc with peoples' lives have got away scot-free. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) made sure that its 'boys' were safe from the reach of the law. In fact, it even launched a fund collection drive in middle-class Hindu localities to raise the legal fees payable to defend them. But the lawyers did not have to work too hard. The local police did enough to help. They refused to file cases against Sangh Parivar leaders and activists although victims and witnesses tried doggedly to register first information reports (FIRs). When cases were filed, they were on the basis of group FIRs for an incident in the area, instead of for each complaint filed. That reduced the number of times, if at all, the accused would have to be arrested. No action has been taken, for example, against BJP MLA Mayaben Kodnani and VHP secretary Dr. Jaideep Patel whose names were mentioned in connection with a gruesome massacre at Naroda Patiya in Ahmedabad. The first riot case came up for hearing recently regarding the burning of shops in Lunawada. The accused were let off within two days since the police case against them was so flimsy. The saffron brigade is gloating over the manner in which they have been able to subvert the system and use state power to their advantage.

As the akhadas made their way through the streets, some individuals flexing their muscles in frenzied arrogance, and the few Muslim elders who stayed back in the neighbourhood to guard their homes closeted themselves behind closed doors and windows. Muslims all over the State were told to observe a self-imposed 'janata curfew'. Even Muslim areas through which the yatra did not pass were deserted. As soon as the last rath had crossed the Muslim-dominated Dariyapur area, the police cordoned off the road and there was a collective sigh of relief among Muslims. They celebrated the peaceful passage of the yatra through their neighbourhood. It helped that the police were hurrying the yatra on, attempting to get it all over as quickly as possible. Usually the yatra starts from the Jagannath temple at 7 a.m. and returns late at night. This time, the police tried to get it over much earlier.

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The event was considered an 'acid test' for the Narendra Modi government, and it was essential for his political survival and future that the rath yatra passed off peacefully. All of the BJP's hopes of an early election in October hinged on proving that it can please its hardline Hindu supporters and yet maintain peace when it wants to. Chief Minister Modi as well as former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel were present at the yatra prominently.

The government's security adviser K.P.S. Gill endorsed Chief Minister Modi's decision to go ahead with allowing the yatra by saying that changing its route would only create more tension. Gill also backed the BJP's stand by declaring that early elections would ease tension in the State by putting an end to any politically-motivated violence. Although Gujarat's Muslims are still threatened, Gill announced that since the rath yatra was peaceful, his work in Gujarat was over. With tempers still remaining so frayed and elections around the corner, many people would say it is just the beginning of another phase.

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In the public jubilation over a peaceful yatra, all the terror and violence that preceded it seemed to have been relegated to the background. Around 7,000 people left their homes and fled to relief camps, according to Fr. Victor Moses from the Citizens' Initiative, a group of non-governmental organisations helping with relief operations. In the build-up to the yatra, trouble broke out in Gomtipur, Ahmedabad. Shivramdas, a mahant of the Saryudas Temple in Prem Darwaza (which is on the route of the rath yatra) was arrested for possessing nine country-made pistols. Country-bombs and arms were seized also in Bhavnagar. A potential suicide bomber, who said he wanted to avenge his son's death, was arrested in Ahmedabad while the yatra was under way. Police fired 20 rounds, injuring two persons, when trouble broke out at the yatra in Sherpur village, Anand district. Even as the yatra was in progress in Ahmedabad, stone-throwing in Kheda, Anand district and curfew was imposed.

To realise just how peaceful it really was, you only have to ask people like Sayeeda Maniyar. They have spent sleepless nights in fear and terror. Even though they are relieved that the yatra passed off without violence, they preferred to wait and watch for a day or two before leaving the camps. Peace is yet to return to their homes - and their minds.

To reap a bitter harvest

DIONNE BUNSHA cover-story

Narendra Modi and Co. are all set to try and take advantage of the Hindutva wave to gain power again in Assembly elections.

ON July 12, Ahmedabad witnessed a saffron show of muscle - both literally and metaphorically. As the Jagannath rath yatra passed through the predominantly Muslim Walled City area, young men and boys wearing saffron bandanas flexed their muscles at the crowds. Others ran through the streets with wild abandon, waving swords, trishuls and sticks. By insisting that the rath yatra be held despite fears of further violence, Chief Minister Narendra Modi had proved his point: that he can reap political gains with an aggressive Hindutva line. That muscle-flexing works.

The loud calls for his resignation having been reduced to a whimper, Modi has got down to the business of preparing for Assembly elections. Although they are not due until early 2003, he wants to hold them as soon as possible, maybe in October. Modi is eager to harvest the gains of the communal carnage, in which more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died. The scale of the carnage has shaken all Gujaratis and the 1.5 lakh people rendered homeless are still struggling to rebuild their lives. Around 30,000 of them are stranded in relief camps all over the State.

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But they are of no concern to Mr. Modi. His government has not even paid them adequate compensation and is even shunning its responsibility of providing supplies to the relief camps. The existence of 90 per cent of the camps it has refused to acknowledge; it has de-listed them. The Chief Minister's only priority now seems to be to take advantage of the Hindutva wave generated by the communal killings - before it dies out.

Even this saffron mood is rooted in fear. Using propaganda deftly, the Sangh Parivar has managed to play on the insecurities generated by the violence and spread the fear of retaliation by 'Muslim terrorists' to gain support. Its anti-Muslim vitriol continues to flow. At a public meeting in June, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Ashok Singhal warned: "If Muslims continue to take the country towards partition, they will have to stay in refugee camps like in Gujarat.... The communal violence in Gujarat symbolises the first positive response of Hindus to Muslim fundamentalism in a thousand years." VHP and Bajrang Dal activists who indulged in violence have been further emboldened since they got away scot-free, shielded by the Bharatiya Janata party government.

Modi's stance is in keeping with the recent revamp of the BJP's central leadership. The hardline camp of Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani was seen to have gained the upper hand. Soon after his appointment as party spokesperson Arun Jaitley issued statements praising Modi's effective handling of the situation in the State. In April, at the party's National Executive meeting in Goa, there were hints of its toughening stand when Modi was let off the hook and the demand for his resignation was squelched. It was in Goa, just days after he had visited a relief camp in Gujarat, that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee made a speech saying that Muslims were not interested in living in peace, and criticising them for refusing to integrate with society. The BJP is now all set to test its hardline stance in the elections in Gujarat - its 'Hindutva laboratory' and the only State where it has a clear majority, with 117 of the 182 Assembly seats.

Since the government has failed to deliver on its election promise of 'na bhay, bhook, bhrashtachar' (no fear, hunger or corruption), it has now adopted the communal strategy to divert attention from the real issues. This summer, more than 2,000 villages in the State had acute water shortages. During the last two summers, starvation deaths and water riots were reported in the drought areas of Saurashtra. Where there is water - in the industrialised 'golden corridor' stretching along the coast - it is highly polluted with toxic industrial chemicals and poses a threat to the lives of local workers, farmers and fishermen.

With industry becoming more capital-intensive and the growth of the unorganised sector, jobs have become fewer and more exploitative. "Despite being the most industrialised State in the country, Gujarat has widespread underemployment and informal employment. Ahmedabad has one of the highest poverty rates among the major Indian cities," says Dr. Darshini Mahadevia of the Centre for Environment Planning and Technology in Ahmedabad.

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With the aid of fascist tactics, the BJP is using poverty and unemployment in the State to pit one community against the other. In Ahmedabad, it mobilised support among Dalit workers after the closure of textile mills in the 1980s up to the mid-1990s resulted in the loss of 67,000 jobs. In the drought-prone Panchmahals district, it allegedly mobilised and paid unemployed and landless tribal people to loot and burn the homes of Muslims. Moreover, lakhs of small factories, businesses and self-employed persons suffered huge losses during the violence.

The government's bungling of the earthquake rehabilitation work has also caused discontent. People had no shelter during the monsoon six months after the earthquake hit Bhuj on January 26 last year. Several irregularities in the purchase of tin sheets and other housing material were reported and the Comptroller and Auditor General's (CAG) report last year was a major embarrassment to the government. It highlighted irregularities in the award of government contracts and purchase of items ranging from aircraft to fodder. With the State government facing a severe cash crunch, necessitating overdrawal from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), development work has ground to a halt. Contractors recently held protests demanding payments for pending bills amounting to around Rs.850 crores.

As far as security goes, the constant fear of attacks among Muslims is a clear indication of the fact that the BJP has failed to deliver. Many Muslims have fled the State. Other communities, including Hindus, have also been shaken by the gory violence in the past four months which was planned by the Sangh Parivar. The BJP hurriedly brought in one-time 'super cop' K.P.S. Gill as security adviser to the State government. But far from restoring confidence and security in Gujarat, he has toed the government's line, endorsing its aggressive stand on early elections as well as the holding of the rath yatra. As soon as the yatra was over, he said his work in Gujarat was done and he would return to Delhi. This despite the fact that thousands of families still languish in relief camps. Criminals responsible for the carnage remain unpunished as in many instances the police have refused to file first information reports (FIRs) against them. Is his vision of law and order limited to security arrangements during festivals, asked an observer.

The government is now aggressively using Hindutva to divert attention from its failures. How effective Narendra Modi's strategy is, the election results will tell. What will work in his favour is the feeble opposition from the Congress(I). The Sangh Parivar was able to get away with the carnage because the Congress(I) in Gujarat offered no challenge to it. Realising this, the party's central leadership summoned Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee president Amarsinh Chaudhry and Congress Legislature Party leader Naresh Rawal to New Delhi on July 13 and asked them to submit their resignations. It is possible that Shankersinh Vaghela, a BJP rebel, will take over as State Congress president.

The Congress has used to its advantage the fact that it has gained in all elections in the country held after the 1998 round of Assembly elections. In 2001, it won two Assembly byelections: in Sabarmati, which comes within Gandhinagar, Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani's Lok Sabha constituency. It was after this Congress victory that the BJP brought in Narendra Modi as Chief Minister. The first signs that the BJP's popularity was on the wane came in the September 2000 district panchayat elections. The party lost 23 of the 25 district panchayats and a majority of the taluk panchayats. Earlier, it had controlled 24 district panchayats. In the municipal elections in 2000, the party lost the Ahmedabad and Rajkot municipal corporations, which it had ruled for 13 and 24 years.

The Congress' incompetent counter to the BJP has, in fact, dampened the overall effect of these victories. Recently, it bungled in the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, where it holds power. The corporation demolished a 100-year-old Madni mosque in the Vasna locality on July 4, after which 19 corporators threatened to resign. The Mayor, Himmatsinh Patel, claimed that bureaucrats had carried out the demolitions under instructions from the State government. The BJP government denies this allegation. The incident clearly demonstrates how the Congress continues to self-destruct at a time when logically it ought to be mobilising support.

While both the Congress and the BJP claim that they are ready for elections whenever they are held, it is the BJP that seems more organised. "After Modi was given the go-ahead for elections at our national executive in Goa, we have organised five taluk-level meetings to gear up the local cadre for the elections," says Rajendrasinh Rana, president of the Gujarat BJP. While the Congress is still effecting changes in the senior leadership, the BJP was all set to start its campaign by organising a "Gujarat Gaurav Yatra" with the Chief Minister and senior leaders touring the State. The yatra was postponed after the National Human Rights Commission cautioned that it could aggravate the law and order situation.

Tall claims and muscle-flexing are all that the BJP is left with in the absence of effective governance in the State. The entry of Modi, a greenhorn to governance, as Chief Minister signalled the BJP's move towards a hardline Hindutva strategy. And in the absence of any concrete achievements by its government, that is probably all that the party is left with.

Sequence of events

cover-story
Godhra, February 27, 2002.

7-42 a.m.: The train arrives at Godhra station.

7-42 to 7.47 a.m.: During the five-minute halt there is a scuffle between a kar sevak and a Muslim tea vendor.

7-47 a.m.: The train starts from Godhra station, leaving some passengers on the platform.

7-48 a.m.: The train stops after the chain is pulled in four coaches.

7-48 to 8-00 a.m.: There is stone-throwing between passengers on the train and Muslim residents who hide behind the parcel office of Godhra station.

8-00 a.m.: Train starts moving again.

8-05 a.m.: Train stops for the second time near Cabin 'A' of Godhra station.

8-05 to 8-17 a.m.: A group of people come running from the parcel office towards the train and there is more stone-throwing and violence. The coach is set on fire.

8-25 a.m.: The police arrive and open fire to disperse the mob.

The facts from Godhra

DIONNE BUNSHA cover-story

Investigations into the burning of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra on February 27 seem to be directed to prove the Narendra Modi government's conclusion that it was a pre-planned terrorist act.

"It was a pre-planned attack. The charred bodies which I saw at Godhra railway station testified to the black deed of terrorism."

- Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, February 28, 2002.

ON the day that the Sabarmati Express burned in Godhra, taking the lives of 59 passengers, Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his Sangh Parivar brotherhood had concluded that it was the result of a "terrorist" conspiracy. Since then, investigations into the case have been directed towards proving their theory. But more than four months after the incident, a number of questions remain unanswered. The charge-sheet filed by the Criminal Investigation Department (Crime) is vague about how the S/6 coach caught fire on the morning of February 27. It mentions that a mob of Muslims from Godhra burned the compartment. Details of how it was ignited are not mentioned. But, when contacted, police officials were unwilling to give any further details.

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There does not seem to be much evidence to prove that it was indeed a "pre-planned", much less a "terrorist", attack. The Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) report has ruled out the possibility that the compartment was set on fire from outside by a mob. The report, which is part of the charge-sheet, states that, "no inflammable fluid had been thrown inside from outside the coach". It also rejects the possibility that any inflammable liquid was thrown through the door of the bogie. The report concludes that around 60 litres of inflammable liquid was thrown by someone standing between the compartment and the northern side door of the bogie.

Working on the assumption that the fire was caused by an inflammable liquid, the FSL team conducted an experiment at the spot of the incident, testing out various ways in which a fire could have been ignited. From the railway platform, the team threw buckets of water into the coach, whose window was seven feet above the ground. Only 10 to 15 per cent of the water entered the compartment. If the inflammable liquid was thrown from outside, the FSL report noted, then most of it would have fallen around the track outside and the resulting fire would have caused damage to the bottom of the outer part of the coach. But since this part of the coach was not burned severely, the report ruled out the possibility that inflammable fluid was thrown from outside.

If the coach was set on fire from the inside, who did that? Passengers have given police statements saying that the windows and doors of the compartment were closed when the stone-throwing between kar sevaks on the train and local vendors on the platform began. This occurred when the train stopped for the first time outside the Parcel Office, a minute after it moved out of Godhra station (see box on the sequence of events). Yet, police investigators insist that the FSL report supports their contention that it was a "pre-planned conspiracy by local criminals" who entered the train and set it on fire. "Our investigations show that around 15 to 20 people from the mob entered the compartment with more than 60 litres of fuel and set it on fire. The FSL report also states that three doors of the compartment were open. They could have entered the compartment," says a police officer investigating the case.

But the doors may have been opened later while passengers escaped. One passenger, in his statement to the police, speaks of getting out through the door to his right. Moreover, none of the passengers has said in his/her police statement, that he/she had seen anyone enter the compartment. All of them stated that a mob set the coach on fire. Some kar sevaks in S/6 and adjoining compartments, who were interviewed by a newspaper, also ruled out the possibility of anyone from the mob having entered the compartment. They said that the doors were bolted from inside, and that later when they tried to open them, they were found locked from outside.

Investigators have ruled out the possibility of the fire having been caused by an accident. "There was no fuel inside the train," said an investigating officer. He dismissed the possibility that kar sevaks carried fuel for cooking on their journey. Grain was also found inside the compartment, but the investigator said that it belonged to a family that was travelling to its village for a wedding.

EVER since the public disclosure of the FSL report, the Congress(I) has been accusing the Sangh Parivar of having masterminded the tragedy. "The FSL report shows that someone inside the train set it on fire. No Muslim could have entered the compartment. That too with 60 litres of petrol. The mentality of the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) leadership is such that they are even capable of killing their own kar sevaks for their own gain. Believe me, I know them very well," alleges Shankarsinh Vaghela, a Congress(I) leader, who was with the Bharatiya Janata Party until a few years ago. No one could have entered the already crammed compartment unnoticed. The kar sevaks, who were aggressive throughout the journey, would not have allowed a Muslim in, he pointed out.

Another point to be considered is that before the Godhra incident the kar sevaks had been creating trouble on the trains to and from Ayodhya. They harassed, bullied and abused Muslim passengers, and forced them to say "Jai Shree Ram". Many non-Muslim passengers were also harassed and not allowed to sit on the seats that they had reserved for themselves. On the train that burned, even the ticket conductor was pushed out of a reserved compartment. Jan Morcha, a Hindi daily published from Ayodhya, carried a report on February 25 about how kar sevaks had harassed passengers, and even beaten some of them, on the Sabarmati Express. This was before February 27. Hours after the tragedy, Hindutva mobs attacked Muslim homes in several parts of Gujarat.

While the question how the train was burned remains unanswered, the events preceding the incident have emerged quite clearly from the statements of several railway officials and passengers. The train arrived at Godhra station at 7-42 a.m. Some passengers got down to buy tea and snacks from vendors on the platform. A scuffle between a kar sevak and a Muslim tea vendor occurred over the payment for tea. The train started from Godhra station at 7-47 a.m., leaving some passengers on the platform. A minute later, it stopped because the chain had been pulled in four coaches. While the train halted, there was stone-throwing between the passengers and some Muslim residents of the locality who hid behind the Parcel Office. The train started moving again at 8 a.m. Five minutes later, it stopped for the second time near the 'A' cabin of Godhra station. A local mob came running from the Parcel Office towards the train and more stone-throwing and violence took place. The coach was set on fire sometime before 8-17 a.m. The police arrived at 8-25 a.m. and started firing to disperse the mob.

Petitioners have submitted affidavits before the K.G. Shah Judicial Commission, which is inquiring into the Godhra incident and its aftermath, stating that the tragedy was not pre-planned. They say it was an unfortunate outcome of the spontaneous scuffle that broke out on the Godhra station platform that morning. However, they offer no explanation as to how the fire broke out. One of the petitioners, Amrish Patel, is an advocate and a social activist, while the others are a group of Ghachi Muslims from Godhra who feel that injustice has been done to their community by portraying it as one of criminals.

While police investigators say that they are close to cracking the case and will announce the results of the investigations soon, others allege that the police still have very little evidence. In fact, the interim charge-sheet is not sufficient for any meaningful trial; the police will have to file a supplementary charge-sheet. Several questions have been raised about the manner in which the police have tortured the 61 accused in custody. Some of them have been injected with sodium pentathol or "truth serum", a dangerous drug that makes people speak freely. This is internationally considered a method of psychological torture. Says The Yale Herald: "It is a short-acting barbiturate that depresses the central nervous system, slows heart rate and lowers blood pressure. In the relaxed state produced by the drug, subjects are more susceptible to suggestion and are therefore easier to interrogate. However, the drug does not actually guarantee that prisoners will tell the truth. Often it makes subjects 'gabby' without revealing any important information." Investigators justify its use saying that they had taken the court's permission and that it was carried out under the supervision of an expert medical team. That still does not detract from the fact that it was a blatant human rights violation.

Regardless of what methods are used, how much evidence is gathered or how quickly the investigation is wrapped up, whether the truth about the burning of the Sabarmati Express will ever be known is another story. Powerful Hindutva leaders had already written the script on the day of the tragedy itself.

Sequence of events

7-42 a.m.: The train arrives at Godhra station.

7-42 to 7.47 a.m.: During the five-minute halt there is a scuffle between a kar sevak and a Muslim tea vendor.

7-47 a.m.: The train starts from Godhra station, leaving some passengers on the platform.

7-48 a.m.: The train stops after the chain is pulled in four coaches.

7-48 to 8-00 a.m.: There is stone-throwing between passengers on the train and Muslim residents who hide behind the parcel office of Godhra station.

8-00 a.m.: Train starts moving again.

8-05 a.m.: Train stops for the second time near Cabin 'A' of Godhra station.

8-05 to 8-17 a.m.: A group of people come running from the parcel office towards the train and there is more stone-throwing and violence. The coach is set on fire.

8-25 a.m.: The police arrive and open fire to disperse the mob.

A new era in tennis

Wimbledon this year sees the fading out of old stars and the rise of new ones and also the return of the baseline game to the famed grass courts.

IT was a dull Wimbledon, even though it signalled the dawn of a new era. Two vibrant young champions, 21-year-old Lleyton Hewitt and 20-year-old Serena Williams emerged as the superstars of the future.

Top-seeded Hewitt, ranked No.1 in the world, stamped the fortnight with rare authority. He broke the classic serve-and-volley mould of former champions and dominated the tournament from the baseline. His fierce aggression is reminiscent of the great Jimmy Connors and he is the fastest player this writer has seen in five decades. Hewitt seemed like, as one of the newspapers put it, "an assassin with a mission". His one little 'wobble' during the championships occurred in the fifth set of his quarter-final encounter with the tall Dutchman Sjeng Schalken. Schalken fought back after he was down to two sets to love and his big groundshots had Hewitt scampering all over the court to level the match. In the closing stages of the final set Hewitt missed a few forehands and was visibly shaky. Pumping his fist and shouting 'Come on' at the top of his voice he found that little extra to close out the match 7-5 in the fifth.

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Hewitt's best match was in the semi-finals against Henman. After England's defeat in the World Cup soccer, British sporting hopes were lodged on the narrow shoulders of Tim Henman. Even the Queen in her jubilee year kept her Sunday free, hoping to see Henman in the finals. You can imagine the pressure on poor Henman. Henman played well, but failed to find the abandon and passion that stems from the deep faith of a champion. When the moment of truth comes and the sword is to be thrust deep and firmly, Henman is found wanting. Nevertheless, four semi-final appearances at Wimbledon is no mean achievement and deserves the highest praise.

David Nalbandian, an Argentine of Armenian extract, a tenacious baseliner, playing his first tournament on grass, reached the final. His best victory was against the giant left-handed Australian Wayne Arthurs who many fancied would reach the final from the bottom half of the draw with his big serve. Nalbandian's success was no less a fairy tale than Ivanisevic's victory in 2001.

The pony-tailed Xavier Malisse of Belgium, seeded 27, one place higher than Nalbandian, was the player of the lower half. Malisse's victories over Kafelnikov, seeded five, and Rusedski and Krajicek, the last two in five gruelling sets, sapped his strength, else he would surely have made the final. A fine all court player with a smooth game and a strong serve, Malisse could easily hit the top echelons of the game. But the best match in the lower half was the encounter between the two patched-up old gladiators, Richard Krajicek, 6'5", the champion of 1996, and Mark Philippoussis, 6'4", of Australia. For this writer, it was vintage Wimbledon stuff, as they served and volleyed through four tie breaking sets, before Krajicek wrapped it up at 6-4 in the fifth. Both players had been out of the game for sometime nursing injuries. But the smell of freshly mown grass and the scent of battle pumped up the old warriors to push the clock back and produce a scintillating encounter.

The dawn of a new era is inevitably linked to the end of the old era. Sampras and Agassi, the 'twin towers' of United States' tennis, fell in the first week. It was so sad to see Sampras, one of the greatest players of all time, slumped in his courtside chair after his second round loss to George Bastl, who got into the tournament as a lucky loser, having failed to win a place through the qualifying rounds. An indignant but bewildered Sampras said that he would be back and that he was not going out of the game on such a note. Alas, time has taken its toll and Pistol Pete has run out of ammunition.

Andre Agassi, always popular and charismatic, graciously blowing kisses to the crowd, seemed paralysed at the moment of defeat. The glazed look after his unexpected defeat to Shrichapan of Thailand reminded one of a knockedout prize fighter. Shrichapan, from the lazy 'klongs' of Bangkok, unleashed a thundering serve and sharp searing groundshots to outplay Agassi at his own game. He won the hearts of the Centre Court with his ready smiles and good behaviour. At the moment of victory Shrichapan bowed deep with folded hands, in traditional Thai custom, to all the four corners of the court to a standing ovation. From aggressive western hype with raised fist to oriental charm and humility was a welcome relief.

For the first time since 1922 the U.S. had no player in the last 16 of the men's singles. The new generation represented by Andy Roddick and James Blake succumbed to the serving power and volleying of experienced old-timers such as Rusedski and Krajicek respectively. Roddick is the much-touted future of U.S. tennis. Extremely talented, the 6'2" Roddick has all the credentials of a future champion. Only 12 seeds in the men's singles managed to reach the third round and almost all the matches were played from the baseline. The appearance of far more wear of grass at the baseline rather than at the 'T' junction of the service court, where volleyers perch before they strike, was irrefutable evidence of baseline domination. Tennis has reached a level of speed, accuracy and consistency that it has wiped out the serve-and-volley player. Invariably, the passing shots bring up the chalk beyond the range of the volleyer. But I still feel that on a fast grass the 'big bombers' with serves of 130 mph and above have the edge over the baseliners.

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THE ladies final took women's tennis to a new high. Serena's childlike smiling innocence belies the brutal aggression with which she plays every point. She does not grunt but roars like a martial arts fighter who is delivering the fatal blow. Her attitude is summed up by what she said when asked if she believed in luck. "I don't believe in luck. I just want to go out there and make it happen."

The Williams sisters are a class apart and are entrenched at the summit of the game. Their challengers, if you can call them that, are Jennifer Capriati, Amelie Mauresmo, Henin Davenport and Martina Hingis. The last two were injured while there seems to be no further scope for improvement in the case of Capriati and Mauresmo. The rest of the field are way down in the valley. To get to the summit they all need more physical strength and speed. This will mean more muscle and physical training. Feminine grace, or whatever is left of it, will be overcome with bulging thighs and bristling biceps and triceps. It seems too much of a price to pay that tennis will never again see the silken grace and elegance of the likes of Evonne Goolagong, Maria Bueno and Chris Evert. Significantly, the curvaceous pouting blonde Anna Kournikova always enjoyed a full house on whichever court she played, while the more skilled and higher-ranked players were ignored.

Mahesh Bhupathi won the mixed doubles with Elena Likkovsteva of Russia to keep the Indian flag flying at Wimbledon. It is a fantastic achievement. Quiet, well-behaved but full of resolve Bhupathi has done India proud and deserves the highest praise. In the men's doubles partnering Miruji, ranked in the twenties in singles, Mahesh lost to the eventual winners Bjorkman and Woodbridge in the quarter-finals. Leander Paes, unable to find a good partner in the men's doubles, lost in the first round, but reached the quarter-finals of the mixed doubles partnering Lisa Raymond with whom he won the title in 1999.

The BJP's choice

THE stage seems set for the Bharatiya Janata Party to have its own candidate elected Vice-President without much of a contest. Senior BJP leader and former Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat has emerged as the frontrunner. Undoubtedly, the Opposition parties will put up a contest, but as in the case of the presidential election, it will remain a fight over principles. In the electoral college which elects the Vice-President - comprising both Houses of Parliament - the odds are tilted heavily in favour of the National Democratic Alliance.

In keeping with its recent pattern, the BJP bulldozed its allies into accepting its choice; it decided on the nominee without even holding a discussion with its partners in the NDA. The allies approved the BJP's proposal at an NDA meeting held on July 15, the opening day of the monsoon session of Parliament. Interestingly, the agenda for the Vice-Presidential election was set by the Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, giving credence to the general impression that henceforth it will be he who will call the shots within both the party and the government.

Although the name of West Bengal Governor Viren Shah figured in discussions in the initial stages, besides those of Suraj Bhan and Bhai Mahavir, all former RSS pracharaks and Governors, the scale is tilted in favour of Shekhawat, Advani's personal choice. Besides, among all the names only Shekhawat can claim to have some semblance of support among other parties. "Shekhawatji will have a certain degree of acceptance among all parties, which is not the case with others. He has his own style of functioning; he can even carry his opponents along," said the newly appointed BJP spokesman and former Law Minister Arun Jaitley. "The announcement of his name remains a formality," said Jaitley.

The unambiguous stand of the BJP on the choice of the Vice-Presidential candidate has left its allies without too many options. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which initially seemed to be in favour of a second term for Krishan Kant, changed its mind. "We have not applied our mind to the issue as yet. We shall consider the issue at the appropriate time and our party president Chandrababu Naidu, will take a decision," said the TDP's leader in the Lok Sabha, K. Yerran Naidu. By not proposing any particular name, the TDP has made the BJP's task easier. Besides, the BJP has the unflinching support of its staunch ally, the Samata Party, which has said that it is the BJP's right to have its candidate elected as the Vice-President because it is the largest party in the alliance. "Only the BJP, being the largest party, has a right to this post," said Samata Party leader and Union Minister for Railways Nitish Kumar in an interview to a television channel. In view of the stand of these two bigger allies, the others will have no option but to fall in line.

Thus, armed with the support of its allies, the BJP has dispensed with the courtesy of consulting the Opposition to try and evolve a consensus. "For the Opposition parties, consensus means the choice of the minority segment, not that of the majority," said Jaitley, making it obvious that consultations with the Opposition parties were not on the cards, unlike in the case of the presidential election.

Although the Opposition remains fragmented in the wake of the presidential election, it is expected to join forces on the issue of the vice-presidential election. The Left parties hope that the entire Opposition will unite and give the NDA candidate a good fight. "Despite the bitter experience (with the Samajwadi Party and the Congress(I) during the presidential election), we are for a joint Opposition candidate to take on the NDA nominee," said the Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet. Sitaram Yechury, CPI(M) polit bureau member, said that the party had nothing against talking to the Congress or the Samajwadi Party. "It is they who left us," he said. The Samajwadi Party, on its part, though hurt by the criticism directed at it by CPI(M) leaders in the wake of the presidential nomination, said that it could "consider coming back" but that it would not take the initiative in the matter. "We will support any candidate whom the Opposition parties sponsor. But we will not take the initiative," said Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh. He said that though the Samajwadi Party had been treated shabbily by the Left on many occasions, "for the sake of Opposition unity" the party would support their candidate.

The problem, however, lies in finding a candidate to fight a losing battle. As Amar Singh put it, "they will have to look for another Lakshmi Sahgal". There are no names doing the rounds; not even that of Krishan Kant because he certainly will not agree to suffer the ignominy of a defeat.

Confusion prevails in the Congress party. Although party spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy declared bravely that there would "certainly be a contest," he did not offer any name. "We will arrive at a decision after consultations with other secular parties. The candidate will be an appropriate one," he said in reply to a question whether the Opposition candidate will be the choice of the Congress.

In fact, the Opposition remains clueless about its next move. With so much bitterness having been generated between the Left and the Samajwadi Party in the wake of presidential election, it would be interesting to see whether they would kiss and make up. Similarly, it would be interesting to watch the course that the Congress(I) will take in order to make peace with the Left because the party had bolted out of the Opposition camp at the eleventh hour to support A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. If nothing else, the vice-presidential election will at least provide a lesson in political jugglery.

The post falls vacant on August 20, and the election process should get over by August 12. The notification for the election has been issued by the Election Commission.

A new President

Although the numbers were on A.P.J. Abdul Kalam's side, the presence of Lakshmi Sahgal in the presidential race served to bring crucial issues centrestage.

"As a young citizen of India, armed with technology, knowledge and love for my nation, I realise, small aim is a crime."

THUS wrote A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in his Song of Youth on March 23, 2002, much before he was declared the presidential nominee of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). He always dared to aim high. The man, still overwhelmed by the realisation that somebody with humble origins like him can occupy the country's highest office, is ecstatic at the wonderful vagaries of Indian polity. "It feels fantastic," was all he would say gleefully to waiting mediapersons, as the voting for the President's post progressed at Parliament House on July 15.

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Since Kalam has the support of the ruling coalition and most of the Opposition, the result was a foregone conclusion. The sense of achievement was writ large on his face as he mingled freely with the Members of Parliament who had come to vote. He was equally at ease with the mediapersons, chatting with them but, characteristically, not saying much.

Of the 774 MPs, 26, six from the Rajya Sabha and 20 from the Lok Sabha, had sought permission to cast their votes in different State Assemblies. Prominent among them was Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary Vaiko, who has been arrested in Chennai under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Three Rajya Sabha and 10 Lok Sabha members could not vote, for various reasons. Among them were Dr. L.M. Singhvi and Rajiv Shukla (Rajya Sabha) and Renuka Chaudhary and Rajiv Ranjan 'Pappu' Yadav (Lok Sabha).

Captain Lakshmi, or Lakshmi Sahgal, the Left parties' nominee, who arrived from Kanpur just as the voting began, was a study in contrast. "It does not feel anything great. I still remember the day when Netaji had called us for the first meeting in 1943. It had appeared as if a whole new world had opened for us. It does not feel anything like that," the veteran freedom fighter told mediapersons. "Even before the contest began, we knew what the outcome was going to be. We were not expecting any miracles. But what is important is the fact that we have managed to raise the voice of the common man," she said.

Although the numbers were not on her side, Lakshmi Sahgal's presence did imbue the election with a new vigour; she forced her opponent to spell out his priorities and let the nation know where he stood on issues such as the review of the Constitution, secularism, Centre-State relations, Jammu and Kashmir and social justice. The nation knew him only as a nuclear scientist and the father of India's successful missile programme. But for the presidential race no one would have probably known what he thought of these issues. With a fighter like Lakshmi Sahgal in the fray, he could no longer afford to be anything but succinct.

The campaign too presented a study in contrast. While Lakshmi Sahgal took pains to meet personally members of the intelligentsia and political leaders across the country, seeking their support, Kalam preferred to do it through the Internet. He sent letters to all the members of the electoral college and posted a copy of the letter on the Net, which could be accessed on his homepage (http:\\www.apjabdulkalam.vsnl.com). He had personal interaction mainly with schoolchildren with a view to "igniting the mind to achieve the vision - Developed India".

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Lakshmi Sahgal, talking the language of politics, emphasised the fight against communalism and the politics of hatred. She was unsparing in her attack on the Congress(I) and its "politics of opportunism". In his election manifesto - if the six-page letter can be described as one - Kalam tried to put to rest some of the apprehensions that might have arisen because of the NDA's support for him. For instance, the issue of Constitution review. The Centre has in its possession an extensive report of the Committee to Review the Working of the Constitution, and there have been misgivings in the minds of many that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA government might tamper with the basic structure of the Constitution, notwithstanding public pronouncements to the contrary. Kalam's categorical views on this issue provided some reassurance. He said: "Parliamentary democracy is the core of our governance system, with the President as the Head of State and overall custodian of the Constitution... The basic structure of our Constitution has stood the test of time and shown itself to be having the vigour, vitality and eternal freshness that make it capable of meeting any challenge that new circumstances might hurl at it. At the same time, our Constitution is also innately resilient so as to be responsive to the demands of changing situations... We all need to zealously preserve this principle of change with continuity."

At his press conference, Kalam was less than clear on the issue of secularism. The views he expressed in his letter to the Members of Parliament came like a breath of fresh air, although he placed secularism low on his list of priorities, perhaps in deference to the sentiments of his main supporter, the BJP. It was the eighth item, immediately after Kashmir. Nevertheless, his views are important. He says: "Intolerance and violence in the name of religion is the worst form of irreligion. True religion is that Ocean of Spiritualism into which all faiths shine in brilliance. To people in politics and governance it teaches the message of leadership with compassion and fairness."

Kalam's views on Centre-State relations are likely to cheer those who argue for more powers to the States. He says he is for a strong Centre and strong States. "The time has come to devolve more powers to the States since decentralisation is the key to faster and more balanced development," he said.

On issues such as social and economic justice, women's empowerment, preserving the pluralistic diversity of India's heritage, natural resources and environment, arts, sports, literature, foreign policy, and Kashmir, Kalam voices politically correct and predictable views. But a notable feature is that he has tried to devote time to issues other than national security, which was his principal preoccupation until recently.

On national security, he says: "National security has to be recognised by every Indian as a national priority. Making India strong and self-reliant - economically, socially and militarily - is our foremost duty towards our Motherland." India, he says, suffered invasions in the past because it was not armed sufficiently. Now it should be in a position to defend itself. He, however, states that "our national security strategy is guided purely by defensive considerations. It poses no threat to any country in the world."

His manifesto ends with a call to transform India into a developed nation by the year 2020. "A developed India by 2020, or even earlier, is not a dream. It need not be a mere vision in the minds of many Indians. It is a mission we can all take up and succeed in," he says. His optimism stems from his faith in the youth whom he describes as the greatest assets of the country. They should be nurtured with all possible care so that they can develop as responsible and capable citizens of tomorrow, he says. "The ignited soul, compared to any resource, is the most powerful resource on the earth, above the earth and under the earth," Kalam wrote in his Song of Youth. Time only will tell whether he will succeed in igniting the souls to achieve his dream.

The Xerox confession

Xerox Corporation's Indian subsidiary is to be investigated for "improper payments" to government officials for procuring contracts to supply office equipment.

THE beleaguered reprography giant Xerox Corporation's announcement on July 1 that its Indian subsidiary Xerox ModiCorp Ltd had made "improper payments" to Indian government officials to procure contracts to supply office equipment was greeted with cynicism. Just a few months earlier the company had paid the biggest-ever penalty to the United States regulatory agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), for having defrauded investors by adopting dubious accounting practices.

In a filing made to the SEC in late June, Xerox Corporation stated: "In India, we learned of certain improper payments made over a period of years in connection with sales to government customers by employees of our majority-owned subsidiary in that country." The company had earlier restated five years of results in one of a series of accounting scandals that rocked the U.S. in recent months.

The SEC filing stated that Xerox stopped the payments in 2000 when it became aware of them. "We estimate the amount of such payments in 2000, the year the activity was stopped, to be approximately $600,000 to $700,000," it said. (This amounts to Rs.2.95 crores to Rs.3.4 crores at current rates of exchange.) Media reports, quoting company sources, indicated that payments of $200 (about Rs.9,840) per "deal" were made to government officials for the supply of equipment.

After Xerox's own admission of pay-offs, it would have been embarrassing for the Indian authorities to remain quiet. Finance Minister Jaswant Singh ordered a probe on the day he took over the reins of the Ministry. The Department of Company Affairs, also under his charge, announced its own probe. Secretary in the Department of Company Affairs (DCA) V.K. Dhall said he had ordered a "limited inspection" of the company's account books under Section 209A of the Companies Act. "Further action," he said, "would be taken against the company after the completion of inspection work." Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Arun Jaitley, who until recently headed the department, said: "If what has been stated by Xerox is true, it is a serious violation of Indian laws and requires an investigation."

Other government agencies, among them the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) and the Income Tax Department, also promised to investigate the matter. The CBI is also reported to have decided to gather intelligence about the beneficiaries.

There is speculation that the pay-offs could have reached either officials in the Directorate General of Supplies and Disposal (DGS&D), which is entrusted with the task of stipulating prices and norms for government purchases, or those of departments and Ministries that decided the quantities of office equipment to be purchased in 2000.

In April the SEC filed a suit against Xerox Corporation alleging that the company ran a "wide-ranging four-year scheme to defraud investors" between 1997 and 2000. A senior SEC official said: "Xerox used its accounting to burnish and distort operating results rather than to describe them accurately."

THE crux of the complaint relates to seven different accounting actions used, in what Xerox described as mechanisms to "close the gap" between the company's operating results and Wall Street's expectations between 1997 and 2000. The accounting jugglery was aimed at inflating current revenues of the company.

The SEC slapped a penalty of $10 million, the largest ever imposed by it on a publicly owned company in a case of financial fraud. Indeed, Xerox's latest filing before the SEC was part of the settlement that it reached with the SEC in April, whereby Xerox agreed to restate its financial results for the period between 1997 and 2000.

In late 1999, Xerox took a controlling stake in Xerox ModiCorp, the successor to Modi-Xerox, which was a joint venture between Xerox and the B.K. Modi Group. The joint venture with a 40:40 equity partnership commenced in 1983, selling copiers, scanners, fax machines and other office equipment. Although it had a dominant share in the copier market, it has been under pressure from competition in recent years. The shares of Xerox ModiCorp have been delisted from Indian bourses. While Xerox holds a 68 per cent stake, ModiCorp (renamed SpiceCorp in January 2002) holds 28 per cent and the remaining 4 per cent is in the hands of the public. Xerox ModiCorp's board has nine members, including six from Xerox Corporation and three from the B.K. Modi group. The board is headed by Jule Limoli, a Xerox Corporation nominee. Xerox ModiCorp reported revenues of $108 million in the fiscal year ended March 2002.

