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COVER STORY

16-01-2004

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Briefing

Experiments with democracy

MAHENDRA P. LAMA cover-story

A combination of domestic political compulsions and international pressure leads the monarchy to introduce some democratic processes in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.

THE ongoing army campaign against the militants hiding in the jungles of southeastern Bhutan for the last 12 years has brought to the fore an array of sensitive issues. Of late, the quadrangular zone consisting of northern Bengal, eastern Nepal, southern Bhutan and mid-western Assam has emerged as a diabolical vortex of militant activities. Linked to the other militant groups of northeastern India and neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar, the militants in this zone have a complex conglomeration of ideology, objectives and strategy. Though they perceptibly differ in many respects, including their avowed objectives, they tend to converge consistently on a crucial point: their anti-state principles.

Despite having a long, open and unmanned border with India, except the excursions by the forces of British India in the mid 19th century, Bhutan has had no major experience in dealing with aliens through military operations. There are fundamental questions as to why Bhutan has to resort to such actions now and why not in the initial stages of the militants' intrusion. What are the long-term implications for Bhutan of this army action particularly with a large-scale covert and overt support from India?

India has been asking Bhutan to flush out these militants for the last six years. Bhutan has consistently maintained that it is negotiating with the militants for their friendly exit. Since this Himalayan Kingdom does not have the capability and experience to involve in such a massive combat operation, what was seriously feared in Bhutan was that any joint action with the Indian Army, might amount to an infringement of the sovereignty and identity of Bhutan. Bhutanese were equally apprehensive of the fallout, including any retributive action by these militants against the existing political system.

However, for a long period, Bhutan's inaction in the face of what its Foreign Minister Khandu Wangchuk described as the "most serious threat in the Kingdom's history" also gave the impression that it wanted to utilise the militant infiltrators as a bargaining chip to discourage India from supporting any pro-democracy movement in Bhutan; ask India to maintain a neutral stand on Bhutanese refugees and pressure India to extradite United Front for Democracy leader Rongthong Kuenley Dorjay who languished in an Indian jail for indulging in `criminal activities' in Bhutan.

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Broadly, three reasons could be attributed to the ongoing Bhutanese Army action. First, the pressure was building on the Monarch from the Indian side as the Union government was increasingly finding it difficult to convince Assam and West Bengal governments on its inaction. Since the ruling parties in these States were the opponents of the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre, the inaction was taken as a sign of indifference and insensitiveness. There were vociferous demands by these State governments in many forums to act against the militants. In fact, this issue started getting hooked up with other critical issues relating to transports, power transmission, cross-border trade and other social and economic exchanges as Bhutan has maximum and comprehensive interactions with these two States.

The message was loud and clear when Brajesh Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister of India, visited Bhutan in March 2003. Also, when the Bhutanese monarch visited New Delhi in October last, he was "very firmly" told by the Indian leadership about the action expected. The final negotiation with the militants was held in November. Before this, extensive national security coordination meetings were held in the affected districts of Serbhang, Samdrup Jongk-har and Pema Gatshel in March last. The Bhutanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs elaborately briefed the representatives of the international community in Thimphu about the impending military action in the third week of November. All these go to show that the action was long planned.

Secondly, there have been very strong pressures from within Bhutan. The Kasho (royal edict) was issued by the king in 1998 and a new form of Cabinet was introduced. Since then, there has been a visible change in the nature, level and direction of the discussions and proceedings in the National Assembly. In fact, the National Assembly had never witnessed such an enlivening debate on the militants and security issues. The last session of the Assembly, held in July 2003, discussed the possibility of raising a volunteer militia and pledged full support in terms of funds, materials contributions in case of an armed conflict.

In June 2001, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) signed an agreed minutes with the Bhutanese officials. As per the agreement, it had removed four of its nine camps by December 2001. But they were later found to have been relocated in the same district.

In the National Assembly, a range of views were expressed. Till the last moment there were strong reservations against military action. The Home Minister said: "The military action would bring unimaginable suffering to the people. In December 2000, with no provocation, 15 innocent Bhutanese people were gunned down and 19 injured in Bhutanese buses on the Assam highway... . That will be nothing compared with what might happen if we start military operation against the militants. There will be loss of property; schools and hospitals will be closed down; economic development will be impeded and more than 66,464 people will be directly affected in 304 villages of 10 dzongkhags (districts)." Another member said: "We cannot wait until they reach the capital."

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The intensity of the debate was unprecedented. The Education Minister said: "It was important to carefully weigh the implications of an armed conflict. Even the most powerful countries with the best military equipment faced many problems and difficulties during a war. But it is necessary that every Bhutanese citizen is ready to sacrifice his life to protect the security of the nation... . (I am) ready to exchange the ministerial scarf for a soldier's uniform if the command comes from the Golden throne... it is time to prove our dedication and patriotism for our beloved country."

The king informed the Assembly that "India had given its assurance that the Indian Army would not come into Bhutan without the permission of the Cabinet and the National Assembly" and reminded "the members that this might be the last chance for the National Assembly to understand all the consequences and come to a final resolution on the militant problem". He also said that "a military clash would mean a clash with all three militant groups. Besides many other problems, the civil servants, business people and public who had to constantly travel through Assam and West Bengal would face great security risks."

Thirdly, there are possibilities that at least the disgruntled and frustrated young boys and girls among the one lakh Bhutanese refugees who have been forced to live in the camps in eastern Nepal for the last 13 years may be vulnerable to militancy. This fear was doubly enhanced by the very complex geographical location of the area and the increasing activities of Maoists that directly impinge upon the Bhutanese monarchy. The frequent attempts by the Bhutanese refugees to march to Thimphu via Siliguri and Jalpaiguri have created a serious problem to the local government.

The ongoing Army action against the Indian militants fits well into the larger framework of anti-terrorist drive in the region. This is in fact possibly the first action carried out, though unknowingly, within the operational ambit of the Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism signed by the member-countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in 1987. Under its provisions, member-states are committed to extradite or prosecute alleged terrorists thus preventing them from enjoying a safe haven in their respective territories. This could be a precursor to such actions in other member-countries including India and Pakistan.

HOWEVER, all these actions are to be understood against the backdrop of the changing political situation in Bhutan. The end of 1990s saw some significant changes in the Bhutanese political system. The refugee issue exposed the Bhutanese system and socio-economic structure in an unprecedented manner. There have been extensive discussions at the regional and international level on the imprudent citizenship laws of the country, the discriminatory census operation, the imposition of traditional Bhutanese etiquette, including dress codes, and human rights violations. More critically, a large number of international human rights organisations, and donor agencies, including the European Union, started imposing severe conditionalities on Bhutan with regard to its treatment to the southern Bhutanese.

What happened on the floor of National Assembly in the first week of July 1998 was both historic and momentous. The National Assembly had always been considered to be a forum where any serious dissent used to be taken as something anti-tsa,-wa, -sum (against the King, the Country and the People). The king issued a royal edict which stated that "the time has now come to promote even greater people's participation in the decision-making process. Our country must always have a system of government which enjoys the mandate of the people, provides clean and sufficient governance, and also has an inbuilt mechanism of checks and balances to safeguard our national interest and security". This amply demonstrated that the king was perturbed by the increasing pressure of democratic forces and was ready to make some limited concessions.

Jigme Singhye Wangchuk then proposed three fundamental changes to the system of governance in the kingdom. 1. All Cabinet Ministers should henceforth be elected by the National Assembly; 2. The Assembly will decide on the role and responsibilities of the Cabinet; 3. The Tshogdu Chhenmo (National Assembly) should adopt a mechanism to move a vote of confidence in his Majesty the Druk Gyalpo. Since 1907, when the theocracy established by Shabdrung ended and monarchy was established, the king has absolute authority and was also solely responsible for the nomination of the Ministers.

Though the National Assembly established in 1953 is considered to be the most crucial body in the system of governance in Bhutan, its legislative functions have been overawed by the omnipresent executive. It could so far play only second fiddle to the king. The Assembly has 150 members. Of them, 105 are chimis (representatives of the people voted by the heads of families), 10 are monastic representatives and the remaining 35 members are representatives of the government nominated by the king. The very composition of the National Assembly, in fact, brings in the most ardent advocates of the status quo, thereby making the entire structure anti-reforms.

When the Kasho was issued, the king appeared to be a lone radical as the Assembly representatives were reluctant to accept the change. The emotion-packed two-day deliberations on the royal edict in the Assembly spoke volumes about the anti-reforms mind-set of the representatives. Its quite a unique situation when the "King proposes and people dispose". This has been the case in Bhutan for the last five decades now.

For a majority of these members who had thrived under the direct patronage of the king, the very term "elected" was unpalatable. They said that elections could result in partiality, vested interests, divisive politics, corruption and that people not suitable for the posts of Ministers could get elected. As a result, the king had to nominate the Cabinet candidates and announce their portfolios. Then a secret ballot was held in which 140 members participated.

The practice of the king chairing the meetings of the Lhengyal Shungshog (Cabinet) also ended. Under the new arrangement, the chairmanship was to be held on a rotational basis by elected Cabinet members. The chathrim (role and responsibility) of the Cabinet is to be drafted by a committee comprising National Assembly members representing the clergy and the government and was to be placed to the 77th session of the National Assembly.

What ultimately came out was an entirely new generation of Ministers. A suave Dawa Tshering, the longest-serving Foreign Minister, was replaced by an astute and dynamic bureaucrat Jigme Thinley and a conservative Home Minister Dago Tshering, by a more down-to-earth Thinley Gyamtsho. Yeshey Zimba, an economic liberal, bagged the Finance portfolio and outward looking Sangay Ngedup got Education. Surprisingly again, most of these Ministers were serving bureaucrats. In fact, the king's Kasho clearly wanted it that way, It said: "To ensure efficient executive governing of the country, candidates should be selected from among persons who have held senior government posts at the rank of secretary or above."

However, the advocates of reforms have not seen any qualitative change in both the thinking and practice of the monarchy. Some of them even go to the extent of saying that the king introduced the new system because he wanted to get rid of the old set of Ministers in a sophisticated way and without offending them.

More significant has been the issues related to the second edict regarding the devolution of power and the role of the Cabinet. The Kasho more or less remained silent on the methods and extent of devolution. The unfolding of this Kasho in the last five years has been quite interesting. There have been significant moves including some indication that the legislature and the judiciary will be increasingly free from the clutches of the executive. The drafts of the first and "democratic" Constitution of Bhutan and a new penal code are ready. International constitutional experts are being consulted to give them a final shape. Bhutan now has a National Judicial Commission. A new law (the Jabmi Act) will "reaffirm and uphold the cardinal principle of fair trail with the help of Jabmi (legal counsel) to protect and establish people's rights at all stages of proceedings". The Royal Civil Service is to be now controlled by an independent commission.

In the 81st session of the National Assembly, a member representing Bumthang mentioned that "in my last 13 years, a lot of changes have occurred. In the beginning chimis (members) will mostly express their appreciations for development activities... but now with the decentralisation of power to the people, the discussions have become totally different."

The third significant element of the Kasho was that "a two-thirds vote of no-confidence by the National Assembly shall require the King to abdicate in favour of the Crown Prince or the next-in-line of succession to the Golden Throne". This particular edict has to be seen in the context of the increasing demand of the advocates of reforms regarding the abrogation of monarchy. When a similar edict was introduced in 1968 by King Jigme Dorji (the present king's father), the National Assembly had "reluctantly" agreed to it. However, within a couple of years the Assembly decided to surrender this privilege. King Jigme Dorji also tried to introduce more revolutionary changes in the political structure of Bhutan to form a government combining monarchical and democratic systems. He surrendered his power to veto any legislative bill passed by the National Assembly. He also established the first High Court in Bhutan and introduced the system of Council of Ministers. Somehow the present monarchy could not keep the pace of reforms going.

Though this no-confidence proposal was endorsed by the Assembly this time, it is to be seen how sustainable this particular Kasho would be. Given the fact that the king is considered an "object of veneration" and "as a Lam, a King and a parent" and going by the intensely emotional tenor of debate, it remains to be seen whether this privilege will be surrendered by the Assembly.

However, the institution of monarchy seems inevitable for this traditional kingdom to survive. This is more so in a situation where tradition, culture and religion continue to play a critical role in the preservation of sovereignty. What is required is a conscious strengthening of the process of devolving of power and granting freedom to democratic institutions like the judiciary, the mass media and civil society. All these have to be backed by a sound policy on the election of people's representatives.

Both the domestic compulsions and international pressure have led the monarchy to introduce these democratic processes in Bhutan. The fallout of the expulsion of a large number of genuine Nepali-speaking Bhutanese citizens, mostly from southern Bhutan in 1990-93, the increasingly visible chasm between the ruling Drukpas and other prominent ethnic groups in Bhutan like the Sarchops, the clash of interests between the ruling elites and the feudal elements, the information deluge facilitated by globalisation and the slow intrusion of pro-democracy forces into the Bhutanese villages - all these factors have helped bring about this awakening in the 31-year old regime of King Wangchuk.

Given the nature of absolute monarchy, the political changes brought about through the king's Kasho in the 76th session of the National Assembly should in the normal course have vital ramifications that should meet the expectation of the advocates of multi-party democracy in Bhutan. However, some people on the other side of the fence have expressed scepticisms over the royal edict. Rongthong Kuenley Dorjee an India-based leader of the United Front for Democracy in Bhutan described the contents of the Kasho as a mere "eyewash and of no consequence".

THE biggest challenge to Bhutan in the aftermath of the military action is to keep its territories out of bounds for the militants without the overbearing presence of the Indian Army. For this it has to bring about fundamental changes in its security and military apparatus. More than this, devolutions of power on the administrative and development fronts must be carried out with war-time zeal and speed. This is where the king's pet programme of Geog Yargye Tshogchung (decentralisation) will come under severe test. The best way to ensure peace and security is to keep the people happy and develop a political culture that tolerates and carries all shreds of opinions and communities. One should not forget that the militants entered the Bhutanese jungles at the height of instability triggered by the massive expulsion of its citizens by the Bhutanese State in the southern zones.

Equally vital is to find a lasting solution to the refugee problem. They can no more be subjected to political arbitrariness. Bhutan has to take all of them back with full respect and dignity. This can be done only if citizenship, land holdings and politico-cultural rights are restored to the refugees. Everywhere in the world, conscious advocacy and propagation of the concept of second class citizens by the state has led to the question of divided loyalty. Bhutan has to accept and absorb this hard fact.

Either by taking the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or by constituting a team of independent international observers, Bhutan should take forward the proposed repatriation and rehabilitation process. Bhutanese refugees today require a total solution.

There are signs of limited openings. In some sense, things are changing fast in otherwise a slow-moving Bhutan. Television channels are now available. For the first time, the government has published a vision document entitled "Bhutan 2020", a "Human Development Report 2002" and a "Poverty Assessment and Analysis Report 2000". As a part of its attempt to join the World Trade Organisation, Bhutan has made its tourism policy strikingly liberal. It has privatised most of the top public sector undertakings, including Bhutan Carbide, Penden Cement, Bhutan Fruit Products, Bhutan Logging Corporation. Bhutan Tourism, Druk Satair Corporation, Bhutan Polythene Company; and so on. More notably, Coca-Cola has set up a bottling plant in the Himalayan kingdom. Many shopping malls have sprouted. This is how it is keeping pace with the other South Asian neighbours.

The challenge is to match these material-economic changes with socio-political empowerment of the people through an array of democratic institutions.

Dr. Mahendra P. Lama is Professor of South Asian Economies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

A ruthless hit squad

Operations carried out by KLO action squads were so efficient that ULFA often hired their services.

SUHRID SANKAR CHATTOPADHYAY recently on the Bhutan border

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THE Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) has suffered a major setback with the Royal Bhutanese Army (RBA) destroying its camps in the India-Bhutan border and capturing five of its most senior leaders. On December 21, the RBA handed over to the Indian authorities KLO founder-members Joydeb Roy alias Tom Adhikari and Milton Burman alias Mihir Das, and other important leaders such as Sanjoy Adhikari alias Vicky, Bhim Dakua alias Jayanta Das and Pabitra Singha alias Biplab Singha. While Tom Adhikari was the action squad head of the organisation, Milton Burman, the second-in-command after Tamir Das alias Jiban Singha, was the tactician.

Tom Adhikari masterminded the attack on the local office of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Dhupguri town in Jalpaiguri district on August 17, 2003, in which five CPI(M) workers were killed and 14 others injured. Also involved in the attack were Singha and United Liberation Force of Asom (ULFA) activist Biju Chakraborti. Tom Adhikari and Chakraborti were also responsible for the murder of Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) leader Charan Thakur on October 11, 2003, in Banchukamari Haat, Jalpaiguri.

The capture of Tom Adhikari and Milton Burman is also a psychological setback for the KLO. Just as the two were feared among the business community and the tea industry in the region, they were revered by a large section of Rajbanshi youth. Apart from being the organisation's main fundraiser, mostly through extortion, Tom Adhikari was in charge of recruitment. Such was Tom Adhikari's reputation and success rate in `operations' that even ULFA sometimes hired the KLO action squad. In fact, the KLO became the first militant group to carry out an abduction in north Bengal, when on April 18, 1998, it kidnapped and killed Naresh Das, a businessman of Kumargram. Operation Flushout put out of action seven of the 10 members of the KLO core committee. The organisation does not have enough resources to regroup and stage a comeback.

THE KLO was formed by members of the Rajbanshi community of north Bengal, who broke away from the All Kamatapur Students Union, to wage an armed struggle to form a separate country. The organisation came into existence on December 28, 1995, with a cadre strength of 60. Later that increased to nearly 400. The KLO's areas of operation include six districts in north Bengal - South Dinajpur, North Dinajpur, Coochbehar, Jalpaiguri, Malda and Darjeeling - and four districts in Lower Assam - Dhubri, Bongaigaon, Kokrajhar and Goalpara. However, most of the organisation's activities have been concentrated in Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri.

Interrogation of the five captured KLO leaders has uncovered new information about the banned outfit's activities. It had only two camps in Bhutan, in the Bucca and Peping regions, and 85 militants operated from these camps. Around 45 KLO members were stationed at Samdrup Jhonkar, the headquarters of ULFA. What were believed to be camps before the RBA operations started were actually ration dumps maintained by the militants. Contrary to the widely held notion that the KLO was financed by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), interrogations have revealed that the outfit's arms and ammunition were purchased from Bangladeshi arms dealers and supplied by ULFA. Although the ULFA trained KLO militants, it hardly ever involved itself directly in the latter's `operations'. The KLO, in turn, would pay for the training and the arms and help arrange rations and other supplies to ULFA.

For their own supplies, KLO militants depended on people who lived on the Indian border. Initially, the militants had set up camps on the Bhutan side of the border in the Kumargram, Raidak and Turturi areas. However, with the Army and the police identifying the jungle tracks used by the porters and cutting off all supplies to the camps, the militants were forced to shift further west to Samchi, Gomti and Tadhing. They had to depend a lot on the local people and the poverty in the region assured them manpower. Apart from food supplies, the militants were in dire need of medicines as malaria and diarrhoea were rampant in their jungle hideouts.

It was in November 2000 that the KLO first set up camp, albeit jointly with ULFA, in Kalikhola and Nichula on the Bhutan border. Prior to that KLO militants were mostly in ULFA camps, undergoing training. They set up their independent camps only in 2003, in Peping and Bucca. The geography of the region made it a suitable hideout - it is heavily forested; the 150-km border is highly porous, enabling activists to slip in and out of India; and it provides multiple escape routes both to Myanmar and, through Assam, to Bangladesh.

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The KLO resorted to extortion from tea garden owners and businessmen of the region. According to information received by the police after preliminary interrogations, owners of small tea gardens fell easy prey to the KLO's unlawful demands. One tea garden at Rajgunj is reported to have paid Rs.1 lakh a year. Annual rates for other businessmen and tea gardens varied from Rs.10,000 to Rs.15,000.

A source in the Dooars tea industry told Frontline: "No extortion or ransom notes were received by the established tea gardens. It was the small tea growers and local businessmen who had invested in small gardens who were the victims of the KLO." There are hundreds of such gardens in the Maynaguri, Changra Bandha and Islampur regions. According to police sources, those who resisted were abducted. In at least two cases, the victims never returned.

The manager of an established garden told Frontline: "There is a sense of immense relief in the gardens with the capture, flight and death of KLO leaders. Although gardens like ours were never picked on by the militants, a sense of fear was always there because we knew about the plight of the small growers."

Interrogations have confirmed the well-known secret of the Kamatapur People's Party's (KPP) link with the KLO. The captured militants have confessed to financing the KPP. The two organisations, though close to each other, have different political agendas. While the KPP demanded only a separate State of Kamatapur, the KLO wanted a separate country carved out of parts of north Bengal and Assam.

THE Bhutanese population in north Bengal feel insecure after the RBA operations. Communities on both sides of the border are engaged in small trade and often maintain small establishments on the other side. Shemphen Wanchuk has a small business in oranges and cardamom in the Samtse region. "My house is just a few hours' walk from the Indian border and I also have a house here. I don't know if it is safe to stay in this part any more after the operations against the Indian extremists. They might take revenge on us," he told Frontline. The fear of people like Wanchuk proved not to be unfounded. On December 23, the self-styled KLO chairman Jiban Singha issued a `quit notice' to all Bhutanese in the Kamatapur area of north Bengal. He exhorted his cadre to drive them out and demanded a halt to all trade and commerce with them. He alleged that the Bhutan government "betrayed the trust we had laid in them, as they had never earlier opposed our stay in that country". However, the KLO is unlikely to be able to fulfil its threat, given its present condition.

Singha, who could not be traced since the commencement of the RBA operation, is suspected to have fled to Bangladesh. He is believed to have been losing his credibility among the rank and file of the organisation, mainly because of his greed and his tendency to stay away from operations. A resident of Uttar Haldibari, Singha, along with Tom Adhikari, Milton Burman, Madhusudan Das alias Tarzan, Harshavardhan Burma and Pulastya Burma, formed the KLO. Having been arrested once in the mid-1990s, Singha has since managed to avoid incarceration.

But for the presence of the Army and the Border Security Force, there is little indication on the Indian side of the border of the operation going on in Bhutan. Forces in the border areas are still on high alert to prevent insurgents from escaping back into the country. For the people living in these areas, the presence of the Army is now reassuring. Nilkamal Subbah, a tea stall owner at Totopara on the border situated 160 km from Siliguri town, told Frontline: "Initially, when the Army came in we were all very scared, having no idea of what was going on. Now we feel it is better that they stay." When Operation Flushout started on December 15, the entire 150-km border between West Bengal and Bhutan was sealed. By December 17, the two main gateways at Pheuntsholing and Samtse were opened.

However, there was no slackening of the security arrangements on either side of the border. All vehicles were checked, and heightened intelligence and security measures were taken up by the police and the armed forces.

In a well-timed gesture, the CPI(M)-led Left Front government in West Bengal has taken up a programme to rehabilitate the surrendered militants. Five such militants, including Madhusudan Das, who had surrendered following Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's appeal last year, are reported to have been given Rs.12,000 each and the license to start trade in river bed materials. This offer is likely to encourage those insurgents who are on the run to give themselves up to security personnel and return to the mainstream of society.

An ULFA manoeuvre

M.S. PRABHAKARA cover-story

WHAT is one to make of the reported willingness of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) to hold "negotiations" with the Government of India?

The offer, made on December 25 by Paresh Barua, head of ULFA's military wing, in a telephonic interview given to an English daily published from Guwahati, is, as always, hedged with conditions that the organisation should know will not be acceptable even to a very weak Indian state, let alone the one that is self-confident and triumphalist at present.

ULFA is ready to hold negotiations with the Government of India, Paresh Barua said, subject to two conditions. One, that the talks will have to be over ULFA's "demand for sovereignty" and two, that they should involve a neutral, non-Indian nation state, and not an individual, Indian or foreign, as the "facilitator". The interview made no mention of a "neutral venue", or the necessity to involve the United Nations or some such structure as "facilitator", as used to be the case in earlier ULFA offers of talks.

The summary dismissal of the offer by Union Minister of State for Home I.D. Swami is neither surprising nor relevant. What is relevant is why ULFA made the offer, its timing and circumstance, and, more important, to whom the offer is actually addressed.

The answer to `why' is obvious. Despite the claims to the contrary which increasingly appear thin, ULFA has suffered a grave setback, if not something much worse, after the Bhutan operations. Apart from the military setback, the timing and circumstance of the offer coincide with the most dramatic demonstration of its political setback, the total failure of the propaganda machine, always one of ULFA's strongest points. The offer was made a few hours after the Indian Army exhibited its prize catch: Bhimkanta Buragohain, one of ULFA's founder-members.

Although the offer is ostensibly addressed to the Government of India, its more immediate audience are the people of Assam in whose name and for whose `liberation' ULFA is supposedly fighting. ULFA knows only too well that it continues to resonate sympathy among the Assamese people, even those who are determinedly opposed to the very concept of Swadhin Asom, for reasons and linkages too complex to go into in this short article. Almost from the very moment that Bhutan began its military action and rather more explicitly when it was clear that ULFA was on the run, calls for negotiations (`political dialogue') started coming not merely from ULFA's front organisations and overground sympathisers, but also from established political parties such as the Congress(I), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India and, to an extent, even from the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is to this constituency that the offer to hold talks is addressed.

