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COVER STORY

09-12-2001

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Briefing

MULTIPLE WOES

A mounting list of omissions and commissions, and consequent controversies and embarrassments, is haunting the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre, forcing even its apologists to concede that it is facing a crisis of credibility.

'NO comment' was the terse response of M. Venkaiah Naidu, although his one-time predecessor as Bharatiya Janata Party president, Murli Manohar Joshi, was all decorous hand-wringing. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee roused himself to issue some perfunctory words of deprecation. But his deputy Lal Krishna Advani, once again confronted with evidence of the extremism that flourishes behind his facade of cultivation, chose to evade the issue.

From afar, Advani condemned the recent carnage in Gujarat as "outrageous and indefensible" before an audience in London. His decisive words, which made no concessions at all to the notion of just retribution for the Godhra outrage, were, as commentators in London observed, the minimum required by political decency. But upon arriving back in India, Advani was to prove rather more indulgent towards his proteges in Gujarat.

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For those who imagined that they had already seen the worst, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has proved that he has the miraculous ability to plumb newer and unsuspected depths. Frustrated in his bid to seek an electoral triumph in an environment surcharged with fear and vengefulness, Modi has directed his ire at the constitutional processes that govern the conduct of elections itself. And he has done so in a manner that focusess public attention on the religious identity of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), suggests a collusive intent on the basis of this identity, and crudely urges the "majority" who share a different religious affiliation to thwart this intent.

Modi's utterances earned him the swift condemnation of parties and individuals more sensitive to the proprieties of politics. While any personal attack on the CEC for his "official conduct" would be "unconscionable", to target him on the basis of his religion was "intolerable" said the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The episode, it continued, exposed "Modi's fascist mentality towards the minorities and should enable the entire country to understand what is at the root of the problem in Gujarat today". The silence of the BJP leadership on the issue was, in this connection, "revealing" of its true intentions.

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Congress spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy condemned Modi's comments as "fascist and indecent", and former Prime Minister V.P. Singh reacted in like vein. The target of Modi's vituperation, meanwhile, disdainfully gave the "party with a difference" the back of his hand. Modi's outburst about his supposed religious affiliations was "despicable", said CEC J.M. Lyngdoh. Politicians with a minimal exposure to liberal values could not appreciate the fact that he was an atheist, for whom religion was immaterial in personal and public matters. And the criticism that had been levelled against the Election Commission's unanimous decision not to conduct elections in Gujarat in accordance with the BJP's convenience, was the "gossip of menials", added Lyngdoh.

The relatively low-profile CEC has a reputation for being a good listener. He speaks little but is known to use his words with telling effect. Nobody with any good sense has questioned his right to defend his honour against the vicious slander unleashed by Modi. But in the limited moral horizons of the BJP, his riposte, which has been reasonable and dignified in comparison, has been rendered into a retrospective justification of Modi's outburst.

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Thus Murli Manohar Joshi characterised some of Lyngdoh's statements as being hurtful to political sensibilities, and the BJP's senior parliamentarian Vijay Kumar Malhotra interpreted the Prime Minister's admonition as applying equally to both Lyngdoh and Modi.

The silence of the BJP and its very grudging concessions to propriety are not out-of-character. The party is today embarked upon a trajectory in the abuse of power that has had few parallels in the past. Apologists concede that the BJP is facing a crisis of credibility today, though they insist that this is just a temporary loss of direction. That plea may have been halfway convincing till about mid-July when the party went through a highly touted change of guard. That was supposed to mark a turning point in the BJP's fortunes, bringing a new dynamism to its functioning as a political organism, while imparting a fresh resolve and purpose to the government machinery. What has happened in fact is that the reshuffle was only the signal for the knives to come out, for dormant factional animosities and jealousies to surface with a fresh vengeance. And even as the BJP plumbs the depths, the top leadership is uneasily aware that further organisational and ministerial changes may be necessary in the near future - in key northern States in particular - which could further aggravate the internal turmoil.

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That party president Venkaiah Naidu should be oblivious to the crass conduct of the Gujarat Chief Minister is perfectly understandable in this context. He has been preoccupied with extricating himself from allegations of a most indecorous land grab in Hyderabad. Clearly, he was highly discomfited, proving rather obtuse about his larger responsibilities even after he made a belated effort to regain the pretence of moral righteousness by returning five acres (about 2 hectares) of land originally meant for distribution among the poor and the landless.

Murmurs of disgruntlement continued for days after Venkaiah Naidu renounced all title to the land that he had illicitly held for over two decades. Within his local party unit in Andhra Pradesh, unflattering contrasts were drawn with the swift justice that was meted out to Bangaru Laxman after he was played for a dupe by investigative journalists from the web-based newsmagazine tehelka.com. It was hardly the best advertisement for a party seeking to project its sensitivity towards the weaker sections that Laxman, a Dalit, was denied the wide latitude that Venkaiah Naidu enjoyed to cover up evidence of the abuse of power.

The revelations about Venkaiah Naidu were only one among a torrent that emerged in mid-August about irregular allotments of land to individuals and institutions from the larger Hindutva family (story on page 18). Factional animosities within the ranks were unmistakable in the authorship of the media leaks in this regard. But there was little ambiguity about the beneficiaries of the large-scale parcelling out of prime real estate, particularly in the national capital - Vijay Goel, Ananth Kumar, and other figures recently risen to prominence within the BJP's higher councils. And the artifices involved in obtaining the benefits were also surprisingly transparent and limited, reflecting a certain poverty of imagination. The cause of advancement of culture and education, particularly when qualified by the "Bharati" touch that is characteristic of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh front organisations, was adequate to obtain large tracts of land in Delhi at knocked down or negligible prices.

Union Petroleum Minister Ram Naik, another BJP luminary to see his moral halo vanish recently, was meanwhile seeking to spread public opprobrium thin. Though only called upon to account for gross irregularities in the assignment of petroleum products distribution agencies under his tenure, he seemed intent on subjecting the entire process of allotments since 1983 to an inquisitorial probe. The moral escape hatch was being readied even as the government equivocated over its early resolve to cancel all such agencies allotted under Ram Naik: irregularities in the past warrant their continuance into the indefinite future; the BJP, as a late entrant to the portals of governance, deserves equal opportunities for illegal aggrandisement; and the abuses of the system that evolved gradually over the preceding five decades will be replicated and multiplied within a concentrated time span by the "party with a difference".

Alongside the assertion of this determination, the BJP is recycling an old strategy of political mobilisation that served it well in the quest of power. Blending wounded Gujarati pride, majoritarian religious disquiet and the BJP's moral crisis into a lethal cocktail, Modi is set to start a motorised odyssey, titled the "gaurav yatra", early in September. It is of course a part of received tradition that individuals in junctures of moral confusion and uncertainty undertake journeys of introspection, often to centres of religious piety. But there is little that is introspective about Modi's yatra of intimidation.

In the midst of this clamour of extremism, the man who pioneered the yatra as a tactic of mobilisation and intimidation, maintains an enigmatic silence. And if his more substantive political statements of the last few months were to be documented, they would amount to a formidable litany of double-speak, even by his standards. Just a few weeks before decisively condemning the Gujarat events before an audience in London, Advani had in Parliament commended Modi for the speed and dispatch with which he brought the situation in that State under control. The people of Gujarat, he asserted in the Rajya Sabha, would reward Modi with a suitable mandate when they went to the polls to elect a new Assembly.

Just days before he left for his London visit, Advani had rallied the faithful in their hour of crisis, denouncing the vile conspiracy by Opposition parties to undermine the image and the internal solidarity of the BJP, and asserting that the BJP was indeed the "party with a difference". A ticklish new problem had been posed for him just a few days earlier, with the wife of the principal accused in the 1999 murder of a Delhi-based journalist, levelling accusations of culpability against his senior Cabinet colleague Pramod Mahajan (story on page 20). And included in his broad sweep of condemnation were the criticisms of the Gujarat Chief Minister that had been voiced not merely by Opposition parties but even by constitutional bodies such as the National Human Rights Commission and the E.C., and by a host of concerned citizens' groups.

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It has long been evident that without Advani's patronage, Modi could not have survived so long as Chief Minister and gone about his campaign of calumny against constitutional bodies with quite the same degree of impunity. It is in this context that Advani's silence within domestic forums about the events in Gujarat - indeed, his endorsement of Modi's practical and verbal excesses - acquires menacing dimensions.

IF the reshuffle of organisational and ministerial responsibilities in July signalled the rapidly receding Vajpayee, subsequent events have shown him to be the rapidly diminishing Prime Minister, in terms of both moral and political authority. This was underlined when the Shiv Sena chieftain Bal Thackeray from distant Mumbai contrived to force the resignation of the Union Minister for Power, Suresh Prabhu, and virtually dictate who his successor should be. Ministerial performance was clearly not the criterion in this switch. Rather, it was quite transparently the financial utility of a ministerial post to the party that sponsors the incumbent.

Dissensions within the larger National Democratic Alliance, meanwhile, continue to simmer. Mamata Banerjee, the leader of the Trinamul Congress, is devoid of options and knows not where to go. But she would clearly like to be elsewhere and may be waiting for an opportune moment to renew her overtures to the Congress. Her persistence in confronting Railway Minister Nitish Kumar over his proposals for a reorganisation of the railway system is yet to yield dividends. But her pressure has clearly forced Nitish Kumar to yield ground elsewhere. Mamata Banerjee has for long been arguing that the NDA's quiescence in the face of Nitish Kumar's proposals is directly attributable to his role in covering up the true story behind the Godhra outrage in February. Late in August, after a suspicious and unexplained delay, the Railway Ministry released the list of passengers who had been booked on board the S-6 bogey of the Sabarmati Express that was burnt at Godhra that day.

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After the report of the forensic science experts which indicated that the fire on board the S-6 compartment could not have been set off after pouring incendiary material into it from outside, the passenger list has once again fuelled speculation. It is now learnt that of the 52 passengers who were reserved to travel by S-6, 41 survived the blaze and in fact, 32 boarded other coaches. Most of the passengers in S-6 were booked to board not from Faizabad, where the Vishwa Hindu Parishad was mobilising its forces for an assault on the site of the Babri Masjid, but from later points in the journey.

AS the sporadic information about Gujarat begins to fall in place, the intermittent attacks by the BJP on the Constitution and its principal trustees begin to acquire the character of a systematic campaign. And as the BJP begins to brazen out its desperate moral crisis, the Opposition parties have started formulating their common strategies. A rare assertion of consensus across the political spectrum was witnessed recently when President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam returned an ordinance drafted by the Law Ministry, amending the Representation of the People Act in certain crucial respects. The President acted on the basis of sound advice proffered by constitutional experts sensitive to the public interest. But the Union Cabinet reiterated its advice to the President without offering any of the clarifications requested, on the grounds that there was broad political consensus over the provisions of the ordinance (story on page 8).

There followed a rather feeble protest by the Congress that this was not really the case. But clearly, the time for the Congress to step up to the challenge is rapidly approaching. The pretensions of the "party with a difference" have crumbled irretrievably. But it can still do considerable damage to the political fabric as it goes down. No longer can the Opposition afford the paralysis that comes with knowing that the BJP could always divert attention from its rampant misdemeanours today by pointing to similar abuses in the past.

Ordeal over an ordinance

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam gives his assent to the Representation of the People (Amendment) Ordinance after the Union Cabinet resubmits it to him without answering any of his queries.

THE Representation of the People (Amendment) Ordinance was notified after a reluctant President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam gave his assent to it on August 24, following the Union Cabinet's decision to resubmit it to him without making any changes in its draft as proposed by him. Earlier Kalam had returned the draft ordinance submitted by the Union Cabinet on August 16, suggesting that it did not incorporate the recommendations made by the Supreme Court in its May 2 judgment in Association of Democratic Reforms vs Union of India (Frontline, August 2). Kalam had reportedly noted that the provisions of the ordinance seeking information from candidates "are not wholly in consonance with the prescriptive requirements laid down by the Supreme Court". Of the three areas of information specified by the court - criminal antecedents, financial background, and educational qualifications - the draft ordinance incorporated "substantially" only the points relating to criminal offences, Kalam had pointed out.

The President, it appears, took objection to the fact that in respect of the requirement of declaration of assets and liabilities, the ordinance "stipulated such declaration to be made only by elected candidates and not by contesting candidates". He pointed out that the court's stipulation that the assets of not only the candidate but those of the spouse and dependents should be declared has not been covered in the draft ordinance. He also observed that the ordinance was silent on the court's directive that candidates be made to disclose their educational qualifications.

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In its meeting held to consider Kalam's communication on August 24, the Cabinet decided to request the President to give assent to the ordinance in its existing form under Article 123. The decision received backing from one Opposition party, and this lent legitimacy to the government's claim. Samajwadi Party (S.P.) president Mulayam Singh Yadav was unusually harsh on Kalam, for whose presidential nomination he took pride in lobbying. He described Kalam's reluctance to give assent to the ordinance on which the country's political parties were unanimous as being against the basic spirit of the Constitution. Mulayam Singh went on to suggest that it was against the dignity of the President's office and against the soul of the Constitution for a President to return an ordinance for reconsideration on the basis of incomplete information and on the advice of so-called intellectuals who have no understanding of the practical functioning of Indian politics. The reference was to the delegation of the National Campaign for Electoral Reforms, which called on the President to prevail upon him to refuse assent to the ordinance. The delegation, which included Rajinder Sachar, former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, Kuldip Nayar, senior journalist and Member of the Rajya Sabha, and L.C. Jain and Jayaprakash Narayan of the Lok Satta Movement, appears to have influenced Kalam's decision. In future, the President better be mindful of the constitutional traditions before embarking on such steps, Mulayam Singh warned.

The government's claim of political consensus on the draft ordinance is based on the outcome of the two all-party meetings held in New Delhi on July 8 and August 2. At the August 2 meeting, the government claimed that there was consensus on two points: one, conviction by a court for a criminal offence alone should be the basis for the disqualification of a candidate, and therefore, the proposed Section 8B of the RPA - providing for disqualification of a candidate, if charged with two heinous offences - should be kept out of the draft Bill. The Ordinance omits this proposal.

Secondly, the government claimed that all parties agreed that candidates should declare their assets and liabilities after their election to the presiding officers of the House to which they are elected. However, this agreement reflects several interpretations of the Supreme Court's judgment and the E.C.'s July 28 order. The Left parties, for instance, questioned the relevance of the view that furnishing information regarding assets and educational qualifications to contest elections or even to cast votes, although they did not dispute the right of the voter to seek this information. As it is easy for a voter to seek information about the educational background of a candidate there seems to be little sense in making this requirement mandatory, as it could be misused against political opponents. Again, it is only a minuscule section of the elected representatives who may not have a certain level of educational qualification. The Supreme Court's directive seems to assume that educational qualifications indicate a candidate's suitability to become a law-maker, and this is open to question and debate.

The court, curiously, did not examine the plausible argument that seeking the details of educational qualifications of candidates would have a bearing on their competence and suitability, and projecting the same to the public could deny a level playing field and threaten the chances of free and fair polls.

Again, the court did not consider the E.C.'s plea that Parliament and State legislatures are seized of this and may enact laws requiring the filing of returns by Ministers and legislators after they take the oath of office.

It is difficult to say that the ordinance would be violative of the Supreme Court's judgment, as Kalam seems to have assumed. The court, in its May 2 judgment, had stated that voters were entitled to know that their representative (it did not appear to have meant candidates) had not misconducted himself/herself in collecting wealth after his/her election (not earlier). In fact, the E.C. had pointed out in its affidavit before the court significant practical problems in requiring candidates to declare their assets (Frontline, August 2).

The Congress(I) revealed that it wanted the court's judgment and the E.C.'s order to be enforced. It said Congress(I) president and Leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi had written to Jayaprakash Narayan, who had sought a clarification, that the party was only opposed to the E.C.'s move to empower the returning officers (R.O.s) to reject nominations on the basis of the proposed reforms. But at the two all-party meetings the Congress(I) did not oppose, in principle, the proposal to declare the assets of candidates who got elected. Nor did it question seriously the draft Bill's omission to guarantee the voter's right to know the educational background of the candidates. The party's public opposition to the ordinance, therefore, was intriguing. The Trinamul Congress, which is on the verge of pulling out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), has also questioned the Government's claims of consensus over the draft Bill.

The ordeal over the ordinance stems from the government's failure to introduce the Bill and seek a debate on it in the monsoon session of Parliament. The government slated it for introduction in the last week of the session. However, the House could not function during that week because the government's intransigence to yield to the Opposition's demand for the resignation of Petroleum Minister Ram Naik over the petrol pump allotment scandal.

D. Raja, national secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI), expressed the opinion that there was no need to promulgate the ordinance in haste, overruling the President's objections, as the election process in Jammu and Kashmir had already begun. The CPI agrees with the provisions of the ordinance, but would oppose it if the ordinance empowers the R.O.s to reject nominations arbitrarily. CPI(M) leader Somnath Chatterjee believed that if the President sought certain clarifications on the ordinance, the government should have responded to him, as he had the right to seek information and clarification.

The promulgation of the ordinance has given the misleading impression that political parties of various persuasions have come together to slow down the cleansing of the poll process. The impression may not be valid if one understands the Supreme Court's judgment and the E.C.'s order in the proper perspective.

Was Kalam wrong in returning the draft ordinance and later signing it, after it was resubmitted to him? The proviso introduced into Article 74 (1) by the 44th Amendment Act gives him little scope to act otherwise. Article 74(1) requires the President to act in accordance with the advice tendered to him by the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister. Under the proviso to this Article, "the President may require the Council of Ministers to reconsider such advice, either generally or otherwise, and the President shall act in accordance with the advice tendered after such reconsideration."

Critics may argue that the Union Cabinet, by not responding to any of Kalam's queries, did not actually "reconsider" the ordinance. Since Kalam signed the resubmitted ordinance, it was clear that he did not believe there was any other option available to him. Some people like Jayaprakash Narayan have suggested that he could have referred the matter to the Supreme Court under Article 143 for its advisory opinion. However, he could not have done so without the Cabinet's advice. Alternatively, he could only expect Parliament to debate the merits of the queries he had raised, when it takes up the Bill to replace the ordinance.

Boast and bluff

cover-story
DIONNE BUNSHA

WHEN the lights went out, spine-chilling screams echoed in the by-lanes where the refugees lived in hiding. Gujarat was hit by a major power blackout on July 30. Mass hysteria gripped Vadodara and Ahmedabad. Children, traumatised by the recent violence, cried throughout the night. Rumours about renewed attacks spread quickly. In some parts of Ahmedabad, there were skirmishes and incidents of stone-throwing.

Not what you would call 'normal'? Is it?

It does not take much to disturb the fragile calm in Gujarat. Most of the estimated 1.5 lakh displaced people have yet to come to terms with the horror of what they experienced. They have not yet been able to get back to their homes or their jobs. Although the Bharatiya Janata Party government has shut down the relief camps, they still live around the camps or with relatives.

The government is not bothered about rehabilitating the displaced. There is only one point on its agenda - the Assembly elections. After supporting the violence, it is now in a hurry to count votes over the dead bodies.

Luckily, there has been a voice of sanity. After visiting Gujarat from August 9 to 11, Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh and Election Commissioners B.B. Tandon and T.S. Krishnamurthy refused to allow the State government to go ahead with the polls in early October. They said that the State government was "not in a position to conduct free and fair elections". In its report released on August 16, the Election Commission (E.C.) explained: "Victims would be extremely wary of going to the polling stations to cast their votes fearing risk to their life and property. Many others would obviously be physically prevented from going to the polling stations." The E.C. said that it would consider framing an election schedule only in December, after the electoral rolls were revised.

The E.C. report said that the electoral rolls, as revised during late 2001 and in early 2002, do not reflect the situation on the ground. "Elections cannot be held on the basis of the existing electoral rolls, which are defective to a considerable extent. Any election held on the basis of these defective rolls would deprive a substantially large number of electors who have been displaced from their homes. These electoral rolls may also give an opportunity to unscrupulous elements to resort to bogus voting in the name of electors who are either dead or are no longer resident in the polling areas/constituencies concerned," it says.

The report shatters the BJP government's claims that the violence was restricted to a few parts of the State. While warning Lyngdoh not to 'exceed his brief', BJP national general secretary Arun Jaitley had insisted that 98 per cent of the State was "unaffected by violence". However, the E.C. report pointed out that the Gujarat government had itself declared 20 of the 25 districts as "riot-affected". Free rations are being supplied in these districts to people with "below poverty line" ration cards. Of the 182 Assembly constituencies, 154 were affected by violence.

A day after the E.C. report was released, 10 persons were injured in a riot in Dhoraji town in Rajkot. The riot started with an argument when two rickshaws collided. A curfew was imposed in the town. This riot highlighted the uneasy calm that prevails in most of Gujarat. Nerves are still highly strung. Even a simple incident can suddenly take a violent turn.

In August, Gujarat played host to two VIP visits - President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam's and the Election Commissioners'. But the two visits could not have been more different. The President was given a government-guided tour. The E.C. made extensive, independent assessments of the camps and the riot-hit areas. The Election Commissioners were among the few visitors who did a thorough field study. What they saw shocked them.

Lyngdoh created a furore in Gujarat. He castigated several government officers for misguiding him. "Are you a joker?" he asked Vadodara District Collector Bhagyesh Jha during a visit to the Noor Complex in Tarsali. "You say only sporadic incidents took place here when 185 houses were burned." When Jha gave Lyngdoh wrong information about the burning of Best Bakery, he asked him, "Aren't you ashamed of yourself?" At a meeting with top bureaucrats, he lost his cool when Chief Secretary G. Subba Rao told him that the situation in the State was 'normal'. "You call this normal? You have the temerity to say so. Have you been to the relief camps? I suggest that you go to the relief camps and stay there for two days," he said. With a fascist party in power, Lyngdoh is the lone constitutional functionary who has dared to speak the truth, rather than engineer a cover-up.

The next day the government staged a guided tour for the Abdul Kalam. Just before his visit a road was built, leading to the widows' home at Juhapura and the goverment hurriedly distributed long-overdue compensation cheques. As the President was taken through the motions, dissenters were kept away. Sharif Khan, an organiser of the Shah Alam camp, had been arrested a day before the visit. The police were afraid he would "cause trouble" by "inciting refugees" to tell the President something the government did not want him to hear.

Fr. Cedric Prakash, a human rights activist, was given a police pass and was invited to speak with Kalam at Naroda Patiya, where one of the most brutal crimes occurred. Just before the President appeared, Prakash was whisked away by the police. Ahmedabad Collector K. Srinivasan wanted to avoid any embarrassment that Fr. Prakash might cause the administration. Many others who wanted to talk to the President were also kept away.

During his visits to the Haj House relief camp, the Juhapura widows' home and Naroda Patiya in Ahmedabad, officials made Kalam hurry up, before people had a chance to vent their grievances. Whenever people spoke to him, Kalam listened silently. He did not make any promises. He only asked officials to ensure that the children could return to schools. Chief Minister Narendra Modi accompanied Kalam. It was the first time Modi was visiting these places. His team tried to steer the President clear of the horrific realities in Gujarat.

MODI has arrogantly persisted with the Hindutva hardline. With an eye on the elections he prematurely dissolved the Assembly on July 19. Now, he will start an election campaign on September 3 with the BJP's 'Gujarat gaurav yatra'. The yatra was scheduled for July but had to be postponed after the National Human Rights Commission objected to it. The NHRC feared that such a parade could reignite communal violence.

The Gujarat government's boasts have been exposed by the E.C. But the BJP persists with its pride parade.

A historic document

A.G. NOORANI cover-story

The Election Commission's Order on elections to the Gujarat Assembly records the actual situation in the State and exposes claims made by the State government and the Centre. The document should prove a significant input for the Supreme Court, before which the Presidential Reference on the subject now lies.

Woh baat saare fasane men jis ka zikr na tha Woh baat unko bohat nagavar guzri hai (The matter that did not figure in the entire story was the one that had offended her most).

- Faiz Ahmad Faiz

THE Election Commission of India's Order of August 16, 2002 on elections to the Gujarat Assembly aroused the wrath of the Bharatiya Janata Party not because it violates the Constitution, but because it records in meticulous detail the actual situation in the State even five months after the massacre of Muslims there. In doing so, it exposed the sheer mendacity of the claims by its governments, in the State and at the Centre, and its spokesmen in both places that the situation has returned to normal.

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The order is truly a historic document. On August 17, Union Law Minister K. Jana Krishnamurthi said: "Though I do not agree to the Election Commission's decision, I am bound by the decision." Going to court against it was not going to "benefit anybody in any manner". One hopes that the Supreme Court's response to the President's reference to the court for an advisory opinion on the legal issues under Article 143 of the Constitution will prove his remark to be prophetic.

The bulk of the order (pages 12-35) is a recital of facts recorded by the E.C. based on eyewitness accounts. It first sent a nine-member team of senior officers, headed by two of its Deputy Election Commissioners S. Mendiratta and A.N. Jha. They visited, from July 31 to August 4, 12 out of the 25 districts in the State covering a large part of the affected areas. The order records: "On the basis of its on-the-spot study of the ground situation, the team observed that the electoral rolls in the State, which had been revised with reference to 1st January, 2002 as the qualifying date, had become very defective as a large number of electors included therein had moved out of the houses wherein they were ordinarily resident during the riots and had not returned, their houses having been totally demolished/damaged/burnt and the law and order situation having not become conducive for their return to their original places of ordinary residence. The team found that there was still a sense of insecurity pervading the minds of such displaced persons and it was evident that under such a fear psychosis, they could not be expected to run the gauntlet and go to the polling stations to cast their vote. The team felt that any election on the basis of such defective electoral rolls and in a such traumatic situation would not only deprive the electors concerned of exercising their franchise but would also give an opportunity to unscrupulous elements to cast bogus votes in the names of those absentee voters."

Their reports impelled the full E.C. - Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh and the Commissioners, B.B. Tandon and T.S. Krishnamurthy - to visit Ahmedabad and Vadodara from August 9 to 11. They met officials from the Gujarat Chief Secretary downwards, representatives of political parties, non-governmental organisations manning relief camps, their inmates and a diverse array of persons. "On such on-the-spot examination and study of the situation, the full Commission found that the situation was indeed bad as reported by the team and that the conditions in the State were not conducive at all for holding any free and fair election for the present."

On this ground alone the Reference merits a speedy return by the court. For, if the facts recorded are true, a free and fair election is simply not possible in the State. The E.C.'s version can be controverted only by an equally detailed statement of the facts based on evidence. And it is well settled that the Supreme Court will decline to give an advisory opinion under Article 143 if the facts are contested and recording of evidence is necessary. Pages 3 to 10 of the Order touch on issues of law. However, pages 36 to 40 contain detailed directions which have to be carried out if the polls are to have any meaning. Surely no court will override the discretion of this quasi-judicial body on the steps it considers necessary to secure that result.

Moreover, the court's advice is not binding. It does not operate as res judicata (final settlement of the issue) (H.M. Seervai, Constitutional Law of India; Fourth Edn. page 2,688). In Re: Presidential Elections ((1974) 2 Supreme Court Cases 33) a seven-member Bench ruled unanimously: "This Court cannot go into disputed questions of fact in its advisory jurisdiction under Article 143 (1)" (para 37; page 55). That reference turned on the main issue whether the election to the office of the President must be completed before the expiry of the term of office notwithstanding the fact that the Gujarat Assembly was dissolved. SCC recorded (at page 38): "On behalf of the intervener, Jana Sangh, its president Shri L.K. Advani requested the Supreme Court to refuse to exercise its advisory jurisdiction unless the terms of the reference were modified and the Government 'unservedly commits itself' to abide by the Court's opinion. He stated that 'this reference had not been made by reasons of any bona fide doubt existing in the mind of the Government', but with a view to securing judicial approval for a 'course of political action the Government has already decided on'. The Supreme Court has discretionary powers to decline to express its opinion in this reference as per the law laid down to Re Kerala Education Bill and some other cases.

"The Jana Sangh pleaded that the terms of the reference should be modified as a vital issue had been 'clearly' kept out. This vital question is not whether the election would be valid or not in the absence of the Gujarat Assembly, but whether the election would be valid or not if the Government, by its own acts of omission, denies to the representatives of Gujarat an opportunity of participating in the elections." (emphasis added, throughout).

That rule - no one can take advantage of his own wrong - applies in this case with greater force. The Gujarat pogrom began on February 28. The last session of the State Assembly was held on April 6. Yet, on July 19, the Governor prematurely dissolved the Assembly whose term was to expire on March 18, 2003. Why the tearing hurry? To profit on a pogrom? The BJP now contends that the polls must soon be held regardless of the situation in the State, the irregularities in the voters' list and the like, so that the new Assembly is able to meet on October 6. Else, it contends, the "mandate" of Article 174(1) - "six months shall not intervene between last sitting in one session and the date appointed for its first sitting in the next session" - will be violated.

Article 174(1) imposes no such mandate and concerns the same Assembly, not a new one formed after an election. It is another matter that democratic norms require respect for it, as a rule of thumb, even in regard to dissolved Assemblies. But a "mandate" it is not and its observance depends on other factors, including the "mandate" for a free and fair poll. As C.R. Irani rightly points out: "On the face of it the proposition (urged by the BJP) is absurd. By what process of reasoning is it sought to argue that elections must be held otherwise the advantage obtained by wholesale violations of human rights will be lost. Besides, both Attorney-General and Solicitor-General have argued the opposite before the Supreme Court in TP(C) Nos.601-603 still pending - that the phrase in Article 174(1) "its last sitting in one session" and "its first sitting in the next session" relate to one and the same Assembly. This was in the case of the U.P. Assembly, also under the BJP" (The Statesman; August 21, 2002).

Hemendra Singh Bartwal provides the details of that case: "The U.P. Government was then represented by Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee and Solicitor-General Harish Salve. Significantly, the latter attended Sunday's Cabinet meeting where it was decided to refer the issue for the Supreme Court's advice.

"In its counter affidavit, the U.P. Government had said, 'it is clear that the first session of the newly-constituted 13th Assembly would not be called next to the last session of the 12th Assembly within the meaning of Article 174(1) since the life of the 12th Assembly would be extinct after its dissolution'. The case is still pending in the Supreme Court". (The Hindustan Times, August 21, 2002).

No one believes Deputy Prime Minsiter L.K. Advani's claim that "If he (Chief Election Commissioner) had confined his observation to simply (sic.) his opinion that the law and order situation there is not favourable for an election, may be you could have differed with it but it would not have been anything which could be legally challenged."

The relevant portion from the E.C.'s order goes thus: "The non-observance of the provisions of Article 174(1) (that a fresh Assembly sitting be convened no later than six months after the preceding one)... would mean that the Government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution within the meaning of Article 356(1) of the Constitution and the President would then step in."

Clearly, the E.C. was only pointing out an obvious solution to the mess that Chief Minister Narendra Modi had deliberately created. Not long ago the Patna High Court had, lamenting non-observance of the rule of law, alluded to the possibility of President's Rule in Bihar, to the BJP's great joy.

The E.C. was planning to hold elections in Gujarat ''in the early part'' of 2003 along with polls to the Assemblies of Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura whose terms are also due to expire in March 2003.

The Order pointedly recalls that polls to 81 municipalities ''were postponed by an order of the government dated 15th November, 2000 on account of drought and shortage of drinking water for which the administrative machinery would be fully engaged. These were postponed again by the government's notification of March 5th, 2001 on account of the earthquake and its resultant impact. On 5th September, 2001, the Government again postponed the elections to these 81 municipalities, and five more, whose term had expired in the interregnum, for a period of four months on account of continuing drought and the impacts of earthquake and cyclone. Though the Government announced the holding of these elections on 8th February, 2002 these were postponed on account of communal riots for three months by the Government's orders of 13th March, 2002. On 12th June, 2002, the Government have again postponed these elections for four months up to 11th October, 2002 - this time citing its difficulty to hold free and fair elections during the monsoon when farmers and workers who earn their livelihood from farming and harvesting are likely to be deprived of their right to franchise in the aforesaid elections''. It tartly asks: "If the State Government is not in a position to hold elections to local bodies such as municipalities and Taluka panchayats on account of monsoons, and that too in urban areas, how it can hold a general election to the State Assembly which involves far greater mobilisation and effort throughout the State, is beyond one's comprehension."

That the Reference was made out of ire, not after calm deliberation, is evident from the fact that even if the court's answers support the government's case, the polls cannot be held before October 6. The law requires, at the minimum, a gap of 25 days between the date of notification and the date of poll. The court issued on August 26 notices to the E.C., all the State governments and six recognised political parties. Every State and major political party will be entitled to intervene and be heard. Sufficient time will be given to them to prepare their cases.

The real, but unstated, reason for the challenge to the Order lies, of course, in its thorough exposure of the BJP's lies to Parliament and to the nation on every aspect that matters - law and order, impartiality of administration, and relief and rehabilitation. Narendra Modi's government claimed, as did his mentors in Delhi, that "the riots were confined to pockets in a few districts of the State, with 13 districts remaining unaffected. But the State Government in its presentation also indicated that for relief and rehabilitation of persons in affected areas it had introduced a scheme of distribution of free ration to BPL (below poverty line) families in areas classified as 'affected areas'... enquiries reveal that based on the above classification adopted by the State Government, 20 districts out of 25 in the State are 'affected areas' in which nearly 27 lakh and 12 thousand BPL families are in receipt of free rations. The two sets of information given by the State Government on the extent of affected areas are mutually contradictory."

The E.C. team covered only 12 of the 20 such affected districts due to paucity of time. But it was furnished with a statement showing names of towns, cities and villages affected by riots, "and these cover even more than 20 districts". Significantly, the scheme of relief supplies to the BPL families in the 20 districts was extended up to October "when possibly elections were expected to be held". The number of such families is as high as 27.12 lakhs. The E.C. was told that "151 towns and 993 villages, covering 154 out of 182 Assembly constituencies in the State, and 284 Police Stations out of 464 Police Stations were affected by the riots. This evidently falsifies the claims of the other authorities that the riots were localised only in certain pockets of the State".

ON-THE-SPOT inspections revealed that a substantial majority of electors fled from their villages to save themselves from the arson and carnage in the wake of the Godhra incident on February 27. They had not returned to their houses or villages. "In most of the cases, their houses stand totally demolished or burnt, and in many others, their houses have been so badly damaged that the same have been rendered totally unfit to live in. Their return to their houses is prevented primarily on two counts. Firstly, slow progress of reconstruction/ repair of their demo-lished/burnt/damaged houses because of inadequate/no compensation paid to them by the State Government, and, secondly, fear psychosis still pervading the minds of the displaced persons, particularly, those belonging to the minority community. Thus, the electoral rolls as revised towards the end of the last year and in the early part of this year do not reflect, and do not show fidelity to, the actual situation obtaining on the ground".

More to the point as the E.C. adds: "The draft electoral rolls in the State were prepared on the basis of house-to-house enumeration undertaken in the months of November-December 2001 and the draft rolls so prepared were published on 11th February, 2002 for inviting claims and objections up to 26th February, 2002. Significantly, the period of lodging claims and objections expired on 26th February, 2002, that is to say, a day prior to the day (27th Feb. 2002) on which the holocaust descended on the State of Gujarat. The electoral rolls were thereafter finalised on the basis of claims and objections filed during the period when normalcy prevailed in the State and were finally published on 15th May, 2002, without taking into account the large-scale movement and migration of the affected people from the riot-torn areas to safe havens. Most of the displaced electors have not yet returned to their respective houses/villages. Though all but 8 relief camps out of 121 camps said to have been set up in the State of Gujarat, have been disbanded or closed, as per the claims of the State Government, the reality of the situation on the ground, as verified by the visits of the Commission and of its team to the affected areas, is that the inmates of these disbanded/closed camps have yet to go back to their respective houses/villages."

The Commission was contemplating, in the normal course, ''a summary revision of electoral rolls of all the Assembly Constituencies in the State with reference to 1.1.2003 as the qualifying date. This summary revision was scheduled to be taken up in the months of November, December this year and early part of January 2003. With the premature dissolution of the State Assembly on 19th July 2002, a general election has become due before the normally expected period and it may not be possible to conduct the aforesaid summary revision with reference to 1.1.2002 as the qualifying date, because such revision, if undertaken, would delay the elections considerably and, in that event, it may not be possible to hold the elections before the months of February-March 2003. But at the same time, the Commission is of the considered opinion that elections cannot be held on the basis of the existing electoral rolls which are defective to a considerable extent as pointed out hereinabove. Any election held on the basis of these defective rolls would deprive a substantially large number of electors who have been displaced from their places of ordinary residence." Hence its detailed directives for rectification of the defects. Can fair polls be held in such circumstances especially when the law and order situation remains disturbed?

"Statistics presented by the government giving the comparative crime chart for June 2002 and June 2001 show a decline in the overall crime rate, but in the category of rioting there is an increase of 13.66 per cent. Statistics presented also indicate that instances of rioting are still high in the 12 affected districts visited by the team during their stay in Gujarat. And to the specific queries raised by the Commission with the Chief Secretary on the number of FIRs filed, charge-sheets filed and the progress of cases, the State Government says that out of 4,208 FIRs filed as on 31 July 2002 a total of only 1,360 cases have been charge-sheeted.

"There is a general lack of confidence in the State Armed Police (SRP), which is seen by many victims as abettors and perpetrators of violence that took place post-Godhra in Gujarat... a large number of IPS officers who did commendable work in preventing the spread of violence were soon replaced. A common complaint received was that these officers were punished for their impartiality."

The E.C.'s conclusion settles the issue. "The Commission is thus of the considered view that the law and order situation in the State is still far from normal. The wounds of the communal divide following the riots have not yet healed. The slow progress in relief and rehabilitation work on the one hand and non-arrest and non-punishment of the guilty on the other have hampered the process of normalcy returning to the State, the victims carrying the fear and anxiety of another backlash. Similar feelings are shared by persons from the majority community as well living in minority-dominated areas. The people have lost confidence in the local police force, the civil administration and political executive. Someone who met the Commission, in fact, said how could the situation mend when there was not even regret for what had happened. In this environment, election campaigns evoking passions will threaten a violent backlash."

It is in such a situation that the E.C. refused to hold the polls by October 6. It is so far as to acknowledge that it has "in the past, been taking the view that the six months in Article 174(1) of the Constitution applies not only to a Legislative Assembly in existence but also to elections to constitute the new Assembly on the dissolution of the previous Assembly."

It is the grim realities created by the misdeeds of the Narendra Modi regime that impelled it to invoke Article 324 which confers on it the power and duty to conduct a free poll. "If a free and fair election cannot be held to a legislative body at a given point of time because of the extraordinary circumstances then prevailing, Article 174 of the Constitution must yield to Article 324 in the interest of genuine democracy and purity of elections." If this entails violation of Article 174, President's Rule can be imposed since "the Government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution within the meaning of Article 356(1)."

If in 1983, the Chief Election Commissioner, R.K. Trivedi, had shown similar courage, Assam would have been spared the massacres. Talks between the Centre and the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) failed on January 5, 1983. The very next day, the E.C. was informed that President's Rule in Assam would not be extended beyond February 28, 1983. The Assembly had been dissolved on March 19, 1982. Trivedi felt that unless elections were held before February 28, "a constitutional crisis would arise even in respect of financial matters." His opinion on the state of things was candidly set out in a confidential note of February 19: "The commission has on many occasions during the recent past made it clear that the situation in the State of Assam was not ideal for holding the elections. It was also known that in the commission's view an ideal situation would have been when a solution to the main problem of foreign nationals could have been found or an agreement could have been reached between the concerned parties for conducting the peaceful poll with or without amendment to the Constitution and after intensive revision of rolls." This note was laid before Parliament by Atal Behari Vajpayee. He was opposed to elections in Assam then.

The 44th Amendment to the Constitution sponsored by the Janata Party government, of which Vajpayee and Advani were senior members, recognised the E.C.'s decisive voice in an abnormal situation. Article 356 was amended to reduce the term of President's Rule from three years to one. Clause 5 was added to enable extension for a maximum period of three years subject to two conditions. A proclamation of Emergency must be in force "in the whole or any part of the State" and the E.C. "certifies" that continuance of President's Rule "is necessary on account of difficulties in holding general elections" to its Assembly. Trivedi admitted that the E.C. "would not have felt any difficulty in issuing the certificate" required under Article 356.

AFTER the event he sought legal opinion on whether he could have refused to hold elections. One of his queries shows his misconception: "Whether the Union Government can stipulate a deadline for revocation of President's Rule" and force the E.C. to hold elections? The answer is obvious. The Centre can act as it pleases for its political ends. But the E.C. is not bound to oblige. It is not the E.C. but the government which will have created a constitutional crisis. As Dr. B.R. Ambedkar said in the Constituent Assembly on October 14, 1949, the Constitution presupposes that all the institutions it creates act according to its terms.

To assert that Article 174 (1) imposes a "mandate" is to betray constitutional illiteracy. It is a replica of Article 85 (1) which concerns summoning of Parliament. It reads: "The President shall from time to time summon each House of Parliament to meet at such time and place as he thinks fit, but six months shall not intervene between its last sitting in one session and the date appointed for its first sitting in the next session. (2) The President may from time to time (a) prorogue the Houses or either House, (b) dissolve the House of the People." It is, even as it reads, a curb on the President's discretion in respect of the existing Lok Sabha. No such curb can be put on a power that he does not possess - fixing the dates for a general election.

The Constitution uses different language when it imposes a mandate. It is crisp, explicit and mandatory. Article 300-A, for instance: "No person shall be deprived of his property save by authority of law."

The Constitution is based on the Government of India Act, 1935 whose basics were set out in a White Paper of the British Government entitled "Proposals for Indian Constitutional Reform". (Command Paper 4268). Its para 23 read: "Power to summon, and appoint places for the meetings of the Chambers, to prorogue them, and to dissolve them... will be vested in the Governor-General in his discretion, subject to the requirement that they shall meet at least once in every year and not more than twelve months shall intervene between the end of one session and the commencement of the next" - a curb on discretion concerning the same House.

Section 19 of the Government of India Act, 1935 read: "(1) (The Chambers of the Federal) Legislature shall be summoned to meet once at least in every year, and twelve months shall not intervene between their last sitting in one session and the date appointed for their first sitting in the next session. (2) Subject to the provisions of this section, the Governor-General may in his discretion from time to time - (a) summon the (Chambers or either Chamber) to meet at such time and place as he thinks fit; (b) prorogue the Chambers; (c) dissolve the Federal Assembly."

The Draft Constitution reproduced this text (Articles 69 for Parliament and 153 for the State Assembly) for debate and adoption. Overlooked in all current discussion is the fact that Sections 6 and 8 of the Constitution (First Amendment) Act 1951 amended both texts as finally adopted; namely Articles 85 and 174, to read as they now do. If anything, the redrafting highlights the aspect of curb on discretion in respect of an existing House.

It makes sense. Consider two cases. A Prime Minister or a Chief Minister in a majority in a newly-elected House suddenly advises dissolution a mere fortnight before the House was to meet, five months after it had last met. Dissolution would be hard to refuse since none else can form a government. The new House will meet more than six months after the last meeting of the old House. The Indian coalition is notoriously a drunk unsteady on his legs. None can predict when and where he will fall. President's Rule can take care of instability in the States. But, what if, five months after the Lok Sabha last met, a Central coalition breaks up in acrimony? Dissolution becomes inevitable. President's Rule is impossible. A general election will perforce be held well after six months since the Lok Sabha's last meeting. So much for the mandate. As a Judge of the U.S. Supreme Court remarked, the worst way to read a Constitution is to read it literally.

The Supreme Court will be gravely handicapped in deciding these issues on a Reference like this. It cannot go behind the recital of facts set out in it which is palpably tendentious (The Hindu, August 22). The queries are clumsily worded. However, since the E.C.'s Order is mentioned, the court cannot but read it. Only to discover that the Reference cannot be answered. It must be respectfully returned to the President.

'E.C. cannot express such an opinion'

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Interview with Jana Krishnamurthi.

The Central government's decision to seek the Supreme Court's advisory opinion in respect of the Election Commission's decision on Assembly elections in Gujarat has been slammed by its critics. In defence, Union Law and Justice Minister Jana Krishnamurthi, until recently president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, says that the E.C.'s order raises the question whether the E.C. can take the view that Article 174 of the Constitution, which states that the gap between two sittings of a State Assembly should not be more than six months, is conditioned by Article 324, dealing with the E.C.'s power to conduct elections. "It is a grey area. That is why we have referred it to the Supreme Court," says Krishnamurthi in this interview with V. Venkatesan. "One constitutional authority cannot trespass on another's jurisdiction.... Whatever opinion the Supreme Court gives we will abide by it." Excerpts:

Why is the government aggrieved over the E.C.'s order on the holding of elections in Gujarat?

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We don't question the E.C.'s authority to fix dates for the elections. The E.C. is the constitutional authority to conduct elections. We recognise that. But in the course of its reasoning, the Election Commission has strayed upon an area that its predecessors in office had not done. The E.C., in its order, has stated, citing Goa as the latest example, that hitherto the Commission has always accepted Article 174(1) and held elections. But then the E.C. has gone ahead, indicating that the present E.C. would like to take a different view. The question naturally arises whether this E.C. has got a right to take a different view, in the sense that Article 174(1) is conditioned by another Article, that is, 324. That is the question we want to be clarified by the Supreme Court because until now the settled law was that Article 174 holds good. For the first time the E.C. has said it is not so. It is a matter to be decided by the opinion of the Supreme Court because it is a very important constitutional question; because it is only Article 174 that decides the timing of an election, and for the new Assembly to meet. If that goes, then everything depends upon the time that will be chosen only by the E.C.

The E.C. has cited the Goa precedent probably to convey that in situations when the E.C. cannot hold polls within the six-month interregnum, as required by Article 174(1), the imposition of President's Rule and the suspension of Article 174(1) may become necessary.

You don't bring the other issues here. The simple question is whether Article 174(1) is applicable only to the living Assembly or also to a dissolved Assembly. Until now, the E.C. has said it applies to both. Now it has made a departure from this practice. Can this exception be made? Does Article 174(1) allow this?

The E.C. has said Article 174(1) will have to yield to Article 324, dealing with the E.C.'s power to conduct the elections.

For the first time, the E.C. has taken this decision. Who is to decide it? That is why we referred it to the Supreme Court, because it is not clear.

If you follow Article 174(1) literally, it can lead to ridiculous situations. What happens if a Chief Minister seeks the dissolution of the Assembly five months after the last sitting of the House? Will the E.C. be bound by this to hold the polls in one month?

It is a grey area. That is why we have referred it to the Supreme Court.

Even if the Supreme Court decides the issue, you will not be able to hold the polls before October, as required by Article 174(1).

We have not done so from the point of view of holding polls. It is a question of clarity.

The reference to the Supreme Court also raises the issue of whether the E.C. is competent to schedule the polls on the premise that non-compliance with Article 174(1) will lead to the President stepping in under Article 356.