Xerox has tried to pin the blame for the pay-offs on its former Indian partner, but this is unlikely to wash because the facts are stacked against the U.S. company. By 2000, it was firmly in the saddle at Xerox-ModiCorp, having acquired a controlling stake the previous year. Moreover, the Modi group has asserted that the company being a "board-managed" one, its actions were scrutinised at all times by Xerox's own representatives on the board.

Meanwhile, in the wake of this scandal, the credit rating agency CRISIL has downgraded Xerox ModiCorp's Rs.100-crore commercial paper programme and the Rs.13.5-crore and Rs.20-crore non-convertible debenture programmes.

Significantly, the problems with the Indian subsidiary are not the only ones that Xerox has mentioned in its recent filings to the SEC. It has admitted that the earnings of its affiliate in South Africa may have been improperly booked. It has also admitted to problems with respect to tax payments by its affiliate in Brazil, to the tune of $380 millions.

A Governor's exit

P.C. ALEXANDER, whose career ambitions received a setback as a consequence of the National Democratic Alliance's (NDA) flip-flop on the choice of its presidential candidate, resigned as Governor of Maharashtra on July 9. He was upset about the treatment meted out to him by the NDA, which first proposed his name for the top post and then switched its choice to A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Instead of submitting the resignation letter to the President, as is the practice, Alexander gave it to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and a copy of it to the Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, who is also the Home Minister. He did not pay the customary visit to the President. Alexander, when he called on the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, gave broad hints that he did not want to burn his bridges with them as yet and that they could consider him for other assignments that they found him suitable for. There is speculation about his being nominated to the Rajya Sabha or made the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, a post which is likely to fall vacant if the Centre decides to send the current Chairman, K.C. Pant, as its special emissary to Jammu and Kashmir to facilitate talks with separatist leaders. There is also talk of Alexander being considered for election to the post of United Nations Secretary-General, once Kofi Annan vacates it. There is a section in the government that wants India to push for its own candidate for the Secretary-General's post. Alexander has held senior positions in the U.N. and has had international exposure while serving as India's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

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However, there is an equally influential section in the government which says that the government has no need to appease Alexander, and points out that he had chosen to resign on his own. This section, which enjoys proximity to the Prime Minister, is of the opinion that by resigning in the manner that he did, Alexander has lowered the dignity of the office he held. As for the talk about his rehabilitation, this section dismisses any such suggestion. "All this talk of his rehabilitation is mere speculation by the media. He was not asked by us to resign and at the moment there is no proposal before us (to rehabilitate him)," said a senior official in the Prime Minister's Office.

Alexander, who had 10 months to go as governor, has so far refused to disclose the reasons for his quitting. "I am still the Governor of Maharashtra, so I cannot disclose anything. Once my resignation comes into effect from July 13, then only I can say anything," was all that he would tell waiting mediapersons when he emerged after a meeting with Advani. To suggestions that his resignation could have been part of a bargaining tactic to extract a plum assignment from the Centre as compensation for the shoddy treatment meted out to him, Alexander replied: "I have crossed that stage. I have never bargained for any post. Posts have come to me," he said.

On July 15, putting to rest speculations about his plans, Alexander filed as an independent candidate his nomination paper for the lone Rajya Sabha seat from Maharashtra that has fallen vacant, following the death of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) member Mukesh Patel. The NCP has announced his support to him. Talking to newspersons in New Delhi, NCP president Sharad Pawar hailed Alexander's role as Governor. He appealed to other political parties to support his candidature. Pawar said the NCP's decision to support Alexander was in deference to his desire to remain above "party politics".

An ustad's legacy

Bade Ghulam Ali Khan's enduring contributions to the world of Hindustani music and to the singing of the thumri, the bhajan and folk tunes are in focus in this, his birth centenary year.

AS a young journalist then, I was in good time that morning for my interview with Morarji Desai, then Chief Minister of Bombay State, at his official residence. But something had upset the morning's schedule, and there I was, cooling my heels, as officials, politicians and visitors trooped in and out.

When I was finally sent for, Morarji Desai apologised for the delay. "You know," he explained, "Bade Ghulam Ali, from Lahore, was here this morning. He is the very best living exponent of Hindustani classical music. After 10 years in Lahore, he has discovered that his cultural roots are in India, and he wants a permanent immigrant visa. What do you think I should do - recommend his case?"

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I was flattered to be 'consulted' by Desai. I said: "For me, he isn't the best living singer, but certainly, an Indian citizenship for him benefits us immensely."

Morarji Desai was not used to being contradicted, and certainly not by an upstart junior scribe. What I said was not music to his ears. "Oh, so for you he isn't our best singer, is it? Who meets your exacting standards?" he asked.

I should have demurred, but persisted: "I honestly think Ustad Amir Khan from Indore is our best singer." It was only years later I came to know that despite being professional rivals and despite possessing diametrically opposite styles, the two maestros (Amir Khan was seven years junior to Bade Ghulam Ali Khan) retained an innate respect for each other.

It is a measure of the depth and diversity of Indian classical music that despite the contrasting styles of singing, both had their vast, loyal following and aficionados.

Music critic Mohan Nadkarni, in his Great Masters: Profiles in Hindustani Classical Vocal Music, says Bade Ghulam Ali Khan's music was extroverted, exuberant, volatile and eclectic. On the other hand, Amir Khan's magic amalgam came from the Khanda-Meru school - an introverted, dignified durbar style, where the pattern and the tempo of singing builds upon itself and evolves ever so gradually.

Morarji Desai successfully negotiated the grant of a permanent immigrant visa to Bade Ghulam Ali Khan between 1957 and 1958. In an unusual gesture, he also helped the ustad to settle down in Mumbai, earmarking for him a posh Malabar Hill bungalow facing the sea, and inviting the city elite to a musical concert at his residence.

In 1962, in the evening of an event-filled life, the ustad moved to Hyderabad, where Nawab Zahir Yar Jung, a long-time admirer of his music, offered him support and space in his Bashir Baug palace. It had begun a hundred years ago in Kasur, near Lahore, and ended, after many highs, honours and haunting concerts in Hyderabad in April 1968.

This year we celebrate the ustad's birth centenary, and attempt a centennial assessment of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan's lasting contribution to Hindustani music and to the singing of the thumri, the bhajan and folk tunes. He made a major contribution to Hindustani music and revolutionised the singing of the classical khayaal as well as the folksy ditties. We select him from among several outstanding exponents of classical music because in the 20th century, he came closer than many others to re-inventing the raison d'etre of Indian music - the vision of a "Naadh-Brahma", the nirvaan of secular music, a vision of a self-sustained universe created from the exquisite amalgam of raag, taal and taan.

As a child and as an adolescent, Ghulam Ali learnt music from his uncle, Ustad Kalle Khan of the Kasur gharana. Inspiration and hard work helped this ambitious youngster to chisel out the angularities in his singing. His preparatory years were marked by industry and determination, which fact became evident in the unsurpassed range and quality of his voice.

In the years that followed, it was the maestro's voice that gave his art an immortality which was rarely equalled. The voice could articulate the quiver of a delicate note to the opening of the floodgates of powerful taans. His listeners were awe-struck at the amazing voice range, which moved freely through three octaves and the most intricate patterns of signing without losing its flexibility and sweetness.

Curiously, young Ghulam Ali, like Amir Khan and some other outstanding vocalists, began his musical career by learning to play on the exquisite stringed instrument, the sarangi. It is said of Ustad Allauddin Khan of Maihar that he was proud that most of his pupils, including the sitar wizard, Ravi Shankar, the sarod virtuoso, Ali Akbar Khan, and the flautist, Pannalal Ghosh, had firm foundations in their musical expressions because of the intense training that they had with the sarangi and later, in dhrupad dhamar and pakhawaaj.

High-quality music required a unity of raag, taal and taan, said the Maihar maestro, Ustad Allauddin Khan. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan admitted that it was his early felicity with the sarangi that influenced his musical articulateness profoundly and later, his ability to execute difficult but exceedingly fluent and sonorous taans. "Can you find another instrument which is so close to the human voice?" he would ask.

Whether it was the khayaal with its courtly discipline, the thumri with its wistful romance or the bhajan with its devotional elan, the ustad opened the eyes and attuned the ears of music-lovers, critics and experts to the importance of voice culture and voice control and the place of emotion in music.

Ghulam Ali Khan made his first bow before the public in a Delhi durbar, organised in honour of the Prince of Wales by the British government and the princely states in the early 1920s.

He arrived on the Hindustani musical scene in the 1930s, riding a new gharana style called the Patiala Gaiki. But what caused a sensation were his debuts at the All-India Music Conference, Kolkata (1939) and later, at the Vikramaditya Sangeet Parishad, Mumbai (1944). These heralded the rise of a new star on the musical firmament.

Distinguished musicians participating in the classical music soirees praised the virtuosity of the 40-year-old Ghulam Ali Khan, whose voice combined a sweetness and pliability that could handle unpredictable swara combinations, deliver taans at incredible speed and captivate audience with ease with surcharged emotion in singing.

An usually attractive trait of the ustad's singing was his absolute virtuosity and mastery over intricate taan patterns. It won him friends, admirers and fans across the musical divide, in Carnatic music also. An admirer recalled a visit he made to the ustad's Mumbai residence, shortly before he moved to Hyderabad. The doting follower had to fly to Calcutta a few hours later and it was almost 11 p.m. when he rang the ustad's doorbell. The fan revealed that not only was he treated to tea and sweets at that hour, but that the ustad asked his son Munawar to fetch his swar-mandal so that he could sing a few thumris for the visitor. Overwhelmed, the visitor remarked to his host in Mumbai: "Can you beat this great artist's humility and uttar absorption in music?"

FEW luminaries have shone so brightly on the classical music firmament for almost two generations as Bade Ghulam Ali Khan did. Few still could combine so remarkably, tradition with magnetism, technique with grace and pure classicality with popular appeal.

"It is rare to come by a musical wizard", writes music critic Mohan Nadkarni, "who could intone with such finesse for aligning his music to the moods and tastes of his mixed audiences. His clear and mellifluous voice, which had both range and depth, was his fortune and he had admirably adopted it to his medium to render fluent khayaals, sprightly thumris, erotic ghazals, soulful bhajans and perennial folk songs with an artistry all his own."

Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan himself said once: "Many people think that classical music has no power of expression and has only technical virtuosity. They forget that emotion is the very soul of our music and that it has the power to express even the subtlest of nuances."

While singing thumris, especially, the ustad would often break his singing to emphasise the sensitive depiction and the charm of its poetic element, enunciate its beauty and delicately delineate the erotic colour or the depth of its emotive concerns. Occasionally, while singing classical raags, he would stop to show how a certain pattern of singing would go if it were a thumri, and if it were classical singing.

The ustad had his critics, too, who would criticise him for compromising on the chaste purity of the classical compositions "for cheap popularity". This is, of course, a variant of the old conundrum: whether music, especially classical music, should be for the "classes" or for the "masses".

Bade Ghulam Ali himself once said: "I know I have been criticised by the so-called high-brow votaries - for shortening the vilambit, singing in raags like Durbari Kanada, Marwa and Lalit and compromising on tradition. I agree that the charm and the heart of classical music is in its leisurely rendering. But then, gone are the days of the leisurely durbar music concerts, which could go on for hours, repeating its contents. We now have to sing for the people whose leisure is limited, and align our music to their moods and caprices."

G. N. Joshi, a recording company executive in Mumbai and himself a singer, has written with feeling of the human side of the maestro. Once Joshi was in the ustad's Mumbai bungalow when there was a cloudburst, and the anger of the sea nearby, amid the lightning, created an eerie atmosphere. Joshi recalls how Bade Ghulam Ali sang the many variations of Malhaar raag trying to match the lapping of the waves on the seashore, "echoing the clap of thunder with gamak taans; the lightning with brilliant phirats or vocal pirouettes, and the rain with torrents of taans over the three octaves". It was a jugalbandhi between Man and Nature.

Similarly, at a musical mehfil in Hyderabad's Bashir Baug palace, when a night-train in the nearby Nampally station gave a shrill whistle to mark the start of its journey, Bade Ghulam Ali (who was about to begin his recital), started on the same high note and progressively came down through the Tivra, Madhya and Mandra octaves - to the deafening applause of his audience. Bhimsen Joshi, the veteran classical singer, recalls how impressed younger singers were with the ustad's uncanny ability to cross three octaves and touch an even higher note. "When we tried it, our larynxes went on strike," he recalled recently.

In his last few years, when the ustad was afflicted by partial paralysis, he had to undergo physical massage daily for two hours in order to condition his body. This was a ritual he hated - until he chanced to match the massage with musical raags. Like some other wizards of music in Hindustani and Carnatic music, his commitment to the swara, raag and laya was so total that daily life became a musical exercise.

Not to be missed is his contribution to restoring the thumri to its pristine place among folk ditties. Under his tutelage, thumri singing reached an esoteric level that had not been reached earlier. Indeed, many who listened to his haunting thumris such as Aaye na baalam, kya karun sajani; Yaad piya ki aaye; Kate naa biraha ki raat for the first time, realised how powerfully music could display emotions. Many were attracted to the ustad's music through his thumris.

His thumris are a magical amalgam of dexterity, vitality, flexibility and range of voice which ensures an electrifying impact. The bol-banao thumri, set on vilambit taal, provided the ustad an extended canvas for reposeful improvisation; the bol-bant thumri (popular in Kathak dances) is faster and allows rhythmic play. Single-handedly, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan created what is known as the "Punjab Ang" of the thumri. The ustad's repertoire included the Dadra, with its coquettish metric cadence; the Kajri (for which Mirzapur town is famous) which extols romantic moments and pining; the Chaiti depicting the trauma of separation in the post-harvest season, and so on. Under the pen name Sab-rang, Bade Ghulam Ali composed many of his own songs.

G. N. Joshi has written of how in 1948, a dozen exquisitely sung thumris were recorded by his company at one sitting, "under false pretenses"! The ustad, like numerous artists, had a weakness for scotch whisky and a toothsome viand. After he had said he was too unwell for a recording, the ustad was invited to come to the company's offices for a "small drink". Joshi had prepared a couple of tanpuras attuned to the maestro's pitch, and called his senior instrumentalists to an adjoining room. After a peg or two of scotch, the maestro took up the tanpura to make a technical point which did catch him off-guard, but made him want to show his progress. One after another Bade Ghulam Ali reeled off his thumris. It was only when Joshi said "we just need two more" that Bade Ghulam Ali demanded to know how many had been recorded. "Two more will make the right dozen to cut a record," he was told. Joshi said ustad was a gourmand - "Rangila Gavayya and Rasila Khavayya".

Bofors case trial on

other

THE Supreme Court's stay of the Delhi High Court judgment quashing the charge-sheet against the three Hinduja brothers in the Bofors pay-offs case has been met with a sigh of relief by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The country's premier investigative agency had been embarrassed no end after Justice R.S. Sodhi quashed the charge-sheet filed against the Europe-based Hinduja brothers, Srichand, Gopichand and Prakash Chand, on the grounds that the CBI had not taken the mandatory clearance from the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) prior to filing the charge-sheet.

The December 18, 1997 judgment of the Supreme Court in the Vineet Narain case had said that "the CBI shall report to the CVC about cases taken up by it for investigation; progress of investigations; cases in which charge-sheet are filed and the progress". However, the Supreme Court's July 12 order has ensured that the CBI can continue to function as before. "We are convinced that this (High Court) judgment is completely unsustainable. If such judgments are not stayed, no prosecution will succeed," observed the three-Judge Bench comprising Chief Justice B.N. Kirpal and Justices K.G. Balakrishnan and Arijit Pasayat. The order also ensured that the trial proceedings against the Hinduja brothers can resume and continue as before.

In its special leave petition (SLP) filed on June 27 the CBI asked the apex court to set aside the June 10 order of the High Court. The agency argued that the Supreme Court's guidelines had not specified that the CBI had to obtain the clearance of the CVC before filing a charge-sheet for offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act. CBI spokesperson S.M. Khan said: "We made a plea that if this judgment remains, it would affect a whole lot of CBI cases because we do not take the sanction of the CVC before filing a charge-sheet. One of the grounds in the SLP was that other cases would be affected by this judgment, so the Supreme Court stayed this order."

The CBI argued that if the High Court order was not set aside, the CVC would have the power to interfere in and impede cases and prevent the filing of charge-sheets in courts. What gave a boost to the CBI's stand was the CVC's June 20 appeal against the High Court judgment. It said that only its prior sanction was required to file charge-sheets in the case of public servants. In its SLP the CBI said that the High Court had overlooked the basic scheme of law in force, where once an investigation had begun it was incumbent upon the investigating agency to file a report in the court. In filing this report, no person or authority had the right to interfere in the working of the agency. The CBI said that the High Court, without any allegation, much less material, had erred in its order. It could not be unmindful of the fact that the CBI had been put under a cloud. The procedure was meant to further the ends of justice and not frustrate it, the agency said.

The court has directed the Hinduja brothers to file their replies to the CBI's SLP before July 29, when the matter will be heard again. For the time being, the Hinduja brothers, who are counted amongst the richest Indians in the world, have received a major setback.

Naunidhi Kaur

TWO police officers from Tamil Nadu, K. Radhakrishnan, Inspector-General of Police (Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption), and Prateep Philip, Deputy I.G. (CID Intelligence), will receive the Queen's Award for innovation in police training and development. They are among five officers who have been selected for the British award, for which police officers in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries were considered. Under the award scheme, which was instituted in November 2001, each awardee will receive &pound15,000 (about Rs.11.25 lakhs).

The British High Commission says in a press statement that the award recognises achievements in harnessing new technology to deliver training and life-long learning. The award money is to help implement the selected projects over the period of a year. The project reports will be used by the British government to evaluate the degree of success of the projects so that some of those ideas could be adopted for use in other forces.

Both Radhakrishnan and Prateep Philip belong to the Indian Police Service (IPS). Radhakrishnan won the award for his project on the role of web-based e-training in dispute resolution for all-women police stations. The project will help officers of all-women police units who deal with cases relating to domestic violence and dowry but have limited access to training. The Police Training College in Chennai will use web-based technology to provide training to officers in all-women police stations.

Prateep Philip won the award for his project 'Multimedia Training Centre for Friends of Police', which is intended to encourage better interface between the public and the police by providing training in community policing for both police officers and the community. The other winners of the award are Mary Vaughan and Ann Bicknell of West Mercia Police for their project, called Integration and Evaluation of e-learning, and Michael Thompson of Centrex, Durham, for his project entitled Fingerprint Examiner and Crime Scene Examiner e-learning.

Congratulating the winners, British Home Office Minister John Denham said that the successful implementation of these projects would benefit police training and development and improve police performance.

Radhakrishnan earned a name for himself when he was posted as Commissioner of Police in Coimbatore. He restored peace in the town after a series of bomb blasts, set off by the Islamic fundamentalist organisation Al-Umma on February 14, 1998, killed 63 persons. In partnership with civil society, he restored religious harmony and tranquillity to Coimbatore.

Philip was selected earlier this year from South India to take part in the Wilton Park South Asia Forum in the U.K. to discuss "Governance and local development". In another programme, he had spent time with the West Midlands Police to learn about community policing initiatives and the relevant systems that were in place in the U.K. He met their hi-tech crime detection unit and discussed computer crime investigation and ways to combat child abuse through the Internet.

T.S. Subramanian

MARKET, MORALS AND THE MEDIA

The media scene in India is best likened to a bazaar. The Great Indian Media Bazaar has many streams, components and players (and is set soon to have foreign players as well); many levels of development, many types of market practices; non-uniform norms and standards; and discrepant rules of the game. The press, radio, television and the online, or Internet-based, media may be recognised as the major sectors that need visiting in the bazaar.

The strengths and limitations of the various media need to be carefully assessed. A performance audit, something like an independent and critical "State of the Media" report to the people, is overdue. Professor Prabhat Patnaik's "Market, Morals and the Media," his recent Convocation Address to the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai, was a sympathetic and original contribution to such critical assessment.

The latest National Readership Survey, NRS 2002, highlights the growing reach of the various media, especially print and television. It is clear that the ball game for India's news media is dramatically different from what it was half a century ago. Yet we appear to be witnessing a paradoxical phenomenon spotlighted by this distinguished economist who is Dean of the School of Social Sciences at the Jawaharlal Nehru University - a decline in the power and influence of the media, a diminution in the role of the media in society.

Drawing on indisputable facts about recent and ongoing media performance - in relation to Gujarat, Tehelka, communal fascism, corruption, chronic mass deprivation and 'economic liberalisation' - Professor Patnaik contrasts much of this performance with the major impact the media investigation and expos of the Bofors scandal had in the late 1980s. Exploring the question 'why this decline', he goes beyond 'internal', or media-centric, explanations and suggests illuminating and interesting answers, which are to be found in society at large. He analyses, among other things, the change that has taken place over the past decade in the moral universe of the people, "the degree of confusion, uncertainty and fuzziness that has got introduced into the moral conceptions of the people".

Reflecting on what needs to be done to use its 'moral capital' - acquired by exemplary performance, as in the sustained expos of communal fascism in Gujarat - to acquire a more powerful role in society, the essay concludes with a clarion call to the media to perform better "the role of moral interlocutors on behalf of society," to display "the same humaneness and concern for democracy in looking at the impact of 'liberalisation' and 'globalisation' as they have done in exposing the doings of a Narendra Modi."

PRABHAT PATNAIK

I FEEL greatly honoured to have been invited to give the convocation address at this prestigious institution which, in a very short span of time, has acquired for itself a formidable reputation for excellence. One of the major differences between the first and the third worlds, I have always felt, is the former's ability to nurture and sustain institutions of excellence, which the latter lacks. Take, for instance, the case of Oxford and Cambridge. They have been going on for seven hundred years; in contrast our much younger universities, though they invariably began with great promise, are in palpable decay. Perhaps this inter alia is what the state of underdevelopment is all about. It is particularly gratifying therefore when one comes across an institution of excellence in an underdeveloped country like ours, especially these days, as distinct from the Nehruvian era, when our national endeavour in virtually every walk of life is so bereft of excellence. I hope this institution will blaze a new trail by keeping up its excellent standards through the coming years.

I want to use this occasion to draw your attention to what I think is a point of some significance, namely, notwithstanding the fact that the media continue to draw into their professional fold some of the most talented people in the country, who in turn also continue to get their due recognition as individuals, the power of the media as an institution has gone down greatly in India in the 1990s. Consider one example. The media, both the print and the audio-visual media (I can of course speak only of the English-language media), played a remarkable role in their coverage of the Gujarat carnage. This coverage was informed by honesty, integrity and a humaneness of which mediapersons can be justly proud and for which they deserve our gratitude. With rare unanimity they exposed the complicit role played by the State government in the attacks on the minority community and demanded the removal of the State Chief Minister. Indeed I cannot recollect any other occasion in recent memory when the media have been as unanimous on a particular issue. And yet, notwithstanding this unanimity, the Chief Minister continues in office totally unfazed.

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Let me cite another instance. The Tehelka tapes, whatever one's views on the ethics of the methods adopted in obtaining them, clearly showed powerful political figures and functionaries of the state accepting or negotiating kickbacks on presumed defence deals. The armed forces took the tapes seriously enough to take disciplinary action against several serving officers. Initially it appeared that the political figures too were being acted against, but this proved to be a chimera. Barring a relatively minor figure, no political figure, least of all the Defence Minister of the country, has paid any price on account of the Tehelka exposure. Contrast this with the Bofors case which again was 'broken' by the media and which brought down a government. To be sure, the government was brought down after its due tenure had expired, and that too through elections in which the Bofors issue played a central role; but even when the issue 'broke' the Defence Minister of the country resigned and there ensued a split in the ruling party, contributing to its eventual defeat. Media action in one case set off a chain of events resulting in the fall of a government; media action in another case has had no such repercussions, though the cases are comparable in moral terms. This is what I mean by the decline in the power of the media.

The same decline is evident in a number of other cases of exposure, for example, the Kargil coffin scam, where the media exposure was based on the report of no less a person than the Comptroller and Auditor General of India; the Finance Minister's Mauritius nexus; the VSNL Disinvestment scandal; and the near collapse of the Unit Trust of India. All these cases highlighted by the media would in the old days have brought about some owning of political responsibility, a resignation or two and some public expression of commitment to accountability of the government. But in the context of the 1990s they hardly created a ripple. Far from resulting in the punishment of the guilty, as in the old days, media exposures nowadays produce at best a collective groan of helpless embarrassment, even a wish that such exposures were not made public so that 'the country's image' was left intact.

There was a time when investigative journalism captured everyone's imagination and promised to expand the scope of democracy. True, investigative journalism in our country was always exclusively preoccupied with 'corruption' of a particular kind. It had little time for investigations into 'mundane' questions like whether the tribal population in Orissa was getting enough to eat (only P. Sainath has ploughed a lonely furrow looking into these questions). Even so, it held much promise, and with such investigative journalism the role of the media as a whole appeared to expand. But such journalism today is pass and the 'stories' it unearths hardly create a ripple; consequently, the role of the media as a whole has shrunk.

One may or may not agree with the proposition put forward by Professor Amartya Sen that a free press acts as a bulwark against famines, but underlying this proposition was an implicit assertion: namely, that any threat of a large-scale loss of lives, once it becomes known, sets in motion immediate preventive measures. The proposition about a free press was a derivative one: since a free press typically brings to light the threat of a large-scale loss of lives, it helps to prevent famines. But, as Gujarat has shown, this implicit assertion is by no means valid today: the loss of lives there, according to several reports, was with the connivance of the very entity, the State government, that is entrusted with the constitutional responsibility of taking preventive measures. It may be that things would pan out differently in a famine-like situation, but the fact remains that one can no longer be sure. We have entered an era in which the power of the media has diminished. The question that immediately arises is, why?

One can have 'internal', that is, media-centric, explanations for the phenomenon. It has been suggested, for instance, that the electronic media (and the print media too) tend to homogenise 'calamities', which are seen increasingly to differ only in quantitative terms. This tends implicitly to obliterate the difference between 'natural calamities' and, say, human-induced genocide, so that the audience begins to accept the latter, much as it accepts the former. It loses its capacity for feeling a sense of moral outrage.

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Such 'internal' explanations, however, no matter how valid they may be, are not enough, since it is not only the media whose power has diminished. Such a diminution has also occurred for the entire intellectual community. When the academic contributions of the finest historians of the country are debunked by unknown upstarts whose only distinguishing characteristic is their commitment to a particular ideology, when the Home Minister of the country who is no expert in the field openly joins issue with our Economics Nobel Laureate about what contributes to economic development, when the demand for the removal of the Gujarat Chief Minister by the best-known artists and intellectuals goes unheeded, and when war-mongering flourishes despite protests by a broad spectrum of the intellectual community, it is obvious that the weight of this community has diminished greatly.

An immediate explanation for this phenomenon of reduced public influence of the media and intellectuals that readily comes to mind is that this invariably happens under fascist governments; given the communal-fascist core of the National Demo-cratic Alliance (NDA) governing arrangement, this is only to be expected. But saying this is not enough. We do not, after all, have a fascist state, a characteristic of which is a terrorist dictatorship. We still have liberal democratic institutions, though under a government in which communal fascists predominate. Even they, however, are forced into alliance with a whole array of political parties that can by no stretch of imagination be called fascistic or undemocratic. How is it then that the media and intellectuals are afflicted by growing impotence even in such a situation?

Indira Gandhi is reported to have said that the government she formed in 1980, after her return to power following the post-Emergency debacle, found it difficult to function because of the continued hostility of the intelligentsia. How is it that the present government shows no sign of any discomfort on this score? For if it did, then it would not be as unconcerned about intellectual opinion as it has been in practice.

Some would explain this unconcern by saying that the Hindutva core of the government knows that it will not come back to power but does not care as long as its ideological goals are served; in other words, it is not the continuous holding of power per se but making use of intermittent access to power to infiltrate the state for ulterior ends that matters as far as it is concerned. But this explanation simply will not do. Why don't the other parties in the government, who surely cannot be as unconcerned about the prospects of returning to power, insist on the government showing greater sensitivity to intellectual opinion? In short, what has changed objectively between Indira Gandhi's days and now?

The proximate explanation for the phenomenon I am talking about, then, is not that communal fascists with contempt for the prevailing intellectual opinion happen to be at the helm of affairs within an otherwise unchanged moral universe, but the very opposite: the moral universe of the people has somehow undergone a change, which is what enables communal fascists to get away with their unconcern for media and intellectual opinion. We have, in other words, two distinct phenomena to explain, neither of which is entirely reducible to the other, namely, the growth of communal fascism and a change that has occurred in the moral universe. I shall come back to the first of these phenomena later; let me start by looking at the second.

Saying that a change has occurred in the moral universe does not mean that people have ceased to be occupied with questions of morality; but a degree of confusion, uncertainty and fuzziness has got introduced into the moral conceptions of the people. Let me try and express more clearly what I think has happened.

Notions of 'What is right' and 'What is wrong' are obviously never held with unanimity in any society; they differ from person to person. Nonetheless, at any given time, there are certain widely prevalent notions of 'right' and 'wrong', which give society a moral equilibrium of sorts. This moral equilibrium, that is, the socially widely prevalent notions of 'right' and 'wrong', of course changes over time. But at any time there is a certain equilibrium which is based on the fact that people hold their respective notions of 'right' and 'wrong' with a certain degree of clarity and certainty. What is true of the present situation, I think, is that people no longer have clear notions of 'right' and 'wrong'. The notions that used to be held earlier are no longer held with the same clarity and certainty; nor are new notions put in their place that are held with the same clarity and certainty as the old notions in the old days. In other words, we now live in times when the equilibrium I talked about is gone, not because of non-unanimity among the people (that is always true, and no more true now than earlier), but because of the lack of clarity and certainty with which people themselves hold their notions of 'right' and 'wrong'. There is no sign as yet of a new equilibrium emerging.

The question naturally arises: why has this happened? An obvious reason that immediately suggests itself is the collapse, for the time being at any rate, of all dreams of building a society that is not based on private aggrandisement. This collapse was coming for some time, but it finally came with the collapse of the Soviet Union and of Eastern European socialism. Countries that still characterise themselves as socialist are either too small, like Cuba, or too problematical, like North Korea, or too heterodox, like China, to inspire any confidence in a vision of socialism. What is remarkable, however, is that the collapse of Leninist socialism has not been accompanied by any strengthening of 'democratic socialism' such as was supposed to have been ushered in by social democracy or non-Leninist versions of socialism; on the contrary, they too have shown a precipitous decline. The reasons for this general collapse of the socialist vision, or even of a distributivist-welfarist vision, have to do, in my view, with the process of globalisation of finance, which has robbed the nation state, the only entity that in principle can play an agency role in social transformation and management, of the capacity to play such a role. But the implication of the collapse of all these visions has been a shaking up of people's certainties about notions of 'right' and 'wrong'.

There are, in fact, three very distinct ways in which the collapse of the socialist vision has contributed to the prevailing state of moral ambivalence at the societal level. The first I have just mentioned, namely, the collapse of certainties. Notions of 'right' and 'wrong' are ultimately formed through the impact of theoretical social analysis acting on pre-existing notions, feelings and inclinations. (These pre-existing categories are usually based on an interaction between class instincts and the residue of long-held earlier social analysis.) Now, if the hegemonic trends of contemporary social analysis are in broad conformity with pre-existing notions (derived from the complex interactions between class instincts and the thrust and direction of earlier social analysis), then, for large numbers of people the clarity and certainty with which they hold notions of 'right' and 'wrong' remains unchanged. But when there is a disjunction between the thrust of contemporary hegemonic social analysis and pre-existing notions, this fact gives rise to moral confusion. The ascendancy of broadly egalitarian social thinking for nearly 130 years, from the mid-19th century, which was in conformity with the class instincts of the vast masses of the population, had given rise to a sort of prolonged moral equilibrium, a set of socially pervasively prevalent views on the distinction between 'right' and 'wrong'. The recent inegalitarian thrust of social analysis, which has acquired credibility and hegemony, associated inter alia with the collapse of the socialist project, has altered these long-held notions without substituting anything in its place (and such a substitution would not be easy since this inegalitarian thrust runs contrary to the class instincts of the bulk of the people). This accounts for the observed moral apathy, the state of moral confusion that I referred to earlier.

Let me give an example to clarify my point. If the brand of social analysis that has intellectual hegemony at present claims that income inequalities are good for rapid economic development, then a Finance Minister who taxes the poor to provide transfers to the rich and in the process takes a large amount of money from the rich for himself or his party, would scarcely invite any specific moral opprobrium for taking this amount. The rich would not mind it since they have got the transfer payments. The poor and their representatives, pushed into diffidence because of the hegemonic social analysis, would be more muted in their opposition both to the transfers and to the bribes. The intermediate social strata too would lack any clear moral perspective in this new context.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has made full use of this prevalent moral confusion arising from the intellectual paradigm shift. His Labour Party has been accused more than once of extending government help to businessmen (many of them of Asian origin) in return for hefty donations to the party funds. Blair's defence has been brazen: what is wrong if the British government helps British business? Indeed his government should be given kudos for doing so. As for donations to the Labour Party, that is a separate and independent matter. Anyone is free to give donations! The argument is indeed quite foolproof. Once one has accepted that the government must help private capital as a rule, which is a result of the paradigm shift (earlier it would have been argued that if private enterprise needs so much government help for standing up then it should be nationalised), the moral opposition to the Blairite position becomes fuzzy.

The second way in which the collapse of the socialist vision has muted moral sensibilities is best understood with reference to the example I gave earlier. If a 'cut' is taken from the rich while making transfers to them from the poor, the latter would be so preoccupied by the fact of the transfer that they would scarcely have time to take umbrage at the 'cut'. (And any argument that the transfer is because of the 'cut' would not cut much ice, as in the Blair case just cited, since such a transfer is supposed to be good anyway, according to the latest social analysis.) Looking at it differently, the post-socialist world has entailed such massive attacks on the livelihoods and rights of the working masses that 'corruption' in the conventional sense appears to be small change. They scarcely have time to complain about it when there are far bigger things at stake for them.

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The third link has to do with the constraints that were faced by, indeed 'internalised' by, the ruling circles in non-socialist countries when the socialist alternative existed as a possibility; this constraint is now gone. The belief that if people in authority do not behave in a certain way then they can be replaced, and that in the ultimate analysis the whole system can be replaced, no longer obtains. The check that this provided on the actions of persons in authority also no longer obtains. If 'the propensity towards misdemeanour' is pretty evenly distributed among the aspirants for authority, then the efficacy of replacing one set of persons by another becomes unconvincing; and the collapse of socialism forecloses the possibility of going beyond the existing 'authority class'. What is more, the knowledge of this very fact prevents any self-imposed restraints on the 'authority class'.

Oskar Lange, the well-known economist, used to say that the existence of socialism had the effect of stabilising capitalism. Whether or not this was true, one could certainly say that the existence of socialism, notwithstanding all its deformities, had the effect of tempering some of the 'excesses' of capitalism; indeed, one can plausibly argue that the ruling classes' grudging acceptance of the Welfare State in the advanced capitalist countries in the aftermath of the Second World War was, to a very large extent, a response to the socialist threat, which was very serious at the time. The collapse of socialism, for the same reasons, has let loose the self-aggrandising tendencies of monopoly capitalism in their full ugliness.

Having said all this, however, I must also state my belief that one has to go beyond the collapse of socialism in our quest for an explanation of the decline in the power of the media and of intellectual opinion. There are at least four reasons for my belief. First, as I have already mentioned in passing, the collapse of the socialist project has itself got to be located within certain larger developments in capitalism. If the collapse had been confined to the Soviet system alone, then one could conceivably have remained content with explanations having to do exclusively with the internal dynamics of those societies; what we find, however, is a collapse of all socialist and even merely redistributivist visions. We have a collapse not only of Soviet socialism, but also of 'democratic socialism', of Keynesianism, of the Welfare State project (though of course the pace of the dismantling of the Welfare State has been uneven across countries), of Nehruvian socialism, and indeed all Third World socialism from Uzama to 'African socialism', even of Third World nationalism and Latin American structuralism.

To be sure, it is a fact of social life that if the person propounding any particular vision gets discredited, for whatever reason, then so does that vision; but as long as the context that produced the vision remains unchanged, new versions of it invariably come up. The fact that Kwame Nkruma's 'African socialism' got discredited with his fall from power is understandable. But the fact that no newer versions of it emerged points to the change in context, which is what, I think, needs investigation.

Secondly, the triumph of the inegalitarian ideology predates the collapse of the Soviet Union and hence requires a separate explanation. It goes back to the years of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the Anglo-Saxon world. I would therefore see the collapse of the Soviet Union as part of a certain process that, in a sense, is larger and more encompassing.

Thirdly, the reason for the emergence and success of the inegalitarian ideology has to be investigated. To be sure, it thrived on the collapse of the Soviet Union and used the occasion to brand all socialism, even radical redistributivism, as unworkable utopias. But what was the context, the material conditions, if you like, for the inegalitarian ideology to emerge and grow in the first place? This question has to be answered separately.

And finally, the collapse of socialism does not per se explain the growth of communal fascism that has occurred, which I had mentioned in passing at the beginning as one of the two major phenomena underlying the decline in the power of the media and of intellectual opinion. Quite obviously of course, the decline in the socialist project is conducive to the growth of fascism; but it certainly does not explain such growth which, incidentally, is a worldwide phenomenon.

The answer to all these questions, the broader material context within which we can understand the retreat of the socialist project (even including, in a certain sense, the collapse of the Soviet system), the emergence of the inegalitarian ideology and the growth of fascism worldwide, including in our own country, is the ascendancy of a new kind of international finance capital. To talk of 'international finance capital' does not of course mean that there is one single directed agency that acts as a subject, any more than the term 'capital' refers to a single body of decision-makers acting on behalf of all the capitalists. These are all structural concepts and do not refer to directly observable empirical entities. The term 'international finance capital' refers to the following structural entity: it is capital, of diverse national origins, which is highly mobile internationally (its mobility having to do entirely with prospective gains, usually of a speculative kind, and not with any specific 'national' agenda), and which is held predominantly in the form of finance, in the sense of easily liquifiable financial assets. This does not mean that these financial assets are not converted to physical assets; indeed, one of the attractions of financial assets is that they can be occasionally converted to physical assets, like prime land or public sector enterprises (during privatisation drives), at 'throwaway prices'. But when they are so converted, the objective is not necessarily to settle down to running these assets as productive assets but to indulge in further speculation with the funds and proceeds arising from these assets. Indeed, even supposedly productive enterprises, including multinational corporations (MNCs), increasingly turn to speculative activities during this phase, so that finance capital is not some separate entity from the MNCs, though it incorporates a lot more than the MNCs alone.

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I talked of 'international finance capital' of a 'new kind'. What I mean is that this international finance capital is different from the finance capital that Lenin had talked about in his opus Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. His perception was of nation-based, nation-state-aided finance capitals of the advanced capitalist countries, each representing what he called the 'coalescence of industrial and banking capitals', engaged in mutual rivalry for partitioning and repartitioning the world, to a point where they are even willing to go to war against one another. The international finance capital I referred to above obviously differs from this conception and hence constitutes something sui generis which has come into prominence only in the last couple of decades.

The emergence of this international finance capital, based on the 'globalisation of finance', undermines the capacity of the nation state to play any agency role, such as is enjoined upon it by all socialist and redistributivist visions. Any such role frightens globalised finance and threatens to trigger off a capital flight (and does trigger off a capital flight unless the 'concern for the poor' is checked in time). Indeed, let alone the pursuit of redistributive or more radical policies, even ordinary Keynesian demand expansion becomes impossible to essay under these conditions, for much the same reasons. Globalised finance gets frightened, not merely by the fear of inflation and balance of payment problems which any demand expansion may engender (and which, by causing exchange rate depreciation, would make the country a poor host for finance capital), but, even more importantly, by the very fact of state activism in defence of employment. (In fact, one can go further: finance actually likes and pursues deflation, since that enables the purchase of productive enterprises and of other physical assets "for a song".) The fact that social democratic governments in Europe elected on the promise of increasing employment have singularly failed to do so, and are now losing out to the Right in many European countries, underscores the constraints on state activism in countries caught in the vortex of globalised finance, where 'retaining the confidence of investors' becomes, necessarily, the obsessive concern of governments.