Finally, the received wisdom about ULFA is that Paresh Barua is uncompromisingly opposed to any talks while Arabinda Rajkhowa, its political head, has always been willing to negotiate and compromise. Indeed, at one point there were reports that the chairman had been totally sidelined by the commander-in-chief.

So it is interesting that while the head of the military wing is expressing a readiness to negotiate, Rajkhowa should address a letter to "The Chairman, Peoples Republic of China", informing him of ULFA's intention to "enter the territory of Peoples Republic of China extra-legally", and requesting for "safe passage... and minimum temporary hospitality".

caveat emptor To From Ref: Request for safe passage.

The peoples of occupied North-East region have been deserving the solemn right to signify themselves as fraternity of the same Peoples of Republic of China. The existing cultural identities and the consanguine histories are the only remaining credentials; we are embracing, after fifty years of brutal Indian occupation.

We, the United Liberation Front of Asom, Arunachal Dragon Force, National Democratic Front of Boroland and Kamatapur Liberation Organisation who have been spearheading the flame of freedom struggles against Indian occupation respectively, people of Assam, Arunachal, Boroland and Kamatapur have been taking shelter along Assam-Bhutan border to escape from the burnt of Indian military. Of late, we have come under massive military attack of Indo-Bhutan joint forces and our combatants are forced to retreat up to Sino-Bhutan border due to all out air and artillery campaigns.

In this moment, they have no other options but to enter the territory of Peoples Republic of China extra-legally to save their lives who are negotiating with sub-zero temperature and starvation without any cloth and food grain, moreover their, aspiration of freedom. We would like to request you and your peoples to permit them safe passage to your territory and minimum temporary hospitality necessary for their survival.

We would be obliged if you show your traditional kindness and great revolutionary zeal to our brothers-in-arms in this very moment of exigency.

Thank you, With all regards, Arabinda Rajkhowa. The Chairman, United Liberation Front of Asom.

Militant Groups

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Formation: The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) was founded by Paresh Barua, along with Rajiv Raj Konwar (alias Arabinda Rajkhowa), Golap Barua, Samiran Gogoi and Bhadreshwar Gohain on April 7, 1979, in Sibsagar, Upper Assam. It was set up to establish a "sovereign socialist Assam" through an armed struggle.

Leadership: Raj Konwar is currently the Chairman. Vice-chairman Samiran Gogoi, arrested on April 8, 1998, has been in judicial custody in Guwahati ever since. General secretary Golap Barua is under detention in Dhaka after being arrested by the Bangladeshi authorities on December 21, 1997.

ULFA has clearly partitioned political and military wings. Paresh Barua commands all military operations. Most of ULFA's top leadership operated from its headquarters in Bhutan, and now continues to work from bases in Bangladesh.

Military capabilities: In 1986, ULFA first established contacts with the then-unified National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). It learnt the rudiments of insurgency tactics from the KIA, which is believed to have charged Rs.100,000 per trainee. Subsequently, links were established with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Afghan mujahideen. Reports indicate that at least 200 ULFA activists received training in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

ISI largesse is believed to have enabled ULFA to buy arms from Cambodia, paying for these in hard currency routed through Nepal. Apart from training ULFA personnel at camps run by Islamist groups such as the Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami, the ISI also introduced ULFA to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) transporters who, for a fee, undertook to transport arms from South-East Asia into Myanmar. In April 1996, Bangladesh seized more than 500 AK-47 rifles, 80 machine guns, 50 rocket launchers and 2,000 grenades from two ships off Cox's Bazaar (in Bangladesh). Four ethnic Tamils were among those arrested.

ULFA returned the ISI favour by announcing support for Pakistan during the Kargil war. It described the Pakistani intruders - primarily Pakistani Army regulars and Afghan mercenaries - as freedom fighters.

ULFA has 14-odd camps functioning in Bangladesh since 1989. The Indian government says that the ISI and the Directorate-General of Field Intelligence of Bangladesh facilitate ULFA's presence and operations in that country. After first using Bangladesh as a training ground and safe haven, ULFA gradually expanded its network there to include operational control of activities and the receipt and shipment of arms in transit before they finally entered India.

Apart from running training camps, ULFA launched several income generating projects in Bangladesh. It is believed to have set up media consultancies and soft drink manufacturing units. It is also reported to own three hotels, a medical clinic, and two motor driving schools in Dhaka. Paresh Barua is believed to own or have controlling interests in several businesses in Bangladesh, including a tannery, a chain of department stores, garment factories, travel agencies, shrimp trawlers, and transport and investment companies.

NDFB Bodoland as goal 20040116005201101jpg

Formation: The NDFB, originally called the Bodo Security Force, was formed in 1988. It seeks to secure a sovereign Bodoland in the areas north of the Brahmaputra river, and the replacement of the Devnagri script with the Roman script for all Bodo-language texts.

Leadership: The NDFB was formed under the command of Ranjan Daimary, who also uses the alias D.R. Nabla. He continues to be its chairman. The NDFB's vice-president, Dhiren Boro, was arrested in Gangtok (Sikkim) on January 1, 2003. Its general secretary B. Swmkhwr alias Govinda Basumatary was arrested on November 25, 2002. `Lieutenant' B. Irakdao is the outfit's publicity secretary, while Nileswar Basumatary is its finance secretary.

Military capabilities: With an estimated strength of 3,500 fighters, most of whom were present in training camps in Bhutan, the NDFB operates on the northern and north-western side of the Brahmaputra river in Assam. It also uses the Manas National Park, adjoining Bhutan, as a sanctuary.

The NDFB has had close ties with ULFA and also with some officials in the Bhutanese establishment. Indian intelligence believes that NDFB correspondence with arms suppliers in South-East Asia was, on occasion, routed through Bhutanese diplomatic traffic. For most of its weapons and infrastructure, however, the NDFB depends largely on ULFA.

KLO Armed struggle for a separate Kamatapur 20040116005301101jpg

Formation: The origin of the KLO can be traced to the attempts of some members of the Rajbanshi community, who belonged to the All Kamatapur Students' Union, to organise an armed struggle for a separate Kamatapur State. They approached ULFA for this purpose, which agreed to train them in order to gain a foothold outside Assam. ULFA's line of thinking was that the tie-up with the KLO would not only facilitate the movement of its cadre to base camps in Bhutan, but also provide a safe haven for its injured or sick cadre.

The KLO came into existence on December 28, 1995. It aims to carve out a separate State from six districts of West Bengal and four contiguous districts of Assam.

Leadership: Tamir Das, who uses the alias Jiban Singha, is the chairman. He was arrested in October 1999. However, he regained control over the outfit after he was released by the Assam Police in a bid to make the other KLO cadres surrender. Singha was killed in December 2003 operations launched by the Royal Bhutan Army. Milton Burman alias Mihir Das is the KLO's second-in-command, and Joydeb Roy alias Tom Adhikari is the head of its `crack squad'. Both were arrested by the Bhutanese security forces during the recent operations. Bharati Das, the chairperson of the KLO's women's wing, was arrested in West Bengal on August 7, 2002. The outfit's operations chief, Suresh Roy, had surrendered on January 24, 2002. Important KLO personnel on whom the mantle of leadership could now fall include Hiten Roy, Ravi Rajbanshi, Rahul Roy and Kajal Roy.

Military capabilities: The KLO is most active in Alipurduar in Jalpaiguri, and the Siliguri subdivision of Darjeeling. Apart from its close links with ULFA and the NDFB, the KLO also has a long record of aiding the Maoist groups in Nepal. The KLO is believed to have provided shelter, cover and some armed support to the Maoist groups.

According to Indian intelligence, a joint meeting of ULFA, the NDFB, and the KLO was held with members of the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) to work out a joint strategy for operations in the region. The discussions are believed to have focussed on the prospect of creating a compact revolutionary zone, which would allow all these groups some cross-border elbow room.

The KLO is also believed to have a working relationship with the Tiwa National Revolutionary Front (TNRF), an insurgent outfit based in the Nagaon district of Assam. Some security experts believe that the ISI has a particular interest in the KLO, since the latter helps to escalate sabotage activity along the strategically and economically vital Siliguri corridor of West Bengal.

Striking with a vengeance

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

Contrary to U.S. expectations, Saddam Hussein's capture has only reinvigorated Iraqi resistance.

THE early morning rocket barrage against American targets on Christmas day was a reminder to the occupation forces that the resistance was alive and kicking despite the capture of Saddam Hussein. The resistance forces targeted the area in and around the high-security "green zone", the site of the American military headquarters. After the capture of Saddam Hussein in the first week of December there was a brief lull in the attacks on American military personnel as the insurgent forces concentrated their attacks on Iraqi collaborators. American officials began making premature statements that the capture of Saddam Hussein had demoralised the resistance. However, American soldiers have started dying again.

A day before Christmas, three American soldiers were killed in the town of Samarra, a hotbed of the resistance. Earlier, Iraqi civilians peacefully demonstrating in support of Saddam Hussein were gunned down by American troops in the town of Ramadi. They quelled protests by Iraqis in other towns inside the "Sunni triangle".

Now the Americans have decreed that no pro-Saddam demonstrations will be allowed, even if they are peaceful. Immediately after Saddam's pictures were shown on television, there were bombings in the Husseiniya and Amariya districts of Baghdad, killing six people. A suicide bomber attacked a police station in Khaldiya, around 100 km north of Baghdad, killing 17 people, many of them policemen. Saddam's supporters were angry after a newspaper owned by Ahmad Chalabi published a picture of a dishevelled Saddam talking to a nattily dressed Chalabi in a prison cell.

Reports appearing in the Western media suggest that Saddam continues to be defiant. There are contradictory stories emerging about the circumstances under which he was arrested. A Kurdish faction aligned with the Americans has claimed credit for capturing Saddam much before the triumphant announcement by the American administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer. Jalal Talabani, the important Kurdish leader who is on the interim governing council, had leaked details of Saddam's capture much before the Americans announced it officially. The Iranian media announced Saddam's arrest before the American media did.

Saddam's eldest daughter Raghad Hussein has said that her father was betrayed and drugged into submission. A report in an American magazine said that Saddam spat on the face of the American soldier who first took him into custody. American Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld admitted that Saddam was non-cooperative. Time Magazine quoted Saddam as telling his American interrogators that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. "The U.S. dreamt them up itself to have a reason to go to war with us," he was quoted as saying.

Saddam is being held in a cell measuring 11ft by 14ft, with a bed, chairs and an inbuilt lavatory. The Arab media has reported that Saddam was betrayed by his bodyguard - identified as General Mohammed Ibrahim Omar al-Muslit - who is also a close relative. According to the reports, he led the American troops to Saddam's hideout after drugging him.

President George W. Bush has already predicted the fate that awaits Saddam. Speaking to the American media, he said that the Iraqi President deserved "the ultimate penalty". As Governor of Texas, Bush had routinely given assent to the death sentence of hundreds of prisoners.

Two other Presidents of sovereign states overthrown by the American military are in prison - Manuel Noriega of Panama has been in an American jail since 1989 and Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia is defending himself at The Hague. Both leaders preferred to be judged by their own countrymen but were taken against their will and incarcerated. On the other hand, Saddam, Americans insist, be tried in Iraq. Almost all the interim governing council members have demanded death for Saddam. The Americans hope that no inconvenient questions will be asked by the five-member Iraqi court, which will interrogate Saddam on the close links that previous Republican administrations and other Western governments had with the Iraqi government from the late 1970s.

Donald Rumsfeld was the man whom President Ronald Reagan sent to Baghdad in 1983 at the height of the Iran-Iraq war. Iraq's use of chemical weapons did not prevent the Americans from selling even more lethal weaponry to Iraq. The current President of the Iraqi governing council, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, has said that if Saddam is proven guilty, "he could be condemned to death". International legal luminaries have said that the Iraqi legal system is not yet ready to deal with a case of such large ramifications and that the trial of Saddam in Iraq would not be considered fair and effective.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has objected to Saddam being given the death penalty. He pointed out that even U.N. tribunals trying people for war crimes did not provide for the death penalty.

Meanwhile, President Bush is trying to put the issue of weapons of mass destruction on the back burner. Iraq was invaded on the pretext of finding and destroying weapons of mass destruction. Bush had said that the war was a pre-emptive one and the rationale was the imminent threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Now the American President says that Iraq may have been only pursuing a weapons programme. In an interview to an American television channel in mid-December, Bush said the existence of the Iraqi programme was reason enough to justify the invasion. "If he (Saddam) were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger," Bush said.

In another pre-Christmas incident, a suicide bomber drove a vehicle and exploded it in front of an office of the Iraqi Interior Ministry in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil, a stronghold of the Kurds, resulting in many Iraqi casualties. Since the first Gulf War, the town has been under the control of the Kurds and their American allies. The resistance forces have signalled that they have the capacity to hit targets outside the "Sunni triangle". As the violence escalated, American forces continued with their aggressive military assault against the resistance. House-to-house searches and targeted killings have become the norm, alienating even more Iraqi civilians and non-combatants from among the Americans. The American military tactics are very similar to those being used by the Israeli army against Palestinians in the occupied territories. The latest American military operation in Iraq, code-named "Operation Iron Grip", used helicopters, aircraft and batteries of field guns against Iraqis even in Baghdad.

On Christmas eve, massive explosions and gunfire could be heard in the capital throughout the night. Most of the American firepower was directed against the southern district of Baghdad, a stronghold of Saddam loyalists. The shower of rockets that were sent by the insurgents as a Christmas present for the occupation forces showed that Iron Grip and the earlier Operation Iron Hammer were not all that successful. Paul Bremer narrowly escaped a bid on his life when Rumsfeld was on a visit to Iraq, in the third week of December. A bomb exploded near Bremer's convoy, and that was followed by small arms fire. The resistance forces have kept up their attacks on oil installations and pipelines. The Americans have not been able to restore regular power supply. People have to wait for hours to get petrol. The crime wave shows no sign of subsiding. Even the puppet Iraqi interim governing council has said that the occupiers devote more resources to their own safety than to the task of restoring normalcy in Iraq.

Saddam's capture has no doubt been welcomed by large sections of Iraqis, especially the Shias and the Kurds. There were celebrations in many Shia neighbourhoods in Baghdad. There is growing confidence in the Shia elite that with the incarceration of Saddam, the last hurdle towards the goal of ultimate power in Iraq has been removed. In a bid to reassure the Americans, top-ranking Shia clergymen, such as the Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Said Al-Hakim, have pledged that they do not aspire to form an Iranian-style theocratic government. While going out of their way to be accommodative of American security interests, the Shia leadership based in Najaf has strongly indicated that it will not be satisfied with anything less than the Presidency of Iraq. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the pre-eminent Shia cleric in Iraq, has asserted through an edict that only Iraqis elected through a popular vote can write a new Constitution. The Bush administration had earlier planned to ghost-write a constitution as General Douglas MacArthur did in occupied Japan after the Second World War.

Observers of the West Asian scene are of the opinion that the Bush administration has very little room for manoeuvre in Iraq. If it opts for federalism, it would annoy the Shia community, which has been patiently waiting for power. If the Bush administration makes concessions to the Sunnis, there will be a regime that will be a Ba'athist one for all practical purposes but without Saddam at the helm. The Bush administration may ultimately prefer a Sunni-dominated authoritarian regime to a popularly elected Shia-dominated government. Once in power with a popular mandate, a Shia-dominated government will no longer be submissive to American diktats. Experts of the region feel that a Shia-dominated government would be unsympathetic to the interests of Washington.

Retired American General Anthony Zinni, who was a former command chief of all U.S. Forces in the Persian Gulf, said recently that Iraq was "in serious danger of coming apart because of lack of planning, underestimating the task and buying into a flawed strategy". He told The Washington Post that America's "policy, strategy, tactics, et cetera, are still screwed up". The guerrilla tactics being successfully adopted by the Iraqi insurgents, like the use of donkey cart missile launchers and truck bombs, have disoriented the American forces and put them on the defensive. American military advisers in Iraq now talk of adopting a new strategy that "will pit terrorism versus terrorism". This strategy seems eerily similar to the one that the Ariel Sharon-led Israeli government has adopted in the occupied territories.

Banking: the new FDI frontier

The acquisition drive by foreign banks presages a significant change in the institutional structure of the Indian banking system with far-reaching implications.

THE presence of foreign players in India's banking sector is set to increase. As the competition unleashed by financial liberalisation squeezes margins and forces banks to build their bottom line by expanding the volume of their business, a process of consolidation in the banking business seems inevitably under way. And since financial liberalisation has permitted an increase in the stake held by foreign investors in Indian banks from 20 to 49 per cent, the expectation is that this consolidation would also see an increase in the presence of foreign banks in the domestic market.

Foreign banks have existed in the domestic market, with some like Citibank and Standard Chartered (which through a global arrangement acquired ANZ Grindlays in India) having seen a substantial expansion of their operations in recent years. But these have largely been in the nature of subsidiaries with a focus on corporate and merchant banking. The presence of these banks in the retail market has been limited. However, the new liberalised environment, in which entry conditions are easier and profits depend on expansion, is seeing a change in strategy.

The most recent indication of this was Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation's (HSBC) acquisition in early December of a 20 per cent stake in UTI (Unit Trust of India) Bank from the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC). HSBC is understood to have bought the 20.08 per cent stake from two private funds - 12.37 per cent from CDC Financial Services (Mauritius) Ltd and 7.71 per cent from the CDC-controlled South Asia Regional Fund. Though this was a transfer from one foreign investor to another, the implications were significant because HSBC is a foreign bank looking to expand its presence in the Indian market. UTI Bank's Chairman and Managing Director P.J. Nayak optimistically declared that he believed that HSBC's picking up stake in the bank was "an investment" and that UTI Bank would prefer to remain a standalone bank.

But there are a number of factors that militate against this prsopect. First, HSBC's stake is likely to exceed 20 per cent soon since it would, as per Securities and Exchange Board of India guidelines, have to make an open offer to other minority shareholders, and could end up acquiring another bunch of shares. At the time of acquisition the shareholding pattern of the bank included the following players: Citicorp Banking Corporation 3.83 per cent, Chryscapital 3.83 per cent, Karur Vysya Bank 1 per cent, South Asia Regional Fund 7.71 per cent and 16.91 per cent with the public. Second, if acquisition aimed at realising economies of scale is an objective that is driving banking strategy in India then HSBC would have an interest in merging its operations with UTI Bank. When such considerations lead to a reverse merger even between ICICI and ICICI Bank, it would be naive not to expect it to happen with the more aggressive foreign banks, if circumstances permit.

Third, indications are that the government would be soon revising upwards the cap on foreign shareholding in private banks from the prevailing 49 per cent (raised from 20 per cent in 2001). In a reply to Parliament on December 16, Finance Minister Jaswant Singh said that the government has in principle decided to enhance the limit of foreign direct investment (FDI) in banking companies. This, he felt, would invite greater foreign investment in private banks. Though he did not indicate any fresh limit, the government had announced in its 2003-04 Budget that non-resident equity in private banks could be raised to 74 per cent. In fact, this is known to have triggered the interest of foreign banks in the acquisition of a stake in private Indian entities. Finally, other experiences suggest that once the acquisition process begins in a particular bank, it is bound to continue.

A classic case is that of the acquisition of a stake by ING Bank in Vysya Bank. The ING Group initially acquired 54.36 lakh fully paid-up equity shares of Rs 10 each of Vysya Bank, representing 23.99 per cent, from GMR group. These shares were purchased by its wholly-owned subsidiary - Banque Brusells Lambert (BBL) Mauritius Holdings. In September 2002, following the revision in the foreign equity cap in banking to 49 per cent, ING increased its equity share to that level. Since then the effort has been to convince the government to permit an increase in equity holding initially to 51 per cent, so as to ensure full Dutch control and then to 74 per cent, as and when the new regulations announced in the 2003-04 budget are put in place.

There is no reason to expect that HSBC's strategy would be any different. In fact, when recently asked whether HSBC's stake in UTI Bank would increase, Niall S.K. Booker, CEO, India Region, HSBC, reportedly said: "Quoting Mark Twain, let me say, as facts change so will our opinions." On a more cautious note he indicated: "The legislation would have to change and there should also be shareholders' consent from the Indian promoters, UTI, Life Insurance Corporation and General Insurance Corporation for HSBC to increase stake. The FDI limit should ideally be lifted to 74 per cent and voting rights should be aligned with it." Voting rights are currently restricted to 10 per cent.

Based on the premise that such expectations regarding policy would be realised, there is a growing interest in private bank acquisition by foreign firms. Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) is at an advanced stage of discussions with the Global Trust Bank (GTB) to pick up 49 per cent equity holding. DBS has thus far just one branch in Mumbai, which is primarily engaged in the corporate and treasury businesses. Similarly, Bank Muscat is reportedly merging operations with Centurion Bank.

THE acquisition drive by foreign players is increasing the pressure on other banks, including the public sector banks to look to business expansion, capital infusion and mergers. There is talk of a merger of Ashok Leyland Finance with IndusInd Bank and the entry of Reliance Capital into the banking business. These marriages between non-banking financial companies (NBFC) and banks are problematic inasmuch as the existing law does not impose any obligation on the part of either the bank or the NBFC to seek the Reserve Bank of India's approval before filing the scheme of amalgamation in the courts. This, RBI Governor Y. Venugopal Reddy admitted, is a lacuna that needs to be redressed and RBI has proposed amendments to the Banking Regulation Act, which require that amalgamation of an NBFC with a banking company is on the same lines and requires the same clearances as the merger of two banking companies.

The spate of mergers has resulted in a rise in the value of bank stocks, with investors expecting to make a profit when any acquiring institution makes an open offer. The speculative factor cannot be ruled out here, as indicated by a number of large "block deals" in shares of banking companies. In early December, on a single day there occurred block deals in ICICI Bank stock valued at Rs.700 crores. That was possibly the largest transaction to take place in any one scrip on a single day. There were four deals involved: one for 15 lakh shares, the second for 1.99 crore shares, the third for 40 lakh shares and the last for 9.98 lakh shares. A total of around 2.63 crore shares of ICICI Bank were traded in these transactions accounting for 4.28 per cent of the bank's equity.

A few days later, as many as 20,00,800 shares of Global Trust Bank changed hands in the Bombay Stock Exchange in a single transaction. Overall, as many as 35,94,686 shares were traded on BSE at a value of Rs.10.09 crores while 28,65,546 shares changed hands on the National Stock Exchange amounting to Rs.8.09 crore. These transactions occurred at prices that were the highest they had touched over a whole year.

Thus, clearly, trading in bank shares, often through proxy buyers, is on the increase, indicating strong buyer interest. While those looking for speculative gains are partly responsible, the whole process is being driven by the interest in acquisitions that accompanies the consolidation wave in the banking sector. That consolidation has been unleashed by the process of liberalisation, which is also easing the conditions for entry of foreign players and paving the way for foreign acquisitions of private Indian banks. While these changes are currently restricted to the private banks, changes in policy are likely to see the process affecting the public sector banks as well. In the months to come, therefore, a significant change in the institutional structure of the Indian banking system is likely.

These developments are occurring at a time when the build up of reserves owing to large inflows of foreign capital is leading to a substantial relaxation of restrictions on foreign exchange utilisation. With a much larger international network, foreign banks would be in a position to facilitate foreign exchange transactions to a much greater degree, exploiting the loopholes available under the diluted regulations governing foreign exchange use. This would render the fine distinction the government makes between partial and full convertibility difficult to sustain. Since the resulting larger outflows are not likely to be covered by foreign exchange earnings alone, India's dependence on foreign capital inflows would be substantial. Unfortunately the full implications of this would emerge only when unforeseen conditions generate a climate encouraging capital flight. But, as experience the world over indicates, that would be too late.

Osteoporosis risk high in India

the-nation

Interview with Prof. John A. Eisman.

"With every major osteoporosis fracture, the risk of death doubles. Yet it is not taken seriously the world over," says Professor John Allan Eisman, Director, Bone and Mineral Research Programme, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, and Professor of Medicine, University of New South Wales, Sydney. One of the first researchers to identify the gene that causes osteoporosis, Prof. Eisman has written over a hundred research papers in international scientific journals. He is on the editorial board of several international scientific journals, including the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research and Osteoporosis International. He has held several prestigious international positions including as Chairman, Department of Endocrinology, St. Vincent's Hospital, Sydney; and Fellow, Swiss National Fund at Bern, Switzerland (along with Prof. Herbert Fleisch). Eisman, who was in Chennai to attend an international conference, spoke to Asha Krishnakumar on the causes, effects, incidence, treatment options and cost of osteoporosis. Excerpts from the interview:

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is the thinning and weakening of the bones that leads to their breaking even with minimum force. It is not a disease and you do not get it suddenly. People with osteoporosis may have a fracture (of the arms, legs, wrist, hip and spine) and it heals normally. But then they have more and more fractures and the incidence increases as they get older. Of course, normally bones get weaker as one grows older and the risk of fracture increases. But if one starts off with bones not very strong - that is, osteoporosis - then the risk of fracture gets higher.

And, most important, after almost all these fractures, the person's risk of death increases significantly. We do not understand the reason yet, but for almost all osteoporosis fractures the person's risk of death doubles compared to that of a non-osteoporosis person of the same age and similar circumstances.

What are the symptoms of osteoporosis?

Absolutely nothing until you break a bone. It is something like cholesterol, which can be high but you have no symptom until you have a heart attack or you drop dead.

How can it be diagnosed?

Sometimes it can be seen on an X-ray when there is a lot of bone loss. Then there are techniques such as bone densitometry, with which the density of the bones can be measured. This gives a good index of the risk.