Naturally. The authority to impose Article 356 is with the executive and the order is to be passed by the President and is to be placed before Parliament. It is not a concern of the E.C. The E.C. cannot suggest that Article 356 can be applied.

The E.C. has only expressed its opinion on the basis of precedents. It does not bind you in any way.

The E.C. cannot express such an opinion. It is one of the reasons it attributes for coming to its conclusion. One constitutional authority cannot trespass on another's jurisdiction. Because of this only the Centre referred the matter to the Supreme Court, not because we question the E.C.'s authority. Whatever opinion the Supreme Court gives, we will abide by it.

The E.C.'s decision has already been politicised by the BJP. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has attributed motives to Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh for arriving at this decision. Modi has accused Lyngdoh of colluding with Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi because both are Christians. Is not Modi guilty of demeaning a constitutional authority and inciting communal disharmony?

Because you (the media) and other parties politicised it, why blame Narendra Modi? If everybody can comment upon Narendra Modi, can't he defend himself? He is a political leader and a Chief Minister and has got every right to defend himself. He has not attributed motives. He said so because the Election Commission has attributed motives to him. It has become mutual now. I am not justifying either. If everybody crosses limits, then who can be pulled up for going out of limits? Unfortunately, the Gujarat issue has never been looked at from an objective point of view by the present critics of the Gujarat government. Right from day one, Modi has been made the target.

'The six-month norm is dangerous in Gujarat'

Interview with Rajeev Dhavan.

In your memorandum to the E.C. on behalf of Sahmat, you have argued that Article 174 deals only with a 'live' legislature and that its requirement that six months shall not intervene between two sessions does not control the timing of the first meeting of the succeeding legislature. The E.C., has, however, rejected this view saying that Article 174(1) applies not only to an Assembly in existence but also to elections to constitute a new Assembly on the dissolution of the previous Assembly.

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The Constitution consists of evolving practices. The E.C. has quoted from D.D. Basu's Commentary on the Constitution of India to suggest that the Governor's summons to the new Legislative Assembly to meet must be issued in such time that more than six months must not elapse between the date of the last sitting of the dissolved or expired Assembly and the date appointed for the first sitting of the newly elected Assembly. As Basu himself has pointed out in that book, Article 174(1) only "envisages" an interregnum during which the State may not have any Assembly at all and "limits" it. It is not a mandatory requirement. I treat it purely as a norm. Normally, elections should be held within six months from the date of the last sitting of the dissolved or expired Assembly. The six-month norm is good, useful and a practice that should be recognised.

The E.C. is right when it says, "read this norm along with Article 324". Article 324 is not a token provision. We are not having a token election in Gujarat. In Goa, this government accepted the practice. The proclamation imposing President's Rule in Goa in February 1999 by the BJP-led coalition government at the Centre had expressly suspended the operation of Article 174(1) in the State.

The E.C. has cited the Goa precedent to drive home the point that Article 174(1) does have application after an Assembly has been dissolved, as otherwise, the proclamation imposing President's Rule need not suspend this provision. However, the E.C. has also gently reminded the government that the Goa precedent would bind it to impose President's Rule in Gujarat now that the Assembly stands dissolved, and there is no question of constituting a new Assembly to comply with the six-month norm.

The spirit of the six-month norm is to ensure democratic accountability. If it is not feasible to hold fresh elections in time, accountability can be achieved through President's Rule. Normally, I am an opponent of President's Rule. It is not essential. We cannot have two interpretations, one for the States and another for the Centre, where there is no provision for President's Rule. Therefore, I would say we must strive for substantive compliance with this norm.

In the case of Gujarat, it will be dangerous to call the norm mandatory. If Chief Minister Narendra Modi had sought the dissolution of the Assembly in September, five months after it last sat in April, would the E.C. be under compulsion to hold the elections in September itself? By its very nature, the holding of elections requires a prior assessment of the preparation and conduct of the State machinery and the mobility of forces.

We are now dealing with imaginary fears. An extreme example is used to test a workable solution. The BJP argues that non-compliance with Article 174(1) would affect democracy. We are not dealing with that issue at all. We are only mid-term; that situation has not emerged. It was Governor Sunder Singh Bhandari and Narendra Modi who killed democracy by not calling a session of the Assembly after April, and by seeking its premature dissolution. It is, therefore, ironical that they worry about non-compliance with Article 174(1). It is contradictory. This is not to make the Constitution work.

Was the government correct in seeking the opinion of the Supreme Court under Article 143 on the issue?

This reference shows that the BJP as a political party has usurped the Government of India's function, as it sees a major political benefit if the court's decision goes in its favour. The silence of its allies is embarrassing. Secondly, it is using the advisory jurisdiction as an appeal mechanism, as the option of challenging the E.C.'s decision in a court was available to it. Thirdly, it is dragging the judiciary into a question regarding a political rather than a constitutional crisis. Such situations are better handled by discussions and negotiations. Article 143 is meant for a situation in which a constitutional paralysis has taken place or if there is a genuine question that has to be resolved for the sake of the future. Advisory opinion under Article 143 is not hamstrung by time.

If the government considers the E.C.'s order to be a serious issue, then it should be ready for a national due process commensurate with the issue. Every State should be given notice, as the court's decision on the Gujarat case could affect every State. In the Babri Masjid reference case (1994) many States appeared. The practice in cases involving a presidential reference under Article 143 was that even under tight schedule, the court heard it in a calm and unhurried manner, and issued notice to every interested party. But the motive of the government in this reference seems to be to teach the E.C. a lesson and cause it a constitutional embarrassment, so that it could use the issue to its advantage in the run-up to the elections in Gujarat.

'The BJP is seeking political advantage'

As the principal Opposition party, the Congress(I) has taken a principled stand on the question of the Gujarat Assembly elections, and has defended the Election Commission's powers to schedule the polls after assessing the ground realities. Congress(I) member of the Rajya Sabha and Senior Advocate, Kapil Sibal, in an interview to V. Venkatesan, explains the party's stand. Excerpts:

How do you look at the Centre's move to seek the Supreme Court's opinion under Article 143 on the issue of holding elections in Gujarat?

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Basically, from a practical standpoint, between now and October 6, when six months after the last sitting of the State Assembly will expire, there is no way elections can be held in Gujarat to stick to the principle the BJP believes in. Therefore, making this reference will not allow the BJP somehow to use the process of law to have that principle upheld. So what is the point of making the reference?

Are there not larger issues involved than holding elections before October? The Centre claims it has referred the matter to the Supreme Court to seek clarity on Article 174(1).

What is the larger question here? The E.C., which is a constitutional authority, has itself said that Article 174(1) applies to a live Assembly as well as to a dissolved Assembly. But the E.C. says there cannot be situations in which there are no exceptions. Supposing Godhra were to take place in September, and the Assembly had not met after April 6, could there be elections before October 6? Obviously not.

There are human situations which confront society that have to be resolved. Such situations cannot be resolved within the straitjacket of a legal formula in which there is no flexibility. That is why the E.C. itself says in its order that Gujarat is a peculiar case. It feels that there can be no fair and free elections in Gujarat at this point of time. It is because of this exception that it feels Article 174 is not something that puts Article 324 in shackles. Nothing wrong in that. But it is something which the Supreme Court has to decide. It is not fair for us at this point to start talking about the legality of the order.

Does the question merit a presidential reference to the Supreme Court?

That is the wisdom of the government. This government has shown itself to be constantly unwise. Wisdom is certainly not a commodity which this government has in ample measure.

Would you consider it basically a political or a constitutional issue?

In the context of Gujarat, it is a purely political question. In any other context, it would never have arisen. The BJP has not told us till date as to why it wants early elections in Gujarat, before the expiration of the term of the Assembly. Why is it that it wanted the elections in May itself? It couldn't have the elections in May because of the presidential election. I am not saying they are duty-bound to explain. But the people cannot fathom, apart from a political motivation, any reason for holding early election. Why would a political party want early elections, before the expiry of the government's term, especially when people in power are so enamoured of the spoils of power? The answer is in the question. They want it because they want to take political advantage of it. Political advantage is there because of Godhra and the polarisation post-Godhra. That is the most cynical reason, bereft of morality.

Is President's Rule in Gujarat inevitable after October 6?

The E.C. has said nothing more than what the constitutional position is: There can be no caretaker government after six months. The BJP itself says there has to be elections within six months because the caretaker government cannot continue beyond six months.

The Constitution does not say so. It seems to be silent on how long a government can continue in office without facing the Assembly, even though one could say a Ministry cannot continue beyond six months after the dissolution of the Assembly, as in that case the Ministers would invite disqualification from holding office because of their lack of membership of the Assembly beyond the permissible period of six months.

But that is what the BJP is saying. Whether it is wrong or right is not the issue. The E.C. has not said that the BJP is wrong. A caretaker government cannot continue after October 6 because the life of the Assembly is over; so there has to be President's Rule. It cannot apply to the Centre, because there can be no President's Rule there and Article 356 does not apply to the Centre. The Congress(I) and the BJP, in the case of Uttar Pradesh, believed that Article 174(1) applied to live Assemblies and not to dissolved Assemblies. But in the light of the E.C.'s order, and the BJP's own position now, there can be little doubt that elections ought to be held to comply with Article 174(1), and if that is not possible owing to extraordinary circumstances, as in Gujarat today, then President's Rule would be the obvious remedy.

What should have happened was, when the Chief Minister went to the Governor recommending dissolution of the Assembly the Governor should have - and this should be made part of constitutional convention - asked him to call the Assembly, and said that since the life of the Assembly is being reduced, it would be appropriate to have the matter debated in the House, and then come back to him if such a resolution is passed, or if after a debate the Chief Minister came to the conclusion that he would like it to be dissolved. The Governor ought to have considered whether the Chief Minister's request seeking dissolution of the Assembly was sensible, and conducive to the interests of democracy. In other words, if any Chief Minister wants to take advantage of a situation, he should take advantage of it, provided he calls the Assembly.

In Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and the terrorist infested northeastern States, the Congress in the past opted for elections because it wanted to show the rest of the world that you cannot take advantage of terrorism and derail the political process. In Gujarat the BJP wanted to go to the polls having derailed democracy. The E.C. has told the BJP that it cannot take advantage of the carnage and derail the political process, which, I believe, is consistent.

The real estate pie

Attempts by the Bharatiya Janata Party to salvage its image following the petrol pump allotment controversy fail as yet another round of irregularities, involving the allotment of government land to its saffron associates in New Delhi, surfaces.

EVEN before the Bharatiya Janata Party could deal effectively with the petrol pump allotment scandal, it was facing the music with regard to the allotment of certain plots of land in the national capital. To its discomfiture, the land records available with the Urban Development Ministry proved that in the last two years, Sangh Parivar affiliates were provided prime real estate at throwaway prices in central locations. Except to allege that other parties while in power had done much the same thing, the party failed to provide a credible reply to the media expose on the matter.

Soon after the land scam broke out, National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government issued instructions to retrieve the records of all land allotments made in the last 50 years in order to prove that it was not the first time that political considerations had played a role in such allotments. According to details available so far, the highest number of allotments made by the Urban Development Ministry in the last two years have gone to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in the heart of New Delhi at one-tenth the going market rate. Records of the Land and Development Office (LDO) under the Ministry for the years 1996-2002 show that of the 209 allotments, 115 have gone to government departments. Of the 94 remaining ones, a huge chunk has gone to Sangh Parivar affiliates, most of the allotments being made after 1999.

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A look at the list of allottees and their affiliations provides ample evidence of the Sangh Parivar's advantage in the matter of allotments. Some of the BJP-RSS affiliates allotted land at Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg include the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of BJP; the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the BJP's labour wing; Sanskriti Bharati, the cultural wing of the RSS; the Samarth Shiksha Samiti and the Vidya Bharati, RSS organisations that are active in the educational sector; and the Vaish Agrawal Education Society, headed by Vijay Goel, a Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). All these allotments were made for the stated objective of running educational/cultural organisations.

For example, Sanskriti Bharati, which is headed by RSS worker K. Suryanarayana and claims to be working for the promotion of Sanskrit, was allotted 1,713.6 square yards on Rouse Avenue in November 2001 at the rate of Rs.1,818 a square yard as against the going rate of Rs.96,000 a square yard. The BMS was allotted 856.8 square yards on Rouse Avenue in June, 2001 at Rs.1,818 a square yard. Similarly, the Samarth Shiksha Samiti was allotted 5,290.1 square yards in Shivalik Colony in January 2002 at Rs.1,818 a square yard against the market rate of Rs.80,000 a square yard. This organisation has RSS member Jai Prakash Gupta as its patron. Ashok Pal is the president and K.C. Bathla the general secretary. It also managed to procure 1.554 acres (0.63 hectares) in Aram Bagh near Jhandewalan, apparently to run a school, at Rs.1,818 a square yard against the market rate of Rs.55,000 a square yard. (In order to accommodate the Samiti, a slum colony in this area is to be demolished.) This organisation also got allotments in Nehru Nagar, Lajpat Nagar, Mehrauli-Badarpur Road and Vasant Vihar, all for educational purposes. Sewa Bharati, an RSS affiliate working in slum areas, was allotted 399 square metres at Bhai Veer Singh Marg in April 2001 at Rs.1,818 a square yard.

Similarly, the Delhi Bharat Vikas Foundation, headed by BJP MP L.M. Singhvi and which has Culture and Tourism Minister Jagmohan as its patron, was allotted 1,258 square yards of Delhi Development Authority (DDA) land in Yojna Vihar in 2001 at Rs.682.03 per square yard against the market rate of Rs.30,000 a square yard, apparently to open a hospital for disabled people. Another RSS affiliate, Vishwa Jagriti Mission, was allotted 672 square yards of DDA land in Rohini in 2000-01 at Rs.3,482 a square yard against the market rate of Rs.24,000 a square yard. The BJP secured a plot of 0.233 acre on Rouse Avenue in April 2001 at Rs.1,818 a square yard, apparently to construct an office for its Delhi unit. The Vishwa Samvad Kendra, the publicity wing of the VHP, was allotted 1,044 square metres on Rouse Avenue in March 2001 at Rs.88 lakh an acre. The Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, an RSS-affiliated organisation active in tribal areas, was allotted 506 square metres on Mehrauli-Badarpur Road on July 19 at Rs.88 lakh an acre, apparently to construct a complex for the 'amelioration and upliftment' of tribal people, a hostel and a free dispensary. The ABVP was allotted land on Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg to run its organisation called the Students' Experience in Inter-State Living.

Union Urban Development Minister Ananth Kumar does not see anything amiss in these allotments. In a statement, he said that there was no discrimination in allotments and, in order to prove this, the Ministry would soon put up on its website all such allotments made in the last 50 years. He said that even the Congress(I), the Left parties, various trade unions, the Delhi government, the Bar Association of India and the Press Club were allotted land in the past at concessional rates. "These institutional allotments are done purely based on merit," Ananth Kumar said. However, he added: "In any case, there is no express or implied bar on allotment of land to any organisation, merely on the grounds that one or more persons connected with the organisation are also associated with any political party, if it fulfils all the laid-down criteria." Citing examples, he said that the All India Congress Committee (now Jawahar Bhawan Trust/Rajiv Gandhi Foundation), the A.K. Gopalan Trust (Communist Party of India-Marxist), Ajoy Bhawan (Commu-nist Party of India), the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) and the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee, among others, have been allotted land on concessional rates. In the same category, he cited the example of "institutional land" allotted to various newspapers at Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg "with a specification that the land should be utilised only for the purpose of publishing a newspaper".

According to Ananth Kumar's statement, "the process of allotment of land to institutions commenced with the allotment of land to various newspaper concerns here in the early 1950s". About the low rates at which land was allotted, he said that the "pre-determined" rates were "revised periodically in consultation with the Ministry of Finance. The last time the rate was revised was in April 1998 when it was raised from Rs.80 lakhs per acre for central and south Delhi to Rs.88 lakhs per acre". Ananth Kumar said that other organisations that received allotments included the Jawaharlal Nehru National Youth Centre, the Jai Jawan Jai Kisan Trust, the Yuva Bharati Trust, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (B.T. Ranadive Memorial Trust) and the Bharat Sewak Samaj. Legal organisations that received land included the Delhi Tax Bar Association, the Society of Indian Law Firms (with Lalit Bhasin as president) and the Bar Association of India (with F.S. Nariman as president). He said that three plots were allotted to the Delhi government to establish family courts. Allotments made to "socio-cultural institutions of eminence" included Child Relief and You (CRY), the National Federation of the Blind, the Rashtriya Sewa Samiti, the Santhagiri Ashram, the Rotary Habitat Centre, the Delhi Malayali Association, the Natya Tarangini, the Jain Sabha, the Krishnamoorthi Foundation, the Press Club of India, the Civil Services Officers Institute, the Veda Vigyan Mahavidyapeeth, Sri Aurobindo Society, the Servants of the People Society and the Sadhu Vaswani Mission. Some of the 600 schools that had been allotted land in Delhi, Ananth Kumar said, included the Delhi Public School Society, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, the Indraprastha College for Women, the Mata Amrithanandamayi School, the Andhra Educational Society, the Delhi Tamil Educational Association, the G.R. Goenka Educational Institution, the Madarsa Kaushiful-Uloom, the Don Bosco School and the Police Foundation Public School.

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Two of the plots over the allotments of which questions have been raised, on Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg, New Delhi.

Meanwhile, Delhi Lieutenant-Governor Vijai Kapoor said that the DDA, which he headed, did not look at the political/ideological affiliations of any organisation before allotting land. Former Urban Development Minister Jagmohan, during whose tenure (June 1999 to August 2001) the highest number of allotments were made, has also tried to wash his hands of the controversy. He said that only four RSS-affiliated organisations were allotted land during his tenure - the Samarth Shiksha Samiti, the Sewa Bharati, the Vishwa Samvad Kendra and the Sanskriti Bharati. He said he was not aware of the other allotments which were made after he moved out of the Ministry.

MEANWHILE, the government decided to probe all allotments of petroleum product, kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) dealerships made since 1983. Petroleum Minister Ram Naik confirmed that, as demanded by over 100 BJP MPs, his Ministry would investigate all allotments made since 1983, so that a complete list could be prepared to ascertain which political parties had benefited. Naik said: "I have ordered the Petroleum Ministry to find out which States were allotted petrol pumps and gas agencies between 1983 and 2000. When all this information is collected and analysed, we will decide what to do." He said that the BJP MPs had complained to him that the government's decision to cancel all allotments made since 2000 had singled out those involving BJP leaders and their families.

The Petroleum Ministry has asked the public sector oil companies Indian Oil Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum, Bharat Petroleum and IBP to furnish period-wise details of allotments. The four companies have been asked to compile data on allotments made during the tenure of a particular government. They have also been asked to compile a list of allottees, their affiliations, and the process by which they were selected, whether it was from the Minister's discretionary quota or on the basis of interviews. Data are also being collected on the other applicants and how they fared in the interviews.

The Petroleum and Law Ministries are giving final touches to an ordinance that will justify the government's decision to cancel allotments made since 2000 and sidestep any judicial intervention. BJP spokesperson Arun Jaitley said that the legislative option would strengthen the government's case. The ordinance is understood to have the Prime Minister's approval. The rough draft was discussed at the Prime Minister's residence at a meeting which was also attended by Solicitor-General Harish Salve.

A sordid affair

The developments in the Shivani Bhatnagar murder case add to the mortification of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

IN July, three and a half years after Shivani Bhatnagar, principal correspondent with The Indian Express, was done to death by two men in her rented east Delhi apartment on January 23, 1999, the Delhi Police made the first arrest in the case, generating much controversy. The prime accused in the case is Inspector-General (Prisons) Haryana, since suspended R.K. Sharma, who has been "absconding". A reward of Rs.50,000 has been announced for information leading to the Indian Police Service officer's arrest.

After an initial flurry of reports in the media, interest in the case had died down as the Delhi Police failed to provide any answers to the killing. According to information available then, two men posing as acquaintances had let themselves into the apartment with a box of sweets. Shivani had even prepared tea for the two assailants. Robbery was ruled out as the motive, as only a camera, a chain and a cellular phone were found missing.

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The first arrest, that of a Gurgaon-based restaurant owner, Sri Bhagwan, was made on July 23, 2002. That would have remained a secret had it not been for a habeas corpus petition filed by Sri Bhagwan's family. Then, on August 2, a computer engineer, Pradeep, was picked up. A third suspect, Satyaprakash, was apprehended on August 17 and was kept in the anti-robbery cell in a South Delhi police station. Now the hunt is on for R.K. Sharma. According to police sources, the murder part of the case has been solved while the conspiracy aspect is yet to be worked out. They said that Sri Bhagwan had revealed that R.K. Sharma had hatched a plan to eliminate Shivani when she started pressuring him to marry her.

Despite the case being a relatively high-profile one, involving as it does the murder of a woman journalist of a national daily, who also happened to be the wife of a senior journalist, investigations remained rather tardy. Shivani's family also did not have political or financial clout. Initially sections of the Delhi Police believed that it was a "crime of passion", implying that the journalist had it coming. In such an atmosphere, where issues of character and moral judgments seemed to outweigh the gravity and brutality of the crime, it was evident that there was a long way to go before the murderers were brought to book. However, speculation and pressure on the investigators never abated. Several people were questioned, including Shivani's family members, her husband, and R.K. Sharma. It is also not untrue that the police dragged their feet in view of some political interference following rumours of the involvement of a senior Bharatiya Janata Party politician.

The delay in nabbing the murderers, the apparent absence of a clear motive in the crime and the lack of transparency in the case raised several questions. Why was the case "reopened"? What new evidence has suddenly been unearthed? Apart from the details of the alleged telephone calls between Shivani and Sharma, the police have not been able to come up with any material evidence. Moreover, there was the nagging doubt as to why the police would go after one of its senior officers, who was also well connected. The only plausible conclusion drawn was that the police were in a moral dilemma. U.K. Katna, Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime Branch), said the case had never been closed. Another officer explained that the police had a system of reviewing unsolved cases and that the Shivani murder case had come up again as part of such a review. Katna denied that there was any political interference, at least not after he had taken charge in January.

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WHAT initially appeared to be a case in which the accused was on the run, took a surprise turn when Madhu Sharma, wife of R.K. Sharma, charged that Information Technology and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan and Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani were framing her husband. She singled out Mahajan and demanded that all details of telephonic conversations between Shivani and the Minister be disclosed. She claimed that her husband was hiding in the same place where the slain reporter and Mahajan used to meet. She alleged that Mahajan had spoken to Shivani for 45 minutes on the day of the murder. Her husband had, according to Madhu Sharma, told the police three months after the murder that a high-ranking politician was involved but the police had expressed their helplessness in pursuing that line of inquiry.

In his bail application before the Delhi High Court, R.K. Sharma alleged that he was "being falsely implicated and made a scapegoat of those who belong to the higher echelons of society and are the real culprits". The police, Madhu Sharma added, had a "one-line" directive not to question any politician. She made all these revelations on prime-time television, with her statements aired on almost all major television channels.

Matters had indeed got out of hand as far as the Delhi Police were concerned. It appeared that more than one person had a motive to murder the reporter and all kinds of insinuations about the character of the deceased began to circulate in sections of the media. So much so that one leading periodical even suggested that even before the murder, rumours were rife in police and media circles in Delhi of an extra-marital relationship between Sharma and Shivani. The Sharmas, meanwhile, began insisting on a DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) test on Shivani's four-year-old son to ascertain his paternity. Mahajan retorted that he was prepared to take any test and, quite laudably, spoke about the rights of the child. Matters could not have got more unsavoury.

AS far as the BJP was concerned, the case was a body blow, coming as it did in the wake of the petrol pump and land allotment scandals. After Madhu Sharma publicly named Mahajan and Advani, the BJP got into the damage control mode. Almost immediately Advani came to the rescue of his beleaguered colleague, dismissing the charges against him as utterly baseless. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is also said to have reassured Mahajan. The Congress(I) demanded Mahajan's resignation, which was promptly overruled by the BJP, which claimed that the question did not arise as there was not an iota of evidence in support of Madhu Sharma's charge. On his part, Mahajan who looked as though he was facing the worst moment of his career, said that he had never met Sharma and that such allegations would not affect his political career. He stated that he had merely a "professional relationship" with journalist Shivani Bhatnagar.

The police have dismissed Madhu Sharma's statement as an "emotional" outburst. Joint Commis-sioner Katna told Frontline that he was concerned more about the murder and the conspiracy to murder and was not investigating probable affairs between individuals. He said that the police were not dealing with the value systems of society. So far there was nothing to suggest such an involvement, and the issue would have been relevant had the accusations emanated from persons other than R.K. Sharma and the people around him, Katna said. According to him, the current line of investigation is not faulty and "things are falling into place". There was reasonable evidence, he said, to suggest the complicity of the accused persons in the crime, those who have been arrested and those (read R.K. Sharma) against whom a non-bailable warrant had been issued by a Delhi court.

R.K. Sharma, his wife says, is in hiding, and not "absconding", as he fears torture and the forcible extraction of a confession. Police sources maintain that it is unlikely that R.K. Sharma, he being a police officer, would be subjected to harsh treatment.

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The police hope that R.K. Sharma will surrender once his bail application is rejected by the High Court. His bail pleas have been rejected twice, once in Chandigarh and the second time in East Delhi. The Additional District and Sessions Judge dismissed the anticipatory bail application on August 13 on the grounds that "the evidence collected so far shows that it was a well planned and brutal murder and points an accusing finger at the applicant, who allegedly wanted to eliminate the deceased."

The heat is still on Mahajan. The lawyers of at least two of the suspects, Pradeep and Satyaprakash, have alleged that the police have doctored tapes to create evidence. Madhu Sharma and her daughters too have renewed their attack on the political establishment by demanding that Mahajan take a lie-detector test. The family members have alleged harassment by the police. They approached the National Human Rights Commission, but it turned them away. They have now approached it once again alleging specific cases of harassment.

Meanwhile, R.K. Sharma was allegedly present in the farmhouse of a prominent criminal lawyer recently even as he continued to evade the police.

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The police may be frustrated at the moment as they feel that R.K.Sharma's high connections - he had in the past held postings as Officer on Special Duty in the Prime Minister's Office, in France, and then in Air-India as Vigilance Officer - may protect him for the time being, but he cannot remain on the run for long. A police source said that if Sharma failed to turn up, he would be declared a proclaimed offender and steps would be initiated to attach his property.

When Pakistan took Loonda Post

PRAVEEN SWAMI the-nation

There is trouble again along the Line of Control. Among several serious incidents that have occurred, the fall and re-capture of Loonda Post in the Machil sector illustrate that the border management problems exposed by the Kargil war persist.

SEVEN months after India and Pakistan started massing strike formations along their border, are both countries again pretty close to a full-blown war?

Speaking in Islamabad on August 23, Pakistan's military spokesperson Major-General Rashid Qureshi alleged that India had attacked positions in the Gultari sector of Kargil in the course of the night. Qureshi did not say where exactly the offensive had occurred, but claimed that scores of Indian soldiers had been killed when Pakistani troops retaliated. The Indian Air Force, he claimed, had bombed Pakistan's forward positions in support of ground troops.

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Army Headquarters in New Delhi denied that anything of the sort took place, and said it suffered no losses in the time period Qureshi was talking about. The denial is plausible, for Qureshi suffers from a well-known credibility problem. His briefings during the Kargil war were often economical with the truth, and sometimes outright dishonest. The timing of Qureshi's statement - to coincide with the visit of United States Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage - was not lost on anyone. Nonetheless, several recent events make clear all is not well along the Line of Control (LoC), notwithstanding the public perception that the risk of war has passed.

The last two months have seen intense fighting over disputed peaks in the Kargil sector. Last month, after eight weeks of skirmishes, India reoccupied Point 5070 in the Drass sector. Point 5070, named for its altitude in metres, dominates the strategically-vital Mushkoh nullah in the Drass sub-sector. The Mushkoh nullah was a key infiltration route in the Kargil war, and saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the 1999 war. Highly placed sources told Frontline that fighting continues over Point 5303 in the Marpo La area, another key gateway into Drass; its re-capture was a key objective of the Kargil war. The continuing conflict led to intense artillery exchanges on August 19 around Kargil, and small-arms fire to the south in Bhawani, Kanachak, Khour, Akhnoor, Ranbir Singh Pora, Samba and Pallanwalla. Sixteen military personnel - seven soldiers and nine high-altitude porters - have died in the Kargil fighting so far.

On July 29, India used air power for the first time since the end of the Kargil war to attack Pakistan-held positions at Loonda Post on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC) in the Machil sector. Eight Mirage 2000 aircraft dropped 1,000-pound precision-guided bombs to obliterate four bunkers occupied by Pakistan, while 155-millimetre Bofors howitzers hit troops dug into forward trenches prepared by Indian troops in earlier years. At least 28 Pakistani soldiers, military intelligence officials believe, were killed in the fighting. The daylight air assault was intended to demonstrate that India would not hesitate to escalate the conflict if provoked, a belief that is gaining ground among the Pakistani military.

The fall and re-capture of Loonda Post illustrate that the border management problems brutally exposed by the Kargil war persist. Army Headquarters insists that freak white-out conditions caused by rain and fog in late July allowed Pakistan soldiers to occupy the position. However, it is unclear how they were able to do so in such conditions. The failure was particularly serious since Loonda Post overlooks the forward town of Kel, a key infiltration route in the Neelam Valley. As in Kargil, the intrusion was detected only when a patrol of the Sikh Light Infantry was ambushed. At least three soldiers died in the fighting, but unofficial estimates put the size of casualties at four times that number.

Unlike in Kargil, the 15 Corps responded promptly. First, troops pinned down the Pakistan positions around the Post with mortar fire, and called for artillery support. A massive bombardment of the Neelam Valley was initiated, in which, the Pakistani media claims, several civilians were killed. Bofors howitzers were moved up to Loonda to support two successive Indian ground counter-attacks. Helicopter gunships were used to pin down the Pakistan positions. There was some hesitation about the use of bombers, however, and the Air Force insisted that Defence Minister George Fernandes himself be consulted. The Army hesitated, perhaps realising that this would mean an admission of failure, but eventually did as it was told, in order to prevent heavy casualties.

Pakistan, predictably, complained bitterly to the United States about the air strikes. India, in turn, made it clear that it reserved the right to respond on its own soil as it wished. Pakistan maintained a stoic silence on the issue, and it is possible that Qureshi's remarks on the fighting in Gultari were a belated response to the use of Mirage bombers at Loonda Post.

Qureshi may also have made his claim of an Indian attack to deter strong action of the Loonda Post kind. Highly placed sources told Frontline that the Army has been lobbying for two years for a full-scale assault on Point 5353, the highest feature in Drass. Troops fighting to take Point 5353 have been struggling in the face of sustained fire from the higher position. Pakistan occupied Point 5353 at the end of the Kargil war, as a result of tactical failures by the Drass-based 56 Brigade. After news broke of the loss of the peak, George Fernandes variously claimed that it was not on the Indian side of the LoC, and that it had not been lost to Pakistan. To order a full-scale assault on Point 5353 would involve making an embarrassing admission of past failure - to avoid which Fernandes evidently believes is worth getting soldiers killed.

Interestingly, Qureshi's polemic came just a day after External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha ruled out troop pullbacks or diplomatic dialogue unless Pakistan halts cross-border terrorism. Indian diplomats have also been telling the string of foreign dignitaries recently in New Delhi that they would again consider military options if Pakistan did not restrain terrorist activity directed at sabotaging the Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

IN some senses, the ongoing fighting might be attributed simply to the routine peak-grabbing campaigns that take place each summer along the LoC, with both sides fighting to dominate key features as the snow melts. This time, however, the situation is particularly fragile. Had India failed to evict Pakistani troops from Loonda Post, it inevitably would have come under pressure to widen the conflict. Pakistan's occupation of Loonda Post was probably motivated by the desire to ease pressure on Neelam Valley, on which India has a stranglehold.

Few figures in New Delhi seem to have any clear idea about how to address the problems thrown up by the Loonda Post experience or the ongoing fighting in Kargil. Great faith is being placed in a new U.S surveillance system now being tested along the LoC. Past tests, in Jammu, of competing Israeli systems had little success because the presence of significant human and animal populations along the border often triggered false alerts. That could eventually lead to troops ignoring warnings from the electronic systems. Although officially the Army insists that it does not believe that negligence led to the Loonda Post fiasco, an inquiry has been ordered. Informed sources told Frontline that pending its outcome the commanding officer of the local unit, Colonel V.K. Mahajan, has been removed from his command.

Sadly, there are no signs that Generals in either New Delhi or Islamabad are ready to learn the larger lessons of this month's clashes.

Another Armitage mission

The latest visit by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage makes it clear that the Bush administration expects India to reduce tensions over Kashmir by reopening a dialogue or allowing the APHC to join the elections.

THE Bush administration's shuttle diplomacy in the subcontinent shows no signs of flagging despite New Delhi's growing scepticism about the United States' efforts at peace-making. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was back in the region this past fortnight on yet another whistle-stop tour. He spent a day each in New Delhi and Islamabad. It was during Armitage's visit in June that a commitment was extracted from Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf about ending cross-border terrorism. New Delhi had assured Armitage at that time that it would wait and watch for the Pakistan government to fulfil its pledge.

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This time, Armitage's first port of call in South Asia was Colombo. The Bush administration has thrown its weight behind the Sri Lankan government's attempts to broker peace with the Tamil rebels. Armitage also visited the Jaffna peninsula. He was the highest ranking U.S. official to visit the area since the early 1980s.

In July, Secretary of State Colin Powell had toured the region. The growing disillusionment among an influential section of Indian officials with the U.S. policy in the region was evident during the Powell visit. The recent high level changes in South Block seems to have led to a slight reorientation of foreign policy priorities. More emphasis is now sought to be given to India's neighbours and to its traditional friends in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). There was also considerable criticism from the Opposition parties against the government's dealings with the Bush administration. They had taken exception to Powell's observations on Kashmir. Powell had said that Kashmir was "on the international agenda" and that international observers should be allowed to be present during the coming Assembly elections in the State.

New Delhi was quick to reject any talk of foreign observers to monitor or observe the polls in Kashmir. There has also been a noticeable change in the stance of the Indian Foreign Office on Kashmir-related issues. Senior Indian officials now say that stopping cross-border infiltration is not the only condition Islamabad will have to fulfil in order to normalise bilateral relations. They insist that Pakistan will also have to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure located inside its territory.

Indian officials said that they would hold Pakistan responsible for all acts of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir as long as Islamabad maintains communication links with terrorists operating inside Kashmir. For them, another "litmus test" of Pakistani intentions will be the cessation of terrorist activities during the run-up to the polls. The Indian foreign policy apparatus is not convinced that Pakistan has kept the commitments it has made to Washington and the international community, although it concedes that cross-border infiltration has come down substantially. The official stance continues to be that all infiltration should stop "permanently", as promised by Musharraf.

The new thinking in South Block is that India will have to untangle the Kashmir problem on its own, without depending too much on Washington. It has now woken up to the reality that the Bush administration has a very special relationship with Musharraf. When Armitage was in the region, President George W. Bush openly described the Pakistani leader as one of the most reliable allies in the "fight against terrorism". This puts the Pakistani strongman in the same boat with the likes of Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon. A $3 billion debt owed by Pakistan to the U.S. for 30 years was rescheduled in late August. Senior Indian officials also claim to have realised that Washington will not expend the same level of energy and time to South Asia as it does to West Asia, preoccupied as it is with the geopolitics of energy and gas.

During Armitage's latest stopover in Delhi he met senior Indian leaders and officials, including Defence Minister George Fernandes and Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Brajesh Mishra. External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha was out of the country, but Armitage had a long sitting with the Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal. There was not even a photo-call for Armitage with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, a pointer to the drift in Indo-U.S. relations. A border skirmish in the Drass sector threatened to overshadow Armitage's visit.

Mishra told mediapersons in Delhi that he had conveyed to Armitage the fact that Pakistan had not kept the promises it had made to Washington and the international community. Mishra indirectly implied that Washington was not doing enough to arm-twist Islamabad into fulfilling its pledges. He said that the promises made by Musharraf "have not been kept. What the US is doing about it, only the U.S. can tell you". Mishra told the media that India had not asked Armitage to convey any messages to Islamabad. Armitage, on the other hand, said that his government would continue to use its good offices to reduce tensions between India and Pakistan. He stressed that his government was giving an "extraordinary amount of attention to this issue".

Armitage tread warily on the issue of elections in Kashmir. It is no secret that the international community wants to see the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) take part in the polls. However, the arrest of some top APHC leaders before the poll dates were announced has diminished considerably the possibility of their participation in the elections. Armitage, however, said that he got the impression that the Government of India was keen to hold elections "in a fair and free and as open as possible" manner. He said that he appreciated the Indian government's willingness to hold talks with the APHC.

Before Armitage embarked on his trip to the region, there was a demand by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that he should "express publicly the U.S. government's profound concern about the widespread killing of Muslims in the State of Gujarat earlier this year". The statutory U.S. Commission noted that no senior U.S. administration official "has expressed concern over the killings or called for accountability". (British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had raised the issue with the Indian government during his visit in July.)

In Islamabad, Musharraf told Armitage that while everything possible was being done to stop infiltration, "some infiltration" across the Line of Control (LoC) would continue given the nature of the terrain. Musharraf's position has been virtually endorsed by Washington. Speaking to the media in Islamabad, Armitage said that "no one, here in Pakistan or in India, thinks that the Pakistan government is solely responsible for the infiltration".

Chief of the Army Staff General S. Padmanabhan had expressed similar views earlier in the year and had even ruled out the efficacy of joint patrolling by Indian and Pakistani troops in curbing infiltration. There has been intermittent talk of joint patrolling to try and stop infiltration completely. Musharraf, on the other hand, has repeatedly been suggesting the deployment of an international monitoring force along the LoC. This is not acceptable to New Delhi, which has instead proposed increased "military coordination" between the two Armies, to curb infiltration further. India wants greater interaction between the DGMOs (Directors-General of Military Operations) and sector commanders of both the armies.

But the Pakistani side has been saying that the main issue is New Delhi's continuing reluctance to resume the bilateral dialogue. Musharraf had recently stated that he would take no further steps to curb cross-border terrorism until India reciprocated with an offer to resume the dialogue. "I'm not going to take 10 steps when India does not take even one," he told an international news agency. During his visit to Islamabad Armitage also said that it was "desirable" for Pakistan and India to restart the dialogue process. He said that the U.S. could offer assistance "but cannot impose a solution to the Kashmir problem". It is, however, clear after the latest Armitage visit that the Bush administration also expects India to take further steps to reduce tensions, either by allowing the APHC to contest the elections in Kashmir or by reopening dialogue with Pakistan.

Democracy at gunpoint

In the run-up to the elections, terror stalks Jammu and Kashmir, particularly in its rural areas. Its perpetrators, remote-controlled from across the border, are attempting to intimidate civil society more than politicians and party activists. Yet there is no dearth of potential candidates in most constituencies, in stark contrast to 1996.

"HOLD on a second," says the affable cigarette-store owner near the bus stand at Tral, "I'll come show you the way. Whose house did you say you were looking for, again?" But mention the name, and the offer of help instantly evaporates. Even showing a stranger the way to Mohammad Subhan Bhat's home could invite serious trouble.

In April 1991, the 75-year-old National Conference (N.C.) district president was dragged out of his neighbourhood mosque by an al-Jihad hit squad, and shot dead in public view. The former MLA's crime was that he had dared to criticise in public terrorist violence. Most N.C. leaders, from Farooq Abdullah downwards, had long before fled the State. Then, in 1995, talk of elections began to do the rounds. Many people believed that one of Bhat's children would contest. This time, his youngest son Shaukat Ahmad, a final-year college student, was kidnapped and tortured, and his body was thrown outside the family home. Six years later, in the build-up to the next round of Assembly elections, terrorists struck again. In July, the Urdu newspaper Al-Safa reported that Shaukat Ahmad's older brother Fayyaz Ahmad, a government official, was the front-runner for the N.C. nomination from Tral. On July 31, the father of two children was ambushed on his way to work, and his body riddled with 26 bullets.

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Few families here have paid as much for their political convictions, but the story of Mohammad Subhan Bhat and his sons illustrates just how dangerous supporting democracy can be in Jammu and Kashmir. Forty-one members of the mainstream political parties had been assassinated by August 3, and another half-dozen joined the list of the dead over the following two weeks. The trends suggest that the 2002 Assembly elections will claim an even heavier toll than those held in 1996, when a record 75 political activists were assassinated. When Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf claims that these coming elections will be a farce, he is right. What the General chooses not to discuss is that the farce bears a made-in-Pakistan label. Major terrorist groups operating from bases in Pakistan, notably the Hizbul Mujahideen and Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar's al-Umar, have issued warnings that those participating in the democratic process will be punished. For all of Musharraf's pious declarations of anti-terrorist commitment, he evidently does not have a problem with cold-blooded murder.

Much of the intimidation directed at political activists is taking place in rural Jammu and Kashmir, ignored by much of the media and top-level politicians alike. On July 7, for example, terrorists pasted pamphlets on walls in the village of Larnoo, near Kokernag, demanding that six local N.C. workers apologise for their membership in the party. All six of them made their way to a local mosque, and did as they were told at gunpoint. The same night, terrorists reached the home of N.C. activist Nooruddin Kohli at nearby Ahlan Bala. They failed to find Kohli, but ordered his family to lock their home and leave the village. They did, however, find Shabbir Ahmad Kullai, a contender for the Shopian Assembly seat. On August 3, Kullai was marched to his village mosque at Bangam, near Shopian, and ordered to declare that he had no interest in politics and would not contest. Soon afterwards, he along with his family left for Srinagar.

Such attacks are intended to do more than intimidate politicians: their real object is the intimidation of civil society as a whole. Srinagar-based journalists have reported at length on alleged efforts by the police and the Border Security Force to compel voters to acquire Election Commission identity cards. Not a word, however, has been said about enterprises to deny individuals this right. In several villages in rural Shopian, village officials have been marched into mosques, and made to promise that they will not cooperate with the project. "I've tried several times to get a card made," says Zaban-Matipora fruit merchant Mohammad Zubair, "because the police in cities I travel to outside Jammu and Kashmir often demand official identification. But the numberdar sends me to the tehsildar, the tehsildar to the district authorities, and then they send me back down the ladder again."

HOW does one account for the extraordinary ferocity of this summer's anti-election terrorist campaign? The official explanation is that the killings are part of a Pakistan-directed anti-election project. The claim, though true, is facile. The real reason lies in the deepening of a mass constituency for peace in rural Jammu and Kashmir. Much of the urban middle-class has, paradoxically, benefited from terrorism. Land-owners have seen prices shoot up as a consequence of massive hawala inflows to terrorist groups while businessmen have gained from government projects and contracts handed out by the security forces in Jammu and Kashmir. Salaried employees, for their part, are relatively well insulated from the economic consequences of violence, notably strikes called by terrorists or secessionist political organisations. Well-connected and affluent, the urban elites also have considerable protection from state atrocities, such as beatings or illegal arrest. "Most people from this class," points out Communist Party of India (Marxist) MLA Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami, "have very little reason to call for peace."

In much of rural Jammu and Kashmir, very different sets of considerations operate. Consider, for example, the case of Mohammad Pora, one of the most affluent villages in the Shopian apple-orchard belt. In April, the local Lashkar-e-Toiba unit, led by a Pakistan national code-named Abu Maaz, lost two cadre in an encounter. Convinced that they knew who had provided the necessary information to the security forces, the Lashkar handed out summary retribution. Bilal Ahmad Bhat, 15, was forced to watch his 16-year old brother Javed being hacked until he bled to death. Then, Bilal Bhat was shot at point-blank range. Two months later, the same village was subjected to mass beatings by the Army and Special Operations Group after two troops were killed in another encounter. Village numberdar Bashir Ahmad Mantoo says his home was ransacked by security force personnel, and that valuables including his television set were stolen. "They even arrested two young people who had nothing to do with terrorists," he says, "and then demanded bribes for their release."

Neither of the Mohammad Pora outrages made it to the newspapers. Here, political representation seems to offer a way to seek protection from violence, inflicted either by terrorists or the state. "At least democracy has given people the opportunity to be heard," says CPI(M) activist Mohammad Amin Dar. "Under Governor's Rule, who in these villages had any access to the powerful? That is why at all our meetings I keep telling people that they must find the courage to use their votes, whatever the risks. We have to speak out, we have to make our voice heard, or we will continue to suffer."

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It is a sentiment widely voiced in the countryside, where even the elite have been hard-hit by violence. The village of Kader produces one of the finest qualities of apples grown in the Kashmir Valley. Violence, however, has ensured that the belt has no cold storage or processing facilities. Farmers must therefore sell their crop in New Delhi. Since apples perish quickly, wholesalers in New Delhi are quick to cash in on glut conditions. Even a landslide on the Srinagar-Jammu highway can wipe out a season's profits. "We need peace," says Zubair, "if we are to prosper. If things continue this way, we will be wiped out by produce from other States and countries."

Whether such sentiments will prompt people to come out on voting day is, however, unclear. During an August 19 visit to Srinagar, Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh made clear to officials that he did not want to see the Army operating in the State during the polls. That, in effect, rules out the kind of controversial persuasive activity which enabled many otherwise-terrified voters to exercise their franchise in 1996. There was relatively little pressure on voters actually to come out in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, and as a consequence the turnout was very low in many of the areas worst-hit by violence. A low turn-out, interestingly, would most likely benefit the N.C., which has a well-structured cadre capable of ensuring that committed supporters will come out irrespective of the consequences. By contrast, mainstream Opposition groups like the Congress(I), Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's People's Democratic Party and the CPI(M), have a less well-organised election apparatus, and would lose out in the event of voter turnout being low.

Perhaps predictably, the N.C. is attracting a flood of candidates despite the enormous risks involved. Within a day of Fayyaz Ahmad Bhat's assassination, the N.C. tehsil president Ghulam Hassan Jan made clear his willingness to take up the challenge. He, too, was assassinated, just seven days after the murder of his predecessor. Even now, however, N.C. sources told Frontline, four candidates have applied for nomination from Tral. In stark contrast to 1996, most constituencies are witnessing bitter fights for nomination, and dark rumours are circulating that some seats are being sold off to the highest bidder. Such election-time intrigue suggests only that the N.C. has succeeded in using power and patronage to widen its influence. Senior Ministers Mushtaq Ahmad Lone and Choudhari Ramzan have both faced demonstrations from party dissidents, and at least a dozen sitting MLAs, party sources say, could be replaced. Many of the changes could take place in rural Jammu, where the party hopes to make significant gains.

Opposition groups have also shown considerable vigour. The Congress(I), energised by the appointment of Ghulam Nabi Azad as its State chief and the induction of former N.C. leader Saifuddin Soz, is expected to make significant gains in Jammu. Observers point to the Bharatiya Janata Party's dismal showing in recent byelections to the Jammu Lok Sabha constituency as a sign that its core urban Hindu constituency is alienated from the party. The decision in July by the Jammu Morcha, a federation of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-backed groups committed to dividing Jammu and Kashmir along communal lines, to fight the elections had also threatened the BJP. The Morcha and the BJP have now, however, struck a seat-sharing deal, through which the BJP hopes to win back its ultra-right backers.