The eschewing of state activism in matters of employment and progressive redistributive policies should not, it follows, be confused with a 'rolling back of the state' or 'a substitution of market forces for state intervention'. What it entails is not the State's 'withdrawal' from the economic sphere, but a change in the nature of its intervention: it intervenes in a different way, so as to enhance 'investor confidence' (that is, induce finance capital not to flee), and this requires inter alia a set of regressive redistributive policies. In general, it requires a shift away from the concerns of labour towards the concerns of capital, from the concerns of small capital towards the concerns of large capital, and from the concerns of productive capital towards the concerns of finance. (In addition, for Third World economies it entails a shift away from the concerns of domestic capital towards the concerns of foreign capital.) The emergence of international finance capital of the new kind that I have been talking about has the effect, therefore, of slowing down growth everywhere, of inducing economic stagnation and recession, owing to deflation and the state's inability to break out of it. It has, in addition, three very significant political implications.

First, it encourages fascist tendencies everywhere, which invariably thrive in the midst of economic slumps and large-scale unemployment. In societies like ours, moreover, fascism becomes a means of reconciling formal structures of liberal democracy with the fundamentally anti-democratic agenda of perpetually catering to the caprices of a bunch of international speculators, which typically also entails a loss of economic sovereignty to multilateral financial institutions (and through them to the major capitalist powers, led by the United States, which control these institutions). If the people are divided along communal lines, if their attention is diverted by disputes over temples and mosques, then it becomes easier for a government with a thoroughly anti-people neo-liberal agenda (including financial liberalisation) to win an electoral mandate for a five-year term.

Second, it undermines all socialist and progressive redistributive agendas (which constitute, as it were, the other side of the coin). It even played a role in the specific denouement that occurred in the Soviet Union: in fact, the Soviet Union need not have collapsed the way it did if large-scale capital flight (ironically by state-owned enterprises) had not occurred to sabotage the admittedly inchoate steps of socialist reforms introduced in the Gorbachev era.

Third, it forces all political formations, which lack the courage to get out of the vortex of globalised financial flows, to adopt an essentially regressive redistributive agenda.

To be sure, one cannot lightly blame the political formations for pusillanimity. Getting out of the vortex of globalised finance entails much concentrated hardship for the people during the period of transition. Once any political formation which has such an agenda of getting out of the vortex of globalised finance comes anywhere near acquiring power, this very fact would frighten finance capital into undertaking massive capital flight immediately, which would both sabotage the victory prospects of that political formation and bring it much unpopularity if perchance it does get elected. In other words, getting out of the vortex of globalised finance, once an economy has got into it, is difficult and requires from the political formation attempting such a rescue operation courage, resilience and closeness to the people of the highest order. But no matter what the difficulties of getting out of the vortex of globalised finance once a country is in it, the fact remains that staying put in this vortex necessarily entails the adoption of regressive redistributive policies.

The essence of the policy of 'economic liberalisation' is to trap economies into getting caught in the vortex of globalised finance. This simple point, I regret to say, has not been appreciated by the best known of our economists. When Professor Jagdish Bhagwati argues in favour of 'liberalisation' but warns against 'Casino capitalism', he fails to see that 'liberalisation' inevitably brings in its train 'Casino capitalism', that there is no 'liberalisation' in practice without 'Casino capitalism'. When Professor Amartya Sen argues that 'liberalisation' offers us opportunities and it is up to us to exploit these opportunities by doing various things internally, such as expanding education and health facilities, he too fails to see that 'liberalisation' necessarily brings in its train submergence in the vortex of 'globalised finance', and with such submergence it becomes impossible for the state (the only agency capable of doing so) to display any activism in the social sector. (The activism financed by World Bank largesse and displayed through schemes like the District Primary Education Programme or DPEP is too meagre to be taken seriously.) It is not surprising that 'liberalisation' brings in its train regressive redistributive policies, since it is invariably the mechanism through which the economy is opened up to the operation, and hence the caprices, of international finance capital.

The intellectual ground for the adoption of such policies is prepared by arguing that such regressive policies help the pace of development. The Bretton Woods institutions propagate this argument, since they are interested in opening the country to the movements of globalised finance. Domestic finance capital, which has no different objectives compared to finance capital originating elsewhere, and hence, in a structural sense, forms an aliquot part of international finance capital, argues in exactly identical terms, since it too has a vested interest in keeping the economy open to global financial flows (from which it hopes to benefit). And even governments that may otherwise have progressive or social democratic inclinations, finding their hands tied, make a virtue out of necessity, and justify their swallowing of the Bretton Woods line, by putting forward exactly the same argument, namely, regressive policies help the pace of development. A veritable bloc therefore gets built up which puts forward this argument, giving it intellectual hegemony.

The media on the whole have fallen prey to this hegemony. It might appear at first sight, and that perhaps is the self-image of the media, that while they may be powerless on issues like Gujarat and 'corruption', they are extremely powerful in setting the 'economic reform agenda'; but that is a chimera. It is not the media who are pushing 'economic reforms' in this country, but international finance capital, through agencies sympathetic to it like the Bretton Woods institutions, and through the pressure exerted by advanced-country governments. To attribute power to the media in the matter of the 'economic reform agenda', therefore, is like agreeing with the dog which, while walking underneath the bullock cart on a village road, thinks that it is pushing the cart along.

Thus, in fields where the media are on the same side as international finance capital, they appear powerful; but in fields where they strike out on their own, upholding humane values and expressing concern for the poor and the suffering, they appear powerless. But their powerlessness in the latter case is the result of a process, the process of ascendancy of international finance capital over our economy, which the media, paradoxically, with a few honourable exceptions, have avidly supported.

The very fact, however, that the media do take humane and democratic positions on a range of burning questions is a sign of hope. Indeed, with the 'political class' increasingly being viewed with a degree of suspicion and unease, the media are being assigned in popular perception the role of moral interlocutors on behalf of society. People's moral positions may have become less certain, but this does not mean that they do not appreciate the role of the media in spheres where they do uphold morality. To continue with my example at the beginning of this lecture, the media may not be able to arouse the people to force the resignation of the Gujarat Chief Minister, but this does not mean that the people do not appreciate the role of the media in exposing what happened in Gujarat. To use this 'moral capital' to acquire a more powerful role in society, it is important for the media to display the same humaneness and concern for democracy in looking at the impact of 'liberalisation' and 'globalisation' as they have done in exposing the doings of a Narendra Modi. Otherwise, the loss of their power witnessed in the 1990s will continue unabated.

I am fully confident, however, that the students going out of this excellent institution will contribute towards lifting the media from their current predicament, by using the media to change the social conjuncture that underlies this predicament.

Prabhat Patnaik is Dean of the School of Social Sciences, and Professor at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His specialisation is Macroeconomics and Political Economy, areas in which he has written a number of books and articles. He is Editor of the journal Social Scientist.

Zones of contention

A major round of organisational changes in the Indian Railways initiated by Minister Nitish Kumar brings forth a spectrum of political reactions.

CONSTRAINED by the funds crunch within his Ministry and the prevailing orthodoxy about market oriented reforms, Nitish Kumar has not had much opportunity to enliven his year-long tenure as Union Minister for Railways - his second in four years - with creative administrative forays. The events that have followed his recent notification of major organisational changes in the Railways, however, have offered him a surfeit of excitement.

On June 14, dusting up a part of the proposal mooted in Ram Vilas Paswan's Railway Budget of 1996, Nitish Kumar announced the formation of two new railway zones - East Central Railways based at Hajipur and North Western Railways in Jaipur. These zonal entities are scheduled to become operational by October 1. There was no explanation of why Paswan's proposal to create six new zones had been pared down to the relatively modest figure of two. But as the controversy began to burgeon, Nitish Kumar moved swiftly to buttress his defences. On July 4, he announced that five more zones would be created, to be operational by April 1 next year: East Coast Railways based in Bhubaneswar, South Western Railways in Hubli, West Central Railways at Jabalpur, North Central Railways in Allahabad and South East Central Railways in Bilaspur.

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Between the two announcements, Nitish Kumar had to contend with a spectrum of political reactions. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal, deprecated the move to carve out the new zones, arguing that it would impair operational efficiencies, dislocate personnel and generate a welter of conflicting regional demands on an invaluable national asset. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, in contrast, welcomed the decentralisation of the Railways' operational management and applauded the emphasis on efficiency that this seemed to suggest. The Bihar government reacted likewise, while Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik queried the Central government over the delay in notifying the other zones proposed in 1996.

Perhaps the most hostile reaction came from Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar's predecessor as Railway Minister. Banerjee has never made a secret of her belief that the portfolio she abandoned in a strategically miscued decision to distance herself from the National Democratic Alliance prior to last year's Assembly elections, belongs to her by right. Claiming that West Bengal's interests had been damaged by the decision to split the Kolkata-based Eastern Railways two ways, Banerjee demanded that the decision be reversed.

Banerjee's reward was the July 4 notification, which among other things, split the Kolkata-based South-Eastern Railways three ways. Coupled with the loss of three divisions to the East Central Railways, Kolkata now had to confront the prospective loss of another four divisions to the East Coast and South East Central Railways. But in the process, against the solitary resistance of West Bengal, Nitish Kumar managed to broaden his supporting cast - till then confined to Bihar and Rajasthan - to seven States.

Murmurs were later heard about how the Minister had ensured the support of Andhra Pradesh by retaining the traffic-heavy Guntakal division within the Secunderabad-based South Central Railways. A credible case for transferring Guntakal to the proposed South Western Railways was rebuffed, and two new divisions - Nanded and Guntur - were created under the jurisdiction of the South Central Railways, to compensate partly for the loss of Hubli division.

Concurrent with the announcement of five new zones on July 4, eight divisions were notified, all of them to be operational by April 1, 2003. These are to be based at Nanded, Guntur, Agra, Raipur, Ranchi, Pune, Ahmedabad and Rangiya in the north-east. The final outcome of these organisational changes in terms of operational efficiencies and public service remains to be seen. But its immediate result has been to create a web of largely convergent and partly conflicting political interests. Since West Bengal remains fairly isolated in its unequivocal opposition to the proposed changes, by mid-July it was a fair bet that Nitish Kumar would have his way. There was no respite, however, in his schedule of receiving delegations arguing the cases for and against the reorganisation.

Subhash Chakravarti, the West Bengal Transport Minister, led a delegation of legislators and parliamentarians to the Railway Minister on July 9. The meeting was by all accounts marked by a fairly civil exchange of views, since the delegation, which did not include any Trinamul Congress members, was keen to avoid the tone of intemperateness that Mamata Banerjee had set. In Kolkata, Chief Minister Bhattacharjee emphasised that his interest was in ensuring that the Railways did not fall prey to petty regional interests, since its operational parameters, as also its role in integrating a far-flung country, needed to be protected. The issue, he was at pains to emphasise, was not one of West Bengal against Bihar.

A few days later though, the Bihar government sent its own delegation to urge the Railway Minister to stand firm. The creation of a zonal headquarters in Hajipur, the delegation argued, would bring immense economic benefits to Bihar.

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Nitish Kumar for his part was insistent that there would be little adverse consequence for the economic interests of any State. Rather, by decentralising the management of the Railways and providing a sharper focus to neglected regions, the reorganisation would benefit all States uniformly. In concurrent clarifications, officials pointed out that the Railway Reforms Commission had, as far back as in 1984, recommended the creation of four new zones. This proposal had remained unimplemented, and the vast increase in the traffic burden of the Railways since then, now made seven new zones appropriate.

Faced with the threat of an agitation by Banerjee, Nitish Kumar vaguely promised that the matter would be sorted out by an informal Cabinet committee comprising the big three - Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and Defence Minister George Fernandes. But as the tentative deadline for a resolution passed, the issue continued to hang fire. Nitish Kumar was evidently working on the belief that Banerjee could never make common cause with the Left Front government of West Bengal. And that would render the protests from that quarter ever more feeble in the face of the strong endorsement received from other States.

Although few people doubt now that the reorganisation will go through, experts are unconvinced about its operational and economic benefits. The basic focus of operational responsibility in the Railways is the divisional office, of which there are currently 59 distributed across eight zonal jurisdictions. By April next year, the numbers would change to 67 divisions distributed between 15 zones. Most seasoned observers are convinced that even if new divisions were to be created in the interests of operational efficiency, they could be retained within existing zonal jurisdictions, without in any way impairing the zonal office's function of oversight and coordination.

Railway officials counter with the argument that the expenditure involved in the creation of the seven new zones will, aside from the Rs.80 crores already committed, be no more than Rs.300 crores. And when future operational efficiencies are factored in, this investment would more than pay for itself.

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Experts who have followed the working of the system closely would be prepared to concede the case were the Railways not in a parlous financial state, with its reserve funds virtually depleted. Aside from the funds involved, they say, the creation of seven new zones speaks of misplaced priorities and the vulnerability of the system to political demands. Some of these aspects have been on display in recent times in the jockeying between Bangalore and Hubli, which were both contenders for the location of the South Western Railways.

In 1996, the prize was awarded to Bangalore, but persistent litigation by the citizens of Hubli ensured that the project never got off the ground. Following the political change at the Centre in 1998, the new administration bestowed its favour on Hubli, which in turn brought out the litigative zeal of the citizens of Bangalore. It took a Supreme Court decision in 2001 finally to free the Railway Ministry from the fetters of judicial scrutiny. But nobody is quite certain how the reported expenditure of Rs.12.77 crores on the South Western Railways has been deployed - whether it is in Bangalore or in Hubli.

Officials of the Railway Board now insist that the assets created under the aborted programme continue to have their utility, since Bangalore remains a major divisional headquarters.

The Railway Budget documents record that investments have over the last few years been going into the creation of a new division based at Singrauli. And though no investments have been made for Nanded and none allocated in the Budget for 2002-03, it is not Singrauli but Nanded that features in the list of new divisions.

I.I.M.S. Rana, Chairman of the Railway Board, points out that the decision to set up a divisional office at Nanded had been taken as far back as January 1986, following which the budgetary allocation for the purpose had been spent. But the formal notification was delayed for various reasons. Now with that hurdle being cleared, the division would be off and running without any further delay or expense.

Rana is at pains to emphasise that these minor anomalies are unavoidable in the vast enterprise that is the Indian Railways. But if the organisational changes now proposed were to contribute even to a one per cent increase in operational efficiencies, he argues, they would be more than justified.

The professional cadres that run the Indian Railways are resigned to making the best of the situation they find themselves in. It is nevertheless a fact that their judgment of priorities is often at variance with the demands placed upon them by politics. And it is a further curiosity that once retirement frees them from the calculus of promotion and security, they become fairly trenchant critics of meddlesome politics. Few of the recent incumbents in the Railway Board, who after retirement have established themselves as influential commentators and analysts, have found anything positive to say about the organisational changes proposed. Without in any way breaking the solidarity of the Railways guild by calling into question their judgment, the current incumbents in the Railway Board believe that they are obliged to defend the new measures with absolute, if simulated ardour.

Nailed at last

A Special Court convicts and awards jail sentences to former Minister of State for Communications Sukh Ram and two others in the corruption case relating to the purchase of telecom equipment in 1993-94.

INVESTIGATING agencies have often found it difficult to establish corruption charges against individual Ministers. The prosecution in such cases has invariably not succeeded for want of sufficient evidence and for the lack of reliable witnesses. But the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) success in securing on July 5 the conviction of former Union Minister of State for Communications Sukh Ram by a Delhi trial court in a case pertaining to a specific contract to a private firm to purchase telecom equipment shows that Ministers can be held criminally responsible for their actions if they caused heavy losses to the exchequer.

During the early days of the liberalisation regime ushered in by P.V. Narasimha Rao in the early 1990s, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) invited bids for Multi-Access Rural Radio (MARR) systems to expand the country's rural telecommunications network. Thirty-five companies, among them the Hyderabad-based telecom contractor, Advanced Radio Masts (ARM) Limited, submitted bids, which were opened in March 1993.

The Price Negotiations Committee, which considered the bids, included DoT's Deputy Director-General N.C.Gupta, Director Ujjagar Singh and Deputy Director-General (Lease-Financing) Runu Ghosh. N.C. Gupta and Ujjagar Singh recommended that ARM's crystal-based systems were inferior to and therefore logically cheaper than the more advanced synthesised MARR systems on offer. ARM's bid was for Rs.3.47 lakhs a unit, although there was a substantial price difference between the two systems. Gupta, therefore, recommended the reduction of the price of the crystal-controlled version by Rs.37,170 apiece. Runu Ghosh overruled this, saying that the price for both systems should be identical. She noted that it would not be correct to reduce the price of the crystal version on account of additional optional features in the synthesised version. She also felt that it would be incorrect to operate on two rates for the same tender.

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Sukh Ram concurred with the view that offering a lower rate for the crystal version was discriminatory. Overruling technical objections from DoT, he directed the issue of orders to ARM for 450 systems of the crystal version at the same price fixed for the synthesised version.

The CBI contended that this decision helped ARM obtain a pecuniary advantage of Rs.1.66 crores. The CBI's case was that Sukh Ram and Runu Ghosh, in conspiracy with P. Rama Rao, the then managing director of ARM, by corrupt and illegal means or by otherwise abusing their official position as public servants, helped the company gain this pecuniary advantage.

In his judgment, Special Judge V.K. Jain concluded that the very fact that DoT preferred the synthesised version left no doubt about its superiority over the crystal version. Certain limitations found in the crystal version led DoT to specify that the equipment having the oscillator with synthesiser would be preferred.

N.C. Gupta told the court that the function of an oscillator is to generate the frequency on which a particular system is to operate. The synthesised version provided for control of frequency through a synthesiser, whereas the crystal version envisaged control of frequency through a crystal. The limitation of a crystal version is that it could operate only on a fixed frequency. There was a distinct advantage in the synthesised version as its frequency could be changed in the field itself by using the dip switch provided in the system, whereas it could not be done in case of the crystal version, N.C. Gupta said.

Having convinced itself about the merits of Gupta's case, the court observed that no reasonable person would pay the same price for two versions of the same system if one of them was superior to the other in as much as it had a number of additional facilities and also did not have the limitations found in the inferior version. DoT was absolutely justified in recommending a lower price for the crystal version and Sukh Ram totally disregarded this recommendation, Justice Jain observed.

As Minister, Sukh Ram had the authority to overrule his subordinates, including the members and the Chairman of the Telecom Commission. No exception could be taken to his increasing the price of the crystal version so as to put it on a par with the synthesised version, if it was shown that his decision was justified in the facts and circumstances of the case, the Judge remarked.

Indeed, the judgment articulates the principles of ministerial responsibility which could help evaluate the performance of a Minister in office. It said: "It is an undisputed proposition of law that the court does not sit in appeal over the decision taken by the public servant concerned and no offence is made out against the public servant, if the decision taken by him could have been taken by a person acting reasonably and passing order on the basis of the material placed before him... A public servant, including a Minister, while discharging his official duty, has to act fairly and reasonably, keeping public interest in mind, and he cannot act arbitrarily and unreasonably. If, however, the decision taken by the public servant is such, which no responsible person could have taken in the facts and circumstances of the case, he has to face the consequences for the decision taken by him."

The judgment put a clear premium on the opinion of expert officials over that of a non-expert Minister. Sukh Ram, it said, was not a technical person, and as such not in a position to overrule technical opinion. Sukh Ram did not seek technical help from any other source to controvert N.C. Gupta's opinion, the Judge pointed out.

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The court found the conduct of Runu Ghosh in the entire episode as an indicator of her being keen to favour ARM. She not only opposed N.C. Gupta's proposal but displayed unusual interest to show that the synthesised version manufactured by ARM had some additional features. The court found her claim incorrect.

The recovery of blank letterheads signed by Rama Rao from Runu Ghosh's office convinced the court about Rama Rao's proximity to her. The notes recorded by Runu Ghosh on the file provided material to Sukh Ram to pass an order favourable to ARM, in disregard of commercial considerations and the public interest, the court found.

As a Minister, Sukh Ram was bound to act in the public interest and protect the financial interest of the state, but he chose to do exactly the opposite. He reversed his own decision to purchase the crystal version at a reduced price without there being any change of circumstance and any new material justifying the change of decision, the court found. He acted in complete disregard of the advice given to him not only by the DoT members in charge of procurement and finance, but also by the then Chairman of the Telecom Commission, N. Vittal.

The Judge convicted Sukh Ram, Runu Ghosh and Rama Rao under section 120 B of the Indian Penal Code, read with Section 13(1) (d) and 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The Judge dismissed the pleas for leniency in the award of punishment on the grounds of age (Sukh Ram is 75 years old), poor health and family considerations.

The Judge held that a public servant once he is found to be guilty of corruption, deserved no indulgence from the court. Punishment in such cases should act as a deterrent to public servants who would indulge in corruption, the Judge observed.

While Sukh Ram was sentenced to three years' rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs.1 lakh, Runu Ghosh was sentenced to two years' rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs.50,000. Rama Rao was sentenced to three years' imprisonment with a fine of Rs.2 lakhs. The accused are sure to secure bail and go in appeal against the verdict in the Delhi High Court. The Special Court's hearing in the case was affected last year when Justice R.S. Sodhi of the Delhi High Court quashed the trial on the grounds that there was no prima facie evidence against the accused under the PCA (Frontline, March 2, 2001). The CBI later obtained relief from the Supreme Court, which found Justice Sodhi's ruling incorrect and directed the Special Court to proceed with the trial on a daily basis.

Sukh Ram was indicted in another case, for the possession of assets far disproportionate to his known sources of income. Currency notes totally worth Rs.4 crores were discovered during a CBI raid in mid-1996 at his residence. Sukh Ram denied that the money belonged to him. But the outcome of this case, like the telecom scam, could embarrass both his past and present friends in politics: the Congress(I), which expelled him in 1996, and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which owes the survival of its government in Himachal Pradesh to the support extended by his Himachal Vikas Party. Both the Congress(I) and the BJP are now keeping a tactical distance from Sukh Ram.

The tussle over animals

What will happen to the debate on animal testing in scientific laboratories in India, with the exit of Maneka Gandhi and C.P. Thakur from the Vajpayee government?

THE exit of Maneka Gandhi, who was in charge of the Animal Welfare Department, and C.P. Thakur, who handled the Health portfolio, from the Union Council of Ministers has somewhat abated the debate over the use of animals in scientific research. However, questions such as those on the need to exercise prudence in expecting international animal welfare standards from Indian scientific laboratories which face a cash crunch, and delineation of the role of bodies like the Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals (CPCSEA) remain unresolved.

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The CPCSEA was set up 40 years ago under the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. It was meant to ensure that animals are not subjected to unnecessary pain or suffering before, during and after the performance of experiments on them; that they are procured from registered breeders; that there is no duplication of research and consequently unnecessary sacrifice of animals for the sake of research; and that experiments on large animals are avoided when the same result can be obtained by experimenting on small laboratory animals. For the implementation of these rules in institutions conducting experiments on animals, the Institutional Animal Ethics Committee (IAEC) was constituted. The IAEC has members nominated by the head of the institution concerned; one member is a nominee of the CPCSEA.

But pharmaceutical companies and scientists have always complained that the guidelines of the CPCSEA interfere with research; they have been demanding an easing of CPCSEA rules. In May 2001, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), under its Director N.K. Ganguly, studied the impact of CPCSEA rules on biomedical research and described them as unrealistic. What is found as particularly troublesome is the stipulation that institutions wanting to conduct experiments on animals should get themselves registered with the CPCSEA. Scientists say that it is unfair to expect them to approach the CPCSEA each time they want to conduct experiments using animals. They want a one-time clearance for animal tests.

Scientists say that the use of animals for biomedical research is unavoidable. They charge the CPCSEA with doublespeak. Even as animal rights activists profess that experiments on animals are fine as long as they are conducted within the framework of guidelines, in reality they expect standards that are unachievable, scientists say.

The CPCSEA, on the other hand, says that the standards expected in India are less rigorous than, say, in the United Kingdom. It says that the debate over the use of animals for testing is being misrepresented as a choice between the welfare of people and the welfare of animals. The CPCSEA says that it is only asking for decent cages and food for the animals, which, in turn, would result in better scientific results. Scientists, however, fault the confrontationist attitude of the CPCSEA, especially in the matter of inspection of laboratories; they suggest that such inspections be treated as occasions to make a mutual effort to improve the conditions of experimental animals rather than use them as fault-finding processes.

Reacting to the charge that the CPCSEA does not make thoughtful and discriminating judgment, animal rights activists say that they cannot help reacting emotively to the issue. They argue that applying the results of experiments on mice to human beings is unreliable. The CPCSEA says that if the animals used for experimentation are kept in hygienic conditions and are looked after well, the results of the experiments would be accurate and would benefit scientific research. The Johns Hopkins University, which spent $30 million to build a state-of-the-art laboratory for maintaining experimental rats, is a case in point. According to Anuradha Sawhney, the chief functionary of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in India, such investment was deemed necessary to produce reliable data. "The money will be returned ten-fold when experiments that cannot be questioned on the basis of technique yield results that can be written in scientific journals and be of use to mankind," she said. Other cases cited include that of drug companies such as Physiome Sciences of the U.K. which do not use any animals at all in the development of new drugs and have developed three-dimensional computer models that can predict a chemical's effect on all organs of the human body.

The scientific community replies that the question of results does not arise in India as the CPCSEA guidelines have seen to it that animal-based research is next to impossible. The pharma companies are at the receiving end now, especially in the face of an inevitable escalation in costs. At a time when every minute is precious in globally competitive science, the CPCSEA is pushing the country backward by disheartening scientists, they feel. With product patents slated to replace process patents by March 2005, pharmaceutical companies that use animals extensively in experiments fear that they will lag far behind at the international level in developing drugs. Pushpa Bhargava, former Director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, feels that CPCSEA cannot be the judge of scientific activity in India since its members generally do not have a background in science. They delay or stop research which they do not understand, he says.

Questions have also been raised on where the CPCSEA would draw the line. Pushpa Bhargava argues that the CPCSEA, which pleads the case of animals in scientific institutes, should ban the use of pesticides since they kill insects, which are also animals. It should also ban agriculture, which requires the killing of plants, which are also living and which share, by and large, the same chemistry and biochemistry as animals, including human beings.

The debate has spilled over to alternatives to animal testing and practices in medical schools. Groups opposing animal testing swear by international standards, such as those followed in the Harvard Medical school - instead of practising on live animals students here are brought straight to the human operating room to watch and learn as surgeons perform cardiac bypass surgery. In the area of product testing, they cite the examples of European and American companies that have committed themselves to the use of ingredients from the Generally Recognised as Safe (GRAS) list rather than tests on animals. (But scientists here say that though alternatives like cell culture and tissue culture can be used in some studies, they cannot replace animal testing.) According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a non-governmental organisation, leading universities in the U.S. train medical students in hospitals under the close supervision of experienced doctors.

The present debate on animal testing goes back to mid-1999 when about 50 monkeys and other animals at the National Institute of Nutrition (NIV) in Hyderabad were forcibly released on the grounds that the institute's facilities fell short of CPCSEA rules. On March 8 this year, three members of CPCSEA officials visited the Institute once again and found that it still flouted the rules. They sent a report to Maneka Gandhi, drawing her attention particularly to the state of 37 monkeys, which were found to be suffering from mange, had missing fingers and were arthritic owing to the lack of exercise. The report said that some monkeys exhibited symptoms like zoochosis - that is, circling their cages without stopping. Two monkeys were deformed and one other was paralysed. Most of them were very aggressive. The drinking water in some monkey cages had larvae floating in it, the report said. The report prompted Maneka Gandhi to write a letter to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in May, seeking a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry into the functioning of the NIV.

In response to the letter, Health Minister C.P. Thakur told the Prime Minister that the CPCSEA's guidelines were too strict to follow. He wrote that resource constraint made it impossible for research to be undertaken in India in accordance with the CPCSEA norms, which were formulated in keeping with international standards. The letter also pointed out that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act specifically excluded experiments using animals if they were meant for the advancement of medical research. It further noted that several provisions under the Act affected drug development and other biomedical research. These included a ban on contract research and the import of animals. The researchers were required to procure their animals only from registered breeders even in cases where there were no indigenous breeders for many categories of animals, the letter pointed out.

C.P. Thakur's stand found favour with scientists and pharmaceutical companies. Maneka Gandhi found an emotive audience in international animal welfare organisations and some former movie stars. A letter from former French actress Brigitte Bardot, now an animal rights activist, to Thakur was widely circulated by PETA. Bardot made a sentimental plea on behalf of the monkeys at the NIV: "My heart goes out to these suffering beings, who are so very much like people in their capacity to feel. I can only imagine, with great heaviness of heart, what led to their terrible state. How many weeks or months or years were they neglected to have become encrusted with the painful sores of mange? How many years in undersized cages did it take to cripple their tiny bodies with arthritis? How many nights did they spend lying awake, their organs ravaged by infection that went untreated?"

Matters came to a head when the Prime Minister intervened in the ministerial row in June and asked Murli Manohar Joshi, the Minister for Science and Technology, to resolve the issue. Joshi was brought into the picture because the National Accredition Board of Laboratories (NABL), which comes under the Science and Technology Ministry, is in charge of matters relating to the regulations concerning experimentation using animals. The pharma companies and Thakur had been pushing for strengthening the NABL. Leading pharma companies have recommended that the IAEC be asked to monitor tests on animals and that it report directly to the NABL and not to the CPCSEA.

With the Cabinet reshuffle, both Maneka Gandhi and C.P. Thakur have been shunted out. It is not clear yet who would look after the Animal Welfare portfolio in the revised scheme of things. Whether the new Health Minister, Shatrughan Sinha, will continue with Thakur's line of argument regarding animal testing remains to be seen.

Judges in the dock

The Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court strips three Judges of the court of work for their alleged role in the scandal involving former Punjab Public Service Commission chief Ravi Sidhu.

WITH its massive concrete walls, the Punjab and Haryana High Court resembles nothing so much as a fortress, built to secure justice from scrutiny by the world outside. Now the ramparts have been breached decisively. Chief Justice Arun B. Saharya's June 29 decision to strip three corruption-tainted High Court Judges of work is a seismic event, unprecedented in the long struggle for judicial accountability. For the first time in India, Judges have faced administrative action for misconduct, and the event could prove just a precursor to even harsher sanction. But his colleagues are not the only people Justice Saharya has placed in the dock: Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and his inner circle of advisers must now answer questions that threaten to undermine their legitimacy.

Justice Saharya's orders came in response to credible allegations that three Judges - Justices Amarbir Singh Gill, M.L. Singhal and Mehtab Singh Gill - had participated in former Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC) chief Ravi Inder Pal Singh Sidhu's colossal jobs-for-cash fraud. Sidhu had organised the manipulation of mark-sheets and the pre-delivery of examination papers to help Justice Amarbir Gill's daughter, Amol Gill, and Justice Singhal's daughter, Sapna Singhal, gain government jobs. Justice Mehtab Gill's role was even more serious. A childhood friend of Sidhu, the Judge funnelled several candidates through Sidhu's enterprise of fraud. When Amarinder Singh came to power on an anti-corruption platform, Mehtab Gill is believed to have promised legal protection for the PPSC chief and his aides. All three Judges were indicted in the testimony of Sidhu's closest aides.

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The order stripping Justices Amarbir Gill, Singhal and Mehtab Gill of work came after a six-week and still-continuing in-house inquiry conducted by Chief Justice Saharya. In May, Saharya requisitioned the services of the then Punjab Police Intelligence chief A.P. Bhatnagar, who was earlier associated with the Justice J.S. Verma Commission of Inquiry which investigated the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. The decision came after the Punjab and Haryana High Court Bar Association launched a feisty protest against judicial corruption. The lawyers' protests were provoked by an earlier order by Justice K.S. Garewal barring police officials from providing information to the media on the Sidhu scandal, and the media from reporting whatever information they had. This outraged the media as well. In a front-page article, the Editor of The Tribune, asserted "that the people's right to information cannot be compromised with" and added that "we will be damned if we deny them their rightful due".

In key senses, the showdown of June 29 was provoked by sustained efforts to sabotage the investigation in the Ravi Sidhu case. Soon after the PPSC chief's arrest, Punjab Vigilance Department head A.P. Pandey gave out a list of beneficiaries based on the statements of Sidhu's aides. That list, it soon turned out, excluded the names of Judges, senior Indian Administrative Service officers and other influential figures. He also repeatedly claimed that there was no evidence to support allegations that Judges were involved in the scandal. Bhatnagar and his deputy, Inspector-General of Police Sumedh Singh Saini, who had together organised Sidhu's entrapment while receiving a Rs.5-lakh bribe and spearheaded the subsequent investigation, were incensed. Intelligence officials let it be known that they intended to pursue all suspects irrespective of their status. By late May, relations between Vigilance and Intelligence had broken down. While Intelligence officials charged Pandey with wilfully stalling the probe, he in turn demanded their removal. Amarinder Singh's inner circle, sources told Frontline, counselled the slowing down of the investigation, arguing that exposure of the tainted Judges would antagonise the judiciary. Four days before Chief Justice Saharya's order, the entire Intelligence establishment - Bhatnagar, Saini, Deputy Inspector-General R.P. Singh and Superintendent of Police S.S. Mand - were removed from their positions. This round of transfers, as in the case of the events that preceded and followed it, was unprecedented in its scale.

IT is unlikely that the findings of Chief Justice Saharya's inquiry will ever be revealed, but it is clear he would not have acted without considerable evidence at his disposal. What is known, however, makes it hard not to feel deep unease at the Punjab government's response to the events in the High Court. For reasons it understands best, the Vigilance Department seems to believe that the Chief Justice is, so to speak, targeting the wrong set of thieves. "As far as my file is concerned", says Vigilance Department head Pandey, "there are some High Court Judges named. At the time I spoke to the media on this question I had no conclusive evidence. We have some conclusive evidence now, and that evidence has been placed before him. I do not know from where the Chief Justice has found what. I would not like to contradict whatever he is doing."

Pandey's generous refusal to "contradict" the Chief Justice obviously does not settle the issue. When Pandey told the Chandigarh media that he had no hard evidence against Judges and other influential people, he had none against others the Vigilance Department had named, either. All it possessed were the confessional statements of Sidhu's key aides, Randhir Singh Dhira and Jagman Singh. And when the Vigilance Department had hard evidence, it seemed reluctant to act on it. Consider the fact that the former PPSC chief was granted bail in the first of two cases filed against him because no charge-sheet was filed within 90 days as required. Pandey says the decision not to file the charge-sheet was made after "intensive consultation with legal people". "We were advised that since the charges were under the Prevention of Corruption Act a Judge may throw out the case unless we obtained the sanction first", he said. Perhaps he needs new advisers. Section 167 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) confers on the accused a right to obtain bail if investigation is not completed in 90 days. The completion of investigation by the police by filing the charge-sheet is one thing; the court's decision to take cognisance of the charge-sheet is another. The issue of sanction falls in the second of these stages, a fact well known to the Central Bureau of Investigation, which often files charge-sheets even while awaiting the grant of official sanction.

Even more curious, no charge-sheets were filed against Randhir Singh Dhira and another key associate of Sidhu, Prem Sagar, and this again enabled them to obtain bail. Pandey explains that "Dhira and Prem Sagar were arrested on the basis of first information report 7, in which we believe now that it is legally prudent to charge Ravi Sidhu alone. We registered a separate case against Dhira and Prem Sagar." The argument makes little sense. If, as Pandey claims, Dhira and Prem Sagar had no role in the first of the Sidhu cases, the Vigilance Department should have immediately filed an application before the trial Judge seeking their discharge. It is, indeed, a serious offence to keep suspects in jail after coming to know of their innocence. Dhira's confession to a Judge in Patiala had also provoked considerable controversy, since he omitted the names of several beneficiaries of the PPSC fraud - in fact 31 of 62 - whom he had earlier named during his interrogation by Intelligence officials. Pandey accepts that a subsequent additional confession made by Dhira was the consequence of media "hulla gulla" (outcry) against the omission.

Sidhu's mother, Prithpal Kaur, along with his brother Reetinder and his wife, played a key role in handling his funds. They have all now left the country. The Vigilance Department claims that this happened because it then had no knowledge of their role in Sidhu's affairs. Assuming this to be true, it still does not explain why no action was taken to prevent them from leaving the country and, even more serious, why no subsequent effort was made to make them return. Speaking to journalists in Chandigarh, CBI spokesperson S.M. Khan rebutted Pandey's claims that the Vigilance Department had asked the agency to take steps to prevent Sidhu's relatives from leaving the country. "My Superintendent of Police", Pandey says, "went and met the officer in charge of Interpol matters to help locate their assets. I also spoke to CBI Director P.C. Sharma who assured us of all help. S.M. Khan may not be aware of the facts." Perhaps not, but this begs the question why no step has so far been taken to revoke the Sidhu family's passports, or secure their extradition.

Wilful inertia, the leitmotif of the Vigilance Department's working, might just have succeeded had it not been for Chief Justice Saharya's commitment to his judicial responsibilities. The transferred Intelligence officials would have been disgraced; their investigation of allegations against Judges put down to personal malice. Given the sheer impunity with which some of the scam-tainted Judges acted, it is possible that they were counting on some such outcome. Justice Mehtab Gill, for example, told both The Indian Express and his colleagues he did not know Sidhu at all. In fact, Sidhu's family had moved to the family home of Justice Mehtab Gill at Charick near Moga after Partition. As a student, the PPSC chief often spent his summer vacation at the Gill home in Charick. That the friendship persisted is evident from photographs of Sidhu's swearing in, which record the Judge's wife and mother engaged in conversation with Prithpal Kaur. Dhira was also invited to the function, and was photographed with Sidhu.

So far, the Chief Minister has made no effort to explain just why he has tolerated the Vigilance Department's appalling lack of resolve. Suspect examination sheets have yet to be examined by forensic experts; dozens of well-placed scam beneficiaries, Amol Gill and Sapna Singhal among them, have yet to be questioned; at least three senior IAS officers named by Sidhu's aides remain wholly un-investigated. All of this is at a par with the past. For four weeks after Sidhu's arrest on March 25, the Vigilance Department came up with precious little information on his activities and repeatedly sought to close the investigation. It was only after Dhira surrendered to Intelligence officials in late April that a clear picture emerged on Sidhu's activities. Another key aide, Jagman Singh, again surrendered to Intelligence officials. Still, the record shows, the Vigilance Department failed to round up further suspects or pursue the new leads - until, that is, Chief Justice Saharya's stinging indictment.

Acting now will not get the Chief Minister off the hook. Full account will have to be given for past failures, most notably the wholesale purge in the Intelligence department. Amarinder Singh's stated reason for the purge was that it had no business registering criminal cases. His advisers perhaps omitted to tell him that - if legal niceties were what provoked his ire - neither did the Vigilance Department, that power being vested by the CrPC in officers-in-charge of police stations. While many argue that criticism of the official conduct of the case will deflect attention from the deep corruption of the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party regime, precisely the converse is true. Should Amarinder Singh now choose not to introspect and review past actions, the door will lie open for the Union government's intervention through the CBI. That, in turn, will subvert the enormous public goodwill generated in the course of Amarinder Singh's anti-corruption campaign.

Meanwhile, in New Delhi, Chief Justice of India B.N. Kirpal will face an even larger challenge. No one but he and Chief Justice Saharya are aware of the sustained discussions they have had on the megaton-sized events in Chandigarh. Chief Justice Saharya has no powers other than to strip the scam-tainted Judges of their work, but the CJI could be considering transferring them to another High Court. Political parties too will have to discover the will to use the final sanction of impeachment. It is now 12 years since the Justice V. Ramaswami scandal broke out, ironically enough in Chandigarh. On that occasion, eminent lawyer P.P. Rao has recorded, three successive CJI advised Justice Ramaswami not to attend to his judicial work, "but none of them took the next logical step of withdrawing work from the judge". And Parliament chose, because of narrow political considerations, not to impeach Justice Ramaswami.

Justice Saharya has marched across the line none dared to cross in 1992. It will now rest on the political establishment to see if it can find the courage to act to establish judicial accountability.