We measure the bone density and find out how far it is away from normal ones. About every 10 per cent away from the normal, the risk of fracture doubles; 20 per cent away, the risk is four times; 30 per cent away, the risk is eight times; and so on. So, the risk increases dramatically as the quality of bones decreases.

What are the most common causes of osteoporosis?

It is so common in the world that it is hard to estimate the causes.

What is the incidence of osteoporosis? Does it vary with sex, age, ethnicity and environment?

The incidence, in general, is higher among women and older people. The reason it is lower among men is that their bones are bigger and hence less likely to break. And also, men tend to live not as long as women. But now as men also tend to live longer, the incidence among them is also increasing.

In Australia, women have a 50 per cent chance of having an osteoporosis fracture before they die. It is also quite common among men - one in three or four gets an osteoporosis fracture.

There are two interesting points about the disease in India - the high incidence among men and the lower age of peak incidence compared to Western countries.

Data suggest that the incidence of hip fracture - which is easily picked up by epidemiology studies as those with hip fractures end up in hospitals - is one woman to one man in India, while in places like Australia it is three women to one man. And in most Western countries, while the peak incidence of osteoporosis occurs at about 70-80 years of age, in India it may afflict those 10-20 years younger, at age 50-60. But we do not yet know why.

According to estimates, there are about 300 million people with osteoporosis in India. I suspect it may be more - over double the population of Australia. The evidence based on ageing population indicates that there may be a 50 per cent increase in the number of people with osteoporosis in India in the next 10 years. So, this is a huge problem in India.

What are the major risk factors in getting osteoporosis?

In any general population anywhere in the world, everything being the same, the biggest risk is genetic. A large number of those affected - maybe three-fourths - inherit it. General health appears to be important. In India, a large number of middle-class people have relatively low vitamin-D - nearly 70 per cent of the people have levels that in Australia would be termed as being severely deficient. A number of factors may be responsible for this. One of them may be the skin colour (pigmentation). As people become more affluent, they spend less time outside and hence have less exposure to sunlight. I am not sure if fog and pollution act as sunscreens.

The other suggestion is that people's calcium intake may not be particularly high. Though dairy products (which has a high level of calcium) are an important part of the food intake here, some people tend to become intolerant to lactose because of bacteria infection that causes stomach upset and move away from these products, and hence have low levels of calcium. Some start on soya drinks for reasons not entirely clear. But soya milk has no calcium in it.

The one thing that is very good for osteoporosis is physical activity. As affluence increases, people do much less walking, standing and so on. That may have an adverse effect and is a major contributory factor.

For women, there is a particularly important factor - menopause. During this phase, they lose bones rapidly for 5-10 years. Bones are like retirement fund. If you are in the upper part of the fund, then it will last you for life. But if you are in the middle or the lower part, you can run into problems quite early or have major problems if you live long enough.

Have the genes responsible for osteoporosis been identified?

Some have been identified. But these still only explain very little of the problem. So probably a range of genes are involved. These are not mutations or disease per se, but predispositions in some way.

How much of a risk does the environment pose?

It is important. But still it explains only part of the problem. There is a huge gap between what we know and what we don't. Probably important is the interaction between the genetic make-up and the environment.

Are there geographical or ethnic differences in the incidence of osteoporosis?

There are huge ethnic differences. In the United States, Afro-Americans have a relatively lower incidence than Caucasians. The Chinese have a slightly higher incidence. Whether these are all due to genetic differences, we do not know. A study in Europe showed the incidence of hip fracture to be very high in the Scandinavian countries compared to those in the Mediterranean nations. The difference was very big. In Europe, women have two-three times higher risk of hip fracture compared to men. In such places as Turkey, the incidence is low and the risk the same between men and women. We do not know why. So a man in a Scandinavian country has a higher risk of a hip fracture than a woman in Turkey and we have no explanation as yet for this.

What are the treatment options available?

There are lots of treatments now that are very well studied and shown to be effective and largely safe. For example, in the case of women, sex hormone replacement therapy can stop bone loss and even reverse it in part. This can also be maintained if the treatment is continued.

But there has been a lot of controversy the world over in using hormonal replacement therapy (HRT), particularly after the Women's Health Initiative study. What are your views on that?

Nothing is without side-effects. There is always an element of risk in whatever we do. There are a lot of studies - the Women's Health Initiative study, the Million Women study and so on - looking at risk factors in using HRT. These studies show that there is a small risk in the diagnosis of breast cancer - less than one in a thousand women a year. It is not a high risk. In the Women's Health Initiative study there was a clear reduction in all sorts of osteoporosis fractures, including those of the hip. But based on a composite index of all the data that researchers thought were important, the Women's Health Initiative study concluded that there was no advantage of being on HRT. But the researchers had left out almost all osteoporosis fractures while working out the index. If one looks at the study, one would think that patients were dying and hence they had to stop the study. But if you look at the mortality graph from the study, it was noticed that HRT and the placebo were virtually identical. But if you read the study you would think that taking HRT is such a dreadful thing. I think it is more because of misinterpretation of the data.

However, I think it is best to inform patients about HRT and let them take an informed decision. I have (osteoporosis) patients who have been taking HRT for 15-20 years and are very happy. They do not want to take a chance (and discontinue).

Are there other options apart from HRT?

There are a group of drugs called SERM (Selective Estrogen Receptive Modulators) that have a protective effect on the bone.

What precautions or preventive measures can be taken against osteoporosis?

In youth, it is important to have good physical activity, good intake of calcium, enough exposure to sunlight, no smoking and so on. Women around menopause should be thinking about hormone replacement for both symptoms and to some extent protection. This should be the case particularly if the woman has a family history of osteoporosis. Getting a bone density test done is a good way of knowing the risk. As women get older, there are drugs such as SERM that seem to have a protective effect on bones.

As you get older, the bones get worse. Another group of drugs - bisphosphonates (Ilendronate and Risresidronate) - only work on the bones. If you take an injection, half of it goes to the bones and the rest gets excreted. These drugs are very good at slowing the loss of bones as they get older. In fact, the bone improves a bit.

How can bones improve as you get older?

Bones are constantly changing. They are constantly being removed and replaced. Half your whole skeleton is replaced every 10 years. The body constantly monitors it, working where there are weaknesses by removing and repairing it. It is like the maintenance programme that is always on. The problem is that as one gets older the rate of this process seems to increase and the ability of the body to replace what is removed has not kept pace. That is why there is bone loss as one gets older. In the case of women, the rate of this process increases during menopause. Things like hormone treatment and SERMs seem to slow this rate of removal and allow the bones to replace enough; improve a bit, and then maintain it. There may not be huge improvement, but certainly some improvement. All studies show that this is enough to reduce half the risk of fractures.

We cannot take a 70-year-old skeleton and make it look like a 30-year-old one. But we can put back about 10 per cent if somebody has lost 20-30 per cent of the skeleton compared to when they were younger. This is consistent with many different agents. This can reduce the risk of almost every sort of fracture depending on the drug used. Clearly, there are things that work and are effective.

Until very recently we did not have any drug to treat someone who has lost a lot of bones. Now, Teriparatide, an injection given once a day, is prescribed for 12-18 months. This is a variation of a normal hormone we all have, called the parathyroid, which, with continuous high levels (during some diseases) leads to the loss of bones. With the injection every day, the bones actually improve at a much better rate than with any other treatment. This dramatically reduces the risk of bone loss. But if you stop it, then you start to lose the bone again. Then in most situations the patients follow other treatments such as bisphosphonates to retain and maintain what you got.

Thus there are immense treatment options today than there were a few years ago. For people in India and in most other countries, we have to think of the simple vitamin D from sunlight, tablets or injections as the solution.

The best way is to concentrate on children around puberty or just before and make sure they get a lot of physical activity, enough sunlight, adequate calcium and so on, so that they get better bones that would help them later in life - like a better bank balance compared to what their capacities are.

Do these treatment methods have side-effects?

Nothing comes without side-effects. People have reported bad cases of ulcer with the use of bisphosphanates that are now used once a week and have to be taken in a very specific way. With SERMs, people have reported clots in the legs. This is not a big risk. But people have got to know the risks.

How expensive are the treatment methods?

It depends on the treatment options. But more than cost considerations, the fact is that people do not take osteoporosis seriously as it is generally thought of as an old age problem particularly prevalent among women. I think it is a lousy neglect of human rights. That is why I think India can lead the world in this as osteoporosis occurs here earlier and also affects almost as many men as women. So India should see the need to deal with it urgently.

The siege within

The growing opposition within the Punjab Congress(I) to Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and the developmental crisis in the State are likely to prove costly for the party in the next elections.

IN the face of a successful enemy offensive, most parties close ranks and dig in. For reasons they best understand, dissidents within the Congress(I) in Punjab have chosen to charge out of the trenches - and are now trying to lynch their commanding officer.

The inner party insurrection against the leadership of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has, if nothing else, illustrated the deep discontent and lack of direction that bedevils the Congress(I) in States where it is in power. The course of the rebellion is still unclear, but it has succeeded in crippling the Congress(I)'s ability to rule the State. Key dissident Ministers, notably former Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, have studiously ignored appeals to resume attending their offices. Efforts by Amarinder Singh to build bridges with Bhattal, who describes the Chief Minister as her "brother" in public, have come to nought. Bhattal's camp followers have refused to attend party rallies addressed by the Chief Minister, and are threatening to stay away from this year's Jor Mela, a key religious festival where all major parties set up platforms.

Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi's sphinx-like silence on the issue has not helped matters. Neither Amarinder Singh nor Bhattal has gone public with the substance of their discussions with her, although early signs are that the Congress wants to avoid a split in the party that could encourage dissidents in other State units. "If we let things get out of hand," says a senior All India Congress Committee (AICC) member, "the same thing will start up in the handful of other States where we are in power."

So far, all Sonia Gandhi has achieved is to ensure that the dissidents have left her home, and gone back to Punjab. However, outright warfare continues in the State. Dissidents and loyalists have held parallel strategy counsels over breakfasts and dinners; the State police's intelligence wing is working overtime to watch who is meeting whom; and the regional media is feasting on the party's embarrassment.

On the face of it, the efforts of the dissidents to unseat Amarinder Singh when the party faces a crisis of national magnitude makes little tactical sense. The dissident assault has centred around discrediting the Congress (I)'s anti-corruption offensive against the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders. Top Congress(I) legislators have accused the Chief Minister of corruption - a charge that is unlikely to serve the party well in the next round of elections in Punjab.

All of this begs the question why the dissidents chose to revolt in the first place. At least some of their grievances are personal. Technical Education Minister Mohinder Singh Kaypee, for example, has accused Amarinder Singh of ignoring "the kin of those senior Congress(I) leaders, who were killed by terrorists for waging a battle against the menace of terrorism in the State" - a reference to former Chief Minister Beant Singh's politically ambitious relatives. Underlying this melee, however, are serious questions of political substance.

BHATTAL, who has emerged as a key emblem of the rebel vision of what the Congress(I) should be, has one major personal reason to revolt. Shortly after she stepped down in 1997, making way for the SAD government led by Parkash Singh Badal, Bhattal is alleged to have engaged in serious financial malpractices. On the eve of demitting office, the new government alleged, Bhattal had drawn Rs.20 lakhs in cash from the Chief Minister's Relief Fund. The cash was not properly accounted for, leading to allegations that it had been misappropriated. Although SAD leaders first levelled the allegations, it was under the Congress(I)'s rule that criminal proceedings were eventually initiated, and Bhattal now faces trial.

From an early stage, Bhattal came to believe that Amarinder Singh was using his official power to push the trial more energetically than usual. When the party came to power last year, Bhattal refused to accept any office other than that of Chief Minister. Eventually, she backed down and accepted a Cabinet position after some unsubtle arm-twisting from the party leadership in New Delhi.

It is now clear that Bhattal never reconciled herself to playing second fiddle, and was merely biding her time until an opportunity came to take a crack at the top job.

As the criminal case proceeded apace, Bhattal's resentment grew. The party's debacle in the recent Assembly elections provided Bhattal just the right opportunity. Claiming to enjoy the support of 33 of the party's 64 MLAs, mostly long-standing party apparatchiks, Bhattal marched to 10 Janpath, and demanded that the Chief Minister be deposed forthwith. Amarinder Singh responded with claims that he had the backing of 40 MLAs, and pointed to the complete folly of a top-level leadership change at a crucial juncture. The argument seems to have won the day, at least for the moment.

Prior to its defeat at the hands of the SAD in 1997, the Congress(I) changed Chief Ministers twice following inner party revolts in the wake of the assassination of Beant Singh. Bhattal's defeat at the hands of the SAD was in no small part the result of fissures within the Congress(I).

No one, however, believes that the battle has been settled. Bhattal, who proclaimed before journalists in New Delhi that she would not return to Chandigarh until the Chief Minister had been deposed, is tacitly pushing for a compromise that would give her control of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee. This would ensure that she has considerable influence in handing out the party ticket for the Lok Sabha elections next year, and a chance to expand her constituency among the MLAs. Should this compromise be realised, the Congress(I) would go into the Lok Sabha elections next year with one half of the party pitted against the other half. In such a scenario, it is unlikely that the Congress(I) will be capable of repeating its signal success against the Bharatiya Janata Party-SAD alliance in 1999.

SHORN of personalities, however, the Congress(I) MLAs' revolt is in some senses an uprising of the party apparatus against the Chief Minister. Amarinder Singh, in true palace style, ruled through a narrow circle of confidantes, principally his information adviser, Bharat Inder Singh Chahal, and Principal Secretary Sanjit Sinha. Many within the Congress(I) charged Chahal and Sinha with restricting access to the Chief Minister. Fairly or otherwise, Congress(I) dissidents have also accused the Chief Minister's courtiers of using their influence to amass wealth. Bhattal claims that the Chief Minister not only repainted his family palace in Patiala after taking office, but also repaid a long-pending Rs.2-crore loan with funds that were acquired mysteriously.

While there is no evidence to substantiate the allegations, there is a widespread feeling among the Congress(I) that a small group of individuals has appropriated the patronage associated with office. Amarinder Singh has sought to contain the damage by removing both Chahal and Sinha, but the move has done little to suppress dissident anger. Even vocal Amarinder Singh loyalists, such as Cabinet Minister Pratap Singh Bajwa joined the campaign against Chahal and Sinha.

It is unsurprising, then, that so many eminent old-time figures in the Punjab Congress(I) have thrown their weight behind Bhattal. Former Union Ministers Raghunandan Lal Bhatia and Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder have endorsed her effort to unseat Amarinder Singh. Former Member of Parliament Umrao Singh joined the assault. "If within two years, the Chief Minister has lost the confidence of those who were given tickets to contest the elections by him, what about the general public?" Umrao Singh asked.

For all of Amarinder Singh's anti-corruption energy, the Chief Minister's developmental vision has been limited. Schemes to replace the paddy-wheat dyad with the contract farming of high-value crops have gone nowhere; even if they did, a thin section of the upper peasantry alone would benefit. There have been few creative efforts to forge village- and district-level linkages between agriculture and industry, and still lesser effort to spread the wealth of the countryside evenly. A welter of Dalit protests in recent months has convinced many that the Congress(I)'s most abiding supporters may be preparing to jump ship. Neither the dissidents nor the SAD has shown any more clarity of vision than Amarinder Singh, but being his detractors they can capitalise on the developmental crisis under his regime.

As things stand, the revolt has done not a little to cheer the SAD, which has been battered by the recent incarceration of Prakash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir Badal on charges of corruption. Badal has been demanding that Bhattal's allegations against Amarinder Singh be investigated; Umrao Singh's assertions that the current regime is as corrupt as its predecessor have also brought cheer in the SAD camp. Unless the Congress(I) starts addressing the real issues facing the party, the SAD will be laughing all the way to the hustings.

The silent disease

Although the incidence of osteoporosis is high in India, lack of awareness about the disease delays diagnosis and preventive treatment.

OSTEOPOROSIS, literally meaning "porous bones", is the breakdown of bones, which together constitute the hardest part of the human body. Over 300 million people suffer from osteoporosis in India without realising that every osteoporosis-related bone fracture doubles the risk of death.

What causes osteoporosis? Minerals mix with water to form a hard cement-like substance called hydroxyapatite. Calcium is its principal ingredient. Calcium also plays an important role in transmitting signals to nerves and muscles and is therefore important in regulating the heart rate, muscle contractions, blood pressure and other bodily functions. To keep these functions regulated, the calcium in the blood must be maintained at a certain level. When it drops to a very low level, the body replenishes it with calcium from the bone - a living and growing tissue composed of a network of collagen fibres inlaid with calcium and phosphate.

`Resorption', the process of releasing calcium from bones into the blood, results in the breakdown of bones. By another process called `formation', the bones get rebuilt. Together, the two processes constitute bone remodelling. The continuous remodelling cycle serves to supply the body with the calcium it needs and maintains the skeleton structure and strength by replacing old bones with new ones. When formation exceeds resorption, the bone mass increases. When resorption takes place faster than formation, there is a loss of bone mass. Continued excessive bone loss leads to osteoporosis.

During the early years of life, formation is greater than resorption and the bone mass increases. Maximum or peak bone mass is reached around the age of 30 in a healthy adult. After that, resorption is faster than formation and the bone mass decreases. While gradual bone loss is normal to aging, it is those who fail to achieve optimal peak bone mass and/or those with accelerated bone loss who are at the greatest risk of osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is defined in terms of standard deviations from the average peak bone mass. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines osteoporosis as a bone mineral density (or bone mass) that is 2.5 standard deviations below peak bone mass. Those with standard deviations of 1-2.5 below the norm are said to have osteopenia or low bone mass. Individuals within one standard deviation below the norm are considered to be at low risk of osteoporotic fracture.

Bone fracture is the biggest risk for osteoporosis patients. Any bone can be affected, but the most serious ones are fractures of the hip and the spine. Over 20 per cent of people with hip fracture die owing to resulting complications, while 50 per cent of those who survive end up with a permanent disability. Spine fractures can reduce the height of people by 30-40 cm and after one spine fracture, the risk of fractures goes up dramatically.

Every year, over 1.5 million fractures are caused by osteoporosis - of this, more than 3,00,000 are fractures of the hip and 7,00,000 of the vertebrae. On an average, one in two women and one in eight men over 50 years of age will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime. But in India, the incidence is even higher - one in three-four women and one in six-eight men get osteoporosis before the age of 50. More women die of osteoporosis fractures than of breast and ovarian cancers put together. Osteoporosis fractures occur 10-20 years earlier in Indians compared to people in Western countries. The incidence of the disease among men is also higher than in Western countries.

Unfortunately, osteoporosis shows no symptom and is often diagnosed only after a fracture, by which time the patient may have suffered considerable bone loss.

According to experts, osteoporosis is just not calcium deficiency. It is a combination of the loss of the organic matter in the bone, which gives it elasticity, and the inorganic matter, made up of substances such as calcium and phosphorous, which gives it strength. In the early stages osteoporosis is painless and hence it is often called the "silent disease". But as it progresses, it causes back pain and, after some time, curving of spine and loss of height, and then frequent fractures. Though osteoporosis can be slowed, the associated bone loss cannot be made up beyond a certain level.

Osteoporosis fractures lead to significant lifestyle changes. They can greatly reduce a person's independence, quality of life and even survival rate. Fractures of the spinal vertebrae, called compressions, cause progressive change in the shape of the spine and the back; the vertebrae may even collapse without any warning. A person may lose height or develop a pronounced curvature of the spine, known as a "dowager's hump". The fear of fracture raises the risk levels of even such simple pleasures of life as walking, dressing or shopping. This can lead to depression and other psychological problems.

The most reliable method to measure bone mass is the dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, or DEXA, scan. A modification of DEXA, called peripheral DEXA or pDEXA, measures bone density in the wrist. A radiation-free technique that has been developed recently is quantitative ultrasound, which measures bone density of the calcaneus (heel) bone.

Since the genetic make-up is the main factor behind the disease, some people are more likely to develop osteoporosis than others. While 30 per cent of those who have osteoporosis have no identifiable cause, there are two types of risk factors - "internal" or uncontrollable, and "external" or controllable. The internal factors, or those that occur naturally, include thin or small body frame; early estrogen deficiency that occur in women who reach menopause before the age of 45 and premenopausal women with amenorrhea (absence of menstrual cycles); low testosterone levels or androgen deficiency in men; gender (women are at higher risk) and old age; ethnicity and race (Asians, native Americans, white Hispanics and white non-Hispanic women are at highest risk); and family history.

The "external" factors are those that result from certain lifestyle choices that reduce calcium and vitamin D intake. These factors include sedentary lifestyle; cigarette smoking (tobacco lowers estrogen levels in women and may have a similar effect on sex hormones in men); excessive intake of alcohol, which can interfere with the absorption of nutrients needed to preserve bones; excessively caffeinated beverages, which can lead to calcium loss; eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, which can lead to inadequate intake or excessive elimination of bone-building nutrients; prolonged use of certain medications such as gluco-corticoids, a group of anti-inflammatory medications used to treat conditions such as asthma, arthritis and some cancers, and excessive intake of medications such as thyroid hormone and some anti-convulsants, which can lead to bone mass loss.

PREVENTION of osteoporosis is a life-long effort that has to start from childhood. One of the most important factors in preventing osteoporosis is achieving optimal peak bone mass during childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. Much of the peak bone mass achieved is determined genetically. However, there are several controllable factors that can increase bone mass. These include a balanced diet, adequate intake of vitamin D and calcium, and exercise.

According to experts, vitamin D is said to be the `key' that unlocks the door to the body to let calcium in. Without vitamin D, the body cannot use calcium well even if it gets enough of the mineral. The exact optimal daily dose of vitamin D has not been determined, but most experts recommend 400-800 IU of vitamin D daily; less than 400 IU a day does not lead to full benefits from calcium while more than 800 IU a day can be harmful. Accumulating a life-long bank account of calcium is the answer, and what is crucial is to build on this "bank account" early.

The social functions of eating

JAYATI GHOSH columns

The combination of diversity and plenty, along with unequal distribution, has created food habits that increasingly threaten community life and human health.

OF all the cultural symbols that humanity has acquired, appropriated and developed over millennia, those around food must be the most potent. This is not only because food is necessary for human survival, since so many other necessities have not been accorded the same degree of interest through history and across societies. The human fascination with eating comes from the complex association of people with food - the apparently contradictory facts that it can be a source of pleasure or peril; that it can be a social signifier, a means of bonding or separation. Quite simply, more than anything else in the material world, food is what matters to most of the people most of the time.

This may explain why there has recently been a spate of books on the social history and anthropology of food. One of the most erudite yet approachable of such books, Food: A history by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto (Macmillan 2001), makes an elegant case for considering the social history of food in terms of the great changes that have unfolded over time, sometimes in leaps and sometimes through a combination of hesitant and intermittent modifications.

Fernandez-Armesto identifies eight major "revolutions" in the relationship of humanity with food. These revolutions, according to him, all had stuttering starts, long unfoldings and enduring reverberations, and were not consecutive, but overlapped in time in complex ways.

The first revolution was the invention of cooking, which Fernandez-Armesto declares to be "an inaugural event in the history of social change". Of course, cooking itself is ultimately no more than an extension of prior forms of "treating" raw food prior to eating it, through such processes as drying or salting. Nevertheless, cooking is one of the peculiarly human activities, differentiating us from other animals - although there is little evidence to suggest that it is more than half a million years old.

The second revolution, according to Fernandez-Armesto, was the ascription of social "meaning" to eating - the notion that the process of preparation and consumption of food can be associated with ritual, magic, social and even political significance. Over time, people have developed all sorts of social attitudes to food. Some taboos tend to be widespread and long-lasting, even if not universal (such as that against cannibalism); other social attitudes are no more than ephemeral fads and fashions. In recent history, the tendency has been to give such fads the imprimatur of scientific justification, but the line between science and nonsense, or between objective physical effects and pure ritualistic/magical exhortation, is often hard to draw.

The third big change was the herding revolution: the domestication and selective breeding of edible animal species, which is argued to predate cultivation. The earliest identified form of animal husbandry was snail-farming, which still exists for an elite market. This implied a major shift from collecting food to producing it, but was nevertheless a "commonplace" innovation in that it seems to have occurred in different parts of the world and in very different human communities, not necessarily as a result of diffusion, but rather as a "natural" step in human evolution.

The fourth revolution, of course, was that of plant-based agriculture. The author argues that cultivation - managing plant life to generate food - was a mixed blessing, equivocal in its effects because it significantly increased the burden of work for those involved in cultivation while allowing much more food to be made available for the community as a whole. Arguably, agriculture laid the material basis for surplus generation and, therefore, exploitation of one group of people by another. It also led to massive colonisation of land and changes in conditions of terrain. The historical spread and eventual domination of some crops - rice and wheat, potatoes, sugarcane - also makes for a fascinating study.

We in India know only too well that food and eating practices are means and indices of pervasive social differentiation, but this is also something that has emerged historically, and is here described as the fifth revolution. Fernandez-Armesto traces a line of continuity from the probably palaeolithic origins of privileged entitlement in competition for food, down to the courtly and bourgeois cuisines of modern times. The rise of "gastronomy" was inextricably linked with social inequality, and both fastidiousness and excess have been associated with economic and social privilege.