All three secular Opposition groups would benefit significantly from a seat adjustment arrangement, but Sayeed has been rejecting the proposals put up so far. Both the Congress(I) and the CPI(M) had suggested using the results of the 1999 Lok Sabha elections as the basis for a deal, but Sayeed has rejected out of hand what seems to be a sensible formula. Should a seat-sharing arrangement fall through, the Opposition as a whole could suffer serious damage. The threat of fragmenting Opposition votes has been underlined by the creation of a 13-party "Third Front", led by Jamaat-e-Islami rebel Mohammad Khaliq Hanif. While the one-time secessionist parties that make up the "Third Front" have little real presence on the ground, they could draw just enough voters away from the larger oppositional parties to benefit the N.C. in several constituencies. Parties of one-time terrorists, again, have limited pockets of influence in constituencies such as Anantnag and Bandipora, and this will enable them to undermine the prospects of mainstream Opposition groups.

The wholesale slaughter of political workers that is under way in Jammu and Kashmir makes it clear that Pakistan is determined to ensure that Musharraf's claim of a farce is rendered a prophecy. Strangely enough, this seems to be an enterprise that the Union government is complicit in. Former Union Law Minister Ram Jethmalani's quasi-official Kashmir Committee signalled to secessionist groups that New Delhi believes they, and not the elected representatives, have the power to shape Jammu and Kashmir's future. Jethmalani's August mission served only to breathe life into the near-marginal All Parties Hurriyat Conference, and undermined public faith in the mainstream Opposition. For much of the past six years, the Union government has done little else. Committee has followed committee, seeking to persuade everyone from the Hizbul Mujahideen to Shabbir Shah's Democratic Freedom Party to participate in the polls. Power built on terror has been legitimised; power forged through peaceful struggle devalued. With its political enterprise now bankrupt, the Union government needs to find new ways to ensure violence does not continue to shape the terms of discourse.

None of New Delhi's committees met Noor Husain Gujjar; neither will the journalists and diplomats, who have booked every upmarket hotel room to watch the theatre in Jammu and Kashmir unfold. Soon after he stood for election as a panchayat member in the summer of 2001, he was tried and punished by a Hizbul Mujahideen court. Noor Husain's ears and nose were chopped off, and a hand almost severed by a single blow with an axe. Here, fighting elections is a big mistake - and winning them an even worse one.

The hawala trail

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PRAVEEN SWAMI

BRITISH officials are investigating the activities of one of the most prominent overseas backers of secessionist groups in Jammu and Kashmir. Last month, the United Kingdom's Charities Commission and the Metropolitan Police began looking into allegations that Ayub Thokar, the head of the World Kashmir Freedom Movement, had funnelled funds raised for charity to the terrorist groups.

Investigations into Thokar's role in funding terror began after Indian officials handed over evidence in the case to their British counterparts in June. The two Indian officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs and a senior Jammu and Kashmir Police officer made available details of funds funnelled from Thokar's charity, Mercy International, through Standard Chartered Grindlays Bank (since then renamed Standard Chartered Bank) and the Development Credit Bank. The investigators also provided transcripts of telephone intercepts and cases filed against the recipients of the funds in India.

On May 25, a long-running Intelligence Bureau operation led to the arrest of Srinagar-based journalist Imtiaz Bazaz. Officials claim that he was a key conduit for transferring funds to Hizbul Mujahideen field commanders in Jammu and Kashmir. On April 22 Bazaz had received a foreign currency remittance of Rs.4,84,875 into his account with Standard Chartered in New Delhi, and on May 15 a second remittance of Rs.14,98,000 into the Development Credit Bank. Although intelligence officials monitored the first transaction, they did not intervene, in the interest of building up evidence. The second transaction was frozen.

The funds trail led straight to Thokar. It transpired that in early 2001, Hizbul Mujahideen chief Mohammad Yusuf Shah had sent Rs.48 lakh to Jamaat-e-Islami leader Syed Salahuddin through Thokar. Subsequently, after the arrest of Jamait-ul-Mujahideen finance commander Qasim Faktu, Thokar began to finance his organisation through the terrorist's wife, Asiya Indrabi. Most of the funds were routed through Bazaz, who arranged for the transfer of funds received in New Delhi to accounts held with the Jammu & Kashmir Bank in Srinagar. Cash was then paid to the final recipients.

Meanwhile, Income Tax Department investigations against All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani have started to bear fruit (Frontline, July 5, 2002). The secessionist leader claimed an annual agricultural income of Rs.10,000 in his tax returns, and also received the official pension of Rs.85,200 due to two-term MLAs - ironically enough for a man now at the cutting edge of the secessionist anti-election campaign! His expensive house in Hyderpora, however, had several cars parked there and the household was run by a personal staff of 14 people. The monthly kitchen expenses amounted to Rs.25,000. Income Tax Department searches of the Geelani home also yielded Rs.10.25 lakhs and $10,000 in cash. Income-tax officials have now decided to impose penalties of Rs.30 lakhs on Geelani, based on his estimated income over the last six years, the maximum period allowed by law. His businessman son-in-law Altaf Ahmad Shah, who allegedly used his legitimate operations to launder funds, has been slapped with a Rs.40 lakhs penalty. Failure to pay could lead to the auctioning of Geelani's assets, including the Hyderpora home.

Separate income-tax penalties of Rs.2 crores have been imposed on businessman Abdul Rashid Saraf, who was allegedly involved in handling hawala funds sent to APHC chairman Abdul Gani Bhat. Saraf, income-tax authorities found, had failed to disclose income of Rs.3.37 crores over the last six years.

The vigour that the Income Tax Department has shown in this matter marks a welcome departure from the past. After it was driven out of Srinagar in the later 1980s by mobs that attacked income tax inspectors, the organisation had granted de-facto independence to the State. This time, two planeloads of officials flew into the Avantipora Air Force base and they were escorted to the raids by police officers. Their successes seem to have convinced the Income Tax Department that it is after all possible to play a useful role in Jammu and Kashmir.

In the U.K., both Mercy International and Thokar will now have to answer some hard questions. For one, there is no explanation why the organisation did not send supposed philanthropic donations to the several-dozen charities in Jammu and Kashmir which have clearances under the Foreign Exchange Management Act. Thokar will also have to explain how he paid for the purchase of his London home, and his regular overseas travels, given the fact that he has no ostensible means of income. India has, however, chosen not to seek Thokar's extradition, since the fact that his wife is a U.K. national makes this outcome unlikely.

For India, British action in this case will be a key test of its loudly-advertised anti-terrorist stance. In March, sources told Frontline, Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani had handed over to British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw a dossier on the activities of secessionist groups in the U.K. Titled 'Misuse of British Soil by Kashmir Expatriates Based in the U.K. for Funding Terrorism in J&K', the document outlined many of the charges which investigations have now added substance to. Sources say the team that visited the U.K. pointed to Straw's promises to crack down on terrorism-related money laundering, and were told that criminal prosecutions would take place in the U.K. Earlier, the U.K. successfully prosecuted two Khalistan-linked British nationals involved in backing the Babbar Khalsa International.

If funds transfers to terrorist groups are effectively cut off, it will do not a little to cripple such organisations. The reasons are simple. While it is easy to send cadres across the Line of Control, actually sustaining their activities in Jammu and Kashmir needs an elaborate financial structure. Money is needed to pay for everything from food and shelter to informants, political support and the legal defence of arrested sympathisers. Since it is impossible to lug sacks full of cash across the LoC, illegal funds transfers come into play. For many businessmen in the Kashmir Valley, holding such cash for short terms has been a profitable, risk-free enterprise. Now the penalties imposed should persuade conduits for blood-money transfers that crime does not, in fact, pay.

Separatist terror

In a bid to further its separatist cause, the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation targets leaders and workers of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal.

TERRORISM is making its way into West Bengal from the neighbouring States of Bihar, Jharkhand and Assam. While the Left extremist People's War (P.W.) has established a base of sorts for itself in south Bengal, the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), an underground separatist outfit, has been active in north Bengal with the help of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). That West Bengal is becoming vulnerable to terrorism and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which leads the ruling Left Front, is turning out to be the main target of terrorist strikes is indicated by the recent KLO action at Dhupguri in Jalpaiguri district of north Bengal.

On August 17, in an operation at dusk, KLO militants stormed into the CPI(M) office at Dhupguri and shot dead five party members. Fifteen of the 20 party members present were seriously injured in the well-planned attack. The first person to die in the attack was Gopal Chaki, a district-level CPI(M) leader and a Jalpaiguri zilla parishad member in charge of the Public Works Department. The attack came when a meeting of the Krishak Sabha was on in the party office, located in the bazaar area. Saturday being the weekly market day, the area was crowded. According to eye-witnesses, three militants armed with automatic weapons arrived in front of the party office on bicycles, stormed in and opened fire before escaping on three motorcycles that were waiting outside.

Anil Biswas, secretary of the CPI(M)'s West Bengal unit, blamed the KLO for the "planned strike" and said the Dhupguri incident was a conspiracy of forces opposed to the Left Front in the State. He said that they were out to weaken the Left movement in West Bengal. A bandh was observed in four districts of north Bengal on August 19 following a call issued by the CPI(M) and other Left Front constituents.

Intelligence sources said the operation was carried out by the KLO, an underground militant wing of the Kamtapur People's Party (KPP), which was formed six years ago to work for a separate State for Rajbongshis, covering the districts of Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, North and South Dinajpur and Malda. The KPP's demands also include recognition to the Kamtapuri language and "resettlement" of residents who arrived in the region after 1971. Supporters of the KPP, largely people of Rajbongshi origin, consider themselves indigenous to the region and feel that they should be granted the right to self-determination.

BESIDES being the only militant group active in the region, the KLO is also the only group of its kind to harbour a grudge against the CPI(M). It has killed many CPI(M) workers and leaders. In May 2000, the KLO made its first strike, gunning down CPI(M) leader Pranesh Pal at Barobisha in Jalpaiguri. In June 2000, two senior CPI(M) leaders, Sunil Dutta and Dilip Roy, were killed at Duramari in Jalpaiguri. In July 2000, two CPI(M) supporters, who were also schoolteachers, were killed in their classrooms at Mainaguri and Dhupguri. In October the same year, a senior lawyer and CPI(M) leader, Dipankar Ghosh, was gunned down at Bidhan Nagar in Siliguri. In 2001, KLO militants shot dead CPI(M) leader Sudhir Burman at Kumargramduar. The KLO, like ULFA, resorts to abductions and extortions to raise funds. Tea planters and businessmen of the region have become their prime targets. For instance, tea planters Roshanlal Garg, Om Prakash Agarwal and Dipankar Ghosh were kidnapped in 1999 and 2000.

KPP chief Atul Roy told Frontline that KLO attacks in north Bengal were only the beginning of a bloody battle that would hit the region before the panchayat elections in 2003. He said that the Left Front government was bound to face the wrath of the KPP and the KLO if it did not return the land to the Rajbongshis and acknowledged their demand for a separate State. The KPP, 500 of whose leaders are behind bars, is regrouping and wants to build bases in many places in the five north Bengal districts.

Before the August 17 attack, the KLO engineered, with the help of ULFA, a landmine explosion at Bhutanghat inside the Buxa Tiger Reserve. It left six jawans injured. The militants torched the Bhutanghat forest bungalow where the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) was planning to establish a camp.

Anand Kumar, Jalpaiguri Additional Superintendent of Police, said: "We firmly believe that the KLO could not have carried out the attack on the CPI(M) party office at Dhupguri without help from ULFA. Going by the way the attack was carried out, we are almost sure that it was a KLO-ULFA joint operation. The police are keeping a watch over all routes to Bhutan where the militants might escape to. Both ULFA and the KLO have their bases in Bhutan and run their training camps there. From preliminary investigations, we have found out that there were five or six militants belonging to the KLO accompanied by one ULFA cadre."

The strike is significant in the wake of intelligence reports that a 31-member "action squad" of KLO and ULFA militants had entered Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and Darjeeling districts in order to carry out strikes. The attack followed the arrest of Kamtapur Women Rights Forum chief Bharati Das, said to be the fiancee of self-styled KLO 'commander-in-chief' Jeevan Singh alias Tamir Das, in the first week of August.

The KLO's Darjeeling district "commander" Chandan Singh and his accomplice Shyamal Singh were arrested at Batasi near the Nepal border on August 17. The police and the security agencies were apprehensive that the KLO-ULFA combine would carry out a series of retaliatory strikes. Witnesses said KLO action squad chief Joy Deb Das alias Tom Adhikary, his deputy Tushar Roy, and Bijoy Roy alias Kitab Das were among the six persons involved in the attack.

With several training camps and hideouts in the dense forest areas of Bhutan close to the Indian border, ULFA and KLO militants find it convenient to carry out strikes in Assam and north Bengal and return to their bases in Bhutan through jungle routes. With the banned ULFA extending active support to the secessionist cause, the KLO has established itself in areas spread over five districts of North Bengal - Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Malda and North and South Dinajpur - around the Assam-Bhutan-West Bengal border.

West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee told Frontline that the government had definite information that the KLO was mobilising resources in league with ULFA to create disturbances in north Bengal. He said that the State Home department had also got information that KLO members from north Bengal were leaving in small batches through Alipurduar in Jalpaiguri district for jungle areas around the Bhutanese town of Sandrup Jhonkar, less than 10 km from the India-Bhutan border, for training in the use of arms and in guerilla warfare. Army intelligence sources have confirmed that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan has been aiding ULFA, which trains the KLO members, in various ways.

With Bhutan hesitating to crack down on the extremists, the terrorist menace in the heavily forested India-Bhutan border areas is a cause of grave concern for both the West Bengal and Central governments. A series of militant operations against security forces in Assam and West Bengal along the Bhutan border have been reported in recent months.

Soon after the August 17 attack, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee demanded that the Centre persuade the Bhutan government to participate with India in joint army operations to flush ULFA and KLO extremists out of the forests of southern Bhutan. (A similar demand was repeatedly placed before the Centre by Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi.) Informed sources said that militants, who were aware of the fact that Bhutan did not have sufficient armed strength to drive them out, had converted the entire India-Bhutan border into a large training camp.

According to the estimates of the Indian Army's intelligence wing, there are 4,000 ULFA and about 1,000 KLO militants holed up in Bhutan. Another 1,000-odd ULFA members operate from Bangladesh.

Demolishers and a dilemma

The recent Supreme Court directive to the Uttar Pradesh government to make its stand clear on the prosecution of some of the key accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case has put the BSP-BJP coalition in a tricky position.

THE Bahujan Samaj Party-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition government in Uttar Pradesh faces the toughest challenge yet to its survival over the question of issuing of notification against top BJP, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Shiv Sena leaders in the Babri Masjid demolition case. The accused, including Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and Union Ministers Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati, would face prosecution for their role in the demolition of the Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 if the notification was issued.

On February 12, 2001, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court had quashed the trial of 21 of the accused, including Advani, Joshi and Uma Bharati, on the grounds that the notification for their trial was defective and improper since it was issued by the State government without the mandatory prior permission of the court. However, the court described the defect a technical one and said it was "curable".

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Despite pressure from the Opposition parties, the Rajnath Singh-led BJP government in Uttar Pradesh had refused to correct the technical flaw and thus allowed the special CBI court to drop the charges against all of them. This was despite the fact that a designated court had found in 1997 sufficient prima facie evidence against all the accused, which facilitated the framing of charges against them by the CBI. In May 2001, the special CBI court had dropped charges against the 21 accused persons on the basis of the High Court's observation and said that they could be prosecuted only after the Uttar Pradesh government issued a fresh notification (Frontline, June 8, 2001). Meanwhile, prosecution against 26 others in the case, mainly bureaucrats and lower level police officials, proceeded.

The Supreme Court order to the U.P. government to file its reply as to whether it would issue a fresh notification in the case came on July 29 after a few social activists, including senior journalist Kuldip Nayar, challenged the February 12 court order that facilitated the dropping of charges against the 21 accused persons. The petitioners said that the accused should not be allowed to go scot-free on a 'trifle technical ground' and requested the apex court to direct the State government to make its stance clear.

However, the Mayawati government, which succeeded the Rajnath Singh government, appears to be in a dilemma and sought eight weeks' time to file its reply. If it tells the court that it will issue a fresh notification, that would mean initiating fresh prosecution against senior BJP, VHP and Shiv Sena leaders. This, in turn, would force the BJP to withdraw its support to the government. On the other hand, if Mayawati tries to wriggle out of the situation by beating around the bush, as she has been doing so far, it could alienate her Muslim voters and endanger her long-term political strategy. Syed Shahabuddin, senior All India Muslim Personal Law Board member, said: "This is her last chance with the Muslim voters. They gave her their support in the recent Assembly elections despite her previous two alliances with the BJP, because she had proved her secular credentials on these occasions. She did not make compromises on the temple issue. But if she allows these people to go scot-free, as Rajnath Singh did, Muslims will never forgive her." He said that if the court asked her to go ahead and issue a fresh notification, "then she has no option but to obey".

On May 3, as she took the oath of office as Chief Minister, Mayawati had declared that she would seek legal opinion in the matter before taking a decision whether a fresh notification should be issued. However, even after three months in office, she is yet to take a decision. Senior State government officials close to Mayawati said that the matter had been referred to the Advocate-General and that his opinion was yet to be received. "There is still time and she would certainly give a reply by the designated date," said one of her advisers. But the bureaucrats added that she did not appear to be in a mood to sacrifice her government. One officer said: "She could take the position that there was no need to issue a fresh notification since the original CBI charge-sheet contains the names of all accused, including those whose names had been dropped following the February 12 order. Hence prosecution against them could also be initiated based on the same charge-sheet." He added that such a position would at least buy her some time.

The BJP, on the other hand, is still to take stock of the situation. Apparently, the party is confident that Mayawati, like Rajnath Singh, will not take any measures. Party spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said: "There is so much time. We still have to consider the issue because so many other important matters have come up in the meantime. But there is no danger to the U.P. government and it will run its full term." But it is also a fact that Mayawati has to keep her Muslim voters in good humour and she has demonstrated her intention to keep the Ram temple issue at bay. At a press conference in Lucknow before the VHP's June 2 "mahayagna", she said: "Let me make it clear that Ayodhya is not on my government's agenda and any party that tries to create communal trouble will be dealt with firmly." Later, the tight security arrangements made at the time of the yagna ensured that it was attended by only a handful of VHP activists as against the organisation's claim of 50,000.

MEANWHILE, on August 2, the special court hearing the title suit cases on a day-to-day basis suggested that fresh excavations be done at the site to decide whether a temple or a mosque existed there. The court said that before any such excavation, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) could survey the disputed site with ground-penetrating radar or geo-radiology equipment and obtain the report, with the aid, including financial, of the Central government. The three-Judge Bench, comprising Justices Sudhir Narain, S.R. Alam and Bhanwar Singh, observed that if it was ultimately decided to excavate the disputed land, the excavation would be done under the supervision of five eminent archaeologists, even retired ones, including two belonging to the Muslim community. The court said that it may also appoint an observer for the excavation work. It directed that the videography of the excavation work be done and that should any artefacts be found, their photographs be taken and the material be kept in the custody of the State government. The court said that during such an excavation the idol of Ramlala must be shifted to the chabutra situated on the east of the disputed site.

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The Judges observed that the basic issue in all the title suits was whether "the building has been constructed on the site of an alleged Hindu temple after demolishing the same", or "whether the disputed structure claimed to be Babri Masjid was erected after demolishing Janm Sthan temple at its site", or "whether a Hindu temple or any Hindu religious structure existed prior to the construction of the Ram Janmbhoomi and Babri Masjid (including the premises of the inner and outer courtyards of such structure) in the area on which the structure stood".

Interestingly, the court's suggestion has made all the litigants in the case see red. The VHP, the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas and the Central Sunni Waqf Board (CSWB) have rejected the suggestion. Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas chief Mahant Ramchandra Paramhans warned that Hindus would protest if the Ramlala idol was shifted from the garbhagriha for an excavation. He said: "After the pranpratishtha ceremony is performed according to Vedic rites, no deity can be shifted, even for a short period. It is against Hinduism, and no court or government has any right to do so." Paramhans threatened a countrywide agitation if the court or the government initiated any action to excavate the site. According to the Nyas chief, there are no doubts about the existence of a temple because several carved blackstone pillars were found in the debris of the demolished Babri Masjid.

The VHP's international secretary Praveen Togadia said that excavations would mean violating the makeshift temple's sanctity. He claimed that excavations by the ASI in 1992 had proved that a Ram temple existed at the site.

The CSWB said that the court's suggestion violated the Supreme Court's January 7, 1993 order to maintain the status quo at the site. The apex court in its 1993 order had said that the status quo be maintained on the disputed site until the final order in the case. Jafrayab Jilani, counsel for the CSWB and convener of the Babri Masjid Action Committee, said: "Any order or proposal to carry out fresh excavations need the permission of the Supreme Court and an amendment to Section 7 (2) of the Ayodhya Acquisition Act, 1993."

Significantly, the legal view of the CSWB and the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas is similar on the controversial court proposal. The CSWB also did not agree with the court's view that the basic issue was to ascertain whether a temple existed at the site before the construction of the mosque. "The basic issue is whether or not Rama was born at the site in question. And it is to be proved by the opposite party as they have claimed it to be janamsthan," said a CSWB official. Meanwhile, on August 21, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court banned the daily reporting of the hearings and the publishing of opinions on the Ayodhya issue and said that any violation would amount to contempt of court.

Striking at will

The recent militant attacks in Meghalaya and Tripura point to a clear programme to whip up parochial sentiments against "non-tribal outsiders".

INSURGENCY in the two northeastern States of Meghalaya and Tripura took a toll of 32 lives in mid-August. In order to scuttle the Independence Day celebrations, guerilla outfits in Meghalaya massacred 12 civilians on August 13. On August 20 members of the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) ambushed a truck carrying jawans of the Tripura State Rifles from the hill town of Takarjala, about 35 km from Agartala, killing 20 of them on the spot and injuring five.

The militants, who had positioned themselves behind hillocks on both sides of the road, hurled grenades at the truck and brought it to a halt. The security personnel could do little as another group of militants unleashed a volley of gunfire from the paddyfields on either side. The militants took away 19 self-loading rifles, a light machine gun and a large quantity of ammunition from the truck. Senior police officials said they suspected that self-styled NLFT commander Kishore alias Lara Debbarma had led the ambush.

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The previous night, NLFT militants gunned down the chairman of the Companypara village development committee in Dhalai district. According to the police, a group of 10 rebels, led by 'commander' Pradip Debbarma, stormed the house of Chakla Tripura, a member of the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT), the political wing of the outlawed NLFT, and shot him. He was killed for not complying with the NLFT's demand for a donation from the village development committee.

The NLFT is not the only militant outfit that the security forces in Tripura have to contend with. The All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) has demonstrated on several occasions that it is a potent force in the insurgency-ravaged hilly interiors of the State. The ethnic cleansing programme aimed to make Tripura exclusive to the tribal Tripuris has for long been the most deplorable aspect of the militancy in the State. Less than three months ago, ATTF members killed 11 Bengalis in the northern parts of Tripura. On January 13, they massacred 16 Bengalis. Frequent attacks on Bengalis by the NLFT and the ATTF, which demand a "sovereign Tripura", have created an alarming situation.

The ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) said in a statement issued on August 20 that the attack on the jawans was made to create panic as the militants were being isolated, owing to resistance by the people and effective measures by the security forces.

The statement alleged that the IPFT, which took control of Tripura Tribal Area Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) two and half years ago with the assistance of the NLFT, which terrorised non-tribal voters into staying away from the polling stations, also supported the ethnic cleansing. On the political front, the State Congress(I) is an ally of the IPFT.

The growth of extremism in the sensitive State of Tripura has a long and bitter history. The emergence of the CPI(M) as a major political force in the State had put a damper on the growth of such extremism. But the situation has evidently changed yet again, and the manner in which ethnic and parochial sentiments are being whipped up against "non-tribal outsiders" signifies a return to the vicious pattern that dominated the State's landscape during Congress(I) rule in the 1980s. In order to counter the rise of the CPI(M), the Congress(I) built links with some divisive tribal outfits.

Alliances with established political parties helped these tribal groups gain the kind of legitimacy that they did not deserve. The IPFT is only one of the several groups in Tripura that are in active politics while trying to establish their dominance by openly resorting to violence. The IPFT, which tied up with the Congress(I) for the Lok Sabha byelections in February this year, is using every weapon to determine the course of politics in the State.

GOING by the nature and method of insurgency operations in Meghalaya, it is suspected that the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) had a hand in the killing of the non-tribal civilians on August 13 in West Garo Hills. The victims were travelling in a truck to a weekly market. The truck came under attack at a desolate spot near Tikrikilla, 4 km from the border outpost of Lakhipur in Assam's Golpara district. Meghalaya's Director-General of Police L. Sailo said that the attack could be the handiwork of ULFA and the NDFB.

Rattled by the incident, which was seen as the start of ritualistic blood-letting by militants in the run-up to Independence Day, the Meghalaya government requested the Centre to send more paramilitary forces. "The security of the public and the State is at stake," Meghalaya Home Minister Lotsing A. Sangma said in a fax message to the Centre. State intelligence sources said that the border areas of West Garo Hills had become a haven for militant outfits, including Meghalaya's underground Garo organisation, the Achik National Volunteers Council (ANVC), the Nagaland-based National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah) and the Assam-based NDFB and ULFA. Sailo ruled out the possibility of the ANVC's involvement in the August 13 attack, although the area is its stronghold. The site of the ambush is not far from the spot where ANVC militants gunned down the son of Meghalaya Forest Minister Manindra Rav on June 30.

Meanwhile, action squads of the Khasi insurgent group, the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), which is close to the underground NSCN(I-M), have stepped up their operations. The HNLC, which is fighting for Khasiland is an umbrella organisation of rebel groups that are active in Assam, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. These smaller groups are used by the HNLC to extort money and acquire arms and ammunition.

The modus operandi of the HNLC came to light after the arrest of five members of the North East Red Army (NERA) in August 2000. The self-styled commander-in-chief of NERA, Ching Thang Khiew, who was among the arrested, confessed to having close links with HNLC rebels and to helping the outfit in collecting money. NERA has its operational base in Nongpoh district of Meghalaya. According to intelligence sources, the HNLC must have learnt the art of playing the role of "big brother" from its mentor, the NSCN(I-M), and this has been paying it dividends.

The HNLC has modelled its operational structure on that of the NSCN(I-M). The sources said that the outfit had three commands - eastern, western and central. The eastern command covers Jainthia Hills district, the western command includes some parts of West Khasi Hills district, and the central command covers the capital, Shillong and its nearby areas. The Meghalaya police learnt about the organisation's command structure following the interrogation of some militants who were arrested recently.

A merger mela

The Congress(I) and the Tamil Maanila Congress merge, and the composite Congress' agenda has been identified as reviving "Kamaraj rule" in Tamil Nadu.

A MASSIVE crowd that exceeded all expectations and pleased Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi immensely watched the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) reunite with the Indian National Congress on August 14 at a venue christened "Moopanar Thidal" on the outskirts of Madurai. It was not a commandeered crowd; it consisted of ordinary workers of the two parties who came on their own from different parts of Tamil Nadu. It was a youthful crowd too. No wonder Sonia Gandhi remarked, "I thank you all from my heart for this wonderful meeting."

Earlier, in Pondicherry, the Puducherry Makkal Congress, led by P. Kannan, merged with the Congress(I) in her presence. The Pondicherry unit of the TMC also joined the Congress(I).

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Making a forceful speech in Madurai, Sonia Gandhi gave the unified Congress a single-point agenda: to bring the Congress back to power in Tamil Nadu and thus revive "Kamaraj rule'. Although the Congress-speak of reviving Kamaraj rule is old hat, the timing of it makes the composite Congress a potential force in State politics. Besides, this is the birth centenary year of K. Kamaraj, who was Congress president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister.

Perhaps judging the mood of party workers, Sonia Gandhi indicated that the unified Congress was preparing to go it alone in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. She said, "For 35 years, Tamil Nadu has been administered by non-Congress parties. During this time, the State has been sunk in politics of hostility." Later, at Chennai airport, she told newsmen: "It is our goal and aim to fight it alone in the State minus the Dravidian parties... Now we are one. We will go from strength to strength." Without naming it, she attacked the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) for discontinuing the free sari and dhoti scheme for the poor, which has affected thousands of handloom weavers in the State. She appealed to Congressmen to "buy handloom (textiles) from the weavers to help them out of their distress".

Preparations for the merger mela began three weeks in advance. The AIADMK government tried to play spoilsport when the police denied permission to hold the public meeting at either the Race Course grounds or the Tamukkam Maidan in Madurai city.

The TMC and the Congress(I), not making political capital out of the issue, chose fallow fields at Mastanpatti, about 7 km from Madurai, as the venue. But in a way this decision helped assess the strength of the rejuvenated Congress. B.S. Gnanadesikan, Rajya Sabha member and former TMC spokesman, said, "The public from Madurai did not attend the meeting because the venue was 7 km away. Those who attended it were the grassroots-level workers of the TMC and the Congress(I), who came on their own."

The merger is a big victory for E.V.K.S. Ilangovan, president of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC), who has taken a strong stand against the party allying itself either with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) or the AIADMK. Ramesh Chennithala, AICC secretary in charge of Tamil Nadu, played a key role in the merger.

Congress(I) workers who attended the function were unanimous that if the faction leaders buried the hatchet and worked together, they could invigorate the party and effectively offer it as an alternative to the Dravidian parties. Factionalism is the bane of the Congress(I) in Tamil Nadu. Infighting continued to rage even when the party was reduced to a rump following the formation of the TMC. The faction leaders include Vazhappadi K. Ramamurthi, K.V. Thangabalu, Ilangovan and Tindivanam K. Ramamurthy. D. Yasodha, a Dalit legislator and Era. Anbarasu, former Lok Sabha member, often strike out on their own. Party leaders speak in different voices on important issues, to the embarrassment of Ilangovan. In spite of all this, Ilangovan has commanded the trust of Sonia Gandhi with his anti-AIADMK stand.

The meeting was an all-out TMC affair. Hundreds of TMC flags with the bicycle symbol fluttered all over the venue. There were cut-outs of Kamaraj, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and G.K. Moopanar. But the event was not without hiccups. Four TMC legislators - D. Kumaradoss, S.S. Mani Nadar, M.A. Hakeem and R. Eswaran - and a Republican Party of India MLA who contested on the TMC symbol refused to play ball. They argued that Moopanar wanted only "coordination" with the Congress(I), not outright merger. They wrote separate letters to State Assembly Speaker K. Kalimuthu requesting that they be allowed to continue as TMC legislators. Kalimuthu conceded their demand on August 19.

G.K. Vasan, the TMC's leader, contested the decision. He said he had informed the Election Commission that no one should use the TMC symbol or flag and that he would proceed in the matter legally. In Pondicherry too, TMC legislator C. Jayakumar did not accept the merger. Congress sources indicated that Eswaran and Mani Nadar would soon relent.

On August 16, Sonia Gandhi, after Chennithala and Ilangovan met her in New Delhi, announced a 30-member coordination committee to prepare a plan to rebuild the party in Tamil Nadu. The revamping of the TNCC might take a couple of months. After that, a campaign would begin to enrol members. (At the merger meeting, Sonia Gandhi appointed Vasan AICC secretary.)

Ilangovan made it clear to the high command that the TNCC should form a Third Front with parties other than the DMK and the AIADMK. This was put to test during the panchayat elections in the State in October 2001. Sonia Gandhi reportedly agreed with Ilangovan. A long-time Congress-watcher said, "Mere anti-Jayalalithaa (State Chief Minister and AIADMK general secretary) statements will not carry conviction with the people. Until now the Congress has been merely reactive, and not proactive."

The TNCC is keen to build the party before the Lok Sabha elections. If it does not, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is working on these lines, could occupy that space. A Congress leader said that after the merger the party's vote share in Tamil Nadu stood at around 22 per cent. He calculated thus: "If we can attract 10 per cent more votes by building up the party or by aligning with smaller parties, we can be the number one in a three-cornered contest. But we shall not talk of alliance now. We shall build up the party."

The TMC was strapped for cash, and this is what hastened the merger. Moopanar and others founded the TMC in April 1996, breaking away from the Congress(I) in protest against the then Congress president and Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao's decision to align the party with the AIADMK. In the May 1996 Assembly elections the nascent TMC, in alliance with the DMK, scored a big victory. When Sitaram Kesri became Congress(I) president in September 1996, Moopanar was keen on coordination with the parent party. After Sonia Gandhi assumed party leadership in April 1998, Moopanar, a staunch Nehru-Indira Gandhi loyalist, became even more keen on merger. Sonia Gandhi chose to align the party with the AIADMK in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections and the TMC then contested as part of a Third Front. All its candidates were defeated.

However, the TMC reversed its stand and contested the May 2001 Assembly elections as an ally of the AIADMK and the Congress(I). Moopanar held discussions with Jayalalithaa on seat-sharing on behalf of the Congress(I) too. This brought the TMC and the Congress(I) together. It also showed Sonia Gandhi's trust in Moopanar. As a goodwill gesture, Moopanar allotted 15 out of the 47 seats allotted by the AIADMK to the Congress(I). The TMC won 22 seats and the Congress seven.

Discussions on the formalities of the merger started in August 2001. Moopanar died the next month. Vasan, who succeeded him as TMC president, toured the State for several months in order to convince party workers and leaders about the merger plan. TMC leaders were worried that in the event of the merger they would lose their independence and decisions would be thrust on them from New Delhi. Sonia Gandhi has reportedly assured them that she would grant the composite Congress enough autonomy in local affairs. On July 8, the TMC general council ratified the merger.

At the merger mela, Ilangovan was confident that the Congress(I) would regain strength in Tamil Nadu soon. Chennithala said that the merger also capped the return of Kumari Ananthan's Thondar Party and Vazhappadi K. Ramamurthi's Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress to the Congress(I) fold.

The question of the ownership of Satyamurthi Bhavan, which was a bone of contention between the TMC and the Congress, has become a non-issue now. It belongs to the Tamil Nadu Congress Charitable Trust and the TMC used it as its headquarters, paying rent to the Trust. The TMC vacated it on August 14 and the unified Congress will move in there by August end.

The woes of the displaced

Thousands of families displaced by the Maan dam struggle for survival at resettlement sites while the Madhya Pradesh government claims that the process of R&R has been complete.

"HOW can a development project create a disaster in the lives of the most downtrodden tribal people and also thousands of farmers of a huge area? How can it ravage their lives without any protest by mainstream political parties? My visit to the resettlement sites was a shocking experience," said Sarla Maheswari, Rajya Sabha member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), after a visit to the resettlement sites of families displaced by the Maan dam in Madhya Pradesh. She was accompanied by Subodh Roy, another Member of Parliament of the CPI(M), on the visit, which took place between August 16 and 18 and was a follow-up of the party's decision to support the Narmada Bachao Andolan's (NBA) struggle in the Narmada valley. "We did not have a very clear idea of the NBA's activities up to now," she said, "[but after the visit] we were moved by the NBA's long-standing devotion to their work, their care for the poor and the reformist character of the movement, which has been going on for the last two decades. They have brought enormous changes in the lives of the entire population of the area."

The Madhya Pradesh government has plummeted to new depths in its undemocratic approach towards those affected by the Maan dam in Dhar district. Its attitude was exemplified by the sequence of events prior to the arrival of the two MPs. In the second week of July, the government ordered the closure of the sluice gates of the dam, thereby beginning the process of impounding water. On July 20, when the men of the village were at the weekly market, a 400-strong police force swooped down on the village and forced the women to get into police vans. They were taken to the nearby town of Kesur.

Antubai, one of those arrested, told a fact-finding team of the India Centre for Human Rights that women who voiced any protest or anxiety about being separated from their children were beaten. Maheswari said that the women who spoke to her were terrified of the police. "They told me that during the action the police had torn their saris."

On August 7, in Khedi Balwari village, 21 houses were submerged following the government's decision to go ahead with the initial plan of closing the sluice gates in July even though Relief and Rehabilitation (R&R) work was incomplete. About 65 families in the lower reaches of the village have lost their homes, fields and crops as the waters have risen to about 40 metres behind the dam wall. With their homes under water and with no alternative accommodation, the residents took shelter on a hillock. After visiting the site, Maheswari said: "Some lived in tin sheds. Some lived in the open. It was raining when we were there and their condition was terrible. The arrangements made for them were very poor."

The government went ahead with its submergence plans despite the fact that the villagers and the NBA had protested outside the district administration's offices in Indore and had succeeded in getting the State's Grievance Redressal Authority (GRA) Chairman, Ravindra Sharma, to pass an order allowing the displaced persons to return to Khedi Balwari. The GRA also indicated that the State must assist them in this move. While this order was a welcome one, there was no doubt that it was a temporary reprieve since it also stated that the affected people could remain in the village until there was a threat of submergence.

Condemning the government's actions, Sharma wrote: "This action [of enforced eviction] especially when it is clear that the proper implementation of the process laid down in the rehabilitation policy is yet to ensue, and that it is under consideration by the GRA, is a violation of the law and the constitutional arrangements that protect the interests of the Adivasis. The level of water in the reservoir should not be allowed to rise to an extent that any habitation be submerged during the monsoon."

The absence of a master plan for submergence and R&R is at the root of the problems in the valley. It is now 21 years since the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal had stated that a master plan should be in place; the Supreme Court too had reiterated the necessity for one. The Central government's laxity is reflected in the plight of those displaced by the Maan dam. The issues of R&R in this relatively small project have snowballed since last year when the dam neared its final height of 53 metres. Under the law all R&R must be completed six months prior to submergence. Since the Maan submergence was planned for the 2002 monsoon season, R&R should have been completed in December 2001. The affected villagers and the NBA said this was not the case. The government claims that R&R had been completed by the required date.

In 1987, the government of Madhya Pradesh brought out a State rehabilitation policy for those forced to leave their villages by the Narmada valley projects. The policy stated that a land-for-land scheme was mandatory, among other awards, cash compensation being permissible only in exceptional cases.

In such cases the recipients would have to make written applications to the Land Acquisition officer. According to the policy, applications of Adivasis from the Scheduled Tribes would have to be scrutinised on a case-by-case basis by the District Collector. This point has been the bone of contention for those involved in the current imbroglio at the Maan site. Over 90 per cent of Dhar district is inhabited by Adivasis who belong to various Scheduled Tribes.

The government claims that R&R is complete because all the people in question have received either land or cash as they chose. The dislocated people say that they were forced to accept cash. The District Collector asserts that he has written proof for what he says. The NBA contends that the administration took advantage of a largely illiterate population.

Many questions arise from the government's actions. First, it is inexplicable as to why the government would want to fill the dam. A canal network, which is a supplementary requirement for a full dam, is not yet complete. So what exactly does the government hope to gain by storing water if the distribution network is yet to be built? The NBA believes that the government's decisions were undertaken only to intimidate the residents of other villages affected by the project.

A second question relates to the reason why hundreds of families in villages slated to be submerged by the Maan Project, such as Bhuwada, Khanpura, Rehtiaon, Gadhaghat and Golpura still live in these places. There are no signs of evacuation in these areas. Maheshwari asks if the evacuation and subsequent flooding of Khedi Balwari was meant to set an example to these people.

Thirdly, as in the case of every other project in the Narmada valley, people affected by the Maan dam have been agitating for proper R&R for the last five years. The families that need to be resettled total about 1,200, a number that is so small and manageable that it has prompted an activist to say that the government could easily have made the R&R at Maan a prototype for larger R&R projects. Instead of that, the government has chosen to act in a heavy-handed manner. The most notable incident took place in May this year when, in the heat of the central Indian summer, the State cut all electrical connections, sealed drinking water sources, uprooted hand pumps, and bulldozed the local school in Khedi Balwari. The ensuing 35-day dharna and 29-day hunger strike by the affected residents and the NBA forced the government to involve the GRA. The GRA was still in the process of completing the inquiry and presenting its recommendations regarding R&R to State government when Khedi Balwari was submerged. The ineffectiveness of the GRA in protecting the residents of Khedi Balwari has led Maheswari to call the GRA "a hoax and time-passing machinery". Maheswari says that the CPI(M) plans to bring up the issues of R&R in Parliament and also raise the matter with the Prime Minister. She says the party is rethinking the validity of current modes of development, and her visit to the Narmada valley has convinced her that this is an issue that has to be taken up by the party.

SAD troubles

The Shiromani Akali Dal's woes mount as Punjab's Congress(I) government continues its anti-corruption drive. The arrest of former Public Works Minister Suchcha Singh Langah has been particularly embarrassing to the party.

LIKE Humpy-Dumpty, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has had a spectacular fall, and it is hard to see how the broken party might recover. While three of its former Ministers and a sitting MLA are in jail on criminal charges, former Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal faces an investigation for the alleged possession of assets disproportionate to his sources of income and is also under political assault from the Sikh religious Right. However, unlike in the nursery rhyme, all the King's horses and the King's men might just come good. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, known to most people in Punjab as the Maharaja of Patiala, has failed to shape an agenda for rural reform and development. That, in turn, could give his fragmented opponents a chance to put the pieces together again.

Ever since Amarinder Singh's anti-corruption campaign led to the downfall of Punjab Public Service Commission Chairman Ravi Sidhu, the SAD's woes have mounted. The arrest late last month of former Public Works Minister Suchcha Singh Langah has been particularly embarrassing for the party. The Punjab Vigilance Department has charged him with the illegal acquisition of agricultural land, urban homes, businesses, trucks, cars, gold and cash estimated at Rs.32 crores. The Vigilance Department says its investigations showed that he did not own any land or businesses before he assumed office in 1998. Be it construction contracts, jobs in his department or the posting of officials, bribes were demanded, said the investigators.

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Some of the allegations in the Langah case lead directly to the inner circle around Badal. Contracts for the construction of a Rs.33-crore highway near Morinda were allegedly granted in violation of rules to Pearl Limited, a company part-owned by a son-in-law of Badal's son, Sukhbir Singh Badal. In one instance, Langah's chosen contractors started work on a road - from Noormahal to Nakodar - even before the sealed bids had been opened. Langah, an advocate of Khalistan before joining the mainstream SAD, is also being investigated for terrorist links. The former Minister, Vigilance Department officials say, harboured his one-time mentor, Khalistan Commando Force leader Wassan Singh Zaffarwal, before the terrorist's formal surrender could be arranged. Evidence for this allegation is, however, somewhat thin, since Zaffarwal has been acquitted of the charge of entering India using fake travel documents.

Langah's arrest was preceded by that of former Education Minister Tota Singh, who allegedly took bribes for the recruitment of teachers. Dozens of appointments made during his term have since been cancelled and further investigation is on. Another former Minister, Ajit Singh Kohar, soon followed Tota Singh and Langah into jail, again on the charge of possessing assets disproportionate to his claimed income.

The most recent embarrassment was the August 15 arrest of Barnala MLA Malkiat Singh Kittu, on the charge of smuggling 184 cases of whisky and country liquor from Chandigarh into Punjab. Liquor is considerably cheaper in the Union Territory than in Punjab on account of the difference in tax. While liquor smuggling is widespread, and several politicians are believed to have profited from the enterprise, Kittu is the first politician to be arrested.

BADAL'S response to these humiliations has been relatively muted. On August 12, he initiated criminal defamation proceedings against Amarinder Singh and also sought Rs.5 crores in damages. In his complaint, Badal claimed that the Congress(I)'s allegations that he held assets worth Rs.3,500 crores in Australia, the United States and Switzerland and in New Delhi and Jodhpur were malicious and untrue. The Congress(I) had made these allegations during the Assembly elections earlier this year, both in print and at a series of election rallies. Amarinder Singh repeated these charges on July 31, during a rally at Sunam. Responding to the SAD's allegations that he was selective in targeting the corrupt, the Chief Minister asked if "there was a single person in the SAD who had not taken money".

Significantly, no one in the SAD has responded substantively to the corruption charges brought against their colleagues. Speaking near Mansa on August 17, Badal alleged that Amarinder Singh's own anti-corruption credentials were suspect. He pointed out that Amarinder Singh's Cabinet included two Ministers indicted by the Punjab Lok Pal for corruption, two who had fake university degrees, and one accused of involvement in a murder. While some of these charges might be true, they did little to address the growing perception that corruption reached record levels during the SAD-Bharatiya Janata Party rule.

Perhaps realising that his attacks on the Congress(I)'s own dismal record on corruption yielded little political dividend, Badal sought to shift the goalposts. At a rally held on August 14 to commemorate the 17th anniversary of the assassination of Harchand Singh Longowal, Badal dwelt at length on Operation Bluestar and the anti-Sikh pogrom that followed the killing of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984. He was at pains to distance himself from the pro-Khalistan elements on the Sikh Right. Badal admitted to burning a copy of Article 25 of the Constitution in 1984 as part of a campaign to demand a separate personal law for Sikhs. He said he had done so "under pressure" from Longowal's associates. The former Chief Minister also asserted that Amarinder Singh had himself supported Khalistan and had signed a document in 1994 demanding a Sikh state.

Although such assertions from the SAD contain elements of truth, they illustrate the profound ideological crisis within the party. In response to allegations that Langah had aided Zaffarwal, an SAD press release pointed to a 1993 Frontline expose on the role of top Congress(I) leaders in aiding terrorist groups. The press release, however, repeatedly used the respectful suffix Bhai in all references to Zaffarwal, as it does in discourse on other revanchist figures such as Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. It clearly makes little sense for the SAD to attack the Congress(I) for backing terrorists when it believes they are deserving of deference. On the ground, most SAD workers seem increasingly pessimistic about the future. "It is pointless to say that the Congress(I) is corrupt when our own ranks are in disgrace," argued a former SAD Minister. "We have to find a new agenda to fight on, and purge the party of bad elements. Sadly, Badal just doesn't have the will to do that."

SENSING an opportunity, the Sikh Right has begun to circle around the mainstream SAD, preparing for the kill. August has seen a series of mobilisations on Sikh chauvinist themes, all seeking to challenge the authority of the SAD-controlled religious establishment. The most dramatic showdown so far came on July 31, when the police were forced to fire rubber bullets on protestors seeking to confront members of the Noormehalia sect, which orthodox Sikhs believe is heretic. The clash left several injured. The police also booked several protestors for possessing illegal firearms, but subsequently dropped the charges. The clashes took place after organisations of the Sikh Right charged the Noormehalia sect with showing disrespect to the Guru Granth Sahib and propagating heretical teachings about the Sikh faith. Similar protests had been directed at another fringe preacher, Piara Singh Bhaniara, last year.