An award controversy

The Barefoot Architects of Tilonia decides to return the Aga Khan Award in protest against the revision of the citation by the Aga Khan Foundation giving much of the credit for the award-winning work to a Delhi-based architect.

THE Barefoot College Tilonia has decided to return the Aga Khan Award for architecture it received in October 2001, following an unseemly controversy. The $50,000 triennial prize was awarded to the barefoot architects of Tilonia, for their "exceptional contribution in building rainwater harvesting structures, homes for the homeless and the barefoot college campus" until one who felt left out from the titles asked for his share of the honour sometime early this year.

Sanjit Roy, the Director of the Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC), who is better known as Bunker Roy, and a small, close-knit fraternity of men and women at Tilonia, a model village in Rajasthan's Ajmer district, decided to return the award on July 3 as the Aga Khan Foundation changed the wordings of the original citation to include the name of Neehar Raina, a Delhi-based architect.

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The cash-starved Tilonia has apparently made use of the money that came its way as award. Bunker Roy said that the award money would be returned in instalments. "Provided Raina too returns his citation," he said.

As for the three citations - one for Bhanwarlal Jat, one for Rafeek and one for Bunker Roy himself - and the trophy Tilonia received, Bunker Roy will soon carry them to Geneva. "I am going to drop them there in the Aga Khan Foundation office. I am doing my part of it," he said, while revealing that he is yet to hear from the Foundation.

This is perhaps the first time in the history of the prestigious Aga Khan Awards that anyone has returned the award. The Barefoot College was one of the nine recipients of the architectural awards in 2001. The Tilonia project was found exemplary by the master jury of the Award Foundation as it "augmented traditions and knowledge of a rural community, enabling untutored residents to design and build for themselves".

Bunker Roy now wants a debate on the barefoot concept, which is based on the traditional wisdom of the villages and on the capacity and resourcefulness of their common residents. "Who is a barefoot architect? The return of the award should provoke a debate. In this case the ideology of the Barefoot College has been misunderstood and misrepresented," he lamented.

"It had been an agonising decision but we have to keep our honour," Bunker Roy told Frontline. "There was no question of accepting Raina as the architect since he was a beginner and was still learning from the elders in the village. When Romi Khosla and Raina came down to Tilonia to discuss the issue with the men and women here in April this year we had agreed to acknowledge Raina as a designer but of course not as an architect," he observes.

The original citation, given away by the Aga Khan in person at a ceremony in Aleppo, Syria, on October 6, 2001, to Mohammed Rafeek and Anwar, two barefoot architects from Tilonia, carried the names of "an illiterate farmer from Tilonia (Bhanwarlal Jat) and 12 other barefoot architects". The text of the citation said: "The success of this approach is exemplified through the construction of the campus by an illiterate farmer from Tilonia along with 12 other barefoot architects, most of whom have no formal education." The revised version, now with Raina, reads, "A young architect, Neehar Raina, prepared the architectural layout, and an illiterate farmer from Tilonia, along with 12 other barefoot architects, constructed the buildings."

Bunker Roy said: "We disagree with the decision of the Aga Khan Foundation as we are unable to accept the claims of Raina about his own contributions and his disparaging description of the role played by our own barefoot architects."

Raina had worked with the Tilonia fraternity - which then included Bunker Roy's wife, the Magsaysay Award Winner Aruna Roy as well - for some time when the campus, on National Highway No.8, came up. He complained to the Aga Khan Foundation when he found that his name was missing in the citation. He also described the barefoot architects as masons and supervisors who merely executed the design he had prepared for the campus. In one of his letters to Jack Kennedy of the Aga Khan Foundation, Raina ridiculed the claim of Bunker Roy and his colleagues of having created the new campus of Tilonia as an attempt to "make a mockery of architectural profession as well as the Aga Khan Award for Architecture".

The complaint prompted the Foundation and the Delhi-based Council for Architecture to send a senior architect, Romi Khosla, to investigate. Khosla and Raina visited Tilonia in April last to hold an open meeting with Bunker Roy and other members of the group. At the meeting, which was videographed, Tilonia's people refused to acknowledge Raina as an architect but agreed to concede his role in the project as a designer.

Bunker Roy denies that Raina had a role in the construction of the rainwater harvesting structures or homes for the homeless. "His contribution was only in helping prepare an initial layout of the barefoot college campus. In this too, he vastly benefited from the knowledge and wisdom of the local people, including women," Bunker Roy said.

In a telephonic interview to Frontline from New Delhi, Neeher Raina, the man who triggered the controversy, said: "I feel very sad. It is unfortunate that the award has been returned. On my part I was only fighting to establish my role. Now that has been done, it is for the Foundation people to decide."

Raina, who worked in Tilonia during his formative years as an architect for a project funded by the Council for Advancement of People's Action and Rural Technology (CAPART), was paid Rs.72,000 for his services. According to Raina the Tilonia project was like any other for a professional architect. He had prepared the designs in his office in Delhi after researching traditional architecture and locally available materials, Raina insisted.

Did the much decorated Tilonia, which brought a new self-esteem to the ordinary people and the deprived women of Rajasthan's semi arid tracts, overlook the role of the professional architect in the award-winning concept, behind the 250 homes and 350 rainwater harvesting structures? "We have not made any false claims or taken credit for work done or contributions made by others. We still believe that the original work was designed and executed by the barefoot architects and that the professional architect made his contribution only as a member of the total team, by making the blueprint in order to be able to receive government funding for the campus," Bunker Roy stated.

According to Bunker Roy, the barefoot architects, mostly illiterate or semi-literate persons, included rural women who had special knowledge of house building, particularly roofing. "It is an established practice in our society to ignore or leave unacknowledged the extraordinary contributions often made by 'ordinary' people. The whole class of people have thus remained invisible throughout history in spite of their brilliant creativity just because they were poor and illiterate," Bunker Roy said in one of his rare outbursts.

"The philosophy of the SWRC and the Barefoot College attempts to counter this trend and re-establish the genuine claims of these people without a voice," Bunker Roy added. Tilonia's barefoot philosophy spreads to a whole lot of human endeavours including, crafts, education and solar lighting. Tilonia has a number of night schools where village children, especially girls, learn by night after helping their parents in the fields or in the kitchen during the day.

"It is demystifying technology for the masses," Bunker Roy said about the community-managed systems of solar electrification, which generate 264 kw in eight States in the country. The Barefoot College in Tilonia, with solar panels that can generate 40 kw, is the only fully solar electrified college in the country.

THE Aga Khan Foundation is yet to respond to the episode. It has no office in this part of the country other than that of the Rural Support Foundation. "Absolutely nothing has been heard from their side after the announcement on returning the award," Bunker Roy said and added, "It is a shocked silence."

The uncertainty about the status of the award persists as Raina too does not know what will happen to the citation that he received once the original citations with Tilonia are returned. He now resorts to the logic that it is for the Aga Khan Foundation to decide. "They gave the award. They are now to decide," he said.

As such Raina never made any claims for the money given as part of the award. It was not for money but for recognition that he had fought for, he explained. "Not that I don't recognise Tilonia's work. But they should have recognised mine as well," he added.

After all the allegations, Raina has some praise for Bunker Roy. "Bunker has always been an inspiration. I have great respect for him," he notes. Yet this is not going to solve the dilemma of the Aga Khan Foundation as it cannot allow Raina to retain the citation once the rest of the recipients return it. It also cannot ask Raina to return his citation just because others did so. Again, what would be the status of the award if only one of the recipients holds it?

Flood fury in Thane

The monsoon wreaks havoc in Maharashtra's Thane district, but the response of the local administration has been inadequate.

THE monsoon's first heavy spell of rain in Maharashtra this year, which began on June 26, caused unprecedented havoc in Thane district. Five days of torrential rain caused flash floods which claimed about 60 lives and an unknown number of livestock in the partially rural district.

"They say floods like this come once every 100 years," said Dhakar Bindiya, the railway linesman who has become a local hero after he detected a fault on Western Railway's mainline track that links Mumbai with Delhi. For decades Thane district has not experienced such destruction as it did in the last week of June.

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On June 26, Thane recorded 375 mm of rainfall after 12 hours of continuous downpour. In the following 48 hours, 1,169 mm of rainfall was recorded. The numbers take on more meaning when it is realised that the region's annual seasonal rainfall is about 2,000 mm. The floods caused widespread destruction. Farmland that was being readied for the kharif sowing season was destroyed. As many as 94 of the 222 affected villages in Thane were rendered uninhabitable. About 100 pucca (brick-and-mortar) structures were destroyed and about 3,000 kuccha (mud-and-straw) homes vanished in the floods. Communication lines to the area were disrupted for almost a week. Flood water levels were as high as 12 feet (3.6 metres) in some places, and power supply had to be cut off for safety reasons. Flood waters washed away the ballast underneath railway tracks, thus disrupting train services.

Medical services were severely hit. Rural Thane has a large tribal population, and at the best of times the tribal people's access to medical services is poor. The disaster only served to highlight the lack of well-staffed and well-stocked primary health care (PHC) centres in the area. The rural PHC in Tarapur was badly affected. The PHC, in Dahanu taluk, is a crucial one because it takes care of the health needs of about 50,000 people. Flood waters washed away everything - medical equipment, cots, medicines - and for six days medical supplies were not available.

Seven relief camps were set up by the local administration but there was a sense of dissatisfation about their functioning. Rambhau Dagle, a Warli tribal person from Dahanu, said that he and his family waited for hours in order to get the government handout of grain. "When our turn finally came we were told that the day's stock was over and that we would have to wait." Rambhau and his family spent the night inside a tent made of plastic sheets. The family in a neighbouring tent shared its food with his family. The next morning Rambhau stood in the queue again, this time to collect the cash compensation for his losses. When his turn arrived, Rambhau was given Rs.600 as immediate compensation. He was told that he would receive the remaining amount after he filled in the panchnama forms. The government promised Rs.25,000 to those who lost their family members between the ages of eight and 18 years and Rs.50,000 for the death of those aged 18 years and above.

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There were allegations of corruption in the disbursement of compensation. Some tribal people in Palghar taluk stormed the Tehsildar's office. They alleged that of the Rs.600 that was due to them as immediate compensation, Rs.100 was being being kept back. They also claimed that they were made to pay Rs.200 to get a panchnama form.

One of the worst casualties of the flash floods was the Western Railway. The Virar-Dahanu Road sector is the main arterial route for the entire network of Western Railway with 40 per cent of the passenger and mail traffic originating from Mumbai.

Train services were suspended for almost a fortnight after linesman Bindiya discovered on June 26 that a section of the track over the middle span of bridge number 144 had practically no support. "His alertness prevented what could have been a terrible disaster," said Kaushal Kishore, Divisional Manager, Western Railway. Twentyfive breaches were found on the track. Seven bridges were affected, the worst being the 145-year-old bridge number 144 near Palghar.

With 1,500 labourers working round the clock, the Western Railway managed to restore services after a fortnight. But the local administration is yet to restore normalcy to the lives and livelihoods of the affected people.

A step towards peace

A reshuffle within the parallel, underground government run by the NSCN(I-M) in Nagaland is likely to aid the process of dialogue with the Central government.

THE ongoing peace talks between the Government of India and the outlawed National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah) seem to have taken a positive turn as a result of a reshuffle in the parallel, underground government run by the NSCN(I-M) in Nagaland. A new "cabinet" was formed after an oath-taking ceremony was held on July 1. The Centre's special emissary, former Union Home Secretary K. Padmanabhaiah, was sent to Amsterdam on July 8 to meet NSCN leaders Isaac Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, who have been living in exile.

Immediately after the formation of a new "ministry" the "Government of the People's Republic of Nagalim" declared that it would carry the peace process in Nagaland forward and described the present style of functioning of the government as "out-dated". This, observers feel, indicates a flexible attitude which could help solve the 50-year-old Naga problem.

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The parallel NSCN (I-M) government has been functioning in Nagaland for over 10 years with a full-fledged cabinet and all other trappings of a legally constituted ministry. It is significant that the reshuffling took place before Padmanabhaiah left for Amsterdam for what many people feel could be the final round of peace talks that would be held with the NSCN top brass outside the country.

The five-year-old ceasefire agreement between the Government of India and the NSCN(I-M) got a boost on December 8 last year following a meeting between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and the NSCN leaders Isaac Chishi Swu and Muivah at Osaka in Japan. Prior to the Osaka meeting, Muivah and Isaac Swu, the "Prime Minister" and the "President" respectively of the "Government of the People's Republic of Nagalim" met Vajpayee in Paris.

After the formation of the new 51-member underground "ministry" the "Government of the People's Republic of Nagalim" said that it was committed to "carrying forward the peace process in Nagaland through mass participation",but had decided that it would maintain "full military preparedness for any eventuality". The formation of the "ministry" was a follow-up to the NSCN(I-M)'s decision to lift the "state of emergency" that was declared last year. The "ministry" includes six kilonsers (cabinet ministers), 25 deputy kilonsers (ministers of state) and 20 tatars (members of Parliament representing different tribes). After the swearing-in ceremony at the Tangkhul church in Wungran village near Dimapur, the new "home minister", A.K. Lungalang, said: "The NSCN(I-M) is fully committed to unity and reconciliation of all factions of Naga outfits, and this government shall willingly go the extra mile to achieve this." A message sent by Isaac Swu was read out on the occasion.

Lungalang said that the process of bringing about unity and reconciliation would be "within the parameters of national principles". He said that his government would explore every avenue to reach out to the grassroots level and spread awareness about the need to strengthen the ongoing peace process through mass participation. He said that "we must give way to a more systematic method of administration". Lungalang stressed the need to "streamline tax collection" and initiate steps to check "over-taxation". Members of the new "cabinet" urged NSCN (I-M) activists to check extortion.

Besides Lungalang, the "cabinet" includes Q. Tuccu (defence minister), K. Hurray (finance minister), Johnny Lamkeng (information and publicity minister), Vaison Pou (religious minister) and Hevukhu (minister without portfolio).

Before leaving for Amsterdam, Padmanabhaiah said that he had met Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani to take necessary instructions on the basis of which the three-day talks with the NSCN leaders were to be held. The talks would focus on the ceasefire and efforts to bring about lasting peace in Nagaland, he said.

Informed sources said that there was a strong likelihood that the next round of talks would be held in India. During his meeting with the NSCN leaders in Osaka, Vajpayee invited Isaac Swu and Muivah to visit India. They are reported to have told the Prime Minister that it was he who should remove obstacles such as arrest warrants that prevented them from visiting Delhi. Besides, they pointed out that their organisation was a banned one. "We have no problems about visiting India, particularly when Vajpayee himself has invited us and expressed his sincerest desire to settle the Naga issue. What we need is a congenial atmosphere for talks and negotiations," they said.

The Nagaland government has withdrawn all criminal cases that were pending against Isaac Swu and Muivah, including the one relating to the armed attack on Chief Minister S.C. Jamir's convoy. The move to withdraw the arrest warrants is seen as an attempt by the government to facilitate the continuation of peace talks in Delhi. The last round of talks was held between the Centre's emissary and NSCN leaders in Kuala Lumpur.

Meanwhile, there is tremendous pressure on the NSCN(I-M) leaders from different Naga groups to settle the decades-old insurgency issue and restore peace. The Naga Hoho, an apex body of all Naga tribal councils, has launched a "reconciliation campaign" throughout the State. The Naga Hoho, which believes that the settlement of the Naga problem is not possible without the unity of the 52 Naga tribes, has initiated the campaign in order to help end the clashes between the different extremist groups operating in the State and to bring together all Naga sections, particularly the underground outfits, for the "greater cause of rebuilding the Naga family and ending years of blood-letting." The Church in Nagaland, which plays a significant role in the State's tribal society, has for years been making efforts in this regard without any apparent success.

Over the years, the situation has only worsened, with sharp and almost irreconcilable differences emerging among the extremist underground outfits. This has led to the killing of hundreds of members of these groups, besides innocent people. Perhaps, more militant Nagas have died fighting among themselves than at the hands of the "Indian occupation forces". However, the Hoho's efforts are different from those of the Church in that it is a people's initiative, or at least that is what the body claims it to be.

At its first convention to launch the "Naga National Reconciliation Move" in Kohima on December 20 last year, Naga Hoho president M. Vero said that for the Nagas the need of the hour was to come together to "share, discuss and consult with grace to absolve their past mistakes and begin building a new future based on peace, hopes and truth through a process of healing and compassion." The convention was attended by about 10,000 Nagas from Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar, irrespective of their ideologies and affiliations. The Naga Hoho ensured that most of the tribes of Nagaland's faction-ridden society were represented at the convention. According to an estimate, about 50,000 people were killed in the past 50 years either in the factional clashes or at the hands of militants and security forces.

Naga society has always remained divided along tribal lines. Even today, a section of the Nagas in Nagaland do not consider the Tangkhul Nagas - Muivah belongs to the Tangkhul tribe - of Myanmar as Nagas.

In a vicious circle

Despite the efforts of several NGOs, Manipur continues to be in the grip of an AIDS epidemic, whose spread is aided by widespread poverty and a thriving business in the smuggling of heroin.

STATISTICS released by UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, on the eve of the 14th International Conference on HIV/AIDS in Barcelona estimate that by mid-2002 only "a fraction of those in need were receiving antiretroviral treatment (also known as triple therapy)". Of the 730,000 people who are on this therapy worldwide, 500,000 live in the developed world.

In Imphal, the capital of Manipur, when a question is posed to S. Raghumani, secretary of Lifeline Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that works in the area of HIV/AIDS, about the number of HIV infected in the State who are on this therapy, he says, "It is very expensive. You need Rs.1,800 a month for a combination of three antiretroviral drugs and only the rich can afford that kind of money. This is the cheapest combination. The cost can go up to Rs.15,000 a month. I know three people who are on these drugs."

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About 70 km from Imphal, at the little town of Churachandpur, at another NGO, Sahara, when asked about the treatment available for full-blown AIDS cases, its administrator Ryan Fernandes says wryly, "You are asking us about full-blown AIDS. Forget it. There is so much poverty here that not too many HIV-positive people live long enough to reach that stage. That stage is reached in big cities where money and medical facilities are available. Over here, people die of a common cold. We have seen the HIV-infected dying within two years. For them, full-blown AIDS is just a story."

Manipur is a tiny northeastern State with a population of 2.38 million and as a perceptive housewife points out, "it is a small State with big problems." Insurgency is one of them; and HIV/AIDS, which is acquired mainly through injecting drug use (IDU), is another. But the biggest problem, and the root cause of drug abuse, which is widely prevalent among the population, is poverty and the near-total absence of industrial development.

Dr. Khomdon Singh Lisam, project director of the Manipur AIDS Control Society (MACS), points out that though Manipur's population constitutes only 0.23 per cent of India's it has over 8 per cent of HIV-infected persons in the country. But there is a distinct difference in the pattern of infection. While in 86 per cent of the cases of HIV infection in other regions of India the transmission route is sexual, in Manipur, about 72 per cent of the cases originate from the sharing of needles and syringes by injecting drug users (IDUs). "This is the distinctive feature of the HIV/AIDS story here, which compels us to have a different strategy and intervention policy," Lisam says.

The first cluster of cases in Manipur - involving six heroin-injecting men - were detected in February 1990 among IDUs. "This information galvanised the entire society; what was believed to be a disease of the Americans and the white people had come to their doorstep. People were taken by surprise and they thought they had to do something," Lisam said.

The police sprang into action by arresting drug addicts. In the early 1990s, at any point of time, there would be more than 500 drug addicts locked up in Manipur's jails, and compulsory testing of drug addicts began without any counselling. Women activists would go to homes at midnight and demand that the son or daughter who was on drugs should be turned over to the police. Next, chemists and pharmacists announced that since HIV spread through the injecting of drugs and the sharing of needles, they would not sell these to young people.

"On the roads, the police would check people for needle marks on the body, and those found with pock-marks in the arms or legs would be promptly arrested. Next came the insurgents, who handed over a bullet to each family, threatening to come back in a week and shoot youngsters who continued to use drugs. All these people were afraid that HIV/AIDS would spread through IDUs. The only people who were not active were the medical people, who did not know what to do," says Lisam.

All this hectic activity sent the IDUs underground, and the drug addicts refused to come for counselling or de-addiction programmes. Worse, the non-availability of needles and syringes made them concoct a crude device to inject drugs - a rubber dropper fitted with a needle, which was shared by groups. "And the HIV seropositve rate among heroin-injecting people shot up from 1 to 2 per cent to 50 per cent in just six months. It was a world record," according to Lisam.

The reason for the high addiction rate, according to Lisam, was the spill-over of heroin and other drugs entering India from Myanmar through the Manipur town of Moreh on the India-Myanmar border. The State shares a good part of its border with Myanmar, and the purest form of heroin - known locally as No. 4 - comes into India from Vietnam and Laos through Manipur, he says.

The administrators and policy-makers thought that drug addiction could be checked best through total abstinence from drugs. But the problem with this policy was the high relapse rate; 80 to 90 per cent of the "de-addicted" persons returned to the same environment with the same set of friends and followed the same risky behaviour pattern using shared needles.

The fallout of all this was an even faster spread of the virus through IDUs. The HIV sero-prevalence rate among IDUs increased from 50 per cent in 1994 to 80.7 per cent in 1997. From September 1986 to May 2002, 85,298 blood samples were tested and 13,448 people, including 1,831 women, were found to be HIV-positive. HIV/AIDS-related deaths have been tabulated at 217. But the NGO representatives, as well as the project director himself, say that the actual numbers could be far higher. And HIV/AIDS is no longer a problem of IDUs; it has spread from HIV-positive drug-injecting people to their sexual partners as also children.

So you have the virus slowly, but surely, eating away at the young in the community. Deepak Singh, secretary of the Manipur Network of Positive People (MNP+) and himself a former IDU, who along with a few of his friends "came out" a few years ago, with their HIV-positive status, says, "We have lost so many friends from HIV/AIDS. In our society there are so many people dying of unknown causes which might well be HIV/AIDS." Banta Singh, his colleague in the MNP+, adds: "These days we find so many elderly men bringing out of their homes the bodies of their young sons. Earlier, the young used to cremate or bury their older relatives, but these days in Manipur, it is the other way round."

MNP+ was born in September 1997, when "two of my friends came up to me, started crying and said they were HIV-positive. So I said I am positive too," says Deepak. According to him, all of them felt that there must be others like them who required care and support - mental, psychological and physical - and that this group could help them. Deepak himself started taking drugs in the mid-1980s, stopped that in 1993 after going through a de-addiction course, and worked with the Lifeline Foundation until he founded MNP+ with his friends. Today MNP+ has over 100 members and runs seven centres to provide care and support to persons who are HIV-positive.

As for Banta, his addiction to drugs began "while studying in a boarding school in Imphal. Having booze after exams was common. Next came marijuana and then the pills in the early 1980s. I was 16 when I came out of school in 1983, and then heroin came in." He and four of his friends would share a needle during the 1980s, when disposable needles and syringes were not widely marketed in India. To make the injections affordable, they chose a rubber dropper into which a needle would be stuck. In 1992, Banta discovered that he was HIV-positive. By then he had graduated in architecture and found a job with the government, which he still holds.

Surprisingly enough, the discovery of their HIV-positive status did not shatter them, says Deepak. "We knew we were indulging in risky behaviour and surely something dangerous would happen to us but we would say that at least we would be together in that too."

Today Deepak is married to a nurse, "who is a very understanding person and married me knowing that I was a former drug addict and could be HIV-positive. We have a lovely five-year-old daughter. Banta has two daughters too. But Bobby (another colleague at MNP+) is lucky because he is not married. Sometimes I look at my lovely daughter and wonder about her future if anything were to happen to me," adds Deepak, his voice barely a whisper. But the next instant he finds his voice and his smile. "One day I'll die, but I'm sure I'll die of something else and not AIDS".

It is this kind of spirit, courage and resolve that help the NGOs in Manipur that work for the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS and the provision of care and support for the already infected to keep going. Funded by UNAIDS and ActionAid, MNP+ leaves the distribution of needles and syringes to other NGOs - there are about 20 of them. In Churachandpur it was an NGO called Shalom which pioneered the needle exchange programme.

But MNP+ feels that there is a dearth of good rehabilitation centres for the drug addicts and HIV/AIDS-afflicted. "You can count the good rehabilitation centres in Manipur on your fingers and they are there only in urban pockets," says Banta Singh. MNP+ concentrates on helping HIV-infected persons with medicines and hospitalisation when they fall sick. This has become easier over the last five years as "we have developed a good rapport with the doctors," he adds.

But the root cause of the high rate of HIV infection in Manipur remains IDU and as long as the smuggling in of heroin continues the problem will remain. There are allegations from almost anybody you talk to about the involvement of politicians, top police officers and security personnel, and other bureaucrats in the smuggling business.

UNAIDS estimates that the global drug trade is a multi-billon-dollar industry, with 10 million IDUs worldwide. "By the end of 1999, injecting drug use was being reported in 136 countries," and HIV cases among IDUs were found in 114 of them, says its "Report on the Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic".

"Some people say that 'Moreh' stands for 'Millions Of Rupees Enter Here'," says Lisam. With Manipur situated along a thriving heroin route, there is enough spillover of the drug for a large number of educated and unemployed youngsters in the State to be hooked. There are hardly any employment avenues open to them other than government jobs. The thriving insurgency 'industry' of Manipur - one estimate puts the number of groups at 15, and each one has its own "tax structure" - has kept corporate India away from the State. There is no local industry worth the name and the lack of economic progress and industrial development has left the majority of Manipur's people in the grip of poverty and frustration.

Lisam estimates that there are about 40,000 drug addicts in Manipur, of whom 20,000 are IDUs. However, the UNAIDS report puts the number of IDUs in Manipur around 40,000. Drug addicts cannot be de-addicted in a short time, and NGOs like Sahara face a funding problem because they cannot satisfy the "rigid norm" of funding agencies."

Sahara's project director Charles Cardoz says that the approach towards tackling drug addiction and HIV/AIDS in Manipur needs to be revamped. For one, there needs to be better coordination among government agencies such as the Narcotics Bureau, the Police Department and the Health Department. "Also, we find that the accent is still on IDUs for HIV/AIDS prevention and control, while the truth is that HIV/AIDS has gone beyond the IDU community into the general population. And there are many, many more HIV-positive people than the official figures suggest. In Churachan-dpur town, which has a population of 5,000, official figures put the number of HIV-positive people at 300, but we know from our experience that there are about 1,500 HIV-positive people here," Cardoz says.

The NGO has been running vocational training services for carpentry and handicrafts. But at the moment these are closed for lack of funds. Total rehabilitation takes time, but then, he says, funding agencies look at success stories and insist on a time-frame of six months.

At the moment, as their counsellor Larry Pereira puts it, Sahara exists without any formal funding: "We exist on the crumbs that are falling out of people's tables and live in the hope that one day we will get a full loaf of bread."

Peddling hate

DIONNE BUNSHA cover-story

The role of the dominant Gujarati language media during the genocidal anti-Muslim pogrom was chillingly communal and provocative.

"If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth."

- Joseph Goebbels, Minister for Propaganda in Nazi Germany.

ON February 27, a coach of the Sabarmati Express was set on fire at Godhra, killing 59 people. Gujarat was in a state of hysteria. People feared the worst. The Hindutva forces in the State were all set to target Muslims. With rumours flying thick and fast, people were desperate to get accurate news. But truth was a scarce commodity.

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Gujarat's two leading newspapers, Gujarat Samachar and Sandesh, were hardly instrumental in spreading peace. "Avenge Blood with Blood" was one of the headlines on the front page of Sandesh the day after the Sabarmati Express massacre. The article that followed was a statement issued by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

Both newspapers carried reports about how 10 to 15 young women were pulled out of the train and kidnapped by 'religious fanatics'. Sandesh also mentioned that two women's breasts were cut off. This was later denied by Chief Minister Narendra Modi. But neither newspaper carried a correction, retraction or clarification. Gujarat Samachar published a report saying that the article that had appeared in Sandesh regarding the kidnapping of women was false, but there was no mention of its own blunder.

Throughout the subsequent communal carnage in Gujarat, the State's leading newspapers have been locked in a peculiar kind of competition. It is not about who gets the news and facts first. It is about who can be more communal and provocative. Both Gujarat Samachar and Sandesh have raised the anti-Muslim pitch. They have published several articles during the past few months that have in many ways aided the VHP's propaganda machinery.

"Hindus Beware: Haj Pilgrims Return with a Deadly Conspiracy", said another headline in Sandesh on March 6. "In reality, hundreds of terrified and anxious Haj pilgrims returned accompanied with heavy police escort to homes that could have been razed to the ground," says a report by the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and Shanti Abhiyan in Vadodara. Another snippet in Sandesh on March 1, the day the VHP called a Bharat Bandh, reprimanded Bhavnagar's leaders for maintaining peace. "Hindus were burnt alive in Godhra and leaders of Bhavnagar did not even throw a stone in the name of bandh. Ahmedabad, Vadodara, and Rajkot had partly avenged the killing of Hindus in Godhra. In the case of Bhavnagar, the gutless leaders are hiding their faces under the guise of non-violence," the report stated. Another headline in Sandesh on March 2 said: "Bapunagar reels under blind private firing all day. If you do not kill the enemy they will kill you."

In several instances, Sandesh misreported or selectively reported events to portray Muslims as the perpetrators of violence, when in fact, in most cases, they were the victims. Feeding prevalent stereotypes, Muslims were denounced as 'terrorists' and 'religious fanatics' while Hindus were glorified as 'devotees'. Areas with a large Muslim population were described as dangerous 'mini-Pakistans'. The residents of Tandalja in Vadodara were so upset by the campaign against their neighbourhood, which is predominantly Muslim but houses 7,000 Hindus, that they filed several complaints, including one with the Editors Guild of India. A false report about firing in the area was published. Sandesh printed a clarification after the residents complained. But the damage had been done. A sub-heading in Sandesh (March 4) stated wrongly that the Collector had proposed to declare the neighbourhood a 'disturbed area'. As a result, people were scared to go to the area. Milk vans and autorickshaws kept away, although there was no curfew or violence there.

Not even the relief camps were spared. A banner headline in Sandesh on March 15 warned: "In the name of shelter, migrants from other States enter city." It alleged that Muslim leaders were using relief camps as an excuse to set up illegal colonies. In reality, thousands of Muslim refugees who were hounded out of their homes had no choice but to live in miserable conditions in the camps.

Sandesh's pages were filled with the colours of blood and gore. Red stars were used to report death counts. Horrific photographs were used, many tinted red. "Alternatively, photographs of militant, trishul-wielding kar sevaks are splashed across the front page. Both kinds of photographs serve to instil fear or terror," says the report of the PUCL and Shanti Abhiyan. It adds: "All RSS and VHP statements are given pride of place in Sandesh. Appeals for peace, instances of Hindus and Muslims protecting each other, are given short shrift." Gujarat Samachar, on the other hand, did carry positive stories of communal harmony and of communities helping one another.

TELEVISION coverage also followed the same pattern. While national channels like Aaj Tak and Star TV updated viewers with accurate reports, a few local television channels aired VHP propaganda. J TV, one of Vadodara's local channels, was apparently the most vitriolic. "It regularly broadcast provocative speeches by VHP leaders. It kept repeating gory footage of the Godhra massacre," says Rohit Prajapati, a human rights activist. He points out that during the Ram Dhan rally on March 15, another local channel, Deep TV, selectively broadcast footage of the participants. Also, the coverage did not reflect the tense situation that existed in Vadodara at the time. Nor did it mention the fact that the rally was banned because several places in Vadodara were under curfew. Yet, Narendra Modi wanted to move against Star TV, which was providing the real picture.

While this was the first time that many people here saw communal speeches and footage of actual violence on their television screens, the provocative tabloid style has been a standard feature of the Gujarati press. Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar have had a history of communal coverage and were indicted by commissions of inquiry probing into the riots of 1969, 1981 and 1985-86. But no action has been taken against them. This time, social activists have been trying to file a criminal case against Sandesh under Section 153(a) of the Indian Penal Code for inciting communal hatred. But the police refuses to lodge a first information report (FIR). "We have been trying for a week, but they have not yet registered the FIR. We even approached the Police Commissioner, but nothing has happened," says Valjibhai Patel, one of the activists trying to bring to justice one of Gujarat's most powerful newspapers.

While J TV remained unpunished, the Vadodara Police Commissioner registered FIRs against two local channels, News Plus and VNM. He also suspended the licences of two cable operators. The Commissioner felt that the cable networks had "played havoc" by showing footage of rioting in Macchipith on March 15 and by repeating the footage the next day. The local channels are small fry compared to the powerful owners of Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar.

In an interview to the Editors Guild Fact Finding Mission Report, the Chief Managing Director and Editor of Sandesh, Falgun Patel, described Gujarati newspapers as "pro-Hindu" and criticised the English media for siding with the minority community. He admitted that his reporters did sometimes lose the balance and were communalised down the line. Sandesh, he said, "editorialises the news" by "balancing the news with their own version". Falgun Patel also said that it was their editorial policy not to carry corrections and clarifications. He described the Godhra incident as "unforgettable" and the reaction to it as "justified". Patel received a letter from Chief Minister Narendra Modi expressing appreciation for the newspaper's 'restrained' coverage of recent events in the best traditions of journalism.

Gujarat Samachar has a circulation of 8.10 lakhs and Sandesh sells 7.05 lakh copies, Falgun Patel told the Editors Guild team. He claimed that owing to its "pro-Hindu" stand Sandesh's circulation had increased by 1.5 lakh since the violence began. Gujarat Samachar's owner-Editor Shreyans Shah told the Editors Guild team that his daily's circulation had increased by around 50,000 during the course of the carnage.

Are these newspapers popular because of their communal stand? Are they telling people what they want to hear? "Yes, people do like to read sensational stories. But during the riots when there is so much uncertainty and rumours, people want to know the truth. They want to know if it is safe to go out, to send their children to school. But these newspapers are failing to deliver the facts to their readers," says Prajapati. "Their circulation may have gone up because during such times people want to know what is happening around them. And since these two newspapers are the market leaders, they are bound to gain the most by this sudden interest in the news. It has nothing to do with their communal leanings," he adds.

IN true Goebbelsian style, Hindutva propaganda pervaded the average Gujarati mind in different forms. The VHP's street propaganda was complemented by the Gujarati dailies, which launched anti-Muslim campaigns that were even more vicious. Pamphlets calling for an economic boycott of Muslims were distributed throughout the State. Others asking Hindus to awaken and stop bearing with Muslim atrocities were circulated just before March 15 when trouble was expected during the Ram temple foundation stone ceremony in Ayodhya. Another VHP fund collection appeal warned Hindus against attacks by Muslims, and asked for funds to defend legally VHP activists who were arrested during the violence.

The VHP also used technology to further its cause. It distributed CD-ROMs with gory footage of the carnage. In posh shopping centres, when shops were looted by affluent residents of Ahmedabad, the news of the free-for-all plunder was spread through SMS (short message service) on mobile phones. Narendra Modi's website has fan mail praising the 'asli mard' for 'protecting Hindus'. However, false news that kar sevaks kidnapped a young Muslim woman from the Godhra station platform was also circulated widely through e-mail.

But, undoubtedly, the Gujarati print media, with its wide reach, had the most lasting impact. Its anti-minority (not only anti-Muslim) and casteist venom, even during peaceful times, has ensured a slow and sustained indoctrination of the Hindutva ideology. The key role that it plays in aiding the fascist propaganda machinery ensures it immunity from the powers-that-be. It can continue to twist reality and keep the wheels of hate turning.

Women's initiative for peace

BELA BHATIA cover-story

Notwithstanding their personal loss and trauma, several riot-affected women from Gujarat converged at a women's meet in Rajasthan to express their overwhelming desire for peace and communal harmony.

EVEN though we as a nation and people cannot look squarely at ourselves as parts of Gujarat continue to simmer, there are faint rays of hope that we need to turn to and take strength from. A meeting on the theme "Women for Peace" that was held in Rajasthan from June 23 to 25 was one such event that raised hopes. The three-day meeting, initiated by Aruna Roy of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, was held on the campus of the Social Work and Research Centre at Tilonia, Ajmer district. A response to the communal carnage in Gujarat, the meeting was aimed at affirming the voice of secularism, peace and humanism. It was convened also to help prevent the spread of communalism in Rajasthan. Since women suffer the effects of communalism in diverse ways, and are particularly victimised during communal riots as happened in Gujarat, they have a key role to play in opposing communalism.

The meeting was attended by around 1,000 rural women members from various local organisations in different parts of Rajasthan as well as activists, writers and academicians from within the State and outside. Also present was a group of 25 women from various relief camps in Ahmedabad. Their arrival was a poignant moment. They were received with much love by the assembled women who embraced each one of them, knowing that they too had suffered much during the riots. The pain suffered by these women was there for all to see and feel. Most of them were crying when they related what had happened to them and the difficult circumstances that they were currently living under. Listening to their stories, many other women also started crying. These first-hand experiences from Gujarat conveyed, more than anything else, what the end result of communal hatred could be.

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In spite of their personal adversities, these women from Gujarat displayed extraordinary courage. Over and over again they pleaded that what had happened to them should not happen to anyone else. Not revenge, but understanding, love and peace was what they craved for. As Saiyyad Irshad, 16 years old, told the gathering: "A lot of pain has been inflicted upon us, but instead of crying we have to have the courage to rebuild our lives." Yet it was not going to be easy for most of them or for the others back in the camps. The trauma, the pain and the loss were now part of their daily lives. Learning to love again, trust again and hope again would be a struggle. As conveyed by Jaibunisha, who lost 19 members of her family: "How can I trust them again? I am dead even though alive. I live only because I have to, for my children."

In a related testimony, Aarti Sahni of Sathin Union, Ajmer, recalled the pain that her family had to go through after their house was burnt down in Kashmir many years ago, forcing them to leave. But she too said that she did not have any feelings of revenge. The people of Kashmir, she said, continued to suffer in many ways, and an attempt should be made to resolve the existing stalemate by consulting them.

Plenary meetings and group discussions were held on various aspects of communalism, ranging from the role of communal violence in diverting attention from real social problems to various ways of overcoming communalism. Aruna Roy emphasised the need to deal with the problem of communalism in a holistic manner. Communalism, she said, was one of the several related forces which included globalisation, militarisation and casteism, which threatened to undermine India's democratic and political framework and affect the lives of ordinary people in numerous ways.

Historian Uma Chakravarty spoke about how women were used as symbols, targets and participants of communal violence. She argued that women would have to fight against all forms of violence because different kinds of violence were closely linked. For example, domestic violence and communal violence were linked because men who are violent outside the home are likely to bring that violence inside and vice-versa. Dunu Roy of Sajha Manch, Delhi, observed that while the communal forces were gathering strength, the already small space that non-governmental organisations and autonomous movements had occupied was shrinking.

Kavita Srivastava, who had just returned from another peace event in Ayodhya, explained that many people there had turned against the Vishwa Hindu Parishad because its communal programme had played havoc with people's daily lives - causing the displacement of local residents for security reasons, disrupting the local economy, reducing the flow of traditional pilgrims, and undermining the town's tradition of communal harmony.

A recurring theme was the meaning of dharm (religion) and its role in human life and society. It was observed that no religion preaches hate or encourages interpersonal animosity, and that daya (compassion) was a principal teaching of all faiths. Manavta or insaniyat (humanity) was the most basic human value that had to be held above separate religious identities. Some of the participants felt that manav dharm, which is manifested in a concern for all human beings, was more important than religious ritual. "What use is it going to Kashi or Mecca if we do not first feed the hungry or quench the thirst of those who are thirsty?", asked Suhana from Ahmedabad. Pointing out the many positive roles of dharm in people's lives, Lal Singh, an activist of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, observed: "dharm dharm ke beech ki ladai hi adharm hai (the fight between religions is itself anti-religious)".

Another person, who is trying to put into practice his belief in manav dharm is Bhanwar Meghvanshi. Bhanwar, who is a former member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, spoke of how he had become disillusioned with the RSS after experiencing caste-based discrimination within the organisation. After this experience, he drifted across a whole range of religious and political organisations and was disillusioned with all of them as none was really committed to social equality. He said that Dalits had often been manipulated into participating in communal violence and that it was important that they distance themselves from communal forces. Echoing Bhanwar's sentiment, Norti Devi, a 55-year-old Dalit activist of the Mazdoor Kisan Morcha, pointed out that the poor would have to organise and fight the communal forces unitedly, for ultimately it was the poor on both sides who suffered. Instead of fighting with each other, the poor should fight for their basic democratic rights.