The sixth revolution was that of long-range trade and the role of food in cultural exchanges which have had transforming effects upon societies. Food is not easily communicable between cultures, but there have been forces - war and colonisation, for example - that have been capable of penetrating cultural barriers and internationalising food. Imperialism has probably had the greatest influence in bringing about changes in cookery, and the tides of empire have flown in both directions with respect to food. The outward flow from imperial centres created metropolitan diversity and "frontier" cuisines at the edges of empire. With imperial retreat, there was the counter-movement of formerly subject peoples, who typically carried their cuisine with them. The consequent miscegenation has given rise to different types of imperially created cuisines, ranging from Turkish to Tex-Mex and Cajun to the Dutch-Indonesian rijstafel.

The "Columbian exchange" - the set of ecological transformations brought about by European voyagers infiltrating the western hemisphere - was the seventh revolution. It was especially revolutionary in that it actually altered the pattern of evolution of bio-species, which until the 16th century had followed a broadly divergent course on each continent. The linking of regions by sea routes and the introduction of species from one region into another, completely altered patterns of cultivation and animal breeding in each continent, and subsequently introduced new eating habits into all parts of the world. The subsequent emergence of what are now known as "national" cuisines was heavily influenced by this exchange, which was responsible for the cultivation of potatoes in Ireland, and chillies in India and Thailand, to name only two examples.

Finally, the most recent and still continuing revolution began through the effects of industrialisation in the 19th and 20th centuries. Mass production not only made farming in the developed world a conveyor-belt activity, but also transformed possibilities for processing and marketing on huge scales. The early examples of these were the industrially produced biscuits made famous by Huntley and Palmer, which achieved such international spread that the British Army that entered Kandahar in 1879 found an advertisement for these biscuits adorning the bazaar wall. Industrialisation was also responsible for many of the foods now customary to the world's culinary experience, such as the chocolate bar. Industrial and post-industrial technologies, most recently exemplified in the genetically modified agricultural products, have changed the possibilities of food production to such an extent that scarcity is no longer an issue at a global level. Yet, historically as in the present, abundance and waste have been counterparts of famines and deprivation. But the pervasiveness of hunger and the persistence of famines today have little to do with the technology of food production, and everything to do with patterns of distribution.

FERNANDEZ-ARMESTO points to a new tendency that might just have the potential to become the next revolutionary change in food culture, albeit not necessarily for the better. The emphasis that is currently placed in post-industrial societies, on convenience in food production and consumption rather than on its social attributes, has led to a shift in the social functions of food as well.

This is reflected in the rise of the prepared food industry and the microwave oven, which is presented as the "last enemy" of those who see food as the foundation of civilisation. This is because the communion created by the process of eating together gets broken by this device, which allows household members to escape from the necessity of eating together. As a result, the social cohesion produced by the first food revolution, that is, the companionship of the fire or stove or common pot or table, which have probably contributed a great deal to human collaborative living, is undermined, and even potentially shattered by the new individualistic pattern of food consumption.

At the same time, the combination of diversity and plenty, along with unequal distribution, have created food habits that increasingly threaten not just community life but also human health. Fernandez-Armesto does not write about this issue, but already by 2000 the World Health Organisation (WHO) had declared obesity to be of epidemic proportions and a growing threat to public health. In the United States and much of western Europe, more than half of the population is overweight and nearly one-third is obese, giving rise to a range of health problems, including life-threatening ones like heart disease.

The same trend is evident even in developing countries, especially developing Asia where the rich have altered food consumption patterns drastically to mimic those of the developed world. This is particularly worrying because Asians are more susceptible to the diseases related to obesity (such as diabetes and heart disease) than Caucasians.

Food cultures may be increasingly reflective of fast-paced and individualistic lifestyles in the West, but still this may be no reason for excess pessimism. In the rich world, there is already evidence of revulsion from the pressure to accept overly standardised cuisines and in most of the developing world food practices are far from atomistic. Finally, of course, food is simply too important to be left in the hands of the food industry.

A parting of ways

A new political alliance is taking shape in Tamil Nadu as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, angered by the State BJP's DMK-baiting and the National Democratic Alliance government's refusal to repeal POTA, quits the NDA.

THE stage is set for a realignment of political forces in Tamil Nadu to fight the Lok Sabha elections following the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's (DMK) decision to snap its ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the State. On December 20, the DMK decided to quit the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre and pull out its two Ministers from the Union Cabinet.

What prompted the DMK to strike at this juncture are reports that the BJP may advance the parliamentary elections to April or May. DMK president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi wants to use the time available to prepare mentally his party's cadre for an electoral alliance with the Congress(I), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India and the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI) and build up a campaign against the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the BJP. He would also like to use the time to drive a hard bargain with his alliance partners for a fair share of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in the State and one in the Union Territory of Pondicherry.

The Congress(I), the CPI(M) and the CPI have hailed the DMK's decision to snap its links with the BJP. CPI(M) State secretary N. Varadarajan exhorted two other NDA constituents from the State - the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) - to leave the NDA. State CPI secretary R. Nallakannu opined that the DMK's decision would be a turning point in State politics.

The DMK quit the NDA over the misuse of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) by the AIADMK government headed by Jayalalithaa. The DMK had been for a year demanding the repeal of POTA but the BJP continued to swear by it, straining the relationship between the two parties. But the bottom line is that the DMK wants to harvest the minority votes in the next elections. DMK district secretaries told Karunanidhi in unambiguous terms during a meeting on November 30 that the party would lose the Muslim and Christian votes if it continued to align with the BJP. (Muslims and Christians have a good presence in the southern districts of Ramanathapuram, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari). Senior leaders such as Ko.Si. Mani, Veerapandi S. Arumugam, Arcot N. Veerasamy and Karuppasamy Pandian said the DMK would gain nothing by remaining with the BJP. They told Karunanidhi that State BJP leaders had a predilection for the AIADMK and that the BJP cadre were averse to working with the DMK. In their assessment, although Muslims and Christians were unhappy with Jayalalithaa for her support to the uniform civil code and the building of a Ram temple in Ayodhya and for introducing legislation banning forcible religious conversion, the DMK would not be able to win their votes if it remained allied with the BJP.

The MDMK, with two Union Ministers, may follow in the footsteps of the DMK. The State police arrested MDMK general secretary Vaiko and eight other prominent party leaders under POTA in July 2002 for making speeches in support of the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). (The organisation has been categorised as a terrorist outfit under POTA.) Yet the MDMK is in a quandary about getting out of the NDA because it has a good relationship with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. Some MDMK leaders are hurt that the DMK did not consult them before deciding to quit the NDA. Another reason for the delay in the MDMK's decision is the reported hesitation of its presidium chairman L. Ganesan and Union Minister of State for Textiles `Gingee' N. Ramachandran to rush into the fold of the DMK. The MDMK is in fact a group that broke away from the DMK. Ramachandran is reluctant to quit his ministership. An MDMK leader said: "We have to be cautious in taking a decision on quitting the NDA. We have to respect our cadre's sentiments." Ganesan, M. Kannappan (MDMK treasurer and Union Minister) and Ramachandran have already held discussions with Vaiko, who is in detention at the Central Prison in Vellore.

The PMK, the third constituent of the NDA from Tamil Nadu with two Union Ministers has given itself time. Its political affairs committee, which met on December 25 under the chairmanship of Dr. S. Ramadoss, decided that N.T. Shanmugham and A.K. Moorthy will continue in the Union Council of Ministers. Although the PMK called Vajpayee a "more attractive coalition leader", it complained that the NDA government had failed to implement the litany of demands it had raised, which included the implementation of the interim order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, the convening of the Cauvery River Authority, declaring Tamil an official and classical language, reservation for backward classes in the private sector and implementation of the Mandal Commission report in full. Ramadoss expressed confidence that Vajpayee "will pay attention to these demands in the next 10 months and do justice to Tamil Nadu". He, however, dodged questions on whether the PMK would quit the NDA if the Vajpayee government failed to implement the demands.

Political sources said that the PMK was not averse to an alliance with the DMK but did not want to rush in because it was not sure about the number of seats it would be allotted. It has five seats in the Lok Sabha now and will not accept anything less.

The real sticking point will be the cohabitation of the PMK and the DPI. The two parties are sworn rivals and their cadre fight like Kilkenny cats in the alleys of the composite Chengalpattu (Kancheepuram district)-North Arcot (Tiruvannamalai and Vellore districts)-South Arcot (Villupuram and Cuddalore districts) region. DPI leader Thol. Tirumavalavan may not take kindly to the PMK's entry into the alliance.

Congress(I) sources confided that "high-level contacts" had been established for forging an alliance with the DMK. Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) president G.K. Vasan said he welcomed the DMK with "open arms". But the two parties are not yet ready to display their affection for each other openly because they fear that it will reduce their clout to bargain for more seats.

The sources said that the Congress(I) did not mind the MDMK and the PMK joining the proposed alliance even though these two parties are avowed supporters of the LTTE, which assassinated former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. They pointed out that the Congress(I), the PMK, the CPI(M) and the CPI were part of an alliance headed by the AIADMK during the State Assembly elections in May 2001.

The DMK's December 20 decision did not come as a surprise, for it was a fait accompli. The demise of Union Minister "Murasoli" Maran on November 23 merely speeded up the process.

Earlier, the DMK leadership had seized the draconian POTA as an issue with which it could whip the BJP. Although the DMK and the MDMK had supported the enactment of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance in Parliament in March 2002, they started ruing the decision after the Jayalalithaa government used it against political rivals such as Vaiko and Tamil Nationalist Movement founder P. Nedumaran and journalist `Nakkheeran' Gopal. Karunanidhi had repeatedly demanded the repeal of POTA, but top BJP leaders, including Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, BJP national president M. Venkaiah Naidu and Union Minister of State for Home I.D. Swamy, insisted that POTA had come to stay. Naturally, the DMK's patience was running out.

At a public meeting held in Chennai on July 11, 2003, to condemn the year-long detention of Vaiko, Karunanidhi was unusually harsh with the central BJP leadership. He said that if Vaiko and others did not come out of prison, "it remains to be seen who will come out" (hinting that the DMK would pull out of the NDA). Karunanidhi maintained that when it came to Tamil Nadu, the only language that the Centre knew was of silence. He characterised the relationship between the DMK and the MDMK as akin to the CPI(M) and the CPI. "I could have said between the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh). But that thought did not cross my mind," Karunanidhi said.

The DMK also nursed a grievance that the BJP high command had let down the DMK on crucial occasions. They include the Centre's refusal to transfer three police officers after the midnight arrest of Karunanidhi by the State police in July 2001, the BJP's refusal to scrap POTA, its recent stand that Jayalalithaa need not resign despite the Supreme Court's observation that "she must atone" for buying TANSI (Tamil Nadu Small Industries Corporation) property, and the Supreme Court's stricture that "there is a strong indication that the process of justice is being subverted" in the "disproportionate wealth case" against her (Frontline, December 19, 2003).

At the DMK conference in Villupuram in September, Karunanidhi announced that the party would picket the offices of the State and Central governments on December 1 to press for the repeal of POTA and to protest against their "anti-people policies", among other things. (The DMK later postponed the agitation to December 15.) Although cautioned by BJP national general secretary L. Ganesan that "it will hurt the relationship between the BJP and the DMK", the DMK went ahead with the agitation.

Unwittingly, Venkaiah Naidu, who has a soft corner for the DMK, gave the DMK a chance to get out of the NDA. He remarked on December 14 in Chennai that the DMK "being in the (Central) government and going on agitation" was "not an ideal situation" for the coalition partners to be in, and that there was no constitutional crisis in Tamil Nadu under the AIADMK government. Both these observations angered Karunanidhi, and he seized the opportunity. The DMK M.Ps had submitted a memorandum to Vajpayee on December 3, complaining about the breakdown of the constitutional machinery in the State and drawing his attention to the Supreme Court's strictures in the disproportionate wealth case against Jayalalithaa.

Karunanidhi described the December 15 agitation, in which 1.5 lakh DMK workers were arrested, "a mammoth success". He alleged that Venkaiah Naidu's observations had "an ulterior motive" and announced that the DMK did not want its Ministers to remain in the Union Cabinet after creating a situation that was not ideal for the alliance. He said: "When they say it is not an ideal situation, it is not a word that can be tolerated."

On December 20 the DMK's high-level strategy committee recommended that its two Union Ministers, T.R. Baalu and A. Raja, resign and the DMK quit the NDA. "We are not members of the NDA. We are its supporters," Karunanidhi said. He promised issue-based support to the Vajpayee government. An anguished Venkaiah Naidu denied that his remark had any ulterior motive.

Karunanidhi laid the blame for the DMK's decision squarely at the doorstep of the State BJP. He said: "The BJP men in Tamil Nadu kept ridiculing and deriding the DMK. A very important reason (for our leaving the NDA) is the Tamil Nadu BJP. This decision has been taken only on the basis of the situation in Tamil Nadu. The Central BJP leaders also fell victim to the situation in Tamil Nadu." Karunanidhi said the DMK also did not like some of the policy changes at the national level. These included those on the Ayodhya issue. Also the BJP's denial that Vajpayee had upheld workers' right to go on strike as democratic upset the DMK.

A DMK leader said: "Not a day passed without the BJP ridiculing the DMK. They crossed the limit in doing so." A BJP legislator even claimed in the State Assembly that he had received the green signal from the party high command to get closer to the AIADMK . All this despite the central BJP leadership viewing the DMK as a dependable ally. The DMK began to perceive a pro-AIADMK tilt among State BJP leaders when they participated in the "annadhanam" (free feeding) scheme in temples inaugurated by Jayalalithaa in March 2002.

What hurt the DMK high command was L. Ganesan's remark that while the BJP had "friendship" with the DMK, it had a "relationship" with the AIADMK.

Karunanidhi retaliated by terminating the DMK's ties with the State BJP, maintaining that the party would, however, continue in the NDA. "We have neither a kinship nor a relationship with the Tamil Nadu BJP," Karunanidhi said.

The DMK brushed aside L. Ganesan's plea at a condolence meeting on November 30 for Maran that the relationship between the two parties should continue. The DMK signalled its reluctance to stay in the NDA when Vajpayee had a telephonic conversation with Karunanidhi and when Venkaiah Naidu asked the DMK to nominate a DMK M.P. for ministership in the place of Maran. Another straw in the wind was Karunanidhi's refusal to call off the December 15 agitation.

BJP State general secretary G. Kumaravelu provided another opportunity for the DMK to harden its stance, when he remarked on November 27 that the BJP had kept both the DMK and the AIADMK at an "equal distance" and that "the BJP has not taken any decision not to align with the AIADMK". Kumaravelu annoyed the DMK further when he maintained that Jayalalithaa need not resign despite the Supreme Court's observations against her. Reacting to Kumaravelu's remark, Karunanidhi said he would not view the comment lightly because he had information that it had been made with the BJP high command's clearance.

L. Ganesan, C.P. Radhakrishnan and legislator H. Raja tried to repair the damage but ended up provoking the DMK further. Ganesan and Radhakrishnan explained away the faux paus, saying that as long as the DMK remained in the NDA, the BJP would not align with the AIADMK. The DMK had announced that it had no relationship with the Tamil Nadu BJP, they said. "It was on that count that Kumaravelu said the BJP was keeping both the DMK and the AIADMK at an equal distance. But Karunanidhi read new meanings into it," they argued. Raja, normally a DMK-baiter, contributed his bit - he characterised the DMK as "an alliance partner" and the AIADMK an "Opposition party". However, he also implied that the DMK had shared political platform with the BJP's sworn rivals such as the Congress(I), the CPI(M) and the CPI.

Karunanidhi said that there were two important reasons for the DMK's decision to break its ties with the State BJP. One was that State BJP leaders heaped praise on Jayalalithaa's statement that political leaders who issued statements of condemnation whenever members of minority communities were victims were silent on the "barbaric crime" perpetrated in Godhra on kar sevaks. The BJP leaders ignored Karunanidhi's statement condemning the burning of 60 kar sevaks. Secondly, the BJP leaders welcomed the RSS resolutions in Bangalore, which went against the interests of minority communities.

The AIADMK is watching the developments. While the State BJP leaders would like to do business with the AIADMK because of its pro-Hindutva stance, Vajpayee is not enamoured of an alliance with Jayalalithaa. It was the AIADMK, which toppled his government in 1999. Political observers feel that at the most, there could be a seat adjustment between the AIADMK and the BJP.

Questions of strategy

SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN world-affairs

The World Social Forum to be held in Mumbai could pose key challenges of strategy and tactics before the movement since the globalisation project in its economic, political and military dimensions is plunging rapidly towards a point of inflection.

OPEN platforms can on occasion be invaded by unwanted guests. During the 2002 session of the World Social Forum (WSF) at Porto Alegre in Brazil, a group of senior World Bank officials arrived at the main venue "demanding" the right to address the diverse gatherings present. They were told that the forum, though open, did not see any utility from their particular brand of policy advocacy. Leaving in high dudgeon, the officials of the World Bank pronounced their "banning" a denial of free speech. The Economist of London, a consistent media voice arguing the case for globalisation, took up the theme, commenting that the WSF, though growing in size, was certainly not gaining in influence.

Between January 16 and 21, Mumbai will host the 2004 edition of the WSF, the fourth in an unbroken sequence since 2001 and the first outside the city of its origin. Preparations for the event are already enveloped in a vigorous debate over the role and relevance of the forum. There are dismissive suggestions that the WSF is a mere "talking shop" that produces a great deal of rhetoric but no substantive plans of action. Undiscriminating in its choice of participants and overly accommodative in its methods, the WSF has become a platform for a wild congeries of political tendencies. No concrete or useful political strategy is likely to emerge from its deliberations, since it chooses not to distil out a central message from all the views articulated.

Among the organisations that have sought a place under the MR 2004 banner are significant farm unions such as the Bharatiya Kisan Union and the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha. The Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha and other movements, propelled in the main by an assertion of tribal rights, have also signed up, as have unions from certain of India's free trade zones. The international participation includes a clutch of organisations from the Philippines. A number of the participants though have little by way of known public credentials and chose only to establish their identity through the well-trodden themes of "resistance", "revolution" and "anti-imperialism".

The principal vice of the WSF in the perception of the MR 2004 is its alleged captivity to the NGO bureaucracies. "NGOisation" as a pejorative has been tossed about a great deal in recent debates on the relevance of the WSF. In grappling with the phenomenon, many participants in the WSF choose to take a robustly pragmatic approach. Walden Bello, founder and director of Focus on the Global South, admits to receiving organisational funding from at least 20 donors, including Oxfam and the Ford Foundation. But he sees no conflict between the character of the donors and the mission of his organisation, which was one of the recipients of the alternate Nobel Prize in 2003. He enforces institutional autonomy through a number of principles - limiting every funding agency to less than 20 per cent of the total budget, ensuring that there are no strings attached, declining all contributions from the U.S. government or its agencies and considering every offer on its inherent merits.

The programme schedule for WSF 2004 includes conferences and panel discussions that are directly funded by the WSF secretariat and a number of other events financed by participant organisations. Between them, these cover a vast range of issues, including militarism, war and peace, the media, the control of natural resources, women's oppression, social exclusion based on race, ethnicity and class, finance and development and the environment. MR 2004 offers the same menu, though on a less elaborate scale and it seeks to emphasise its essential difference by appending the term "imperialism" to each of these themes.

This difference for MR 2004 is more than terminological. The WSF is, in the perception of the anti-imperialist campaign, a "safety valve" for globalisation and its discontents, not a real challenge to the system. The WSF charter includes an explicit disavowal of violence, which in the perception of more militant outfits, hobbles it in a confrontation with the violence - both implicit and explicit - of imperialism. More damaging still, in this reading, is the openness of the WSF to dialogue with the missionaries of globalisation in an effort to reform the system from within. Indeed, MR 2004, in explaining its mission, quotes extensively from a World Bank document which regrets that "many of the organisations involved in WSF are still opposed to any constructive dialogue with the IFIs (international financial institutions) or economic policy makers". Although there has been a minor shift in attitudes over the years, the World Bank is unsure whether WSF 2004 "will break with that pattern". Without betting anything on that happening, the World Bank nevertheless is hopeful that the WSF "will mature enough to become a movement that influences the scope and pace of economic globalisation", by engaging with "decision-makers in government and in multilateral institutions" and proposing "more concrete, and rigorous, alternative policies and approaches".

Although the World Bank has never been a donor to the WSF, other major non-governmental funders such as the Ford Foundation, the Heinrich Boell Foundation, Oxfam and ActionAid have. This has posed a thorny issue before the forum. If it were a purely NGO-driven affair, the WSF would undoubtedly have devised one variety of answer. But from its inception, the body has shown fairly sharply-honed political reflexes. The potential for schisms has been inherent in the nature of the WSF since its inception. But divisive issues and questions are, by deliberate intent, not confronted directly since the main purpose is to share experiences of struggles against globalisation. As the WSF matures though, these questions would acquire greater salience and demand specific answers both in theory and practice.

WSF 2004 has dealt with the problem, though not in its entirety. Without directly entering the fray - since that would violate the WSF proscription on explicitly political organisations - the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has through organisational affiliates and individuals sought to limit the dependence on major donors from the countries that are seen to be driving the globalisation project. This has meant that the Ford Foundation and other institutions with similar ideological predilections cannot hope to influence the deliberations at Mumbai, except through subtle proxy action. This strategy was articulated by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechuri in a recent intervention in the debate. The party, Yechuri asserted, has nonetheless chosen to be part of the WSF process since it has an interest in influencing the ideological debate and resisting the tendency to mystify the quest for alternatives and undermine the viability of the socialist programme.

THE WSF has its origins in an alliance between French and Brazilian opponents of globalisation, who brought different concerns into their mutual engagement. Provoked by the mid-1990s crisis of the French public sector and the Asian financial meltdown of 1997 - both of which were in some manner connected to the shrinking of sovereign national policy space and the growing influence of international financial institutions - the French monthly journal Le Monde diplomatique in December 1997 ran an editorial proposing a global movement to tame international financial flows. The device that was chosen as the centrepiece of this advocacy was the tax on speculative financial transactions proposed by the American economist and Nobel laureate James Tobin. Taking his cue from Robert Aldrich's 1956 war movie Attack, Ignacio Ramonet, the editor of Le Monde diplomatique, proposed the name ATTAC for his movement. An appropriate expansion for the acronym was then crafted, which when translated from the French, would read Association for the Tobin Tax in aid of the Citizens.

ATTAC carried out its initial campaigns at the annual gathering of the World Economic forum at Davos. But the odds were heavily against it. The necessity for an alternate venue and forum was discussed between ATTAC campaigners and activists of the Brazilian Workers' Party in 2000 and settled in a matter of minutes. Their quest had been greatly galvanised by the demonstrations that carried a powerful political message through to the missionaries of globalisation at the Seattle Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organisation in 1999 (Cover Story, Frontline, December 24, 1999). The choice of Porto Alegre, capital of the Brazilian province of Rio Grande do Sulas, as the venue followed soon afterwards, since the Workers' Party controlled both the municipal and the provincial administrations. In June 2000, at the conclusion of the U.N. Social Summit in Geneva, the deputy governor of the province launched an appeal for convening a social forum at Porto Alegre. Propelled by the spontaneous enthusiasm of campaign groups that were by then fatigued and disillusioned by the endless ritualism of U.N.-sponsored conclaves, the WSF came to life within a phenomenally brief time period of six months. The first gathering was funded in the main by the city and provincial governments at Porto Alegre and by a host of international donor agencies.

Successive gatherings of the WSF since have attracted ever larger participation. But by 2003, the limitations imposed by the unchanging venue and fixed norms of funding and participation were beginning to be apparent. The Asian Social Forum, held in January 2003 in Hyderabad, was in this sense, the dress rehearsal for shifting the venue of the WSF to India (Cover Story, Frontline, January 31, 2003). The final choice of Mumbai followed an intensive scrutiny of rival bids.

The Mumbai gathering will confront the WSF with new challenges. After the first WSF, Naomi Klein, author of the anti-globalisation tract No Logo, characterised its deliberative processes as "so opaque that it was nearly impossible to figure out how decisions were made". At the second session, participants were often approached by media people who were keen to find out where the "11th floor" was. This elevated venue was allegedly where all the key deliberations were being conducted and the final documents being prepared.

At the same time, the scholar Michael Hardt has characterised the WSF as "unknowable, chaotic, dispersive", embracing an "overabundance" that "created an exhilaration in everyone, at being lost in a sea of people from so many parts of the world who (were) working similarly against the present form of capitalist globalisation". These very characteristics of the forum, in particular its "overflowing quality", created the "euphoria of commonality" and meant in effect that "differences and conflicts" could not be confronted.

The debate preceding WSF 2004 clearly shows that the euphoria is now giving way to more mundane questions of strategy. How the WSF engages with this question will determine much of its future course. In its charter of principles, the WSF specifies that it "does not constitute a locus of power to be disputed by the participants". But differences in perception may not remain submerged for much longer in the euphoria of meeting and pooling experiences. Participants are now acutely aware that for all the inclusive and open character of the forum, there are smaller and more compact bodies that try to bring some coherence to the activities that encompass a breathtaking diversity of themes and involve participants in their thousands. To a great extent, the early turbulence over WSF 2004 could be ascribed to dissonances over the manner in which these smaller bodies are constituted and conduct their deliberations. Even if the funding agencies do not show their hand in the public events, their interests and perceptions are likely to feature strongly in the smaller caucuses where key decisions are made.