Political groups moved in to reap the harvest after the July 31 clash. Gurcharan Singh Tohra's Sarv Hind Shiromani Akali Dal came up with a particularly lurid "fact-finding" report, which claimed that the Noormehalias "prevailed upon the new converts to leave their young daughters as offerings at the Deras (centres) of the sect". It also claimed that these women were used "for attracting young men". Both charges were angrily rebutted by several women members of the sect. The report was apparently targeted at SAD politicians, including former Minister Gurdev Singh Badal, Langah and Badal himself, who were perceived as helping the Noormehalia sect.

Meanwhile, the rival Akali faction of Simranjit Singh Mann attacked Tohra for failing to participate in a joint front against the Noormehalia sect, and claimed that he alone represented the true interests of the Sikh Panth (religious community). Organisations close to Mann, like the Khalsa Panchayat and the Khalra Mission Committee, soon joined in, demanding a ban on the Noormehalia sect.

Protests of these kinds were directed not so much at the Congress (I), as at the SAD centrists' claims to represent Sikh interests. This was made clear when the Khalsa Panchayat attacked Akal Takht Jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti, Badal's hand-picked choice for the supreme seat of Sikh religious authority. On August 16, Panchayat chief Charanjit Singh Channi charged Vedanti with having let off a preacher, Dhanwant Singh, who had been brought before the Akal Takht on charges of rape. Channi said Dhanwant Singh received only "mild punishment" because of the involvement of Vedanti's brother-in-law, Prithpal Singh, in the affair.

The Khalsa Panchayat has been at the cutting-edge of the Sikh Right's campaign against the many godmen active in the state. Such figures have been at the margins of Punjab's religious landscape since at least the 1970s, but they began to acquire considerable influence over the last decade because of widespread disenchantment with the conservative religious establishment.

The Sikh Right's assault on the SAD is starting to take its toll. On August 17, four prominent SAD leaders who were aligned with Union Minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa - Dhan Singh Chhiaharh, Ranjit Singh, Hardev Singh Dhaliwal and Gurbachan Singh - joined Tohra.

For the Congress(I), to sit back and watch the opposition disintegrate may be a misguided course of action. For one, the Congress(I)'s anti-corruption successes have papered over a larger failure to engage with the crisis facing agriculture, particularly small and medium peasants, and industry in the State. Promises to diversify crops and inject new rural technologies remain, for the most part, just pious declarations of intent. Cuts in employee benefits and fresh taxes on power and generator use have also fuelled discontent. The Chief Minister himself did little for his image by choosing a failed monsoon for a two-week vacation in the United Kingdom.

The Congress(I) might be delighted at the revival of the Sikh Right and its assault on the SAD centre. Past experience ought to have taught it, however, that the ogres often turn on their inventors.

Shifting the blame

The Bharatiya Janata Party and its sister organisations blame the Church for instigating the violence that followed the announcement of the Jharkhand government's controversial domicile policy.

AFTER Muslims in Gujarat, it is the turn of Christians in Jharkhand to be targeted by the Sangh Parivar. In a planned manner, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its sister organisations are out to make the latest controversy over the State government's domicile policy appear as an issue between Christian and Hindu tribal people. The BJP has alleged that the clashes that occurred between tribal and non-tribal people in the last week of July, following the announcement of the government's new domicile policy, which left at least five people killed in police firing, many more injured and property worth lakhs of rupees destroyed, was fomented by the Church. The party said that the domicile policy was a "non-issue" and that the Church, under the guise of supporting it, instigated tribal Christian youth to attack non-tribal people in order to "defame the BJP government and tarnish the image of the Chief Minister who was doing an exceedingly good job in the face of extreme adversities".

Kailashpati Mishra, national vice-president of the party, said: "The Church is trying to blow the issue out of proportion to create a tribal versus non-tribal divide. The Christian missionaries were upset because the BJP, with the help of various RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh]-sponsored programmes known as the Vanvaasi Kalyan Yojana, had halted the process of conversion of Hindu tribal people to Christianity. In the government's domicile policy the missionaries saw an opportunity to hit at the government." Mishra, who was appointed by the party high command to handle the latest crisis in the State, claimed that the "violence was a conspiracy planned and executed by Christian missionaries inside a church in the Adarshnagar locality of Ranchi". He said: "I have definite information that Christian tribal youth were collected in a church on the night of July 23, were made to consume liquor, and were given arms and asked to attack non-tribal areas during the bandh the next day." Mishra told Frontline that the conspiracy theory gained credibility because the Christian missionaries knew that Chief Minister Babulal Marandi would be away in New Delhi on July 24 and they could utilise his absence to foment trouble. "Hats off to the police force that acted with utmost restraint, otherwise hundreds would have died in Ranchi on that day because the scene in Adarshnagar resembled one from the Mahabharat," Mishra said. According to Mishra, the clashes started when the non-tribal people retaliated following attacks by "Christian tribal people". During a pro-domicile policy bandh in Ranchi on July 24, tribal youth supporting the government's domicile policy had attacked the houses and other establishments of non-tribal people and set fire to a police station. They used bows and arrows and other arms. The non-tribal people retaliated.

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Kailashpati Mishra alleged: "Christian missionaries were upset at their loosening hold over the tribal people. They had created an impression in the minds of the tribal people that they could become MPs or MLAs only if they converted to Christianity. We have undertaken programmes in the tribal areas and now they [tribal people] know that this was not the case. There are many non-Christian tribal MLAs and MPs. This way we have prevented conversions and that was why the Church was upset." Mishra said he had "evidence" for whatever he had said and was even willing to "go to jail" if proved wrong. "Let the Church come forward and sue me if what I have said is wrong. I have proof," he said, and added that "the BJP cannot be a victim in the hands of Christian missionaries".

THE BJP's myopic view of the domicile issue and its subsequent fallout, however, threaten social turmoil. There is no denying that the Chief Minister opened a Pandora's box by proclaiming that only "locals" (their status would be decided on the basis of available land records) were eligible for certain types of jobs. The problem is that only land records from 1932 are available in the majority of areas and with such a criterion most of the settlers (natives of Bihar and other States) become "outsiders" and ineligible for certain Class III and IV government jobs. The government policy also triggered a chain reaction at the social level. The latent hostility among the tribal people against "outsiders" has come to the fore and generated a sense of insecurity among the non-tribal people because the police have been seen to be acting in a partisan manner. Reports of police inaction as tribal youth went on the rampage on July 24 gave credence to this feeling. While BJP functionaries like Mishra describe the police inaction as "restraint", the majority of the non-tribal people believe that they were acting on the basis of instructions from "above". Yet another disturbing dimension of the "anti-Church" campaign is that it could result in clashes between Christian and Hindu tribal people.

Ironically, the BJP's control over the region is based on the support of the very people who suddenly find themselves being treated as 'outsiders'. The reality has now sunk in BJP circles that the party will face a problem if it loses the support of this vote bank. Although the damage control exercise has begun, it has achieved little success so far. An all-party meeting convened by the Chief Minister following instructions from the BJP high command was boycotted by the Opposition. The Opposition says that instead of bulldozing his way through, Marandi should have taken them into confidence before announcing such a policy. Predictably, the BJP is now blaming the Opposition for all the confusion, saying that it had not said that 1932 would be the cut-off date. According to Mishra, anybody holding proof of land ownership, irrespective of the date, is a "local" person and would be entitled to apply for all jobs. The BJP declared that even the cases of people with no land records, the "poorest of the poor", would be dealt with "sympathetically" and a mechanism would be evolved so that "nobody suffered". But, as Mishra says, it would be a lengthy process and only a cool-headed discussion would show a way out. However, for the time being, recruitments to Class III and IV jobs have been postponed and a five-Judge High Court Bench is examining the matter. The BJP has obviously not come to grips with the real dimensions of the problem. This was evident in the statement made by Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani in the Lok Sabha on July 31. In his statement, which was read out by Minister of State for Home I.D. Swami, Advani merely gave the details of the violence in the State and reiterated that the definition of a "local" person was only meant for giving "preference" in certain jobs and that these jobs were open to people belonging to other categories as well. "There is no discrimination in anybody participating in the selection process," he said. Describing the violent fallout as a "law and order problem", Advani said that the State government had been directed to ensure that nobody was allowed to take the law into their own hands.

Advani's statement glosses over the social and political dimensions of the issue. By treating the problem as a "law and order" issue, ignoring the political dynamics of the State, the BJP has antagonised the large non-tribal population, which has sustained it so far. There is a feeling of alienation among the non-tribal people already, and so far no attempt has been made by the BJP to address it. S.N. Srivastava, a retired Professor of Ranchi University, who was a BJP supporter until this issue came up, said: "A tribal versus non-tribal divide has certainly been created. The people have become disenchanted with the BJP and if elections are held in the next six months, the party will lose its deposit everywhere in the urban areas."

However, for Srivastava and others like him, the dilemma is that other political parties too are not above board. No party, including the Congress(I) and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), has spelt out its stand clearly. They have not opposed the domicile policy for fear of losing the tribal vote, and yet are opposing the government. "This is a complex issue and cannot be defined in simple terms. There are locals who do not own an inch of land. How do you ensure justice for them?" asked Congress(I) leader Oscar Fernandes, who is in charge of the party's affairs in the State. He said that the Chief Minister should have discussed the issue with all political parties to arrive at a "mutually agreed" formula.

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The JMM too is ambiguous on its stand. "We are not opposed to the local people being given their due share, but how to decide who is a local person and who is not? How to decide the criteria of domicile?" asked Muktinath Upadhyaya, the JMM's national spokesperson. He said that instead of adopting the politics of consensus, the BJP had chosen its favourite path of "divide and rule".

The majority of non-tribal people in Jharkhand today face a dilemma. Ironically for them, the man they had opposed tooth and nail, Rashtriya Janata Dal president Laloo Prasad Yadav, is the only one who has come out strongly against the domicile policy. Unless the BJP treads with caution, Laloo Prasad Yadav may once again walk away with the cake in the next elections on the basis of support of the non-tribal people.

However, the BJP has displayed no signs of having woken up to the challenges. In a casual manner, the government announced a modification to the policy, which has become the butt of ridicule within the party itself. According to the modified criteria, anybody who gets five "local people" to certify for him or her can be declared a "local person" irrespective of when he or she had settled in the State. This has triggered protests within the BJP itself. "This is one of the most non-technical and non-scientific decisions Babulal Marandi has taken so far," said BJP leader Shailendra Mahato, who had left the JMM in the wake of the infamous JMM bribery scandal involving, among others, former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. Mahato said that there was no need for the government to announce any modifications and the domicile policy, as announced earlier, should have been allowed to stay. "Every agitation dies after some time. Like the previous anti-reservation stir, this issue too would die its natural death because it only has the support of a handful of non-tribal people," Mahato said.

While the government and the party appear intent on implementing the domicile policy, the chaos on the ground continues. For instance, recently, a group of tribal people created mayhem near the Birla Institute of Technology at Mesra on the outskirts of Ranchi, where the counselling for admission to various engineering courses was going on. Demanding that "local people" be given direct admission in the institute without having to go through the entrance examination, they blocked the main highway for hours, stoned vehicles and damaged property in and around the institute. Although the situation was brought under control after the police fired in the air and burst teargas shells, tension continued in the area. If such a state of affairs continues, the BJP is bound to lose ground in the State, which used to be its stronghold in undivided Bihar.

'E.C. cannot express such an opinion'

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Interview with Jana Krishnamurthi.

The Central government's decision to seek the Supreme Court's advisory opinion in respect of the Election Commission's decision on Assembly elections in Gujarat has been slammed by its critics. In defence, Union Law and Justice Minister Jana Krishnamurthi, until recently president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, says that the E.C.'s order raises the question whether the E.C. can take the view that Article 174 of the Constitution, which states that the gap between two sittings of a State Assembly should not be more than six months, is conditioned by Article 324, dealing with the E.C.'s power to conduct elections. "It is a grey area. That is why we have referred it to the Supreme Court," says Krishnamurthi in this interview with V. Venkatesan. "One constitutional authority cannot trespass on another's jurisdiction.... Whatever opinion the Supreme Court gives we will abide by it." Excerpts:

Why is the government aggrieved over the E.C.'s order on the holding of elections in Gujarat?

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We don't question the E.C.'s authority to fix dates for the elections. The E.C. is the constitutional authority to conduct elections. We recognise that. But in the course of its reasoning, the Election Commission has strayed upon an area that its predecessors in office had not done. The E.C., in its order, has stated, citing Goa as the latest example, that hitherto the Commission has always accepted Article 174(1) and held elections. But then the E.C. has gone ahead, indicating that the present E.C. would like to take a different view. The question naturally arises whether this E.C. has got a right to take a different view, in the sense that Article 174(1) is conditioned by another Article, that is, 324. That is the question we want to be clarified by the Supreme Court because until now the settled law was that Article 174 holds good. For the first time the E.C. has said it is not so. It is a matter to be decided by the opinion of the Supreme Court because it is a very important constitutional question; because it is only Article 174 that decides the timing of an election, and for the new Assembly to meet. If that goes, then everything depends upon the time that will be chosen only by the E.C.

The E.C. has cited the Goa precedent probably to convey that in situations when the E.C. cannot hold polls within the six-month interregnum, as required by Article 174(1), the imposition of President's Rule and the suspension of Article 174(1) may become necessary.

You don't bring the other issues here. The simple question is whether Article 174(1) is applicable only to the living Assembly or also to a dissolved Assembly. Until now, the E.C. has said it applies to both. Now it has made a departure from this practice. Can this exception be made? Does Article 174(1) allow this?

The E.C. has said Article 174(1) will have to yield to Article 324, dealing with the E.C.'s power to conduct the elections.

For the first time, the E.C. has taken this decision. Who is to decide it? That is why we referred it to the Supreme Court, because it is not clear.

If you follow Article 174(1) literally, it can lead to ridiculous situations. What happens if a Chief Minister seeks the dissolution of the Assembly five months after the last sitting of the House? Will the E.C. be bound by this to hold the polls in one month?

It is a grey area. That is why we have referred it to the Supreme Court.

Even if the Supreme Court decides the issue, you will not be able to hold the polls before October, as required by Article 174(1).

We have not done so from the point of view of holding polls. It is a question of clarity.

The reference to the Supreme Court also raises the issue of whether the E.C. is competent to schedule the polls on the premise that non-compliance with Article 174(1) will lead to the President stepping in under Article 356.

Naturally. The authority to impose Article 356 is with the executive and the order is to be passed by the President and is to be placed before Parliament. It is not a concern of the E.C. The E.C. cannot suggest that Article 356 can be applied.

The E.C. has only expressed its opinion on the basis of precedents. It does not bind you in any way.

The E.C. cannot express such an opinion. It is one of the reasons it attributes for coming to its conclusion. One constitutional authority cannot trespass on another's jurisdiction. Because of this only the Centre referred the matter to the Supreme Court, not because we question the E.C.'s authority. Whatever opinion the Supreme Court gives, we will abide by it.

The E.C.'s decision has already been politicised by the BJP. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has attributed motives to Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh for arriving at this decision. Modi has accused Lyngdoh of colluding with Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi because both are Christians. Is not Modi guilty of demeaning a constitutional authority and inciting communal disharmony?

Because you (the media) and other parties politicised it, why blame Narendra Modi? If everybody can comment upon Narendra Modi, can't he defend himself? He is a political leader and a Chief Minister and has got every right to defend himself. He has not attributed motives. He said so because the Election Commission has attributed motives to him. It has become mutual now. I am not justifying either. If everybody crosses limits, then who can be pulled up for going out of limits? Unfortunately, the Gujarat issue has never been looked at from an objective point of view by the present critics of the Gujarat government. Right from day one, Modi has been made the target.

'The six-month norm is dangerous in Gujarat'

Interview with Rajeev Dhavan.

In your memorandum to the E.C. on behalf of Sahmat, you have argued that Article 174 deals only with a 'live' legislature and that its requirement that six months shall not intervene between two sessions does not control the timing of the first meeting of the succeeding legislature. The E.C., has, however, rejected this view saying that Article 174(1) applies not only to an Assembly in existence but also to elections to constitute a new Assembly on the dissolution of the previous Assembly.

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The Constitution consists of evolving practices. The E.C. has quoted from D.D. Basu's Commentary on the Constitution of India to suggest that the Governor's summons to the new Legislative Assembly to meet must be issued in such time that more than six months must not elapse between the date of the last sitting of the dissolved or expired Assembly and the date appointed for the first sitting of the newly elected Assembly. As Basu himself has pointed out in that book, Article 174(1) only "envisages" an interregnum during which the State may not have any Assembly at all and "limits" it. It is not a mandatory requirement. I treat it purely as a norm. Normally, elections should be held within six months from the date of the last sitting of the dissolved or expired Assembly. The six-month norm is good, useful and a practice that should be recognised.

The E.C. is right when it says, "read this norm along with Article 324". Article 324 is not a token provision. We are not having a token election in Gujarat. In Goa, this government accepted the practice. The proclamation imposing President's Rule in Goa in February 1999 by the BJP-led coalition government at the Centre had expressly suspended the operation of Article 174(1) in the State.

The E.C. has cited the Goa precedent to drive home the point that Article 174(1) does have application after an Assembly has been dissolved, as otherwise, the proclamation imposing President's Rule need not suspend this provision. However, the E.C. has also gently reminded the government that the Goa precedent would bind it to impose President's Rule in Gujarat now that the Assembly stands dissolved, and there is no question of constituting a new Assembly to comply with the six-month norm.

The spirit of the six-month norm is to ensure democratic accountability. If it is not feasible to hold fresh elections in time, accountability can be achieved through President's Rule. Normally, I am an opponent of President's Rule. It is not essential. We cannot have two interpretations, one for the States and another for the Centre, where there is no provision for President's Rule. Therefore, I would say we must strive for substantive compliance with this norm.

In the case of Gujarat, it will be dangerous to call the norm mandatory. If Chief Minister Narendra Modi had sought the dissolution of the Assembly in September, five months after it last sat in April, would the E.C. be under compulsion to hold the elections in September itself? By its very nature, the holding of elections requires a prior assessment of the preparation and conduct of the State machinery and the mobility of forces.

We are now dealing with imaginary fears. An extreme example is used to test a workable solution. The BJP argues that non-compliance with Article 174(1) would affect democracy. We are not dealing with that issue at all. We are only mid-term; that situation has not emerged. It was Governor Sunder Singh Bhandari and Narendra Modi who killed democracy by not calling a session of the Assembly after April, and by seeking its premature dissolution. It is, therefore, ironical that they worry about non-compliance with Article 174(1). It is contradictory. This is not to make the Constitution work.

Was the government correct in seeking the opinion of the Supreme Court under Article 143 on the issue?

This reference shows that the BJP as a political party has usurped the Government of India's function, as it sees a major political benefit if the court's decision goes in its favour. The silence of its allies is embarrassing. Secondly, it is using the advisory jurisdiction as an appeal mechanism, as the option of challenging the E.C.'s decision in a court was available to it. Thirdly, it is dragging the judiciary into a question regarding a political rather than a constitutional crisis. Such situations are better handled by discussions and negotiations. Article 143 is meant for a situation in which a constitutional paralysis has taken place or if there is a genuine question that has to be resolved for the sake of the future. Advisory opinion under Article 143 is not hamstrung by time.

If the government considers the E.C.'s order to be a serious issue, then it should be ready for a national due process commensurate with the issue. Every State should be given notice, as the court's decision on the Gujarat case could affect every State. In the Babri Masjid reference case (1994) many States appeared. The practice in cases involving a presidential reference under Article 143 was that even under tight schedule, the court heard it in a calm and unhurried manner, and issued notice to every interested party. But the motive of the government in this reference seems to be to teach the E.C. a lesson and cause it a constitutional embarrassment, so that it could use the issue to its advantage in the run-up to the elections in Gujarat.

'The BJP is seeking political advantage'

As the principal Opposition party, the Congress(I) has taken a principled stand on the question of the Gujarat Assembly elections, and has defended the Election Commission's powers to schedule the polls after assessing the ground realities. Congress(I) member of the Rajya Sabha and Senior Advocate, Kapil Sibal, in an interview to V. Venkatesan, explains the party's stand. Excerpts:

How do you look at the Centre's move to seek the Supreme Court's opinion under Article 143 on the issue of holding elections in Gujarat?

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Basically, from a practical standpoint, between now and October 6, when six months after the last sitting of the State Assembly will expire, there is no way elections can be held in Gujarat to stick to the principle the BJP believes in. Therefore, making this reference will not allow the BJP somehow to use the process of law to have that principle upheld. So what is the point of making the reference?

Are there not larger issues involved than holding elections before October? The Centre claims it has referred the matter to the Supreme Court to seek clarity on Article 174(1).

What is the larger question here? The E.C., which is a constitutional authority, has itself said that Article 174(1) applies to a live Assembly as well as to a dissolved Assembly. But the E.C. says there cannot be situations in which there are no exceptions. Supposing Godhra were to take place in September, and the Assembly had not met after April 6, could there be elections before October 6? Obviously not.

There are human situations which confront society that have to be resolved. Such situations cannot be resolved within the straitjacket of a legal formula in which there is no flexibility. That is why the E.C. itself says in its order that Gujarat is a peculiar case. It feels that there can be no fair and free elections in Gujarat at this point of time. It is because of this exception that it feels Article 174 is not something that puts Article 324 in shackles. Nothing wrong in that. But it is something which the Supreme Court has to decide. It is not fair for us at this point to start talking about the legality of the order.

Does the question merit a presidential reference to the Supreme Court?

That is the wisdom of the government. This government has shown itself to be constantly unwise. Wisdom is certainly not a commodity which this government has in ample measure.

Would you consider it basically a political or a constitutional issue?

In the context of Gujarat, it is a purely political question. In any other context, it would never have arisen. The BJP has not told us till date as to why it wants early elections in Gujarat, before the expiration of the term of the Assembly. Why is it that it wanted the elections in May itself? It couldn't have the elections in May because of the presidential election. I am not saying they are duty-bound to explain. But the people cannot fathom, apart from a political motivation, any reason for holding early election. Why would a political party want early elections, before the expiry of the government's term, especially when people in power are so enamoured of the spoils of power? The answer is in the question. They want it because they want to take political advantage of it. Political advantage is there because of Godhra and the polarisation post-Godhra. That is the most cynical reason, bereft of morality.

Is President's Rule in Gujarat inevitable after October 6?

The E.C. has said nothing more than what the constitutional position is: There can be no caretaker government after six months. The BJP itself says there has to be elections within six months because the caretaker government cannot continue beyond six months.

The Constitution does not say so. It seems to be silent on how long a government can continue in office without facing the Assembly, even though one could say a Ministry cannot continue beyond six months after the dissolution of the Assembly, as in that case the Ministers would invite disqualification from holding office because of their lack of membership of the Assembly beyond the permissible period of six months.

But that is what the BJP is saying. Whether it is wrong or right is not the issue. The E.C. has not said that the BJP is wrong. A caretaker government cannot continue after October 6 because the life of the Assembly is over; so there has to be President's Rule. It cannot apply to the Centre, because there can be no President's Rule there and Article 356 does not apply to the Centre. The Congress(I) and the BJP, in the case of Uttar Pradesh, believed that Article 174(1) applied to live Assemblies and not to dissolved Assemblies. But in the light of the E.C.'s order, and the BJP's own position now, there can be little doubt that elections ought to be held to comply with Article 174(1), and if that is not possible owing to extraordinary circumstances, as in Gujarat today, then President's Rule would be the obvious remedy.

What should have happened was, when the Chief Minister went to the Governor recommending dissolution of the Assembly the Governor should have - and this should be made part of constitutional convention - asked him to call the Assembly, and said that since the life of the Assembly is being reduced, it would be appropriate to have the matter debated in the House, and then come back to him if such a resolution is passed, or if after a debate the Chief Minister came to the conclusion that he would like it to be dissolved. The Governor ought to have considered whether the Chief Minister's request seeking dissolution of the Assembly was sensible, and conducive to the interests of democracy. In other words, if any Chief Minister wants to take advantage of a situation, he should take advantage of it, provided he calls the Assembly.

In Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and the terrorist infested northeastern States, the Congress in the past opted for elections because it wanted to show the rest of the world that you cannot take advantage of terrorism and derail the political process. In Gujarat the BJP wanted to go to the polls having derailed democracy. The E.C. has told the BJP that it cannot take advantage of the carnage and derail the political process, which, I believe, is consistent.

The real estate pie

Attempts by the Bharatiya Janata Party to salvage its image following the petrol pump allotment controversy fail as yet another round of irregularities, involving the allotment of government land to its saffron associates in New Delhi, surfaces.

EVEN before the Bharatiya Janata Party could deal effectively with the petrol pump allotment scandal, it was facing the music with regard to the allotment of certain plots of land in the national capital. To its discomfiture, the land records available with the Urban Development Ministry proved that in the last two years, Sangh Parivar affiliates were provided prime real estate at throwaway prices in central locations. Except to allege that other parties while in power had done much the same thing, the party failed to provide a credible reply to the media expose on the matter.

Soon after the land scam broke out, National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government issued instructions to retrieve the records of all land allotments made in the last 50 years in order to prove that it was not the first time that political considerations had played a role in such allotments. According to details available so far, the highest number of allotments made by the Urban Development Ministry in the last two years have gone to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in the heart of New Delhi at one-tenth the going market rate. Records of the Land and Development Office (LDO) under the Ministry for the years 1996-2002 show that of the 209 allotments, 115 have gone to government departments. Of the 94 remaining ones, a huge chunk has gone to Sangh Parivar affiliates, most of the allotments being made after 1999.

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A look at the list of allottees and their affiliations provides ample evidence of the Sangh Parivar's advantage in the matter of allotments. Some of the BJP-RSS affiliates allotted land at Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg include the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of BJP; the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the BJP's labour wing; Sanskriti Bharati, the cultural wing of the RSS; the Samarth Shiksha Samiti and the Vidya Bharati, RSS organisations that are active in the educational sector; and the Vaish Agrawal Education Society, headed by Vijay Goel, a Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). All these allotments were made for the stated objective of running educational/cultural organisations.

For example, Sanskriti Bharati, which is headed by RSS worker K. Suryanarayana and claims to be working for the promotion of Sanskrit, was allotted 1,713.6 square yards on Rouse Avenue in November 2001 at the rate of Rs.1,818 a square yard as against the going rate of Rs.96,000 a square yard. The BMS was allotted 856.8 square yards on Rouse Avenue in June, 2001 at Rs.1,818 a square yard. Similarly, the Samarth Shiksha Samiti was allotted 5,290.1 square yards in Shivalik Colony in January 2002 at Rs.1,818 a square yard against the market rate of Rs.80,000 a square yard. This organisation has RSS member Jai Prakash Gupta as its patron. Ashok Pal is the president and K.C. Bathla the general secretary. It also managed to procure 1.554 acres (0.63 hectares) in Aram Bagh near Jhandewalan, apparently to run a school, at Rs.1,818 a square yard against the market rate of Rs.55,000 a square yard. (In order to accommodate the Samiti, a slum colony in this area is to be demolished.) This organisation also got allotments in Nehru Nagar, Lajpat Nagar, Mehrauli-Badarpur Road and Vasant Vihar, all for educational purposes. Sewa Bharati, an RSS affiliate working in slum areas, was allotted 399 square metres at Bhai Veer Singh Marg in April 2001 at Rs.1,818 a square yard.

Similarly, the Delhi Bharat Vikas Foundation, headed by BJP MP L.M. Singhvi and which has Culture and Tourism Minister Jagmohan as its patron, was allotted 1,258 square yards of Delhi Development Authority (DDA) land in Yojna Vihar in 2001 at Rs.682.03 per square yard against the market rate of Rs.30,000 a square yard, apparently to open a hospital for disabled people. Another RSS affiliate, Vishwa Jagriti Mission, was allotted 672 square yards of DDA land in Rohini in 2000-01 at Rs.3,482 a square yard against the market rate of Rs.24,000 a square yard. The BJP secured a plot of 0.233 acre on Rouse Avenue in April 2001 at Rs.1,818 a square yard, apparently to construct an office for its Delhi unit. The Vishwa Samvad Kendra, the publicity wing of the VHP, was allotted 1,044 square metres on Rouse Avenue in March 2001 at Rs.88 lakh an acre. The Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, an RSS-affiliated organisation active in tribal areas, was allotted 506 square metres on Mehrauli-Badarpur Road on July 19 at Rs.88 lakh an acre, apparently to construct a complex for the 'amelioration and upliftment' of tribal people, a hostel and a free dispensary. The ABVP was allotted land on Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg to run its organisation called the Students' Experience in Inter-State Living.

Union Urban Development Minister Ananth Kumar does not see anything amiss in these allotments. In a statement, he said that there was no discrimination in allotments and, in order to prove this, the Ministry would soon put up on its website all such allotments made in the last 50 years. He said that even the Congress(I), the Left parties, various trade unions, the Delhi government, the Bar Association of India and the Press Club were allotted land in the past at concessional rates. "These institutional allotments are done purely based on merit," Ananth Kumar said. However, he added: "In any case, there is no express or implied bar on allotment of land to any organisation, merely on the grounds that one or more persons connected with the organisation are also associated with any political party, if it fulfils all the laid-down criteria." Citing examples, he said that the All India Congress Committee (now Jawahar Bhawan Trust/Rajiv Gandhi Foundation), the A.K. Gopalan Trust (Communist Party of India-Marxist), Ajoy Bhawan (Commu-nist Party of India), the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) and the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee, among others, have been allotted land on concessional rates. In the same category, he cited the example of "institutional land" allotted to various newspapers at Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg "with a specification that the land should be utilised only for the purpose of publishing a newspaper".

According to Ananth Kumar's statement, "the process of allotment of land to institutions commenced with the allotment of land to various newspaper concerns here in the early 1950s". About the low rates at which land was allotted, he said that the "pre-determined" rates were "revised periodically in consultation with the Ministry of Finance. The last time the rate was revised was in April 1998 when it was raised from Rs.80 lakhs per acre for central and south Delhi to Rs.88 lakhs per acre". Ananth Kumar said that other organisations that received allotments included the Jawaharlal Nehru National Youth Centre, the Jai Jawan Jai Kisan Trust, the Yuva Bharati Trust, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (B.T. Ranadive Memorial Trust) and the Bharat Sewak Samaj. Legal organisations that received land included the Delhi Tax Bar Association, the Society of Indian Law Firms (with Lalit Bhasin as president) and the Bar Association of India (with F.S. Nariman as president). He said that three plots were allotted to the Delhi government to establish family courts. Allotments made to "socio-cultural institutions of eminence" included Child Relief and You (CRY), the National Federation of the Blind, the Rashtriya Sewa Samiti, the Santhagiri Ashram, the Rotary Habitat Centre, the Delhi Malayali Association, the Natya Tarangini, the Jain Sabha, the Krishnamoorthi Foundation, the Press Club of India, the Civil Services Officers Institute, the Veda Vigyan Mahavidyapeeth, Sri Aurobindo Society, the Servants of the People Society and the Sadhu Vaswani Mission. Some of the 600 schools that had been allotted land in Delhi, Ananth Kumar said, included the Delhi Public School Society, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, the Indraprastha College for Women, the Mata Amrithanandamayi School, the Andhra Educational Society, the Delhi Tamil Educational Association, the G.R. Goenka Educational Institution, the Madarsa Kaushiful-Uloom, the Don Bosco School and the Police Foundation Public School.

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Two of the plots over the allotments of which questions have been raised, on Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg, New Delhi.

Meanwhile, Delhi Lieutenant-Governor Vijai Kapoor said that the DDA, which he headed, did not look at the political/ideological affiliations of any organisation before allotting land. Former Urban Development Minister Jagmohan, during whose tenure (June 1999 to August 2001) the highest number of allotments were made, has also tried to wash his hands of the controversy. He said that only four RSS-affiliated organisations were allotted land during his tenure - the Samarth Shiksha Samiti, the Sewa Bharati, the Vishwa Samvad Kendra and the Sanskriti Bharati. He said he was not aware of the other allotments which were made after he moved out of the Ministry.

MEANWHILE, the government decided to probe all allotments of petroleum product, kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) dealerships made since 1983. Petroleum Minister Ram Naik confirmed that, as demanded by over 100 BJP MPs, his Ministry would investigate all allotments made since 1983, so that a complete list could be prepared to ascertain which political parties had benefited. Naik said: "I have ordered the Petroleum Ministry to find out which States were allotted petrol pumps and gas agencies between 1983 and 2000. When all this information is collected and analysed, we will decide what to do." He said that the BJP MPs had complained to him that the government's decision to cancel all allotments made since 2000 had singled out those involving BJP leaders and their families.

The Petroleum Ministry has asked the public sector oil companies Indian Oil Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum, Bharat Petroleum and IBP to furnish period-wise details of allotments. The four companies have been asked to compile data on allotments made during the tenure of a particular government. They have also been asked to compile a list of allottees, their affiliations, and the process by which they were selected, whether it was from the Minister's discretionary quota or on the basis of interviews. Data are also being collected on the other applicants and how they fared in the interviews.

The Petroleum and Law Ministries are giving final touches to an ordinance that will justify the government's decision to cancel allotments made since 2000 and sidestep any judicial intervention. BJP spokesperson Arun Jaitley said that the legislative option would strengthen the government's case. The ordinance is understood to have the Prime Minister's approval. The rough draft was discussed at the Prime Minister's residence at a meeting which was also attended by Solicitor-General Harish Salve.

When lucre lures the best

columns

One of the disturbing aspects of the Tata Finance affair is that even as reputed a group as the Tatas succumbed to the temptations that the speculation promoted by financial liberalisation holds out. This is how liberalisation is refashioning capital.

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THE Tata Finance Limited controversy, which is now more than a year old, is turning murkier by the day. In the most recent round of the battle between the current top management of the Tata group and a small bunch of erstwhile trustworthy directors, Dilip R. Pendse, former managing director of TFL, has gone on record to say that Ratan Tata, executive chairman of Tata Sons, was aware of the violations for which he is being made the scapegoat.

Tata Finance Ltd (TFL) is a non-banking finance company (NBFC) that belongs to the Tata stable. Even as recently as March 2000, TFL was predominantly involved in the hire-purchase business, with financing of purchases of commercial vehicles and cars accounting for more than 85 per cent of its business. This was a natural outgrowth of the presence of the group in the automobile sector, and close to a third of Telco's sales was reportedly being financed by TFL.

By this time, however, the lure of quick profits that the financial sector seemed to offer, had resulted in plans to convert TFL into a financial supermarket with interests in housing finance, foreign exchange transactions, merchant banking, credit card issuance and retail banking. To that end it had tied up with TD Waterhouse Inc, a securities firm, and American Express, and created or acquired a number of subsidiaries. These moves, under the leadership of Pendse were seen as the beginning of the refashioning of what was already one of the largest NBFCs in the country into a universal bank in keeping with worldwide trends.

Unfortunately, TFL's newfound aggression put it on a path where it chose to violate regulatory norms in search of size and quick profits. The path involved, among other initiatives, the transfer of large sums of capital to subsidiary or related companies such as Niskalp Investment and Trading Company Ltd and Inshaallah Investments Ltd (IIL). Of these the link with Niskalp proved the most damaging. Using funds borrowed from Tata Finance, Niskalp made investments in the stock markets. This strategy seemed to have worked in the financial year 1999-2000, when Niskalp made a profit because the secondary markets were doing well. But that profit turned into a large loss in 2000-01, when most of Niskalp's trade proved to be loss-making.

While the exact nature of Niskalp's investments is not known since it is a private limited company, its impact on TFL became clear when the latter's accounts for 2000-01 (financial year ending June) showed a loss of Rs.395.6 crores as compared with a profit of Rs.56.8 crores during 1999-2000. According to reports, the net loss was on account of a one-time extraordinary provision of Rs.315 crores against transactions in the form of loans or investments in affiliates. This was in addition to a provision of Rs.72 crores made towards non-performing assets and diminution in the value of investments. The extraordinary items and contingencies included provision for exposure to Niskalp of Rs.266.67 crores, provision for exposure in associate companies of Rs.44.04 crores and provision for estimated permanent diminution in the value of long-term investments of Rs.24.97 crores.

The problem is not just that TFL had burnt its fingers by engaging in immature transactions that were in part violative of regulatory norms. The image of the Tata group has also been tarnished by the fact that it tried to: (i) use the company IIL, in which TFL held a 48 per cent stake and its internal auditors were directors, to trade in TFL shares with funds provided by TFL and other Tata companies, in gross violation of the guidelines of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI); (ii) hold a couple of individuals from within its top management stable individually responsible for the actions of TFL, despite the firm's direct connection with Tata Sons, the apex holding company of the group; and (iii) de-subsidiarise Niskalp in order to cover up the consequences of these actions from the regulatory authorities and ordinary investors.

At the end of March 2000, IIL had TFL internal auditors Dinesh Bahl and Anu Bahl as its directors. It held 23.57 lakh TFL shares valued at over Rs.24 crores, and was undertaking share investment activity with a paid-up capital of Rs.200 crores plus funds obtained from various Tata companies. Despite this, TFL did not disclose, as required, its links with IIL or the latter's financial position in the public documents relating to the rights issue made at the end of March 2001. Clearly, Tatas as a group was withholding information.

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However, the effort to 'nail' Pendse, the then managing director, for these and other violations was rendered easy by evidence of insider trading in TFL shares. On March 30, 2001, on the eve of the opening of a Rs.93-crore rights issue by TFL, J.E. Talaulicar, the chairman of Niskalp and a director on the board of TFL, offloaded one lakh shares of TFL owned by him and his family members at a price of Rs.69 a share, when the prevailing market price was Rs.36 a share. Since the subsequent declaration of losses by TFL saw a collapse in its share values, Talaulicar was clearly using inside information to protect and make a large profit on his investments. Talaulicar held that the transaction was arranged for him by Pendse and reported the same to an internal committee of the group set up in August 2001 to investigate the matter when this and other transactions by TFL and its directors were being subjected to public scrutiny and scrutiny by the regulatory authorities.

The involvement of Pendse in this operation, which was reportedly not revealed to the TFL board, provided grounds for the Tata management to argue that whatever happened in TFL was the result of his actions, which were kept secret from the rest of the board. Even if this improbable argument is accepted, the Tatas cannot hide the fact that the group initially tried to suppress the consequences of these actions for TFL's financials, by desubsidiarising Niskalp. While shareholders were suffering losses because of the collapse of TFL share prices as a result of Niskalp's activities, Niskalp ceased to be a subsidiary of TFL on June 30, 2001. The company had been acquired for Rs.40 crores by Ewart Investments. Interestingly, Ewart had been financed by TFL to undertake the acquisition! The point is that once Niskalp ceased to be a subsidiary of TFL, its financial position need not impinge on the accounts of TFL. The action, which could not have occurred without the concurrence of the board of TFL, was clearly aimed at clearing up the balance sheet of the company and conceal the financial position of Niskalp from TFL's shareholders.

Having completed this operation, the top management of the Tata group chose to launch its strategy of holding individuals like Pendse and Talaulicar responsible for all the transactions of TFL. It had already appointed a team from A.F. Ferguson, the reputed auditing and consulting firm, headed by senior partner Y.M. Kale to conduct an investigation into TFL, ostensibly to identify how management systems failed and work out remedial measures. It also sacked Pendse and lodged complaints against him with the police and SEBI, alleging fraudulent transactions.

THE current round of the controversy relates to the response of the Tata management to the Kale report. The report, a serious exercise running into 904 pages, not merely finds TFL's corporate governance practices wanting, but identifies other members of the board, besides Pendse, who could not have been ignorant of the transactions concerned and specifically criticises some, such as then TFL director Kishore Chaukar.

While full details of the now-suppressed report are not available, a leak to the press suggests that it identified several questionable transactions in the form of intra-group investments that helped some companies of the Tata group such as Tata Chemicals and Telco to book profits and declare dividends. According to reports, the study suggested that the nature of a number of transactions "raises doubts as to whether these were conducted to generate book profits or merely facilitate regulatory compliance". In its view there was need to ascertain whether under the erstwhile TFL management there was "a pattern of using circular intra-group transactions, mostly to either book profits for some of the companies in the group as and when required, or merely facilitate regulatory compliance".

A few examples of such transactions are available from the press. The picture that emerges is one where a large number of oddly titled firms, which fall within the Tata group, undertake transactions aimed at allowing a particular firm to record profits and pay out dividends. Thus, a group company IECIL first accepts large inter-corporate deposits from other group companies, for which it pays out interest estimated at Rs.68 lakhs. On March 31, 2000, the money obtained through these deposits is used to buy 13.3 lakh shares of TFL for Rs.12.6 crores from Sheba Properties, a subsidiary of Telco. This allows Sheba Properties to declare a profit, against which a dividend of Rs.6.5 crores is paid out.

The other set of transactions noted by the report go thus: whenever TFL reached inter-corporate deposit (ICD) limits and could not access further funds from group companies through this route to finance its transactions, it would sell shares to group companies through 'ready-forward transactions', where the company sold shares today to access funds, only to buy back the shares at some later date. Thus it appears that TFL and Niskalp provided finance in the form of ICDs to Inshaallah Investments Ltd., which then bought shares of TFL. TFL (and Niskalp) earned interest income from these ICDs and TFL booked profits on the sale of its shares.

Clearly, since there were a large number of other companies such as Tata Chemicals and Telco which benefited from TFL's activities, it is difficult to sustain the position that the Tata management was unaware of the activities of TFL. Based on its examination of transactions of these kinds, the Ferguson team delivered its indictment: "How could so many questionable transactions even be discussed, let alone actually contracted or recorded, by senior officials of such reputed companies, even on the assumption that someone wielding authority had proposed these transactions? In other words, even if the suggestion to commit irregularities had emanated from a few, how were these acquiesced to by so many? How did these not arouse widespread consternation and why did they not rush to report the goings on to the board of Tata Finance/Niskalp Investments or even higher?" In sum, there was little possibility that the rest of the group's top management was ignorant of the developments in TFL.

Within days of its submission, the report is ''rejected'' by the Tata management and "withdrawn" by the auditing firm, which has commissioned a fresh report based on the information collected. The leak soon makes it clear that the report was not received well because it implicates more than just Pendse with knowledge of the suspect transactions. Soon thereafter, Kale is reported to have resigned his position as senior partner of Ferguson, ostensibly on the grounds that he does not approve of the decision of the firm to withdraw the report and rewrite it. But Ferguson itself declares that he had not resigned but had been "sacked" since the firm had lost faith in him after taking account of the "inaccuracies" in the report as pointed out by TFL chairman Ishaat Hussain. Meanwhile, Pendse himself publicly declares that he has been made a scapegoat by the group to clear itself of involvement in transactions that he claimed the board was aware of and had acquiesced in.

IT is not surprising that the whole episode has set off speculation in the media, which is damaging not just because of the involvement of a Tata firm in the suspect transactions but because the group's management is seen to have extracted a toll from a forthright auditor in order to save its reputation. The fact that the auditing firm involved is one of India's leading ones further undermines confidence in governance of what was considered the best segment of India's corporate sector. The audit firm went to the extent of claiming that, since the Rs.2.5 crores it earned from the Tata group was an "insignificant amount" when compared to its gross annual fees, it cannot be seen as having withdrawn the report and sacked Kale under pressure from the Tatas. In fact, the Tatas took it upon themselves to declare that Kale's "cessation from his partnership" was "the result of a decision that was unanimously taken by the partners following a detailed internal enquiry". If the distance between the client and the auditor was as much as it has been claimed to be, it would have been best to leave such explanations to the auditing firm.

There are three conclusions that emerge from the limited information that is available about this episode, which is to do with the behaviour of even reputed business groups or firms like Tatas and A.F. Ferguson. First, the fact that the business group consists of a large number of companies, straddling different areas of economic activity, implies that a number of ostensibly "arms length" transactions among legally independent firms are actually part of the group as a single entity. This has, to an extent, been always true of the corporate sector in India. But liberalisation that has substantially diluted regulations imposed on the big business groups has possibly increased such transactions substantially.

Secondly, the TFL episode reveals that in the wake of liberalisation, which includes financial liberalisation, these transactions include financial transactions that allow core firms in the group and possibly the central decision-making authority to book profits and earn high returns through dividends. Those dividends may even serve to inflate prices of listed firms in the market. Finally, even the best in the auditing business in India are not independent of the clients they serve, as is indeed true elsewhere in the world as well.

What bothers some is the fact that even the Tata group, with its reputation for good management and its tendency to be in a business for the long run, has succumbed to the lure of lucre that the speculation promoted by financial liberalisation holds out. Clearly, this is the way liberalisation is refashioning Indian capital. Its influence is evidently strong enough to transform even the best. Unfortunately for the Tata group and fortunately for the rest of India, they lost out on their gamble. If not, the illusion that scams are not systemic but the result of bad practices by a few rogue businessmen would have still prevailed.

A warning in Europe

The devastating impact of the summer floods across a vast area of Europe brings the focus back on the perils of climate change.

FROM the air, the endless stretches of land under water could seem like the beginning of Creation, or its end. A large portion of central Europe has been transformed into a gigantic lake by the rivers Vlatva, Elbe, Danube and Enns. Unseasonal torrential rains in August have caused rivers to overflow and, at the time of writing, were threatening to breach dams. Around 100 people have died and thousands have had to be evacuated. The countries most affected have been the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia and Austria.

The floods have also spread to Eastern Europe. In Romania, seven persons were killed and many homes destroyed. In Russia, 62 people were swept away by flash floods along the Black Sea coast. In Germany, the Elbe rose to levels never seen before, forcing thousands to flee their homes. The waters threatened power stations and forced the closure of roads and railways. In Dresden, the Elbe rose to a record 9 metres. As many as 30,000 people were transferred to safer areas of the city. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called it a "national catastrophe". Four million Germans have been affected and the damage is estimated to be as high as five billion euros.

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The Czech Republic suffered the worst floods in its history. Nearly two lakh people had to be evacuated and at least 15 deaths were reported. The Vlatva invaded the suburbs of the capital, Prague, and 40,000 residents had to move to temporary shelters. The regions of Upper and Lower Austria were severely hit by floods, which Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schessel described as "the worst in living memory". In neighbouring Slovakia, the Danube rose alarmingly, inundating the countryside around the capital, Bratislava. The government declared a state of emergency.

The heads of government of the four most affected countries met in Berlin to discuss the handling of the crisis and the European Union pledged five billion euros in assistance.

The devastating impact of the summer floods has put the focus back on the problem of climatic change. In taking stock, insurers have remarked that such a vast area, from the United Kingdom to the Black Sea, has been affected at the same time.

Strange weather conditions experienced this year in different parts of the world appear to confirm the grave fears about climatic changes. In southern China, rains and landslips have claimed nearly 1,000 lives this year. While there have been floods in north Vietnam, other parts of the country are experiencing the worst drought in more than two decades. Rains and landslips resulting from them have killed 400 people in Nepal and left over 30,000 homeless. In India, large-scale flooding in Assam and parts of Bihar have been accompanied by a much delayed development of the monsoon and low precipitation in other parts. These regions of the country have been experiencing extreme heat and drought so far.