AS part of the meet, various creative activities were organised, which expressed through action the same themes that had been taken up for discussion. For example, on the night of the second day, women from Gujarat stood in a row with lit candles, from which all the other participants lit their own candles. Soon, the place was beautifully lit by a thousand candles. It was almost as though the plea of the women from Gujarat, that whatever happened to them should never happen to anybody else, was no more a plea but a resolve.

There were several songs and plays too, which emphasised similar themes. "Where could one find God? - not in temples or mosques but among fellow human beings," went one song. Another song echoed the same sentiment: "Mandir bhi le lo, masjid bhi le lo, magar tum hamare lahu se na khelo (you may take the temple and the mosque, but do not play with our blood)". Other songs drew on Rajasthani folk traditions such as renditions of Kabeer's verses by musicians from Barmer - the famous Kabeer bhajan "jiya joon jal thal mai data, jyan dekhu tu hi tu" was sung with much vigour. Besides songs, there were several slogans that emphasised the need for more love and humanism in our society: "Hamara nara: aman, ekta, bhaichara (peace, unity and sisterhood, such is our motto); prem, insaniyat ho aadhar, aisa rachenge ham sansar (we will give shape to a world which is based on love and humanism)".

How easy it is to look for differences and miss similarities! This was proved when blood tests of more than a hundred women were carried out. Much to their amazement, the women realised that blood groups could differ not only within their own religion or caste but also within their own families, while those they thought had "bad blood" could in fact have the same blood group as their own. The participants recognised the need to be careful and not let social differences divide them, or allow hate to enter their hearts and homes. This, they felt, was possible only by practising love in their daily lives and by attempting to bridge the distances.

There was a lot of one-to-one expression of love and care by hugging each other, holding hands and listening attentively to each other. On the second day, women tied rakhis (friendship bands) on each other's wrists as a symbol of their joint commitment to end violence, and put mehndi on their hands as a celebration of their love and friendship. They also made collective pledges, not to let trishuls or talwars enter their homes, and not to allow anyone to hoist green or saffron flags on their roofs.

The three-day gathering concluded with a silent peace rally through the streets of Kishangarh, the nearest town. Kishangarh is one of the eight places in Rajasthan that witnessed communal disturbances in the wake of the violence in Gujarat. This was the first time that communal strife had broken out in Kishangarh. As local residents point out, no untoward incident had occurred even during the Partition days. The silent rally spoke volumes to them - it gave voice to their own silent apprehensions and concerns. The sight of this dignified procession of determined women and men from all over Rajasthan, weaving their way through the streets of Kishangarh with the message of peace and love, made a deep impression on them. The public responded with many gestures of support - they provided water at several points en route and sold tea at a reduced price to the participants. One resident even distributed laddoos at the end of the rally.

The rally ended in a sabha (assembly) at Katla bazaar, which is known as a stronghold of the RSS. The speakers did not make political speeches but focussed on simple messages related to the daily lives of ordinary citizens, be they Hindu or Muslim, and the necessity of preventing the communal wave from spreading in Rajasthan. The assembly included speeches by Muslim residents of Kishangarh, an unprecedented event in Katla Bazaar.

This meeting was about aman (peace), insaniyat (humanism) and prem (love). The mindless violence of Gujarat has raised basic questions about our belief in as well as our capacity for tolerance. There has been some degree of erosion of basic values in society. One needs to understand why because Gujarat has shown us that these personal values have deep connections with our actions in the political sphere.

Bela Bhatia is Associate Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi.

Zones of contention

A major round of organisational changes in the Indian Railways initiated by Minister Nitish Kumar brings forth a spectrum of political reactions.

CONSTRAINED by the funds crunch within his Ministry and the prevailing orthodoxy about market oriented reforms, Nitish Kumar has not had much opportunity to enliven his year-long tenure as Union Minister for Railways - his second in four years - with creative administrative forays. The events that have followed his recent notification of major organisational changes in the Railways, however, have offered him a surfeit of excitement.

On June 14, dusting up a part of the proposal mooted in Ram Vilas Paswan's Railway Budget of 1996, Nitish Kumar announced the formation of two new railway zones - East Central Railways based at Hajipur and North Western Railways in Jaipur. These zonal entities are scheduled to become operational by October 1. There was no explanation of why Paswan's proposal to create six new zones had been pared down to the relatively modest figure of two. But as the controversy began to burgeon, Nitish Kumar moved swiftly to buttress his defences. On July 4, he announced that five more zones would be created, to be operational by April 1 next year: East Coast Railways based in Bhubaneswar, South Western Railways in Hubli, West Central Railways at Jabalpur, North Central Railways in Allahabad and South East Central Railways in Bilaspur.

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Between the two announcements, Nitish Kumar had to contend with a spectrum of political reactions. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal, deprecated the move to carve out the new zones, arguing that it would impair operational efficiencies, dislocate personnel and generate a welter of conflicting regional demands on an invaluable national asset. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, in contrast, welcomed the decentralisation of the Railways' operational management and applauded the emphasis on efficiency that this seemed to suggest. The Bihar government reacted likewise, while Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik queried the Central government over the delay in notifying the other zones proposed in 1996.

Perhaps the most hostile reaction came from Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar's predecessor as Railway Minister. Banerjee has never made a secret of her belief that the portfolio she abandoned in a strategically miscued decision to distance herself from the National Democratic Alliance prior to last year's Assembly elections, belongs to her by right. Claiming that West Bengal's interests had been damaged by the decision to split the Kolkata-based Eastern Railways two ways, Banerjee demanded that the decision be reversed.

Banerjee's reward was the July 4 notification, which among other things, split the Kolkata-based South-Eastern Railways three ways. Coupled with the loss of three divisions to the East Central Railways, Kolkata now had to confront the prospective loss of another four divisions to the East Coast and South East Central Railways. But in the process, against the solitary resistance of West Bengal, Nitish Kumar managed to broaden his supporting cast - till then confined to Bihar and Rajasthan - to seven States.

Murmurs were later heard about how the Minister had ensured the support of Andhra Pradesh by retaining the traffic-heavy Guntakal division within the Secunderabad-based South Central Railways. A credible case for transferring Guntakal to the proposed South Western Railways was rebuffed, and two new divisions - Nanded and Guntur - were created under the jurisdiction of the South Central Railways, to compensate partly for the loss of Hubli division.

Concurrent with the announcement of five new zones on July 4, eight divisions were notified, all of them to be operational by April 1, 2003. These are to be based at Nanded, Guntur, Agra, Raipur, Ranchi, Pune, Ahmedabad and Rangiya in the north-east. The final outcome of these organisational changes in terms of operational efficiencies and public service remains to be seen. But its immediate result has been to create a web of largely convergent and partly conflicting political interests. Since West Bengal remains fairly isolated in its unequivocal opposition to the proposed changes, by mid-July it was a fair bet that Nitish Kumar would have his way. There was no respite, however, in his schedule of receiving delegations arguing the cases for and against the reorganisation.

Subhash Chakravarti, the West Bengal Transport Minister, led a delegation of legislators and parliamentarians to the Railway Minister on July 9. The meeting was by all accounts marked by a fairly civil exchange of views, since the delegation, which did not include any Trinamul Congress members, was keen to avoid the tone of intemperateness that Mamata Banerjee had set. In Kolkata, Chief Minister Bhattacharjee emphasised that his interest was in ensuring that the Railways did not fall prey to petty regional interests, since its operational parameters, as also its role in integrating a far-flung country, needed to be protected. The issue, he was at pains to emphasise, was not one of West Bengal against Bihar.

A few days later though, the Bihar government sent its own delegation to urge the Railway Minister to stand firm. The creation of a zonal headquarters in Hajipur, the delegation argued, would bring immense economic benefits to Bihar.

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Nitish Kumar for his part was insistent that there would be little adverse consequence for the economic interests of any State. Rather, by decentralising the management of the Railways and providing a sharper focus to neglected regions, the reorganisation would benefit all States uniformly. In concurrent clarifications, officials pointed out that the Railway Reforms Commission had, as far back as in 1984, recommended the creation of four new zones. This proposal had remained unimplemented, and the vast increase in the traffic burden of the Railways since then, now made seven new zones appropriate.

Faced with the threat of an agitation by Banerjee, Nitish Kumar vaguely promised that the matter would be sorted out by an informal Cabinet committee comprising the big three - Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and Defence Minister George Fernandes. But as the tentative deadline for a resolution passed, the issue continued to hang fire. Nitish Kumar was evidently working on the belief that Banerjee could never make common cause with the Left Front government of West Bengal. And that would render the protests from that quarter ever more feeble in the face of the strong endorsement received from other States.

Although few people doubt now that the reorganisation will go through, experts are unconvinced about its operational and economic benefits. The basic focus of operational responsibility in the Railways is the divisional office, of which there are currently 59 distributed across eight zonal jurisdictions. By April next year, the numbers would change to 67 divisions distributed between 15 zones. Most seasoned observers are convinced that even if new divisions were to be created in the interests of operational efficiency, they could be retained within existing zonal jurisdictions, without in any way impairing the zonal office's function of oversight and coordination.

Railway officials counter with the argument that the expenditure involved in the creation of the seven new zones will, aside from the Rs.80 crores already committed, be no more than Rs.300 crores. And when future operational efficiencies are factored in, this investment would more than pay for itself.

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Experts who have followed the working of the system closely would be prepared to concede the case were the Railways not in a parlous financial state, with its reserve funds virtually depleted. Aside from the funds involved, they say, the creation of seven new zones speaks of misplaced priorities and the vulnerability of the system to political demands. Some of these aspects have been on display in recent times in the jockeying between Bangalore and Hubli, which were both contenders for the location of the South Western Railways.

In 1996, the prize was awarded to Bangalore, but persistent litigation by the citizens of Hubli ensured that the project never got off the ground. Following the political change at the Centre in 1998, the new administration bestowed its favour on Hubli, which in turn brought out the litigative zeal of the citizens of Bangalore. It took a Supreme Court decision in 2001 finally to free the Railway Ministry from the fetters of judicial scrutiny. But nobody is quite certain how the reported expenditure of Rs.12.77 crores on the South Western Railways has been deployed - whether it is in Bangalore or in Hubli.

Officials of the Railway Board now insist that the assets created under the aborted programme continue to have their utility, since Bangalore remains a major divisional headquarters.

The Railway Budget documents record that investments have over the last few years been going into the creation of a new division based at Singrauli. And though no investments have been made for Nanded and none allocated in the Budget for 2002-03, it is not Singrauli but Nanded that features in the list of new divisions.

I.I.M.S. Rana, Chairman of the Railway Board, points out that the decision to set up a divisional office at Nanded had been taken as far back as January 1986, following which the budgetary allocation for the purpose had been spent. But the formal notification was delayed for various reasons. Now with that hurdle being cleared, the division would be off and running without any further delay or expense.

Rana is at pains to emphasise that these minor anomalies are unavoidable in the vast enterprise that is the Indian Railways. But if the organisational changes now proposed were to contribute even to a one per cent increase in operational efficiencies, he argues, they would be more than justified.

The professional cadres that run the Indian Railways are resigned to making the best of the situation they find themselves in. It is nevertheless a fact that their judgment of priorities is often at variance with the demands placed upon them by politics. And it is a further curiosity that once retirement frees them from the calculus of promotion and security, they become fairly trenchant critics of meddlesome politics. Few of the recent incumbents in the Railway Board, who after retirement have established themselves as influential commentators and analysts, have found anything positive to say about the organisational changes proposed. Without in any way breaking the solidarity of the Railways guild by calling into question their judgment, the current incumbents in the Railway Board believe that they are obliged to defend the new measures with absolute, if simulated ardour.

At the precipice of despair

columns

Fifty million Indians with disabilities, most of them in the countryside, remain on the outer periphery of public policy and social action, often deprived of basic human rights.

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FOR them, the world is beyond their reach. The most ordinary of aspirations - to enter school, work in the fields, go out to worship, get married, the prosaic ingredients of even the most humble person's workaday life cycle - are frequently denied to them. These are not even distant dreams for them. The most profound and consistent denial of even minimal human rights - it is remarkable. An estimated 50 million persons with disabilities remain at the outer periphery of both public policy and social action in India.

More than any other large dispossessed social group, people with disabilities are invisible: in political agendas, in human rights struggles, in development strategies, in social science research. But even more strikingly, rarely do we encounter disabled people in schools, farms, factories, playgrounds, cinemas, streets, markets, temples, mosques or churches, or at family celebrations.

We know almost nothing about the lives of persons, and even less about women and girls who live with disabilities in the countryside. What really is life like for them, how do they cope, what do they suffer, what are their dreams?

It is to seek answers to questions such as these that a team of researchers fanned out to a sample of 41 villages across Andhra Pradesh. The majority of the researchers were themselves people with disabilities. The study was commissioned by the State government, which approached a development support agency, ActionAid India, to lead a participatory study into rural disability. The findings of this study are to form the foundations of the largest State programme in India for disabled people's development. The researchers, youthful and energised by their own lived experience of disability, were equipped with the basic tools of social science research methodology before they went out in teams for the study. They camped for four or five days in each village. I accompanied them on a small leg of their search. Their findings constitute a harrowing indictment of state and society, and a mirror of a victimised people who live routinely at the edge, invisible and dispensable to the rest of the world that they inhabit.

In any village when the researchers start out by asking how many people with disabilities live there, almost invariably the people would reply: "There are hardly three or four disabled persons in the village." But then a quest would begin for these hidden, forgotten people. Disabled people themselves and their care-givers would lead the team members to new disabled persons, and they in turn would identify more like them. With wonder, village residents would discover that in their own village, which they thought they knew so well, there were tens of disabled people whose existence they were not aware of. In a village of 1,000 people, one may discover as many as 50 people with disabilities who live hidden behind mud walls of their homes. In the course of the survey of 41 villages, researchers were able to locate 1,843 people with disabilities in a total population of 73,195, which means 2.52 per cent. Even as the teams were leaving the villages after completing their investigations, more people with disabilities were discovered. Global estimates place the ratio of people with disabilities to the total population at an average of 5 per cent. So dense is the social invisibility of these people that even such an intensive survey by a deeply motivated team could barely identify half of them.

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One striking finding of the study was of the nearly insurmountable physical and social barriers that people with disabilities confront in accessing public spaces and common properties. Gaps and failures in village infrastructure such as roads, drinking water sources and school buildings disproportionately constrain people with disabilities. Temples are built on hill-tops, and degraded forests require people with disabilities to walk longer than is physically feasible for them. More grave are social attitudes, of shame and ridicule, beginning often within the family, which further immobilise people with disabilities. The result is a sense of isolation, dependency and pervasive low self-esteem, which the researchers encountered widely amongst people with disabilities.

In particular, people with disabilities felt humiliated by their sense of dependency for sometimes even the simplest acts of daily living, such as bathing, eating and attending to nature's call. On many occasions researchers found in impoverished homes, where all care-givers had to go out for wage work, severely disabled people who were forced to remain without food and care for the entire day. It is important to recognise that dependence can be reduced significantly through education and medical assistance, but the study highlighted how both were beyond the reach of most rural people with disabilities.

The research found that more than 60 per cent of people with disabilities had had no kind of schooling. More than half of the remainder did not go beyond primary school. Modern educationists believe that it is best for both children with disabilities and 'abled' children to study together, in integrated schools. This study revealed much higher levels of integration in rural Andhra Pradesh than the national average. During the study, the teams observed that the more rural the school, the more inclusive it was, and teachers were tolerant of children with disabilities within their classrooms. The survey, however, found that not a single teacher was trained to work with children with disabilities, nor did they have any special teaching aids. Therefore, whereas children with locomotor impairment were able to keep pace with the class, children who were mentally slow, or speech- and hearing-impaired, or visually handicapped felt isolated and marginalised in the course of teaching.

But even for physically disabled children, especially girls, education is a daily struggle. Both of Varalakshmi's legs were weakened by polio, and she has to crawl to her school every day on her hands. Children of her village, Kanakamidi in Ranga Reddy district, jeer at her and call her kunti or cripple. Her classmates go to school in groups, but she travels alone by a shortcut. There are stones and thorny weeds on this path, which have calloused her hands, but shame and the distance still bar her from taking the main road. The greatest difficulty that she faces in school is that there are no toilets. It is hard enough for other girls, but Varalakshmi has to suffer the mortification of her bodily functions in school every day.

No school had ramps or special toilet facilities for its disabled students. Only 1.1 per cent of the pupils accessed government scholarships for children with disability. Disabled children reported that even water taps were often too high for them to reach.

But the picture was not universally dismal. We visited a high school in Moinabad village (Ranga Reddy district), in which a girl with callipers unselfconsciously and cheerfully danced with two classmates in the customary welcome dance for visitors. In Badguna village (Nizamabad district), a mother we visited proudly showed us the achievements of her hearing-impaired son, who was ahead of his entire class in studies. As we sat in his home and he solved complex problems in mathematics, two "abled" friends arrived to call him out to play. They communicated effortlessly in sign language, and as we walked around the village later, it was clear that his handicap was no impediment to his acceptance as the leader of the gang of boys.

The study indicated that for disabled children of impoverished rural parents - agricultural workers and small farmers - the chances of going to school, and remaining within it, are very low. This is particularly the case where mothers have to do wage work to sustain the family and therefore cannot take the child to school. Girls are more burdened than boys because they have to look after the household work and take care of their younger siblings. Disability was consistently found to be no barrier only to the conventional domestic duties of house work of girls and women.

Aids and appliances as well as correctional surgery can do a lot to assist persons with disability to overcome the constraints imposed by their biological condition. But although modern technology can potentially enhance greatly both the mobility and the ability for communication of people with disabilities, the study reveals that even low-cost assistance is beyond the reach of most rural people with disabilities.

Of the 1,843 disabled people surveyed, only 123, or less than 7 per cent, had received any kind of disability aids and appliances during their entire lifetimes. But even among the few who were fortunate enough to access these, most were unable to use them for any length of time.

Of the 7 per cent who had received aids, more than half were those who received tricycles, sometimes free of cost, sometimes at a price. Some reported that they had to bribe local authorities to sanction them the tricycles. But they invariably found that the tricycles had been designed for an urban topography, and they were difficult to manoeuvre and maintain in the undulating, untarred, stony rural pathways. Similar problems were encountered with crutches and callipers, which were manufactured for urban contexts from heavy materials that could not be repaired in the village.

Only eight persons with hearing difficulties received hearing aids. But once again, even for the fortunate few who received them, the quality was inferior, and the device echoed noisily in their ears, causing frequent headaches, and the little gadgets often broke down. Therefore all the users covered in the survey ultimately had abandoned their use.

The researchers could not find medical records of even a single person with disabilities who underwent corrective surgery or modern medical interventions to reverse or improve their condition. One woman health worker whom they interviewed said she was aware of only one person with disability in the entire village.

The study found that 30 per cent of people with disability, who were in the working age group, had absolutely no opportunity to work, and that they were fully dependent on the members of their family. They included persons with leprosy, visual impairment, and severe mental and multiple handicaps. Although many of these persons, especially visually handicapped adults, are capable of productive work, their families and the larger community regarded them to be incapable. Nearly 20 per cent were children or old people, whereas the remaining 51 per cent were engaged in the rural economy.

However, with very few exceptions, they had low-end work - uncertain, barely averaging seven to 10 days a month, with niggardly wages, varying from Rs.15 to Rs.35 a day. The large majority, around 81 per cent, were found to be engaged in agricultural or non-agricultural wage work. But they reported that even this low-wage employment was available only when other workers were not available, or during peak agricultural periods. Even such employment was highest for persons with physical disabilities, whereas other disabled people such as those with hearing impairment were considered unsuitable because of difficulties in communicating work demands.

In non-agricultural rural communities, barriers to productive employment run even higher. For instance, people with disabilities are never engaged by marine fisherfolk in fishing operations. At best, they dry or knit nets or make ropes, earning as little as between Rs.100 and Rs.300 a month. Similarly, in tribal communities that are still primarily dependent on gathering non-timber forest produce, the difficult undulating terrain becomes a barrier to their self-reliant forest-based existence. Women are further burdened at work, because in spite of their disabilities, in most cases they are still expected to fulfil all their responsibilities of domestic work and, in addition, earn a living in a highly unequal market.

LOW and uncertain incomes mean that many people with disabilities and members of their families routinely live with hunger. Even the coping mechanism of seasonal distress migration is usually barred to such people. In the survey, we encountered very few people with disabilities who received any kind of disability pension, or food aid, to protect them through seasons of hunger. The situation is even more tenuous for aged persons with disabilities who lack younger care-givers.

This investigation found the highest, frequently tragic, levels of vulnerability and social exclusion among rural women with disabilities. Most of them were forced to marry in highly unequal situations, as second wives to much older men, widowers or divorced men. The large majority of women surveyed reported that they were treated mainly as unpaid domestic labour and sexual objects, and suffered high levels of physical and psychological domestic abuse, sometimes desertion. Girls with disabilities, particularly those who are mentally challenged, were found to suffer from routine sexual abuse and unwanted pregnancies.

I recall a poignant visit to the home of Aliveulu, a woman with speech and hearing impairment. She sat in a corner of her mother's home in the village, isolated from all communication in her silent, lonely world, her face a picture of settled grief. A member of our team was herself hearing-impaired, and she communicated with her in sign language. Soon an animated conversation was in progress. She had been given in second marriage to a man much older to her. Except for sex and hard domestic work, he had no interest in her. She finally left him and returned to her mother's home, where she felt just a little more valued.

The survey also highlighted the problems of the care-givers of rural people with disabilities. I particularly recall the young mother of two children with congenital multiple disabilities in Tipparti village. One son was three, the other two years older; both could not move, eat or perform their bodily functions without help. They neither spoke nor responded, nor even turned on the bed without assistance. The mother wept and said that she had not been able to leave her home even once in the past five years because of the unrelenting need to take care of the children. Her husband was an agricultural worker, who alone could work outside the home to bring in money and food. Both parents were desperate and spoke of suicide. I have rarely met anyone so decisively exiled from hope as that young mother.

Rural families with members who are disabled were found to carry a variety of burdens: social, economic and psychological. There was a pervasive sense of shame and stigma, and families often felt isolated. A family that went to a temple to make ritual offer of hair of a disabled boy, Durgareddy in Vaguvalasa village (Vizianagaram district), was turned away. Many care-givers spoke of their sense of deep despair, and suicide was not infrequently mentioned as a serious option.

In Shilarmiyagudem village (Nalgonda district), a mentally challenged young woman was being cared for by her elderly grandmother. The girl's parents had committed suicide as they found the burden of the disabled child too hard to bear amidst their poverty. Their old mother was far more resilient and has fought many years to keep both bodies alive.

In this way, across our countryside, shrouded from our collective view and conscience, people with disability and their care-givers somehow are living out their lives, surviving, but only just, most often at the precipice of dark despair. It is probably only when they organise into a social and political collective voice and assertion that an uncaring state and society will finally be forced to act.

Crimes and conflicts

USHA RAMANATHAN world-affairs

On the promise and potential pitfalls of the International Criminal Court.

ON July 1, the International Criminal Court (ICC) came into being. The first stage was crossed on April 11, 2002, after 66 states deposited their instruments of ratification with the United Nations. By June 27, seventy-one countries had ratified the ICC statute, well above the number of 60 needed to give effect to the statute. The universality of the crimes set out in the statute will mean that war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed anywhere in the world will all be crimes within the understanding of the court. The court will exercise its jurisdiction only where either the state on whose territory the crime was committed, or the state of which the accused is a national, is a party; or where the Security Council refers a matter to it. And it will not substitute national courts, but be complementary to them - that is, where the national systems are unable or unwilling to deal with the crimes.

Only the states that have ratified the statute on or before July 2, 2002 will have the right to participate fully in the first Assembly of States Parties, which will be held in September 2002. The 18 judges of the court, and the prosecutor, are expected to be elected next January after the Assembly of State Parties decides in September this year the rules of procedure to select the judges and officers of the court, and determines issues relating to its budget.

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Even before the court takes its first steps, the United States has begun its campaign to vilify it. Threats, both blatant and veiled, have accompanied this campaign in large measure. To begin with, the Bush administration threatened to 'un-sign' from the statute that Bill Clinton had signed on to just before he demitted office. But there is no procedure for un-signing. Moreover, in international law, when a country signs a treaty, even where there is no ratification, there is an obligation not to act contrary to the letter and spirit of the treaty. So, the Bush administration adopted a variant that it thought up to un-signing. On May 5, it addressed a letter to the U.N. Secretary-General to inform him that, "in connection with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court adopted on July 17, 1998, ... the United States does not intend to become a party to the treaty. Accordingly, the United States has no legal obligations arising from its signature on December 31, 2000. The United States requests that its intention not to become a party, as expressed in this letter, be reflected in the depositary's status lists relating to this treaty."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress currently has before it the American Servicemembers' Protection Act (ASPA), a law which would authorise the use of military force if U.S. citizens are held in the ICC in The Hague. The law, which has passed Senate scrutiny, advocates the use of "all means necessary" to retrieve its citizens from the court. This proposed law, and the fiery rhetoric around it, has proved to be a diplomatic embarrassment. The Dutch Parliament is reported to have endorsed unanimously a resolution expressing concern about what is also being referred to as the Hague Invasion Act. It has urged the Dutch government to take up the matter with both the European Union (E.U.) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

The response of the U.S. embassy in the Netherlands has been nebulous: "The ASPA provision grants an authority for the President to use all means necessary. It does not require or suggest that any particular means be used to address this issue. Should matters of legitimate controversy develop with the ICC's host-country, the Netherlands, we would expect to resolve these controversies in a constructive manner, as befitting relations between close allies and NATO partners. Obviously, we cannot envisage circumstances under which the United States would need to resort to military action against the Netherlands or another ally."

More recently, the U.S. has threatened to back out of peace-keeping missions unless its personnel are exempted from the ICC's jurisdiction. The U.S. wants the Security Council to endorse a blanket exemption from prosecution by any court other than its own for all peace-keeping missions, but the Security Council has so far refused to oblige. The U.S. is threatening to pull out its peace-keeping troops from Bosnia; the mandate expired on June 21. It has agreed to an extension only till the end of June pending a formal statement of immunity to forces engaged in peace-keeping. On June 30, the U.S. blocked a vote to continue peace-keeping operations in Bosnia, letting the peace-keeping mandate expire. Most of the members of the Security Council are opposed to the adoption of this disclaimer. But if Britain, which negotiated such a disclaimer on behalf of countries during the war on Afghanistan, were to change its position, there is no saying which way the decision might go.

Even as the ICC came into being, lawyers were busy setting up an International Criminal Bar to fill the vacuum in the defence, and to provide lawyers for witnesses and victims. Meeting in Montreal on June 15, the new body was endorsed by some 350 lawyers representing bar associations from 48 countries. Lawyers who have been working to establish the International Criminal Bar have drawn their lessons from the Rwanda and Yugoslavia tribunal experience. When these tribunals heard their first cases, the defence lawyers were inadequately organised, they say. There was a dependence on the registrar's office for routine needs such as access to an office or permission to travel for fact-finding. The existence of an International Bar Association would make a difference to the choice of counsel who would be available to the accused, and provide a support structure to attorneys practising in these courts. Reflecting the hybrid nature of the new court, where civil law and common law will be integrated, it has been proposed that the International Criminal Bar should speak for defence lawyers as well as the lawyers for witnesses and victims.

The problem of impunity has been an increasingly visible phenomenon, especially in the last quarter of the 20th century. It has been a period of incessant, and unpunished, bloodshed and those who wielded state power were either complicit in the crime or were the perpetrators themselves. It is also irrefutable that these crimes largely went unpunished. The difficulty in confronting the brutality that such regimes have unleashed on peoples has made prosecution a largely unworkable option, especially within states where the judicial system has broken down.

TRUTH commissions have emerged as a device to help deal with the violence that has rent societies. In Unspeakable Truths: Confronting State Terror and Atrocity (2001: Routledge), Priscilla Hayner writes about 20 truth commissions around the world. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission is the best known one. The Argentinean Commission, which investigated the 'dirty war' that the armed forces waged against the people between 1976 and 1983, and produced the report titled Nunca Mas (Never Again) is also known. But there have been many more. The Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Violation of Human Rights Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations (1994), the Final Report of the Investigative Commission on the Situation of the Disappeared, the Report of the National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation (1991) in Chile, the Report of the Commission in Chad (1992), the Si M Pa Rele (If I Don't Cry Out ...), which was produced by the Haitian National Commission for Truth and Justice (1996) are just some of the 20 that stand mute testimony to the scale and depth of the violations practised against the people within the state.

There is evidence too of international intervention in tackling the aftermath of crimes against the people. For instance, the Commission on the Truth in El Salvador (1993) was set up as a result of a U.N. brokered peace accord, as was the Guatemalan Commission which gave its report, Memory of Silence, in 1999. The International Commission of Inquiry in Burundi, which submitted its report in 1996, was created by the U.N. Security Council.

The scale of the crimes is horrific. Take the Guatemalan illustration. Hayner cites the commission as having registered a total of over 42,000 victims, including over 23,000 killed and 6,000 disappeared. "Ninety-three per cent of the violations documented were attributed to the military or state-backed paramilitary forces," she records. "Three per cent were attributed to the guerilla forces." The military juntas in Argentina, in the seven years that they held power from 1976, and in their hunt to eliminate communist "subversives" 'disappeared' an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 people - "arrested, tortured, and killed, the body disposed of so as never to be found, and the fate of the victim never known by agonised family members". These have not been exceptions.

Hayner's work demonstrates rather effectively that truth commissions almost inevitably accompany the change of a regime; and they invariably come with the compromises that a changeover often demands. The difficulties encountered in finding a way to deter such gross abuse of state power are patent in her narrative. The use of amnesty as in South Africa and in Sierra Leone, not naming the perpetrators as was part of the mandate in Chile, and not even revisiting the past as in Mozambique has meant that the guilty often roam free. Often, they have not lost their access to power, and a culture of impunity is discernible. In some jurisdictions, there is also an incapacity which dogs the judicial system, making prosecution a dubious possibility.

The ICC has come into being in the midst of these experiments with tackling state violence in situations where the state itself has been found to be largely responsible for, or complicitous in, crimes that cross high thresholds. The inequality of states in international politics lends its weight to impunity - an inequality that the U.S., for one, insists be allowed to remain. The deliberations on counter-terrorism that are currently under way in the Security Council, especially in the context of the extraordinary arming of the state that it legitimises, will have to be understood against the backdrop of these recent, recorded, experiences of state violence. While there are few who would question the need to deal with terrorism, the danger of selectively defining who is a terrorist, and conferring immunity on violations committed in the name of combating terrorism, will need guarding against, and the problem of impunity has to be located within this understanding.

Usha Ramanathan is a New Delhi-based researcher in law.

A tale of two Bhagat Singhs

Two recent films on the legendary revolutionary draw attention - one for its inaccurate rendering of history and another for its largely objective narration of facts.

THIS monsoon, it is raining Bhagat Singh in Mumbai. There are five films on the revolutionary in various stages of completion. Two or three have been released.

This event has been greeted with considerable cynicism. Far from signifying an upsurge of Left ideas in the commercial film industry, the five films are seen as examples of the cannibalisation of an authentic, anti-colonial people's hero for the sake of profit and jingoism. Two of these films come with the prestige and money power of big banners attached to them. One, Shaheed: 23 March 1931, is produced by Dharmendra and features his younger son Bobby Deol as Bhagat Singh, while elder son Sunny Deol plays Chandrashekhar Azad. The other, The Legend of Bhagat Singh, comes from Tips Films with Ajay Devgan playing the lead under Rajkumar Santoshi's direction.

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There is more than enough reason to look at both films sceptically. Sunny Deol starred in the biggest box office success of 2001, Gadar, one of the most communal and jingoistic films in recent times. Subsequent- ly, he evolved a brand identity around a potent combination of anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan rhetoric in films such as Maa Tujhe Salaam and Indian. Getting younger brother Bobby Deol to do Bhagat Singh is clearly an effort to cash in on the brand image.

Rajkumar Santoshi's films, on the other hand, have been a mixed bag. His early hits included Damini, where a rape victim is defended by an alcoholic lawyer (played by Sunny Deol), and Ghayal, where a youth (Sunny Deol again) is caught in the vortex of mafia violence. While in these films Santoshi displayed touches of sensitivity normally absent in commercial directors, his recent films have included Pukar, a jingoistic, rabidly anti-Pakistan film, for which its hero Anil Kapoor received the National Award for the Best Actor from a jury that included the editor of the mouthpiece of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The Deol version of the cinematic life of Bhagat Singh has been entirely predictable: historically inaccurate, loud, tasteless and pop-patriotic. The other, the Rajkumar Santoshi version, has sprung a surprise: contrary to the fears of sceptics including this writer, it has turned out to be well-made, historically more or less accurate, sober, and, in the context of commercial cinema, politically progressive.

Bhagat Singh, of course, is one of the most enduringly charismatic figures of the Indian anti-colonial struggle. A martyr at the age of 23, his life and struggles have passed into countless folk songs, plays and films. In popular perception, Bhagat Singh is seen as a fearless patriot who did not hesitate to sacrifice his life at the altar of freedom for his country. If all that one had as evidence of Bhagat Singh's life was the first of these two films, Shaheed: 23 March 1931, one would not be faulted for thinking that he was just a romantic, raving and ranting, nearly jingoistic youth. He wears designer jackets as an ethereal Aishwarya Rai not only sings and dances for him, but even presses his legs. Worse, he seems perpetually to wear an expression that says, "Look at me, I'm so cool." In a recent interview to a film magazine, when asked how he had prepared for the challenging role, Bobby Deol claimed that while he did not read a single word on Bhagat Singh, he was told stories of the hero by his grandmother. Hence Bobby Deol knew that Bhagat Singh loved his mother a lot, but also that he loved his country more. Fittingly, then, Bobby Deol's Bhagat Singh looks thoroughly moronic throughout the film.

The film is full of inaccuracies. For instance, Lala Lajpat Rai, the Congress leader who later went with the Hindu Mahasabha, is shown to be a Ghadar Party leader! Even the basic chronology is sometimes unclear, as is the location of several scenes. The film is a typical product of the Mumbai film industry, where the market and its perceived preferences overrule all else. As a result, none of the comrades of Bhagat Singh, played as they are by lesser-known actors, register. Forget about Bhagwati Charan Vohra or Phanindranath Ghosh, even Sukhdev and Rajguru appear merely as appendages to the hero. As one leaves the film hall, one is hard-pressed to remember even what Rajguru looked like. However, his is probably a better fate than that which befalls poor Sukhdev, who is played by a glamorous model and is remembered only for that reason.

The film, like any Mumbai potboiler, showcases the hero, Bobby Deol, at the expense of all else. Except, of course, elder brother Sunny Deol, who appears as Chandrashekhar Azad, the legendary revolutionary who, when cornered by the British police, preferred to shoot himself than be captured alive. In fact, initial reports had indicated that Sunny Deol was going to direct the film. When it became clear that Santoshi's film was going to be released in June, Sunny Deol, hard-pressed for time, handed over the direction to his cousin Guddu Dhanoa. Sunny Deol himself stepped into the role of Azad to boost the star value of the film. Sunny Deol merely repeats his by now well-known film persona - a loud, jingoistic, what some call earthy but is, in fact, merely an uncouth he-man with rippling biceps. Expectedly, Bobby Bhagat and Sunny Azad monopolise screen time. And on screen, the two brothers seem merely to play out their real life relationship - kid brother forever deferential, forever hoping to match the achievements of big brother. In the event, the film becomes a love story between two brothers.

There is not a single scene or dialogue in the film that tells us anything about Bhagat Singh's ideology. But what is most unforgivable is that he is turned into a theist and a Hindu nationalist. Early in the film, we see Bhagat Singh singing a patriotic song at a function where the backdrop on the stage has an image of 'mother' India, a woman's picture rising out of the suitably saffron map of the country. This, of course, is an image one sees everywhere, and is systematically disseminated by the RSS. And in the RSS image, as in the film, the country is seen in its original, undivided state, which is also the fascist fantasy of the future akhand Hindu rashtra. In the Dushehra bomb scene, Bobby Bhagat metomorphosises into a Ram-like figure, setting the effigy of Ravan on fire with a shot from his pistol. Later in the film, when his mother comes to meet him one final time, Bhagat Singh asks her not to be morose, for he will be born again. When asked the perfectly reasonable question of how she is to recognise him in his future birth, she is told to look for the mark of the hanging on his neck. And later still, when the prison official comes to him pleading that at least now, in his final hour, he should recall God, Bobby Bhagat refuses because, first, he does not want people to think he is afraid of death, and second, recalling God is only an external act: God resides in each one of us!

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This comes from the mouth of the man who, awaiting death in the condemned cell, wrote thus in that famously spirited celebration of atheism, 'Why I am an atheist': "I know in the present circumstances my faith in God would have made my life easier, my burden lighter, and my disbelief in Him has turned all the circumstances too dry, and the situation may assume too harsh a shape. A little bit of mysticism can make it poetical. But I do not want the help of any intoxication to meet my fate. I am a realist." And a socialist, he may have added. For Bhagat Singh's atheism was not a matter of personal vanity, as he was at pains to point out. He embraced atheism because he was fighting for a just social order. "British rule is here not because God wills it, but because they possess power and we do not dare oppose them. Not that it is with the help of God that they are keeping us under their subjection, but it is with the help of guns and rifles, bomb and bullets, police and militia, and our apathy, that they are successfully committing the most deplorable sin against society - the outrageous exploitation of one nation by another. Where is God? What is he doing? Is he enjoying all these woes of human race? A Nero, a Changez: Down with him."

His atheism was not a mechanical subscription to a conspiracy theory, but actually quite nuanced. He wrote: "Unlike certain of the radicals I would not attribute [the] origin [of the idea of God] to the ingenuity of the exploiters who wanted to keep the people under their subjection by preaching the existence of a supreme being and then claiming an authority and sanction from him for their privileged positions, though I do not differ with them on the essential point that all faiths, religions, creeds and such other institutions became in turn the mere supporters of the tyrannical and exploiting institutions, men and classes. Rebellion against the king is always a sin, according to every religion."

To turn this militant atheist into a believer and a Hindu nationalist: a greater insult to the memory of a revolutionary can scarcely be imagined.

For that is what he was, a true revolutionary, not a romantic terrorist. He, along with his comrades, was clearly moving towards socialism and Marxism when his life was brutally snubbed out by the colonial regime. Two of his comrades were Shiv Verma, who helped found the Communist Consolidation at the Andaman Cellular Jail, and went on to become the Uttar Pradesh State secretary of the undivided Communist Party of India, and Ajoy Ghosh, who became the general secretary of the undivided party. This aspect, that Bhagat Singh was not a lone hero, but a part of a remarkable group of revolutionaries, is something that the Santoshi film, The Legend of Bhagat Singh, brings out quite admirably. Not only does Ajay Devgan bring passion and maturity to his portrayal in the lead role, his supporting cast - Sushant Singh as Sukhdev, D. Santosh as Rajguru, Akhilendra Mishra as Chandrashekhar Azad, Raj Babbar as Bhagat Singh's father Sardar Kishan Singh and Farida Jalal as his mother - are all superb. The other revolutionaries, Jatin Das (who died on the 63rd day of the epic group hunger strike undertaken by the revolutionaries in jail for better living conditions), Bhagwati Charan Vohra, Shiv Verma, Ajoy Ghosh and Phanindranath Ghosh are not only mentioned but their faces and personalities linger in the mind long after the film is over. Particularly powerful is the hunger strike sequence. The camera moves slowly from face to emaciated face, revealing for the viewers both the tremendous hardship undertaken and their iron resolve.