WSF 2004 could bring these issues more prominently into the foreground. It could also pose key challenges of strategy and tactics before the movement since the globalisation project in its economic, political and military dimensions is plunging rapidly towards a point of inflection. But neither the WSF nor its more "radical other" is likely to offer definitive answers in part because they are dealing with a false dichotomy. As the renowned historian and "world systems" theorist Immanuel Wallerstein has put it: "An anti-systemic movement cannot neglect short-term defensive action, including electoral action. The world's populations live in the present, and their immediate needs have to be addressed. Any movement that neglects them is bound to lose the widespread passive support that is essential for its long-term success. But the motive and justification for defensive action should not be that of remedying a failing system but rather of preventing its negative effects from getting worse in the short run. This is quite different psychologically and politically."

`It is a serious situation'

other

Interview with Medha Patkar.

With BJP governments in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the odds seem to be stacked against the people of the Narmada valley as well as the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and its work. NBA activist-leader Medha Patkar spoke to Lyla Bavadam about the implications of Madhya Pradesh, the State in which all the dams except the Sardar Sarovar are located, having a BJP government. In a television interview many years ago, Uma Bharati,the new Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, when asked who she considered a formidable foe, had replied "Medha Patkar". The activist merely smiled when asked about that. Excerpts from the interview:

You have already written a letter to Uma Bharati. What have you conveyed to her?

I have told her that she should not take a decision without talking to us. I have said that we are sure she would like to take a decision in the interest of the people as well as the State. And if that is to happen, then she must have a dialogue with us, especially since the officials have been feeding in false data. If the Chief Minister came and saw the ground realities, she would find that thousands of families are not yet rehabilitated but on paper they are shown as resettled and rehabilitated. She should also not presume that people's movements are just fighting for the sake of fighting. I would also tell her of the temples and mosques of the valley that are ages old. They are an integral part of the culture of the valley and need to be saved. Displacement and other issues need serious and urgent review.

When did you write to her? A few days after she took over. Any reply? I expect one.

Uma Bharati has said that she wants to make Madhya Pradesh another Gujarat. Was this statement a matter of concern for voters in the valley?

We did bring this statement up in the local forums but finally it is the people who have to make the decisions. The BJP was clever enough to say that they were referring to development and not to the communal angle. Now practically every area has cast a vote in favour of the BJP. Even the Adivasi vote, which has traditionally gone to the Congress, went to the BJP. The Jhabua Hindu Sammelan created an atmosphere that helped utilise the identity crisis that the adivasis are facing. The ground was prepared by bad economics, wrong development policies and displacement issues. The seed that was finally sown was not cultural, it was communal. The Congress could not counter it.

From your perspective, what went wrong in these elections?

(Gujarat Chief Minister) Narendra Modi and (Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister) Digvijay Singh were together on the Narmada issue. That was the main compromise that Digvijay Singh made. People in the Narmada valley believe that it is because of his betraying us that he had to go. We tried to tell him that we are a part of the secular force but when I wrote to Sonia Gandhi about the whole situation some months ago, Digvijay Singh responded by saying that there is no difference between communal and secular in the matter of Sardar Sarovar. I had written back saying it was not so. Many people who have betrayed the NBA have been wiped out politically - Sunderlal Patwa, S.C. Shukla, T.N. Seshan, Motilal Vohra... especially those who supported us initially and then changed their position. The Congress did not bother to gather all the secular forces in the State. Of course the Congress also had a lot to answer for. Our mass bases could have stood up and questioned many actions of the Congress. And though we did speak in the villages about communal forces, the local masses were completely against the incumbent... it was an anti-incumbency vote.

The BJP put aside Hindutva and concentrated on development as an issue. So it knew clearly where to hit Digvijay Singh.

Yes, that played a huge role. Power, water, employment, displacement, farmers' issues, organised sector issues, infrastructure - all these played a role. Development has become a two-edged sword. They are not defining development. When we speak of infrastructure, the farmer does not want highways. He is looking for small connecting roads. Development right now is defined through rhetoric. But both development and governance are just electoral issues. They will not be translated into reality. The issues are politicised. I don't know whether this is a good thing or not.

Did you experience any positive outcomes of Digvijay Singh's decentralisation policies?

His policies were very well drafted but he ended up following a globalisation model. People did not know whom to fight since the seat of power is neither in Bhopal nor in Delhi. It is in Washington. The only way the people can express themselves is by taking out their anger and frustration at whoever is in a position of power and is accessible to them. That is what happened and will happen in the coming days.

Has the Gujarat government used Digvijay Singh on the Narmada issue?

As far as energy and power are concerned, he was advised by many that since power was becoming an electoral issue he should blame the NBA's opposition to the dams. So he blamed us openly. First he came to a bargain with Modi. Then he puts the power scarcity problem on to us and linked the Sardar Sarovar/Maheshwar issues. He did not look into the reality and dug his own grave. Yes, he was used by the Modi government. The first thing that Digvijay did was to let Modi take water to Rajkot, with which Modi won his election. That water reached Rajkot only for 17 days - just those crucial pre-election days. Then it was diverted into the Sabarmati. The people of Rajkot protested and were given water from the Mahi river. Digvijay had given clearance for projects in Madhya Pradesh on condition that some other projects be started in the State. He hoped to get credit for them but he didn't even get that. The credit for Omkareshwar [dam] went to Uma Bharati and Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee.

This kind of bargaining didn't work well for him. He had no need to ally with Vajpayee and Modi especially when he knew their politics. When Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister L.K. Advani visited the Sardar Sarovar dam site, he listed the BJP's achievements. He had said 1998 was the year of the nuclear test, 1999 Kargil and 2000 Sardar Sarovar [the Supreme Court judgment in favour of raising the height of the dam]. Digvijay should have lobbied and allied with Rajasthan and Maharashtra on the dam issue, instead of getting entangled in the politics of the BJP.

It was not always like this. Digvijay Singh was quite an accessible Chief Minister initially. When did things start changing for the NBA in Madhya Pradesh?

It was after the Supreme Court's judgment in 2000. Digvijay said that the judgment compelled him to take a different stand. That was not the case at all. He chose to change his position and we realised that after many attempts to talk to him. Every attempt at meaningful dialogue would end in an illogical conclusion with him referring us to the bureaucrat in charge or the Deputy Chief Minister. We wondered what had happened and what had turned him into such a different person. Then we realised that it was related to Modi's election. Modi was to stand for election from Rajkot on January 23, 2002. On January 7, Digvijay, Modi and Vajpayee had a meeting from which even Vilasrao Deshmukh (Maharashtra Chief Minister) was excluded. They made a bargain and Digvijay Singh agreed that the NBA and other mass movements were no good for political interests. This is despite the fact that in the last election, the Congress won the entire valley from Bargi [dam] to the Nimad regions [lower reaches of the river where the Maheshwar and other dams are proposed to be built]. And yet Digvijay took this sort of a stance.

Clearly there is more to it.

The problem is that he turned in favour of globalisation while our clear stand against globalisation meant that we had to criticise him. That really used to hurt him. We always used to have dialogue with him. He knew what we were thinking and what we believed in. Once the matter of big corporations came up in our talk. He told me that I could question him if he invited Enron to the State and then he said, "Please don't question Reliance." I asked him how he could expect us to do that and then he said loudly: "Oh! I have to make a choice between Medha Patkar and globalisation." I said, "No, you have to make a choice between globalisation and people's power." That used to be a favourite term of his - people's power. So, the point is that he has had corporate linkages all through. This is the sad point about electoral politics. Every single party needs to have some link with corporate powers if they want to survive. And that is why even those politicians who support us ask us the question: "Do you want us to come to power or not? And if you do, then don't be so rigid about corporate participation.' That is the kind of message we are getting. Corruption in elections is a result of this kind of corporatisation. We question it because it has serious impact on land, water, forest rights. It is killing the democratic process and bypassing the sovereign indigenous agencies and monitoring agencies. That is what we are fighting. We aren't just fighting some capitalistic idea in the air. It has concrete implications for the whole development planning process, people's roles and rights and in their share of development, planning and choice of technology.

Digvijay Singh could have used people's power to fight the election. He could have used the alternative approach of gathering together all the angry, agitated masses and taken them with him to fight those centralised decisions. But his globalisation perspective took him on another path. His ideology was confused. He said he was against big dams and was in favour of small dams. At the World Water Forum, he made a statement that water first belongs to the community and that in Madhya Pradesh no water project is built without community involvement. And then he comes back and implements policies that are clearly guided by the principles of globalisation. He had only one goal and that was to retain power.

What is the next step?

It is a serious situation. Not just because of a change of government but because the Congress and the BJP both have the same perspective on large dams. At the Narmada Control Authority's (NCA) recent meeting, they presented completely fake Action Taken Reports (ATRs) and this has become a matter of routine. No official agency has visited the valley in so many years. Some junior officials of the NCA made a brief trip to check entitlements and it was clearly established that the official ATRs were wrong. Our people have surveyed the area and have the full data. Our team went twice. When individual cases of rehabilitation were looked at, it was found that people who had shifted 20 to 30 years ago had still not got their entitlements. So now we are providing data to the government. Even though there is a complex situation with the authorities, the law is on our side. We will continue to use the legal system to make our case.

Dalit anger in Haryana

Spontaneous expressions of Dalit assertion are reported from across Haryana following the State administration's silence over the issue of the missing Dalit sarpanch of a village in Rohtak district.

in Rohtak 20040116002703701jpg

SERIOUS questions have been raised in Rohtak and the rest of Haryana about the State government's indifference towards the increasing atrocities against Dalits. Although instances of attacks on this section of society are not new, only recently have Dalits begun to express their anger. The latest incident involves the mysterious disappearance since October 12 of Karan Singh, an elected Dalit sarpanch of Pehrawar village in Rohtak district. The administration has kept a studied silence in the matter despite an atmosphere of increasing unrest.

On December 21, a "Mahapanchayat" of concerned citizens was held in Rohtak, where several political parties, barring the Congress(I), the ruling Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the Bharatiya Janata Party, condemned the growing atrocities against Dalits and demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry into the case of the missing sarpanch.

While the absence of a reaction from the INLD is understandable, it is amazing that the main Opposition party in the State, the Congress(I), should maintain silence. Congress Legislative Party leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda belongs to Rohtak.

For over two and a half months now, Dalit organisations and some political parties have been agitated over the issue of the disappearance of the sarpanch. But it appears that there is more to the story.

Pehrawar is dominated by Brahmins. Around 800 Brahmin families and 100-odd Dalit families live in the village. Needless to say, it is the Brahmins who wield more social and political clout in their village.

According to Bharpai Devi, at 10 p.m. on October 12, her husband was taken away by some members of the Brahmin community for a meeting at a dairy. He never returned. Karan Singh, village residents said, was under pressure for a long time from a Brahmin organisation called the Gaur Brahmin Shikshan Sanstha, to "gift" away 20 acres (eight hectares) of prime shamlat land. Another influential group had been pressuring Karan Singh not to oblige. The sarpanch was caught in the dispute. Surinder Mallik, a State committee member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said the sarpanch was not obliged to give away any such land without a two-thirds majority of the panchayat. Mallik said that it was quite likely that the sarpanch had become a victim of State-level political tussles. While the president of the Sanstha owes allegiance to the Haryana Vikas Party (HVP), the other faction is allied with the INLD.

What was most shocking was the reluctance of the administration even to take cognisance of the fact that the sarpanch was missing. On October 16, after making several enquiries regarding the whereabouts of her husband, Bharpai Devi went to the police to file a First Information Report. The Station House Officer (SHO) allegedly refused to register it. She named the persons who had taken away her husband but the SHO appeared uninterested. He reportedly told her that the villagers had assured him that the sarpanch would return. Bharpai Devi, who is a Class IV employee in the State government approached political parties and Dalit groups. On October 17, she met the District Commissioner along with members of the Ravidas Samaj Mahasabha, where the officer gave "strict instructions" to the Superintendent of Police and the SHO to take immediate action. But no action followed. (Incidentally, SHO Vijender Sharma had reportedly suggested that she use "Tantrik Vidya" to locate her husband.)

An FIR was registered on November 25 after a massive protest demonstration was held and a memorandum was submitted to the Governor.

Fearing that the sarpanch may have been murdered, various organisations came together to form the Pehrawar Sangharsh Samiti, which included the CPI(M) and other political parties. "We took recourse to such action only after we suspected foul play," said Inderjit Singh, State secretary of the CPI(M).

Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala visited the village on November 4 under the "Sarkar Aapke Dwar" or "government at your doorstep" programme. The matter of the missing sarpanch was not allowed to be raised at the meeting. Neither was Bharpai Devi allowed to meet the Chief Minister. "It is surprising that the Chief Minister did not ask for the sarpanch. Evidently, he must have been informed about his disappearance, but he chose to remain silent about it," Inderjit Singh said. Bharpai Devi eventually managed to get an audience with the Chief Minister, but Chautala, without even glancing at her complaint, handed it to the Deputy Commissioner.

Bharpai Devi realised that nothing was going to happen, as she had already made several rounds of the offices of the D.C. and the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP). "I must have gone at least ten times to the offices of the D.C. and the SSP. Every time they said that the investigations were on. The persons I named in the FIR are roaming freely in the village and they taunt me that nothing will happen to them," said a tearful Bharpai Devi.

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With her husband "missing", she fears for the lives of her children. She said that since the last panchayat elections in 2000, when her husband was elected sarpanch, the dominant castes in the village had been pressuring him to sign some resolution or the other. "They would never wait for a panchayat quorum but instead force him to agree to their unreasonable demands."

It was at this juncture that an action front was constituted comprising Left organisations, the Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJSP) and the Ravidas Mahasabha. After the FIR was registered, representatives of the CPI(M) and the LJSP met the D.C. whose response was hardly encouraging. While the D.C. and the SSP were both unavailable for comment, the Deputy Superintendent of Police, M.I. Khan, said that these groups were making caste factor an issue. He said that investigations were on, and that the sarpanch had a record of "disappearing". "We have interrogated the people named in the FIR but in the absence of any concrete evidence, we are unable to do anything," he told Frontline. He also did not believe that atrocities against Dalits had gone up in the State.

This is not the first time a member of the lower caste has gone missing in Pehrawar. In 1998, a young Kumhar woman, Mohini, was kidnapped, gang-raped and murdered by upper-caste youth. For a long time, no FIR was lodged and the police maintained that she had "run away" with somebody or that her family, being poor, must have sold her off. An agitation was launched and it was later revealed that some village youth had allegedly murdered her and thrown her body into a canal. Finally residents of the village along with the CPI(M) cadre, searched for the body and found the remains. Forensic tests revealed the corpse to be that of Mohini. The family of the woman, isolated and humiliated, left the village, Surinder Mallik said.

Harassment of Dalits appears to be a regular phenomenon in the village. Recently, the carcass of a buffalo calf was found in the well used by Dalits. "Not only was our well polluted, but we were forced to take the blame for that," said Bharpai's son who is studying law. Dalits were forced to build a separate temple as Brahmins resented and resisted their entry into the village temple.

Pehrawar is not an exception. A few months ago, a woman Dalit sarpanch was dragged by the hair and beaten in public at Gandhra village in Rohtak district. The victim of a conflict between dominant caste groups in the village, she was being pressured to take decisions in favour of one particular family. Similarly, in Kharkhara village, en route to Meham, a Dalit woman was dragged through the village at pistol-point and raped. The family had to agree to compromise and no case was made out against the culprits. In Harsola, Kaithal district, some 200 families that were attacked fled their homes. They were later pressured into withdrawing the cases registered under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

Said Ram Mehar, convener of the Action Front: "It is not an issue just of Karan Singh. It concerns the issues of dignity and self-respect." LJSP State president Shamsher Singh said it was baffling that no statement had emerged from the Home Ministry on the incident. "This issue is discussed not only in Rohtak but all over Haryana," he said. Even in the Kharkhara rape case, he said only LJSP and CPI(M) leaders had visited the village and forced the administration to take some action. The Congress(I) did not even issue a statement.

Karan Singh may not be found at all. But the fundamental problem in the latest episode as well as other previous incidents involving Dalits is the partisan role played by the administration. There is also a growing feeling that major political parties are reluctant to view such incidents with the seriousness required.

On the other hand, spontaneous expressions of Dalit assertion are reported from the State. D.R. Chaudhary, a leading academic and social activist, said a growing sense of frustration among Dalits could be sensed despite the lack of organised resistance. Apart from the caste factor that militates against them, the use of relatively new technology in agricultural operations has affected the livelihood of this community. Used to working in fields owned by the dominant castes, Dalits have been deprived of work with the advent of machines like combine harvesters.

It was only last year that the State was shaken out of its stupor by the lynching of five Dalit youth in Duleena village in Jhajjar district. None of the police persons present at the time of the lynching was held accountable. The accused were released on bail after they tendered an apology, and they were given a heroes' welcome. The memories of Duleena are still fresh in the minds of Dalits and for them, the Pehrawar incident is yet another instance of indifference and discrimination by an elected government.

`No possibility of popular intervention'

other

Interview with Chittaroopa Palit.

A graduate of the Institute for Rural Management at Anand, Chittaroopa Palit has been associated with the Narmada Bachao Andolan for a long time. She is well respected for her knowledge of local issues, understanding of local politics and ability to rally people. The NBA activist, based in Madhya Pradesh, responded to an e-mail questionnaire by Lyla Bavadam.

Digvijay Singh projected decentralisation, power, roads and other infrastructure plus good governance as the achievements of his government, but were they just well-drafted paper policies or were they actually implemented?

As for power, roads, other infrastructure and good governance in Madhya Pradesh, they were completely non-existent. He took huge loans from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for power ($350 million) and a separate loan for roads, but nobody knows how the money was used. Digvijay Singh's dalliance with anti-people reforms and multilateral institutions like the Department for International Development or DFID (the British government department responsible for promoting development and reducing poverty), the World Bank, and the ADB and his indifference to people's expectations are what brought his government down. However, panchayati raj was a very sound innovation, as was the extended role for women. And these did give a great deal of power to the people to take many decisions at the gram sabha level, to receive revenues from activities in the village, and generally feel empowered as village-level decision-making mattered. The experiment was limited in practice not by its democratic reach but by corruption. Because the sarpanches were identified with corruption, the Congress was unable to raise the panchayati raj issue effectively in their campaign. Uma Bharati has already cancelled the zilla sarkar which had, despite its corruption, provided a transparent decision-making body - the Zilla Yojna Samiti that was composed of elected representatives and officers. Now the decisions will be taken politically but with no transparency. Therefore there is no possibility of popular intervention. We also hear that the BJP is planning to cancel all the gram panchayats although how they will do that now in the light of the constitutional provisions is beyond me. Maybe they will identify the Congress panchayats and bring them down on charges of corruption. There is likely to be a great deal of harassment.

Uma Bharati put aside the issue of Hindutva and concentrated on good governance and infrastructure development in her campaign. Now there is talk that Togadia will visit Madhya Pradesh though during the election campaign, he had been kept away. It looks like development and governance were just electoral hype. What do the people feel about this?

Of course, that is what the BJP will do, that is their agenda. They will come in on development issues and then bring in Hindutva issues so that people will not question them on whether they have failed or succeeded. This opportunism and hate politics have to be challenged and that is what people's organisations must do in the coming months.

Uma Bharati has already said that her priorities are to improve the power situation and to scrap the district planning committees. What does this augur for the work of the NBA?

We do not have any problem if she prioritises the power sector. After all, we have also been raising the issue. However, the way to reliable power in the State is not through big hydel projects. The successive droughts in the State in the last few years and the poor power production from hydel projects then has revealed the Achilles' heel of this form of power generation, apart from other problems. That and hydel project-related rehabilitation issues are what the NBA must emphasise in the coming months.

Do you think that Uma Bharati will implement a fair resettlement and rehabilitation? Just how much tougher has your fight become?

It is difficult to say at the moment what the response of the new government will be. Certainly, if they are interested in more electricity and water, they will have to be serious about the rehabilitation issues at the very minimum. The new Narmada Minister Anup Mishra has announced that Madhya Pradesh is not happy with the 110 m height of the dam which will benefit Gujarat because waters will come in at that level. Madhya Pradesh wants a full 138 m because that is when power will flow. However, he has said that rehabilitation is a big issue, in which Digvijay Singh failed and in which they, I presume, expect to succeed.

The politics of dams

The Digvijay Singh government in Madhya Pradesh paid the price for ignoring the demands of those displaced by the Narmada Valley project. Now, under a BJP government will there be a change in the resettlement and rehabilitation policy?

UNLIKE the Congress(I), which has waffled on the issue of the Narmada Valley Project, the Bharatiya Janata Party has always maintained that the dams will be built. Hence the coming to power of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh will have its impact on the activities of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), which is spearheading the struggle against the project.

All of the 30 large dams (the small and medium dams take the total to more than 3,000) save one, proposed to be built on the Narmada are located in Madhya Pradesh. The largest and the most controversial dam, Sardar Sarovar, is in Gujarat. A Supreme Court judgment in 2000 allowed the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam to proceed to 110 metres of its proposed ultimate height of 138 m. The BJP government in Gujarat hailed the judgment as "progressive". Work on the other dams had stopped because of lack of funds or had not been initiated because of opposition from the NBA.

A clear indication of the new BJP government's pro-dam stand is the announcement of Narmada Minister Anup Mishra that if the Sardar Sarovar dam is allowed to rise to its full 138-m height, Madhya Pradesh will be a beneficiary of the hydel power that will be generated from the dam. Further support for the dams is evident in the fact that work on the Upper Beda dam is scheduled to start; construction machinery was brought in immediately after the elections.

Of the other dams in the State, Narmada Sagar is almost ready. Impoundment started in November 2003, causing tremendous submergence in the upstream areas. The waters are still rising. In the downstream areas, the livelihoods and agricultural activities of riverine communities such as the Kewats, Kahars and Dhimars have been severely affected. Work on the Maan dam is almost complete, while work on Omkareshwar will begin soon. The foundation stone for the latter was laid by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee three months ago.

With BJP governments in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan, the three States that stand to benefit from the dams, the NBA will have a tough job on hand. (Maharashtra is the fourth State involved in the Narmada project.) A much higher level of consensus between the three governments is expected, and the NBA and the oustees will no longer be able to bank on inter-State differences.

However, says Chittaroopa Palit of the NBA, it can work both ways. "The BJP will also be aware, or should be made aware, that the defeat of the Congress(I) in the Narmada valley areas was because of the hostile attitude of the previous government towards the affected people in the dam areas."

Over the years, the Digvijay Singh government had perpetrated a series of injustices on the people of the dam-affected areas. It distributed cash compensation instead of land to Sardar Sarovar Project oustees. The Adivasis of Alirajpur tehsil in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh had sat through a month-long dharna in the summer of 2003 demanding agricultural land but the government did not pay heed.

The Congress(I) government refused to negotiate with the NBA on the dam issue. Instead, it persisted with attempts to resume work on the Maheshwar dam. Protests by the local people and the NBA resulted in police action and imprisonment of the demonstrators. The protestors also highlighted the financial irregularities on the part of the government.

The government also handled the Maan dam issue in a manner that Palit describes as "cruel and callous". It ignored the oustees' demand that the rehabilitation policy be implemented. The authorities even refused to meet them. The government severed electricity connections, bulldozed school buildings and sealed hand pumps at the height of summer. The 29-day protest fast in 2002 by the affected people and NBA activists elicited an indifferent response from Digvijay Singh, who told the press: "How can I help it if these people die?" The fast was ultimately called off and the government established a Grievance Redressal Authority. But almost immediately afterwards, it evicted the people of Khedi-Balwadi village near the Maan dam.

The Congress(I) government extensively used the services of the special armed forces in evicting people in the mega dam Indira Sagar (formerly Narmada Sagar) area, bulldozing village after village, denying land-for-land compensation and indulging in large-scale corruption in the cash compensation and valuation processes.

Meanwhile in mid-August this year, with the rains in full force, Panthiaji, the first village to be affected by the new Omkareshwar dam, was evacuated. It is true that both Omkareshwar and Indira Sagar dams are Centrally controlled and hence the State government was not entirely to blame. But this did not diminish the State's role in the violence and the failure to rehabilitate people. The voters certainly recognised this fact.

But Palit points out: "I must also qualify that the Congress leaders directly involved in the Narmada projects did not lose. For example, Subhash Yadav, former Narmada Minister won, as did Jamuna Devi, Deputy Chief Minister, who consistently spoke up for Sardar Sarovar Project. So did Rajnarayan Singh of the Indira Sagar Project area."

To a great extent, the Congress government, by its failures, handed the State to the BJP on a platter. Digvijay Singh failed to develop any infrastructure, refused to buy available electricity from other States, and increased electricity costs by 800 per cent.

Palit says: "He was hostile and tyrannical to poor people's struggles, including those by the NBA, and he consistently supported industrialists and gave them huge tax subsidies amounting to hundreds of crores - Rs.150 crores to Coca-Cola and Bajaj alone - while he cut off all single light connections of lakhs of consumers who were consuming something like 1.5 per cent of total electricity. He chose to follow the reforms agenda. For example, in the power sector he followed the Asian Development Bank's agenda. The ADB conditionalities led to power tariffs being increased by 800 per cent, and 50 per cent of all electricity connections of farmers - that is, six lakhs out of 12 lakhs - in the State being cut off as a result of these high tariffs."

In the previous election, most of the valley had voted for the Congress(I). This time, even villages that were with the NBA voted for the BJP. It was not a manifestation of no-confidence in the NBA, Palit claims. "I don't think the NBA's influence has diminished, but what were we to do? Hold brief for a completely ineffective and tyrannical government? So we left it to the people and they voted against the Congress(I) government," she says. With smaller parties unable to provide an effective option to the voters, the BJP became their only alternative.