Southeastern Africa is going through a severe drought, which has resulted in an acute food crisis in that region. Twenty-five States in western United States have been affected by the worst drought in over half a century. The wheat harvest in this area is expected to be the lowest in 30 years.

The drought in southern Italy, especially in Sicily, has caused calamity provisions to be invoked. According to the association of Italian farmers, the combined damage due to both the drought and the heavy rains in August is estimated at four billion euros. Commenting on the crisis, Italian Agriculture Minister Gianni Alemanno remarked: "We are faced with the impact of climatic changes. Not only has drought become an ever-present risk but we have also to take into consideration the occurrence of monsoon-type phenomena."

Scientists point to the recurrence of the weather phenomenon El Nino - the warming of water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that affects wind circulation and consequently weather patterns, causing both droughts and floods. The previous appearance of El Nino in 1998 brought floods and drought to many countries of South America, Africa and East Asia. That year also happened to be the warmest one recorded in meteorological history. Meteorologists admit that the "violent atmospheric disturbances" over Europe this August cannot be linked with absolute certainty to global warming and its effects on the earth's climate. But they emphasise that the abnormal climate patterns strongly suggest profound changes. Climatologist Luca Mercalli says: "Exceptional heat in June and too much rain in July are definitely two major anomalies, but we are dealing by now with climatic changes that are occurring over an entire year and not just in a particular season. It is precisely the repetition and the frequency of these unusual phenomena that is worrying. It is a kind of climatic evolution that would seem to bear out the theories on global climatic change, which sustain that the rise in average temperatures could modify the climatic equilibrium and provoke even stranger phenomena."

The changes in weather patterns and their frequency have been associated, with increasing certainty, with the phenomenon of global warming. The rise in temperatures occurred in a concentrated way only in the last quarter of the 20th century. The warmest years since 1867 have been recorded in the 15 years following 1980. In its report on global warming, the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecasts an increase of between 1.4 and 5.8C in average temperatures for the current century. Hundreds of scientific studies confirm the evidence in support of global warming and of how it is aided by environmental pollution. The impact of pollution is evident in the rising levels of carbon dioxide found in polar ice. The glaciers in Alaska are diminishing with great speed. Greenpeace studies show that the ice cover in the Arctic has been retreating in places at the rate of 35 metres a year, since the 1960s. In the South Pole, the major part of an ice platform known as Larsen-B, which was formed 12,000 years ago, collapsed recently in the space of a month owing to the rise in temperatures in the region.

Sea levels have risen by 10 to 20 cm since 1900. The force of monsoon formations over the Indian Ocean has increased in proportion with the heating of the atmosphere. According to the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) the constant decrease in rainfall levels in Africa since the late 1960s has brought vast areas close to desertification.

Research has established that the pattern of industrialisation and modern lifestyles are the fundamental sources of global warming. The burning of fossil fuels has increased dramatically in the 1990s, and carbondioxide emissions contribute in a major way to global warming. Industry, especially the energy industry, and vehicles are major sources of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. A U.N. report published on the eve of the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development suggests that the critical areas in this respect are North America and Asia, the latter region in the throes of frenetic industrialisation since the last decade of the 20th century. The newly appointed head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climatic Change, Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, told journalists: "There are actually very marginal doubts now about the influence of human activity on climate change." He considers the rates of rise in global temperature very high and says this "could have important repercussions on many aspects of the weather in various parts of the world, provoking serious alterations in the socio-economic balance of many countries."

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The concerns about the links between patterns of industrialisation and development with global warming and its effects have been supported by current findings and will be reiterated in Johannesburg. The conference is likely to come up against American objectives of discrediting the claims of the environmentalists and reinforcing the international economic system through instruments such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). At the same time, concessions that would slow the production of U.S.-based multinationals are being sought to be avoided. The U.S. continues to oppose the ratification of treaties that call for the reduction of emissions into the atmosphere.

ANOTHER major report on environmental pollution has just been released. Research by a group of 200 scientists working under the aegis of the UNEP has revealed the nature of a toxic 'haze' that hangs over large parts of Asia, stretching from the Indian subcontinent to China and Indonesia. Described as the "brown haze over Asia", it consists of a deadly mix of aerosols, soot, particles and other pollutants. It has resulted in a tremendous rise in the incidence of respiratory diseases in the region and probably causes approximately five lakh deaths a year in India alone.

Says Dr. Klaus Toepfer, head of the UNEP: "The haze is a result of forest fires, the burning of agricultural wastes, dramatic increase in the burning of fossil fuels in vehicles, industries and power stations and emissions from millions of inefficient cookers burning wood, cowdung and other bio-fuels." The report is based on data from the Indian Ocean experiment and supported by satellite readings. The team of scientists includes Dr.A.P. Mitra of the National Physical Laboratory in Delhi. The models used suggest that the haze may reduce rain and snow over northwestern India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and neighbouring areas of central Asia by 20 to 40 per cent. The haze is also reducing the amount of solar energy that reaches the earth and this, according Dr.Mitra, has reduced India's winter rice harvest by 10 per cent.

The various reports released on the state of the planet highlight the dilemmas that would confront the deliberations in Johannesburg due to be held from August 26 to September 4. These include reconciling development with unchecked pollution, which threatens to alter the earth's climate patterns irreversibly. The experience of many developing countries reveals that development has taken place in conjunction with large-scale environmental degradation and scant attention to safeguards. The consequences of this misguided development include a massive rise in the populations of poorer countries and the transfer of polluting industries from the developed West to developing countries eager to attract foreign investment. The state of the planet today casts serious doubts over the pattern of lifestyle in the West, which is based on consumerism and that has little regard for non-renewable resources.

Talking to the Tigers, finally

Even as the political squabbles in Colombo continue and disagreement over the issues to be discussed remain unresolved, the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government decide to hold direct talks in September.

BREAKING months of uncertainty, the Sri Lankan government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) announced on August 14 that they would start direct talks. The talks would be held in Thailand between September 12 and 17, with Norwegian facilitation.

This outcome of the second direct meeting between Sri Lankan Minister for Economic Reforms Milinda Moragoda and the LTTE's chief negotiator, Anton Balasingham, in Oslo is not complete unless viewed against the backdrop of the cessation of hostilities that is already in place and, in the larger context, Sri Lanka's domestic politics.

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Talking to the Tigers has been an oft-travelled road for the Sri Lankan government. The last time such a route was taken - from the last quarter of 1994 to the first quarter of 1995 - during the early days of President Chandrika Kumaratunga's first term in office, the talks collapsed. According to Lakshman Kadirgamar, the former Foreign Minister who is now senior adviser to the President on Foreign Affairs, the talks failed "to a large extent because the two parties were simply not ready to be able to talk to each other face to face. There was too much bitterness and too much distrust at that point of time, so it was doomed - conceptually doomed." Hence the entry of a third party facilitator in the form of Norway, a country outside South Asia's geopolitics and with prior experience at conflict-resolution in other parts of the world.

The mutual distrust, which ran high in 1994-95, clouded all expectations and it was back to war. That war, Eelam War III, steamrolled across northern Sri Lanka for seven years until a change of government, on the one side, and the realisation about the ineffectiveness of wars of attrition on the other, played their roles in bringing the government and the Tigers to agree upon cessation of hostilities in early 2002.

In the more immediate context, the agreement on cessation of hostilities, signed independently by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and LTTE leader V. Prabakaran, with Norwegian facilitation, forms the basis for the next round of talks. During the months after the ceasefire came into effect, there have been visible changes on the Sri Lankan landscape. An air of cautious optimism prevails across the island, where a few years ago abject pessimism was all that one would run into. On the military front, the guns have remained silent, with the tenuous ceasefire holding.

However, doubts continue. Just a few days before the window of dates for the Thailand talks was announced, the Opposition People's Alliance (P.A.) expressed doubts about the possibility of direct parleys being held. The P.A.'s position during the past two months has been two-fold: at the broader level, it welcomes the decision to hold direct talks, but feels that the government is pressured by the LTTE, when it comes to matters of detail. On two important issues - the lifting of the ban on the Tigers and the granting of an interim council - its broad views do not directly clash with those of the government.

However, the P.A.'s nod for these efforts is punctuated by important caveats that can only be ignored to the peril of the peace process. With regard to the grant of an interim administration, the P.A.'s position is that it should not be considered in isolation from ground realities and deeper political issues. The P.A. has said that the grant of an interim administration for the Tigers should be linked to political issues such as democracy and pluralism. On the lifting of the ban, the P.A.'s position has been that it was not opposed to such a move as long as it took forward the attempts at conflict resolution.

Despite this larger understanding between the two parties on the need for a negotiated settlement, several imponderables remain in two areas - the peace process and the bitter bipartisan politics in the south of the country.

On the face of it, the announcement of the dates for talks is a breakthrough that has been arrived at after months of backroom discussions. Despite the expectations often raised over when talks would start, from May it was evident that the Tigers would not be willing to head for the negotiating table until all the deadlines set out in the ceasefire agreement were met. As the final deadline was August 2, it would have been a matter of surprise if the talks had started before that date. Moreover, such a process would have placed more strain on the talks, especially given the volatile situation in the east during the last week of June.

Now that the dates have been announced, the cloud of uncertainty over whether the talks would be held at all has cleared. The next matter of detail will relate to the exact date for the talks to begin. Reports from Thailand indicate that five options have been given to the Sri Lankan government. Current expectations are that once the logistics and the list of people to be present at the ceremonial opening are worked out, a preparatory round will be held to chalk out an agenda for the talks.

It is from this point onwards that the process is bound to come under greater scrutiny and face more challenges. The agenda is one area where there has been a divergence of opinion between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE.

To begin with, the Tigers had taken the position that the talks in Thailand would focus on interim administration and that the other issues could be worked out subsequently. This position ran into rough weather in southern Sri Lanka with President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the P.A. which she heads, calling upon the government to make the Thailand talks as comprehensive as possible. The P.A. said that rather than discussing the interim agenda in isolation, the talks should include important political issues and the core issues of the conflict. One reasoning behind the P.A.'s position was that the ceasefire agreement itself was seen as one giving away too many concessions to the Tigers. Moreover, there are also fears about the marginalisation of Muslims and the non-LTTE Tamil political parties in an LTTE-dominated interim administration.

The government responded to the P.A.'s position by saying that although core issues could also be taken up for discussion, the talks should be structured in such a manner that they were not derailed mid-course. The LTTE, which is keen on "proving Kumaratunga and her supporters wrong", has now said that it is not averse to taking core issues on board at the Thailand talks. Clearly, in the present political context, backing the government led by the United National Party (UNP) gives the Tigers the twin advantages of keeping the territory it gained intact and distancing the southern polity from the P.A.

The way out of this apparent conundrum, according to present indications, is to prolong the talks by sequencing the events in such a way that the sensitive issues do not dominate the talks. The challenge will come when the negotiators open the real issues, including the manner in which the interim administration would relate to the Central government, the position of the existing LTTE cadres and, most important, the question of the Muslims living in the eastern region. The composition of the interim administration itself is set to become an issue that requires sensitive handling.

However, the real uncertainty, which can upset the apple-cart, is to be found in the bipartisan politics in Colombo. With the UNP and the P.A. engaged in a political quarrel over who has the final say in running the government, the fissures within the politics in southern Sri Lanka are bound to have their impact on the talks in Thailand.

For several months now, the President has been facing a hostile Cabinet. Although Sri Lanka's Executive President is easily the most powerful constitutional leader in the region, Kumaratunga has not had an easy task at the helm. The political rivalry between her and Prime Minister Wickremasinghe is only a part, though an important one, of the political polarisation. Deeper still lie several constitutional issues, the important one being the constitutional provision regarding the President's power to dissolve Parliament. Article 70 (1) of the Constitution gives the President the powers to summon, prorogue and dissolve Parliament. However, there is one restraining condition: "When a General Election has been held consequent upon a dissolution of Parliament by the President, the President shall not thereafter dissolve Parliament until the expiration of a period of one year from the date of such General Election, unless Parliament by resolution requests the President to dissolve it."

This clause of the 1978 Constitution, brought in by an earlier UNP government, headed by the late J.R. Jayewardene, has come under scrutiny in the past month. The present political storm can be traced to seemingly justifiable apprehensions in the UNP that the President will dissolve Parliament once the one-year restraining deadline is crossed. Kumaratunga's assurance to the Speaker of Parliament that she will not do so has not won over the Opposition, which is demanding a constitutional amendment. The President, in a two-page message to the Speaker on August 20, gave an assurance that she would not dissolve the House. Exercising her right to send messages to Parliament, Kumaratunga said: "I wish to inform the members of the 11th Parliament, and through them the people of Sri Lanka, that I shall not dissolve the present Parliament unless the party which presently commands the confidence of the House loses its majority and an alternative government cannot be formed from among the members of the present Parliament."

Evidently, the President has laid her cards on the table. The P.A. has of late taken the position that it would win over the support of some ruling party MPs and said that a political reconfiguration is in the offing. The government has also made a similar claim, stating that it would win the support of Opposition members for a crucial amendment that it plans to bring in order to provide MPs with a conscience vote. Given the laws that can deprive MPs of their seat if they defy a party whip, this claim remains to be tested on the floor of the House.

The consequences of this game of political one-upmanship can spell disaster for the peace process. Although several possible scenarios are evident, they all would lead to an oft-made statement by the Tigers - that the politics in southern Sri Lanka simply will not permit space for a meaningful resolution of the conflict. One possible result of the re-configuration of the numbers in Parliament is that the larger sense of disenchantment with the political players among the electorate will strengthen parties such as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which is known to have a less rigid position on conflict resolution. On the other hand, there is the possibility of a re-configuration of the Tamil MPs as well. Some political analysts do not rule out even the entry of the LTTE into Parliament. "The Tigers can simply ask some of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MPs to resign and take their places," a political observer noted. This will mean that Parliament will have to face head on the most sensitive national problem the state has confronted since Independence.

Hence the true test for Sri Lanka's conflict resolution process will be played out not only in the distant climes of Thailand, but right in the heart of the island's capital. There can be no better description of Sri Lanka's state of affairs than what an enthusiastic islander came up with recently during a conversation: "This is what happens when the elephant (the UNP's election symbol) sits on the chair (the P.A.'s election symbol)." The biggest challenge facing the Sri Lankan polity now is to arrive at a workable means by which conflict resolution is insulated from the bitter bipartisan politics.

A subversive agenda

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The Venezuelan Supreme Court's verdict setting free Army officers implicated in the failed coup against President Hugo Chavez is perceived as part of a game plan to destabilise his government.

IT was a decision that seemingly defied logic. A full bench of the Supreme Court of Venezuela passed a judgment in the third week of August that allowed four Army officers implicated in the April 2002 coup against President Hugo Chavez to walk away without any charges being framed against them. The judgment has inflamed public opinion, especially among poor Venezuelans, who are staunch supporters of Chavez. There was violence on the streets of Caracas, the capital, as the supporters of Chavez marched to the Supreme Court building to register their outrage. Shots were exchanged between the police and the demonstrators. Caracas Mayor Alfredo Pena, who controls the city's police, seemed eager to precipitate a major confrontation.

The 20-member Supreme Court bench ruled, with a narrow majority, that the four officers, who played active roles in the U.S.-supported coup, were not guilty of military rebellion and hence not liable to face court martial proceedings. It was the third time within the span of a month that the court had given such a ruling, though there was concrete evidence for the culpability of the accused. Before the latest verdict, Chavez had taken the unprecedented step of issuing a warning that the people and the Army would not tolerate any action of absolving the officers of the serious charges levelled against them.

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Chavez had suggested that some of the judges were swayed by the Venezuelan elite. The old elite, which ruled the country since the early 1950s, is today backed by the conservative Catholic Church and a right-wing trade union leadership. This group has not given up its efforts to destabilise the government of Chavez, despite the setback it received in April. Since he assumed office, Chavez has been engaged in the herculean task of restructuring the Venezuelan economy so as to bring economic benefits to the poor. The oil-rich country has one of the most corrupt elites in Latin America. Chavez' efforts to eliminate the twin scourges of corruption and poverty have not endeared him to those who had monopolised power for several decades.

Chavez described the Supreme Court's decision as an attempt to deny that the coup had actually taken place. Addressing a rally in the coastal city of Cumana, the President termed the decision "totally absurd". At the same time he urged his followers to accept the decision. Chavez said: "Independently of what they decided, we all know history's verdict: In Venezuela, there was a coup against the people and the Constitution."

However, some of his supporters are not willing to take the challenge from the Supreme Court lying down. In the eye of many Venezuelans, the country's judiciary has reverted to its old ways, when justice could be easily subverted by the rich and the mighty. Although reforming the judiciary was high on Chavez' agenda, the tumultuous events of the past one year have derailed, at least temporarily, the Venezuelan government's restructuring programme. Chavez' primary aim is to try and help the vast majority of the Venezuelan people, around 80 per cent of whom are impoverished. Laws approved by the legislature in November 2001 guaranteed free health care and free education up to the university level. The rights of indigenous groups and women were also guaranteed.

THE majority of the judges appointed to the revamped Supreme Court are said to owe their allegiance to former Interior Minister Luis Miquilena. Miquilena was once close to Chavez but has since aligned himself with the oligarchs. When they were close political allies, Chavez had given Miquilena a free hand in nominating Supreme Court judges. Now that the former Interior Minister is a leading figure in the Opposition, the judges appointed during his tenure seem to have switched their allegiance to the Opposition, and in the process are riding roughshod over the country's Constitution and the democratically elected government, whom they are sworn to protect.

The Supreme Court's move has assumed more alarming dimensions as the Opposition has brought against Chavez trumped-up charges ranging from corruption to malfeasance. The Opposition's game plan is to get the Supreme Court to pass strictures against Chavez in order to provide the constitutional rationale to impeach him. Apparently, the Opposition hopes that a "legal coup" will succeed where a military coup failed.

However, from all available indications, Chavez' supporters will not be caught napping this time. Rafael Vargas, a senior Cabinet Minister, has warned that if the judiciary is misused to oust Chavez, then Venezuela could implode into a civil war. Vargas said that Venezuela "is ungovernable without Chavez". He pointed out that Venezuela had experienced both urban and rural guerilla war recently and added that the country's oil wells could easily become the targets.

Vargas' warnings were also directed at Washington. The Bush administration has made no bones about its goal of exercising control over most of the world's oil resources. The war being contemplated against Iraq, the talk of balkanising Saudi Arabia, and the replacement of the Chavez government form an integral part of this agenda.

Even before the coup, Washington had made its dislike for Chavez clear. It had many reasons to be upset with Chavez. Venezuela had refused to give overflight facilities to U.S. military planes which were involved in a campaign against Colombian guerillas. Moreover, Chavez, while condemning the September 11 attacks on the U.S., had questioned the Bush administration's right to fight "terrorism with terrorism".

Washington had substantially increased its covert activities against Chavez by the end of 2001. As the Venezuelan government started to implement his radical domestic agenda, senior Bush administration officials started saying that they would put Venezuela in diplomatic isolation. The international financial institutions with their headquarters in the U.S. indicated that they were willing to support a "transitional" government in Venezuela. However, the attempt to overthrow Chavez failed despite the full backing of Washington. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is financed by the U.S. government, was in close touch with Fedecameras, a leading business group, and the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, the leading anti-Chavez union. Pedro Carmona, who was installed as President by the coup plotters in April, was the head of Fedecameras. In the two days he was in office, Carmona tried to dissolve the National Assembly and scrap the Constitution, which had been approved overwhelmingly by the people.

It was the alliance of the dispossessed people and the Army that foiled the coup attempt. Chavez had used the Army to spearhead his reform programmes. While many Army barracks were converted to schools, Army doctors and nurses participated in the public health programmes initiated by the government. Although a demonstration by a large number of middle-class Venezuelans on the streets of Caracas protesting against Chavez may look impressive, the new political reality is that the hitherto hidden Venezuelan majority, comprising the indigenous people, the mestizos and the blacks, are now strongly united behind Hugo Chavez and they would fight until the last to defend their President.

Chavez, after his return to the Presidential Palace following the defeat of the coup, said: "While it is true that they were deceived for many years, while it is true that they were manipulated for many years, while it is true for many years that they were led around like sheep, it has been demonstrated that the people have definitely awoken; they have discovered their own strength and have become historical actors constructing a new way forward." Resentment is growing all over Latin America against the neo-liberal economic policies favoured by the West. In fact, there is nothing much that Washington can do to stop the Left from re-emerging as a strong force on the political landscape of the region.

Fighting for survival

VIKRAM SURA in Gaza world-affairs

In Israeli-occupied territories, suicide bombing by Palestinians has become an act of survival against oppression.

THE Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is now led by two types of leaders: those who advocate suicide bombing against Israeli civilians and those who have joined the chorus unwilling to disturb the consensus.

Suicide bombing as a method of political violence in Palestine did not materialise at the push of a button. It took seven years before it was put to frequent use; and is rooted in the failure to get the Israeli military to redeploy its forces stationed in Palestinian territories, a key feature of the Interim Agreement of September 1995 for Palestinian self-governance, say Palestinian leaders in Gaza.

The leaders say that the failure of the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) to secure the redeployment and to guarantee Israel's security demands led to political factions opposed to negotiations and disposed towards suicide bombings gaining popularity.

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In the 23 months between the outbreak of the Aqsa uprising in October 2000 and the Israeli reoccupation of the West Bank by August 2002, 368 Israeli civilians - 172 of them in the last five months alone - fell victim to Palestinian violence inside Israel and the Occupied Territories, according to B'Tselem, the Jerusalem-based Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. The Palestinian body count, on the other hand, is 1,066 civilians in the Occupied Territories, 396 of them in the last six months.

This nudged the resistance led by secular Muslim leaders of Al-Fateh, the political party of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, into the eager hands of factions opposed to negotiations.

Efforts to implement the interim agreement on the redeployment of Israeli forces failed, says Brigadier-General Osama Al-Ali of the P.A. Al-Ali was the Chairman of the Regional Security Committee with Israel Defence Forces (IDF) in Gaza, set up under the agreement. He says he had time and again unfolded his six-by-two-feet Oslo map of the Gaza Strip and pointed out to his Israeli counterpart how military lookout posts had popped up like wild mushrooms on Palestinian land that was guaranteed under the agreement.

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"The Oslo agreement is not an agreement of peace; it is an agreement to end Israeli occupation. It is a very clear agreement - it has dates, it has a programme and schedule for implementation, within a span of three years of the interim period," he says. But the redeployment never happened. Meanwhile, the two sides fought with unequal results, says Al-Ali.

"I don't ask to kill Israelis, I don't ask to attack Israelis, I don't ask to harm Israelis," he says. "I ask to protect me from a huge army against which I don't have anything to protect myself. They refused," says Al-Ali, referring to the proposal put before the United Nations Security Council in December 2001 to position international monitors in Palestinian areas. The United States vetoed the proposal saying that it did not single out the terrorist organisations responsible for the violence in Israel.

"So what can they do, the Palestinian people?" Al-Ali asks. "Kill. So the way out is to go and kill himself there. If the Palestinian people had the Apache (helicopter gunship), they would have sent it; if the Palestinian people had tanks, they would have shot with tanks. When it is normal and legal for Israek to kill me with an Apache, why is not normal to kill an Israeli by myself? If an Israeli kills me wearing military uniform, it is not terror. But if I kill him in civilian clothes, it is terror. I don't wish to hit civilian targets - I don't believe it, I don't like it, I don't want it," he says.

EVEN as the P.A. and the Israeli government negotiated on the treadmill of time, pointing fingers at each other, a 65-year-old, frail, quadriplegic, in flowing white beard returned home to Gaza in 1997, upon his release after eight years in an Israeli prison. He was Sheik Ahmed Ismail Yasin, the "spiritual" leader of the Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya, the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas.

"The stalemate facing the peace process at large, and people's impression that the P.A. did not seem effective, and the illusion of peace that did not prove fruitful gave Hamas some amount of popularity," says Mahmoud Ajrami, director-general of the Africa directorate in the Palestinian Ministry of Planning and International Development in Gaza City and a member of the Palestinian National Council.

Hamas rode the tide of popular approval of the first Palestinian uprising at the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza in 1987. It published pamphlets in support of the struggle, says a Palestinian Information Officer from the refugee camp who was active in the first uprising.

Hamas cadre spun a wide network of social services in the Gaza Strip, which included medical clinics providing free services, soup kitchens, orphanages, and student leagues. While Arafat's administration was negotiating with Israel in the late 1990s, the military wing of Hamas, Izz el-Din al-Kassam Brigades, struck: A car-bomb attack on a bus in Israel killed eight people on April 6, 1994. It was the first bombing that Hamas claimed responsibility for after the Declaration of Principles between Yasser Arafat and the Israeli government a year earlier. From assaulting Jewish settlers and reserve soldiers inside the occupied territories, Hamas graduated to new means of political violence. Other militias later imitated it. Of the 90 suicide attacks that took place inside Israel since 1994, Hamas sponsored 23, according to Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs statistics.

"The Palestinian suffering was unbearable," says Ismail Abu Shanab, a Hamas founding member, who stood in for the ailing Sheik Yasin for an interview. "Palestinians were throwing stones first, then Israel began assassinations, and then destroyed homes and establishments with F-16s and Apaches."

The AH-64 Apache helicopter gunship became a symbol of terror among the people of Gaza, explain Palestinian officials. When Jewish settlements in the occupied territories were strafed with mortar fire or the fragile calm within Israel was ripped apart by bombing, or when a suspected Palestinian militant came overground, the Apache gunship was sent in to retaliate or assassinate.

However, it was after the election of Ariel Sharon as Israel's Prime Minister in February 2001 that the F-16 fighter-bomber raided Palestinian police compounds and posts in the West Bank and Gaza - in May the same year. This was the first time since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war when the fighter jet, poetically christened the Fighting Falcon, bombed Palestinian targets. Twelve policemen reportedly died in the raids, which came as a response to a Hamas-sponsored suicide bombing in Israel that killed five and reportedly injured 100. Hamas ratcheted up the degree of violence, and Israel responded - unequivocally - with the F-16.

In May 2002, an opinion poll conducted among 1,317 Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research revealed that Hamas had a popularity rating of 15.5 per cent and Al-Fateh, 31.7 per cent.

Mahmoud Ajrami hints that Israel encouraged Hamas against the P.A.

"It's a lie," says Abu Shanab of Hamas. "We refused to join with the P.A., so they say Israel supports us. He adds: "Oslo split Palestine into two: opponents and proponents. Hamas continues the resistance, while the P.A. believes in Oslo. After 10 years of negotiations there is no more progress. The P.A. has failed to achieve what Palestinians intended it to achieve."

While Hamas, with its tradition of sharp reprisals, challenged Arafat's authority, Al-Fateh imitated Hamas. The Aqsa Martyrs Brigades was born in the year 2000 from the Tanzim, the youth league of Al-Fateh. The Brigades has claimed responsibility for 13 of the 90 bombings in Israel since 1994. The opinion survey of May 2002 made some telling comments, which included: "Fateh improved its popularity ratings from 28 per cent in December to 32 per cent in this poll while those of the Islamist groups remained unchanged at 25 per cent... One possible reason for the rise in the popularity of Al-Fateh may have been the public satisfaction with the attacks carried out by Al-Fateh's armed wing, Al Aqsa Brigades, inside Israel and against Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank since December."

"Tanzim and the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades had an unofficial marriage," says an officer in the Palestinian Planning Ministry who requested anonymity. "The marriage is denied at the top but is known to everyone, especially the Israelis. Arafat also knows these Fateh and Al Aqsa Martyrs people."

The Aqsa Martyrs Brigades employed guerilla tactics which were initially aimed at soldiers manning checkpoints where Palestini-ans were humiliated, says the officer. One of their "successes" was an early morning sniper hit in March 2002 against seven Israeli soldiers and three civilians at a West Bank checkpoint. All hits proved fatal.

Among the Fateh leaders in Gaza, Rashid Abu Shbak is playfully dubbed the "father of mortars", as he had patronised mortar manufacturing in the Resistance. At present, he is the chief of the Preventive Security Service in Gaza. A "much-loved man" on the Palestinian "street", Abu Shbak is considered the "hidden brain" of the Fateh. Abu Shbak has spent 17 years in Israeli prisons, yet he says he still believes in peace. He says the delay in troop withdrawal and the military escalation by Israel made Palestinian society militant.

"The second intifada began as an unarmed uprising. But during the initial stages, the military escalation and the killing of Palestinian people by the Israeli occupation forces contributed further to the military nature of the Palestinian action. Specifically, in the seven years before the Aqsa intifada, the region had stability as never before," he points out. "On the contrary, what did we have from the Israelis? Delaying of troops withdrawal. Then Sharon came. He destroyed everything: the P.A., its institutions, and the infrastructure of Palestinian society."

Abu Shbak dismisses Hamas. He says: "The Islamists have supporters but they are not popular. Their popularity increased because of Israeli behaviour - it was 15 per cent but now it is only 7 or 8 per cent."

He often reminds himself, he says, that he is working for a security apparatus and he does not like it. As the chief of the Preventive Security Service, Abu Shbak keeps Israeli citizens, including Jewish settlers, safe from Palestinian terror attacks. His 3,000-member force works as an internal intelligence agency in Gaza, locking in prison suspected Palestinian militants. But as a Fateh leader, Abu Shbak continues to resist the occupation.

"We have the legitimate right to defend ourselves according to international law," he says. "The world now doesn't understand what's happening on the Palestinian side, especially the actions of the so-called suicide bombers against Israeli civilians. Strange that people don't see anything but the Israeli civilian. They don't see the tens of Palestinian children killed daily... they don't see a Palestinian woman give birth to a baby at a checkpoint."

The Aqsa Martyrs Brigades of Al-Fateh and the Kassam Brigades of Hamas have an old partner in the field in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP). The PLFP is a secular, Marxist, political faction that joined Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in 1967. Like Hamas, the PLFP is opposed to negotiations. The PLFP has to its credit five bombings since 1994. With a popularity rating of just 3 per cent, it nevertheless shot into prominence in October 2001 when its cadre assassinated Rechavam Ze'evi, Israel's right-wing Likud Party Minister, in a Jerusalem hotel. The assassination was in retaliation for an Apache air strike that killed PLFP chief Abu Ali Mustafa in Ramallah in August 2001.

"The Israeli citizen must realise that whenever his nation makes an aggression against Palestinians, he must pay a price for it," says Rabah MHanna, a PLFP polit bureau member and one of the organisation's founders. "I don't have Apaches or F-16s. But I have the suicide bomber. As a human being, I cannot bear to see an Israeli boy or girl or woman walk to a coffee shop and get killed. So suicide-bombing is terrorism. But why are we doing this? And for what? We are doing it to protect Palestinians. We do this - call this terrorism - to protect ourselves," he says.

MHanna says he wants to maintain a "balance of terror" between Palestinian and Israeli civilians. He adds that the terror-scale pans should include their leaderships also. Hemmed in by Israel's occupation forces, each Palestinian political faction is leading its own little freelance fight, with its glassy-eyed youth leaguers as bomb material.

Mahmoud Ajrami says: "When a rabbit in a forest is attacked, it tries to find a hole to hide. The Palestinian has no hole to protect him. This (terrorism) is, in fact, for survival."

A summer of reassertion

MICHAEL HINDLEY world-affairs

The rise of trade union militancy in Britain reflects the growing anger of low-paid workers who contrast New Labour's attacks on 'fat cat' pay rises for private sector bosses when in Opposition and its government's friendliness towards big business subsequently.

THE British trades union movement could well have echoed Mark Twain's ironic comment that a report of his death was an exaggeration.

Not only has this summer seen a rise in the number of strikes in the public sector, but the strike by local government workers on July 17 was an overwhelming success, and, significantly, won public sympathy. An opinion poll in the liberal daily The Guardian indicated that 59 per cent of voters thought the local government employees' "day of action" was justified. The extent of support was 61 per cent among Labour voters. The major public sector unions had rejected a "final offer" of a 3 per cent raise, but eventually the employers' association settled, ahead of another threatened strike, for what union leaders claimed was an over 10 per cent raise for low-paid workers. Primarily, the rise in union militancy has been caused by the growing anger of low-paid workers who contrast New Labour's attacks on "fat cat" pay rises for private sector bosses when in Opposition and its government's subsequent friendliness towards big business. In the same poll, 37 per cent of Labour voters agreed with the proposition that Premier Tony Blair "pays too much attention to business and doesn't listen enough to unions".

Public sector workers' pay has been falling in real terms as the government continues to squeeze expenditure in order to keep inflation down. At the same time, the move towards privatisation of services continues, and public sector workers find their wages reduced as the services once provided by the local town halls are "contracted out" to entrepreneurs with little or no sympathy for the unions.

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A leaked confidential paper of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) notes that "workers are more disenchanted than 10 years ago" and are gearing up for the annual conference in September, and that the TUC general council has demanded a 29 per cent increase in the national minimum wage to take it to &pound5.30 an hour. For a long time now the New Labour government has trumpeted the introduction of the minimum wage, but the novelty has worn thin. Furthermore, as the Opposition Tory Party says that it now supports a minimum wage, the battle has moved on from having to defend the concept of a minimum wage to settling a realistic living minimum wage. The general council will also recommend the raising of some of the legislation that is restrictive of trade union activity, imposed during the high tide of Thatcherism in the 1980s and which is as yet unamended by the Blairites.

But, as usual in politics, it is changes in personnel that are the best indicators of which way the wind is blowing. TUC general secretary John Monks, a quiet-spoken and intelligent person who was previously a supporter of Blair, has let it be known that he is disillusioned with the New Labour regime's pro-business stance and has announced his imminent departure.

The most spectacular change, however, has been the defeat of Sir Ken Jackson, widely touted as "Blair's favourite trade unionist", in his bid to remain general secretary of the engineers' section of Amicus, the recently united union of engineers and technical workers. "Sir Ken", as he likes to be called, was the loudest and most persistent cheerleader for Blair in the unions and kept up his vociferous support long after others on the traditional Right of the Labour movement, such as general municipal union leader John Edmonds, had begun to peel away from New Labour. "Sir Ken" has acted as a stalking horse for the Blairites, revelling in his role of saying things that are uncomfortable to the Labour movement. Not least, "Sir Ken" has championed the cause of the Euro and has ruthlessly used the press and his own union's propaganda machine to press his line. Indeed, it is this that may well have been his undoing, for his conqueror, a little known but well-respected grassroots activist, Derek Simpson, carried out a steady old-fashioned campaign of speaking to as many branches as possible and promising to base his activities strictly on policy as defined by the union itself, and not on the prejudices of its general secretary.

Ever since the "Winter of Discontent" (1978-79), when a wave of strikes in the public sector left trade unionism widely unpopular and contributed to the defeat of the incumbent Labour government in May 1979, the unions have been apprehensive, even cowed, by the accusation that their militancy would cost Labour votes. The unions have been quiescent throughout New Labour's first term (1997-2001): however deep their disappointment, they stuck rigidly to the axiomatic line that any Labour government is preferable to a Tory government. Now that the Tory party is a shambles and New Labour does not feel beholden to the unions, the unions themselves are stirring.

Michael Hindley was a Labour Party member of the European Parliament from 1984 to 1999.

A global conjuncture

WALDEN BELLO world-affairs
The multiple crises of global capitalism.

THE spectacle of unending scandals in Wall Street is part and parcel of what is shaping up as the worst crisis of global capitalism since the Great Depression 70 years ago. Charting the direction for the future is greatly dependent on understanding the nature and dynamics of this crisis. We are talking about a big Crisis that is the intersection of four crises.

Crisis of legitimacy

The crisis of legitimacy refers to the increasing inability of the neoliberal ideology that underpins today's global capitalism to persuade people of its necessity and viability as a system of production, exchange and distribution. The disaster wrought by structural adjustment in Africa and Latin America; the chain reaction of financial crises in Mexico, Asia, Brazil and Russia; the descent into chaos of free-market Argentina; and the combination of massive fraud and spectacular wiping out of $7 trillion of investors' wealth - a sum that nearly equals the annual gross domestic product (GDP) of the United States - have all eaten away at the credibility of capitalism. The institutions that serve as global capitalism's system of global economic governance - the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) - have been the most negatively affected by this crisis of legitimacy and thus stand exposed as the weak link in the system.

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A sure sign of the profound crisis of legitimacy appears when the system loses its best ideologues. Among the "best and the brightest" who have deserted are Jeffrey Sachs, the author of the "shock treatment" of Eastern Europe in the early 1990s who now calls for non-payment of their debts by developing countries; Joseph Stiglitz, the former World Bank Chief Economist, now the severest critic of the IMF; Jagdish Bhagwati, who coined the term "Wall Street-Treasury Complex" to describe the interests that brought on the unending stream of global financial crises since the 1990s; and George Soros, capitalist par excellence who doubles as the enemy of "market fundamentalism".

Crisis of overproduction

Intersecting with the crisis of legitimacy is a crisis of overproduction and overcapacity that could portend more than an ordinary recession. Profits stopped growing in the U.S. industrial sector after 1997, a condition caused by the massive overcapacity that had built up throughout the international economic system during the years of the U.S. boom in the 1990s. The depth of the problem is revealed by the fact that only 2.5 per cent of the global infrastructure in telecommunications is currently utilised. Overcapacity has resulted in investment moving from the real economy to the speculative economy, to the financial sector, a development that was one of the factors behind the stock market bubble, especially in the technology sector. Enormous surplus capacity continues as a global condition, and thus the continuing absence of profitability. The global recession is, as a result, deepening. But precisely because severe imbalances had built up for so long in the global economy, this recession is likely to be prolonged, it is likely to be synchronised among the major centres of capitalism, and there is a great chance that it could turn into something worse, like a global depression.

Crisis of liberal democracy

Running alongside and intersecting with these two crises is a crisis of liberal democracy, which is the typical mode of governance of capitalist economic regimes. In places like the Philippines and Pakistan, popular disillusionment with elite democracies fuelled by money politics is rife among the lower classes and even the middle class, being in the case of Pakistan one of the factors that allowed General Musharraf to seize political power. Clearly, from Africa to Latin America, the phenomenon of the spread of Washington-type or Westminster-type formal democracies that American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington called the "third wave of democratisation" is over.

But the crisis of legitimacy is not limited to the South. In the U.S., there is a widespread popular perception that, owing to massive corporate influence over the two political parties, plutocracy is now the U.S. system of governance, not democracy. Mass disaffection and cynicism have been compounded by the feeling of a vast sector of the electorate that President George W. Bush stole the 2002 elections and, thanks to current revelations about his questionable ethics as a businessman, that he serves mainly as the president of Wall Street rather than of the country. Despite Washington's current posturing about punishing corporate fraud, the spectacular developments in Wall Street are perceived as a moral collapse in which both economic and political elites are implicated.

In Europe, there is also much concern over corporate control of political party finances, but even more threatening is the widespread sense that power has been hijacked from elected national parliaments by unelected, unaccountable Eurobodies like the European Commission. Electoral revolts like the Le Pen and Pim Fortuyn phenomena in France and the Netherlands respectively are manifestations of deep alienation from technocratic democracy.

Overextension

The fourth crisis might not be immediately discernible, but it is operative as well. The recent expansion of U.S. military influence into Afghanistan, the Philippines, Central Asia and South Asia may communicate strength. Yet, despite all this movement, the U.S. has not been able to consolidate victory anywhere, certainly not in Afghanistan, where anarchy, and not a stable pro-U.S. regime, reigns. It is arguable that because of the massive disaffection they have created throughout the Muslim world, the U.S.' politico-military moves, including its pro-Israel policies, have worsened rather than improved the U.S. strategic situation in West Asia, South Asia, and South-East Asia. Meanwhile, even as Washington is obsessed with terrorism in West Asia, political rebellions against neoliberalism are shaking its Latin American backyard.

Anti-corporate globalisation movement

These intersecting crises are unfolding even as the movement against anti-corporate globalisation is gaining strength. During the 1990s resistance to neoliberalism was widespread throughout the South and the North. In few places, however, were they able to become a critical mass at a national level as to reverse neoliberal policies decisively. But although they were not a critical mass nationally, they could become a critical mass globally when they came together at certain critical events. This was what happened in Seattle in December 1999, when massive mobilisations contributed to bringing down the Third Ministerial of the WTO. The other global confrontations of 2000, from Washington to Chiang Mai to Prague, also shook the confidence of the establishment. When the World Social Forum was launched in Porto Alegre in January 2001, with 12,000 people in attendance, the ideological challenge became a very real threat to global capitalism.

Today, we may be witnessing a second moment in the trajectory of the resistance as many anti-neoliberal movements become a critical mass impacting on politics at the national level. This appears to be the case in Latin America, where espousal of neoliberal economic policies is now a surefire path to electoral disaster and progressive movements have either won electoral power or are on the cusp of power in Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia.

Competing with the Right

Nevertheless, the crisis does not guarantee ultimate ascendancy for the forces against neoliberalism on the Left. For the Right is also on the move, taking advantage of the crisis of the neoliberal establishment to concoct ideological mixtures of reaction and populism that stoke the deepest fears of the masses. Note, for instance, the mass resonance of the fascist Le Pen's slogan: "Socially I am left, economically I am right, and politically I am for France." With neoliberal ideology in retreat, the competition for the disenchanted masses is shaping up as an apocalyptic contest between the Left and the Right, though at this point one cannot definitively discount an ideological comeback by the global establishment.

Coming: the Battle of Cancun

In short, the immediate future promises a very fluid situation. In this regard, the Fifth Ministerial of the WTO in Cancun, Mexico, in September 2003, is shaping up as a confrontation between the old order and its challengers on the Left. Because of its decision-making structure, which is based on "consensus" among all member-countries, the WTO is shaping up as the weak link of global capitalist system, much like Stalingrad was the weak link in the German lines during the Second World War. For the establishment, the aim is to launch another ambitious round of trade and trade-liberalisation in Cancun that would rival the Uruguay Round. For its opponents, the aim is to reverse globalisation by turning Cancun into the Stalin-grad of the globalist project.

In the space of just a decade, global capitalism has passed from triumphalist celebration of the passing of the socialist states of Eastern Europe to a fundamental loss of confidence. It is entering a "time of troubles" much like the second and third decades of the 20th century. Its successful emergence from the developing crisis is by no means assured.

Walden Bello is executive director of Focus on the Global South, a programme of the Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute in Bangkok, Thailand and Professor of Sociology and Public Administration at the University of the Philippines.

Through Maoist country

An exclusive, first-person account of a journey to Nepal's mid-west - the heartland of the Maoist insurgency.

'PIRAM' is the password this Wednesday night as the barbed wire is rolled out across the gate at 7 p.m., enclosing the hollow of Libang, the district headquarters of Rolpa, in a multi-layered security siege of checkposts and curfews. Perched sentinel-like on a hill is the camp of the Gorkha Bahadur gan (battalion) of the Royal Nepal Army (RNA). Libang lives in fear; its barricaded residents fear that the Maoists will overrun the city if the Army withdraws.

Rolpa is the heartland of the 'People's War' launched by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) in 1996 to establish a democratic republic. A day's hard trek up and down the soft hills around Libang, and across swing bridges, brings you to territory controlled by the CPN(M). "Strangers who come, we arrest. And if it's an Army-police patrol, we melt away into the fields and jungle and wait it out," said a confident 'People's Army' guerilla in 'red' Tebang. Nine months of Army deployment and a state of Emergency have resulted in mobile Army encampments, but when these are withdrawn, the Maoists return to reassert control. The barely 35,000-strong RNA fighting force cannot be everywhere and eventually has to pull out. Formidable logistics in the hills make combing operations more symbolic than effective. Helicopters with night vision equipment are on order.

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As we climbed to Tebang, leaving way below us the market of Sulichaur, where the road stops, photojournalist Usha Titikchhu and I were accosted by three armed men and a woman. They emerged from a clump of trees, pointing a magnum rifle and two locally made shotguns, and identified themselves as members of the 'people's militia'. Who were we? Did we have permission? In the distance, at Satobato the tin roof of the Army camp glinted in the sunshine. An 'independent' gulmi (company) of 137 soldiers there had a commanding view of the Maoist hills. "They see us, we see them", said a 'people's militia' recruit, pointing to the camp. These inaccessible midwestern hills, the power base of the CPN(M), are ideal terrain for guerilla warfare. Said a young Army officer posted in Libang: "We raid their homes, but can't find them. It may be that they're staying at their gote (shed) in the upper reaches for grazing, or (maybe) another gote near their fields below, or they've gone to India for work. We can't arrest everyone. Take this man, he's unarmed; a peasant by day, he could be a Maoist by night. What can we do?"

Such restraint is not borne out by reports of Army high- handedness and brutality. Mobile Army encampments and patrols leave, as in Tebang, a trail of arbitrary arrests, random killings, torture, arson and terror. Maoist retribution, says Gopal Tamoli of Tarun Dal (the student wing of the Nepali Congress), is equally brutal. At Akalgaroha village in Banke district, blasted houses, signs of targeted, execution-style killings of 'informers', and generalised terror are testimony to this. It is a war in which both sides give no quarter, taking few or no prisoners.

Since February 1996 the 'People's War' has spread from Rolpa to two-thirds of Nepal's 75 districts, establishing 'people's governments' in 22 districts and threatening to encircle Kathmandu. After four months of stalemated talks, the Maoists launched a series of attacks, taking on the Army for the first time. A state of emergency was imposed and the Maoists were dubbed terrorists. The United States put Nepal on its international terrorism map. The international community, including India and China, backs the military option. Within Nepal's Kathmandu-centric politics, multi-party democracy is imploding since the June dissolution of Parliament was peremptorily sanctioned by the new King. The Nepali Congress Party, which led the 1990 movement for democracy in Nepal, has virtually split. Power is gravitating back rapidly to the Palace and the Army. King Gyanendra's recent visits to India and China were not the visits of a constitutional monarch, but of a king negotiating the destiny of Nepal.

CPN(M) Chairman 'Comrade' Prachanda, in his renewed offer of talks on July 18, specifically alluded to the threat of extreme anarchy with the ganging up "of domestic feudal forces and international reactionary forces". He echoed former Prime Minister G.P. Koirala's line of a conspiracy behind the dissolution of Parliament and indicated a willingness to participate in elections provided there were provisions for an interim government or mutually agreed upon election procedures. Shyam Srestha, the Editor of Mulyankan, regards this as a significant show of political flexibility and a scaling down of the demand for a constituent assembly to renegotiate the power structure, abolish the monarchy and make the Nepali people sovereign citizens.