Much of the politics of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) is also brought out in the film. In fact, in a powerful speech at the historic Phirozeshah Kotla conference of the organisation (where the word 'socialist' was added to the original name of Hindustan Republican Association), Bhagat Singh outlines his vision of freedom. According to him, freedom cannot mean merely the replacement of the white man by the brown man while exploitation of the masses, the workers and the peasants continues. Freedom must stand for freedom from want, hunger, poverty, and oppression; in a word, socialism. This is a theme that runs through the film. Early on, as students, when Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Bhagwati Charan Vohra are first introduced to the idea of socialism by their teacher Vidyalankar, in the background pictures of Marx and Lenin; through the film, Bhagat Singh stresses the need to reach out to the workers and peasants; visuals of striking workers in Bombay being lathi-charged are shown as a prelude to the revolutionaries deciding to protest the Trade Disputes Bill and the Public Safety Bill; when they are asked in court if they even understand what their slogan means, we see each of the revolutionaries spell out the meaning of revolution in a stirring sequence of pithy one-liners; and finally, as the jail staff come to march Bhagat Singh to his death, we find him reading Lenin. Shockingly, if press reports are to be believed, the Board of Film Certification intervened to have some more references to Lenin and the Communist Party edited out.

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What also comes out is the revolutionaries' commitment to secularism. This is brought out in songs and in many scenes, but what is perhaps most significant is when, early in the film, we hear the revolutionaries disapproving of Lala Lajpat Rai's flirting with the Hindu Mahasabha. That the film actually criticises Lala Lajpat Rai is significant, not simply because he is a nationalist icon, but because it is his death that the revolutionaries avenged by killing the police officer Saunders. Nor is Bhagat Singh's atheism concealed. His mother makes a reference to it fairly early in the film, and finally, as he mounts the steps of the gallows, he says to the prison official who implores him to remember God: "I have neither fear of death, nor belief in God."

THE other nationalist figure who comes in for severe criticism in the film is Gandhi. This is cause for some uneasiness, given the RSS antipathy to the Mahatma. Yet, the fact remains that Gandhi's role in the whole episode was questionable. It may be recalled that talks between Gandhi and the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, began on February 17, 1931, and culminated on March 5 with the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. Bhagat Singh and his comrades were hung on March 23. What did Gandhi do in these 18 days? Certainly, he did not make the commutation of death sentences to life terms a condition for signing the pact. Although he later claimed he tried his best to save the young revolutionaries' lives, is it entirely true? For a balanced answer to this question, one can turn to A.G. Noorani's excellent study, The Trial of Bhagat Singh (Konark Publishers, New Delhi, 1996). Noorani says: "Gandhi alone could have intervened effectively to save Bhagat Singh's life. He did not, till the very last. Later claims... are belied by the record which came to light four decades later. In this tragic episode, Gandhi was not candid either to the nation or even to his closest colleagues about his talks with the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, on saving Bhagat Singh's life." What the film also brings out is that it is the growing influence of the revolutionaries that forced the Congress, which had until then been asking for dominion status, to adopt purna swaraj as its slogan.

THIS is, of course, not to say that the Santoshi version is flawless, cinematically or politically. For instance, one would have liked to see more of the substance of Bhagat Singh's brilliant defence in court, not just its rhetoric, or to find some reference to his fierce opposition to the caste system. Moreover, Bhagat Singh's intellectual calibre is not fully apparent, nor is his voracious reading. His love of poetry is, likewise, absent. Even more jarring is the absence of Ashfaqullah, one of the main architects of the Kakori action, from the film. The British, particularly Lord Irwin, come across as somewhat dull in the head, as does Nehru. And the romantic angle could have been avoided. Lastly, while Ajay Devgan performs with dignity and fire, there is some merit in the argument against casting an established star in such a role: you keep seeing the star, not the revolutionary.

What is interesting, however, is that a film like this has actually been made in the times we live in, when the commercial film industry has been virtually taken over by the saffron brigade. Not being an insider, one can only hazard a guess - more than Rajkumar Santoshi, perhaps the credit for this should go to Anjum Rajabali and Piyush Mishra, who have written the script and dialogues for the film. While Rajabali is known to have a progressive background, and has in the past taken public positions on a range of social issues, Mishra, a National School of Drama graduate, has been associated with a progressive theatre group in Delhi. (In fact, a play by this group on Bhagat Singh scripted by Mishra has been acknowledged for having provided some of the background for the film.) Even if infrequently, then, the fortress of commercial Hindi cinema can be breached. Regardless of the fate of the film at the box office, that surely is cause for a small celebration.

Sudhanva Deshpande is an actor and director with the theatre group, Jana Natya Manch, and works as editor in LeftWord Books, New Delhi.

VSNL's worries

ACCOUNTING frauds are surfacing with alarming regularity in multinational corporations in the West. In almost every case, a part of the mess has washed up on Indian shores. In the latest scandal, WorldCom, the global telecommunications giant based in Mississippi, United States, revealed that it had overstated its profits by a staggering $3.8 billion (Rs.18,240 crores) and was now likely to file for bankruptcy. The first victim of this scandal in India is Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL), to which WorldCom owes Rs.500 crores as settlement charges for carrying international call traffic during April-June 2002. Should WorldCom declare bankruptcy, VSNL, a Rs.7,000-crore company, could be hit quite severely.

Ever since VSNL's creation in 1986, WorldCom has been its major partner for calls to and from the U.S. According to a VSNL official, in all these years the U.S. telecommunications company had never faulted on its payments. Therefore, officials are confident that WorldCom will uphold its commitments in India.

WorldCom pays VSNL for carrying its traffic into India. In the telecom world, one international carrier pays another for routing and carrying calls in their countries. In this case, calls made to the U.S. from India are routed through VSNL to WorldCom, which would then connect it to the local access provider in the U.S. From the other side, calls from the U.S. to India are routed by WorldCom to VSNL.

As calls generated from the U.S. to India are many more than calls generated from India to the U.S. - the rate is 70:30 - WorldCom has to pay VSNL the difference. Normally, this works out to about Rs.150 crores a month. While the payments are calculated on a monthly basis, there is a three-month time-lag before the money is received. "Since we have been getting our dues regularly from WorldCom, we never really thought it was in trouble," said the official.

A telecom expert, however, points out that VSNL could have been a little more vigilant. In fact, he says that VSNL's books should now be scrutinised. A newspaper report hinted at the possibility of a government investigation into the WorldCom-VSNL deal and the memorandum of understanding signed between the two in April 2001. But there has not been any official statement on the report. One of the reasons why WorldCom is so important to VSNL is that VSNL is largely dependent on revenues emanating from telecom traffic between India and the U.S. For instance, VSNL's revenues from incoming traffic in 2001 was Rs.4,200 crores. Of this, the U.S. alone accounted for upwards of Rs.1,800 crores.

However, some Indian telecom analysts are not much worried by WorldCom's revelations. "Effectively, if WorldCom does go bankrupt, VSNL will have to write off the amount. But it has the strength to take the hit," an analyst with an investment banking firm told Frontline. "Of course, it would be a significant business loss but you cannot fault VSNL for this. It chose WorldCom because it was the cheapest carrier. Besides, for all these years their relationship has been fairly good."

The payment of dues to VSNL will depend entirely on WorldCom's ability to raise $5 billion in new financing. This amount is essential to WorldCom's survival but insufficient to cover its $30 billion debt, says a telecom analyst. Nevertheless, VSNL seems optimistic. Its official statement says that "....the concern that VSNL may not be able to recover large sums of money from WorldCom seems unwarranted at this point in time.... We believe that our discussions with WorldCom will continue in a positive and mutually beneficial manner". In fact, a VSNL official said that VSNL had been assured of a remittance very soon.

It is unlikely, the analyst told Frontline, that WorldCom will go the Enron way. According to him, WorldCom is much too entrenched in the U.S. government and military telecommunications systems and will therefore have to be kept afloat at any cost.

Non-payment of dues will put VSNL in a vulnerable position. Until recently VSNL enjoyed a monopoly in the telecom sector as it was the only long-distance phone company in the country. With the government opening up long-distance telephony to private players, VSNL will soon face stiff competition. Therefore, writing off a few hundred crores is something it could well do without at this point. In its first quarter results, VSNL stated that it handled 3.1 billion minutes of international telephony traffic last year. International telephony accounts for 87.65 per cent of its revenues. The company is also a large Internet service provider.

If VSNL is not paid, the bigger loser would ultimately be WorldCom. Other international telecom giants such as AT&T and Sprint are waiting to take over WorldCom's coveted agreement with India.

WorldCom has a significant presence in India through its wholly owned subsidiary, MCI WorldCom India Private Limited. Apart from its partnership with VSNL, WorldCom was involved in several projects in the country. As recently as February this year, it got an approval from the Indian government to manufacture, distribute, market and sell personal identification numbers (PINs) for use outside India. In addition, WorldCom has been providing consultancy and management services for the installation and maintenance of end-to-end private circuit capacities. It was also an adviser to several leading telecom companies in the country. The India operations office has refused to comment on the status of the projects and the company's existence in India.

Companies under a cloud

Xerox Corp. : On June 28, Xerox announced that it would restate its financial results for five years, reclassifying more than $6 billion of its revenues in these years. In April, the company had settled charges that it used accounting tricks to defraud investors.

Dynegy Inc.: Dynegy, an energy trading company that tried to merge with Enron, is being probed by several federal agencies in the United States. They are looking into alleged bogus trades aimed at artificially boosting its revenues and trading volumes. The company's chief executive, Chuck Watson, resigned in May. Dynegy announced recently that it was to undergo a major restructuring.

ImClone Systems Inc.: ImClone, a biotechnology company, is being investigated by a congressional committee. The committee is inquiring whether the company accurately informed its investors that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had refused to accept its experimental cancer drug. The company's former chief executive, Samuel Waksal, was arrested on June 12 on charges of insider trading.

Arthur Andersen: Andersen, the accounting and consultancy firm that audited Enron (and also WorldCom), was found guilty on June 15 in a federal court on charges of obstructing justice in the government's investigation of Enron. Sentence will be passed on October 11.

Adelphia Communications Corp-oration: Adelphia, a cable operator, recently filed for bankruptcy. The company is under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and two federal grand juries. The charges include the grant of off-balance-sheet multi-billion-dollar loans to the company's founders.

Global Crossing Ltd.: The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the SEC are probing Global Crossing, a telecommunications company. The agencies are focussing on the company's accounting practices. Global Crossing is alleged to have swapped network capacities with other telecom operators in a bid to inflate its revenues.

Enron Corporation: Enron, once the biggest energy trader in the U.S., collapsed into the largest ever bankruptcy in U.S. corporate history on December 2, 2001. Investigations revealed that the company had used thousands of off-the-book partnerships - many of them in tax havens - to hide its debts and to overstate profits.

Tyco International Ltd.: Tyco, a conglomerate, is under investigation for alleged misuse of company money by its executives to pay for private purchases of art and real estate. The company's former chairman, Dennis Kozlowski, resigned on June 3, a day before he was indicted for evading about $1 million in sales tax from art purchases.

Merrill Lynch & Co.: Merrill Lynch, the top U.S. brokerage, agreed in May to pay $100 million to settle a probe by the New York State Attorney-General into charges that it tailored stock research to win investment banking business. In June, it suspended two employees after an internal probe into the sale of ImClone shares.

Computer Associates Inter-national Inc.: Computer Associates agreed to pay $638,000 as penalty in April to settle charges by the Justice Department that it violated pre-merger rules relating to its acquisition of Platinum Technology Inc.

The WorldCom collapse

The meltdown of WorldCom, one of the biggest telecom companies in the United States, has rekindled the debate on corporate accountability and raised fears that the corporate system in the U.S is rotting at its core.

IN 2001, when Enron Corporation filed for bankruptcy, the biggest in the corporate history of the United States, amid charges of dubious accounting practices and a scandal over favours shown to the company by the political establishment, shocked investors were assured by President George W. Bush that Enron was just a case of one "rotten apple" in an otherwise healthy corporate system. Since then, however, a string of sleaze-hit collapses of high-profile companies in the U.S. has raised the fear that the corporate system is rotting at its very core. Recent revelations that WorldCom, one of the biggest telecom companies in the U.S., fudged accounts to show inflated profits in the two preceding years, have rekindled the debate on corporate accountability. There is also growing anger about the culture of greed in the boardrooms.

WorldCom was the quintessential New Economy company. It was the second biggest long-distance telecom company in the U.S and was also the biggest carrier of Internet traffic and electronic commerce in the world. During the 15 years of its existence, the company grew at a scorching pace, fuelled by the almost insatiable appetite of its former chief executive officer (CEO) Bernard J. Ebbers for acquiring companies. As long as the stock market boomed and the dot com business expanded recklessly, not a thought was given to the fundamentals of the company. Wall Street analysts and investment bankers looked the other way even as auditors failed to exercise due diligence.

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WorldCom has business interests in more than 65 countries, and a network that stretches over almost 150,000 kilometres. It gobbled up several pioneering Internet firms such as UUNET, MCI and CompuServe, which created the first e-mail services in the late 1970s. But, the company is now on the verge of collapse. The fate of its more than 80,000 employees across the world hangs in the balance.

In March 2002, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sought information from WorldCom about its accounting procedures and about loans it had extended to its officers. In April the company announced that it was cutting 3,700 jobs. Soon after, Standard & Poor's, Moody's and Fitch downgraded WorldCom's credit ratings. The U.S. Justice Department has launched an independent probe into the WorldCom scandal.

In April 2002, Ebbers resigned as CEO after an SEC probe revealed that WorldCom had lent $339.7 million to him to cover loans that he took to buy his own shares. In May, Standard & Poor's reduced WorldCom's credit rating to junk status and WorldCom was removed from the prestigious S&P 500 Index. On June 25, the company announced that improper accounting of $3.8 billion in expenses had covered up a net loss for 2001 and the first quarter of 2002. The company also announced that it planned to shed 17,000 jobs, more than 20 percent of its workforce. The Nasdaq halted trading in WorldCom's stocks of WorldCom Group and MCI Group. In four months, ending April, the share price fell by over 80 per cent. On June 26, the SEC filed a suit alleging "securities fraud" against WorldCom in a district court in New York. It alleged that WorldCom's top management "disguised its true operating performance" and "misled investors about its reported earnings".

Even as the company was sliding, it announced on June 25 that it was "restating" its income for 2001 and the first quarter of 2002. It said that an internal audit had revealed that earlier financial statements of the company had deviated from accounting principles, resulting in an over-statement of its revenues and profits for 2001 and the first quarter of 2002 - to the tune of $3.8 billion. The company had used a simple trick in its balance sheet to boost revenues and profits while hiding expenditures. By classifying ordinary day-to-day expenses as investments and long-term expenses associated with the acquisition of capital assets, on which companies enjoy certain tax advantages, WorldCom was able to hide expenses to the tune of nearly $4 billion and instead show this as profits. One of WorldCom's major operating expenses relates to its "line costs", the fees that it pays to third party telecom network providers for the right to access their networks. In effect, WorldCom capitalised these fees, terming them as investments, when, in fact, they were one of the most important day-to-day expenses. The SEC, in its complaint in court, stated that WorldCom's top executives did this in order to keep Wall Street happy. The shock turned to anger as it became known that Arthur Andersen, the now-disgraced auditing and consulting major and a player in the Enron saga, was WorldCom's auditor too.

Bernard Ebbers was an icon of the dot com era, a darling of Wall Street during the height of the longest stock market boom in U.S. history, which came crashing down in 2000. Ebbers started off by investing in Long-Distance Discount Service (LDDS), a small telecom company, in 1983. Two years later he took over LDDS as CEO, having been in the right place at a time when the demand for Internet and telecom services was starting to expand. LDDS basically bought bandwidth capacity from AT&T and resold it at lower prices to customers. Just as Enron took full advantage of the deregulatory framework in the power sector, Ebbers was quick to spot fresh opportunities in the wake of the deregulation of the telecom industry in the U.S. A series of acquisitions later, by 1993, LDDS had become the fourth-largest long-distance telecom network in the U.S. The booming stockmarkets enabled the company to leverage its own shares to raise debt to make these expensive acquisitions.

In 1995, LDDS acquired its now-disgraced name, WorldCom. After the renaming, the company started to acquire even bigger companies. Among them was UUNET, one of the oldest carriers of Internet traffic and the inheritor to the publicly funded Internet backbone, which was privatised by the National Science Foundation in the U.S. In 1998, WorldCom merged with MCI, in a deal valued at $40 billion, the highest-priced acquisition in history at that time. The company, which already enjoyed a stranglehold on the Internet backbone, met its first roadblock when its attempt to take over Sprint was halted by regulators in Europe and the U.S. in 2000.

Financial experts have pointed out that WorldCom's accounting practices, particularly those relating to the acquired businesses, made it impossible for investors to gauge the performance of the company. Revisions in financial statements were thus the norm in WorldCom. While profitability was overstated, investors were misled by the opaque nature of its regular operating performance. Even in 2001, as the dot com bubble burst, WorldCom continued to maintain that all was fine. And analysts played ball. In October 2001, one analyst at a large investment bank even predicted that WorldCom would be the "fastest growing megacorp" in 2002.

What is the likely impact of the WorldCom meltdown? As is the case with any corporate failure, there are going to be a few gainers but the losers will be many. The company's share- and bond-holders are left holding practically worthless assets. With assets well below the company's debt of over $30 billion, creditors are unlikely to get their money back. WorldCom's 80,000 employees are likely to pay with their jobs. According to a mutual fund advisory group, 539 mutual funds own 400 million of the three billion in outstanding shares of WorldCom. Ordinary investors in these funds are likely to suffer severe losses. Moreover, there are also the 401(k) plans of ordinary workers in these mutual funds. In contrast to the losses that are immediate for ordinary people hooked to shares and investments in mutual and pension funds, corporate laws provide a far better cushion to top executives. On July 8, Ebbers and former Chief Financial Officer Scott Sullivan refused to testify before the congressional Financial Services Committee inquiring into the WorldCom scandal. The Committee is particularly keen to investigate links between the company and an investment analyst who is believed to have had prior knowledge about the dubious accounting methods employed by WorldCom. The telecom major AT&T is seen as a potential gainer in the aftermath of WorldCom's inevitable collapse.

Cripps and India's Partition

ALLEN CLARKE'S work is in the fine tradition of English biographies. It fits into the classic mould; objective, thorough, elegant in style and civil to the adversaries of his subject. More than any other British leader, Stafford Cripps shaped his country's policy towards India in the crucial five years preceding its Independence. His was the dominant and domineering influence. But affection for the country was not matched by sound judgment. Impatience for success overcame prudence and even concern for justice. A man of integrity, he was, like such, self-righteous and given to self-deception. Worse, he was, in sheer zeal, also capable of practising deception on others. In June 1946 he did just that. It did not help the India he loved. He contributed to its Partition and harmed it grievously. In this, he received handsome assistance from India's leaders. They collaborated with him - the entire group of titans of the Congress, the likes of whom we shall never see again - Gandhi, first and foremost, Nehru, Patel and Azad. The material which the author has unearthed explains why Cripps behaved as he did.

Much of the story was told by Prof. R.J. Moore in his able works Churchill, Cripps, and India 1939-1945 (1979) and Escape from Empire: The Attlee Government and the Indian Problem (1983) which covers the period from 1945 to 1947. He had delved into the archives and consulted the diaries kept by Cripps and his associates. Peter Clarke's book "rests to a large extent on diaries". The footnotes - which prove that the tortures of end-notes are avoidable - and the bibliography testify to mastery of published literature. "It is now possible to provide a fully three-dimensional image through access to a richer range of archival sources than any previous author has been able to draw upon". Moore's work is fully acknowledged; but "there are sections of Cripps' own diaries - notably the important Indian diary of 1946 - that have never previously been available for citation" (emphasis added, throughout). The year 1946 was a decisive one. It made Partition inevitable which, earlier, was not.

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Cripps came to India three times - in December 1939, as a private individual; in March-April 1942, as Lord Privy Seal and member of Churchill's War Cabinet on the Cripps Mission to secure India's cooperation in the War effort on the basis of a tripartite Anglo-Congress-Muslim League accord in the form of a "Declaration"; and in March-June 1946 as the sole India hand in a three-member Cabinet Mission, comprising himself, Secretary of State Pethick-Lawrence and First Lord of the Admiralty A.V. Alexander. This review concentrates exclusively on "the India connection", to the neglect, unfairly perhaps, of the rest of the book.

"As early as 1937 Cripps was publicly calling Nehru's friendship the greatest privilege of his life. The two men were not insensible to the genuine mutual affinity they discovered, and they seem to have developed real warmth when they met, first on Nehru's visit to Europe in (June) 1938, when he and his daughter Indira stayed at (Cripps' country home) Goodfellows one weekend, and again in India the following year." The closeness was sustained "until the face-to-face negotiations of the Cripps Mission put it under fatal stress."

Both were Marxists, of sorts, who believed, for a time, that there was no communal problem in India; only class conflict. Nehru was a voracious reader. "Cripps was not a bookish man." Both had privileged backgrounds and were arrogant and opinionated. Men of deep commitment, they were fated to clash. Cripps' was "a practical intelligence, highly geared and sharply focussed on clearly specified issues". Nehru was apt to wander into the Elysian fields and always avoided binding himself to specifics.

The other guests at Goodfellows along with Nehru were Clement Attlee, Aneurin Bevan, Richard Crossman and Harold Laski. They discussed how a Labour government would transfer power to India. All agreed on the mechanism of a Constituent Assembly. They were later to differ on safeguards for the minorities in a plural society.

"Cripps' plan was enshrined in a document that he was to take with him in the form of a draft statement. It proposed offering India Dominion status - with the right to secede from the Commonwealth if so desired - as testimony to the British government's aims 'in the present war for freedom and democracy'. Within a year of the termination of hostilities, a Constituent Assembly should be summoned, based on the present provincial electorates if no better system could be agreed. The Assembly's decision would be binding if carried by a three-fifths vote; their implementation over a fixed period of, say, fifteen years would be guaranteed by a treaty with Great Britain; and during the transitional period the treaty would also protect minority rights."

Safeguards were essential. Cripps knew that India's plural society was riven with "a perpetual majority and a perpetual minority" on communal, not political, lines. The solution to the problem lay neither in Partition based on a false two-nation theory, nor the Congress' insistence on an unqualified "one man-one vote" system. It lay in a communal compact for a united India in which the minorities were assured of sharing of power. This the Congress rejected consistently. Compare the situation in Sri Lanka. On December 20, 1986 the spokesman for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Chennai said it was possible for "two nations to co-exist in one country" if a "viable alternative to Eelam" could be devised (Indian Express, December 21, 1986). There is, of course, but one nation in Sri Lanka. It however needs a pact on power-sharing.

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"Cripps undoubtedly started with views that he had accepted rather uncritically from his close contacts with Congress"; especially with Nehru who was smug and glib. "The Congress as a whole is definitely left politically, including the old guard," he assured Cripps confidently. He said Jinnah objected to "democracy itself in India for democracy means the dominance of the majority". When Nehru found Cripps learning by himself, during the visit, he told Mahadev Desai that while Cripps was able and straight "his judgment is not always to be relied upon". In February 1940 he rejected Cripps' scheme. "I feel Stafford has completely failed to understand the elements of the Indian problem," Nehru wrote to V.K. Krishna Menon.

How poor his own understanding was is reflected in his opinion that "essentially the conflict between the Congress and the League is a conflict between the lower middle classes with a large mass following and the Muslim feudal and middle classes". Marxists did not have too high a respect for Nehru's grasp of, or commitment to, Marxism.

In an article in Tribune, the leftist journal, on May 3, 1940, Cripps held that "the religious differences are often stirred up and exaggerated to serve what are really class ends". Cripps knew even less of Marxism than Nehru did. Two years later Jinnah recalled the article to its contrite writer when he came on an official Mission.

The author's criticism of Cripps' stand is trenchant but fair. "Cripps... sought to reduce the complex manifestations of nationalism, imbricated with communal tensions, to the simple maxims of democracy, imperialism and class struggle. He not only abandoned his rather vacuous optimism about a possible settlement but suppressed the evidence of his own eyes and ears about the intractability of the communal issue. He was thus led to dismiss Jinnah's case as a 'dog-in-the-manger' attitude which does not deserve our support."

In May 1940, Cripps had, in fact, gone back on a sound formula he had crafted five months earlier which Prof. Moore quotes from Cripps' diary. On December 11, 1939, a "new thought" occurred to him after his talks in Delhi, as he took the overnight train for Lahore: "There emerges a picture of a rather loose federation of provinces with few reserved subjects and with the right of the provinces to withdraw if they wish and new boundaries to make provinces either predominantly Muslim or Hindu - as the sort of lines of a possible settlement, with a Constituent Assembly to work out the scheme. It might be necessary to agree to the basis of the outcome of the Constituent Assembly in advance" (Churchill, Cripps and India; page 12).

Implicit in this private venture were three propositions on which alone could a compromise have been devised - a federation of limited powers; liberty to the provinces to secede from it with revision of boundaries if they did so; a Constituent Assembly to draft a constitution "on the basis of the outcome" agreed "in advance" in a Congress-League pact. Under the Cabinet Mission's Scheme of 1946, the League agreed to abandon the right to secede if only groups of sub-federations of the Pakistan provinces (NWFP, Baluchistan, Punjab and Sind in the west and Assam and Bengal in the east) were allowed within the all-India federation. The Congress rejected groups. The federal idea collapsed. Five provinces seceded and the boundaries of two of them were revised on their partition (Punjab and Bengal).

The declaration, which Cripps officially offered in 1942, explicitly permitted the provinces to decline to accede to the "new Indian Union" at the very outset. The exact procedure was defined in Cripps' letter to Jinnah dated April 2, 1940. A province "should reach the decision... by a vote in the Legislative Assembly on a resolution to stand in." If the majority for accession to the Union was less than 60 per cent, the minority had the right to demand a plebiscite of the entire adult population. This was the first time ever that the British had spoken of the partition of India. Jinnah must have found this incredible. The Lahore Resolution on Pakistan was adopted on March 26, 1940. However, the crux of the Declaration was an interim coalition to run the country and pursue the War effort. The Congress concentrated on this, quibbled and foiled the venture. It is not unlikely that the coalition would have coalesced the two parties and narrowed their differences as Rajagopalachari strove to persuade the Congress. He wrote to Cripps on May 19, 1948: "How I wish that you and I had been listened to six years ago instead of being distrusted."

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Forty years later, Prof. R.J. Moore revealed the existence of a file in Jinnah's papers in Islamabad containing correspondence between him and Cripps "regarding the creation of a new Indian Union" (Escape from Empire, page 54). Significantly, it is embargoed. Prof. Reginald Coupland, Cripps' constitutional adviser, noted in his diary that Jinnah was mentally prepared for partition of Punjab and Bengal in January 1942. It is equally significant that he nonetheless parlayed for a new union three months later. This happened in 1946 also, as we shall see. Jinnah preferred a loose all-India federation to partition.

The Cripps offer was rejected by the Congress mainly on the issue of defence. It wanted transfer of power to the Governor-General's executive council as a Cabinet with the Governor-General as a constitutional head. Cripps was "tipped off that the Muslim League was ready to accept; he knew that the attitude of Congress was the crux". Jinnah rejected the offer once the Congress revealed its hand. "For Cripps, the political reality was that Congress would have had far more leverage once inside the Executive Council." Churchill and the Viceroy Linlithgow tied Cripps' hands. He was isolated. "Yet none of this was fatal. Had Congress accepted the terms on offer on 9 or 10 April (1942), it is difficult to see how Churchill's concurrence could have been withheld."

If the proposals were as bad as the Congress made them out to be, why did it take a fortnight to reject them? The truth is that the Congress was badly split on the Cripps offer as it was on the "Quit India" resolution. In each case Nehru followed Gandhi's line; to his regret, as his jail diary records (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, First Series; page 185; "With all his very great qualities he has proved a poor and weak leader" (July 10, 1943). Nehru contemplated "breaking with Gandhi. I have at present (August 5, 1944) no desire even to go to him on release... I suppose I shall see him anyhow..." page 454).

Cripps drew a wrong lesson from the episode. "From first to last the Cripps Mission did not impress Gandhi." Cripps regarded him as the architect of his defeat and seemed to reproach himself for neglecting Gandhi. In 1946 he banked heavily - too heavily - on Gandhi and lost, once again.

H.V. Hodson, who was Constitutional Adviser to the Viceroy (1941-43), noted: "Whereas Mountbatten never made the mistake of treating Mahatma Gandhi as a negotiator, Cripps to the end regarded him as the key to the whole problem. For Mountbatten he was a friendly if baffling personality to be cultivated, listened to, and kept sweet, but not one capable, even if willing, of clinching a bargain in the name of the Congress" (The Great Divide; 1985; page 212).

In 1946, Cripps strove desperately to remove the sourness that had crept into his relationship with Nehru on the collapse of his Mission. The choices before the Cabinet Mission, the Congress and the League were obvious and limited - a loose federation or Partition (and with it of Punjab and Bengal). It fell to Cripps, inevitably, to draft a alternative formulae. On April 10, 1946 he prepared Scheme A for a flexible form of Union and Scheme B for Partition.

It may be noted thus, Jinnah preferred a loose federation to Partition; the Pakistan of today. He told Cripps on April 25 "he was prepared, however, to consider Plan A if the Congress were prepared to consider it and if he could be assured of that he would put it to the Muslim League Working Committee. He had assured Sir Stafford that he would do this not with a recommendation for its rejection but as a proposal that they should consider...." On May 6 he offered to come into a Union if the Congress would accept grouping of provinces within a Union. His own proposals at the Simla Conference, on May 12, were not for Partition, but for a confederation. He was obviously prepared to settle for less - for a federation; and, he did.

Jinnah accepted the Cabinet Mission's proposals of May 16. They envisaged an Indian federation based on three groups of provinces. The provinces were free to secede from the groups, in which they were placed, by a vote in the first general elections after the scheme took effect. But they could not secede from the Union. India's unity was preserved. All they could ask for was "reconsideration of the terms of the Constitution" - a Sarkaria Commission - after 10 years and no more. It would have been open to provinces of Group A (the States which now form the Union of India) to confer on the Union voluntarily subjects beyond the minimum subjects of defence, foreign affairs and communications. Group B comprised Punjab, Sind, Baluchistan and the NWFP. Group C comprised Bengal and Assam. Far from establishing a "weak" Centre, it would have yielded a strong centre, the India of today, in Group A in federal union with Pakistan. India would have had a majority, though confined to defence, foreign affairs and communications.

How did it collapse? Azad fostered the myth, which became conventional wisdom, that it was Nehru's remarks on July 6, shortly after he took over the Congress presidency from Azad, that altered the course of history. Nehru had said that there would be no grouping and the Constituent Assembly would be a sovereign body free to decide as it pleased. However, Jinnah had complained of Congress' equivocation well before that, on June 27. Letters by Azad himself to the Mission, on May 20 and June 14, and the Congress Working Committee's resolutions, of May 24 and June 26, put a disingenuous interpretation on the Mission's Proposals.

Paragraph 15 contained elements of the "basic form" - the Union, its powers, and so on. Clause 5 said: "Provinces should be free to form Groups with executives and legislatures and each Group could determine the Provincial subjects to be taken in common." Paragraph 19 laid down procedure which the Constituent Assembly had to follow. It would meet first to settle the preliminaries and next "divide up into three sections". Clause V added: "These sections shall proceed to settle the Provincial Constitutions for the Provinces included in each section, and shall also decide whether any Group Constitution shall be set up for those Provinces and, if so, with what provincial subjects the Group should deal. Provinces shall have the power to opt out of Groups in accordance with the provisions of sub-clause (viii) below". This provided that "such a decision shall be taken by the new legislature of the Province after the first general election under the new Constitution" - not before.

The Congress argued that Provinces could refuse to join the section at the very outset; that Para 19 (v) affected the freedom to form groups (Para 15 (5)) and had to give way. Grouping was the only sop to Jinnah to get him into the union. Azad exclaimed: "All schemes of partition of India have been rejected once and for all."

Vallabhbhai Patel was as ecstatic in a letter to K.M. Munshi the very next day, on May 17: "Thank God, we have successfully avoided a catastrophe which threatened our country. Since many years, for the first time an authoritative pronouncement in clear terms has been made against the possibility of Pakistan in any shape or form." Clearly in this astute lawyer-politician's view the proposals barred Pakistan. Was the grouping too high a price to pay for the union?

That very day, however, a small nail was being dug into the proposed coffin of the Plan. Had it been removed in time, the others would not have followed. The Plan would have survived. This is by far the most neglected part of the entire episode - Gandhi's enunciation of a right to interpret the proposals unilaterally.

Harijan of May 17 carried his view that "the provinces were free to reject the very idea of grouping. No province could be forced against its will to belong to a group even if the idea of grouping was accepted." He wrote to the Mission on May 19 asserting that "the State Paper is a recommendation" which could be ignored by the Assembly. Gandhi's article in Harijan of May 20 was even more strident. He told the Mission on June 24 that they were "the law-givers and could not interpret their own law". His own interpretations had been "upheld by eminent lawyers. (In those days, courts ruled that they could not consult parliamentary debates while interpreting a statute. They do so now.)

In fact, the proposals were a political not a legal document crafted to serve as a solemn compact binding all the three sides. The Congress adopted Gandhi's line. He stuck to it till the very end. So did the Congress. On December 15, 1946 he told Congressmen from Assam: "As soon as the time comes for the Constituent Assembly to go into sections, you will say 'Gentlemen, Assam retires...' Else, I will say that Assam had only manikins, and no men."

The plan broke down because the Congress refused to accept the grouping formula. It had 207 members in the entire Constituent Assembly against 73 of the League. In the crucial Group C, comprising Bengal and Assam, it had 32 members against 36 of the League, in a House of 70, with two Independents. Since the League would have had to provide a chairman to work Group C, it would have been left with 35 members against 32 of the Congress. How could the League possibly have prevented Assam's secession? If it did, it would have faced Congress' retaliation in the entire assembly as the Mission reminded the Congress. Yet, it was this bogey which destroyed the last best chance for preserving India's unity.

The Cabinet Mission formally issued a statement on May 25 rejecting the Congress' interpretation. "The interpretation put by the Congress Resolution on paragraph 15 of the Statement to the effect that the provinces can in the first instance make the choice whether or not to belong to the Section in which they are placed does not accord with the Delegation's intentions. The reasons for the grouping of the Provinces are well-known and this is an essential feature of the scheme and can only be modified by agreement between the parties. The right to opt out of the Groups after the constitution-making has been completed will be exercised by the people themselves, since at the first election under the new provincial constitution this question of opting out will obviously be a major issue and all those entitled to vote under the new franchise will be able to take their share in a truly democratic decision."

But faced with the Congress' stand, the Mission began to equivocate on its own proposals while formally rejecting Congress' interpretation. Cripps was mainly responsible for this. He wanted to discuss the Mission's proposals in advance with Gandhi alone. Colleagues vetoed this. His diary entry of May 14 explains why he behaved as he did. "I think that more than ever he (Gandhi) holds the key to the situation. It is very doubtful whether Congress will ever acquiesce in our statement and its suggestions. Gandhi alone can persuade them to do it and I believe we could have got his support if we had trusted him and consulted him first. I see the dangers but I would have taken the risk... The really critical situation has been reached because if Congress turns it down and refuses to come into an interim Government, it will be impossible for us to carry on in the existing state of tension without wholesale suppression which will in effect mean war. My own view is that we must at all costs come to an accommodation with Congress. We can get through I believe without the League if we have Congress with us but not without Congress even if we have the League." The rest followed inexorably from this - to the wrecking of the country's unity.

If the Mission had played fair and flatly told the Congress that its acceptance was no acceptance at all, conditional as it was on its "interpretation", it would have confronted both sides with the reality - a union could be set up only by accord; the alternative was Partition of India and of Punjab and Bengal as well. Jinnah's supporters there dreaded that. Had this been declared publicly in 1946 - and not sprung upon the people abruptly in 1947- maybe saner counsels would have prevailed. At least the rancour generated by charges of bad faith over the year would have been avoided. The Congress professed to "accept" the May 16 long-term Plan but rejected the Mission's June 16 proposal for an interim government. The Mission considered that fair game, to Jinnah's resentment. The Viceroy Lord Wavell resented Cripps' tactics. He had insisted on May 20 that "in future we must all see him (Gandhi) together or none at all." Cripps and Pethick Lawrence flouted this - secretly. As in 1942 the Congress Working Committee split. Cripps was exasperated. He wrote on June 18: "Nehru who had opposed Gandhi yesterday gave in to him to-day and went round to his side - most disappointingly through, I fear, weakness." He added with memories of 1942 resurfacing, "It really is rather maddening that after these three months the whole scheme, long and short term, look like being broken down by a completely new stunt idea introduced by Gandhi and apparently the Working Committee haven't the guts to disagree with him! He is an unaccountable person and when he gets those ideas in his head is as stubborn as an ox because he is convinced that he is right and no arguments will move him."

The Cripps Version: The Life of Sir Stafford Cripps by Peter Clarke; Allen Lane, The Penguin Press; pages 573, &pound25.

Restraint on talaq

A Bombay High Court verdict requiring the husband to satisfy all legal preconditions before exercising his right for talaq comes as a great relief to Muslim women.

IN a significant ruling that will affect positively the rights of Muslim women, the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court held on May 2 that a mere pronouncement of talaq by the husband, or a mere declaration of his intention, or his acts of having pronounced talaq were not sufficient and did not meet the requirements of Islamic law for a divorce. The court said: In every such exercise of right to talaq, the husband is required to satisfy the preconditions of arbitration for reconciliation and reasons for talaq. Conveying his intention to divorce the wife are not adequate to meet the requirements of talaq in the eyes of law." The verdict of the three-Judge Bench comprising Justices B.H. Marlapalle, N.V. Dabholkar and N.H. Patil will be binding on the State of Maharashtra and have persuasive value for other States as well.

The Bench reiterated the need to prove disputed pleadings under the process laid down by the Civil Procedure Code and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. It said: "Pleadings before the court, though made on oath, either in writing or in oral form, when disputed by the wife, are required to be proved and when it comes to proving all these pleadings, the process is governed by the common law, that is, the Civil Procedure Code and the Indian Evidence Act, and mere statement on oath, either in writing or in oral form itself, does not prove the factum of divorce as well as valid or effective divorce. If the talaq pronounced is ineffective or invalid, it is no divorce under the Mohamadan Personal Law."

It said that even in the case of the irrevocable form of talaq pronounced in the presence of a qazi or the wife's father or two witnesses (both of them professing Islam), the factum of this form of talaq is required to be proved if challenged before a competent court in appropriate proceedings. The qazi, the father, or the witnesses could be examined. Their presence when the husband pronounced talaq and his pronouncement of talaq were required to be proved if the factum of valid talaq was questioned by the wife.

The judgment said: "Mere assertion by the husband in any form is not sufficient to hold that he has exercised the right to give talaq legally and validly. If any of the witnesses does not profess Islam, the talaq given in his/her presence shall be invalid and inoperative."

In essence, the judgment has underscored the importance of the procedures preceding divorce in accordance with Islamic law. If the husband is unable to prove his statement regarding divorce given earlier before the court, his claims regarding the talaq are invalid in the eyes of law and such a statement cannot be taken as a fresh declaration of divorce, as a mere declaration of divorce is not by itself sufficient for a valid divorce. Even if such a statement in writing is supported by a talaknama, which may be a record of the fact of an oral talaq or the deed by which the divorce was effected, that supportive document by itself would not lead to the conclusion that the talaq was valid, effective and legal. The Bench also ruled that unless the fact of divorce was proved, documents relating to the registration of the talaq under the Wakf Act and the issue of a talaq certificate by the qazi had no sanctity.

The judgment, which came in response to a petition filed for maintenance under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, essentially limits the indiscriminate use of talaq, though it has refrained from passing any directive on the right of a husband to pronounce it. The judgment is in no way contradictory to the tenets of Islamic law, which permits divorce but regards it as an undesirable act and the uncontrolled use of it as a sin.

In the case in question, Rahimbi of Ranapur taluk in Latur district was married to Dagdu Pathan and had three daughters from the marriage. When Dagdu Pathan divorced her, Rahimbi approached the Judicial Magistrate, Latur, with an application for maintenance for herself and her three minor children under Section 125 of the CrPC. Summons were issued to Dagdu Pathan who had subsequently married Khamrunbee. Pathan filed a written statement before the Judicial Magistrate opposing Rahimbi's claim that she and her daughters had been neglected by him and stated that he had divorced Rahimbi on February 24, 1996, in the presence of a qazi and two witnesses - a Muslim and a Hindu.