Palit believes that in the coming months the people of Madhya Pradesh will learn or relearn that the BJP is no better than the Congress(I). This government may even be different from the Sunderlal Patwa's BJP government of 1991 because the communalisation of Madhya Pradesh is far from complete, though the communalisation of Adivasis has taken place to a great extent.

In troubled waters

Greenpeace campaigners on board their ship Rainbow Warrior, on a Corporate Accountability tour, get into a conflict with the Indian authorities.

WHEN Rainbow Warrior began its tour of India in November, the international crew on board the ship expected the usual resistance and conflict that Greenpeace campaigners had come to expect from government and other authorities. But what greeted the team on their return to Mumbai from a visit to Gujarat appalled even the most experienced campaigner.

On the ship's return from the ship-breaking yards at Alang in Gujarat, it was at first denied entry into Mumbai port by the Customs authorities. For seven days the ship remained at outer anchorage, its 26 crew members, belonging to 14 different countries, stranded at sea with dwindling stocks of food and water. When the ship was finally allowed to dock, another shock awaited the crew. Foreign passport holders among them were denied permission to disembark on the grounds that they had violated the limitations of their tourist visas by indulging in activism that was against national interests. This, despite Greenpeace completing all formalities and paying penalties for alleged violations in Indian waters.

The reason for this unusual action lay in Greenpeace's Gujarat visit. Prior to visiting Alang, Greenpeace had obtained not only the necessary permissions but also the support of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). According to Greenpeace, the Minister had assured it full support and even promised action if it found any violations. However, the team was taken aback at the sequence of events when it reached Bhavnagar.

First, Cosmo Wassenaar, the ship's captain, noticed that his maritime charts did not denote the limits of Bhavnagar port. It is customary in such instances (rare though they are) for a ship to maintain a distance of at least five nautical miles from the port. Rainbow Warrior stayed at 5.6 nautical miles. Officials from the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) boarded the ship. Later at 11 p.m., Customs officers took away all documents, including the crucial port clearance papers that the ship had received while leaving Mumbai port. The activists were told that no agent was willing to represent them (a necessary procedure to get berthing and stevedoring facilities).

The next morning, the ship was asked to leave Indian waters. The reason given was that the GPCB had complained that the crew had lowered dinghies while nearing Bhavnagar and taken photographs. Greenpeace admitted this but said that they did not expect to be challenged since they were there with the full support of the MoEF. A fine was demanded and paid. It was initially $5,000, of which $2,000 was marked under the category `sundry'. After challenging the amount and the classification, Greenpeace finally paid Rs.1 lakh.

Rainbow Warrior stayed in international waters outside Bhavnagar for about a fortnight. Then the ship returned to Mumbai after it realised that the Gujarat government would not cooperate. Back in Mumbai, the ship was told that permission to berth would be given subject only to clearances from the Mumbai Port Trust, Customs, Coast Guard, the Ministry of Shipping and the MoEF - an extraordinary procedure, to say the least, but apparently prompted by the fact that the Bhavnagar port authorities were not only in illegal possession of the port clearance papers but had effectively cut off any possibility of Greenpeace retrieving the papers by relegating the ship to international waters. Seemingly it was an unsuccessful tour for Rainbow Warrior. But Shailendra Yashwant, its campaign director, pointed out: "While we were waiting in the international waters, not a single ship went into Alang." He also added: "Oddly enough, after we left, 17 ships were beached all of a sudden."

The team also notched up a `first`. While near Alang it spotted `Genova Bridge' being beached for scrapping. Genova Bridge, owned by V Ships Commercials, London, was more than 30 years old and was built at a time when there was no legislation on the use of toxic materials in the construction of ships. Greenpeace said that the ship was a mass of toxic materials and in all likelihood would have toxic materials like asbestos, waste oil, sludge, the carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyl, and Tri Butyl.

Greenpeace reported the beaching of Genova Bridge to the MoEF, which directed the GPCB to inspect the vessel. It was only at this stage that the GPCB acknowledged the presence of toxic materials on the ship. More importantly, it produced a 200-page document on the toxic substances on the ship. "Highly unusual," according to Martin Besieux, ship-breaking campaigner, who said that a "one pager was the norm in which the GPCB usually noted that there was no radioactivity and no toxic cargo on the ship. At least they now understand that toxic substances are inherent in the structure of the ship." Though permission was granted to break Genova Bridge, it came with the provision that the guidelines for worker safety be followed.

According to Greenpeace, the GPCB has directed the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) to remove asbestos and other hazardous waste on board Genova Bridge and store it at a landfill in the hinterlands. The act is unlawful and irresponsible because it does not address the illegality of the import of the hazardous waste. "For one step forward, the GPCB has taken three steps back. The GPCB has continuously violated the Polluter Pays principle and routinely assists the polluters by taking on the hazardous and pricey job of decontamination upon itself at state expense. Instead, the GPCB should immediately contact V shipping International to come to Alang and execute the clean-up, as they are liable for the safe removal and re-import of asbestos and other hazardous waste on board Genova Bridge according to the Basel Convention and the Indian Supreme Court's directives," said Ramapati Kumar, Greenpeace campaigner.

The GPCB has clearly ignored the Supreme Court order on Hazardous Waste Management Rules (Amendment, 2003), which clearly directs that the "SPCBs (State pollution control boards) should ensure that the ship should be properly decontaminated by the shipowner before breaking." The same order also reiterates the ban on the import of 29 items, including waste asbestos (dust and fibre) following the Government of India ban on import of asbestos waste (dust/fibre) in 1998.

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Rainbow Warrior was in India on a three-part Corporate Accountability tour, a programme aimed at highlighting the apathy of companies to environmental responsibilities. Phase One was in Alang, where toxic ships were identified. Phase Two was in Mumbai, where the emphasis was on programmes commemorating the Bhopal gas tragedy. The third phase was in Kochi, where Greenpeace planned to expose the poisoning of the Periyar river. According to the watchdog organisation, the river is being poisoned by Hindustan Insecticides Limited, apparently the sole DDT factory in the world. The third phase was carried out without the participation of Rainbow Warrior since the ship was forced to sail to Sri Lanka.

So what exactly is the reason for this attack on Greenpeace? Quite simply, it is the penalty that the watchdog has to pay for highlighting the marine pollution and health risks at Indian shipbreaking yards. A Greenpeace press release says: "We've issued a strong challenge to the shipping industry, reminding them of their liabilities in ship-breaking yards all over the world. They have responded by exerting pressure on related authorities, and have tried to stop us from continuing our work. When they start to fight us, we know we've made a difference!"

There are certain incongruities in this entire episode of Greenpeace's first phase. Greenpeace's actions are nothing more than an insistence that the existing rules be followed. Its actions are supported by the Supreme Court's directives on the handling of hazardous wastes and on ship-breaking. They are also in accordance with the voluntary Code of Practice on Ship Recycling of the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) and the Basel Convention.

Furthermore, the organisation has received open support from the MoEF. The Indian government not only backs the IMO's guidelines but, along with Turkey, has been pushing for them to be made mandatory instead of voluntary. The Mumbai Port Trust (MPT) has permitted studies of Mumbai's ship-breaking yards, and the Iron Steel Scrap and Shipbreakers Association of India has issued a letter dated November 12 in which its president P.S. Nagarsheth has said: "It has become absolutely necessary that the [IMO] resolution and guidelines make it mandatory for ship owners to comply with the said code. At least `gas free for hot work' must be made a must before delivery of a ship to the ship recycling yard. This should not pause [sic] any problem as the Code has been finalised by the owner's own associations... This will bring uniformity and level playing field amongst all ship recycling countries." The reference to the `gas free for hot work' exemplifies the crisis in the industry. The law requires that ship owners clear pipes of gas of end-of-life ships. The requirement is frequently ignored.

When workers at yards cut open pipes using hot-gas-fuelled blow torches, there can be an explosion resulting in death or severe injury. Prior to scrapping, the ship must have a clean certificate from the Department of Explosives. The certificate is entitled Gas Free Certificate for Hot Work. Below it is typed: `This certificate is not meant for ship breaking or dismantling activities'. Thus, the ship owner and the authorities concerned cover their culpability.

A new law passed by the European Union bans single-hull ships from docking in European ports. Given the international nature of shipping, it is likely that these ships will be scrapped rather than ship-owners willing to face the problems of looking for location-specific cargo as a means of avoiding European ports. It is even more likely that these ships with their toxic structures will end up on Indian beaches.

The AIDS initiative

While welcoming the government's initiative to provide ARV treatment at reduced cost, the HIV/AIDS community hopes that it will also strengthen diagnostic facilities and extend coverage of the plan.

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SEVENTEEN years after the first cases of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection were detected in India, Union Health Minister Sushma Swaraj announced on November 30 the government's plan to provide anti-AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) drugs to one lakh HIV/AIDS patients at reduced prices in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland, which account for more than 80 per cent of all reported cases of AIDS in the country. The government aims to implement this by April 1, 2004.

Four pharmaceutical companies - Cipla, Ranbaxy, Matrix and Hetero - have agreed to supply anti-retrovirals (ARVs) to the government. Though the exact price has not been agreed upon as yet, industry representatives expect that it will be at a rate slightly lower than Rs.6,419 per patient per annum, the price offered to the Clinton Foundation recently. (The Clinton Foundation, set up by former American President Bill Clinton, provides ARVs to African and Caribbean countries.)

Says Ashok Alexander of the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation: "Pharmaceutical companies are able to provide lower prices by promising bigger volumes in the future. This helps lower the costs." However, with the government waiving excise on several pharmaceutical ingredients used in the making of ARVs, in effect the government will be spending as much as earlier. The National AIDS Control Organisation's (NACO) announcement that the companies were willing to bring prices to a level lower than that offered to the Clinton Foundation is more of a publicity exercise. Sushma Swaraj has announced that she will take up the issue with Finance Minister Jaswant Singh and the Planning Commission to ensure that these exemptions are given in the Union Budget.

What the government has committed itself to is Rs.200 crores for the infrastructure needed to implement this programme by April. Of this, Rs.113 crores is meant for medicines and Rs.87 crores for providing infrastructure to screen people for HIV/AIDS infection. The supply of drugs will initially be to three categories of patients - children of persons living with AIDS or HIV infection, women having AIDS or HIV infection, and men who suffer from full-blown AIDS. Says Sandeep Juneja, HIV Project head of Ranbaxy: "The scale of the project is put in perspective when one looks at Brazil, which has an advanced government-run programme that provides ARVs free to the public. The total number of people who have access to this programme is only one lakh." The Brazilian government has ensured a system of providing universal access to all AIDS-related treatment, including ARVs, through the public health system since 1996.

Though this is an important step that the government has taken, the question is where the government will find the funds. India is estimated to have an HIV seropositivity rate in adults of 0.7-0.8 per cent. It has 3.14-4.58 million HIV-positive people, a figure much lower than those for sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa. NACO had an expenditure allocation of Rs.18 crores for the year 2001-02. The Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS has already released $100 million to India to fight HIV/AIDS and another $30 million to fight tuberculosis. The government's existing proposal, for which funds have not yet been made available, provides for ARV prophylactic care to 3,50,000 HIV-positive pregnant women and their families, and ARV treatment to 15,000 persons living with HIV infection/AIDS. It is therefore possible to envisage a government-run programme that provides universal access.

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Even as the government increases fund allocation for ARV treatment, people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) are still discriminated against. Hospitals continue to deny treatment to HIV/AIDS patients. Moreover, a large number of PLWHAs cannot tolerate ARVs because of the toxicity of the medications or because they are resistant to the treatment. The drug that is provided has to be of high quality. The person taking the drug has to be constantly monitored and the drugs may have to be changed if resistance or toxicity is observed. The patient has to adhere to a strict regimen and the government has to ensure that information about the exact regimen is communicated to the patient, that there is a regular supply of drugs, and that side-effects are handled. Says K.K. Abraham of the Indian Network of Positive People: "This is a good initiative. All these years, the epidemic was neglected. This announcement will give hope to the 4.58 million people living with HIV/AIDS in India."

According to Ritu Priya, Assistant Professor, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi (Economic and Political Weekly, December 13), given all these complexities, if free treatment with regular drug supply is not through a structured system, the suffering of HIV patients will only get compounded. This is the imperative of the ARV technology.

It is to allay such fears that the Health Ministry has said that the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has offered to procure about 150 CD4/CD8 count machines to monitor the viral load in people with the illness. But the government has to ensure that these machines are distributed in a rational manner. Says Abraham: " These machines have to be practically placed after consultations at the State level. The government has to make plans to strengthen the diagnostic facilities for at least 10 lakh people in order to figure out who needs ARV treatment."

A number of petitions have been filed before the Supreme Court asking that the government provide ARVs. The most recent one, filed by the Voluntary Health Association of India (Frontline, September 26, 2003), requests the court to direct the government to provide PLWHAs the right to treatment under the country's public health system.

The petition asks the state to provide free and equitable access to ARV treatment for HIV-positive persons by creating the required infrastructure in public health institutions. Earlier petitions specifically dealt with the right of PLWHAs to receive non-discriminatory treatment from health care workers and the right to a safe working environment for health care workers and medical practitioners.

The challenge before the government is to address these concerns too while implementing its plan. Says Abraham: " The HIV/AIDS community is happy that the government has taken this initiative. But it has to strengthen diagnostic facilities and expand its programme to include cities like Kolkata and Delhi."

Lethal remittance

PRAVEEN SWAMI the-nation

The Lashkar-e-Toiba finds a new wave of recruits among Gulf expatriates.

The Hindu is a mean enemy and the proper way to deal with him is the one adopted by our forefathers... who crushed them by force. We need to do the same.

- Editorial by the Lashkar-e-Toiba's spiritual head, Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed, in The Voice of Islam, September 1999.

HAFIZ Mohammad Sayeed's speeches began doing the rounds of mosques in Kuwait and Dubai in the summer of 1998. Circulated by earnest young men with scraggly beards, invariably wearing the ankle-length Taliban-style pyjamas mandated by the ultra-conservative Ahl-e-Hadis sect, the Lashkar-e-Toiba chief's speeches demanded jehad against infidels at large, and India in particular.

Almost no one in the large south Asian expatriate population - no one, that is, in their right mind - paid much attention. Memories of the demolition of the Babri Masjid had begun to fade, and even the war in Jammu and Kashmir attracted little attention among South Asian Muslims. Then, in 2002, came the communal massacres in Gujarat: and the voice of the Lashkar's spiritual head began to resonate in many young minds. Along with hard currency, terror has now become a major remittance to India: a source of growing concern to the intelligence community. Lashkar cells based in Kuwait and Dubai have emerged as central to several major terrorist actions in India over the last two years. Many of those involved are not stereotypical seminary-educated fanatics, but people with jobs and families - with lives they seem willing to sacrifice to avenge one of India's worst communal pogroms.

Consider the case of Shahid Ahmad Bakshi, a Lashkar operative arrested last year for conspiring to assassinate right-wing Hindu leaders, including Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Pravin Togadia. Bakshi was also tasked with undertaking a major operation to recruit riot victims for the jehad. A 7th-grade dropout from the poor Muslim ghetto of Juhapura in Ahmedabad, Bakshi had struggled to build a life for himself. For eight years before his Lashkar mission, he worked as an articulate truck driver, ferrying loads across Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Although a member of the Ahl-e-Hadis sect, to which the Lashkar owes allegiance, there is little to show that Bakshi was attracted to terrorist groups before the Gujarat riots. Then, as the violence in Gujarat spiralled out of control after the Godhra massacre, the truck driver turned to friends who he knew could help meet his desire for revenge. In June 2002, he made contact with a Lashkar controller in Kathmandu, and took the first cash advance to fund his new plans.

Bakshi, intelligence officials say, was assigned twin tasks. The first was to buy a truck that, disguised as a milk-cooperative collection vehicle, would ferry smuggled weapons and explosives across the Kutch border. The actual attacks would be executed by young Ahmedabad riot victims recruited and trained for the purpose. With the help of a local cleric, Bakshi and another associate from Kuwait did the rounds of refugee camps and Muslim ghettos in Ahmedabad. Seven orphans and 26 young people from poor families were chosen as potential operatives. Intelligence officials believe that at least some of these young people would, slowly, have been flown abroad for training in Pakistan. A similar operation led by cleric Maulana SufiyanPatangia succeeded in sending at least eight recruits for training in Pakistan, funded by Lashkar and Jaish-e-Mohammad networks in Saudi Arabia.

Investigations of the bombing of a bus in Mumbai's Ghatkopar area on December 22, 2002 showed the existence of similar networks in Dubai. Imran Rahman Khan, the Chennai-born principal accused in the bombing case who was deported to India in January this year, converted to Islam at the age of 15. His interest in the faith, however, seems to have been mainly spiritual; Khan married a Hindu woman from Rajasthan, and showed no attraction to armed Islamists until the Gujarat riots. Soon after the riots began, Khan met top Lashkar commander Abdul Bari, a one-time Hyderabad resident who had spent the last 12 years shuttling between his base in Saudi Arabia and Dubai and other Gulf states on organisational work. Bari's collection of video-tapes on riot carnage convinced Khan to join an assault team being sent to Mumbai. Other than putting in place arrangements for the Ghatkopar bombing, Khan was also tasked with monitoring the activities of film personalities who had taken what the Lashkar believed to be an anti-Muslim position including Mani Ratnam and Shekhar Suman. Members of the proscribed Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) also seem to have cooperated with the Lashkar in setting up several Gulf-based cells. Mohammad Altaf, a long-time SIMI activist from Parbhani, Maharashtra, was a trained chemical engineer working in Dubai when the Gujarat pogrom began. He made contact with Bari soon after, and through him he came to know Khan.

The two told the interrogators that they discussed several means for setting off remote-controlled explosions, and on one occasion conducted tests using instruments connected to a cellphone. These cellphone triggers were eventually used on the Ghatkopar bus. Altaf also provided several Lashkar operatives with contacts among his old SIMI associates in India. Syed Abdul Aziz, who was shot dead in Hyderabad in the course of a police search for those involved in an abortive assassination attempt on Sai Baba, was among those provided shelter in Mumbai through Altaf.

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COUNTER-TERRORISM experts have known of the Lashkar's operations in the Gulf for several years: the infrastructure for Lashkar terror in the Gulf certainly long preceded its actual post-Gujarat exercise. From the late-1990s onwards, Lashkar activists began distributing copies of their house journal, Majallah al-Dawa, at the Ahl-e-Hadis sect's mosque in Salmiya, Kuwait. The Lashkar's top ideologue, Abdul Rahman Makki, began visiting the city-state soon afterwards, often preaching to audiences of Indian and Pakistani origin on the need for jehad "to protect Muslims against the Indian state". Among those in the audience was Farhan Ahmad Ali, whose family had moved from Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh, to Kuwait in 1974. An 11th-grade school dropout, Ali worked as a sales representative for a firm dealing in business directories.

Ali's introduction to the Lashkar-e-Toiba came through Fahim Ahmad, a Pakistani national with whom he had studied in school. Fahim Ahmad had taken charge of the Lashkar's Salmiya unit and persuaded Ali to come on board. In February 1998, Ali flew to Pakistan for weapons training. Ali told his interrogators that he stayed at a Lashkar guest house in Islamabad, along with some 70 other new recruits, before being moved to another facility at the Yateemkhana Chowk in Lahore. There were, Ali recalled, at least eight Arab recruits there, five from Saudi Arabia, and one each from Egypt, Yemen and Morocco. Soon after, the group was despatched to the Al-Aqsa training camp near Muzaffarabad, an exclusive facility for residents of Arab countries. According to Ali, some 1,000 Arabs, along with four British converts to Islam and one Romanian, were in training at the camp.

Training at Al-Aqsa lasted just a week, during which time Ali learned how to use a variety of automatic weapons and lob hand-grenades and fabricate and deploy improvised explosive devices. Advised to return later for the Daura Khas, a more rigorous advanced course, Ali returned to Kuwait. In March 1998, he visited his family in India, but engaged in no real political activity, other than arranging a visa for the Assam-based Ahl-e-Hadis preacher Jamaluddin Sulfi to visit Kuwait for fund-raising.

Following the communal massacres in Gujarat, however, Ali threw himself into his Ahl-e-Hadis work with renewed vigour. It was at a propaganda meeting at the Air Force Mosque that Ali first met Shahid Bakshi. The two then left on their recruitment mission to refugee camps in Gujarat, along with Bakshi's brother, Siraj Ahmad Bakshi and an associate, Hafiz Mohammad Tahir. Ali was arrested in New Delhi as he was boarding a flight back to Kuwait in August 2002.

What is clear, though, is that communal violence in India has provided the Lashkar the kind of legitimacy no amount of cash could have bought. Several key members of the Dubai-based Lashkar-e-Toiba cell which executed the twin bombings at the Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar in August this year - which left 51 dead and 162 injured - had long-standing concerns about communal violence in India. Ashrat Shafiq Ahmad Ansari, who is charged with having planted the Zaveri Bazaar bomb, was like many Muslims incensed by the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Working in Surat during the 2002 riots, Ansari saw the worst of Hindu fundamentalism first-hand. The experience made it easy for Ansari to be recruited by the Dubai-based architect of the bombings, Zahid Yusuf Patne. Patne, recently extradited to India, worked as a fork-lift operator in Dubai.

Syed Abdul Rahim, who hails from a lower middle-class family in Mumbai's Marol Naka area, worked from 1992 to 1999 in Jeddah as an electrician with a company that carried out works at the Royal Palace. Although surveillance on all staff with access to the Palace ensured that Rahim stayed well away from any kind of terrorist activity, he regularly joined in discussions of anti-Muslim mobilisations by the Hindu Right. After a brief and unsuccessful attempt to start a business in India, Rahim left again for Dubai. This time, he joined in protests against the Gujarat riots, where videotapes of the violence were screened. At these meetings, Patne motivated Rahim to join the Lashkar, and he soon began to attend lectures by the head of the organisation's Dubai office, Maulana Haroon. Soon afterwards, he returned to India, to play a key role in the worst single terrorist act to take place in India in 2003.

Gulf states, increasingly concerned about Islamist activities, are less tolerant of terrorist groups like the Lashkar operating from their soil - a fact underlined by the rapid deportation of several key accused in the Mumbai bombings. Nonetheless, the evidence is that the Lashkar continues to be active, fishing in waters made conducive by communalism in India.

Even if the Lashkar is forced to wind down its war in Jammu and Kashmir, it is expanding its capability to wage a far more brutal one, directed, as Sayeed had promised, at all of India.

The link to politicians?

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ANTIM TOTLA, a rich but little-known businessman, may soon provide vital information necessary to nail some top politicians involved in the Rs.3,000-crore fake stamp paper scam. Totla, a Mumbai-based dealer of petroleum products, is believed to be the key link between Abdul Karim Telgi, the prime accused in the scam, and various politicians.

In fact, Chhagan Bhujbal, the high-profile Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader, appeared to have become the first political victim of Totla's revelations when he resigned on December 23 from the posts of Mahrashtra's Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister.

On December 17, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the racket questioned Totla. He denied any link with Telgi, but admitted that he knew several politicians, including Bhujbal and his nephew Sameer Bhujbal. There are allegations that Sameer Bhujbal and Totla worked in tandem with Telgi and accepted money to secure transfers and postings for several police personnel. Sameer Bhujbal is also expected to be summoned by the SIT for questioning.

According to reports, Totla, of his own volition, will be taken to a forensic laboratory for brain finger-printing, lie detector and narcoanalysis tests. The SIT believes that these tests will help find out the names of those involved in the politician-police-Telgi nexus.

Ever since the multi-crore scam broke and the SIT began investigations, several heads have rolled. In a systematic crackdown on the police force, the SIT arrested 12 police officials including two senior officers - former Mumbai Commissioner of Police R.S. Sharma and Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Sridhar Vagal (Frontline, January 2). Several others have been suspended and many are being interrogated. Clearly, the next targets are politicians. The sweep appears to have begun with the questioning of Totla.

The scam, allegedly masterminded by Telgi and initiated in 1995, involved the printing and selling of counterfeit stamp paper worth thousands of crores of rupees across the country. The centre of the operation was Maharashtra. Through a network of agents and with the connivance of police officials, Telgi allegedly built a thriving business that soon spread to Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

As Home Minister, Bhujbal was in the firing line since the scam came to light. Even before the SIT questioned Totla, the Opposition had been demanding Bhujbal's resignation for the corruption in the police force and, more important, his own alleged connections with Telgi. A day after Totla's interrogation, Bhujbal's assistant delivered a sealed envelope at the SIT office. On December 19, Telgi's lawyer accused Bhujbal of being involved in the racket.

Meanwhile, there was furore in the Assembly over a letter circulated by the Opposition. The letter, allegedly written by Dilip Kamath, an Assistant Police Inspector who had been arrested on charges of taking bribes from Telgi, is addressed to Maharashtra Governor Mohammed Fazal. It alleges that Bhujbal sent instructions to police personnel through his nephew Sameer to treat Telgi well. "We don't know whether the letter is credible or not," says a SIT source. On December 23, in an unprecedented act, NCP workers attacked the offices of a television channel that aired a satire showing a politician wrestling with other politicians to retain his post. Accepting "moral" responsibility for the vandalism, Bhujbal resigned the same day.