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Militarily, there is a stalemate. Army deployment has yet to make an appreciable shift in the tactical advantage that the Maoists gained following dramatic attacks on Army and police camps. A visiting Maj.-Gen. Ashok Mehta (retd), who has close links with Indian Gurkhas in Nepal, said the seized training videos of the Maoists and their military tactics were impressive, especially as the military commander, 'Comrade' Badal, has reportedly had no professional training. However, certain Maoist reverses in June at Khara in Rukum district, where the Army battalion reportedly had prior warning of an attack, suggest that Army intelligence is advancing on the learning curve of infiltrating the 'enemy'. In Libang and other fortified district headquarter towns the number of 'surrendered' Maoists and 'escapees'- internally displaced people (IDPs) - is increasing, and they are seen as being vulnerable to use by the Army as guides, porters for arms and ammunitions, and informers. In Tebang, the area committee member, 'Comrade' Dileep, spoke of five families in Libang which had escaped Maoist justice and whose members accompanied Army-police patrols in uniform.

FIVE years ago, the influence of the Maoists was everywhere in Libang, a market town that is now virtually a fortress. The chief district office is a hollow shell and its staff of six has no work as the parallel 'people's government' has taken control of land records, revenue and the courts. Today, Army and police watchtowers encircle Fortress Libang and movement is severely restricted.

In the open maidan, two trucks were busy unloading sacks of rice, branded fruit drinks in tetrapacks, shampoo and so on. A district-level official waves a sheaf of papers - permits signed by the Chief District Officer (CDO) who is also the head of the Security Committee - sanctioning supplies. There is a blockade in place in Rolpa. It is aimed at the Maoists but hurts ordinary village residents who are faced with severe food shortages and no easy access to life-saving drugs. Village residents walk a day and a half to reach the market and return with 10 kg of rice. CDO Birendra Nath Sharma explains that rice is merely supplementary to the staple diet of maize and barley. However, this is the scarcity period that lasts six months and the peasants are dependent on the market. Moreover, with the uncertainty about the rain and the standing crop of maize drying up, what is a difficult situation could become alarming.

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Medicine stocks are running dangerously low as no sanction for purchases has been granted for a month and a half. In Sulichaur, medical shops have run out of anti-diarrhoeal drugs, saline solution, tetracycline and so on. Village pharmacies, as in Maddichaur village, are closed. Items on the banned/restricted list include battery cells, pressure cookers, instant foods and Nepal-made 'Gold Star' shoes. It is the favoured shoe of the Maoists and has disappeared from village stores. In Libang you can buy a pair and no more, as long as stocks last. Shopkeeper Man Shyam Pun at Maddichaur told us that before the regime of restrictions was put in place after the Khara incident, an armed Maoist bought 15 pairs of Gold Star shoes from him. "You mean before the Emergency?" I asked. "No, just two-three months ago," he replied. The state of Emergency, as we discovered, was not a watershed in these 'control' areas. Incidentally, Indian rupees is the currency of exchange, whether it is to transact official banking business or to buy an umbrella. It is a reflection of the dependence on the remittance economy here. Also on the restricted list is colour film, lest you be tempted to take scenic shots and give away the location of the defences of Libang.

There are no restrictions on black and white film, though. It is in demand for use in citizens' identity cards and passports. The chief district office had to expand its staff from six to 21 to cope with the demand for ID cards and passports. In the last eight months alone 8,990 ID cards have been issued, compared with 2,260 last year. As many as 1,336 passports have been issued in the same period. Young boys like Karna, 21, of Jamkot are queueing up to go to Malaysia, Saudi Arabia or India. Karna had been picked up for interrogation when the Army set up a camp in adjoining Kotgam in April 2002. He had apparently played in a volleyball match organised by the ANNISU (Revolutionary), a mass student organisation of the Maoists, and Maoist leaders later dined in his house. Jamkot and Maddichaur are known control areas with 'people's governments' or Gajjasas.

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Bimla Garti and her infant are in the Libang jail, with about 28 inmates, for much the same offence as Karna's. In the jail courtyard, the striking murals of Communist icons Marx, Lenin and Mao had been whitewashed over since we last saw them in 1998. But the inmates had not changed. Buji Mala, now 21, is still bewildered about the reasons for her arrest. She was in the upper regions grazing animals and might have given shelter or food to the Maoists.

At the Army camp checkpost we waited for the battalion commander, Col. Sudheer Sharma, to see us. Also waiting was a group of 20 men aged between 18 and 40 years. "They're internally displaced people," a Major told us. Evidently, some kind of temporary recruitment was going on. The names of sensitive villages were taken. One of them held back; he was not wearing shoes and would not have been able to move fast. They let him go. The others walked into the camp. The next day we heard of a pre-dawn Army raid on Dhabang village. Apparently, these 'volunteers' were the guides and even carried equipment and explosives. They were not paid. According to Army sources, they had intelligence information about a group of Maoists - 'people's militia' - meeting in a house in Dhabang. Travelling in the dark on hill tracks, the Army patrol surrounded the house. Of the 11 who were inside, two, a man and a woman, were shot dead even as the others fled. "We ask them to surrender but they flee, so we shoot them," said the Major. He dismissed allegations of the Army taking prisoners. Anecdotal accounts speak of people being picked up and interrogated and then killed while fleeing. "No, it's not true, look at the many who have surrendered. You can meet them in Libang," he said.

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In Libang, a commercial-cum-civic complex was being constructed in the town's public space and a group of IDPs owing allegiance to the conservative Rashtriya Prajatantra Party was hard at work, digging. One of them, Tek Bahadur Biko, was evidently a man of some means because the young woman by his side was his 11th wife. The family had moved from Gam village to the safety of the police post of Sulichaur. After the November attack by Maoists in Dang, when the police pulled out to Libang, so did Biko. After Maoists attacked Gam, the Army took Biko to the village to dig up the bodies of 40 Maoists to try and identify them. "I went to perform the last rites," he said.

Working alongside Biko was Amber Singh Buda. He had been in a group of 45 IDPs who had trekked four days to Tebang and back when the Army set up camp there. "We carried explosives and other equipment for which we were paid for three days at the rate of (Nepali) rupees 90 a day," said Buda. The going rate for civilian porterage is rupees 250. The government has not paid any money as compensation to the IDPs but people like Biko and Buda are required to be guides, informers and porters by their military benefactors. While the Maoists are accused of using human shields, was the Army also crossing the line using 'forced' porterage?

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Libang was full of escapees associated with Nepal's many political parties which stood bail for them. They were an important source of information about life in Maoist-controlled areas. Tham Bahadur Sunar (of the United Marxist-Leninist, or UML) spoke of the practice of contributory labour in his natal village, Irribang, where the Maoists had built a bridge. He had contributed six days' labour. In Gartigaon, his village by adoption, he was taxed rupees 1,200 a year because he was a Sunar. After the Dang action, when the Army set up a camp in Gartigaon, it took utensils from his house. Meanwhile, higher up in Ramkot, at a mass meeting of the 'people's militia', his nephew, who was on sentry duty, overheard the political commissars name his uncle for elimination. So when the Army pulled out, he also left. Ten days later, the Maoists came calling and warned his wife to leave.

Kheema K.C., 19, from Maddichaur and Sun Kumari Buda, 20, from Wama are 'surrendered' Maoists. Alongside the class struggle, the Maoists have taken on board the women's question, and issues relating to ethnic nationalities and Dalits. Indeed, in the Maoist heartland, Hisala Yami, the then leader of the All Nepal Women's Organisation (Revolutionary), had told this correspondent in 1998 that a third of the Maoists were women. In Maddichaur, Kheema was among three other young women who joined the Maoists. Some 12 students of classes 7 and 8 of Shree Bal Uday Middle School had also joined the Maoists.

However, Kheema's story is one of forcible induction. She had gone with some friends to a mass meeting. While the others returned home, she was asked to do contributory labour in lieu of the tax that her three brothers, soldiering in India, had not paid the Maoists. Her work comprised household chores, collective cultivation and fetching water for mass meetings. She attended mass meetings but indoctrination exposure seems to have been minimal. Kheema returned to her village and apparently was not under any pressure to rejoin the Maoists. Eventually the family paid rupees 1,200 as tax. Later Kheema was again asked to do contributory labour because her brother's sister-in-law stayed in her house before surrendering.

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Sun Kumari Buda's story differs only in that there was no forcible induction. She went to a mass meeting at Kotgam and stayed with the Maoists for nine months. For six days the police interrogated her and she now reports to them regularly. Both live in Libang's 'Pakistan Tole'.

Evening curfew and the mandatory blackout drive everyone off the streets and into dimly lit houses. There has been no electricity ever since the Maoists blasted the hydro-electric facility at Jhimkri. Telephones do not work because the Maoists blasted the repeater (telecommunications) tower. Army sources claimed that the Maoists used drugs and alcohol before an action. Dead Maoists were found to have pocketfuls of condoms.

AT the entrance to Maddichaur is the remains of the Victory Memorial Gate blasted by the Army when it set up an encampment in Kotgam. Still visible through the coat of whitewash is the commemoration to Raju Chappamar. In the 'people's militia' structure, the first unit is chappamar, then platoon and company. A year after the 'People's War' was declared, the police chowk in Maddichaur was attacked, and six or seven policemen were killed. By 2000 there was a Gajjasa. The Army set up a camp at nearby Kotgam in April 2002. Rajesh Oli, a young student, narrated the killing of a young woman who was suspected to belong to the 'people's militia'. He said: "A group in civilian half pant-style clothing, like the Maoists, came patrolling and surrounded the house of (23-year-old) Man Mali Biko. A contingent of 24 uniformed Army men followed. She was shot. Amrit Garti, an elderly person who happened to be outside, was also shot dead." "Was she a member of the 'people's militia'?" There were no answers. Her father and brother have since moved.

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On the question of how many people were arrested, Rajesh said he and four other students were taken to the Army camp and handcuffed. One of them, Shyam Bahadur, was beaten for two weeks. The soldiers wanted to know what work they did for the Maoists. Two schoolteachers were also picked up and now report regularly to the authorities. School headmaster Barman Buda moved to Libang after he was accused of being an informer. The Army pulled out in May.

As we stopped for lunch at the Maddichaur end of the bridge linking it to Libang, three men were waiting for us. The eldest, 'Comrade' Ashish, took out a notebook folded in a plastic bag and wrote down our names. The questions came quickly: "Did we have permission?'' ''Were we planning to go on to Jamkot and maybe meet someone there?" Inexperienced about authentic and non- authentic Maoists, we let the opportunity slip. 'Comrade' Ashish was an old-time party activist, an area committee functionary.

There, out in the open, with likely informers coming and going across the bridge, three hours from Libang, the Maoists sat down for a chat. Apparently, the Emergency had not driven underground the Maoist political activists, especially those belonging to the Gajjasas. 'Comrade' Ashish refused to be photographed full face. However, a young recruit who had been with the militia for six months, his Gold Star shoes worn out from action, posed obligingly. "There are thousands in the 'people's militia' who look like me," he said. I asked whether there was any rethinking in view of the U.S. and India materially backing the RNA in its fight against the Maoists. "I won't deny, we are taking heavy losses. But this is a people's war, no outside force can win."

Three herdsmen with 10 goats were about to cross the bridge and onto Libang to sell them. Had they paid the tax - rupees 25 a goat, the Maoists asked. Yes, they said, and crossed to the other side. Later, on the road, they told us that they had lied. Krishna Bahadur Pun, the local school teacher, too, had not paid the required 12 days' salary as tax. No, he had not been threatened. The shopkeeper of the general store, Man Bahadur Shyam, paid rupees 150 a month. The Maoists gave receipts, but after a couple of times he tore them up. What if the police found them, he explained. Maoists would come openly, carrying arms, and eat in the village. Did the people believe that the Maoists used drugs and alcohol to embolden themselves before an attack? "Can't be," said the students.

TEBANG is on the Maoist map, at the base of the forested ridge of Lisne Lek, where the Army claims it encircled a Maoist training camp and killed hundreds of Maoists in May. Lack of helicopter support enabled a group to escape and it attacked a security camp in Gam in the northeast. Tebang had a long history of revolutionary left-wing politics, as did much of Rolpa. Police excesses during Operation Romeo and its successor Kilo Sera II generated many recruits and the process of regenerating the 'people's militia' is going on.

It is a steep two-and-a-half-hour climb from the Sulli river to a watering spot, where we rested. Four men appeared, three of them carrying rifles and shoulder pouches, which I later saw had socket bombs and a transistor. They had watched us for some time. Did we have permission? The militia leader brandishing a magnum rifle and in a stylised version of fatigues agreed to arrange a meeting with the area committee leader. On top of the ridge was the Martyrs' Gate.

Tebang was declared a 'people's government' in 2000. A congregation hall with wooden totemic guards and a bronze bell lay in disrepair. Inside was the board of a discredited official body and other stuff that had been thrown away. The Maoists closed it three years ago and stopped the tradition of local melas. 'Comrade' Dileep, the area committee member, said the mela attracted outsiders. He denied that it was an anti-religious move and claimed that there had been instances of people congregating for a mela being fired upon by the Army. In the village, described as Hindu, people were free to worship their gods at home.

In the apron ground of Rok Bahadur School, maize is growing as part of a pilot project in collective farming, 'Comrade' Dileep said. On the school ground there are ashes from the cooking fires of the Army when they camped there on their last patrol on July 4. Members of INSEC, a human rights organisation, told us that the Maoists often blew up schools because the Army had used them. In Tebang they reclaimed the school.

On March 25 an Army patrol from the Satobato company blasted 11 houses and looted several others, said our village hosts. They came again on May 2, this time in battalion strength, walking and on helicopter, and set up camp for five days. Eight people were killed, according to 'Comrade' Dileep. Kirti Bista, 23, was shot dead when he was repairing a gote. Durga Mohre, 20, was grazing his goats when the Army shot him. "They point a bayonet at you and charge you with being a Maobadi, and then feel your heart. If it beats faster than usual, they shoot you," 'Comrade' Dileep said. Were they Maoists, we asked. "No, just ordinary peasants," he said.

The Maoists claimed that the Armymen picked up two young girls, Pooma Bista and Pokchi Thapa, who were out tending cattle, and took them to the camp. They also took the wife of the village ward member, who happened to be in the field, and the aunt of human rights activist Ghanshyam Acharya. All four were made to work at the Army camp. Meanwhile, the Army raided the adjoining villages and blew up 62 houses, they claimed. On the fifth day, there was a confrontation between the RNA and the 130-strong Jan Sena at Lisne Lek. Two men, Mukti Bika and Dil Man Thapa, were killed and the Army blasted a martyrs' pillar. 'Comrade' Dileep said that just before leaving the camp the Armymen killed the four women. "We found them naked and shot. The ward member's wife had every finger of her hand cut off," he said. He dismissed as propaganda the Army's claim that it had attacked a training camp and killed 400 Maoists.

What did the 15-member area committee think about 'Comrade' Prachanda's latest offer of talks, which scales down the demand for a republic and for a new constitution? "The political leadership decides these things, our goals remain as before - the achievement of livelihood needs such as food, clothing, shelter, health, security and roads," said 'Comrade' Dileep and the others.

On the government's charges that the Maoists used human shields and took drugs and liquor before an attack, Dileep insisted that "these are huge lies". "We are fighting a 'people's war' and are extremely conscious that our image must be above reproach," he said.

ON July 9, about 300 Maoists attacked Akalgaroha, a Tharu-Yadav village about 7 km from the highway to Nepalgunj, killing two persons and injuring five. They blew up two houses. Eyewitnesses said that they saw hundreds of torches in the field coming towards the village. People were warned not to flee and to stay indoors. They went from house to house and pulled out the men and the boys. "I was taken out and tied with my brother Sohan Lal Yadav, and pushed along to the open space where the panchayat meets," said Santosh Yadav, 19. "We were 35, squatting in two rows. They would shine torches in our face and pick us out." Santosh did not see his brother Sohan Lal being hacked and killed, nor his brother Inder Yadav, 16, have his left foot chopped off. Moti Tamoli, a former UML party candidate, was caught on the Tharu side of the village and killed. Dhani Ram was shot but managed to escape.

Akalgaroha has been the site of Maoist mobilisation, especially among a section of the Tharus, one of Nepal's most oppressed communities. Kamal Choudhury (Tharu), the Maoist contact, has gone underground. His brother, Ganga Ram, showed us that they had separate kitchens as he wanted to keep out of it all. A few weeks earlier, six or seven Maoists attacked N.C. activist Gopal Tomali, suspecting him of being an informer. The local people set out after the Maoists and captured two outsiders, Renu Tharu and Saresh Tharu, and handed them over to the police. The Maoists took their revenge and attacked the village, which is on the highway to Nepalgunj.

The military option seems to be the line that the Palace-Army and the 'caretaker' Sher Bahadur Deuba government are bent on pursuing, emboldened by the international support and the lures of a war economy. Prachanda's offer of talks has produced the Deuba government's routine reaction - disarm and then talk. New Delhi getting tough with Maoist supporters in India in the wake of the King's visit has made the Palace combine more inflexible. On July 11, at 4-30 p.m. in the Bengali Market cultural complex in Delhi, Special Branch operatives picked up Partha Chettri (alias Surrinder Karki), Aditi, Maheshwar Dahal and Moti Prasad on a tip-off from the Nepal Embassy that they were supporters of the Maoists. (Writer-activists Gautam Navlakha and Anand Swaroop Varma were also arrested but released a few hours later.) The four, three of whom are journalists, were accused of being members of the recently proscribed Akhil Bharatiya Nepal Ekta Samaj. Declared by the Foreigners Regional Registration Office as 'undesirable aliens', they were handed over to the Banke district Superintendent of Police G.B. Pal at 11-30 p.m. the same day. Since then they have joined the long list of missing persons. More than 34 journalists are on that list. Editor Krishna Sen died in custody in June.

The main left-wing Opposition, the UML, has opted for the status quo and insists that the proposed November elections will be free and fair, will deliver it a victory and save the gains of the 1990 democracy movement. It is hard to share their confidence, especially in the Maoist heartland, where the state exists only as the Army and the police. The People's War was launched to make the Nepali people sovereign. Escalating violence, deprivation and the erosion of democracy loom ahead.

Demolishers and a dilemma

The recent Supreme Court directive to the Uttar Pradesh government to make its stand clear on the prosecution of some of the key accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case has put the BSP-BJP coalition in a tricky position.

THE Bahujan Samaj Party-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition government in Uttar Pradesh faces the toughest challenge yet to its survival over the question of issuing of notification against top BJP, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Shiv Sena leaders in the Babri Masjid demolition case. The accused, including Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and Union Ministers Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati, would face prosecution for their role in the demolition of the Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 if the notification was issued.

On February 12, 2001, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court had quashed the trial of 21 of the accused, including Advani, Joshi and Uma Bharati, on the grounds that the notification for their trial was defective and improper since it was issued by the State government without the mandatory prior permission of the court. However, the court described the defect a technical one and said it was "curable".

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Despite pressure from the Opposition parties, the Rajnath Singh-led BJP government in Uttar Pradesh had refused to correct the technical flaw and thus allowed the special CBI court to drop the charges against all of them. This was despite the fact that a designated court had found in 1997 sufficient prima facie evidence against all the accused, which facilitated the framing of charges against them by the CBI. In May 2001, the special CBI court had dropped charges against the 21 accused persons on the basis of the High Court's observation and said that they could be prosecuted only after the Uttar Pradesh government issued a fresh notification (Frontline, June 8, 2001). Meanwhile, prosecution against 26 others in the case, mainly bureaucrats and lower level police officials, proceeded.

The Supreme Court order to the U.P. government to file its reply as to whether it would issue a fresh notification in the case came on July 29 after a few social activists, including senior journalist Kuldip Nayar, challenged the February 12 court order that facilitated the dropping of charges against the 21 accused persons. The petitioners said that the accused should not be allowed to go scot-free on a 'trifle technical ground' and requested the apex court to direct the State government to make its stance clear.

However, the Mayawati government, which succeeded the Rajnath Singh government, appears to be in a dilemma and sought eight weeks' time to file its reply. If it tells the court that it will issue a fresh notification, that would mean initiating fresh prosecution against senior BJP, VHP and Shiv Sena leaders. This, in turn, would force the BJP to withdraw its support to the government. On the other hand, if Mayawati tries to wriggle out of the situation by beating around the bush, as she has been doing so far, it could alienate her Muslim voters and endanger her long-term political strategy. Syed Shahabuddin, senior All India Muslim Personal Law Board member, said: "This is her last chance with the Muslim voters. They gave her their support in the recent Assembly elections despite her previous two alliances with the BJP, because she had proved her secular credentials on these occasions. She did not make compromises on the temple issue. But if she allows these people to go scot-free, as Rajnath Singh did, Muslims will never forgive her." He said that if the court asked her to go ahead and issue a fresh notification, "then she has no option but to obey".

On May 3, as she took the oath of office as Chief Minister, Mayawati had declared that she would seek legal opinion in the matter before taking a decision whether a fresh notification should be issued. However, even after three months in office, she is yet to take a decision. Senior State government officials close to Mayawati said that the matter had been referred to the Advocate-General and that his opinion was yet to be received. "There is still time and she would certainly give a reply by the designated date," said one of her advisers. But the bureaucrats added that she did not appear to be in a mood to sacrifice her government. One officer said: "She could take the position that there was no need to issue a fresh notification since the original CBI charge-sheet contains the names of all accused, including those whose names had been dropped following the February 12 order. Hence prosecution against them could also be initiated based on the same charge-sheet." He added that such a position would at least buy her some time.

The BJP, on the other hand, is still to take stock of the situation. Apparently, the party is confident that Mayawati, like Rajnath Singh, will not take any measures. Party spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said: "There is so much time. We still have to consider the issue because so many other important matters have come up in the meantime. But there is no danger to the U.P. government and it will run its full term." But it is also a fact that Mayawati has to keep her Muslim voters in good humour and she has demonstrated her intention to keep the Ram temple issue at bay. At a press conference in Lucknow before the VHP's June 2 "mahayagna", she said: "Let me make it clear that Ayodhya is not on my government's agenda and any party that tries to create communal trouble will be dealt with firmly." Later, the tight security arrangements made at the time of the yagna ensured that it was attended by only a handful of VHP activists as against the organisation's claim of 50,000.

MEANWHILE, on August 2, the special court hearing the title suit cases on a day-to-day basis suggested that fresh excavations be done at the site to decide whether a temple or a mosque existed there. The court said that before any such excavation, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) could survey the disputed site with ground-penetrating radar or geo-radiology equipment and obtain the report, with the aid, including financial, of the Central government. The three-Judge Bench, comprising Justices Sudhir Narain, S.R. Alam and Bhanwar Singh, observed that if it was ultimately decided to excavate the disputed land, the excavation would be done under the supervision of five eminent archaeologists, even retired ones, including two belonging to the Muslim community. The court said that it may also appoint an observer for the excavation work. It directed that the videography of the excavation work be done and that should any artefacts be found, their photographs be taken and the material be kept in the custody of the State government. The court said that during such an excavation the idol of Ramlala must be shifted to the chabutra situated on the east of the disputed site.

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The Judges observed that the basic issue in all the title suits was whether "the building has been constructed on the site of an alleged Hindu temple after demolishing the same", or "whether the disputed structure claimed to be Babri Masjid was erected after demolishing Janm Sthan temple at its site", or "whether a Hindu temple or any Hindu religious structure existed prior to the construction of the Ram Janmbhoomi and Babri Masjid (including the premises of the inner and outer courtyards of such structure) in the area on which the structure stood".

Interestingly, the court's suggestion has made all the litigants in the case see red. The VHP, the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas and the Central Sunni Waqf Board (CSWB) have rejected the suggestion. Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas chief Mahant Ramchandra Paramhans warned that Hindus would protest if the Ramlala idol was shifted from the garbhagriha for an excavation. He said: "After the pranpratishtha ceremony is performed according to Vedic rites, no deity can be shifted, even for a short period. It is against Hinduism, and no court or government has any right to do so." Paramhans threatened a countrywide agitation if the court or the government initiated any action to excavate the site. According to the Nyas chief, there are no doubts about the existence of a temple because several carved blackstone pillars were found in the debris of the demolished Babri Masjid.

The VHP's international secretary Praveen Togadia said that excavations would mean violating the makeshift temple's sanctity. He claimed that excavations by the ASI in 1992 had proved that a Ram temple existed at the site.

The CSWB said that the court's suggestion violated the Supreme Court's January 7, 1993 order to maintain the status quo at the site. The apex court in its 1993 order had said that the status quo be maintained on the disputed site until the final order in the case. Jafrayab Jilani, counsel for the CSWB and convener of the Babri Masjid Action Committee, said: "Any order or proposal to carry out fresh excavations need the permission of the Supreme Court and an amendment to Section 7 (2) of the Ayodhya Acquisition Act, 1993."

Significantly, the legal view of the CSWB and the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas is similar on the controversial court proposal. The CSWB also did not agree with the court's view that the basic issue was to ascertain whether a temple existed at the site before the construction of the mosque. "The basic issue is whether or not Rama was born at the site in question. And it is to be proved by the opposite party as they have claimed it to be janamsthan," said a CSWB official. Meanwhile, on August 21, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court banned the daily reporting of the hearings and the publishing of opinions on the Ayodhya issue and said that any violation would amount to contempt of court.

Striking at will

The recent militant attacks in Meghalaya and Tripura point to a clear programme to whip up parochial sentiments against "non-tribal outsiders".

INSURGENCY in the two northeastern States of Meghalaya and Tripura took a toll of 32 lives in mid-August. In order to scuttle the Independence Day celebrations, guerilla outfits in Meghalaya massacred 12 civilians on August 13. On August 20 members of the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) ambushed a truck carrying jawans of the Tripura State Rifles from the hill town of Takarjala, about 35 km from Agartala, killing 20 of them on the spot and injuring five.

The militants, who had positioned themselves behind hillocks on both sides of the road, hurled grenades at the truck and brought it to a halt. The security personnel could do little as another group of militants unleashed a volley of gunfire from the paddyfields on either side. The militants took away 19 self-loading rifles, a light machine gun and a large quantity of ammunition from the truck. Senior police officials said they suspected that self-styled NLFT commander Kishore alias Lara Debbarma had led the ambush.

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The previous night, NLFT militants gunned down the chairman of the Companypara village development committee in Dhalai district. According to the police, a group of 10 rebels, led by 'commander' Pradip Debbarma, stormed the house of Chakla Tripura, a member of the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT), the political wing of the outlawed NLFT, and shot him. He was killed for not complying with the NLFT's demand for a donation from the village development committee.

The NLFT is not the only militant outfit that the security forces in Tripura have to contend with. The All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) has demonstrated on several occasions that it is a potent force in the insurgency-ravaged hilly interiors of the State. The ethnic cleansing programme aimed to make Tripura exclusive to the tribal Tripuris has for long been the most deplorable aspect of the militancy in the State. Less than three months ago, ATTF members killed 11 Bengalis in the northern parts of Tripura. On January 13, they massacred 16 Bengalis. Frequent attacks on Bengalis by the NLFT and the ATTF, which demand a "sovereign Tripura", have created an alarming situation.

The ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) said in a statement issued on August 20 that the attack on the jawans was made to create panic as the militants were being isolated, owing to resistance by the people and effective measures by the security forces.

The statement alleged that the IPFT, which took control of Tripura Tribal Area Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) two and half years ago with the assistance of the NLFT, which terrorised non-tribal voters into staying away from the polling stations, also supported the ethnic cleansing. On the political front, the State Congress(I) is an ally of the IPFT.

The growth of extremism in the sensitive State of Tripura has a long and bitter history. The emergence of the CPI(M) as a major political force in the State had put a damper on the growth of such extremism. But the situation has evidently changed yet again, and the manner in which ethnic and parochial sentiments are being whipped up against "non-tribal outsiders" signifies a return to the vicious pattern that dominated the State's landscape during Congress(I) rule in the 1980s. In order to counter the rise of the CPI(M), the Congress(I) built links with some divisive tribal outfits.

Alliances with established political parties helped these tribal groups gain the kind of legitimacy that they did not deserve. The IPFT is only one of the several groups in Tripura that are in active politics while trying to establish their dominance by openly resorting to violence. The IPFT, which tied up with the Congress(I) for the Lok Sabha byelections in February this year, is using every weapon to determine the course of politics in the State.

GOING by the nature and method of insurgency operations in Meghalaya, it is suspected that the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) had a hand in the killing of the non-tribal civilians on August 13 in West Garo Hills. The victims were travelling in a truck to a weekly market. The truck came under attack at a desolate spot near Tikrikilla, 4 km from the border outpost of Lakhipur in Assam's Golpara district. Meghalaya's Director-General of Police L. Sailo said that the attack could be the handiwork of ULFA and the NDFB.

Rattled by the incident, which was seen as the start of ritualistic blood-letting by militants in the run-up to Independence Day, the Meghalaya government requested the Centre to send more paramilitary forces. "The security of the public and the State is at stake," Meghalaya Home Minister Lotsing A. Sangma said in a fax message to the Centre. State intelligence sources said that the border areas of West Garo Hills had become a haven for militant outfits, including Meghalaya's underground Garo organisation, the Achik National Volunteers Council (ANVC), the Nagaland-based National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah) and the Assam-based NDFB and ULFA. Sailo ruled out the possibility of the ANVC's involvement in the August 13 attack, although the area is its stronghold. The site of the ambush is not far from the spot where ANVC militants gunned down the son of Meghalaya Forest Minister Manindra Rav on June 30.

Meanwhile, action squads of the Khasi insurgent group, the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), which is close to the underground NSCN(I-M), have stepped up their operations. The HNLC, which is fighting for Khasiland is an umbrella organisation of rebel groups that are active in Assam, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. These smaller groups are used by the HNLC to extort money and acquire arms and ammunition.

The modus operandi of the HNLC came to light after the arrest of five members of the North East Red Army (NERA) in August 2000. The self-styled commander-in-chief of NERA, Ching Thang Khiew, who was among the arrested, confessed to having close links with HNLC rebels and to helping the outfit in collecting money. NERA has its operational base in Nongpoh district of Meghalaya. According to intelligence sources, the HNLC must have learnt the art of playing the role of "big brother" from its mentor, the NSCN(I-M), and this has been paying it dividends.

The HNLC has modelled its operational structure on that of the NSCN(I-M). The sources said that the outfit had three commands - eastern, western and central. The eastern command covers Jainthia Hills district, the western command includes some parts of West Khasi Hills district, and the central command covers the capital, Shillong and its nearby areas. The Meghalaya police learnt about the organisation's command structure following the interrogation of some militants who were arrested recently.

A merger mela

The Congress(I) and the Tamil Maanila Congress merge, and the composite Congress' agenda has been identified as reviving "Kamaraj rule" in Tamil Nadu.

A MASSIVE crowd that exceeded all expectations and pleased Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi immensely watched the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) reunite with the Indian National Congress on August 14 at a venue christened "Moopanar Thidal" on the outskirts of Madurai. It was not a commandeered crowd; it consisted of ordinary workers of the two parties who came on their own from different parts of Tamil Nadu. It was a youthful crowd too. No wonder Sonia Gandhi remarked, "I thank you all from my heart for this wonderful meeting."

Earlier, in Pondicherry, the Puducherry Makkal Congress, led by P. Kannan, merged with the Congress(I) in her presence. The Pondicherry unit of the TMC also joined the Congress(I).

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Making a forceful speech in Madurai, Sonia Gandhi gave the unified Congress a single-point agenda: to bring the Congress back to power in Tamil Nadu and thus revive "Kamaraj rule'. Although the Congress-speak of reviving Kamaraj rule is old hat, the timing of it makes the composite Congress a potential force in State politics. Besides, this is the birth centenary year of K. Kamaraj, who was Congress president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister.

Perhaps judging the mood of party workers, Sonia Gandhi indicated that the unified Congress was preparing to go it alone in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. She said, "For 35 years, Tamil Nadu has been administered by non-Congress parties. During this time, the State has been sunk in politics of hostility." Later, at Chennai airport, she told newsmen: "It is our goal and aim to fight it alone in the State minus the Dravidian parties... Now we are one. We will go from strength to strength." Without naming it, she attacked the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) for discontinuing the free sari and dhoti scheme for the poor, which has affected thousands of handloom weavers in the State. She appealed to Congressmen to "buy handloom (textiles) from the weavers to help them out of their distress".

Preparations for the merger mela began three weeks in advance. The AIADMK government tried to play spoilsport when the police denied permission to hold the public meeting at either the Race Course grounds or the Tamukkam Maidan in Madurai city.

The TMC and the Congress(I), not making political capital out of the issue, chose fallow fields at Mastanpatti, about 7 km from Madurai, as the venue. But in a way this decision helped assess the strength of the rejuvenated Congress. B.S. Gnanadesikan, Rajya Sabha member and former TMC spokesman, said, "The public from Madurai did not attend the meeting because the venue was 7 km away. Those who attended it were the grassroots-level workers of the TMC and the Congress(I), who came on their own."

The merger is a big victory for E.V.K.S. Ilangovan, president of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC), who has taken a strong stand against the party allying itself either with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) or the AIADMK. Ramesh Chennithala, AICC secretary in charge of Tamil Nadu, played a key role in the merger.

Congress(I) workers who attended the function were unanimous that if the faction leaders buried the hatchet and worked together, they could invigorate the party and effectively offer it as an alternative to the Dravidian parties. Factionalism is the bane of the Congress(I) in Tamil Nadu. Infighting continued to rage even when the party was reduced to a rump following the formation of the TMC. The faction leaders include Vazhappadi K. Ramamurthi, K.V. Thangabalu, Ilangovan and Tindivanam K. Ramamurthy. D. Yasodha, a Dalit legislator and Era. Anbarasu, former Lok Sabha member, often strike out on their own. Party leaders speak in different voices on important issues, to the embarrassment of Ilangovan. In spite of all this, Ilangovan has commanded the trust of Sonia Gandhi with his anti-AIADMK stand.

The meeting was an all-out TMC affair. Hundreds of TMC flags with the bicycle symbol fluttered all over the venue. There were cut-outs of Kamaraj, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and G.K. Moopanar. But the event was not without hiccups. Four TMC legislators - D. Kumaradoss, S.S. Mani Nadar, M.A. Hakeem and R. Eswaran - and a Republican Party of India MLA who contested on the TMC symbol refused to play ball. They argued that Moopanar wanted only "coordination" with the Congress(I), not outright merger. They wrote separate letters to State Assembly Speaker K. Kalimuthu requesting that they be allowed to continue as TMC legislators. Kalimuthu conceded their demand on August 19.

G.K. Vasan, the TMC's leader, contested the decision. He said he had informed the Election Commission that no one should use the TMC symbol or flag and that he would proceed in the matter legally. In Pondicherry too, TMC legislator C. Jayakumar did not accept the merger. Congress sources indicated that Eswaran and Mani Nadar would soon relent.

On August 16, Sonia Gandhi, after Chennithala and Ilangovan met her in New Delhi, announced a 30-member coordination committee to prepare a plan to rebuild the party in Tamil Nadu. The revamping of the TNCC might take a couple of months. After that, a campaign would begin to enrol members. (At the merger meeting, Sonia Gandhi appointed Vasan AICC secretary.)

Ilangovan made it clear to the high command that the TNCC should form a Third Front with parties other than the DMK and the AIADMK. This was put to test during the panchayat elections in the State in October 2001. Sonia Gandhi reportedly agreed with Ilangovan. A long-time Congress-watcher said, "Mere anti-Jayalalithaa (State Chief Minister and AIADMK general secretary) statements will not carry conviction with the people. Until now the Congress has been merely reactive, and not proactive."

The TNCC is keen to build the party before the Lok Sabha elections. If it does not, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is working on these lines, could occupy that space. A Congress leader said that after the merger the party's vote share in Tamil Nadu stood at around 22 per cent. He calculated thus: "If we can attract 10 per cent more votes by building up the party or by aligning with smaller parties, we can be the number one in a three-cornered contest. But we shall not talk of alliance now. We shall build up the party."

The TMC was strapped for cash, and this is what hastened the merger. Moopanar and others founded the TMC in April 1996, breaking away from the Congress(I) in protest against the then Congress president and Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao's decision to align the party with the AIADMK. In the May 1996 Assembly elections the nascent TMC, in alliance with the DMK, scored a big victory. When Sitaram Kesri became Congress(I) president in September 1996, Moopanar was keen on coordination with the parent party. After Sonia Gandhi assumed party leadership in April 1998, Moopanar, a staunch Nehru-Indira Gandhi loyalist, became even more keen on merger. Sonia Gandhi chose to align the party with the AIADMK in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections and the TMC then contested as part of a Third Front. All its candidates were defeated.

However, the TMC reversed its stand and contested the May 2001 Assembly elections as an ally of the AIADMK and the Congress(I). Moopanar held discussions with Jayalalithaa on seat-sharing on behalf of the Congress(I) too. This brought the TMC and the Congress(I) together. It also showed Sonia Gandhi's trust in Moopanar. As a goodwill gesture, Moopanar allotted 15 out of the 47 seats allotted by the AIADMK to the Congress(I). The TMC won 22 seats and the Congress seven.

Discussions on the formalities of the merger started in August 2001. Moopanar died the next month. Vasan, who succeeded him as TMC president, toured the State for several months in order to convince party workers and leaders about the merger plan. TMC leaders were worried that in the event of the merger they would lose their independence and decisions would be thrust on them from New Delhi. Sonia Gandhi has reportedly assured them that she would grant the composite Congress enough autonomy in local affairs. On July 8, the TMC general council ratified the merger.

At the merger mela, Ilangovan was confident that the Congress(I) would regain strength in Tamil Nadu soon. Chennithala said that the merger also capped the return of Kumari Ananthan's Thondar Party and Vazhappadi K. Ramamurthi's Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress to the Congress(I) fold.

The question of the ownership of Satyamurthi Bhavan, which was a bone of contention between the TMC and the Congress, has become a non-issue now. It belongs to the Tamil Nadu Congress Charitable Trust and the TMC used it as its headquarters, paying rent to the Trust. The TMC vacated it on August 14 and the unified Congress will move in there by August end.

The woes of the displaced

Thousands of families displaced by the Maan dam struggle for survival at resettlement sites while the Madhya Pradesh government claims that the process of R&R has been complete.

"HOW can a development project create a disaster in the lives of the most downtrodden tribal people and also thousands of farmers of a huge area? How can it ravage their lives without any protest by mainstream political parties? My visit to the resettlement sites was a shocking experience," said Sarla Maheswari, Rajya Sabha member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), after a visit to the resettlement sites of families displaced by the Maan dam in Madhya Pradesh. She was accompanied by Subodh Roy, another Member of Parliament of the CPI(M), on the visit, which took place between August 16 and 18 and was a follow-up of the party's decision to support the Narmada Bachao Andolan's (NBA) struggle in the Narmada valley. "We did not have a very clear idea of the NBA's activities up to now," she said, "[but after the visit] we were moved by the NBA's long-standing devotion to their work, their care for the poor and the reformist character of the movement, which has been going on for the last two decades. They have brought enormous changes in the lives of the entire population of the area."

The Madhya Pradesh government has plummeted to new depths in its undemocratic approach towards those affected by the Maan dam in Dhar district. Its attitude was exemplified by the sequence of events prior to the arrival of the two MPs. In the second week of July, the government ordered the closure of the sluice gates of the dam, thereby beginning the process of impounding water. On July 20, when the men of the village were at the weekly market, a 400-strong police force swooped down on the village and forced the women to get into police vans. They were taken to the nearby town of Kesur.

Antubai, one of those arrested, told a fact-finding team of the India Centre for Human Rights that women who voiced any protest or anxiety about being separated from their children were beaten. Maheswari said that the women who spoke to her were terrified of the police. "They told me that during the action the police had torn their saris."

On August 7, in Khedi Balwari village, 21 houses were submerged following the government's decision to go ahead with the initial plan of closing the sluice gates in July even though Relief and Rehabilitation (R&R) work was incomplete. About 65 families in the lower reaches of the village have lost their homes, fields and crops as the waters have risen to about 40 metres behind the dam wall. With their homes under water and with no alternative accommodation, the residents took shelter on a hillock. After visiting the site, Maheswari said: "Some lived in tin sheds. Some lived in the open. It was raining when we were there and their condition was terrible. The arrangements made for them were very poor."

The government went ahead with its submergence plans despite the fact that the villagers and the NBA had protested outside the district administration's offices in Indore and had succeeded in getting the State's Grievance Redressal Authority (GRA) Chairman, Ravindra Sharma, to pass an order allowing the displaced persons to return to Khedi Balwari. The GRA also indicated that the State must assist them in this move. While this order was a welcome one, there was no doubt that it was a temporary reprieve since it also stated that the affected people could remain in the village until there was a threat of submergence.

Condemning the government's actions, Sharma wrote: "This action [of enforced eviction] especially when it is clear that the proper implementation of the process laid down in the rehabilitation policy is yet to ensue, and that it is under consideration by the GRA, is a violation of the law and the constitutional arrangements that protect the interests of the Adivasis. The level of water in the reservoir should not be allowed to rise to an extent that any habitation be submerged during the monsoon."

The absence of a master plan for submergence and R&R is at the root of the problems in the valley. It is now 21 years since the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal had stated that a master plan should be in place; the Supreme Court too had reiterated the necessity for one. The Central government's laxity is reflected in the plight of those displaced by the Maan dam. The issues of R&R in this relatively small project have snowballed since last year when the dam neared its final height of 53 metres. Under the law all R&R must be completed six months prior to submergence. Since the Maan submergence was planned for the 2002 monsoon season, R&R should have been completed in December 2001. The affected villagers and the NBA said this was not the case. The government claims that R&R had been completed by the required date.

In 1987, the government of Madhya Pradesh brought out a State rehabilitation policy for those forced to leave their villages by the Narmada valley projects. The policy stated that a land-for-land scheme was mandatory, among other awards, cash compensation being permissible only in exceptional cases.

In such cases the recipients would have to make written applications to the Land Acquisition officer. According to the policy, applications of Adivasis from the Scheduled Tribes would have to be scrutinised on a case-by-case basis by the District Collector. This point has been the bone of contention for those involved in the current imbroglio at the Maan site. Over 90 per cent of Dhar district is inhabited by Adivasis who belong to various Scheduled Tribes.

The government claims that R&R is complete because all the people in question have received either land or cash as they chose. The dislocated people say that they were forced to accept cash. The District Collector asserts that he has written proof for what he says. The NBA contends that the administration took advantage of a largely illiterate population.

Many questions arise from the government's actions. First, it is inexplicable as to why the government would want to fill the dam. A canal network, which is a supplementary requirement for a full dam, is not yet complete. So what exactly does the government hope to gain by storing water if the distribution network is yet to be built? The NBA believes that the government's decisions were undertaken only to intimidate the residents of other villages affected by the project.

A second question relates to the reason why hundreds of families in villages slated to be submerged by the Maan Project, such as Bhuwada, Khanpura, Rehtiaon, Gadhaghat and Golpura still live in these places. There are no signs of evacuation in these areas. Maheshwari asks if the evacuation and subsequent flooding of Khedi Balwari was meant to set an example to these people.

Thirdly, as in the case of every other project in the Narmada valley, people affected by the Maan dam have been agitating for proper R&R for the last five years. The families that need to be resettled total about 1,200, a number that is so small and manageable that it has prompted an activist to say that the government could easily have made the R&R at Maan a prototype for larger R&R projects. Instead of that, the government has chosen to act in a heavy-handed manner. The most notable incident took place in May this year when, in the heat of the central Indian summer, the State cut all electrical connections, sealed drinking water sources, uprooted hand pumps, and bulldozed the local school in Khedi Balwari. The ensuing 35-day dharna and 29-day hunger strike by the affected residents and the NBA forced the government to involve the GRA. The GRA was still in the process of completing the inquiry and presenting its recommendations regarding R&R to State government when Khedi Balwari was submerged. The ineffectiveness of the GRA in protecting the residents of Khedi Balwari has led Maheswari to call the GRA "a hoax and time-passing machinery". Maheswari says that the CPI(M) plans to bring up the issues of R&R in Parliament and also raise the matter with the Prime Minister. She says the party is rethinking the validity of current modes of development, and her visit to the Narmada valley has convinced her that this is an issue that has to be taken up by the party.

SAD troubles

The Shiromani Akali Dal's woes mount as Punjab's Congress(I) government continues its anti-corruption drive. The arrest of former Public Works Minister Suchcha Singh Langah has been particularly embarrassing to the party.

LIKE Humpy-Dumpty, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has had a spectacular fall, and it is hard to see how the broken party might recover. While three of its former Ministers and a sitting MLA are in jail on criminal charges, former Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal faces an investigation for the alleged possession of assets disproportionate to his sources of income and is also under political assault from the Sikh religious Right. However, unlike in the nursery rhyme, all the King's horses and the King's men might just come good. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, known to most people in Punjab as the Maharaja of Patiala, has failed to shape an agenda for rural reform and development. That, in turn, could give his fragmented opponents a chance to put the pieces together again.

Ever since Amarinder Singh's anti-corruption campaign led to the downfall of Punjab Public Service Commission Chairman Ravi Sidhu, the SAD's woes have mounted. The arrest late last month of former Public Works Minister Suchcha Singh Langah has been particularly embarrassing for the party. The Punjab Vigilance Department has charged him with the illegal acquisition of agricultural land, urban homes, businesses, trucks, cars, gold and cash estimated at Rs.32 crores. The Vigilance Department says its investigations showed that he did not own any land or businesses before he assumed office in 1998. Be it construction contracts, jobs in his department or the posting of officials, bribes were demanded, said the investigators.

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Some of the allegations in the Langah case lead directly to the inner circle around Badal. Contracts for the construction of a Rs.33-crore highway near Morinda were allegedly granted in violation of rules to Pearl Limited, a company part-owned by a son-in-law of Badal's son, Sukhbir Singh Badal. In one instance, Langah's chosen contractors started work on a road - from Noormahal to Nakodar - even before the sealed bids had been opened. Langah, an advocate of Khalistan before joining the mainstream SAD, is also being investigated for terrorist links. The former Minister, Vigilance Department officials say, harboured his one-time mentor, Khalistan Commando Force leader Wassan Singh Zaffarwal, before the terrorist's formal surrender could be arranged. Evidence for this allegation is, however, somewhat thin, since Zaffarwal has been acquitted of the charge of entering India using fake travel documents.

Langah's arrest was preceded by that of former Education Minister Tota Singh, who allegedly took bribes for the recruitment of teachers. Dozens of appointments made during his term have since been cancelled and further investigation is on. Another former Minister, Ajit Singh Kohar, soon followed Tota Singh and Langah into jail, again on the charge of possessing assets disproportionate to his claimed income.

The most recent embarrassment was the August 15 arrest of Barnala MLA Malkiat Singh Kittu, on the charge of smuggling 184 cases of whisky and country liquor from Chandigarh into Punjab. Liquor is considerably cheaper in the Union Territory than in Punjab on account of the difference in tax. While liquor smuggling is widespread, and several politicians are believed to have profited from the enterprise, Kittu is the first politician to be arrested.