The plea was rejected by the Second Joint Judicial Magistrate on November 1998 and the maintenance application was allowed. When the petition came up in the High Court, it was deemed important as a controversy already existed over contrary views taken by two Division Benches in two previous cases concerning maintenance and talaq. The single Judge hearing the petition directed it to be placed before the Chief Justice for consideration to refer it to a Full Bench. The Full Bench looked into several aspects of Islamic law that related to talaq.

The Bench recalled an observation made by the Supreme Court in a case in which the constitutional validity of the Muslim Women's (Protection of Right to Divorce) Act, 1986, had been challenged (Daniel Latifi and Others vs Union of India). The apex court had in its September 28, 2001, order observed: ""In interpreting the provisions where matrimonial relationship is involved, we have to consider the social conditions prevalent in our society, whether they belong to the majority or the minority group, what is apparent is that there exists a great disparity in the matter of economic resourcefulness between a man and a woman. Our society is male-dominated, both economically and socially, and women are assigned, invariably, a dependent role, irrespective of the class of society to which she belongs."

The judgment also elucidated on the general principles of talaq as laid down in Islamic law. While a divorce by a husband is talaq either in the oral or written form, he cannot at his free will resort to any of the modes at any time without assigning reasons. Two arbitrators, one from either side, have to be appointed to bring about a settlement between the parties. Only if the discord persisted at an irreparable level could the husband have the right to resort to talaq. "Talaq must be for a reasonable cause and be preceded by attempts at reconciliation between the husband and the wife by the arbitrators, one from the wife's family and the other husband's. If the attempts failed, talaq may be effected," the judgment held.

Regarding the prescribed procedure for talaq, it ruled that "the pronouncement of talaq... has to necessarily satisfy all these conditions of pronouncing the talaq at a particular time and such a talaq must be valid and effective. It is not that on his own sweet will the husband has the unqualified prerogative to exercise this right to pronounce talaq". Many of the references to Islamic law were drawn from the Compendium of Islamic Laws, a publication brought out by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

THE judgment has generally been welcomed. Anees Ahmed, an advocate in the Supreme Court, said that the landmark judgment established the legal requirement of providing divorce by the husband on the anvil of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. It would ensure transparency in matrimonial transactions and was expected to go a long way in ensuring that there was some restraint on husbands rendering reckless talaqs, he said. Married Muslim men were known to pronounce orally triple "talaq" or give it in writing. There was no requirement to go to court and it was done totally at the whim and caprice of the husband, to give talaq without involving the wife, the lawyer said.

Ahmed, who has assisted the National Commission for Women in similar cases, said that most often, it was difficult for the wife to prove that the husband had actually divorced her because of the absence of documentary proof. Sehba Farooqi, general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women, said that even if such evidence was there, it was never with the woman, and qazis seldom kept the papers relating to the nikaahnama or the talaknama. The judgment was good to the extent that it had given some relief to Muslim women, she said.

Sheba Farooqi said that a campaign to register all marriages and divorces was under way and some governments had responded positively to that.

Anees Ahmed welcomed the campaign as it ensured that all marriages and divorces were registered with either a religious body or with a secular (state) institution, such as the Registrar of Marriages and Divorces. This would enable the wife to prove that her husband had actually divorced her and she could claim maintenance and alimony according to the law. Otherwise, divorce rights of Muslim women involved protracted litigation, after filing a petition in a civil court to obtain a decree of divorce under the Dissolution of Marriage under Muslim Act, 1939, Anees Ahmed said.

Sayeeda Hameed, founder of the Muslim Women's Forum, said that the judgment was a step in the right direction. A former member of the National Commission for Women, she said that in a large number of cases talaq was being pronounced not in accordance with the injunctions of Islam. She said that the judgment was on expected lines as there was enough proof that Muslim women suffered from the profligate use of talaq. The spirit of the religion had always been to give relief to both the man and the woman when the marriage became intolerable but it was found that the system of dowry and the practice of polygamy were used increasingly against women. She said that the ruling was as historic as the judgment in the Shah Bano case, which had placed some obligations on the husband to pay maintenance to his divorced wife. The judgment was substantially diluted in the Muslim Women's (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986.

Judicial interventions alone cannot effect reform but they are an essential step in that direction. Deeper social malaise exists and with the menace of dowry and rank consumerism touching abominable levels in every segment of society, only a combination of judicial and political interventions can uplift women.

Ringing in a revolution

Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited not only triggers a telecom revolution in the national capital but successfully meets the challenges posed by private competitors who entered the field in the wake of liberalisation.

IT is now 125 years since Alexander Graham Bell made history by transmitting sound over wire. That was the origin of telephone, which has brought people closer. Once a novelty and a status symbol, telephone is now the lifeline of all human activity. The technology of transmission, too, has developed by leaps and bounds over the years, connecting people even when they are on the move, be it in a car or on a train or a ship or an aircraft. The National Capital of Delhi is no exception to this communication revolution.

Until 1986 the telephone system in Delhi was managed departmentally. The inherent limitations of a departmentally managed organisation to meet the increasing demand for telephone connections, provide efficient post-connection services and keep pace with technological advances led the government to set up a public sector enterprise, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) - to run the telephone system in the metropolitan cities. The task before MTNL was indeed Herculean. It had to, on the one hand, clear the long waiting list for connections and, on the other, replace obsolete equipment. It was no cakewalk but MTNL-Delhi has successfully achieved the twin objectives of providing connections on demand and digitising the system to match international standards. Through innovative services and modernisation it has also been able to meet the challenges posed by the entry of private operators in the wake of liberalisation.

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In 1986 Delhi Telephones had 46 exchanges with a capacity of 3,36,700 lines and around 3 lakh working connections. The waiting list for new connections was about 1.5 lakhs. As on May 3, 2002, the number of exchanges had risen to 252 with a capacity of 26.4 lakh lines and the number of working connections had increased to about 21 lakhs. The waiting list got reduced progressively and was cleared on March 31, 1999. Telephone connections are available on demand for the past three years. This is no mean achievement, considering that MTNL-Delhi serves an ever-increasing population on an area of 1,486 square kilometres. When MTNL-Delhi was set up in 1986 Delhi had about 7.5 million people and a tele-density of 3.9. According to the latest census, Delhi's population is 13.8 million and its tele-density as on March 31, 2002, is 15.93. This tele-density may not compare well with the world average or with that in some of the developed countries. But MTNL-Delhi has geared itself to reach higher levels of tele-density, which is one of the indicators of economic development.

One of the first tasks of MTNL-Delhi was to replace obsolete equipment and the worn-out network. The entire switching network, barring a few analogue exchanges, was electro-mechanical and composed of strowger and cross bar equipment. MTNL-Delhi chalked out a phased programme to replace all the old equipment with electronic exchanges. By December 31, 1998, the entire switching network was made electronic. Subsequently, all the Fetex exchanges were replaced progressively with state-of-the-art technology switches. As a result, MTNL-Delhi now boasts a 100 per cent digitised system.

Along with the modernisation of the switching network, the junction network, too, was modernised. Today all the inter-exchange junctions are routed through reliable media. To ensure perfect monitoring of inter-exchange routes, a modern Traffic Control and Management Information System (TCMIS) has been established. Earlier, only E-10B switches were being monitored but now OCB-283 switches are also being monitored through TCMIS. Work is in progress for monitoring the traffic of other new technology switches like 5-ESS and AXE-10.

The modernisation programme has had a salutary impact on the fault repair service (FRS). In the past, faults occurred frequently and took a long time to rectify. This was attributed to not only the old and mainly paper-core-based network but also the construction practices of the time. For instance, Distribution Points (DPs) were provided on poles and connections were given by taking drop-wires from the DPs. Besides being of poor quality, the drop-wires were used without proper accessories. Another practice that led to high incidence of faults was the addition of pillars at the same place and interconnecting them through pipes. Providing Multiple Main Distribution Frames (MDFs) in the same building and laying underground cables for 10-20 kilometres, particularly in the outlying areas, had also contributed to the frequent faults. All these are now things of the past.

A number of measures have been initiated to reduce the fault rate and the time taken to rectify faults. The Fault Repair Service in all the exchanges has been computerised. The booking, testing and making over of the faults to the field staff are now automatic, without human intervention. The complaint booking numbers 198 and 2198 have been fully computerised by introducing the inter-active voice response system in all areas. The paper core underground cables are being replaced by jelly filled cables or optical fibre cables. The duct system has been introduced for high capacity primary cables.

The junction network has been completely transferred to optical fibre cable links and improved by providing Synchronous Digital Hierarchy (SDH) systems connected on the ring architecture. The length of the subscriber loop line is being reduced by planning more Remote Subscriber Units (RSUs) and Remote Line Units(RLUs). This helps in reducing faults and the time taken to attend to them as the exchange area is restricted to that node only.

Fixed Wireless in Local Loop (WiLL) and Digital Loop Carrier (DLC) systems among others are being introduced in the customer access network to ensure better performance. Until now 16,620 fixed WiLL and 22,237 mobile WiLL connections have been provided.

The managed Leased Data Network (MLDN) system has been introduced to improve the performance of the Leased Circuits.

The line staff have been provided with 4,366 pagers for easy follow-up with the testing staff for speedy clearance of faults. This has helped reduce the time taken to inform the sectional fault control station and sectional linemen about faults. This, in turn, has helped in speedy rectification of faults.

The policy regarding replacement of old telephone instruments has been liberalised. All instruments more than five years old or repaired more than twice are being replaced in phases with new instruments.

Simultaneously, rehabilitation of external plants in all areas has been undertaken. The thrust of this programme has been on: (a) conversion of pole-mounted DPs into internal wall type DPs; (b) rearrangement of DPs and pillars; (c) straightening ties at the main distribution frames; and (d) use of proper accessories with drop-wires.

All these measures made a visible dent on the fault rate and fault repair service in the last three years. The average fault rate, that is, the number of faults per 100 stations per month, dropped from 30.34 in 1999-2000 to 21.3 in 2001-02. The average duration of faults, that is, the time taken to repair the fault, dropped from 35.46 hours in 1999-2000 to 26.19 hours in 2001-02. Same-day clearance of faults increased from 28.33 per cent to 41.40 per cent during this period. MTNL has been making efforts to rectify faults within 48 hours. In fact, about 70 per cent of the faults are rectified within this period. But there may be occasions when, owing to unavoidable factors, the faults remain non-rectified for a longer period. In order to compensate the customer for long delays, MTNL allows a rebate in rentals if the telephone remains out of order for seven days or more. The rebate is given automatically and the customer does not have to apply for it.

While modernisation helped meet the demand for new connections and improve post-connection service, the real challenge to MTNL lay in meeting the competition posed by the entry of the private operators in the wake of liberalisation. MTNL-Delhi has successfully met this challenge by diversification of its services; it has introduced a number of new and innovative value-added services.

One of these is the state-of-the-art integrated Subscriber Digital Network (ISDN) through which the subscriber can send and receive voice, data, image or a combination of these in digital form. This has connectivity with Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. The ISDN line has certain advantages over the ordinary phone line. An ISDN Basic Rate Access (BRA) subscriber can establish two calls simultaneously - voice, data, image or a combination of any two - whereas on an ordinary phone line only one call is possible. An ISDN Primary Rate Access(PRA) subscriber can make 30 individual voice/data calls simultaneously. The call set-up time for ISDN subscribers is extremely short and they have full connectivity to all the other analogue subscribers both nationally and internationally.

The services offered on dial-up basis between two ISDN subscribers include: desk-top video conferencing on using a single ISDN line at 64/124 kbps (kilobytes per second); high quality video conferencing by using three ISDN lines at 384 kbps; video telephony; teleconferencing, which also facilitates transmission of pictures, documents and drawings, high-speed data transmission at 64/128 kbps; high-speed facsimile at 64/128 kbps with G4 fax terminal; access to the Internet with a high bandwidth of 64/128 kbps, giving significantly improved response, time and quality of service.

Being a value-added service ISDN has the following supplementary features: calling line identification; advice on charge; line hunting; close user group; user to user signalling; call waiting; call forwarding and multiple subscriber number. Until now 7,241 ISDN connections, comprising 7,105 BRA and 136 PRA, have been given.

Another value-added service is access to the Internet. For getting this service one should have a personal computer with requisite software, a telephone connection or a leased line and a modem of approved type. The following connections are available: Public Switch Telephone Network (PSTN) Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) dial-up connection; ISDN (TCP/IP) dial-up connection and Leased line connection (TCP/IP). An affordable tariff has been prescribed for this global access to the world of infotainment.

For high-speed connectivity between computer terminals, MTNL offers the Packet Switched Public Data Network called I-NET with in-built error detection techniques. I-NET is operational in more than 100 cities in the country, categorised into three groups on the basis of business activity and demand for different types of I-NET connections. New Delhi falls under Group A along with Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune. I-NET has connectivity to data networks all over the world. For business organisations this offers a reliable and high-speed data service.

The calls are established within one or two seconds making it suitable particularly for on-line applications like credit card verification and the like. Data is transferred virtually error-free. I-NET offers connections like X.25, X.32 and X.28 dial-up and Frame Relay. The X.25 connection enables multiple calls to be handled simultaneously. The cost of exchange of data within the country and abroad through I-NET is the lowest among the different alternatives; the charges are the same for any distance. An X.25 connection is provided on a leased line from the I-NET exchange. An X.32 access is available to all X.25 customers and it enables them to have a back-up access to the I-NET using PSTN. It has all the functions of X.25 on dial-up. An X.28 lease customer can receive or make only one call at a time, similar to a normal telephone connection. The customer can use a computer with appropriate communication software.

Frame relay is a modified form of the packet switching service and is available up to 64000 Kps. Frame relay customers can have permanent virtual circuits (PVC) and high-speed connectivity between LANs (local areas networks) in different cities.

The I-NET service is useful for automatic teller machine (ATM) connectivity, LAN and WAN (wide area network) connectivity, corporate communications, information retrieval, database services, remote job applications, credit card verifications, travel reservations and electronic fund transfers. A customer of I-NET can call any terminal/computer connected to a telephone in any of the I-NET cities. The customer can also originate calls from all over the country where I-NET facility is not available by using 1711 facility of I-NET to telephone subscribers at any of the I-NET cities for data communications. The telephone being called should have the prescribed modem connected to it. Customers of data networks abroad can also originate data calls to any I-NET subscriber by using DNIC 4049 followed by the city code and the called telephone number. The call will be charged in the network as a data call, which is cheaper than a direct telephone call. Calls are billed to the calling customer.

MTNL offers a dedicated dial-up service, which enables the creation of private networks within I-NET at a much cheaper rate. Telephones owned by organisations desiring this service are terminated in the I-NET Exchange as PSTN port. The central computer and database of the organisation can be located in any of the I-NET cities or connected to any other national or international public data network. To access the central computer one has to dial the dedicated local telephone number of the organisation in I-NET. The I-NET routes the call automatically to the destination central computer. The callers need not be I-NET customers. The charges are paid by the organisation, which subscribes to this service.

What are the advantages to the organisational subscribers? Since the interface equipment and telephone are in MTNL/I-NET Exchange premises there is a saving on operation/maintenance costs of equipment, spares and power supply. The users in a city are not constrained by the congestion of common I-NET dial-up ports. This service also enables error-free transmission and low-cost data transfer, provides multiplexed connection, ISDN and Internet access and global access. Until now 2,901 I-NET connections have been given.

MTNL also offers a bonanza to corporate firms in the form of Virtual Private Network (VPN). It enables subscribers to establish a private network using the resources of a public network. VPN subscribers can have practically all the facilities of an electronic PABX without owning it, thereby avoiding maintenance hassles inherent to PABX. There is no need for VPN subscribers to take leased lines between their locations. Segregation between private and official calls is possible. Individual lines on the VPN need not be given STD facility; VPN subscribers can have their own private numbering plan. The dialing procedure for the VPN service would depend upon the type of location from which the service is to be accessed: virtual on-net location or off-net location. The virtual on-net locations (telephone numbers) are those defined by VPN customers to be a part of their VPN numbering plan. These telephone lines may be existing ones or new connections taken specifically for the VPN service. Telephone numbers, which do not form part of the VPN, are called off-net location.

If VPN is a bonanza for the corporate sector the Premium Rate Service (PRM) is a boon to professionals, information providers and information seekers. This service enables professionals and information providers to offer their consultation using the telecom network. MTNL, which is the network operator, allots a PRM service number to the professional/information provider and this number can be accessed by information seekers all over Delhi through STD phones irrespective of the location of the information provider. The call charges are to be borne by the caller and since the charges are at a higher rate it is called Premium Rate Service. The revenue earned by MTNL from the call charges is shared between MTNL and the Information Provider. For the same PRM service number the PRM subscriber can have a number of destination numbers and the call will be automatically routed to those numbers through the Intelligence Network. This service also provides time-dependent routing, which enables the PRM subscriber to have several installations in the network and specify flexible routing of different calls, depending upon time, day, date, holiday and so on. It also provides location-dependent routing, whereby the subscribers can have several installations (directory numbers) and can specify flexible routing, depending upon the area of origination of incoming calls.

MTNL has not lagged behind the private operators in providing mobile phone service. It has launched its GSM cellular service under the brand name Dolphin and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA)-based WiLL service under the brand name Garuda. Toll-free service, automatic changed number announcement and calling line identification are some of the other services provided by MTNL.

Besides launching innovative services, MTNL has been following innovative business practices. One of these seeks to make payment of bills easier, obviating the need for the customer to stand in long queues. The customers can now pay the Bills through Electronic Clearance Service (ECS). On a mandate from the customer, MTNL will collect the money from the customer's bank account. The customer will get a copy of the Bill for information. It is also possible to make the payment through the Internet and by using ABB cards of IOB. This marks MTNL's foray into e-commerce.

Free 100-hour Internet connections were offered on booking of Garuda and Dolphin mobile service connections during the India International Trade Fair 2001 and Health Mela. New marketing agents were appointed for promoting ISDN, I-NET, and the Internet along with sale of VCC cards. A number of Sanchar Haats have been set up for marketing telephone instruments and accessories. The STD rates were reduced from January 14, 2002, and installation fee waived from January 18.

After MTNL came in the telecom scenario in the capital is no longer what it used to be in the past. The proof, if any is needed, lies in the growing number of satisfied customers of basic services, which has crossed the two-million mark.

Letters

The article "Hell and high water" (June 21) is not based on facts. Here is the fact-sheet of the . The project submerges only 785 hectares of private land in 18 villages and the total number of project-affected families (PAFs) is 993. The land was acquired between 1983 and 1995 and full compensation was paid to the landowners. As per the rehabilitation policy of the Madhya Pradesh government, 448 PAFs, who will lose 25 per cent or more of their land, are eligible for allotment of land and 805 PAFs for allotment of plots for houses.

The policy gives the PAF the freedom either to accept land from the government in lieu of land coming under submergence or to opt for full compensation in cash in lieu of land. Following this procedure, 62 PAFs (not 22 as your correspondent has mentioned) were allotted land and the remaining 385 PAFs were given full compensation as desired by them. One case is pending in the civil court. Out of the remaining 385 PAFs, as many as 124 have purchased land with the compensation amount and also taken advantage of the provision for exemption from stamp duty and registration charges.

The Government of Madhya Pradesh has further sanctioned a special rehabilitation grant to those who lost their lands, providing an additional amount that is three times the compensation already given to them. For example, the compensation given for irrigated land earlier was Rs.58,000 a hectare. Now an additional amount of Rs.1,54,000 is being given. The PAFs have also been permitted to till their land in the past 15 years after its acquisition by the government. The displaced persons who want to buy land get full support from the district administration.

Four resettlement and rehabilitation sites have been developed with all civic amenities; 295 plots have been developed on these and allotted. The rest of the PAFs have chosen to shift to villages of their choice and have taken money in lieu of plots. Thus rehabilitation package as per the policy has covered all PAFs.

The State government has enhanced various grants payable to the PAFs. Clearly, the rehabilitation policy of Madhya Pradesh is one of the best in the country. About 85 per cent of the PAFs have already shifted to alternative sites and only about 145 remain to be shifted. Only those public properties that face submergence have been demolished. The doors and windows will be used elsewhere. The trees had to be felled as otherwise fishermen's boats could get entangled when the reservoir is full.

The government has also constituted a fully autonomous Grievance Redressal Authority (GRA), where any PAF feeling aggrieved by any order of the government can file a complaint. The orders passed by the Authority are binding on the government. Not a single PAF of the has filed a complaint before the GRA. Local people as well as their constitutional representatives are in favour of early completion of the project.

At a time when the rehabilitation of all the PAFs is complete, it is surprising to find mention of a report of some Task Force which states that only 5 per cent of the resettlement and rehabilitation work has been completed.

Similarly, there is no substance in the so-called Indian People's Tribunal report that the would irrigate only 3,300 hectares against 15,000 ha, which is envisaged. In the total cultivable command area of the , only 2,556 ha is under irrigation at present. The culturable command area of the project is 15,000 ha spread over 57 villages, of which 9,600 ha is for the rabi season, which is based on the actual survey. It will also irrigate 9,300 ha in the kharif season and provide irrigation for perennial crops on 300 ha. It is not true that an additional 1,200 ha can be brought under irrigation from existing irrigation structures.

The is the first of its kind in the drought-prone Dhar district. As the project is in the scheduled areas, 85 per cent of its beneficiaries will be tribal people.

L.K. Joshi Commissioner, Public Relations Madhya Pradesh government Bhopal

Correspondent Lyla Bavadam writes:

During the course of writing assignments on the subject, I have consistently made attempts to contact government representatives connected with the Narmada dams. But it is only in rare instances that a response is forthcoming, and even then the specifics are glossed over. Information for articles is gathered from interviews with the affected people and Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) representatives and from official government documents. I have often asked NBA members to quote their sources and they confirm that they frequently use published official information apart from their own extensive groundwork.

The letter from the Commissioner of Public Relations says there is "785 hectares of private land in 18 villages and the total number of PAFs is 993". The official government Gazette of December 2001 lists the number of submergence villages as 17. Now the government says there are 18 villages on the verge of submergence.

The Gazette not only gives the figure of Project Affected Families as 1,262 but also names these families. The article mentioned "some 993 affected people" simply because that was the officially provided figure. Once again, there are two official figures for the same fact.

The Grievance Redressal Authority existed for the Onkareshwar and Narmada Sagar projects. It was only a few months ago that Maan was also attached to it. However, no notification was published of this fact and the Maan-affected people were not aware that there was a GRA to whom they could address complaints.

As regards the rest of the letter, making public the following details will bring about a degree of transparency and public involvement in the project:

1. The names of the 62 PAFs who have already been allotted land as well as the location of this land.

2. The names and original villages of the 385 PAFs who have received full compensation.

3. Proof that this compensation was desired by them, including proof that the Collector had indeed studied the case of each (if they are Adivasis) to see that cash in lieu of land would not harm the applicants' interests.

4. The names and original villages of the 124 PAFs who have purchased land from the compensation amount, along with details of the amount of land they initially had, the amount of land they have been able to purchase, and the location of this land.

5. The names and locations of the four R&R sites which have been developed with all civic amenities. How many people have built homes at these sites? Are there agricultural lands adjoining these sites?

Brazil's glory

other

Winning the World Cup for a record fifth time - it is really "Brazil's glory" (July 19). No doubt, the best team won. It should be an eye-opener to India, considering the fact that Brazil and India have many things in common.

We are nowhere in football, and the reasons for this are probably applicable in the case of other games too. We have to start with our children, and from our schools. There is the need for an attitudinal change. If the vision to make India a developed country is to succeed, we should have a vision to make it thrive in sports and games too.

A. Jacob Sahayam Received on e-mail Walking with R.K. Narayan

T.S. Satyan's article on the Grand Old Man of Indian English Writing ("Walking with R.K. Narayan", July 19), accompanied by the excellent photographs taken by him, depicting the various moods of R.K. Narayan, made interesting reading and reminded me of your two previous issues (October 18, 1996 and June 8, 2001) on the legendary writer which I preserve. This issue will also be preserved as it provides rare insights into Narayan's personal life, habits, likes and dislikes, thoughts, and so on, for which "Malgudi's creator" will always be remembered.

While going through the article, I felt deeply touched by my Parker fountain pen with a 'thick point nib' and my Kodak film box (in which I too keep betelnuts), which have been my constant companions over the past 25 years, not to speak of the curd-rice with pickles (mango/lemon), sambar and rasam, and the decoction "kapi" (coffee) to which we vegetarian-Tamilians are sort of addicted to.

S. Balakrishnan Jamshedpur Choosing a President

Anand Parthasarathy's article on the rise of Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam ("Choosing a President", July 5) was impressive. At the same time, I was distressed to read the 'Essay' by Aijaz Ahmad where he has this to say about Kalam: "... his extraordinary dedication to the creation of weapons of mass destruction is his sole claim to fame and eminence. He has no other achievement to his credit."

I find in Kalam a patriot-scientist fit to adorn India's Presidency. In fact, his election will be a loss to the world of science.

Prof. B.M. Baliga Bangalore * * *

The right to differ and dissent is sacred but it should not degenerate into unbridled outburst as in the last sentence of the article by Sukumar Muralidharan, in which he has tried to tarnish the image of Dr. Zakir Hussain by attributing to him an unauthenticated comment on the Presidency that "it is easier to elect a Muslim to Rashtrapathi Bhavan than to appoint a clerk in the Central government". The heresay quoted may be in tune with your editorial "An Unsuitable Choice".

K.G. Sukumara Pillai Thiruvananthapuram * * *

Choosing a presidential candidate, with religion marked in red in his curriculum vitae, is not going to ease tensions. After all, rehabilitating displaced Hindus in Hindu localities and Muslims in Muslim ones only created isolated pockets for future uprisings, rather than ensuring the safety of the new occupants.

Second, the much-talked-about experience criterion has direct relevance to the 'job description' and 'job expectation' of the post. A.G. Noorani aptly states that the President, as the umpire of the political game of cricket, must know its rules. So what if he himself cannot play it well!

But are the players themselves well-versed with the rules of the game? Are they qualified enough to play for an entire nation? We never discuss the credentials of a Cabinet Minister or a Minister of State. We expect them to perform because they are the 'people's choice'.

And unless the players play the game, the umpire will have little to do. So leave the President alone. Go after the team. Besides, the umpire, when in doubt, can check with the written-down manual. The third umpire. The Constitution of India.

Manish Mamtani Mumbai Balancing act

The report "Balancing Act" (June 21) is a biased one.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot was compelled to induct new faces into the Ministry by the Congress(I) high command, mainly through the pressure put on him by Ambika Soni, who wanted to oblige her old-time lieutenants, some of them arch rivals of the Chief Minister.

As regards the dropped Minister Zakia Inam, she is a well-respected and senior leader from the minority section. She came out with a policy on women, which won praise from national and international women's organisations. The Chief Minister probably felt overshadowed by all the attention she was getting and resorted to the only option he had - of dropping her from the Ministry.

The other dropped Minister, Indira Mayaram, is perhaps the most dynamic woman leader in Rajasthan.

She comes from a distinguished family of freedom fighters, and is known to be straight and outspoken and to have devoted her life to working for the deprived and vulnerable sections of society.

Indira Mayaram's grassroots connections are so strong that she is perceived as a major threat to all incumbent Ministers in the State.

Two women out of four dropped Ministers, and that too under a woman observer, speaks volumes of the Congress Ministry in the State. Fifteen new Ministers, and not a single woman!

Bhatti Narendra Singh Jaipur Maan project

The article "Hell and high water" (June 21) is not based on facts. Here is the fact-sheet of the Maan project. The project submerges only 785 hectares of private land in 18 villages and the total number of project-affected families (PAFs) is 993. The land was acquired between 1983 and 1995 and full compensation was paid to the landowners. As per the rehabilitation policy of the Madhya Pradesh government, 448 PAFs, who will lose 25 per cent or more of their land, are eligible for allotment of land and 805 PAFs for allotment of plots for houses.

The policy gives the PAF the freedom either to accept land from the government in lieu of land coming under submergence or to opt for full compensation in cash in lieu of land. Following this procedure, 62 PAFs (not 22 as your correspondent has mentioned) were allotted land and the remaining 385 PAFs were given full compensation as desired by them. One case is pending in the civil court. Out of the remaining 385 PAFs, as many as 124 have purchased land with the compensation amount and also taken advantage of the provision for exemption from stamp duty and registration charges.

The Government of Madhya Pradesh has further sanctioned a special rehabilitation grant to those who lost their lands, providing an additional amount that is three times the compensation already given to them. For example, the compensation given for irrigated land earlier was Rs.58,000 a hectare. Now an additional amount of Rs.1,54,000 is being given. The PAFs have also been permitted to till their land in the past 15 years after its acquisition by the government. The displaced persons who want to buy land get full support from the district administration.

Four resettlement and rehabilitation sites have been developed with all civic amenities; 295 plots have been developed on these and allotted. The rest of the PAFs have chosen to shift to villages of their choice and have taken money in lieu of plots. Thus rehabilitation package as per the policy has covered all PAFs.

The State government has enhanced various grants payable to the PAFs. Clearly, the rehabilitation policy of Madhya Pradesh is one of the best in the country. About 85 per cent of the PAFs have already shifted to alternative sites and only about 145 remain to be shifted. Only those public properties that face submergence have been demolished. The doors and windows will be used elsewhere. The trees had to be felled as otherwise fishermen's boats could get entangled when the reservoir is full.

The government has also constituted a fully autonomous Grievance Redressal Authority (GRA), where any PAF feeling aggrieved by any order of the government can file a complaint. The orders passed by the Authority are binding on the government. Not a single PAF of the Maan project has filed a complaint before the GRA. Local people as well as their constitutional representatives are in favour of early completion of the project.

At a time when the rehabilitation of all the PAFs is complete, it is surprising to find mention of a report of some Task Force which states that only 5 per cent of the resettlement and rehabilitation work has been completed.

Similarly, there is no substance in the so-called Indian People's Tribunal report that the Maan project would irrigate only 3,300 hectares against 15,000 ha, which is envisaged. In the total cultivable command area of the Maan project, only 2,556 ha is under irrigation at present. The culturable command area of the project is 15,000 ha spread over 57 villages, of which 9,600 ha is for the rabi season, which is based on the actual survey. It will also irrigate 9,300 ha in the kharif season and provide irrigation for perennial crops on 300 ha. It is not true that an additional 1,200 ha can be brought under irrigation from existing irrigation structures.

The Maan project is the first of its kind in the drought-prone Dhar district. As the project is in the scheduled areas, 85 per cent of its beneficiaries will be tribal people.

L.K. Joshi Commissioner, Public Relations Madhya Pradesh government Bhopal

Correspondent Lyla Bavadam writes:

During the course of writing assignments on the subject, I have consistently made attempts to contact government representatives connected with the Narmada dams. But it is only in rare instances that a response is forthcoming, and even then the specifics are glossed over. Information for articles is gathered from interviews with the affected people and Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) representatives and from official government documents. I have often asked NBA members to quote their sources and they confirm that they frequently use published official information apart from their own extensive groundwork.

The letter from the Commissioner of Public Relations says there is "785 hectares of private land in 18 villages and the total number of PAFs is 993". The official government Gazette of December 2001 lists the number of submergence villages as 17. Now the government says there are 18 villages on the verge of submergence.

The Gazette not only gives the figure of Project Affected Families as 1,262 but also names these families. The article mentioned "some 993 affected people" simply because that was the officially provided figure. Once again, there are two official figures for the same fact.

The Grievance Redressal Authority existed for the Onkareshwar and Narmada Sagar projects. It was only a few months ago that Maan was also attached to it. However, no notification was published of this fact and the Maan-affected people were not aware that there was a GRA to whom they could address complaints.

As regards the rest of the letter, making public the following details will bring about a degree of transparency and public involvement in the project:

1. The names of the 62 PAFs who have already been allotted land as well as the location of this land.

2. The names and original villages of the 385 PAFs who have received full compensation.

3. Proof that this compensation was desired by them, including proof that the Collector had indeed studied the case of each (if they are Adivasis) to see that cash in lieu of land would not harm the applicants' interests.

4. The names and original villages of the 124 PAFs who have purchased land from the compensation amount, along with details of the amount of land they initially had, the amount of land they have been able to purchase, and the location of this land.

5. The names and locations of the four R&R sites which have been developed with all civic amenities. How many people have built homes at these sites? Are there agricultural lands adjoining these sites?

A new resonance

In his views on crucial issues pertaining to economic development, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar comes across as a radical economist who would have staunchly opposed the neoliberal reforms being carried out in India since the 1990s.

DR. BABASAHEB AMBEDKAR was among the most outstanding intellectuals of India in the 20th century in the best sense of the word. Paul Baran, an eminent Marxist economist, had made a distinction in one of his essays between an "intellect worker" and an intellectual. The former, according to him, is one who uses his intellect for making a living whereas the latter is one who uses it for critical analysis and social transformation. Dr. Ambedkar fits Baran's definition of an intellectual very well. Dr. Ambedkar is also an outstanding example of what Antonio Gramsci called an organic intellectual, that is, one who represents and articulates the interests of an entire social class.

While Dr. Ambedkar is justly famous for being the architect of India's Constitution and for being a doughty champion of the interests of the Scheduled Castes, his views on a number of crucial issues pertaining to economic development are not so well known. Dr. Ambedkar was a strong proponent of land reforms and of a prominent role for the state in economic development. He recognised the inequities in an unfettered capitalist economy. His views on these issues are found scattered in several writings; of these the most important ones are his essay, "Small Holdings in India and Their Remedies" and an article, "States and Minorities". In these writings, Dr. Ambedkar elaborates his views on land reforms and on the kind of economic order that is best suited to the needs of the people.

Dr. Ambedkar stresses the need for thoroughgoing land reforms, noting that smallness or largeness of an agricultural holding is not determined by its physical extent alone but by the intensity of cultivation as reflected in the amounts of productive investment made on the land and the amounts of all other inputs used, including labour. He also stresses the need for industrialisation so as to move surplus labour from agriculture to other productive occupations, accompanied by large capital investments in agriculture to raise yields. He sees an extremely important role for the state in such transformation of agriculture and advocates the nationalisation of land and the leasing out of land to groups of cultivators, who are to be encouraged to form cooperatives in order to promote agriculture.

Intervening in a discussion in the Bombay Legislative Council on October 10, 1927, Dr. Ambedkar argued that the solution to the agrarian question "lies not in increasing the size of farms, but in having intensive cultivation that is employing more capital and more labour on the farms such as we have." (These and all subsequent quotations are taken from the collection of Dr. Ambedkar's writings, published by the Government of Maharashtra in 1979). Further on, he says: "The better method is to introduce cooperative agriculture and to compel owners of small strips to join in cultivation."

During the process of framing the Constitution of the Republic of India, Dr. Ambedkar proposed to include certain provisions on fundamental rights, specifically a clause to the effect that the state shall provide protection against economic exploitation. Among other things, this clause proposed that:

* Key industries shall be owned and run by the state;

* Basic but non-key industries shall be owned by the state and run by the state or by corporations established by it;

* Agriculture shall be a state industry, and be organised by the state taking over all land and letting it out for cultivation in suitable standard sizes to residents of villages; these shall be cultivated as collective farms by groups of families.

As part of his proposals, Dr. Ambedkar provided detailed explanatory notes on the measures to protect the citizen against economic exploitation. He stated: "The main purpose behind the clause is to put an obligation on the state to plan the economic life of the people on lines which would lead to highest point of productivity without closing every avenue to private enterprise, and also provide for the equitable distribution of wealth. The plan set out in the clause proposes state ownership in agriculture with a collectivised method of cultivation and a modified form of state socialism in the field of industry. It places squarely on the shoulders of the state the obligation to supply the capital necessary for agriculture as well as for industry."

Dr. Ambedkar recognises the importance of insurance in providing the state with "the resources necessary for financing its economic planning, in the absence of which it would have to resort to borrowing from the money market at high rates of interest" and proposes the nationalisation of insurance. He categorically stated: "State socialism is essential for the rapid industrialisation of India. Private enterprise cannot do it and if it did, it would produce those inequalities of wealth which private capitalism has produced in Europe and which should be a warning to Indians."

ANTICIPATING criticism against his proposals that they went too far, Dr.. Ambedkar argues that political democracy implied that "the individual should not be required to relinquish any of his constitutional rights as a condition precedent to the receipt of a privilege" and that "the state shall not delegate powers to private persons to govern others". He points out that "the system of social economy based on private enterprise and pursuit of personal gain violates these requirements".

Responding to the libertarian argument that where the state refrains from intervention in private affairs - economic and social - the residue is liberty, Dr. Ambedkar says: "It is true that where the state refrains from intervention what remains is liberty. To whom and for whom is this liberty? Obviously this liberty is liberty to the landlords to increase rents, for capitalists to increase hours of work and reduce rate of wages." Further, he says: "In an economic system employing armies of workers, producing goods en masse at regular intervals, someone must make rules so that workers will work and the wheels of industry run on. If the state does not do it, the private employer will. In other words, what is called liberty from the control of the state is another name for the dictatorship of the private employer."

India's experience with neoliberal reforms since 1990 shows that Dr. Ambedkar's apprehensions regarding the implications of the unfettered operation of monopoly capital, both domestic and foreign, were far from misplaced. As has been documented and written about extensively, during this period of neoliberal reforms, there has been no breakthrough in the rate of economic growth. At the same time, there has been a distinct slowing down of the rate of growth of employment and practically no decline in the proportion of people below the poverty line. Agriculture has been in a crisis for some time now and the rate of growth of industry has also been declining for several years now. At the same time, despite a slower growth of foodgrains output, the government is saddled with huge excess stocks, which it seeks to sell abroad or to domestic private trade at very low prices.

The government and its economists, instead of recognising that the crisis is the product in large part of the policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, propose a set of so-called second-generation reforms. At the centre of these reforms is the complete elimination of employment security. The war cry of the liberalisers is: "Away with all controls and the state, and let the market rule."

In this context, one cannot but recall Dr. Ambedkar's words that liberty from state control is another name for the dictatorship of the private employer. Whether on labour reforms or on agrarian policy or on the question of the insurance sector or the role of the public sector in the context of development, Dr. Ambedkar's views are in direct opposition to those of neoliberal policies.

It is indeed a pity that self-styled leaders of Dalit movements, who invoke Dr. Ambedkar's name day in and day out, do not examine carefully his views on key issues of economic policy and their contemporary relevance for the struggles of the oppressed. One may not expect much from those Dalit-based political forces which think nothing of cohabiting with the Sangh Parivar, but even many sections of the Dalit movement which proclaim a radical stance on social (and sometimes economic) issues do not raise the question of land or of the role of the state in the sharp manner in which Dr. Ambedkar does.

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

Beyond Erwadi

The mentally challenged people rescued from Erwadi are in no better a state in their new surroundings. A review of the mental health care scene in Tamil Nadu.

THERE seems to be no real deliverance for the 571 mentally challenged people rescued from the 15 so-called mental homes in Erwadi in Tamil Nadu's Ramanathapuram district in August 2001.

They had come under the Tamil Nadu government's care after all the "mental homes" in Erwadi were closed down following a fire in the Moideen Badusha Mental Home on August 6, which killed 28 inmates who were chained to their positions. Of the 571 persons who were rescued, 152 were sent to the Government Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in Chennai, while 11 patients who had violent tendencies were admitted to the Ramanathapuram Government Hospital. The rest were returned to the care of their families. (Some have returned to their families from the IMH.)

But nothing has changed for them - they continue to live in misery, stripped of dignity and shunned by their families and society. Most of those who were forced back onto their families have been sent to 'faith healing' centres attached to various temples or dargahs. The rest, who remain with their families, are mostly isolated and ostracised.

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For instance, Raghu, from one of Erwadi's "mental homes", was sent back to his family in Sikkil in Thanjavur district in August 2001, since the government doctors who examined him soon after the Erwadi incident found him "fit for discharge". But his father, Raghavan, did not know what to do with the "mentally ill" son. Neither did he have the means to rehabilitate Raghu in a private hospital nor could he bear the stigma of having a mentally ill person at home. He had two daughters to be married. In February 2002, Raghu was sent to a 'faith-healing' centre closer home.