"Till date there is no hard evidence to prove Bhujbal's involvement, except Totla's link and a few baseless statements made by his adversaries. Yet, the events that led to his resignation have led to suspicions that he realised the noose was tightening very quickly and he had to get out," a former Police Commissioner told Frontline.

Apparently, Bhujbal's approval of R.S. Sharma's appointment as Mumbai's Police Commissioner played a role in paving the way for his resignation. In December 2002, Bhujbal approved Sharma's posting in spite of the fact that the latter was allegedly involved in the fake stamp paper racket, which was under investigation at that time.

He justified the appointment by saying that Sharma had been given the clean chit by the then Director-General of Police Subash Malhotra. Incidentally, Malhotra is now in the dock for giving Sharma the clean chit. His arrest is imminent, says an informed source.

However, during the second round of investigations into the racket, Sharma was not lucky. He was arrested under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) a day after he retired. Bhujbal, who initially refused to comment, made a terse statement that there was a problem with the police force. However, he did not respond to questions about his role in Sharma's appointment.

Several former police officers hold politicians responsible for the corruption and the rot in the police force. With the Telgi scam exposing the rot, several former police chiefs have appealed to the Chief Minister to revamp the procedures followed in appointments and transfers.

Meanwhile, Mumbai's newly appointed Police Commissioner, P.S. Pasricha, has transferred 125 officers and about 1,500 constables. The SIT continues with its investigations, unhindered by the threat of the Central Bureau of Investigation taking over the probe. It seems determined to get the culprits.

The view from New Delhi

The Indian Army's role in the crackdown remains unclear, but its immediate task is to consider what to do if the insurgents regroup.

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BHUTAN'S military action against the terror camps on its soil has been widely read as a consequence of Indian diplomatic pressure on the Dragon Kingdom to act. However, most defence and intelligence experts in New Delhi believe that it was domestic concerns that drove Bhutan to initiate its first war since the Anglo-Bhutanese war of 1865. Organisations such as the Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) and the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), Bhutan argues, had come to pose a very real threat to its monarchy. King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, it would seem, realised that the South Asian practice of rearing predators as domestic pets is an exceptionally perilous occupation.

A fortnight after Bhutan's offensive against the KLO, ULFA and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) began, relatively little is known about just what prompted King Wangchuck's decision to go to war. India has been complaining for over a dozen years that these groups had set up base in Bhutan. Bhutan at first denied the allegations, and then from mid-1995 began to admit, sotto voce, that terrorist base camps indeed existed on its soil. By this time Bhutan itself was feeling the pain. In 1997, four Bhutan Police personnel were killed in a terrorist attack on a police station in Nganglam. Then in 1998, a senior Army officer and his convoy were ambushed in Patshala, across the border in Assam. Again, in December 2000, 15 people were killed and many more injured in a terrorist attack, and in August 2002, five Bhutanese were killed in an ambush on the highway to Assam.

Although concerned about the prospect of insurgents training their guns on Bhutan, King Wangchuck chose to stonewall Indian calls for military action against the militants. Instead four rounds of talks were held between 1998 and 2001, between the Government of Bhutan and ULFA, the KLO and the NDFB. ULFA signed an agreement committing itself to removing four of its camps in Bhutan by December 2001, and reducing the cadre strength in the five other camps, and to final evacuation negotiations after doing these. It soon became clear that ULFA had no intention of keeping its word; the NDFB and the KLO also blithely ignored Bhutan's requests to leave. The cadre strength of these organisations also continued to grow. Between February 18 and 22, 2002, ULFA cadre were reported to have entered Dagana through the jungles of Sarpang and Tsirang, while other groups were seen in Tsirang between February and April last year. KLO and NDFB terrorists were seen at Chukha Dzongkhag, posing a serious threat to Bhutan's key economic resource, its hydro-electric projects.

Between October and November 2003, Bhutan made a last-ditch effort to get the groups to keep their deal. It was a waste of time. According to a Bhutan Foreign Ministry statement published in South Asia Intelligence Review, "ULFA said that it would be suicidal for their cause of independence of Assam to leave Bhutan while the NDFB said that even if they left their present camps, they would have to come back and establish camps in other parts of Bhutan". To add insult to injury, the NDFB and ULFA sent only mid-level leaders to the last round of talks, while Bhutan was represented at the highest level. The KLO did not even bother to attend the talks. "The military crackdown was our ultimate option," Bhutan Foreign Secretary Aum Neten Zangmo told Review.

But what actually made Bhutan chose confrontation over continued conciliation? In April 2003, the ruling elite in that country was shocked by the launch of the Bhutan Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist). Pamphlets circulated by the BCP both in Nepal and Bhutan proclaimed that its objective was to "smash the monarchy" and establish a "true and new democracy". Although Bhutan's monarchy has made some tentative moves towards authoring a Constitution, it had good reason to be alarmed by this agenda. The BCP, for one, had a wide pool of discontent to draw on, notably the estimated 100,000 ethnic Nepali refugees expelled from the Dragon Kingdom over a decade ago, which Bhutan claims were illegal immigrants. These groups had responded with low-grade terrorism directed at the state apparatus in southern Bhutan.

The presence of insurgents in any area leads to a level of small-arms proliferation, something the BCP was obviously poised to cash in on. More important, Indian intelligence soon found evidence of the KLO's deep links with armed Maoist groups fighting in Nepal. KLO cadre in West Bengal, it was discovered, provided shelter, medical support and some armed infrastructure to the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist), which in turn had ethnic and ideological affiliations with the BCP. It was only a matter of time before the KLO made available its infrastructure within Bhutan to the BCP, and elements within the NDFB and ULFA made available weapons on a cash-and-carry basis. Bhutan's concerns were discussed during King Wangchuck's visit to India in September 2003, and a tentative plan of military action was drawn up. "The KLO-BCP threat, more than anything else, probably tipped the scales in favour of military action in King Wangchuck's mind," says a senior Indian intelligence official.

On the morning of December 15, Bhutan began its offensive against the terror camps along its 380-kilometre border with India. According to the official account, Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) troops began shelling ULFA, NDFB and KLO camps with 81-milimetre mortar and machine guns. The fire was met with 51-milimetre mortar and rifle-fired grenades. Bhutan claimed that the ULFA headquarter complex at Phukaptong in Samdrup Jongkhar district fell the same day. By December 16, ULFA's secondary headquarters at Merengphu, the NDFB's biggest camp in Tikri, another NDFB camp in Nganglam sub-district and several KLO camps in Samtse district were overrun. By December 18, officials in Thimphu asserted that all 30 terrorist camps in the kingdom had been uprooted. Of these, a Bhutanese Foreign Ministry statement said, ULFA had 13 camps, the NDFB 12 and the KLO five.

Just what role the Indian Army and Air Force had in the fighting is unclear. Officials in New Delhi admit that India evacuated combat casualties by air, and provided unspecified logistical support. Yet, the sheer speed of the Bhutan offensive seems unsustainable for an Army of under 10,000, including non-combatants and personnel deployed on static duties such as guarding the Paro airport. A lightly armed conscript force, the RBA had just 4,850 personnel until 1978, when it opened a fresh recruitment drive. In 1990, its numbers were reported to have risen to 6,000, of which core elements, including the Royal Bodyguard, were trained at the prestigious School of Jungle Warfare at Virangte in Mizoram. Indian instructors also teach at the RBA's Wangchuck Lo Dzong Military Training School in Ha district, which, apart from conducting in-house programmes prepares candidates for officer-training courses at the Indian Military Academy.

ACUTELY conscious of Bhutan's concerns about its sovereignty, no one in New Delhi is willing to discuss the precise details of India's military involvement in the December offensive. What is clear, though, is that a Bhutan Army assault on positions which, by official accounts, were heavily defended and protected by minefields would have been considerably more expensive than it proved to be if there had been no substantial Indian military backing. According to officials, the RBA killed between 90 and 120 terrorists, sustaining just seven fatalities in return, figures which suggest a numerical and technological superiority it simply does not possess.

Nor did the operation have the advantage of secrecy. On December 13, a full 48 hours before the offensive began, Thimphu served a notice on ULFA, the NDFB and the KLO, through an article in the newspaper Kuensel, which said that it was left with no option other than to entrust the Army "with the sacred duty of removing the militants."

Whatever the truth, both countries are now hunkering for a continued military challenge. Bhutan, for one, has to prepare for possible reprisal attacks, including assaults by the BCP, and low-grade activities by remnants of the terrorist groups still hiding in its southern forests. In May, King Wangchuck presided over a meeting where a senior Bhutanese military official called on village leaders to raise conscripts for a new militia which would receive three months' military training. He also told local leaders that Bhutan was facing a "critical situation", and that the security and sovereignty of Bhutan was seriously threatened. The government, he said, was contemplating raising its contingency to meet emergency situations from ngultrum one billion to two billion (1.00 ngultrum=1.00 rupee). The RBA had, at around the same time, begun to set up 10 military camps along the border with Assam, camps which were pivotal in the ongoing offensive.

India, meanwhile, will have to consider just what to do if ULFA, the NDFB and the KLO regroup. The insurgent organisations have two broad options. The first is to head east, through Arunachal Pradesh and into Myanmar. On December 20, the Indian Army ambushed and killed three terrorists, two from ULFA and one from the relatively unknown Arunachal Dragon Force (ADF), near Namsai in Arunachal Pradesh. The chief of the ADF, Chownomee Namchumoo, was captured along with AK-47 rifles, pistols, grenades and a large amount of explosives and cash. An Army spokesman said the terrorists were on their way to a hideout in Myanmar, where, according to Khagen Sarma, Inspector-General of Police, Assam an estimated 400 ULFA cadre now hide. Myanmar, however, has been increasingly intolerant of terrorist activity on its soil. In 1995, Operation Golden Bird, a joint Myanmar-India military operation carried out along the Mizoram border, led to the elimination of dozens of terrorists.

A second option for the terrorist groups is to head for Bangladesh, where top ULFA leaders have hidden out for years with patronage from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence. Indian intelligence officials say that some 20 new terror camps have come up here since the Bhutan offensive began, notably in Sylhet, Habibganj and Sherpur areas, as well as Rangamati and Bandarban. While Bangladesh Foreign Minister Morshed Khan has denied the existence of these camps, there is growing evidence, at least some corroborated by Western diplomats who have visited the country in recent months, to support the proposition. The support of Islamist elements in the Bangladesh military and intelligence services to a welter of terrorist groups that are active in India is likely to figure in Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's talks with Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia at the upcoming meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Pakistan. It is unlikely, however, that Bangladesh will prove as cooperative as Bhutan - at least until the pets nurtured on its soil grow big enough to bite the hand that feeds them.

Bodoland as goal

cover-story

Formation: The NDFB, originally called the Bodo Security Force, was formed in 1988. It seeks to secure a sovereign Bodoland in the areas north of the Brahmaputra river, and the replacement of the Devnagri script with the Roman script for all Bodo-language texts.

Leadership: The NDFB was formed under the command of Ranjan Daimary, who also uses the alias D.R. Nabla. He continues to be its chairman. The NDFB's vice-president, Dhiren Boro, was arrested in Gangtok (Sikkim) on January 1, 2003. Its general secretary B. Swmkhwr alias Govinda Basumatary was arrested on November 25, 2002. `Lieutenant' B. Irakdao is the outfit's publicity secretary, while Nileswar Basumatary is its finance secretary.

Military capabilities: With an estimated strength of 3,500 fighters, most of whom were present in training camps in Bhutan, the NDFB operates on the northern and north-western side of the Brahmaputra river in Assam. It also uses the Manas National Park, adjoining Bhutan, as a sanctuary.

The NDFB has had close ties with ULFA and also with some officials in the Bhutanese establishment. Indian intelligence believes that NDFB correspondence with arms suppliers in South-East Asia was, on occasion, routed through Bhutanese diplomatic traffic. For most of its weapons and infrastructure, however, the NDFB depends largely on ULFA.

Saddam Hussein

cover-story

I congratulate you for your Cover Story ("Beyond Saddam Hussein", January 2, 2004). My anti-colonial feelings date back to the days of Mahatma Gandhi's freedom struggle. We look up to your brand of journalism to counter a biased media serving the interests of the Anglo-Saxon colonialists.

Saddam Hussein, a national hero, was much demonised over non-existent weapons of mass destruction, Al Qaeda terrorism and human rights that most journalists would not dare to say anything positive about Saddam Hussein. He was the founder of the modern Iraq despite the sanctions.

President Robert Mugabe, targeted by Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon (from New Zealand), is another nationalist hero who fought and won freedom for the Zimbabweans from an undemocratic White minority rule of Ian Smith.

Mugabe is implementing land reforms in order to give the majority Zimbabweans land rights and redeem them from poverty.

Howard and McKinnon still deny land rights to the indigenous communities in their countries. Without land rights the aborigines are now an almost extinct community.

V. Siva Subramaniam Sydney, Australia

* * *

Howsoever the world may rejoice (as the West would have us believe), I feel sad at the fall of Saddam Hussein, the pride of Arab heartland. In the semi-finals of its war on terror (the United States will play the finals against Osama bin Laden), Uncle Sam succeeded in humiliating Arab and Muslim pride once again.

K.P. Rajan Mumbai

* * *

Saddam Hussain was definitely a cruel dictator, but considering that he had been the head of a United Nations-member country for over 25 years he should be given general amnesty.

The arrest of Saddam Hussein by American troops is a dangerous portent for the world. In future, the head of every small country will be at the mercy of the political leaders of powerful countries. Some sort of a world alliance to deter the U.S. in the unipolar world is the need of the hour.

S. Raghunatha Prabhu Alappuzha, Kerala

* * *

If, by capturing Saddam Hussein, the U.S. has removed a symbol of resistance, with it goes the essence of secularism in the Arab world. Iraq should get a government of the people of Iraq. The violence should come to an end. A new Iraq should be built up. The occupation forces should leave.

Will the Shias and Sunnis unite to rebuild Iraq? Will the world and the U.N. be able to take more initiative and play a better role? Saddam should get a fair trial.

A. Jacob Sahayam Thiruvananthapuram

* * *

The tame surrender of Saddam Hussein, the arrogant Arab warrior who ordered thousands of his countrymen to fight and die for him, must have anguished many of his admirers, specially the Sunni Muslims.

J.S. Acharya Hyderabad

* * *

Saddam Hussein is captured alive and President's Bush's popularity rating is shooting up. But only if the U.S. finds weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and ensures the return of normalcy, will the recent events turn electoral fortunes in favour of Bush.

S. Balakrishnan Jamshedpur

* * *

The capture of Saddam Hussein has brought solace to oppressed Iraqis. The arrest of the self-styled ruler has paved the path for restoration of law and order in a country that bore the brunt of dictatorship for many decades.

But many questions remain unanswered. The U.S. has not found the weapons of mass destruction, its rationale for the invasion of Iraq. What happens if it fails to find them eventually? Will it be tried for its misadventure carried out on the pretext of pre-emptive action? Does the U.S. have the right to decide the fate of a country?

Saddam Hussein is accused of committing crimes against humanity. But the U.S. goes scot-free after launching a war on innocent Iraqi people without any substantive proof of any crime. Today it is Iraq, tomorrow it could be any other country. It remains to be seen whether the U.N. has the courage to check the autocratic and unilateral actions of the U.S.

Awadhesh Kumar Delhi

* * *

The capture of Saddam Hussein does not in anyway legitimise the U.S. occupation of Iraq. He must be tried under the Iraqi law that too after a legitimate government elected by the people of Iraq takes over.

Viji Ganesh Madurai

Repression of labour

This is with reference to the article "Repression of labour" by Jayati Ghosh (January 2, 2004). The Supreme Court has observed that "in the prevailing situation" the government employees have no right to strike even for a just cause.

This "prevailing situation" is owing to the neo-liberal economic policies dictated by international moneylenders. It is in the hands of people to change the "prevailing situation" to the benefit of the common people.

For this, the experience of Latin America should show us the way. Similar policies have played havoc with the economies in this region. In the 1970s, the Latin American economies grew rapidly on the basis of high accumulation rates financed by external borrowing, a process, which culminated in the debt crisis of 1982. This led to the collapse of the economy.

This was the reason for the people in Brazil and Venezuela preferring the parties with Left-leaning policies. And Bolivia, where the people forced the President to flee the country, is expected to follow suit.

Hari Virudhunagar, Tamil Nadu

DNA fingerprinting

The article "Evidence in the genes" by R.K. Raghavan (January 2, 2004) was very informative. The possibility of using the advanced technology of DNA fingerprinting to find out the criminal orientation of individuals should be explored.

The police in India are moving away from their function of serving and protecting the people.

There is a high degree of criminal orientation in individuals in the police department.

This should be detected early and corrected. If found difficult to correct, persons with criminal orientation must be retrenched from the service.

P.V. Antony Thrissur, Kerala

Congress leadership

This has reference to the article "A party adrift" (January 2, 2004). The leadership issue is agitating many minds in the Congress(I), but no one dares to open his or her mind. Sonia Gandhi knows that the Congress(I)'s defeat was mainly due to the issue of her nationality. So, for the sake of this national party's success she should step down as party president.

No one can underestimate the Nehru family's role in shaping the new independent India. But the party is supreme, not the individual.

G.E.M. Manoharan Coimbatore

Targeting `outsiders'

This has reference to the article "Outrage in Assam" (December 19). Once again the role of the media comes under scrutiny. Exaggerated and fabricated media stories provide the United Liberation Front of Asom and other anti-national forces enough ammunition to foment trouble. Instead of taking steps to check the violence Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Laloo Prasad Yadav blamed the Union government.

The 24-hour bandh called by the All Assam Students Union on November 17 was planned with the aim of escalating violence. The demand for complete reservation for Assamese in the Northeast Frontier Railway is both impractical and unjustified. Given the unequal development of the regions in India and with almost no employment opportunities available in many underdeveloped States, unemployed youth are left with no option but to search for jobs where they are available.

The genesis of the problem lies somewhere else. At present we are facing the worst unemployment situation in many years with engineers and MBAs and other post-graduates vying for Group C and Group D jobs. If the problem is not addressed now, the political and economic stability of the nation will be undermined. When will the government wake up?

Ravi Prakash Patna

* * *

You conveniently blame the Shiv Sena for stirring up ethnic tensions but ignore the fact that Maharashtrians have a legitimate grouse against the immigrants. These people migrate to Maharashtra in search of jobs but refuse to learn Marathi or imbue the local culture.

Although Maharashtra provides excellent infrastructure, Maharashtrians are portrayed in the media as inept and lazy.

Milind received by e-mail

Importing danger

In her article "Importing danger" (December 19), Asha Krishnakumar had focussed on the shocking levels of environmental pollution caused by mercury and asbestos and how India has become a dumping ground for hazardous wastes generated by the industries of developed countries such as the U.S., Canada, France and Germany. The import of such ecologically harmful substances was permitted despite the stringent provisions of the Factories Act, 1948, the Hazardous Waste (Handling and Management) Rules 1989, and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

Apart from this, the Ministry of Environment and Forests had framed the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000 and the Manufacture and Storage and import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989.

In India itself we have identified 14 hazardous industries such as dyeing, sago, textiles and tanneries, which are producing non-biodegradable and toxic wastes. There seems to be no efficient, dedicated and corruption-free enforcement authority to prevent the dumping of hazardous wastes.

The author has rightly observed that "the international waste industry has arrived in India" and that many of them are financed, encouraged and patronised by internationally reputed monetary agencies.

It is interesting that hazardous wastes generated by the Indian industries have no takers in foreign countries, and their import is vehemently opposed by non-governmental organisations.

P.S. Subrahmanian Vellore, Tamil Nadu

Armed struggle for a separate Kamatapur

cover-story

Formation: The origin of the KLO can be traced to the attempts of some members of the Rajbanshi community, who belonged to the All Kamatapur Students' Union, to organise an armed struggle for a separate Kamatapur State. They approached ULFA for this purpose, which agreed to train them in order to gain a foothold outside Assam. ULFA's line of thinking was that the tie-up with the KLO would not only facilitate the movement of its cadre to base camps in Bhutan, but also provide a safe haven for its injured or sick cadre.

The KLO came into existence on December 28, 1995. It aims to carve out a separate State from six districts of West Bengal and four contiguous districts of Assam.

Leadership: Tamir Das, who uses the alias Jiban Singha, is the chairman. He was arrested in October 1999. However, he regained control over the outfit after he was released by the Assam Police in a bid to make the other KLO cadres surrender. Singha was killed in December 2003 operations launched by the Royal Bhutan Army. Milton Burman alias Mihir Das is the KLO's second-in-command, and Joydeb Roy alias Tom Adhikari is the head of its `crack squad'. Both were arrested by the Bhutanese security forces during the recent operations. Bharati Das, the chairperson of the KLO's women's wing, was arrested in West Bengal on August 7, 2002. The outfit's operations chief, Suresh Roy, had surrendered on January 24, 2002. Important KLO personnel on whom the mantle of leadership could now fall include Hiten Roy, Ravi Rajbanshi, Rahul Roy and Kajal Roy.

Military capabilities: The KLO is most active in Alipurduar in Jalpaiguri, and the Siliguri subdivision of Darjeeling. Apart from its close links with ULFA and the NDFB, the KLO also has a long record of aiding the Maoist groups in Nepal. The KLO is believed to have provided shelter, cover and some armed support to the Maoist groups.

According to Indian intelligence, a joint meeting of ULFA, the NDFB, and the KLO was held with members of the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) to work out a joint strategy for operations in the region. The discussions are believed to have focussed on the prospect of creating a compact revolutionary zone, which would allow all these groups some cross-border elbow room.

The KLO is also believed to have a working relationship with the Tiwa National Revolutionary Front (TNRF), an insurgent outfit based in the Nagaon district of Assam. Some security experts believe that the ISI has a particular interest in the KLO, since the latter helps to escalate sabotage activity along the strategically and economically vital Siliguri corridor of West Bengal.

CRACKDOWN IN BHUTAN

After years of dithering despite pressure from India, the Bhutan government finally realises the threat posed to it by three Indian insurgent groups that had entrenched themselves in the forests of the kingdom's border and takes military action against them.

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Bhutanese soldiers at the border in the Bhutanese district of Sandrup Jongkhar on December 17.

THERE is little doubt about the outcome of the military operations launched by the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) on the morning of December 15 to clear the kingdom of three closely allied separatist militant groups from Assam and north Bengal whose fight is against India but who had entrenched themselves in well-established camps in Bhutan for over a decade and had clearly overstayed their welcome.

Within days of the launching of the military operations, Bhutan was claiming that all the 30 camps of the organisations - the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), with 13, 12 and five camps respectively - had been "smashed". The estimated 3,000 or so inmates of the camps, some of them non-combatants, were on the run. Those who chose to fight were either killed or captured or were forced to flee, dispersing themselves into the difficult terrain of east and southern Bhutan, very broadly the theatre of operations.

The process is still on. There is, however, little doubt that sooner than later, this phase too will come to an end. Despite the claims to the contrary by ULFA leaders, its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and commander-in-chief Paresh Barua, who are not in Bhutan but who regularly telephone correspondents over their satellite telephones, send e-mail to newspapers or give detailed interviews to Assam-based websites, the organisation and its allies have suffered a setback. The kind of infrastructure that the outfits had built in southern and eastern Bhutan in over a decade of open and semi-clandestine work cannot be revived immediately.

According to the Bhutan government, the military operations are an all-Bhutan affair, with King Jigme Singye Wangchuk himself leading his troops from the front. The Indian armed forces, massively present and actively engaged in anti-terrorist operations in the region, were providing only logistical support - "sealing the international border" (whatever that term means, for the India-Bhutan border in the Assam sector alone runs to over 260 km), ferrying the injured to hospitals in India, capturing those militants who tried to break into Indian territory and killing those who offered fight.

These claims have not carried much conviction on the Indian side of the border. ULFA leaders maintain that the Indian armed forces are actively taking part in the fighting on the ground. There has been at least one newspaper report of the arrival of a coffin wrapped in the Indian tricolour at 11 Garhwal helipad at Darranga, on the Indian side of the border south of Samdrup Jongkhar, one of the districts where the dismantled camps were situated.

Barring the handing over to the Indian Army authorities of 37 women and 27 children, many of the former themselves militants, and of some leading captured militants like Bhimkanta Buragohain, one of the founder leaders of ULFA, whose formal surrender to the Indian Army in Tezpur with a call to his comrades to follow suit was widely broadcast on December 26, there has been no official statement from Bhutan on the progress of the operation, the number of militants captured or killed and the material captured. The Director of Bhutan's Foreign Affairs Ministry, accessible always on the telephone, has been speaking only in the most general terms, reiterating the points made in the official statement explaining why Bhutan was forced to act finally.

With such total news blackout successfully enforced by the Bhutan authorities, there have been only guesstimates, attributed mostly to unnamed sources, of casualties on either side, and of persons captured. These too, like all such guesstimates, vary wildly. But all reports agree that over 100 militants have been killed and over 500 have surrendered or have been captured. Even allowing for a margin of 10 per cent error and augmenting by 10 per cent the guesstimates of the numbers of those killed, or captured and those who surrendered, a large number of the generally cited camps' population of about 3,000 or so militants still remain unaccounted for.

This virtual blackout of all news from inside Bhutan has led to wild speculations and propagation of urban legends. It has also given a free run of the media to the leaders of the separatist organisations who are more than forthcoming with their version of what is happening, with website interviews and e-mail and personal calls over satellite telephone to select reporters. The strange case of Buragohain, affectionately called Mama, provides an instructive example of the shaping and growth of such urban legends, of myth and fantasy, deliberately constructed or merely wishful, overshadowing and taking precedence over dull but inescapable facts.