BADAL'S response to these humiliations has been relatively muted. On August 12, he initiated criminal defamation proceedings against Amarinder Singh and also sought Rs.5 crores in damages. In his complaint, Badal claimed that the Congress(I)'s allegations that he held assets worth Rs.3,500 crores in Australia, the United States and Switzerland and in New Delhi and Jodhpur were malicious and untrue. The Congress(I) had made these allegations during the Assembly elections earlier this year, both in print and at a series of election rallies. Amarinder Singh repeated these charges on July 31, during a rally at Sunam. Responding to the SAD's allegations that he was selective in targeting the corrupt, the Chief Minister asked if "there was a single person in the SAD who had not taken money".

Significantly, no one in the SAD has responded substantively to the corruption charges brought against their colleagues. Speaking near Mansa on August 17, Badal alleged that Amarinder Singh's own anti-corruption credentials were suspect. He pointed out that Amarinder Singh's Cabinet included two Ministers indicted by the Punjab Lok Pal for corruption, two who had fake university degrees, and one accused of involvement in a murder. While some of these charges might be true, they did little to address the growing perception that corruption reached record levels during the SAD-Bharatiya Janata Party rule.

Perhaps realising that his attacks on the Congress(I)'s own dismal record on corruption yielded little political dividend, Badal sought to shift the goalposts. At a rally held on August 14 to commemorate the 17th anniversary of the assassination of Harchand Singh Longowal, Badal dwelt at length on Operation Bluestar and the anti-Sikh pogrom that followed the killing of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984. He was at pains to distance himself from the pro-Khalistan elements on the Sikh Right. Badal admitted to burning a copy of Article 25 of the Constitution in 1984 as part of a campaign to demand a separate personal law for Sikhs. He said he had done so "under pressure" from Longowal's associates. The former Chief Minister also asserted that Amarinder Singh had himself supported Khalistan and had signed a document in 1994 demanding a Sikh state.

Although such assertions from the SAD contain elements of truth, they illustrate the profound ideological crisis within the party. In response to allegations that Langah had aided Zaffarwal, an SAD press release pointed to a 1993 Frontline expose on the role of top Congress(I) leaders in aiding terrorist groups. The press release, however, repeatedly used the respectful suffix Bhai in all references to Zaffarwal, as it does in discourse on other revanchist figures such as Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. It clearly makes little sense for the SAD to attack the Congress(I) for backing terrorists when it believes they are deserving of deference. On the ground, most SAD workers seem increasingly pessimistic about the future. "It is pointless to say that the Congress(I) is corrupt when our own ranks are in disgrace," argued a former SAD Minister. "We have to find a new agenda to fight on, and purge the party of bad elements. Sadly, Badal just doesn't have the will to do that."

SENSING an opportunity, the Sikh Right has begun to circle around the mainstream SAD, preparing for the kill. August has seen a series of mobilisations on Sikh chauvinist themes, all seeking to challenge the authority of the SAD-controlled religious establishment. The most dramatic showdown so far came on July 31, when the police were forced to fire rubber bullets on protestors seeking to confront members of the Noormehalia sect, which orthodox Sikhs believe is heretic. The clash left several injured. The police also booked several protestors for possessing illegal firearms, but subsequently dropped the charges. The clashes took place after organisations of the Sikh Right charged the Noormehalia sect with showing disrespect to the Guru Granth Sahib and propagating heretical teachings about the Sikh faith. Similar protests had been directed at another fringe preacher, Piara Singh Bhaniara, last year.

Political groups moved in to reap the harvest after the July 31 clash. Gurcharan Singh Tohra's Sarv Hind Shiromani Akali Dal came up with a particularly lurid "fact-finding" report, which claimed that the Noormehalias "prevailed upon the new converts to leave their young daughters as offerings at the Deras (centres) of the sect". It also claimed that these women were used "for attracting young men". Both charges were angrily rebutted by several women members of the sect. The report was apparently targeted at SAD politicians, including former Minister Gurdev Singh Badal, Langah and Badal himself, who were perceived as helping the Noormehalia sect.

Meanwhile, the rival Akali faction of Simranjit Singh Mann attacked Tohra for failing to participate in a joint front against the Noormehalia sect, and claimed that he alone represented the true interests of the Sikh Panth (religious community). Organisations close to Mann, like the Khalsa Panchayat and the Khalra Mission Committee, soon joined in, demanding a ban on the Noormehalia sect.

Protests of these kinds were directed not so much at the Congress (I), as at the SAD centrists' claims to represent Sikh interests. This was made clear when the Khalsa Panchayat attacked Akal Takht Jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti, Badal's hand-picked choice for the supreme seat of Sikh religious authority. On August 16, Panchayat chief Charanjit Singh Channi charged Vedanti with having let off a preacher, Dhanwant Singh, who had been brought before the Akal Takht on charges of rape. Channi said Dhanwant Singh received only "mild punishment" because of the involvement of Vedanti's brother-in-law, Prithpal Singh, in the affair.

The Khalsa Panchayat has been at the cutting-edge of the Sikh Right's campaign against the many godmen active in the state. Such figures have been at the margins of Punjab's religious landscape since at least the 1970s, but they began to acquire considerable influence over the last decade because of widespread disenchantment with the conservative religious establishment.

The Sikh Right's assault on the SAD is starting to take its toll. On August 17, four prominent SAD leaders who were aligned with Union Minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa - Dhan Singh Chhiaharh, Ranjit Singh, Hardev Singh Dhaliwal and Gurbachan Singh - joined Tohra.

For the Congress(I), to sit back and watch the opposition disintegrate may be a misguided course of action. For one, the Congress(I)'s anti-corruption successes have papered over a larger failure to engage with the crisis facing agriculture, particularly small and medium peasants, and industry in the State. Promises to diversify crops and inject new rural technologies remain, for the most part, just pious declarations of intent. Cuts in employee benefits and fresh taxes on power and generator use have also fuelled discontent. The Chief Minister himself did little for his image by choosing a failed monsoon for a two-week vacation in the United Kingdom.

The Congress(I) might be delighted at the revival of the Sikh Right and its assault on the SAD centre. Past experience ought to have taught it, however, that the ogres often turn on their inventors.

Shifting the blame

The Bharatiya Janata Party and its sister organisations blame the Church for instigating the violence that followed the announcement of the Jharkhand government's controversial domicile policy.

AFTER Muslims in Gujarat, it is the turn of Christians in Jharkhand to be targeted by the Sangh Parivar. In a planned manner, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its sister organisations are out to make the latest controversy over the State government's domicile policy appear as an issue between Christian and Hindu tribal people. The BJP has alleged that the clashes that occurred between tribal and non-tribal people in the last week of July, following the announcement of the government's new domicile policy, which left at least five people killed in police firing, many more injured and property worth lakhs of rupees destroyed, was fomented by the Church. The party said that the domicile policy was a "non-issue" and that the Church, under the guise of supporting it, instigated tribal Christian youth to attack non-tribal people in order to "defame the BJP government and tarnish the image of the Chief Minister who was doing an exceedingly good job in the face of extreme adversities".

Kailashpati Mishra, national vice-president of the party, said: "The Church is trying to blow the issue out of proportion to create a tribal versus non-tribal divide. The Christian missionaries were upset because the BJP, with the help of various RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh]-sponsored programmes known as the Vanvaasi Kalyan Yojana, had halted the process of conversion of Hindu tribal people to Christianity. In the government's domicile policy the missionaries saw an opportunity to hit at the government." Mishra, who was appointed by the party high command to handle the latest crisis in the State, claimed that the "violence was a conspiracy planned and executed by Christian missionaries inside a church in the Adarshnagar locality of Ranchi". He said: "I have definite information that Christian tribal youth were collected in a church on the night of July 23, were made to consume liquor, and were given arms and asked to attack non-tribal areas during the bandh the next day." Mishra told Frontline that the conspiracy theory gained credibility because the Christian missionaries knew that Chief Minister Babulal Marandi would be away in New Delhi on July 24 and they could utilise his absence to foment trouble. "Hats off to the police force that acted with utmost restraint, otherwise hundreds would have died in Ranchi on that day because the scene in Adarshnagar resembled one from the Mahabharat," Mishra said. According to Mishra, the clashes started when the non-tribal people retaliated following attacks by "Christian tribal people". During a pro-domicile policy bandh in Ranchi on July 24, tribal youth supporting the government's domicile policy had attacked the houses and other establishments of non-tribal people and set fire to a police station. They used bows and arrows and other arms. The non-tribal people retaliated.

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Kailashpati Mishra alleged: "Christian missionaries were upset at their loosening hold over the tribal people. They had created an impression in the minds of the tribal people that they could become MPs or MLAs only if they converted to Christianity. We have undertaken programmes in the tribal areas and now they [tribal people] know that this was not the case. There are many non-Christian tribal MLAs and MPs. This way we have prevented conversions and that was why the Church was upset." Mishra said he had "evidence" for whatever he had said and was even willing to "go to jail" if proved wrong. "Let the Church come forward and sue me if what I have said is wrong. I have proof," he said, and added that "the BJP cannot be a victim in the hands of Christian missionaries".

THE BJP's myopic view of the domicile issue and its subsequent fallout, however, threaten social turmoil. There is no denying that the Chief Minister opened a Pandora's box by proclaiming that only "locals" (their status would be decided on the basis of available land records) were eligible for certain types of jobs. The problem is that only land records from 1932 are available in the majority of areas and with such a criterion most of the settlers (natives of Bihar and other States) become "outsiders" and ineligible for certain Class III and IV government jobs. The government policy also triggered a chain reaction at the social level. The latent hostility among the tribal people against "outsiders" has come to the fore and generated a sense of insecurity among the non-tribal people because the police have been seen to be acting in a partisan manner. Reports of police inaction as tribal youth went on the rampage on July 24 gave credence to this feeling. While BJP functionaries like Mishra describe the police inaction as "restraint", the majority of the non-tribal people believe that they were acting on the basis of instructions from "above". Yet another disturbing dimension of the "anti-Church" campaign is that it could result in clashes between Christian and Hindu tribal people.

Ironically, the BJP's control over the region is based on the support of the very people who suddenly find themselves being treated as 'outsiders'. The reality has now sunk in BJP circles that the party will face a problem if it loses the support of this vote bank. Although the damage control exercise has begun, it has achieved little success so far. An all-party meeting convened by the Chief Minister following instructions from the BJP high command was boycotted by the Opposition. The Opposition says that instead of bulldozing his way through, Marandi should have taken them into confidence before announcing such a policy. Predictably, the BJP is now blaming the Opposition for all the confusion, saying that it had not said that 1932 would be the cut-off date. According to Mishra, anybody holding proof of land ownership, irrespective of the date, is a "local" person and would be entitled to apply for all jobs. The BJP declared that even the cases of people with no land records, the "poorest of the poor", would be dealt with "sympathetically" and a mechanism would be evolved so that "nobody suffered". But, as Mishra says, it would be a lengthy process and only a cool-headed discussion would show a way out. However, for the time being, recruitments to Class III and IV jobs have been postponed and a five-Judge High Court Bench is examining the matter. The BJP has obviously not come to grips with the real dimensions of the problem. This was evident in the statement made by Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani in the Lok Sabha on July 31. In his statement, which was read out by Minister of State for Home I.D. Swami, Advani merely gave the details of the violence in the State and reiterated that the definition of a "local" person was only meant for giving "preference" in certain jobs and that these jobs were open to people belonging to other categories as well. "There is no discrimination in anybody participating in the selection process," he said. Describing the violent fallout as a "law and order problem", Advani said that the State government had been directed to ensure that nobody was allowed to take the law into their own hands.

Advani's statement glosses over the social and political dimensions of the issue. By treating the problem as a "law and order" issue, ignoring the political dynamics of the State, the BJP has antagonised the large non-tribal population, which has sustained it so far. There is a feeling of alienation among the non-tribal people already, and so far no attempt has been made by the BJP to address it. S.N. Srivastava, a retired Professor of Ranchi University, who was a BJP supporter until this issue came up, said: "A tribal versus non-tribal divide has certainly been created. The people have become disenchanted with the BJP and if elections are held in the next six months, the party will lose its deposit everywhere in the urban areas."

However, for Srivastava and others like him, the dilemma is that other political parties too are not above board. No party, including the Congress(I) and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), has spelt out its stand clearly. They have not opposed the domicile policy for fear of losing the tribal vote, and yet are opposing the government. "This is a complex issue and cannot be defined in simple terms. There are locals who do not own an inch of land. How do you ensure justice for them?" asked Congress(I) leader Oscar Fernandes, who is in charge of the party's affairs in the State. He said that the Chief Minister should have discussed the issue with all political parties to arrive at a "mutually agreed" formula.

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The JMM too is ambiguous on its stand. "We are not opposed to the local people being given their due share, but how to decide who is a local person and who is not? How to decide the criteria of domicile?" asked Muktinath Upadhyaya, the JMM's national spokesperson. He said that instead of adopting the politics of consensus, the BJP had chosen its favourite path of "divide and rule".

The majority of non-tribal people in Jharkhand today face a dilemma. Ironically for them, the man they had opposed tooth and nail, Rashtriya Janata Dal president Laloo Prasad Yadav, is the only one who has come out strongly against the domicile policy. Unless the BJP treads with caution, Laloo Prasad Yadav may once again walk away with the cake in the next elections on the basis of support of the non-tribal people.

However, the BJP has displayed no signs of having woken up to the challenges. In a casual manner, the government announced a modification to the policy, which has become the butt of ridicule within the party itself. According to the modified criteria, anybody who gets five "local people" to certify for him or her can be declared a "local person" irrespective of when he or she had settled in the State. This has triggered protests within the BJP itself. "This is one of the most non-technical and non-scientific decisions Babulal Marandi has taken so far," said BJP leader Shailendra Mahato, who had left the JMM in the wake of the infamous JMM bribery scandal involving, among others, former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. Mahato said that there was no need for the government to announce any modifications and the domicile policy, as announced earlier, should have been allowed to stay. "Every agitation dies after some time. Like the previous anti-reservation stir, this issue too would die its natural death because it only has the support of a handful of non-tribal people," Mahato said.

While the government and the party appear intent on implementing the domicile policy, the chaos on the ground continues. For instance, recently, a group of tribal people created mayhem near the Birla Institute of Technology at Mesra on the outskirts of Ranchi, where the counselling for admission to various engineering courses was going on. Demanding that "local people" be given direct admission in the institute without having to go through the entrance examination, they blocked the main highway for hours, stoned vehicles and damaged property in and around the institute. Although the situation was brought under control after the police fired in the air and burst teargas shells, tension continued in the area. If such a state of affairs continues, the BJP is bound to lose ground in the State, which used to be its stronghold in undivided Bihar.

Capitalism and the city

other
SUSAN RAM

The Pig and the Skyscraper - Chicago: A History of our Future by Marco d'Eramo; Verso, London and New York, 2002; pages 472, &pound20 (hardback)

FIRST published (in Italian) in 1999, two years before four hijacked planes shattered American illusions of invulnerability and changed the world, this book explores capitalism in America - the land where it stands exposed in "all its naked force". The author, an Italian journalist and writer, uses Chicago as a prism through which to track, analyse and comment on the history of U.S. capitalism in all its complexity.

Chicago, argues the author, lies at the epicentre of America's supersonic, "red in tooth and claw" capitalist development. In the 19th century the city came roaring into existence across the span of just 30 years. Built on the grain trade, railroads, lumber and the mass slaughter of animals, it forced forward the frontiers of production for profit, achieving in its early 20th century stockyards the "acme of centralisation and capitalist-style rationalisation" (not a scrap of pig or cow was wasted). This city not only invented futures trading but also began "buying and selling the future before it existed". Aided by a trolley-car system whose growth was more rapid and capitalistic than that of any other American city, Chicago's better placed residents moved out to the suburbs, seeking the quintessential American capitalist ideal: the single family dwelling, set among lawns and trees yet never too far from urban amenities.

In Chicago's centre, skyscrapers soared upwards, "costly monuments to the overinflated egos of their patrons". Into its maelstrom of industrial turmoil poured wave upon wave of immigrant labour: the Irish, the Germans, the Poles, later great inflows of blacks from the post-Civil War south, fuelled by hope while frequently deployed as scab labour in the Chicago bosses' savage all-out war on the unions. For this city, too, was the crucible of the U.S. labour movement - the place where the battle for the eight-hour working day was waged with spectacular bloodshed in the 1880s, where the Haymarket massacre of May 4, 1886 became the impulse for establishing May Day as a holiday for workers around the globe. (Today, ironically, American workers are perhaps the only category in the 'developed' world to be denied this entitlement.)

The challenge before the author lies not only in capturing the dense texture of this story but also in relating it to his central theme: Chicago as a metaphor for American capitalism, as an unrivalled distillation of a larger experience, as a 'reality check' on the present and a window on the future. There is, d'Eramo argues, something about this megalopolis, unstoppably spreading on the banks of Lake Michigan, that reaches to the core of capitalism understood as a system:

In the falling to ruins of entire quarters, in the bankruptcy of once-potent financial dynasties, in the brutal contrasts between luxury and misery, stunning beauty and appalling squalor, Chicago is living proof that there is no such thing, nor has there ever been such a thing, as a design of capital. There is only a logic of capital, a logic that is highly singular, illogical to the end, and yet at the same time solid as iron.

It was in response to the dictates of this 'iron logic' that Chicago rose with such prodigious speed as the railroad companies, funded by East Coast robber barons and London bankers, propelled their way across America in the 19th century. Faced with the 'tyranny of fixed costs' (roughly two-thirds of a railroad line's expenses went to cover running costs and to pay back loans), companies sought to cut the throats of rivals using every weapon at hand: embezzlement, fraud, price-fixing, monopoly agreement. And nowhere was this war waged with greater ferocity than in Chicago, the terminus for the Eastern railroads and the departure point for the Western lines. As a result of fixed costs, d'Eramo argues, the city became the 'natural gateway' to a market reaching from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, from Canada to the Caribbean: "the logic of capital was to transform the whole geography of the Midwest, natural and human".

The 'iron logic' was also merciless: today, Chicago's glory seems built upon ghosts, "the long-abandoned stockyards, the railroads whose tracks lie eaten away by rust, and the boundless woods of the Great Lakes, now deforested". Yet the ruthlessness coexisted with human vibrancy; in the midst of the dog-eat-dog competition, the squalor and deprivation that characterised Chicago in its 'glory' days there was experimentation, cultural vitality, hope, celebration of life.

In order to convey something of this richness, the book makes deliberate use of contrast and variety: descriptive passages that carry the reader into the physical reality of the city are juxtaposed with philosophical musings; economic analysis yields to explorations of music or architecture. The author's playfulness and love of wordplay are evident in his chapter titles: 'Class Struggle in the Sleeping Car' tells how George Mortimer Pullman, sleeper car pioneer, became one of those "rare capitalists who made their fortune selling a more costly product"; 'Sky Grazing' takes an irreverent look at Chicago as the city that invented the skyscraper, "a levity funded by the world's biggest butchers and sausage manufacturers". In 'Bronzeville: the End of Hope', d'Eramo ponders the time when Chicago was the 'Land of Hope' for black working people in the south about to migrate northward, when its celebrated Bronzeville neighbourhood pulsated with music, night-life and the expectation that prospects would improve. Such hopes, the author concludes, "have now vanished into a grey fog of fatalism. It seems today as though the nation's racial problem is felt as a burden, an inescapable national misery, a chronic bitterness and hostility that is neither peace nor war".

At times, such discursiveness, and the author's readiness to head down any interesting by-way, seem to threaten the overall purpose. But just when you think everything might be unravelling, d'Eramo gives a tug and pulls the threads taut to his central theme. In his introduction to the book, the Marxist political ecologist Mike Davis salutes the ambition and audacity of this attempt to "grasp the whole in world historical perspective". Occasionally, the author appears to overreach his material to draw premature conclusions; an example is his statement that "the union movement in Europe appears to be in its death throes", a view challenged by the 2002 experience of ascendant union militancy and mass strikes across the continent. Overall, however, this kaleidoscope of a book, with its ability to surprise at every turn of the page, to excite the reader with a fresh insight, a new way of seeing, is to be strongly recommended. For anyone concerned to understand the rapacity of American capitalism, to gain a full-frontal view of capitalism without a g-string", this is compelling reading.

The making of an Indologist

other
K.M. SHRIMALI

D.D. Kosambi: Combined Methods in Indology and Other Writings; compiled, edited and introduced by Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya; Oxford University Press, 2002; pages xxxvii+832; Rs.995.

WITHIN the first decade of India's Independence, studies on early Indian history moved away from the humdrum style of documenting political and dynastic events. Interest in the routine melange of dates and events, wars and conquests, and the "achievements and failures" of individual potentates started dwindling when two very significant works came out in the 1950s. A.L. Basham's The Wonder That Was India (1954) and D.D. Kosambi's An Introduction to the Study of Indian History (1956) epitomised this shift. The first one is the work of a professional historian and the second is from an "amateur Indologist".

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A doyen among Indologists, Basham romanticised the vast sweep of India's history. He pleaded for a new emphasis on the cultural history of India. The Wonder... was written to interpret ancient Indian civilisation to the ordinary Western reader who had little knowledge but some interest in the subject. This kaleidoscope of early India's social structure, cults and doctrines, and arts and languages was such an engrossing venture that it won for Basham the love and appreciation of scholars and laymen alike, both in India and outside. It is regrettable, however, that his fascination for the inclusive aspects of Hinduism has been completely distorted and turned upside down to read like an account of "glorious Hindu India" by some self-appointed guardians of Indian cultural traditions.

Kosambi's Introduction is an iconoclastic Marxist critique of the undulating path of historical change. For him "the subtle mystic philosophies, tortuous religions, ornate literature, monuments teeming with intricate sculpture, and delicate music of India all derive from the same historical process that produced the famished apathy of the villager, senseless opportunism and termite greed of the 'cultured' strata, sullen un-coordinated discontent among the workers, the general demoralisation, misery, squalor, and degrading superstition. The one is the result of the other, the one is the expression of the other." Such an understanding not only enabled Kosambi to question the stereotypes of the colonialist-imperialist and the so-called "nationalist" historiography but also focus on a more positive and constructive approach to comprehend the prime movers of history.

Since society is held together by bonds of production, answers to the following questions become rather crucial. Who gathers or produces things and by what implements? Who lives off the production of others, and by what right, divine or legal? Who owns the tools, the land, sometimes the body and soul of the producer? Who were the Aryans - if any? Why did India never have large-scale chattel slavery as in classical Greece and Rome? When did regular coinage appear? Why do Buddhism, Jainism, and so many other contemporary religious sects of the type arise in Magadha and become prominent at roughly the same time? Why did the Gupta empire produce great Sanskrit literature when the Maurya empire did not? Such searching questions had set the agenda for a new kind of history writing.

It is perhaps not a mere coincidence that two of the most renowned living historians of early India, Professors R.S. Sharma and Romila Thapar, received their doctoral blessings from Basham (who had guided a generation of historians from India at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London in the 1950s and the 1960s) and were either closely associated with or inspired by Kosambi.

Known among professionals for his pioneering mathematical research (his formula for chromosome distance occupies a central place in classical genetics), Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi had developed serious interests in Indology, history, archaeology, anthropology and several other disciplines rather early in his life. He also had an amazing skill in languages. A polyglot, he knew well more than a dozen languages, both Indian and foreign, modern and classical. He died rather young, not quite 60. It is a measure of his intellectual impact that three commemorative volumes were issued within 10 years of his death.

While Marxism of all varieties has been marginalised from the historian's intellectual context, the political context in which the historian of India finds himself today is dominated by the advance of the Hindu Right and 'global' capitalism. The reappearance of 52 major contributions of Kosambi, many of which have been quite inaccessible for decades, in the form of the volume under review, therefore, could not have been more timely.

Barring three posthumous publications (Nos 2, 5 and 13) of 1967 and of the late 1970s, the remaining 49 essays in this anthology were written between the late 1930s and early 1960s. It seems that Kosambi was extremely prolific during the 1950s, which account for as many as 22 contributions. Essays have rightly been arranged thematically in five sections, chronology by and large being retained within themes.

From mathematics to Indology may have been an obstinate transgression. In his Indological studies, however, Kosambi developed his trademark methodology through an extremely creative transgression whereby frontiers of narrow academic disciplines got blurred. His mathematical precision and training in statistics enlivened literary criticism and notions of textual transmission and opened phenomenal vistas for understanding the dynamics of the monetary economy.

When the "Baba", as he was affectionately called by his friend and critic Basham, went out to trek the Buddhist caves in western India; collected, identified and explained the functioning of microliths from the Deccan plateau; explored prehistoric rock engravings and megaliths in Pune district; looked for historical roots of bloody rites connected with the cult of Mhatoba (at Pandharpur, the great pilgrimage centre of Maharashtra); and determined the irrationality of any links between shape and size of nose and racial hierarchisation - one sees the archaeologist, the sociologist, the anthropologist, the historian and other social scientists. He passionately pleaded for field work even for literary criticism. His writings on Brahmins and Brahmanism and gotras-pravaras (Nos 6-9) and the critique of John Brough's translation of the gotra-pravara-manjari underscores this. This indeed was Kosambi's case for "Combined Methods in Archaeology" - long before "multi-disciplinary studies" came into vogue in India.

Kosambi dedicated, in 1948, when it was politically risky to do so, his critical edition of the Shatakas of Bhartrihari to Marx, Engels and Lenin, "the vanguards of the new human society", in pure Sanskrit. Although he adopted the Marxist approach to history, he did not accept the conclusions of Marx himself, not to speak of the views of the official Marxists in the erstwhile Soviet Union and Indian theologians of Marxism. Kosambi strongly denied the presence of the "slave mode of production" in ancient India and was not fully convinced about the validity of the Marxian characterisation of the "Asiatic mode of production" being a specificity of "Oriental Societies". He characterised S.A. Dange's India from Primitive Communism to Slavery (first published in 1949, reviewed in No.48 in this volume) as a "painfully disappointing book". And in his critique of another Marxist formulation, namely, Antonova's writing on the development of feudalism in India, Kosambi argued that her understanding about "caste (being) of no importance to the serious materialist historian" is indeed throwing away what little remains to us of source material in Indian history.

Given the phenomenal diversity of India, Kosambi completely rejected any unilinear sequence of "modes of production" and argued for the simultaneous presence of several modes of production at any given time in India's long history. This comes out strongly when he questioned (No.3) D.A. Suleikin's note on periodisation of Indian history and admonished him thus: "India is not a mathematical point... Neither in the means of production nor in the stages of social development was there overall homogeneity in the oldest times." Kosambi's famous dictum has been: "Marxism is not a substitute for thinking, but a tool of analysis which must be used, with a certain minimum of skill and understanding, upon the proper material." No wonder, he was sceptical about orthodox Marxist Indologists' willingness to accept his approach; he was apprehensive of the kind of reception his The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India in Historical Outline (1965) would receive because he made "no mention of the great authorities on Indian history (or anything else), namely Marx, Engels, Lenin"!

WHILE Kosambi is famous for defining history as the "presentation in chronological order of successive changes in the means and relations of production", he was also candid in saying: "Our position has also to be very far from a mechanical determinism, particularly in dealing with India, where form is given the utmost importance while content is ignored. Economic determinism will not do." To him, "the complete historical process" was a uniquely Indian process, to be explained by the logic of Indian societal developments and in terms of Indian cultural elements, culture being understood "in the sense of the ethnographer, to describe the essential way of life of the whole people".

As early as 1951, when the talk of "Colonial Indology" was not fashionable, Kosambi wrote: "Indian archaeology is still at the bourgeois-colonial stage of digging for museum exhibits that look impressive to foreigners." Similarly, long before professional archaeologists made a fetish of ethno-archaeology, this "amateur indologist" was working on ''Living Prehistory in India'' (No.2) and could venture to suggest the need to distinguish between "field archaeology" and "site archaeology" even to a reputed archaeologist of the stature of F.R. Allchin of Cambridge. That he had the phenomenal foresight to recognise cautiously the technical requirements of archaeological training is evident in this advice to a young fieldworker who had been associated with him. "By all means concentrate upon new techniques like soil analysis. Pollen does very well in Denmark, with peat bogs for example; but what will work in India I don't know.... If these could be used in some way for dating, all the better."

Critics of the so-called "Marxist historians" accuse them of being insensitive to India's "glorious cultural tradition embodied in the holy Vedas and Puranas". Only a certain gross insensitivity to the methods introduced by Kosambi would sustain this attitude. Yes, Kosambi was disdainful of the "ludicrous 'Indian history' that (was) still being written, with the Puranas as gospel, dating the Vedas back several million years, crediting our mythical sages with every modern scientific discovery down to the electron and the bacteriophage" (page 793). But he also wrote: 'The apparently senseless myths so illogically put together in our Puranas have a peculiar basis in reality." He illustrates this by making a case for correlation between literary works and archaeology: "for the pre-literate period there is no other source of information (other than archaeology); but it is not generally recognised that even written records gain their full meaning only if material objects to which they refer can be examined..." (No.22)

Kosambi's method in reconstructing early India's history on the basis of epic-puranic literature casts its lengthy shadow on such burning issues as the historicity of Ayodhya. The logic of his method (a combined invocation of literature and archaeology) demanded the prior presence of settlements before states and empires such as those of Kosalan kings (supposedly the ancestors of 'Lord' Rama) could emerge. As is well established, archaeological evidence of settlement at Ayodhya does not go beyond 800 B.C. This evidently does not suit the present-day champions of rewriting history.

Kosambi steadfastly argued against all racist constructions of early India: "I have never believed in an Aryan race, having found considerable evidence for progressive Aryanisation of people, whose beliefs were penetrated by Brahmin ritual, with reciprocal influence upon Brahmanism." (No.8, page 172). And all those who established links between nose indices, language and health immunity with the hierarchy of races (white man vs local population, Aryan vs the aboriginal) were brutally and convincingly put down by Kosambi (No.34 and 45).

Kosambi's numerous writings on textual transmissions and textual fluidity (mostly written in the 1940s) reflected in his analyses of the Mahabharata, Vatsyayana's Kamasutra, Kautilya's Arthashastra, Bhartrihari's three Shatakas, an 11th century astronomical work Chintamanisaranika (Section IV) have been trendsetters and his editing of the oldest known Sanskrit anthology (Subhashitaratnakosha) is acknowledged as a landmark in Indian text-criticism. "Clearly, the Mahabharata 'war' - as distinct from some stages of the redaction - cannot represent 'Aryan' or 'Hindu' expansion, a supposedly universal 'epic period' between the 'Vedic' and the 'Buddhist' periods which appear in our textbooks" (No.19, 1964), he said. Commenting upon Geldner's German translation of the Rigvedic hymn X.108, Kosambi refuses to accept that there was any reference to Indra's cows stolen by the Panis and underlines: "The hymn derives from an earlier period when the aggressive demand for wealth... had come down to a ritual, somewhat like the simollanghana and 'looting of gold' at Dasaraa commemorating the fortunately brief period of Maratha robbery" (No.47, 1949-50). Surely, the 'Hindu' Right today will treat such writings as blasphemous.

Kosambi does occasionally and loosely use such terms as "Muslim period", but in his long-distance vision of Indian history, there were only "main advances", not the replacement of one period of Indian history by another. In "What Constitutes Indian History" (No.49) he reviewed the first three volumes of The History and Culture of Indian People, published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and made this perceptive comment: "In the preliminary remarks to the first volume, both K.M. Munshi (who wrote the foreword to each volume) and R.C. Majumdar (the chief editor) dismiss with contempt the nomenclature of the 'so-called Muslim period'; it may be correct to eliminate the term altogether from Indian histories, but the proposal is surprisingly incongruous when made by two Hindus with good Muslim professional names, Munshi and Majumdar."

Kosambi made the first serious attempt to apply the theory of the mode of production to the study of social, economic and other processes in ancient Indian history. The ideas and insights generated by him are still being pursued by a host of researchers not only in India but also in other countries. There is no doubt that the pioneering and perceptive contribution of Kosambi to early Indian history has stood the test of time and continues to inspire historians. Hopefully, Chattopadhyaya's compilation would help the cause of constituting an authentic history of India.

K.M. Shrimali is Professor of History, Delhi University.

Of a novelist and a friend

other
A.K. DAMODARAN

E.M. Forster: A Tribute, edited and with an introduction by K. Natwar Singh; Rupa and Co., New Delhi, 2002; pages 169, Rs.150.

THIS is a new edition of a book of tributes to E.M. Forster, supplemented by a very small selection of his own writings in the Indian context, originally published with Forster's satisfied approval in 1964. The book was edited by K. Natwar Singh, a very young Indian diplomat, who had established a unique relationship with the great man during his student days in Cambridge. It will be recalled that Forster spent two-thirds of the latter part of his life as a Fellow in King's College, Cambridge. The new edition contains a little additional material, primarily in the form of Forster's brief business-like but highly evocative letters to Natwar Singh during the 10 years from 1954 to 1964.

The book has been structured in three sections. The first division contains tributes to Forster by six of his Indian friends. This is followed by a brief anthology of small pieces on India written by Forster over the decades. A contemporary effect is produced by the editor's introduction, which incorporates a brief record of a conversation he had with Forster in 1962.

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Among the Indian admirers of Forster who expressed their appreciation of his genius, V.K. Narayana Menon, Ahmed Ali and Mulk Raj Anand write about their impressions of a very distinguished man who knew them, appreciated their abilities and helped them, if necessary. Mulk Raj Anand's novel The Untouchable written in the 1930s, had been rejected by many publishers until Forster stepped in. Ahmed Ali's Twilight in Delhi was also rejected by British publishers, again in the 1930s, because of its "tactless" references to the Mutiny. Here again, Forster was able to make a difference. Narayana Menon met him during his BBC days in London during the War along with George Orwell. Like many other contributors to this compilation, Menon quotes Forster's celebrated statement just before the War that he would, given the option, choose to betray his country rather than his friend. This passage has been sometimes misinterpreted. It was not an anxious desire to commit treason. It is an assertion of the individual's right of moral choice at a moment when the state is aggressive in its attempt to control its subjects. It reflects the attitude of the anguished intellectual at a time of invasive authoritarianism. We can see the same approach in Bertrand Russell's Reith Lectures - The Authority and the Individual - published about 10 years later, after the War. Narayana Menon also recollects Forster's reference to the Bible when the anguished father of a sick boy cries out to Jesus: "Help Thou my unbelief." It is these passages which made Forster's essay on 'What I Believe' nothing less than an individual's liberal manifesto. On a very personal note this reviewer recalls with some nostalgia teaching this essay to his college students in Delhi University in 1949. Narayana Menon has a delightful passage about Forster's interest in music. He has a long quotation from Howard's End which brings out the novelist's excitement about Beethoven.

Ahmed Ali's essay contains insights into Forster as a personal friend. Forster took a great deal of interest in the situation of his young friend after Partition when his family went to Pakistan. He was particularly interested in the loneliness of the young author's mother in Karachi.

SANTHA RAMA RAU is a late-comer into the scene like Natwar Singh. In the early 1960s she wanted to write a play based on A Passage to India. She explains the problems she had in trying to persuade Forster to agree to the proposal. The author of Aspects of the Novel was sceptical about merging narrative fiction with drama. He was finally persuaded, and the play was produced in New York and became a success. This was the beginning of the series of plays and films based on the Forster opus with which Rau was involved years after Forster passed away in 1970.

It would be interesting to know what Forster's real views were as a confirmed purist in novel writing, about John Galsworthy's plays and Thomas Hardy's poetry!

The Raja Rao piece is sui generis. Their relationship also has its beginnings in the 1930s. It is a dense rich piece of writing bringing in Hindu spiritual writings and the Russian classics into the discussion. It also has a charming interlude about his attempts to persuade Forster to visit him in Trivandrum in south India. Forster was too tired by then to make long journeys.

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The selection from Forster's own writings with an Indian interest has been carefully made by Natwar Singh. Two pieces are of special interest. There is a charming description of his last visit to India in 1945, just after the War was over, to attend the PEN conference in Jaipur. (PEN denotes (the International Association of) Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and Novelists). There is an essay on the native states and their policies written during the 1920s based on his experience as an insider of the Royal Court in the princely state of Dewas Senior. This contains delightful vignettes of the experimental constitutions launched by rulers of various native states in the period immediately after the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms.

This leads to an interesting discussion of the new chamber of princes also. The vital fact about these comments upon the Indian princely world is their startling relevance even today, decades after the institutions disappeared. There is also a charming little tribute to Gandhi after his death - sincere, unpretentious and useful even today. Forster notes that Gandhi "was accustomed to regard an interruption as an instrument" and saw death, which had come to him so suddenly and interrupted his activities, as "the supreme interruption as an instrument and, perhaps, the supreme one". This shows remarkable insight on the part of someone who was certainly not overly interested in the Mahatma. Perhaps Gandhiji saw Chauri Chaura as an interruption which became an instrument in the development of satyagraha.

Both in his original and effective decision to persuade Forster to accept this tribute and his selection of the contributors to this anthology, Natwar Singh has shown a delicate sensibility. That is why the book reads as fresh today as it was when first released to the reading public in 1964. This book projects the Forster of the novels and the Forster of the essays as one of the central figures of the 20th century. In a well-known passage Rose Macaulay wrote that Forster's books "project an exquisite and animated crowd of beings... all set in the silver-point world of their creator's civilised irony". This succeeds in conveying an impression of the artistic quality of Forster's writings which can only be described as literary pointillism.

Natwar Singh's collection, in the easiest and most pleasant manner possible, has been able to illustrate the central quality of Forster's genius as a novelist and as a friend of India.

There is, of course, much more to Forster than the Indian connection - his great and continuing interest in Italy and France, his fascination with the beauty of the English landscape. He loved India and Indians, reciprocated their admiration in good measure. But unlike Rudyard Kipling, he was interested in many matters other than India's politics, culture and unique social fabric.

GAVASKAR: INDIA'S GREATEST CRICKETER

Little separates Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar in terms of record. Despite this, a persuasive argument can be made in favour of Gavaskar as India's greatest cricketer.

IT was a little over a year ago that the online offshoot of the reputed cricket publication, Wisden, came up with a controversial and much hyped list of the top 100 batting and bowling performances in Test cricket. Using a combination of factors such as the quality of the opposition, the state of the pitch, the state of the match and the context of the player's performance in the match and the series, Wisden Online tried to infuse a sense of scientific methodology into the evaluation of contests that are complicated by a great many variables.

Needless to say, there were notable omissions in the ratings. No Test innings of Sachin Tendulkar merited a mention in the top 100 batting performances. Four of Harbhajan Singh's efforts in the 2001 home series against Australia were included, yet B.S. Chandra-sekhar's memorable match-winning spell of 6 for 38 at the Oval in 1971, which sealed India's first series victory in England, was deemed unfit for inclusion in the bowling selections.

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Despite all the shortcomings of such rankings, Wisden chose to undertake a similar type of evaluation in its recent selection of Kapil Dev as the 'Indian Cricketer of the Century'. The frailty and subjectivity of such a ratings procedure was further exposed when that very same bowling performance of Chandra's was accorded the accolade 'Indian Bowling Performance of the Century'.

Comparing sportspersons across eras and across playing roles is bound to be an imperfect exercise. The validity of comparing a wicket-keeper with an opening batsman or a middle-order batsman with a fast bowler is dubious. The sole exception to this would be the choice of Sir Don Bradman as the greatest cricketer in history. Arguably, no individual sportsperson has dominated any sport to the degree that Bradman did. There probably has never been as big a gap between the best and the next best in any sport as there was during the Bradman era. He ended his career with a mind-boggling batting average of 99.94 runs per innings and 29 Test centuries. Of these 29 tons, he converted two into triple centuries and 12 into double hundreds. All these milestones were achieved in a mere 52 Tests, in which he batted in only 80 innings. He averaged a century for every 2.8 visits to the crease. The enormity of his accomplishment is highlighted by the fact that the next highest batting average in the history of Test cricket, among those who have played twenty Test innings or more, is Greame Pollock's 60.97.

Finding a consistent yardstick to evaluate the 'Indian Cricketer of the Century' must have been a daunting task for Wisden's panel of cricketers and journalists. It has been pointed out that the core of such a procedure is heavily dependent on the statistical record of a player. It is also strongly biased towards players of the current era, a period that has seen an explosion in the media exposure that players receive. Moreover, the number of matches that cricketers, since the 1970s, have played has grown exponentially. Can we then objectively compare the contributions of pioneers such as C.K. Nayudu, Vinoo Mankad, Vijay Merchant and Vijay Hazare with those of Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev?

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However strong the reliance of this type of selection procedure on statistics and whatever the shortcomings of this exercise, the Wisden award was always likely to come down to this shortlist of three. Their outstanding records have stood and will stand the test of time. The final choice among these three great cricketers was bound to be immensely challenging. Despite this, a persuasive argument can be made in favour of Sunil Gavaskar as India's greatest cricketer.

CRICKET has seen vast changes since the early part of the century. One-day cricket has added a very different facet to the game. The quality of one-day cricket has improved by leaps and bounds since its introduction into the international schedule. Comparisons of players across time, in the limited overs game, may be naive. On the other hand, the quality of Test cricket has remained more constant and is more amenable to such assessments. As the limited overs game has evolved, many of the skills required to excel in the two forms of cricket have been shown at times to be very different.

Virtually all cricketers will tell you that they value Test cricket more. Despite the excitement and fast pace of a limited overs game, the true beauty of cricket lies in its chess-like nature and the constant battle of wits and skills of the bowling team against the batsmen. This can be seen mainly in Test cricket, which is not limited by fielding or bowling restrictions. It can be easily shown that Test cricket demands a higher level of mental fortitude and technical skill.

The great Australian cricketer, Greg Chappell, eloquently endorsed this view in an interview given to Frontline in 2000 (issue of August 4, 2000): "I think to some degree the administrators of the game have denigrated Test cricket by pushing it into the background and concentrating on one-day events. I think that's a dangerous path to go down because cricket really is about the skills that are required for Test match cricket - the physical skills, the mental skills, the temperament, all of those things that separate the exceptional performer from the good performer. One-day cricket doesn't, to the same degree, draw on those strengths of the individual, nor does it draw on the strengths of the game." Chappell went on to note: "I think there's still a recognition within the Australian players that Test cricket is what it's all about. And that, even now, 20-odd years down the track, nearly 30 years down the track (since one-day cricket became part of the international programme), a player is judged on his Test match career, not his one-day career." Gavaskar was a master of the longer version of the game, perfecting the skills that were essential for greatness in contests akin to wars of attrition.

Since its first tour of England in 1932, the Indian cricket team has featured outstandingly talented individuals. Yet it was not until Gavaskar arrived on the Test scene in 1971 that India had truly found a player who could take on the best the world had to offer and come out on top. He single-handedly elevated the status of Indian cricket. It was definitely no coincidence that India achieved its first two Test series wins abroad after Gavaskar came into the side.

Gavaskar was the first sportsperson that India had produced who had the confidence, patience, tenacity and technical capability to dominate the rest of the world in their own domain. In a sense, he was the first person to break the shackles of a post-colonial inferiority complex that afflicted many of India's early sportspersons. It was once said of Gavaskar that he played cricket as if he were an Englishman, born and brought up in the home of cricket. His temperament and technical excellence supposedly belied the dusty maidans of Mumbai's Shivaji Park, where he spent his formative cricketing years. It is another matter that Gavaskar, who has little patience for anything smacking of Anglo-Australian condescension in the cricket world, would not be flattered by such accolades.

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In that dominating 1971 debut series in the West Indies, the 21 year old technician shattered the notion that Indians were incapable of succeeding against high quality fast bowling. Gavaskar's scores in that magical first series read 65 and 67, 116 and 64, 1 and 117, 124 and 220. Prior to that Test series in the West Indies, we were used to witnessing constant batting collapses and defeats associated with these abroad. This is a phenomenon that plagues Indian Test teams even today. To even think in 1971 that an Indian team could dominate the mighty Windies in their own turf was inconceivable. It is a testament to Gavaskar's skill that 31 years after his phenomenal debut, in the second Test at Port of Spain, Trinidad, India has produced only a handful of batsmen who have been truly adroit against pace bowling. Gavaskar, through his remarkably gritty, consistent and intelligent performances, was the first to instil a sense of belief in Indian cricket. Every successful Indian cricketer who played with or followed Gavaskar will be indebted to him for leading the way.

Gavaskar's career spanned, arguably, the two strongest decades of Test cricket. Comparing across time requires us to make definitive judgments about the quality of opposition that each of the short-listed three faced. A useful yardstick when anointing the 'Cricketer of the Century' might be to consider their individual performances against the best teams of their time. The West Indies was, by far, the strongest team during Gavaskar's era as well as through most of Kapil's career. The Australians have occupied that position in Sachin's years.

In his Test career, Gavaskar played 125 matches and scored 10,122 runs, including 34 centuries and 45 fifties, at an average of 51.12. In his One Day International (ODI) career, he played 108 matches and scored 3,092 runs at an average of 35.13 and a strike rate of 62.26. Tendulkar has (up to August 12, 2002) played 98 Tests and scored 8,158 runs, including 29 Test centuries and 33 fifties, at an average of 57.04. In his unsurpassed ODI career, Tendulkar has thus far played 295 matches and scored 11,505 runs, including 33 centuries and 56 fifties, at an average of 44.42 and a strike rate of 86.83.

Both Gavaskar and Sachin have performed superlatively against the best of their time. Gavaskar averaged 65.45 runs per innings against the West Indies and, remarkably, achieved an average of 70.20 in the Caribbean alone. No other cricketer of the 1970s and 1980s can claim such command over the West Indies bowlers. No wonder, then, that Gavaskar became the first man from any country to score three double centuries against the West Indies. One of those double centuries, 236 not out at Madras in 1983, was the highest individual score by an Indian for almost 18 years - until V.V.S Laxman broke the record with his legendary effort of 281 against the Australians in Kolkata last year. Sachin, too, has an outstanding Test average of 54.07 against the Australians and his ruthless demolition of Shane Warne, possibly the greatest leg spinner in history, has been awe-inspiring. Unlike Sachin, Gavaskar averaged more abroad than at home. Gavaskar has also not had the opportunity to enhance his Test average by playing the Zimbabwes and the Bangladeshs of world cricket. Only Sri Lanka during Gavaskar's time even comes close to being considered the doormat of world cricket.

Kapil, too, produced Test performances of sheer brilliance against opposition of the highest quality. These include, among several others, his innings of 119 in the tied Test against Australia in Madras in 1987 (which prevented India from following on), his match-winning performances throughout the six-Test home series against Pakistan in 1979-80, his 5 for 28 in the second innings of the Melbourne Test in 1981 (which allowed India to level the three Test series) and his 9 for 83 against the West Indies in Ahmedabad in 1983.