Some others like Gowri, who had been admitted to an Erwadi mental home by her relatives allegedly in an attempt to solve a family dispute, and Murugan, who had been left in Erwadi to separate him from his girlfriend, are back at the 'faith-healing' dargah at Erwadi. While the privately run mental homes in Erwadi were ordered closed on August 13, 2001, patients who stayed within the precincts of the dargah were allowed to remain there, provided each had an attendant.

Even for the 152 patients brought to the IMH, the only government hospital for the mentally challenged in Tamil Nadu, life is no different except that they are no longer in chains. Also, according to a psychiatrist at the IMH (who prefers to remain anonymous), "because of the media attention, the Erwadi patients at the IMH get some special treatment".

The patients who were already in IMH, numbering over 1,500, were in a situation hardly better than at Erwadi. The death of some inmates in October 2001 owing to diarrhoea, the collapse of the main building a month later, and some incidents of violent inmates killing each other, brought to light the abysmal conditions at the IMH.

Shunned by family and society, most IMH inmates live without dignity and basic human rights. The plight of some 600 of them who have been in the IMH for decades is especially bad. For them, death may well be the only means of deliverance. For instance, Thangam and Noyola Mary, who had been there for 60 and 50 years respectively, died last year (but no one claimed the bodies). Viswanathan, who has been at the IMH for 20 years, says, "I look forward to the day (of my death)."

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Says an IMH psychiatrist: "The IMH follows the 18th century concept of the mental asylum. It is like a concentration camp. Patients are checked once in 15 days. They are paraded outside their wards while a psychiatrist checks each one quickly. There are no doctors. Patients with physical complications are referred to other government hospitals. Some of the 21 wards do not have toilets." The abysmal level of crisis management at the IMH was revealed by the diarrhoea deaths there last year.

According to the psychiatrist, the system followed at the IMH is similar to that followed in jails: lunch is served at 1 p.m. and dinner at 4 p.m. At 5 p.m. all patients are locked in their wards until 8.30 a.m. the next morning, when they are given breakfast. Says the IMH psychiatrist: "Most patients skip dinner as it is too early. Thus most patients eat at 1 p.m. and then only 8.30 a.m. the next day. This is particularly bad for the diabetic, the old and the infirm."

Says the psychiatrist: "Ward 21 is the de-addiction ward. But several patients in this ward abuse heroin and cannabis regularly."

There is no emergency room or an intensive care unit at the IMH. Patients in serious condition are examined just outside the ward. Most often the 'golden hour' is lost by the time these patients are taken to an ICU of a government hospital.

Says another IMH psychiatrist: "Treatment at the IMH is not holistic. Addressing the social context - environmental and social stress - is not considered important. The focus is narrow, and is limited to neuro-transmitters and genetics. Rehabilitation, occupational therapy and social integration are poor. That is why most inmates remain there for decades." There seems to be no protocol for drug treatment. The mentally challenged seem to be dumped at the IMH for life.

When this correspondent approached the IMH Director for comments, he refused to talk and denied her permission to visit the hospital premises.

According to an administrative staff member, the IMH is plagued by many problems. Many inmates, though cured, continue to remain at the IMH as the addresses given at the time of admission are false. The arrears that "old" patients owe the IMH add up to over Rs.3 lakhs. Although the number of in-patients (1,654) is lower than the sanctioned bed strength of 1,800, maintenance has become difficult, with several 'basic servant' posts remaining vacant for long. For instance, of the sanctioned 202 posts of warders, 47 are vacant, while 20 of the 79 sanctioned posts of ayahs are vacant. Of the 91 sanctioned posts of male sanitary workers, 28 remain vacant, as do 12 of the 20 sanctioned posts of dhobis.

WITH just one bed for every 40,000 patients and one psychiatrist for every one million patients, India's infrastructure for treating the mentally ill is abysmal. The only comprehensive report on the 37 mental hospitals in the country, brought out by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in 2001, points to the scanty availability of facilities such as beds, medicines and toilets; insufficient professional help; and inadequate treatment and rehabilitation facilities. Lack of awareness and infrastructure forces families of the mentally challenged to resort to witchcraft, black magic and faith-healing. Professional help is hardly sought. The NHRC report also points to the deprivation of human rights to the mentally ill.

The mental health care system in Tamil Nadu has been in a deplorable state, with successive governments failing to act on the various reports and studies on the plight of the mentally ill. The Erwadi tragedy, which caught the attention of even the international media, forced the State government to act. It decided to implement, after 14 years, certain sections of the Mental Health Act, 1987, and announce some measures to deal with the situation. The State Human Rights Commission, which studied the cause of the Erwadi incident, came up with 19 recommendations including penal action against private mental homes operating without a licence.

Among the immediate measures announced by the State government were the closure of all "mental homes" functioning in thatched sheds and the "unchaining" of all inmates. The government also made it mandatory for anyone setting up such a home to obtain a licence, as stipulated by the Mental Health Act, 1987. It also ordered the setting up of a monitoring cell under the Collector in every district to make sure that the homes conform to norms. The government also launched the District Mental Health Programme (DMHP) in Ramanatha-puram and Madurai districts, with help from such rehabilitation centres as Shristi in Madurai run by the M.S. Chellamuthu Trust under the guidance of the psychiatrist Dr. C. Ramasubramanian. The IMH is to be the nodal agency for the programme. The basic idea of the DMHP is to provide primary mental health services on a sustained basis and to put in place a system for early detection of mental disabilities and treatment.

Under the DMHP, the Ramanathapuram district administration conducted a survey of the district, identified over 25 handicapped and mentally challenged persons and provided them with a rehabilitation package that included treatment and vocational training. According to Ramanatha-puram Collector S. Vijayakumar, this programme will continue. Seven such centres for rehabilitating handicapped people, including the mentally challenged, are to be set up in the State soon.

In August 2001, soon after the Erwadi incident, the Supreme Court suo motu issued notices, on the basis of media reports on the tragedy, to the State and Central governments asking them to submit a "factual report" and ordered the mapping of all faith-healing homes in the country. This process is under way. The Centre also ordered the implementation of the guidelines for maintaining minimum standards in mental homes.

Says Dr. Ramasubramanian: "A piecemeal approach will not help the millions of hapless mentally ill people and their families. Treating the mentally ill does not stop with medicines. It involves a multi-dimensional approach including rehabilitation and integration into the family and society." This should be the approach of all mental hospitals, including the IMH. The complex problem of mental health care can be addressed only through a sustained programme of education and awareness generation, along with improving the infrastructure for treatment. It is important to expand, encourage and push community-based treatment and rehabilitation. The system of "care givers" started by the government early this year, by which youth in the rural areas are trained to take care of the mentally ill in the local areas, needs to be expanded. While the government seems to have taken some steps in the right direction, a lot depends on sustaining them.

The real Sarvarkar

The various political stances Vinayak Damodar Savarkar took after his arrest and deportation to the Andamans prove the hollowness of the claims equating him to martyrs like Bhagat Singh.

VEER SAVARKAR or, more correctly, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar is being remembered again in the context of the Port Blair Airport being named after him. Fittingly enough, it was another controversial 'hero' (L.K. Advani) who did the honours in the Andamans on May 4. Speaking on the occasion, Advani claimed that Savarkar's contribution to the Indian freedom movement is as great as that of, among others, Bhagat Singh. In the light of Advani's observation, it is worth examining Savarkar's views and his actions in and out of jail and bringing out the persona behind the public face.

In May 1904, Savarkar started the Abhinav Bharat (Young India) Society drawing inspiration from Giuseppe Mazzini's Giovanni Italia (Young Italy) Society. While in England, he founded the Free Indian Society with a commitment to overthrowing British rule in India. It was in England that Savarkar composed his magnum opus on the 1857 uprising, The Indian War of Independence. He exhorts his countrymen thus: "The real glory belongs to those heroes who thoroughly understood that foreign domination is worse than Swaraj - Swaraj, democratic or monarchial, or even anarchial - and thus came out to fight for independence... Those who understood this principle, those who fulfilled their duty to their religion and to their country... let their names be remembered, pronounced with reverence! Those who did not join them in the holy war, through indifference or hesitation, may their names never be remembered by their country. And, as for those who actually joined the enemy and fought against their own countrymen, may their names be for ever crushed."1

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After a member of the Free Indian Society killed an official in India Office (London), Savarkar was arrested and transported to the Andamans for life imprisonment. He reached the Andamans in 1910. He appealed for clemency in 1911, and again in 1913 during Sir Reginald Craddock's visit.

In a letter dated November 14, 1913, Savarkar said: "...if the government in their manifold beneficence and mercy release me, I for one cannot but be the staunchest advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English government which is the foremost condition of that progress... Moreover, my conversion to the constitutional line would bring back all those misled young men in India and abroad who were once looking up to me as their guide... The Mighty alone can afford to be merciful and therefore where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the government?"2

Conditions in the prison were no doubt harsh, but a few of the prisoners did face them courageously. Savarkar was not one of them. A brief account of these long-forgotten heroes is in order:

Nand Gopal, Editor of Swaraj (Allahabad), was sentenced to life for seditious writing. His successful passive resistance to the punishment of working the oil mill led to the first strike of the political prisoners. At about the same time, Hotilal, also associated with Swaraj, successfully smuggled to India his letter detailing the atrocities on them. This letter, published by Surendranath Banerjee in The Bengali, gave a glimpse of the prison life in the Andamans and created an uproar in the country.

There was another general strike in the prison during which 16-year-old Nanigopal, among others, risked caning and death to continue with a hunger strike. Ultimately, Savarkar started a hunger strike to force Nanigopal to back off. Savarkar's advice to Nanigopal revealed his mindset : "Do not die like a woman; if you must needs die, die fighting like a hero. Kill your enemy and then take leave of this world."3

Two strikes in quick succession and rumours about a bomb factory in the Andamans prompted Sir Craddock's visit. Unlike Savarkar, who in his petition pleaded only for himself, Nand Gopal pleaded for humane treatment of all the political prisoners. He said: "If the religious martyrdom practised by the enemies of Christianity against Christianity has not destroyed Christianity from the face of the globe, surely, political martyrdom shall not extirpate Indian nationalism from the holy soil of Bharatvarsha."4

Trailokya Nath Chakravarthi, who was transported to the Andamans as a prisoner in 1916, gives an interesting account of the reluctance of the Savarkar brothers (and a few other senior leaders) to join them in their civil disobedience movement. They were reluctant, according to Chakravarthi, because "they had wrung some concessions and privileges after a hard fight". Justifying his behaviour, Savarkar said: "And now to be put again in chains and solitary confinement, to go back to bad food and expose ourselves to caning, was to expect too much from us... The last and the most important reasons (sic) for my abstaining from it was that I would have forfeited thereby my right of sending a letter to India."5 and his various appeals for clemency suggest a possible breakdown of his resolve.

A clemency appeal per se does not make him any less of a hero. Maybe he was trying to trick the British into releasing him so that he could once again actively devote himself to the freedom movement, just as one of his heroes, Chatrapathi Sivaji, tricked his enemy. Such hopes were squashed in October 1939, when he made a stunning volte-face during his meeting with Lord Linlithgow: "But now that our interests were so closely bound together the essential thing was for Hinduism and Great Britain to be friends; and the old antagonism was no longer necessary. The Hindu Mahasabha, he went on to say, favoured an unambiguous undertaking of Dominion Status at the end of the war."6 Thus, his excuse for not participating in the struggle of the political prisoners - to protect himself so that he could participate in the freedom struggle after his release from prison - falls flat on its face. For reasons best known to him, he vowed in one of his petitions that he would make the Montague Chelmsford proposals of 1919, which fell short of the demands of the nationalists, "a success insofar as I may be allowed to do so in future"7. In 1942, after the launch of the Quit India movement, when Gandhiji asked people to renounce their government jobs, Savarkar ordered: "I issue this definite instruction to all Hindu Sanghatanists in general holding any post or position of vantage in the government services, should stick to them and continue to perform their regular duties."8

Worse still was his support to the Nazis. In August 1938, he spoke thus to a crowd of 20,000 in Pune: "Germany has every right to resort to Nazism and Italy to Fascism and events have justified that those isms and forms of governments were imperative and beneficial to them under the conditions that obtained there... But it should be made clear to the German, Italian, or Japanese public that crores of Hindu Sanghatanists in India whom neither Pandit Nehru or nor the Congress represents, cherish no ill-will towards Germany or Italy or Japan or any other country in the world simply because they had chosen a form of government or constitutional policy which they thought suited best and contributed most to their National solidarity and strength." And in March 1939, he said: "Only a few socialists headed by Pandit J. Nehru have created a bubble of resentment against the present Government of Germany, but their activities are far from having any significance in India. The vain imprecations of Mahatma Gandhi against Germany's indispensable vigour in matters of internal policy obtain but little regard insofar as they are uttered by a man who has always betrayed and confused the country with an affected mysticism."

Unlike Savarkar, whose love of the Nazis was born out of his obsession with the idea of "dictatorship of the majority", Subhas Chandra Bose allied with the Axis powers solely because of his nationalistic fervour. When asked how he could ally with the Nazis, he said: "It is dreadful, but it must be done. It is our only way out. India must gain her independence, cost what it may. Have you any idea, Mr. and Mrs. Kurti, of the despair, the misery, the humiliation of India? Can you imagine her suffering and indignation? British imperialism there can be just as intolerable as your Nazism here."9 There was never any convergence of views between the Nazis and Netaji. Believed as he did in armed struggle, circumstances forced him to ally with the more amenable imperialists.

THERE has been a lot of controversy regarding Savarkar's position on the two-nation theory. In October 1938, he dropped strong hints about the impossibility of the coexistence of Hindus and Muslims: "A nation is formed by a majority living therein. What did the Jews do in Germany? They being in minority were driven out from Germany." And in July 1939, he said: "Nationality did not depend so much on a common geographical area as on unity of thought, religion, language and culture. For this reason the Germans and the Jews could not be regarded as a nation." Later that year, in the 21st session of the Hindu Mahasabha, he laid all doubts to rest with his comment: "The Indian Muslims are on the whole more inclined to identify themselves and their interests with Muslims outside India than Hindus who live next door, like Jews in Germany." He justified his assertion when he said:"But besides culture the tie of common holyland has at times proved stronger than the chains of a Motherland. Look at the Mohammedans... Mecca to them is a stronger reality than Delhi or Agra. Some of them do not make any secret of being bound to sacrifice all India if that be to the glory of Islam or could save the city of their Prophet... History is too full of examples of such desertions... The crusades again attest to the wonderful influence that a common holyland exercises over peoples widely separated in race, nationality and language, to bind and hold them together."10

Savarkar defines a Hindu as one "who regards this land of Bharatvarsha, from the Indus to the Seas as his Father-Land as well as his Holy-Land that is the cradle land of his religion"11. He said: "So with the Hindus, they being the people, whose past, present and future are most closely bound with the soil of Hindusthan as Pitribhu (fatherland), as Punyabhu (holyland), they constitute the foundation, the bedrock, the reserved forces of the Indian state. Therefore even from the point of Indian nationality, must ye, O Hindus, consolidate and strengthen Hindu nationality; not to give wanton offence to any of our non-Hindu compatriots, in fact to any one in the world but in just and urgent defence of our race and land; to render it impossible for others to betray her to or subject her to unprovoked attack by any of those 'Pan-isms' that are struggling forth from continent to continent."12 The obvious conclusions are:

1. Since Muslims and Hindus do not possess "unity of thought, religion, language and culture", they cannot coexist.

2. Muslims' allegiance to India is weaker than their allegiance to their holyland (which lies outside of India), and so their patriotism is suspect.

3. Being the minority, Muslims need to be at the mercy of Hindus.

Getting rid of Muslims is also justified, for that was what the Germans did to the Jews.

Savarkar's support for the two-nation theory is confirmed by his assertion: "I have no quarrel with Mr Jinnah's two-nation theory. We, Hindus, are a nation by ourselves and it is a historical fact that Hindus and Muslims are two nations."13 This position is easy to understand for Savarkar maintained that India bereft of Muslims was relatively inert to sabotage from within. Savarkar's obsession with the dictatorship of the majority is evident from what he proclaimed in favour of a Jewish state despite his support to the Holocaust. He said, "If the Zionists' dreams are ever realised - if Palestine becomes a Jewish state and it will gladden us almost as much as our Jewish friends."14

Bhagat Singh's life provides a study in contrast. His commitment to his principles and his comrades was unwavering, as is evident from this letter to his father: "My life is not so precious, at least to me, as you may probably think it to be. It is not at all worth buying at the cost of my principles. There are other comrades of mine whose case is as serious as that of mine. We had adopted a common policy and we shall stand to the last, no matter how dearly we have to pay individually for it." In his last letter, he wrote: "According to the verdict of your court we had waged war and were therefore war prisoners. And we claim to be treated as such, i.e., we claim to be shot dead, and not hanged."

To summarise, Savarkar started out as a large-hearted revolutionary, abjectly renounced his principles in the Andamans, refused to join his fellow prisoners in their struggle there, stayed away from all anti-British activities after his release from prison, and, with his virulent anti-Muslim campaign, ended up helping the British in their policy of 'divide and rule'.

Savarkar was the embodiment of traits that one could do without, and needs to be remembered if only to serve as a caution to succeeding generations. How then should one treat him? As if to help one out of this predicament, he said, in his speech aimed at the Princes of India: "But anyone who might have actively betrayed the trust of the people, disowned his fathers, and debased his blood, by arraying himself against the Mother - he shall be crushed to dust and ashes, and shall be looked upon as a helot, a bastard, and a renegade."15

If the renaming of the Port Blair Airport was to acknowledge the sufferings of the political prisoners in the Andamans, a more apt name would have been that of Nand Gopal or Nani Gopal or Hotilal or Chakravarthi or one of the other unsung heroes. Coming as it did soon after the Gujarat pogrom, the renaming sends wrong signals to Muslims. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh recently declared: "Let Muslims understand that their real safety lies in the goodwill of the majority." This is an indication of Savarkar's continuing influence on the Hindutva brigade. Eulogising Savarkar, thus, only makes so much sense as eulogising Mahmud of Gazni.

Ra. Ravishankar is a doctoral student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, United States.

REFERENCES

1. V.D. Savarkar, The Indian War of Independence, page 544. 2. R.C. Majumdar, Penal Settlement in Andamans, pages 211-214, 3. V.D. Savarkar, My Transportation for Life, page 255. 4. Same as Reference 2, pages 208-211. 5. Same as Reference 3, page 390. 6. This quote and all unacknowledged quotes following it are taken from Marzia Casolari's essay, "Hindutva's foreign tie-up in the 1930s". 7. Facsimile of Savarkar's letter, Frontline, April 7, 1995, page 88. 8. A.G. Noorani, "The collaborators", Frontline, December 1, 1995. 9. K. Kurti, Subhas Chandra Bose as I knew him, page 11. 10. V.D. Savarkar, Hindutva, pages 135-136. 11. Ibid., page 116. 12. Ibid., page 140. 13. Ibid. 14. Indian Annual Register, 1943, Volume II. 15. Savarkar Commemoration Volume, page 82.

A new era in tennis

Wimbledon this year sees the fading out of old stars and the rise of new ones and also the return of the baseline game to the famed grass courts.

IT was a dull Wimbledon, even though it signalled the dawn of a new era. Two vibrant young champions, 21-year-old Lleyton Hewitt and 20-year-old Serena Williams emerged as the superstars of the future.

Top-seeded Hewitt, ranked No.1 in the world, stamped the fortnight with rare authority. He broke the classic serve-and-volley mould of former champions and dominated the tournament from the baseline. His fierce aggression is reminiscent of the great Jimmy Connors and he is the fastest player this writer has seen in five decades. Hewitt seemed like, as one of the newspapers put it, "an assassin with a mission". His one little 'wobble' during the championships occurred in the fifth set of his quarter-final encounter with the tall Dutchman Sjeng Schalken. Schalken fought back after he was down to two sets to love and his big groundshots had Hewitt scampering all over the court to level the match. In the closing stages of the final set Hewitt missed a few forehands and was visibly shaky. Pumping his fist and shouting 'Come on' at the top of his voice he found that little extra to close out the match 7-5 in the fifth.

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Hewitt's best match was in the semi-finals against Henman. After England's defeat in the World Cup soccer, British sporting hopes were lodged on the narrow shoulders of Tim Henman. Even the Queen in her jubilee year kept her Sunday free, hoping to see Henman in the finals. You can imagine the pressure on poor Henman. Henman played well, but failed to find the abandon and passion that stems from the deep faith of a champion. When the moment of truth comes and the sword is to be thrust deep and firmly, Henman is found wanting. Nevertheless, four semi-final appearances at Wimbledon is no mean achievement and deserves the highest praise.

David Nalbandian, an Argentine of Armenian extract, a tenacious baseliner, playing his first tournament on grass, reached the final. His best victory was against the giant left-handed Australian Wayne Arthurs who many fancied would reach the final from the bottom half of the draw with his big serve. Nalbandian's success was no less a fairy tale than Ivanisevic's victory in 2001.

The pony-tailed Xavier Malisse of Belgium, seeded 27, one place higher than Nalbandian, was the player of the lower half. Malisse's victories over Kafelnikov, seeded five, and Rusedski and Krajicek, the last two in five gruelling sets, sapped his strength, else he would surely have made the final. A fine all court player with a smooth game and a strong serve, Malisse could easily hit the top echelons of the game. But the best match in the lower half was the encounter between the two patched-up old gladiators, Richard Krajicek, 6'5", the champion of 1996, and Mark Philippoussis, 6'4", of Australia. For this writer, it was vintage Wimbledon stuff, as they served and volleyed through four tie breaking sets, before Krajicek wrapped it up at 6-4 in the fifth. Both players had been out of the game for sometime nursing injuries. But the smell of freshly mown grass and the scent of battle pumped up the old warriors to push the clock back and produce a scintillating encounter.

The dawn of a new era is inevitably linked to the end of the old era. Sampras and Agassi, the 'twin towers' of United States' tennis, fell in the first week. It was so sad to see Sampras, one of the greatest players of all time, slumped in his courtside chair after his second round loss to George Bastl, who got into the tournament as a lucky loser, having failed to win a place through the qualifying rounds. An indignant but bewildered Sampras said that he would be back and that he was not going out of the game on such a note. Alas, time has taken its toll and Pistol Pete has run out of ammunition.

Andre Agassi, always popular and charismatic, graciously blowing kisses to the crowd, seemed paralysed at the moment of defeat. The glazed look after his unexpected defeat to Shrichapan of Thailand reminded one of a knockedout prize fighter. Shrichapan, from the lazy 'klongs' of Bangkok, unleashed a thundering serve and sharp searing groundshots to outplay Agassi at his own game. He won the hearts of the Centre Court with his ready smiles and good behaviour. At the moment of victory Shrichapan bowed deep with folded hands, in traditional Thai custom, to all the four corners of the court to a standing ovation. From aggressive western hype with raised fist to oriental charm and humility was a welcome relief.

For the first time since 1922 the U.S. had no player in the last 16 of the men's singles. The new generation represented by Andy Roddick and James Blake succumbed to the serving power and volleying of experienced old-timers such as Rusedski and Krajicek respectively. Roddick is the much-touted future of U.S. tennis. Extremely talented, the 6'2" Roddick has all the credentials of a future champion. Only 12 seeds in the men's singles managed to reach the third round and almost all the matches were played from the baseline. The appearance of far more wear of grass at the baseline rather than at the 'T' junction of the service court, where volleyers perch before they strike, was irrefutable evidence of baseline domination. Tennis has reached a level of speed, accuracy and consistency that it has wiped out the serve-and-volley player. Invariably, the passing shots bring up the chalk beyond the range of the volleyer. But I still feel that on a fast grass the 'big bombers' with serves of 130 mph and above have the edge over the baseliners.

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THE ladies final took women's tennis to a new high. Serena's childlike smiling innocence belies the brutal aggression with which she plays every point. She does not grunt but roars like a martial arts fighter who is delivering the fatal blow. Her attitude is summed up by what she said when asked if she believed in luck. "I don't believe in luck. I just want to go out there and make it happen."

The Williams sisters are a class apart and are entrenched at the summit of the game. Their challengers, if you can call them that, are Jennifer Capriati, Amelie Mauresmo, Henin Davenport and Martina Hingis. The last two were injured while there seems to be no further scope for improvement in the case of Capriati and Mauresmo. The rest of the field are way down in the valley. To get to the summit they all need more physical strength and speed. This will mean more muscle and physical training. Feminine grace, or whatever is left of it, will be overcome with bulging thighs and bristling biceps and triceps. It seems too much of a price to pay that tennis will never again see the silken grace and elegance of the likes of Evonne Goolagong, Maria Bueno and Chris Evert. Significantly, the curvaceous pouting blonde Anna Kournikova always enjoyed a full house on whichever court she played, while the more skilled and higher-ranked players were ignored.

Mahesh Bhupathi won the mixed doubles with Elena Likkovsteva of Russia to keep the Indian flag flying at Wimbledon. It is a fantastic achievement. Quiet, well-behaved but full of resolve Bhupathi has done India proud and deserves the highest praise. In the men's doubles partnering Miruji, ranked in the twenties in singles, Mahesh lost to the eventual winners Bjorkman and Woodbridge in the quarter-finals. Leander Paes, unable to find a good partner in the men's doubles, lost in the first round, but reached the quarter-finals of the mixed doubles partnering Lisa Raymond with whom he won the title in 1999.

The BJP's choice

THE stage seems set for the Bharatiya Janata Party to have its own candidate elected Vice-President without much of a contest. Senior BJP leader and former Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat has emerged as the frontrunner. Undoubtedly, the Opposition parties will put up a contest, but as in the case of the presidential election, it will remain a fight over principles. In the electoral college which elects the Vice-President - comprising both Houses of Parliament - the odds are tilted heavily in favour of the National Democratic Alliance.

In keeping with its recent pattern, the BJP bulldozed its allies into accepting its choice; it decided on the nominee without even holding a discussion with its partners in the NDA. The allies approved the BJP's proposal at an NDA meeting held on July 15, the opening day of the monsoon session of Parliament. Interestingly, the agenda for the Vice-Presidential election was set by the Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, giving credence to the general impression that henceforth it will be he who will call the shots within both the party and the government.

Although the name of West Bengal Governor Viren Shah figured in discussions in the initial stages, besides those of Suraj Bhan and Bhai Mahavir, all former RSS pracharaks and Governors, the scale is tilted in favour of Shekhawat, Advani's personal choice. Besides, among all the names only Shekhawat can claim to have some semblance of support among other parties. "Shekhawatji will have a certain degree of acceptance among all parties, which is not the case with others. He has his own style of functioning; he can even carry his opponents along," said the newly appointed BJP spokesman and former Law Minister Arun Jaitley. "The announcement of his name remains a formality," said Jaitley.

The unambiguous stand of the BJP on the choice of the Vice-Presidential candidate has left its allies without too many options. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which initially seemed to be in favour of a second term for Krishan Kant, changed its mind. "We have not applied our mind to the issue as yet. We shall consider the issue at the appropriate time and our party president Chandrababu Naidu, will take a decision," said the TDP's leader in the Lok Sabha, K. Yerran Naidu. By not proposing any particular name, the TDP has made the BJP's task easier. Besides, the BJP has the unflinching support of its staunch ally, the Samata Party, which has said that it is the BJP's right to have its candidate elected as the Vice-President because it is the largest party in the alliance. "Only the BJP, being the largest party, has a right to this post," said Samata Party leader and Union Minister for Railways Nitish Kumar in an interview to a television channel. In view of the stand of these two bigger allies, the others will have no option but to fall in line.

Thus, armed with the support of its allies, the BJP has dispensed with the courtesy of consulting the Opposition to try and evolve a consensus. "For the Opposition parties, consensus means the choice of the minority segment, not that of the majority," said Jaitley, making it obvious that consultations with the Opposition parties were not on the cards, unlike in the case of the presidential election.

Although the Opposition remains fragmented in the wake of the presidential election, it is expected to join forces on the issue of the vice-presidential election. The Left parties hope that the entire Opposition will unite and give the NDA candidate a good fight. "Despite the bitter experience (with the Samajwadi Party and the Congress(I) during the presidential election), we are for a joint Opposition candidate to take on the NDA nominee," said the Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet. Sitaram Yechury, CPI(M) polit bureau member, said that the party had nothing against talking to the Congress or the Samajwadi Party. "It is they who left us," he said. The Samajwadi Party, on its part, though hurt by the criticism directed at it by CPI(M) leaders in the wake of the presidential nomination, said that it could "consider coming back" but that it would not take the initiative in the matter. "We will support any candidate whom the Opposition parties sponsor. But we will not take the initiative," said Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh. He said that though the Samajwadi Party had been treated shabbily by the Left on many occasions, "for the sake of Opposition unity" the party would support their candidate.

The problem, however, lies in finding a candidate to fight a losing battle. As Amar Singh put it, "they will have to look for another Lakshmi Sahgal". There are no names doing the rounds; not even that of Krishan Kant because he certainly will not agree to suffer the ignominy of a defeat.

Confusion prevails in the Congress party. Although party spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy declared bravely that there would "certainly be a contest," he did not offer any name. "We will arrive at a decision after consultations with other secular parties. The candidate will be an appropriate one," he said in reply to a question whether the Opposition candidate will be the choice of the Congress.

In fact, the Opposition remains clueless about its next move. With so much bitterness having been generated between the Left and the Samajwadi Party in the wake of presidential election, it would be interesting to see whether they would kiss and make up. Similarly, it would be interesting to watch the course that the Congress(I) will take in order to make peace with the Left because the party had bolted out of the Opposition camp at the eleventh hour to support A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. If nothing else, the vice-presidential election will at least provide a lesson in political jugglery.

The post falls vacant on August 20, and the election process should get over by August 12. The notification for the election has been issued by the Election Commission.

A new President

Although the numbers were on A.P.J. Abdul Kalam's side, the presence of Lakshmi Sahgal in the presidential race served to bring crucial issues centrestage.

"As a young citizen of India, armed with technology, knowledge and love for my nation, I realise, small aim is a crime."

THUS wrote A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in his Song of Youth on March 23, 2002, much before he was declared the presidential nominee of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). He always dared to aim high. The man, still overwhelmed by the realisation that somebody with humble origins like him can occupy the country's highest office, is ecstatic at the wonderful vagaries of Indian polity. "It feels fantastic," was all he would say gleefully to waiting mediapersons, as the voting for the President's post progressed at Parliament House on July 15.

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Since Kalam has the support of the ruling coalition and most of the Opposition, the result was a foregone conclusion. The sense of achievement was writ large on his face as he mingled freely with the Members of Parliament who had come to vote. He was equally at ease with the mediapersons, chatting with them but, characteristically, not saying much.

Of the 774 MPs, 26, six from the Rajya Sabha and 20 from the Lok Sabha, had sought permission to cast their votes in different State Assemblies. Prominent among them was Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary Vaiko, who has been arrested in Chennai under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Three Rajya Sabha and 10 Lok Sabha members could not vote, for various reasons. Among them were Dr. L.M. Singhvi and Rajiv Shukla (Rajya Sabha) and Renuka Chaudhary and Rajiv Ranjan 'Pappu' Yadav (Lok Sabha).

Captain Lakshmi, or Lakshmi Sahgal, the Left parties' nominee, who arrived from Kanpur just as the voting began, was a study in contrast. "It does not feel anything great. I still remember the day when Netaji had called us for the first meeting in 1943. It had appeared as if a whole new world had opened for us. It does not feel anything like that," the veteran freedom fighter told mediapersons. "Even before the contest began, we knew what the outcome was going to be. We were not expecting any miracles. But what is important is the fact that we have managed to raise the voice of the common man," she said.

Although the numbers were not on her side, Lakshmi Sahgal's presence did imbue the election with a new vigour; she forced her opponent to spell out his priorities and let the nation know where he stood on issues such as the review of the Constitution, secularism, Centre-State relations, Jammu and Kashmir and social justice. The nation knew him only as a nuclear scientist and the father of India's successful missile programme. But for the presidential race no one would have probably known what he thought of these issues. With a fighter like Lakshmi Sahgal in the fray, he could no longer afford to be anything but succinct.

The campaign too presented a study in contrast. While Lakshmi Sahgal took pains to meet personally members of the intelligentsia and political leaders across the country, seeking their support, Kalam preferred to do it through the Internet. He sent letters to all the members of the electoral college and posted a copy of the letter on the Net, which could be accessed on his homepage (http:\\www.apjabdulkalam.vsnl.com). He had personal interaction mainly with schoolchildren with a view to "igniting the mind to achieve the vision - Developed India".

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Lakshmi Sahgal, talking the language of politics, emphasised the fight against communalism and the politics of hatred. She was unsparing in her attack on the Congress(I) and its "politics of opportunism". In his election manifesto - if the six-page letter can be described as one - Kalam tried to put to rest some of the apprehensions that might have arisen because of the NDA's support for him. For instance, the issue of Constitution review. The Centre has in its possession an extensive report of the Committee to Review the Working of the Constitution, and there have been misgivings in the minds of many that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA government might tamper with the basic structure of the Constitution, notwithstanding public pronouncements to the contrary. Kalam's categorical views on this issue provided some reassurance. He said: "Parliamentary democracy is the core of our governance system, with the President as the Head of State and overall custodian of the Constitution... The basic structure of our Constitution has stood the test of time and shown itself to be having the vigour, vitality and eternal freshness that make it capable of meeting any challenge that new circumstances might hurl at it. At the same time, our Constitution is also innately resilient so as to be responsive to the demands of changing situations... We all need to zealously preserve this principle of change with continuity."

At his press conference, Kalam was less than clear on the issue of secularism. The views he expressed in his letter to the Members of Parliament came like a breath of fresh air, although he placed secularism low on his list of priorities, perhaps in deference to the sentiments of his main supporter, the BJP. It was the eighth item, immediately after Kashmir. Nevertheless, his views are important. He says: "Intolerance and violence in the name of religion is the worst form of irreligion. True religion is that Ocean of Spiritualism into which all faiths shine in brilliance. To people in politics and governance it teaches the message of leadership with compassion and fairness."

Kalam's views on Centre-State relations are likely to cheer those who argue for more powers to the States. He says he is for a strong Centre and strong States. "The time has come to devolve more powers to the States since decentralisation is the key to faster and more balanced development," he said.

On issues such as social and economic justice, women's empowerment, preserving the pluralistic diversity of India's heritage, natural resources and environment, arts, sports, literature, foreign policy, and Kashmir, Kalam voices politically correct and predictable views. But a notable feature is that he has tried to devote time to issues other than national security, which was his principal preoccupation until recently.

On national security, he says: "National security has to be recognised by every Indian as a national priority. Making India strong and self-reliant - economically, socially and militarily - is our foremost duty towards our Motherland." India, he says, suffered invasions in the past because it was not armed sufficiently. Now it should be in a position to defend itself. He, however, states that "our national security strategy is guided purely by defensive considerations. It poses no threat to any country in the world."

His manifesto ends with a call to transform India into a developed nation by the year 2020. "A developed India by 2020, or even earlier, is not a dream. It need not be a mere vision in the minds of many Indians. It is a mission we can all take up and succeed in," he says. His optimism stems from his faith in the youth whom he describes as the greatest assets of the country. They should be nurtured with all possible care so that they can develop as responsible and capable citizens of tomorrow, he says. "The ignited soul, compared to any resource, is the most powerful resource on the earth, above the earth and under the earth," Kalam wrote in his Song of Youth. Time only will tell whether he will succeed in igniting the souls to achieve his dream.

The Xerox confession

Xerox Corporation's Indian subsidiary is to be investigated for "improper payments" to government officials for procuring contracts to supply office equipment.

THE beleaguered reprography giant Xerox Corporation's announcement on July 1 that its Indian subsidiary Xerox ModiCorp Ltd had made "improper payments" to Indian government officials to procure contracts to supply office equipment was greeted with cynicism. Just a few months earlier the company had paid the biggest-ever penalty to the United States regulatory agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), for having defrauded investors by adopting dubious accounting practices.

In a filing made to the SEC in late June, Xerox Corporation stated: "In India, we learned of certain improper payments made over a period of years in connection with sales to government customers by employees of our majority-owned subsidiary in that country." The company had earlier restated five years of results in one of a series of accounting scandals that rocked the U.S. in recent months.

The SEC filing stated that Xerox stopped the payments in 2000 when it became aware of them. "We estimate the amount of such payments in 2000, the year the activity was stopped, to be approximately $600,000 to $700,000," it said. (This amounts to Rs.2.95 crores to Rs.3.4 crores at current rates of exchange.) Media reports, quoting company sources, indicated that payments of $200 (about Rs.9,840) per "deal" were made to government officials for the supply of equipment.

After Xerox's own admission of pay-offs, it would have been embarrassing for the Indian authorities to remain quiet. Finance Minister Jaswant Singh ordered a probe on the day he took over the reins of the Ministry. The Department of Company Affairs, also under his charge, announced its own probe. Secretary in the Department of Company Affairs (DCA) V.K. Dhall said he had ordered a "limited inspection" of the company's account books under Section 209A of the Companies Act. "Further action," he said, "would be taken against the company after the completion of inspection work." Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Arun Jaitley, who until recently headed the department, said: "If what has been stated by Xerox is true, it is a serious violation of Indian laws and requires an investigation."

Other government agencies, among them the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) and the Income Tax Department, also promised to investigate the matter. The CBI is also reported to have decided to gather intelligence about the beneficiaries.

There is speculation that the pay-offs could have reached either officials in the Directorate General of Supplies and Disposal (DGS&D), which is entrusted with the task of stipulating prices and norms for government purchases, or those of departments and Ministries that decided the quantities of office equipment to be purchased in 2000.

In April the SEC filed a suit against Xerox Corporation alleging that the company ran a "wide-ranging four-year scheme to defraud investors" between 1997 and 2000. A senior SEC official said: "Xerox used its accounting to burnish and distort operating results rather than to describe them accurately."

THE crux of the complaint relates to seven different accounting actions used, in what Xerox described as mechanisms to "close the gap" between the company's operating results and Wall Street's expectations between 1997 and 2000. The accounting jugglery was aimed at inflating current revenues of the company.

The SEC slapped a penalty of $10 million, the largest ever imposed by it on a publicly owned company in a case of financial fraud. Indeed, Xerox's latest filing before the SEC was part of the settlement that it reached with the SEC in April, whereby Xerox agreed to restate its financial results for the period between 1997 and 2000.

In late 1999, Xerox took a controlling stake in Xerox ModiCorp, the successor to Modi-Xerox, which was a joint venture between Xerox and the B.K. Modi Group. The joint venture with a 40:40 equity partnership commenced in 1983, selling copiers, scanners, fax machines and other office equipment. Although it had a dominant share in the copier market, it has been under pressure from competition in recent years. The shares of Xerox ModiCorp have been delisted from Indian bourses. While Xerox holds a 68 per cent stake, ModiCorp (renamed SpiceCorp in January 2002) holds 28 per cent and the remaining 4 per cent is in the hands of the public. Xerox ModiCorp's board has nine members, including six from Xerox Corporation and three from the B.K. Modi group. The board is headed by Jule Limoli, a Xerox Corporation nominee. Xerox ModiCorp reported revenues of $108 million in the fiscal year ended March 2002.

Xerox has tried to pin the blame for the pay-offs on its former Indian partner, but this is unlikely to wash because the facts are stacked against the U.S. company. By 2000, it was firmly in the saddle at Xerox-ModiCorp, having acquired a controlling stake the previous year. Moreover, the Modi group has asserted that the company being a "board-managed" one, its actions were scrutinised at all times by Xerox's own representatives on the board.

Meanwhile, in the wake of this scandal, the credit rating agency CRISIL has downgraded Xerox ModiCorp's Rs.100-crore commercial paper programme and the Rs.13.5-crore and Rs.20-crore non-convertible debenture programmes.

Significantly, the problems with the Indian subsidiary are not the only ones that Xerox has mentioned in its recent filings to the SEC. It has admitted that the earnings of its affiliate in South Africa may have been improperly booked. It has also admitted to problems with respect to tax payments by its affiliate in Brazil, to the tune of $380 millions.

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Oct 9,2020