WHILE it is extraordinarily difficult to discount the performances of any one of these three great cricketers with any authority whatsoever, Gavaskar's complete domination of the best bowlers of his time gives him an edge over the others. Gavaskar's achievements are brought more into perspective if the difficulty of an opener's role is considered. As an opener he was in the firing line from the start and performed remarkably consistently on different types of wicket and against different types of bowling. While India can claim greatness in the bastmanship of Vijay Merchant and Vinoo Mankad prior to Gavaskar, it has not since produced another Test opener with a fraction of Gavaskar's capability. The dearth of quality openers has been a bane of Indian Test cricket. Few other Indian players, openers or otherwise, can boast of Gavaskar's concentration skills, discipline, tenacity, patience and confidence. He was a professional in every sense of the word. Certainly no other Indian has possessed his technical ability. There is little doubt that his performances and skills made him the best opener of his time. He will, in all probability, fill one of the two opening spots in most selections of an all time Test World XI.

Sachin's Bradmanesque talent and a somewhat more down to earth record than the Don place him in the highest echelon of cricketers of all time. As Shane Warne remarked of Sachin, "There is Sachin and then there is daylight." The term "genius" is hardly wasted on him. Sachin will walk into any all time World XI and is easily the best batsman at the present time in both forms of the game.

Such encomium is not obvious in Kapil's case. It is unlikely that Kapil was the best all-rounder of his time, much less the greatest all-rounder of all time. His Test record of 5,248 runs and eight centuries (at an average of 31.05) and 434 Test wickets in 131 matches (at an average of 29.64) must be compared with the feats of some of his peers. In fact, Kapil only averaged a little over three wickets per Test match. Among the all-rounders of Kapil's time, one is inclined towards ranking Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan and Ian Botham higher than Kapil. As for the greatest all-rounder of all time, Sir Garfield Sobers has an indisputable claim to that title. He ended his Test career with an enviable record of 8,032 runs (at an average of 57.78), 26 Test centuries and 235 Test wickets in 93 matches.

It has often been remarked that India's Test record in Sachin's time is an indication of the quality of the other batsman on the team. It is easy to overlook the fact that apart from G.R. Viswanath and, a little later, Dilip Vengsarkar and Mohinder Amarnath, Gavaskar had little batting help of world quality. Sachin has played a fair number of matches with the supporting cast of Mohammed Azharuddin, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly and more recently with V.V.S Laxman. The bowling of Indian teams during Sachin's time, however, is not a patch on the famed quartet of Bishen Singh Bedi, B.S.Chandrasekhar, Erapalli Prasanna and S. Venkataraghvan. Yet these masters of spin made for a long tail and without Gavaskar's run support at the top, their performances would mostly have been in vain. Kapil, for the major portion of his career, played with a more solid and balanced Indian team. Many of Kapil's long-time teammates were part of Wisden's 'Indian Team of the Century' (the 1985 team that won the World Championship of Cricket).

Gavaskar's average record in ODIs has frequently been held up as a major strike against him. There is no doubt that Sachin and Kapil have a superior one-day record. Gavaskar's innings of 36 not out (in 60 overs) at the 1975 World Cup drew a lot of flak and is sometimes cited as evidence of his 'selfishness'. In retrospect, Gavaskar was perhaps being true to his batting talent, one that was exemplified by his immaculate defence, infinite patience and an attitude that required him to be 'selfish' in accumulating runs. If only Sachin Tendulkar had been endowed with Gavaskar's mental faculty and his supposed 'selfishness' for runs!

Gavaskar played the way he knew best. While that 1975 ODI innings cannot be condoned, Gavaskar was merely demonstrating the respect that limited overs cricket was accorded by most of the players of his time. Instead of magnifying the significance of that innings or Gavaskar's measured approach, it would be worthwhile to focus on the fact that he did finally adapt to one-day cricket. He ended his ODI career with a respectable batting average of 35.13 and one memorable century against New Zealand in the 1987 World Cup. Kapil and Sachin may have been more pleasing to watch thanks to their uninhibited stroke play and their endless reservoir of natural talent.

Gavaskar's efficiency very often achieved more important results in Test cricket. He was superlatively talented but his technical genius and enormous mental courage were highlighted in the longer version of the game. It is a pity that the average cricket fan these days tends to devalue Test cricket when comparing it with the one-day game. Sachin and Kapil are outright match winners but neither is particularly known for his ability to save Test matches. Gavaskar has not only won several Test matches for India but also saved a great many. His magnificent innings of 221 in the Oval Test in 1979 particularly comes to mind. Chasing a total of 437 runs in the fourth innings of that Test, India fell short of the target by eight runs and drew the match. In his mammoth contribution of 221 (out of a total of 429), he scored 179 on the last day. His ability to save matches is precisely where he scores over Sachin Tendulkar in Test cricket.

Whatever one's preferences regarding the form of cricket, there can be little disagreement that the quality of one-day cricket has improved by leaps and bounds since its inception in the mid-1970s. India's win at the 1983 World Cup was a truly amazing feat. Kapil was primarily, if not solely, responsible for it. His catch of Vivian Richards in the final and his innings of 175 against Zimbabwe in Tunbridge Wells are now the stuff of legend. It seems almost unbelievable that any team could defeat the likes of Vivian Richards, Clive Lloyd, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall. Certainly not one with a bowling attack that consisted, Kapil apart, of Balwinder Singh Sandhu, Madan Lal, Mohinder Amarnath and Roger Binny.

Kapil played 225 ODIs and scored 3,783 runs at an average of 23.79 and a strike rate of 95.07. He also took 253 ODI wickets at an average of 27.45 and an economy rate of 3.71.

Yet the quality of one-day cricket in 1983 pales in comparison with that of the present day. While this cannot be held against Kapil, one cannot help feel that we in India place an inflated value on that World Cup triumph.

Kapil's great asset was his longevity. The sheer fact that he played 66 Test matches without missing a single contest on account of injury showed cricketing intelligence as well as fitness of the highest calibre. Kapil would have played 131 Test matches on the trot if he had not been unceremoniously dropped for the third Test against England in Calcutta in 1984. Yet a closer examination will reveal that Kapil's efficiency severely declined towards the end of his career. Perhaps he overstayed his natural tenure in the Indian team in a bid to overhaul Hadlee's world record of 431 Test wickets. His performances in his last 30 or so Tests reminded one of a weary veteran past his prime and not of the enthusiastic Haryanvi who came in like a breath of fresh air and took the 'never say die' attitude to new heights through most of his career. It was a poignant experience to watch him trudge through 16 Test matches to win those last 34 wickets. Kapil's form in those last years of Test cricket would not have won him a place in the top three sides at that time.

Gavaskar, on the other hand, retired while he was at the top of the game. In fact, many consider his second innings knock of 96 on a vicious turner in his last Test (against Pakistan in Bangalore in 1987) to be one of his finest innings. All sportspersons, particularly the great ones, have a right to choose when to retire but there was perfect judgment as well as grace in the way Gavaskar retired.

Sachin may yet become the Indian Cricketer of All Time but, looking at his performances till date, one cannot help feel that for all his infinite talent, he does not have the mental strength of a Sunil Gavaskar. The Americans reserve the term 'clutch' for the select few sportspersons who have the ability to bring out their best during times of adversity. Gavaskar was the epitome of a 'clutch' performer. The Indian team during Sachin's career is yet to have series wins such as the triumphs of 1971 and 1986 in England, 1981 in Australia and 1971 in the West Indies. Nor has India in this era come close to winning the World Cup or even a tournament as important as the 1985 World Championship of Cricket. One thing, however, stands out. Neither Gavaskar nor Kapil faced as large a burden of expectation as Sachin has throughout his career. Sachin's wisdom and humility are unbelievable in view of his ability, achievement and the fact that he made his Test debut at the age of 16. Tendulkar is still a great work in progress but a work that owes much to Gavaskar.

Sunil Manohar Gavaskar was arguably the greatest opener in the history of Test cricket. He transformed the status of Indian cricket. While relatively little may separate the three best Indian cricketers in terms of record, Gavaskar was the first to trail clouds of glory on the world stage. He showed that Indian cricketers could master the world's best bowlers. He was the first to make us believe in Indian cricket. For that reason alone, he deserves to be named the 'Indian Cricketer of the Century'.

Enabling industrial progress

IIT-Kharagpur has an enviable record in the field of technological research and development.

INDIAN Institute of Technology-Kharagpur has contributed significantly to the technological growth of the country through research in diverse fields of engineering and science and has earned international recognition for its quality products. Even though it is best known as an academic institution, it has always placed as much importance on research and development activities as it has on teaching.

Companies such as Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL), Tata Iron and Steel Company (TISCO), MECON, Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), Balmer Lawrie, Tata Tea, Tata Consultancy Services and the Indian Railways and organisations in the Defence sector have joined hands with the institute to carry out Technology Development Missions initiated by the Planning Commission of India and various other challenging development programmes.

Cryomachining is one such technology. It is close to moving to factories from the IIT's laboratories. This technology, which researchers at the Institute's Department of Mechanical Engineering have been working on, involves the use of liquid nitrogen in industrial metal cutting as a coolant, avoiding the generation of toxic coolant waste. The application of oil and oil-water mixtures to lubricate and cool down cutting tools when machining metals is a messy procedure which also has harmful side-effects. Researchers in the past have tried and failed, to use liquid nitrogen as a coolant. IIT-Kharagpur has found a way to do this 'cryomachining'. This process does not leave behind any polluted residue, as liquid nitrogen evaporates. One can also machine very hard metals and alloys at higher speeds.

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Computer-aided design (CAD) of very large scale integrated (VLSI) circuit chips is another major area of research at IIT-Kharagpur. The single most important item found in modern gadgets such as washing machines, WAP-enabled mobile phones, tiny hand-held calculators and the latest cars with global positioning systems is a chip. In fact, theVLSI Circuit inside a chip is universally recognised as a prime driver of information technology. CAD tools are essential for the physical design of layouts and the physical and behavioural verification of the results. The CAD group at the Advanced VLSI Laboratory in the IIT has been using artificial intelligence to develop CAD tools, much faster than any currently known method. Many reputed international design houses use CAD databases developed by this research group.

IIT-Kharagpur's VLSI design laboratory is among the few academic laboratories in the world that have the total support of a fabrication laboratory. This service is provided by the National Semiconductor Corporation of the United States. This allows the team at IIT-Kharagpur to work at 0.18-and 0.25-micron-deep levels of CMOS technology. The institute has become the first Indian education centre to take up research and consultancy projects in such deep-sub-micron VLSI design with leading international agencies. It has also been able to attract enormous industry funding for related software research in design and verification tool development.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Microelectronics Centre under the Department of Electronics Engineering have been making spectacular progress in developing microelectronics and microsystems technologies. The knowledge of the properties of materials that the designers gained by fabricating various devices has enabled them to take up the challenge of designing VLSI chips. The microelectronics group was the first academic group in the country to fabricate integrated circuits. It had fabricated the first telecard chip for card-operated pay phones in India.

IIT-Kharagpur has also helped make the Indian Railways safer by devising a non-contact method of assessing the status of the overhead electric wires used by electric trains. The Institute is also developing a comprehensive management information system - CoalNet - for Coal India Ltd, which, when implemented, will enable CIL and its subsidiaries to face global competition.

For the benefit of qualified doctors, the institute has started a post-graduate course in medical science and technology. The rationale behind this is that medicine is changing rapidly with the application of modern technology in imaging and diagnosis. It has been seen that with the advancement of imaging techniques, doctors have become more dependent on technicians in using them and in many cases even in interpreting the results.

A research team in the Computer Science and Engineering Department has developed a software system for visually handicapped persons, known as the Bharati Braille Transcription System, which transliterates Indian language texts in Braille and vice-versa. The cost of this system is one-fifth of the existing imported system, which uses only English. The Bharati Braille System can operate in Hindi, Bengali, Assamese, Oriya, Telugu, Marathi and English and can also deal with mixed documents, which have English words or sentences in a predominantly Indian language text.

The Institute has also made important contributions in the field of microzonation, using which the safety corridor for a seismic hazard can be ascertained. It involves the mapping of seismic hazards, in relative or absolute terms, on an urban block-by-block scale. A geological research team in the institute acts as a nodal agency in the all-India microzonation project.

The Institute has also set up a Laser Processing Laboratory to develop industrial application for lasers. The laser processing team at the Mechanical Engineering Department at present works on the commercial applications of this versatile tool.

Apart from these projects, the IIT has contributed a lot in terms of research in other fields, such as nano-particles, porous ceramics and metal casting, and in terms of innumerable projects sponsored by the Indian Space Research Organisation, the Defence Research and Development Organisation and other governmental agencies. The Institute also contributes to basic science through the research and published works of its faculty.

The Institute, since its inception, has studies the various problems of rural areas and has taken important steps for their development through the use of technology and participatory planning and management of resources. Through its Rural Development Centre, set up in 1975, IIT-Kharagpur has carried out successful projects in wasteland reclamation and participatory forest management. Not only has the institute educated the local rural people on how to harvest useful produce for handicrafts and medicines from the forests without damaging the plants, but introduced to them the concept of marketing.

A committed player

IIT-Kharagpur's year-long golden jubilee celebrations conclude with a reaffirmation of its commitment to nation-building.

AUGUST 18, 2001 marked the 50th anniversary of Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. The Institute, the first of the chain of seven IITs, was also the first successful national experiment that not only led to the creation of the IIT system and the IIT "brand" but also brought about revolutionary changes in the field of science and engineering education in the country.

The birth of IIT-Kharagpur was in several aspects different from that of other Institutes of the time. First, it was an institute of higher learning established with no external support, either technical or financial. Second, it was created and nurtured by a team of dedicated faculty, students and supporting staff, who wanted to do something which was at once new and beneficial for the newly independent country.

The Institute's year-long golden jubilee celebrations was inaugurated on its foundation day last year. Union Minister for Human Resource and Development Murli Manohar Joshi and West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee were present on the occasion. In the course of the celebrations, the Institute organised a number of conferences, seminars and workshops which were presided over or attended by scientists of international repute. Numerous cultural programmes and exhibitions were organised by the Institute. Other highlights of the celebrations were an inter-IIT sports and cultural meet and a get-together of alumni.

The celebrations concluded on August 18, 2002. In his address, the chief guest, R.Natarajan, Chairman of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), New Delhi, said IIT-Kharagpur, being the eldest in the IIT family, had a special position in that it paved the way for the others. Stressing the need to move forward, he said: "If we (the IITs) restrict ourselves to India, then we are undoubtedly the best. But internationally, I feel, we still have some way to go." One major source of concern as far as technical education is concerned, he said, was the acute shortage of good teachers with doctoral degrees. "The last thing that engineering students in this country want is to stay back and get into research and development or academics," he said. However, he does not see Indian students going abroad and making a mark as "brain drain". "These are the people who can give India a good reputation internationally," he said. On why the IITs are not the preferred destination for foreign students, Natarajan said, "Probably because the quality of campus life, as far as social and civic amenities are concerned, is not as good as the kind foreign students are used to."

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In his welcome address, S.K. Dube, Director, IIT-Kharagpur, said that the institution could well claim to be the best and the most diversified among all IITs. Over 200 applications for patents, including 15 international patents, had been filed so far, and in 25 cases patents had been granted to the Institute, he said. In order to protect the intellectual property rights (IPR) of its faculty members and participating organisations in a globalised economy, the Institute has created an IPR and IR Cell, which is again the first of its kind in any engineering institute in India.

The Institute has developed more than 60 technologies and a range of software, of which many have been purchased by entrepreneurs and industries. Major technology transfer agreements have been signed between the Institute and various organisations. Fourteen such transferred technologies have gone into commercial production. They relate to a range of products: novel puffing machine for cereals, plant tissue culture vessel, multipurpose controller, COSMO software, knowhow for acid-proof cement and allied products, fibre-dish antenna, fibre on silk industrial fabric, detergent powder without enzyme, magnesium aluminate hydrate, low-calorie natural sweetener, real-time simulator for power grid, bio-pesticides, insulated tiles, and portable weigh bridges.

According to Dube, most students prefer to go abroad rather than continue their higher education in the IIT itself primarily because the fellowship programmes that the Institute offers are "not so attractive". "But we have of late introduced some high-value fellowship programmes and are constantly trying to improve our basic infrastructure in the hope of attracting more students for post-graduate courses," he said.

Others who spoke on the occasion were R. Gopalakrishnan, executive director of Tata Sons Ltd, and Dr. Parvati Dev, president, IIT Foundation, United States, both eminent alumni of the Institute. In his speech, Gopalakrishnan urged the students to become "doers" and not to try and find shortcuts to riches. "You should work incessantly and challenge yourselves constantly. Broaden your horizons and open your window to the many streams of knowledge around you," he said. He also stressed the need to integrate social studies with the academic curriculum in engineering colleges, so that students broaden their perspective.

Parvati Dev spoke about her emotional attachment to IIT-Kharagpur and about the contributions of the alumni and the strong bond they have with their alma mater.

The IIT Foundation, an organisation of U.S.-based IIT alumni, has been instrumental in creating in Kharagpur, through collective and individual contributions, the first business school among the IITs; the Prof. G.S. Sanyal School of Telecommunication; and a worldclass VLSI (very large scale integrated) laboratory; and providing a personal computer for each student, with 24-hour Internet facilities through a Wide Area Network in the hostel rooms.

The Institute has a 32,000-strong network of alumni spread all over the globe, of whom about 28 per cent are settled abroad. The Institute retains its commitment to work for the benefit of society at large. It has made significant contributions to the betterment of its surroundings and the people there.

The Institute believes that cost-effective solutions to the problems at the grassroots - such as those relating to basic needs like food, shelter, drinking water, healthcare, education and communication - require high technology. The Institute will therefore continue to focus on imparting technological knowledge through quality education and research. IIT-Kharagpur has shown that given academic and administrative autonomy, a reasonable amount of funding and a suitable environment, it is possible to set up a world-class academic and research institute in India.

Software successes

A profile of Tata Consultancy Services, Asia's largest software and services company, now on the threshold of further achievements and growth.

THE Tata group, the giant of the old economy, saw its fortunes take quite a tumble in the 1990s. It is now making a very visible comeback as a prominent force in the new economy. Once synonymous with steel and heavy engineering, the group in recent years has had to lean on its strong forays into the information technology (IT) and telecom sectors for continued success. With Tata Steel and Tata Engineering, the group's mainstays, showing few signs of regaining their past pre-eminence, it is becoming apparent that the group's IT sector will be largely responsible for carrying forward the Tata empire.

Spearheading the group's IT sector is the 34-year-old Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), a division of Tata Sons Limited. There has been no hype about TCS, which is one of Asia's largest software and services companies and India's top IT performer. One of corporate India's best kept secrets, TCS has consistently held the top spot among IT companies in the country. In what the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) industry report, released in July 2001, has termed a 'rough year' for the Indian software industry, TCS with revenues over Rs.4,000 crores has not disappointed. It has once again retained its number one position in software exports.

An industry analyst suggests that TCS' most vital role currently is its outstanding contribution to the Tata Group. Over the next seven years the group reportedly needs to raise Rs.10,000 crores for new investments. An impending initial public offering (IPO) from TCS is expected to bring in a significant amount of funds. Additionally, revenues and profits from TCS as well as other IT companies belonging to the Tatas are expected to fill the group's coffers.

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A look at TCS' financials indicate that it is in a position to help. Despite facing tough conditions, TCS, whose portfolio has more than 800 global clients, earned Rs.4,187 crores in 2001-02. The Tata group's overall IT sector revenues for 2001-02 reached Rs.5,523 crores, making it the first Indian IT company to cross the $1 billion mark. According to the company, this figure represents nearly 12 per cent of the group's overall revenues. Interestingly, it works out to almost 10 per cent of the total revenues of the Indian IT industry. The IT segment accounts for more than a third of the group's total profits. An industry analyst suggests: "Since TCS leads the pack of IT companies within the group, its responsibility becomes even more vital." The contribution of the group's other IT division includes Rs.484 crores from Tata Infotech, Rs.132 crores from Tata Elxsi, Rs.555 crores from the recently acquired CMC division, Rs.100 crores from Tata Technologies, Rs.25 crores from Nelito Systems and Rs.40 crores from Tata Interactive.

Several major deals, new initiatives and tie-ups have been undertaken this year. This will, in all likelihood, ensure a strong performance from TCS. For instance, TCS clinched a $100 million deal with GE-Medical to provide a range of global IT solutions and services. TCS says that "this is one of the biggest contracts ever secured by a software company in India." TCS also agreed to a significant tie-up with Racal Instruments Ltd, United Kingdom, a key provider of digital cellular test equipment worldwide. Racal Instruments has asked TCS to establish a Software Develop-ment Centre. This alliance is expected to fetch revenues of over $15 million. A 30 million contract with United Utilities Water, Great Britain's first multi-utility group, to provide end-to-end IT services is another major gain for TCS.

International agreements signed this year include contracts with the Swedish company, Ericsson. Ericsson will outsource TCS' expertise in the telecom domain in areas such as digital switching and wireless networks. TCS' offshore development centre in Hyderabad will support Ericsson worldwide. The Bank of America has awarded TCS the contract to provide worldwide IT solutions through an exclusive offshore development centre at Sholinganallur in Chennai. TCS has also spread its geographical reach this year by entering markets in Spain, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.

Additionally, in June 2002, TCS set up its "China Initiative", a subsidiary of Tata Information Technology in Shanghai, to handle projects in China.

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TCS' major project gains within India include a ten-year contract with Tata Chemicals Limited and a substantial IT project with the State Bank of India (SBI). The SBI is India's largest commercial bank with a vast domestic network. It commands one-fifth of deposits and loans of all scheduled commercial banks in India. TCS will supply, customise and implement the Centralised Core Banking System for the SBI, across its 9,000 branches. According to TCS, "this is perhaps one of the biggest banking projects in the world in terms of locations, customers and transaction volume."

The year has seen TCS and the Tata group do some shopping in the IT and telecom sectors. Strengthening its position in the domestic market, TCS bought a controlling stake of 51 per cent in CMC, a leading infrastructure management, networking and maintenance company. Despite facing stiff competition from the corporate Goliath, Reliance Industries Limited, the Tatas also bagged the disinvested stake of the Government of India in Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL). According to an industry analyst, this has enabled the Tatas to make a strong entry into telecommunications and to become a major player in that sector immediately. "A combination of vision, reach and a cross section of deliverables to a range of industries, is the edge TCS has over the others," says the analyst.

"TCS' achievements are mainly due to the company's foresight in gaining expertise and experience in emerging technologies," says Atul Takle, a company spokesperson. For instance, TCS pioneered the concept of Offshore Development Centres in India. Takle told Frontline that the software industry in the country has grown largely thanks to this concept. According to Takle, TCS' greatest advantage over other Indian software companies is its in-depth knowledge of diverse business domains as well as expertise across varied technologies. These business domains include sectors such as banking, financial services, manufacturing, transportation, government services and healthcare. The company provides services in eBusiness, application development and maintenance, eSecurity, architecture and technology consulting, infrastructure development and quality consulting. "TCS' ability to provide end-to-end solutions is another of its major strengths," notes Takle. "We may not be visible, and we do not publicise our achievements but we are definitely leaders in the industry."

TCS develops and markets innovative software products and tools in the world market. A globally popular TCS product is MasterCraft, a tool-based development environment, which allows the user to build applications for uses in finance, telecom, insurance and other sectors. Its industry specific tools include Cempac for the cement industry and eBankWorks, FIG, BancOnAbm, Netquote and QUARTZ for the banking and financial sectors. TCS has been actively involved in developing products for "SMARTGOV," more commonly referred to as "e-governance". One of TCS' recent projects was with the Andhra Pradesh government. Over a period of a year, TCS developed both a central information system and a departmental information system. These programmes include an efficient filing system, a data-base and an application system. According to TCS, "the SMARTGOV framework yields enhanced productivity, reduced paperwork, easy access to information and automatic prioritisation of work." Smaller e-governance projects have been undertaken for the governments of Karnataka, Uttar Pra-desh, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

TCS is focussed on research and development. Over 4 per cent of its revenues is invested in this critical activity. A state-of-the-art facility in Pune is said to be one of the most advanced of its kind. "Quality," which as TCS points out, "is a key business driver", has been assessed at Level 5, the highest level in the Carnegie Mellon SEI Capability Maturity Model scale. According to TCS, in August 2001 it became the first organisation in the world to achieve P-CMM Level 4 - Ver.2.

With its successes, TCS' workforce is growing impressively. Currently, over 19,000 professionals work at 90 branches in 29 countries. In spite of the slowdown in the sector of late, this year TCS recruited 1,500 engineering trainees. In addition, it took in 140 management graduates of whom 52 were from the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM). Apparently, this represented the highest number recruited by any corporate on campus this year. Moreover, while some fell back on their promises, TCS honoured every single offer letter made. It has plans to add over 1,500 fresh recruits in the current year.

Although TCS and a few other top IT companies registered sizeable revenues and growth, the software industry itself took a beating in 2001-2002. The software sector in India is used to a 50 to 60 per cent annual rate of growth. According to Nasscom, the overall growth rate of the software sector was 22 per cent (amounting to $10.1 billion) over the previous year, with the software export segment growing by 23 per cent (amounting to $7.8 billion). Nasccom chief Kiran Karnik expects the industry to record a 30 per cent growth rate this year and notes that the year has been exceptionally challenging.

TCS, which is emerging as the Tata group's flagship company, plays way and ahead the leading role in the industry's advance.

Unrest in academe

University teachers stage protests across the country as part of their campaign against the state's move towards withdrawing from education, leading to the commercialisation of the sector.

TEACHERS across the country observed an All-India Educational Bandh on August 13 as part of their ongoing battle against the growing assaults on the education system in the form of government policies. A call to "save education to save the country" was issued by the All India Federation of University and College Teachers' Organisations (AIFUCTO) and the Federation of Central Universities Teachers Associations (FEDCUTA). These two organisations were joined by organisations of schoolteachers and the non-teaching employees of universities. The combined action reflected the state of discontent among the teaching community. In New Delhi, thousands of teachers braved a heavy downpour to stage an impressive march from the Red Fort grounds to Parliament gates, where a huge contingent of the police was readied to stop them.

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The teachers, who came from Haryana, Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Assam and other States felt that the current education policy was oriented towards a fundamental reconstruction and reorientation of the education system, whose objective was to transform the sector into an industry geared to private profit. The gradual withdrawal of the state from its responsibility of funding education and the increased scope for private commercial activity in this sphere had transformed rapidly what was to be an important instrument of achieving national progress into a tradable commodity, they said. This reorientation, it was felt, would have adverse consequences not only with regard to access to education by different sections of society but to the quality and content of education. Such trends were already visible at all levels of education, they pointed out.

In a memorandum submitted to the Prime Minister, the teachers' organisations emphasised that the government's policy was helping international business interests who were attempting through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) to bind Third World countries to a policy regime where public investment in higher education would be restricted and the sector would be open to exploitation by foreign educational enterprises that were not subject to any form of national control with regard to quality and content of education and the fee structure. The memorandum pointed out that a study conducted by the Association of Indian Universities found that a large number of such foreign enterprises were already operating in India, and nearly 40 per cent of them were not affiliated to any university.

The role of the Ministry of Human Resource Development and the University Grants Commission (UGC), the two key agencies that implement government policy in the field of higher education, came in for criticism. Their specific actions on the service conditions of teachers were highlighted as being indicative of the consequences of the education policy. The organisations pointed out that the teaching profession needed to attract and retain talent if quality education was to be provided. This required an improvement in the service conditions of teachers, so that teaching was perceived as an attractive career option. But the HRD Ministry and the UGC were taking measures that caused systematic degradation of the profession, the organisations said. They pointed out that while the Fifth Pay Commission's recommendations guaranteed at least three promotions in government services (under the career advancement scheme), a maximum of only two promotions were available to college teachers. A scheme for promotions, duly notified by the UGC in 1998, was withdrawn. In addition, while promotional benefits in other government services came into effect retrospectively with the new pay scales from January 1, 1996, promotional benefits for teachers were implemented only from December 24, 1998, the day the new pay scales and promotional benefits were notified by the UGC. In Bihar, Jharkhand and Punjab, among other States, these notifications are yet to be implemented fully.

It was precisely such measures, the teachers' organisations argued, that made it increasingly difficult to attract and retain talent in the teaching profession. They also pointed to the increasing trend of employing teachers on contract as indicative of the way the profession was heading. According to figures provided by AIFUCTO, despite the ostensible expansion of higher education in the country only 6 per cent of the Indian youth reach the level of higher education.

Meanwhile, Delhi University teachers have joined issue with the UGC regarding a series of circulars that were communicated to the university and colleges affiliated to it. The UGC, teacher representatives allege, has been attempting to coerce the university into increasing the workload of individual teachers so that 35 per cent of the present teaching staff became redundant. According to the Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA), this amounted to undue interference in the working of the university bodies such as the Academic Council.

Kidney commerce in Tamil Nadu

A recent arrest in Chennai highlights the fact that the city continues to be centre of the trade in organs though Tamil Nadu has adopted the Transplantation of Organs Act.

A COMPLAINT of cheating and an arrest. An everyday occurrence at police stations. But the August 13 arrest by the Chennai police of Mahalingam was not a routine one. The complaint was made by Dhileep, who alleged that Mahalingam had not delivered on his promise of supplying a kidney. Mahalingam, it turned out, was a long-time broker dealing with the procurement of kidneys for those in need of them for medical reasons. The police, it appeared, had stumbled on an organ trade racket.

That there is in Chennai a thriving kidney market, with an active doctor-broker-patient nexus, has been brought out time and again in the media and by independent investigators since the Transplantation of Human Organs Act was adopted by the State in 1995, making trade in human organs illegal. (A selection of Frontline's investigative articles on kidney commerce can be read at www.flonnet.com.) Frontline has now in its possession evidence of the trade and of a cover-up in Tamil Nadu by the Authorisation Committee set up under the Act to prevent trade in human organs.

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Confirmation of the existence of the trade in kidneys in Chennai has come even from the chairpersons of the Authorisation Committee. In 1997, when Frontline first investigated the trade, Dr. V. Rajappa, who headed the committee then, said: "It is clear that the donors are tutored to say things they say to the committee. There is a trade and there are kidney brokers. We cannot stop it." Five years and several media investigations later, the Authorisation Committee chairman, Dr. V. Anil Kumar, admitted to this correspondent: "There are kidney brokers and there may be monetary considerations. Most donor addresses are false. In several cases the addresses of the donor and the recipient are the same as the former works for the latter. But we cannot do anything as the documents are all there."

Chennai thus continues to be one of the main centres for live unrelated renal transplantation in India, attracting patients from all over the country and abroad. Beyond adopting the Transplantation of Human Organs Act to "provide for the regulation of removal, storage and transplantation of human organs for therapeutic purposes and for the prevention of commercial dealing in human organs" and making the trade in kidneys illegal by declaring cash-for-kidney transactions a criminal offence, the State appears to have done little to stop the trade.

If by the Authorisation Committee's own admission, the trade has been thriving in violation of the Act and because of its own inability to perform its functions under Chapter IV, Section 13 of the Act, why did it not make a criminal complaint to the Appropriate Authority set up to monitor the implementation of the Act, ask informed observers. (The offences covered by the Act are non-cognisable. In consequence, the police can take action against the offenders only if the Appropriate Authority or an officer authorised by it or an individual who has given notice of not less than 60 days to the Appropriate Authority make a complaint.)

The reply to this point by a key member of the Authorisation Committee was contradictory. First he said that "there is no provision under the Act to make a complaint". But when it was pointed out that there is indeed such a provision, and that a list relating to live unrelated kidney donation that went before the Authorisation Committee in Karnataka for approval since 1995 was made public only on a complaint to the police to verify the documents produced by a recipient-donor (Frontline, April 12, 2002), he said: "My higher authorities were not willing [to complain]."

That a booming trade in kidneys is on in Tamil Nadu is clear from the number of live unrelated transplants that come up for approval before the Authorisation Committee. If in Karnataka there were 1,012 such cases in six years (from January 1996 to March 2002; the list is available with Frontline), in Tamil Nadu the committee, according to Dr. Anil Kumar, gets on an average 800 cases a year. According to him, in 2001, there were 860 cases and 400 were rejected. A reasonable estimate is that some 5,000 cases have come up to the Authorisation Committee in Tamil Nadu since 1995 (when it was set up).

According to Frontline's 1997 investigation (issue of December 26, 1997), 1,243 cases came up before the Authorisation Committee between June 1995 and July 1997. Subsequent investigations identified several donors from the city's slums. Recently, a probe in the Chennai suburb of Villivakkam found at least a dozen donors who had "sold" their kidneys since 2000.

All the donors this correspondent met had gone through brokers (Vijaya, Lakshmi or Shanti) from the same area. Each one had got not more than Rs. 40,000 for a kidney. The investigations also point to a few hospitals in Chennai that regularly perform live unrelated kidney transplants.

In 1998, when this correspondent approached one such hospital seeking details about obtaining a kidney, the receptionist said: "We do not arrange kidneys. But we can put you on to the brokers." It is reliably learnt that another hospital, which does only kidney transplants, offers "package deals" - from providing dialysis to arranging a donor and doing the transplantation. In 1999, Frontline met a broker (Madan) and his deputy (Edward) in a Chennai hospital. The broker was willing to arrange a kidney provided the patient shifted to one of the hospitals he recommended. Recently, the same broker was seen negotiating a "kidney deal" at another Chennai hospital, which is known to perform live unrelated kidney transplants on a regular basis. Interestingly, some super-speciality hospitals whose area of specialisation is not nephrology have set up kidney transplantation centres and are performing live unrelated transplants.

In July 1998, investigations revealed the hospital-doctor-agent nexus. By way of investigative follow-up, Egmont R. Koch (a television producer based in Bremen, Germany) e-mailed a nephrologist practising in a now-closed Chennai hospital (the nephrologist has since shifted to another hospital where he does live unrelated transplants) asking for help in procuring a kidney for his company's managing director. Egmont got a reply from the doctor informing him that it could be done but he would have to come to India to "discuss" the matter. Egmont came and met the doctor who had with him an agent. The transplantation, the doctor said, would cost $30,000, and the kidney another $8,000. The broker was confident that "we can fabricate a story to get through the Authorisation Committee." The meeting was video-taped by Egmont "to help his managing director decide." Egmont's story on the "kidney trade in Tamil Nadu" was telecast on German television.

With evidence in hand on a thriving kidney trade in Chennai, Frontline sought to obtain the list of names, addresses, occupations and other particulars of the donors and recipients who have gone before the Authorisation Committee since 1995. In January 2001, the Authorisation Committee members were approached for details. Dr. A. Parvathavarthini, the then Dean of the Madras Medical College, when approached first, directed this correspondent to Dr. M. Palaniappan, Director, Medical and Rural Health Services. Dr. Palaniappan pointed to Dr. Anil Kumar, Deputy Director, Department of Medical Education, who turned this correspondent back to Dr. Parvathavarthini. After this runaround, the search did not yield any worthwhile information.

In March 2002, Frontline wrote to each member of the Authorisation Committee seeking the full list of recipients and donors, with particulars, from 1995. Only Dr. C. Ravindranath, Dean, Madras Medical College, responded saying that Dr. Anil Kumar, Chairperson of the Authorisation Committee, would be able to give the information. But as Dr. Anil Kumar did not respond to telephone calls, a letter was addressed to Dr. Munir Hoda, Tamil Nadu Health Secretary (now Home Secretary), on March 30, seeking his intervention. On April 5, Hoda replied saying that we could get the information from Dr. Anil Kumar, who would be told about the request.

After several phone calls Dr. Anil Kumar informed this correspondent that his section "did not have" the entire list but would provide the names and addresses of recipients (and only the names of donors) who had approached the Authorisation Committee in January-February 2002. (The list of names and addresses of 87 recipients and the names of donors approved by the Authorisation Committee in January-February 2002 is with Frontline.) Interestingly, Dr. Anil Kumar maintained that "we do not have the donor addresses." The question arises how the Authorisation Committee monitors, as mandated by the Act, the health of those whose kidneys are removed for non-therapeutic purposes.

On June 4, when this correspondent met Dr. Anil Kumar at his office, he gave a different story. About the donor addresses, he first said: "We are not supposed to give the details." After much persuasion, he said: "Most donor addresses may be false. Many donor addresses would be the same as of the recipients' as the former may be working for the latter." Despite the suspiciously large number of live unrelated transplants and journalistic investigations of the kidney trade, no criminal complaint has been lodged with the police by the Appropriate Authority.

If the government is indeed keen to end the trade, it must act now on the complaint made by Dhileep to the Chennai Commissioner of Police, K. Vijay Kumar. Mahalingam, who had 'sold' one of his kidneys about a decade ago, has since been an agent, making a large sum each month by persuading poor people from the slums to 'sell' their kidneys. According to Assistant Commissioner of Police M. Murugesan who is investigating the case, Mahalingam and his accomplice Moorthy were arrested on the charge of cheating under Section 384 of the Indian Penal Code and remanded to 15 days' police custody. During interrogation, Mahalingam revealed that he sourced kidneys from slum-dwellers. He preferred women donors because the kidneys of many men were medically rejected on account of alcohol abuses. Working with Moorthy and Fazilbai, Mahalingam allegedly arranged at least three kidneys per month for patients admitted in specified hospitals. He generally charged Rs.1 lakh for a kidney.

Admitted to a city hospital with end-stage renal disease, Dhileep was approached by Mahalingam. A deal was struck and Dhileep paid an advance of Rs.17,500 to 'arrange' a kidney. When Mahalingam did not come up with a donor, Dhileep made an oral complaint to Commissioner Vijay Kumar, which led to the arrest of Mahalingam and Moorthy. According to Murugesan, this is obviously part of an extensive kidney racket exploiting the poor. But the police cannot take up the case under the Transplantation of Human Organs Act as Dhileep has not made a written complaint. For the police to register a case under the Act, the complaint has to be made by the Appropriate Authority. According to a leading lawyer in Chennai, the Appropriate Authority can suo motu take up the case based on Mahalingam's statement and make a complaint to the police.

According to Chapter VI Section 19 (c) of the Act, "Whoever offers to supply any human organ for payment, shall be punishable with imprisonment" for two to seven years "and shall be liable for fine" of Rs.10,000 to Rs.20,000. Section 22 (1a) says that "No court shall take cognizance of an offence under this Act except on a complaint made by the Appropriate Authority concerned..." Says MOHAN Foundation director and renal transplant surgeon at the Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Research Institute Dr. Sunil Shroff: "It is unfortunate that a city that leads the country in cadaver transplants is involved in such a racket. The kidney trade, by all accounts, seems extensive and deeply entrenched. We have to put our resources and minds together to wipe it out." A strong political will is needed to crack down on the racket as it appears to be extensive, notes Dr. Shroff, who has been championing the cause of cadaver-based transplants.

According to him, the cadaver-based transplant programme is doing well in Tamil Nadu. In the last two months seven transplant procedures have been done from brain dead persons at the Christian Medical College, Vellore. In the last two years, Kovai Medical College, Coimbatore, has done 36 such transplants. "If the government is keen on ending the kidney trade, it should encourage cadaver-based transplants in a big way," Dr. Shroff emphasises.

Whether the Appropriate Authority can be prodded to act now is uncertain. If the State government is serious about ending kidney commerce in Tamil Nadu, it can make the Appropriate Authority act decisively. If the Central government is serious in putting an end to the kidney trade, it must plug the escape clause, Section 9(3) of the Act. This permits live unrelated donors for reasons of "affection and attachment towards the recipient or for any other special reasons". Only, the Authorisation Committee needs to be convinced that it is donation and not a "sale". The committee's willingness to be persuaded that donations are being made on the basis of "affection and attachment" or for some other "special reason" - and not money - is seen to be at the root of the thriving trade in kidneys. The government can perhaps think of placing a moratorium on live unrelated transplants till safeguards are built into the 'altruistic' provision for donations.

A pioneer all the way

The Karnataka Lingayat Education Society has played a significant role in the development of education in Karnataka, especially in the backward and rural regions.

THE erstwhile princely state of Mysore had the reputation of being one of the most progressive regions in pre-independent India. It was a pioneer in establishing modern systems of education and one such was established in Mysore city as early as 1833. This was followed by the opening of English schools in Bangalore, Tumkur, Hassan and Shimoga. The first school for girls was started in Bangalore city by the London Mission in 1840. A government girls school was set up in 1881 with support from the Maharaja of Mysore. In 1916, Mysore University was established. Before Independence, when only 16.6 per cent of the country's population was literate, 20.3 per cent of the people of old Mysore were literate.

But unlike the old Mysore region, the neighbouring region of the then Bombay Presidency (part of today's north Karnataka) languished far behind, for historical reasons. There was no governmental support for education. In the early 1900s, educational opportunities in northern Karnataka were limited to urban centres such as Bombay and Poona.

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A group of seven men, all in their twenties, from Belgaum and its surroundings, who had graduated from colleges in Poona, decided to do something about this situation. In 1916, they decided to put their plan into action. Renouncing their government jobs, they set out to spread education in northern Karnataka. (Even today almost 85 per cent of all collegiate education in north Karnataka is through private institutions.)

Inspired by the ideals of patriots like Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak and the founders of the Deccan Education Society, Pune, who had done much work in the field of education, these seven 'Founder Life Members' - S.S. Basavanal, H.F. Kattimani, M.R. Sakhre, B.S. Hanchinal, B.B. Mamadapur, P.R. Chikodi and Sardar V.V. Patil (who are today called the 'Saptarishis', or the 'Seven Saints') - approached Sardar V.G. Naik Bahadur Desai of Chachadi, Rao Bahadur R.C. Artal and V.A. Anigol, three leading citizens of the Veerashaiva or Lingayat community and sought their blessings. The latter three came to be known as the 'Founders'.

Thus, on November 13, 1916 the Anglo-Vernacular School (later called the Gilaginchi Artal High School) came into being in a rented building in the Fort area of Belgaum. It was not only the birth of a school but also the beginning of an initiative by the Karnataka Lingayat Education Society (KLES). Today the Society runs over 110 institutions ranging from kindergarten schools, undergraduate colleges and teacher training institutes to institutions offering post-doctoral studies in arts, science, commerce as well as professional training in the faculties of law, engineering, fashion technology, hotel management, agriculture, business administration and medicine.

Today the KLES has assets in excess of Rs.5 billion and an annual turnover of over Rs.1 billion. It employs over 6,000 people and caters to the educational needs of over 60,000 students. Over the years, it has done yeoman service in the cause of education not only for people living in the present-day Karnataka districts of Belgaum, Dharwad, Bijapur, Gadag and Haveri, but also for those in southwestern Maharashtra.

The efforts of the Founder Life members and Founders in those early days did not go unnoticed and soon contributions both in cash and kind poured in from the general public of Belgaum and the neighbouring regions. Enthused by the support, the Founders made a bid to widen their sphere of activities and approached over a period of time three rich philanthropists who came to be known as KLES' 'Donors' - Srimant Sardar Lingapa Jayappa Sardesai, Raja Lakhamagouda Sardesai and B.V. Bhoomraddi.

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With the princely donations from Raja Lakhamagouda, another Anglo-Vernacular School was established in 1922 at Dharwad. It was named after its chief benefactor. After starting a couple of schools in Belgaum district and neighbouring Maharashtra, the Society decided to enter the field of collegiate education. In June 1933, the Lingaraj College came into existence. In a short while, science courses were started there. The year 1944 saw the inauguration of the full-fledged Lingaraj Arts and Science College by the Nobel Laureate Dr.C.V. Raman. In 1947 a liberal donation from Bhoomraddi helped start the B.V. Bhoomraddi College of Engineering and Technology at Hubli.

By 1945 the Society had 10 educational institutions. Soon the need was felt to draft a new constitution. The new constitution paved the way for an elected board of management that took over the administration of the Society from the Founder Life Members. The administration was streamlined and more than a dozen institutions were established in the next few years in various places.

The KLES also addressed another major deficiency of the region - poor medical facilities. The Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College, set up in 1963, was the forerunner to the Society's many initiatives in medical education. The KLES constitution was later expanded to enable it to "establish, run, manage, acquire, promote, take on lease hospitals, clinics, specialised medical centres, health clubs, diagnostic centres and other activities related to health care and medical colleges".

It was also envisaged that the Society would "undertake, promote and assist in all spheres of research and development work in life sciences, medicine and applied biological sciences and to cultivate and evaluate the therapeutic effects of various drugs and herbal medicines"; and also "provide consultancy services to hospitals (and other) institutions for professional work in any branch of medicine and research". This change enabled the KLES, especially under the chairmanship of Prabhakar Kore, to broaden its base by adopting institutions run by other managements into its fold. This led to the Society pursuing a policy of "take over and merge".

For the Society, providing education for the masses, especially those in the rural areas, has been the watchword. Of its 110 institutions located in towns in north Karnataka, south Maharashtra and Bangalore, as many as 54 are unaided institutions.

Explained Dr. F.V. Manvi, Principal, KLES College of Pharmacy and the Society's secretary: "The importance that the Society gives to education can be gauged from the fact that the Society's bylaws give pride of place to the 15-member Board of Life Members, which is made up of academicians. Teachers are given importance in formulating policies. The Board of Life Members is an advisory body and all academic and financial matters are first discussed by it before they are taken up by the Board of Management.''

In a bid to offer quality education, the KLES has made sure that all its campuses are self-owned, clean and have adequate infrastructure.

According to Manvi, though the Society has started a number of institutions in urban areas like Bangalore, Hubli and Belgaum it has not sidelined education for the rural masses. Manvi pointed out that offering quality education, especially in the rural areas, places a huge financial burden on the Society. ''Even in some of our aided institutions we have appointed teachers at our expense. And anyway, what the government gives by way of grants to our aided institutions, can only cover the teachers' salaries," he said.

Local philanthropists continue to extend help. Like Dr. L. Sheshadri, a retired medical practioneer, who gave Rs.10,000 so that a meritorious but economically backward student could do the Pharmacy course.

According to K.G. Malali, Principal of the KLES Business Administration College, the vision of the founders of the Society to make education available to the masses has been fulfilled. "When the Society was formed in 1916, the region was backward and the population consisted laregely of traders. Today there is a large middle-class population, much of which is employed in the services sector. Another indicator of the vision being fulfilled is the fact that while earlier most, if not all, of the staff members were from outside, today most of our faculty members are people from this very region," he says.

Although the Society now focusses principally on medical education, it has not ignored the traditional arts, commerce or science courses. It has also paid attention to technological studies. The B.V. Bhoomraddi College of Engineering and Technology at Hubli was a forerunner to the Society's forays into technological education.

Given the demand for courses in information technology, the Society launched the Bachelor of Computer Application (BCA) course at its institutions in Hubli, Gadag, Belgaum and Bangalore in 1999. It also runs MCA courses at Hubli, Belgaum and Bangalore.

The Society's School of Agricultural Training and Research at Belgaum, arguably the only one of its kind in India, was also started in 1999.

The Society also runs law colleges at Hubli, Gadag, Belgaum, Bangalore and Chikodi. In the past few years, it set up colleges of business administration and management at Hubli, Bangalore and Belgaum; colleges of management studies and research at Hubli; and tourism administration, hotel management and catering technology at Bangalore.

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