Two days after the operation was launched, there were reports citing unnamed Bhutan Army authorities and apparently confirmed by an Indian Army officer that Buragohain had died of wounds sustained on the first day of the operations. Following this report, there was much indignation in the State, cutting across all other divides, as much over the killing of an elderly leader as over the failure of the authorities to hand over the `body' to the next of kin. The issue dominated the news for nearly a week until it finally turned out that he was not dead but had surrendered.

This was at a time when the authorities were not saying a word (and are even now not saying much) about the operations, leading to complaints from the media about the `lack of transparency' on the part of the Bhutan authorities. Of course, the media here as elsewhere have never been exactly modest about their role in the larger affairs of the state, including the conduct of war. The United States understands such delusions about occupying the moral high ground and also knows only too well how to stoke and feed this vainglory - which explains the unique phenomenon of the `embedded reporters' accompanying the invading troops in Iraq, and using them to sell the U.S. version of the events to the rest of the world. Bhutan, being a poor country, simply did not have the wherewithal or the sophistication for such public relations exercises.

So, it was again another free run for ULFA leaders who provided inputs that were promptly incorporated into media reports for nearly a week: that Buragohain was shot and killed (or more gruesomely, hacked to death) while he was leading a group of women and children holding aloft a white flag with a view to negotiating a surrender; that the RBA had `violated the norms of Geneva Convention by killing a prisoner of war'. All this appeared in an online interview given by the ULFA chairman to an Assam-based website. According to Paresh Barua, the death of Buragohain would be a perennial source of inspiration to ULFA's cadre to continue the fight. Several newspapers carried editorial comments condemning the killing of an elderly man. Poets produced adulatory and mourning poems.

Much anger and revulsion was expressed over the delay in the return of the body, again leading to speculation that the body had been so badly mutilated that the authorities did not want to risk more anger by returning it. These factors certainly contributed to the substantial success of the 48-hour Assam and north Bengal bandh beginning at 5 a.m. on December 20, called by ULFA, the NDFB and the KLO. One of the central demands behind the bandh call was the return of the bodies. While the bandh call evoked a poor response in the six districts of north Bengal which, along with Goalpara district in Assam, constitute the putative Kamatapur, the bandh was observed in Nagaland and Manipur, though the separatist organisations in these States have not been directly affected by the crackdown in Bhutan.

At the level of `civil society', over a dozen organisations, not all of them fronts of ULFA, issued statements condemning what they saw as lack of respect for the dead. Amnesty International (which consistently refused to recognise the South African leader Nelson Mandela as a "prisoner of conscience") and the International Committee of the Red Cross wanted to get involved. The Guwahati High Court admitted a petition filed by the Manav Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS) and directed the Army to hand over the body of Buragohain "if it is in its custody" to the civil authorities. The issue also figured in the Assam Assembly where the government pleaded total ignorance.

In due course, a New Delhi-based television channel, in tune with the frenetic culture of instantaneous news dissemination whose only purpose is to score a point over rivals no less frenzied, took the process to its logical conclusion by reporting that Buragohain's body had been taken to his village near Doomdooma, about 600 km from the scene of conflict and cremated in the presence of a large number of grieving followers.

As always, reality outdid the wildest imagination of fiction. One recalled with pleasure the sardonic farce of Evelyn Waugh's Scoop, even as one reflected on the foolishness of trying to paint the lily.

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It is true that indignation generated throughout the State and indeed in the region about the incorrectly presumed callousness of the authorities has left a lot of red faces around. Nevertheless, the blunders will be covered up and are being covered up; punches are being pulled or converted into feints. What is more relevant is that ULFA, which had more or less disappeared from the front pages of newspapers, is back with a bang, even if for the present as an organisation whose rank and file are demoralised and are on the run.

One of the first things that this correspondent noticed on returning to Guwahati about two years ago after an eight-year absence was that news about ULFA, which mostly meant news about the killing of "unidentified suspected ULFA militants" by the security forces, for the most part comprised bare reproduction of handouts issued by the Army's public relations officer. This was in sharp contrast to the detailed coverage of such encounters, first-hand accounts from the spot and reactions from the members of the family of the slain militants, which was the norm a decade ago (Frontline, October 25, 2002).

The fact that ULFA is now making big news does not mean that the organisation's separatist ideology will once again take centre stage in the ideological discourse in the State. However, there is and there continues to be significant support to the call for an end to the crackdown in Bhutan and, by implication, an easing up if not an end to the anti-insurgency operations in the State as well. "A political solution to insurgency" is what everyone wants.

In a statement issued on December 22, 33 leading citizens of the State, led by former Chief Minister Saratchandra Sinha, appealed to the Royal Bhutan government to announce a ceasefire in "the war unleashed by it and the Indian Army on non-combatants, including women and children". Clearly, the signatories, all persons highly distinguished in their fields, do not believe that the Indian armed forces are not taking part in the operations; and most certainly believe that women and children have been targeted.

Such views can hardly be seen as indicators of ULFA returning to the centre stage, which it once occupied in Assam. In fact, a disclaimer that the signatories do not support ULFA's separatist ideology precedes every such statement. Nevertheless, such perceptions also underline a mindset, unique to middle classes aspiring to be ruling classes everywhere, which, while not supporting ULFA's separatist ideology or other varieties of extremist violence, recognises only too well that militancy has now become a necessary condition for its own prosperity and well-being.

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An imagined self-introspection, rather in the manner of an honest caricature of the reality, would read the situation thus: The imagined person could be anyone, by some stretch of the contrived imagination, perhaps even this writer.

We would never want our children to take to the path of militancy and indeed have taken care to send them outside the State and, where we can afford, outside the country, to grow up uncontaminated by such ideas as Swadhin Asom, get a proper education and make a good life, comfortable and prosperous. But do we want ULFA to give up its struggle to attain Swadhin Asom? No. For it is only by continuing to fight for this unattainable demand, staying for years away from their homes in inhospitable foreign terrains, that we, well-entrenched in our comfortable niches, can be sure of the uninterrupted and increasingly larger and larger benefices from the more powerful and resourceful ruling classes in New Delhi. For evidence of the prosperity and well being, even if of a kind, that two decades of your militancy has brought us, simply look around.

IT is difficult to question the legitimacy of Bhutan's military action from the point of view of the country's government. For over 10 years, the separatist militant groups from Assam (and later, from north Bengal) had virtually "invited themselves" into the kingdom, established several bases, including what the militants themselves rather grandiloquently described as their `General Headquarters' and `Command Headquarters', all well supplied and very well armed, from where they ran their operations against their `enemy', meaning India.

However, even without Bhutan's compulsions to be sensitive and responsive to Indian concerns in this regard, what perhaps outraged the authorities in Bhutan as it appears from the Bhutan Foreign Ministry statement, was the brazen assumption of the separatist leaders that their organisations were there as a matter of right. In fact, ULFA vice-chairman Pradeep Gogoi, currently lodged in the Guwahati jail and freely speaking to the media on occasions when he is brought to the court in connection with the cases against him, said that Bhutan had "betrayed" ULFA.

The sentiments expressed in the statement issued by the Bhutan Foreign Ministry to explain the launching of the military operations are unexceptionable, except for a tiny bit of reservation. Even allowing for the tough terrain, it is difficult to believe that the militants had "clandestinely" entered Bhutan "about 12 years ago" and established the 30 camps without the knowledge of the authorities. On the contrary, it is a well-known secret that ULFA went to the kingdom with the full knowledge and, perhaps, tacit concurrence of the authorities who, at that point, found a use for the presence of these foreign militants in that area affected by an entirely internal and indigenous turbulence long before the militants from Assam began to set up camps there.

In the early 1990s, about the time when, following Operation Bajrang and Operation Rhino in Assam, ULFA decided to set up camps in Bhutan, nearly 100,000 Bhutanese citizens of Nepali origin in southern Bhutan, a wild belt of territory covering seven districts, fled (or were forced to flee) to Nepal in the course of a few months. For over a decade now, they have been living in camps set up in Morang and Jhapa, two districts in eastern Nepal.

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The arrival of the militants from Assam and the construction of the camps and their infrastructure injected a lot of money into an area that even by the standards of Bhutan is economically underdeveloped. The economy certainly benefited though, from the very beginning, there were also tensions, exacerbated by the fact that the Lhotshampa (Bhutanese of Nepali origin) had their own problems with the other more dominant Drukpa, broadly comprising two other major national groups, the Ngalong in the west and the Sharchop in the east.

The origins of these tensions go back further, to the 1980 Marriage Act, the 1985 Citizenship Act and other pieces of legislation, which the southern Bhutanese felt are discriminated in matters relating to marriage, citizenship and language and, rather more visibly, dress. These resulted in the emergence of a militant tendency among the Lhotshampa themselves. At that point ULFA and its allies were seen as a possible buffer, a device to keep this internal and until then mostly indigenous turbulence under control. In short, a decade ago, it was seen as a serviceable ally of the kingdom.

As nothing is static in the correlation of forces in human societies, this equation too has changed over the years. "Of particular concern," the Bhutan Foreign Ministry statement of December 15 said, "are the misrepresentations surrounding their [militant's] presence... " It is noteworthy that the statement carefully refrains from elaborating on what these "misrepresentations" are.

Further, elements described by the Bhutan government as "Nepali terrorist movements", but which probably represented one or another faction of the then fractured communist movement in Nepal, began to seek sanctuaries and support among the southern Bhutanese who, because of their Nepali ethnic origin, had for decades faced oppression and denial from the more dominant indigenous Drukpas, were responsive.

The transformation of the once weak and fractured communist movement in Nepal to the feared Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) also had its impact on the southern Bhutanese, drawing to its ranks the disaffected youth. This radicalisation of the southern Bhutanese has led, inevitably as it were, to the formation of a more formal political structure - the Bhutan Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist). It was founded on April 22, 2003, the birth anniversary of Lenin, at Siliguri, according to one account, or according to another "somewhere in the Chhattisgarh-Orissa-Jharkhand special area in India". Another birth on the same day in 1969, another false flag operation, perhaps, for the agenda of recolonisation is more vibrantly at work now than it was then. Official Bhutan anyway sees the BCP(MLM) as a totally "Made in Nepal" product.

The statement announcing the birth of BCP(MLM) and the 10-point demands announced on May 1, along with the slogans adopted, may not immediately pose a threat to the monarchy in Bhutan. But they do hold a portent. One of the most interesting points made in the statement announcing the birth of the BCP(MLM) relates to its reading of Bhutan's population mix, every section of which is oppressed by the feudal monarchy. According to the statement, those oppressed include "even the Sharchops, who are next to Nepali origin Bhutanese... " In other words, this remarkable formulation takes it for granted that the demographic pattern has already changed and the "Nepali origin" population constitute the largest single group. The prospect of `Sikkimisation' is an ever-present nightmare in the imagination of the Drukpas.

The establishment of such a `Marxist-Leninist-Maoist' party, one of whose fundamental premises is that the Drukpas are already a minority in Bhutan, whose first slogan is "Down with monarchy", and given ULFA's well-known claims of commitment to "scientific socialism", the organisation, once seen as a serviceable tool, had become a threat to the kingdom in the dramatically changed ground situation. The crackdown was also perhaps influenced by pressure from India. But more immediate and local factors, relevant to the internal situation in Bhutan, appear to have been the deciding factor.

The AIDS initiative

While welcoming the government's initiative to provide ARV treatment at reduced cost, the HIV/AIDS community hopes that it will also strengthen diagnostic facilities and extend coverage of the plan.

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SEVENTEEN years after the first cases of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection were detected in India, Union Health Minister Sushma Swaraj announced on November 30 the government's plan to provide anti-AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) drugs to one lakh HIV/AIDS patients at reduced prices in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland, which account for more than 80 per cent of all reported cases of AIDS in the country. The government aims to implement this by April 1, 2004.

Four pharmaceutical companies - Cipla, Ranbaxy, Matrix and Hetero - have agreed to supply anti-retrovirals (ARVs) to the government. Though the exact price has not been agreed upon as yet, industry representatives expect that it will be at a rate slightly lower than Rs.6,419 per patient per annum, the price offered to the Clinton Foundation recently. (The Clinton Foundation, set up by former American President Bill Clinton, provides ARVs to African and Caribbean countries.)

Says Ashok Alexander of the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation: "Pharmaceutical companies are able to provide lower prices by promising bigger volumes in the future. This helps lower the costs." However, with the government waiving excise on several pharmaceutical ingredients used in the making of ARVs, in effect the government will be spending as much as earlier. The National AIDS Control Organisation's (NACO) announcement that the companies were willing to bring prices to a level lower than that offered to the Clinton Foundation is more of a publicity exercise. Sushma Swaraj has announced that she will take up the issue with Finance Minister Jaswant Singh and the Planning Commission to ensure that these exemptions are given in the Union Budget.

What the government has committed itself to is Rs.200 crores for the infrastructure needed to implement this programme by April. Of this, Rs.113 crores is meant for medicines and Rs.87 crores for providing infrastructure to screen people for HIV/AIDS infection. The supply of drugs will initially be to three categories of patients - children of persons living with AIDS or HIV infection, women having AIDS or HIV infection, and men who suffer from full-blown AIDS. Says Sandeep Juneja, HIV Project head of Ranbaxy: "The scale of the project is put in perspective when one looks at Brazil, which has an advanced government-run programme that provides ARVs free to the public. The total number of people who have access to this programme is only one lakh." The Brazilian government has ensured a system of providing universal access to all AIDS-related treatment, including ARVs, through the public health system since 1996.

Though this is an important step that the government has taken, the question is where the government will find the funds. India is estimated to have an HIV seropositivity rate in adults of 0.7-0.8 per cent. It has 3.14-4.58 million HIV-positive people, a figure much lower than those for sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa. NACO had an expenditure allocation of Rs.18 crores for the year 2001-02. The Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS has already released $100 million to India to fight HIV/AIDS and another $30 million to fight tuberculosis. The government's existing proposal, for which funds have not yet been made available, provides for ARV prophylactic care to 3,50,000 HIV-positive pregnant women and their families, and ARV treatment to 15,000 persons living with HIV infection/AIDS. It is therefore possible to envisage a government-run programme that provides universal access.

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Even as the government increases fund allocation for ARV treatment, people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) are still discriminated against. Hospitals continue to deny treatment to HIV/AIDS patients. Moreover, a large number of PLWHAs cannot tolerate ARVs because of the toxicity of the medications or because they are resistant to the treatment. The drug that is provided has to be of high quality. The person taking the drug has to be constantly monitored and the drugs may have to be changed if resistance or toxicity is observed. The patient has to adhere to a strict regimen and the government has to ensure that information about the exact regimen is communicated to the patient, that there is a regular supply of drugs, and that side-effects are handled. Says K.K. Abraham of the Indian Network of Positive People: "This is a good initiative. All these years, the epidemic was neglected. This announcement will give hope to the 4.58 million people living with HIV/AIDS in India."

According to Ritu Priya, Assistant Professor, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi (Economic and Political Weekly, December 13), given all these complexities, if free treatment with regular drug supply is not through a structured system, the suffering of HIV patients will only get compounded. This is the imperative of the ARV technology.

It is to allay such fears that the Health Ministry has said that the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has offered to procure about 150 CD4/CD8 count machines to monitor the viral load in people with the illness. But the government has to ensure that these machines are distributed in a rational manner. Says Abraham: " These machines have to be practically placed after consultations at the State level. The government has to make plans to strengthen the diagnostic facilities for at least 10 lakh people in order to figure out who needs ARV treatment."

A number of petitions have been filed before the Supreme Court asking that the government provide ARVs. The most recent one, filed by the Voluntary Health Association of India (Frontline, September 26, 2003), requests the court to direct the government to provide PLWHAs the right to treatment under the country's public health system.

The petition asks the state to provide free and equitable access to ARV treatment for HIV-positive persons by creating the required infrastructure in public health institutions. Earlier petitions specifically dealt with the right of PLWHAs to receive non-discriminatory treatment from health care workers and the right to a safe working environment for health care workers and medical practitioners.

The challenge before the government is to address these concerns too while implementing its plan. Says Abraham: " The HIV/AIDS community is happy that the government has taken this initiative. But it has to strengthen diagnostic facilities and expand its programme to include cities like Kolkata and Delhi."

Lethal remittance

PRAVEEN SWAMI the-nation

The Lashkar-e-Toiba finds a new wave of recruits among Gulf expatriates.

The Hindu is a mean enemy and the proper way to deal with him is the one adopted by our forefathers... who crushed them by force. We need to do the same.

- Editorial by the Lashkar-e-Toiba's spiritual head, Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed, in The Voice of Islam, September 1999.

HAFIZ Mohammad Sayeed's speeches began doing the rounds of mosques in Kuwait and Dubai in the summer of 1998. Circulated by earnest young men with scraggly beards, invariably wearing the ankle-length Taliban-style pyjamas mandated by the ultra-conservative Ahl-e-Hadis sect, the Lashkar-e-Toiba chief's speeches demanded jehad against infidels at large, and India in particular.

Almost no one in the large south Asian expatriate population - no one, that is, in their right mind - paid much attention. Memories of the demolition of the Babri Masjid had begun to fade, and even the war in Jammu and Kashmir attracted little attention among South Asian Muslims. Then, in 2002, came the communal massacres in Gujarat: and the voice of the Lashkar's spiritual head began to resonate in many young minds. Along with hard currency, terror has now become a major remittance to India: a source of growing concern to the intelligence community. Lashkar cells based in Kuwait and Dubai have emerged as central to several major terrorist actions in India over the last two years. Many of those involved are not stereotypical seminary-educated fanatics, but people with jobs and families - with lives they seem willing to sacrifice to avenge one of India's worst communal pogroms.

Consider the case of Shahid Ahmad Bakshi, a Lashkar operative arrested last year for conspiring to assassinate right-wing Hindu leaders, including Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Pravin Togadia. Bakshi was also tasked with undertaking a major operation to recruit riot victims for the jehad. A 7th-grade dropout from the poor Muslim ghetto of Juhapura in Ahmedabad, Bakshi had struggled to build a life for himself. For eight years before his Lashkar mission, he worked as an articulate truck driver, ferrying loads across Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Although a member of the Ahl-e-Hadis sect, to which the Lashkar owes allegiance, there is little to show that Bakshi was attracted to terrorist groups before the Gujarat riots. Then, as the violence in Gujarat spiralled out of control after the Godhra massacre, the truck driver turned to friends who he knew could help meet his desire for revenge. In June 2002, he made contact with a Lashkar controller in Kathmandu, and took the first cash advance to fund his new plans.

Bakshi, intelligence officials say, was assigned twin tasks. The first was to buy a truck that, disguised as a milk-cooperative collection vehicle, would ferry smuggled weapons and explosives across the Kutch border. The actual attacks would be executed by young Ahmedabad riot victims recruited and trained for the purpose. With the help of a local cleric, Bakshi and another associate from Kuwait did the rounds of refugee camps and Muslim ghettos in Ahmedabad. Seven orphans and 26 young people from poor families were chosen as potential operatives. Intelligence officials believe that at least some of these young people would, slowly, have been flown abroad for training in Pakistan. A similar operation led by cleric Maulana SufiyanPatangia succeeded in sending at least eight recruits for training in Pakistan, funded by Lashkar and Jaish-e-Mohammad networks in Saudi Arabia.

Investigations of the bombing of a bus in Mumbai's Ghatkopar area on December 22, 2002 showed the existence of similar networks in Dubai. Imran Rahman Khan, the Chennai-born principal accused in the bombing case who was deported to India in January this year, converted to Islam at the age of 15. His interest in the faith, however, seems to have been mainly spiritual; Khan married a Hindu woman from Rajasthan, and showed no attraction to armed Islamists until the Gujarat riots. Soon after the riots began, Khan met top Lashkar commander Abdul Bari, a one-time Hyderabad resident who had spent the last 12 years shuttling between his base in Saudi Arabia and Dubai and other Gulf states on organisational work. Bari's collection of video-tapes on riot carnage convinced Khan to join an assault team being sent to Mumbai. Other than putting in place arrangements for the Ghatkopar bombing, Khan was also tasked with monitoring the activities of film personalities who had taken what the Lashkar believed to be an anti-Muslim position including Mani Ratnam and Shekhar Suman. Members of the proscribed Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) also seem to have cooperated with the Lashkar in setting up several Gulf-based cells. Mohammad Altaf, a long-time SIMI activist from Parbhani, Maharashtra, was a trained chemical engineer working in Dubai when the Gujarat pogrom began. He made contact with Bari soon after, and through him he came to know Khan.

The two told the interrogators that they discussed several means for setting off remote-controlled explosions, and on one occasion conducted tests using instruments connected to a cellphone. These cellphone triggers were eventually used on the Ghatkopar bus. Altaf also provided several Lashkar operatives with contacts among his old SIMI associates in India. Syed Abdul Aziz, who was shot dead in Hyderabad in the course of a police search for those involved in an abortive assassination attempt on Sai Baba, was among those provided shelter in Mumbai through Altaf.

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COUNTER-TERRORISM experts have known of the Lashkar's operations in the Gulf for several years: the infrastructure for Lashkar terror in the Gulf certainly long preceded its actual post-Gujarat exercise. From the late-1990s onwards, Lashkar activists began distributing copies of their house journal, Majallah al-Dawa, at the Ahl-e-Hadis sect's mosque in Salmiya, Kuwait. The Lashkar's top ideologue, Abdul Rahman Makki, began visiting the city-state soon afterwards, often preaching to audiences of Indian and Pakistani origin on the need for jehad "to protect Muslims against the Indian state". Among those in the audience was Farhan Ahmad Ali, whose family had moved from Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh, to Kuwait in 1974. An 11th-grade school dropout, Ali worked as a sales representative for a firm dealing in business directories.

Ali's introduction to the Lashkar-e-Toiba came through Fahim Ahmad, a Pakistani national with whom he had studied in school. Fahim Ahmad had taken charge of the Lashkar's Salmiya unit and persuaded Ali to come on board. In February 1998, Ali flew to Pakistan for weapons training. Ali told his interrogators that he stayed at a Lashkar guest house in Islamabad, along with some 70 other new recruits, before being moved to another facility at the Yateemkhana Chowk in Lahore. There were, Ali recalled, at least eight Arab recruits there, five from Saudi Arabia, and one each from Egypt, Yemen and Morocco. Soon after, the group was despatched to the Al-Aqsa training camp near Muzaffarabad, an exclusive facility for residents of Arab countries. According to Ali, some 1,000 Arabs, along with four British converts to Islam and one Romanian, were in training at the camp.

Training at Al-Aqsa lasted just a week, during which time Ali learned how to use a variety of automatic weapons and lob hand-grenades and fabricate and deploy improvised explosive devices. Advised to return later for the Daura Khas, a more rigorous advanced course, Ali returned to Kuwait. In March 1998, he visited his family in India, but engaged in no real political activity, other than arranging a visa for the Assam-based Ahl-e-Hadis preacher Jamaluddin Sulfi to visit Kuwait for fund-raising.

Following the communal massacres in Gujarat, however, Ali threw himself into his Ahl-e-Hadis work with renewed vigour. It was at a propaganda meeting at the Air Force Mosque that Ali first met Shahid Bakshi. The two then left on their recruitment mission to refugee camps in Gujarat, along with Bakshi's brother, Siraj Ahmad Bakshi and an associate, Hafiz Mohammad Tahir. Ali was arrested in New Delhi as he was boarding a flight back to Kuwait in August 2002.

What is clear, though, is that communal violence in India has provided the Lashkar the kind of legitimacy no amount of cash could have bought. Several key members of the Dubai-based Lashkar-e-Toiba cell which executed the twin bombings at the Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar in August this year - which left 51 dead and 162 injured - had long-standing concerns about communal violence in India. Ashrat Shafiq Ahmad Ansari, who is charged with having planted the Zaveri Bazaar bomb, was like many Muslims incensed by the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Working in Surat during the 2002 riots, Ansari saw the worst of Hindu fundamentalism first-hand. The experience made it easy for Ansari to be recruited by the Dubai-based architect of the bombings, Zahid Yusuf Patne. Patne, recently extradited to India, worked as a fork-lift operator in Dubai.

Syed Abdul Rahim, who hails from a lower middle-class family in Mumbai's Marol Naka area, worked from 1992 to 1999 in Jeddah as an electrician with a company that carried out works at the Royal Palace. Although surveillance on all staff with access to the Palace ensured that Rahim stayed well away from any kind of terrorist activity, he regularly joined in discussions of anti-Muslim mobilisations by the Hindu Right. After a brief and unsuccessful attempt to start a business in India, Rahim left again for Dubai. This time, he joined in protests against the Gujarat riots, where videotapes of the violence were screened. At these meetings, Patne motivated Rahim to join the Lashkar, and he soon began to attend lectures by the head of the organisation's Dubai office, Maulana Haroon. Soon afterwards, he returned to India, to play a key role in the worst single terrorist act to take place in India in 2003.

Gulf states, increasingly concerned about Islamist activities, are less tolerant of terrorist groups like the Lashkar operating from their soil - a fact underlined by the rapid deportation of several key accused in the Mumbai bombings. Nonetheless, the evidence is that the Lashkar continues to be active, fishing in waters made conducive by communalism in India.

Even if the Lashkar is forced to wind down its war in Jammu and Kashmir, it is expanding its capability to wage a far more brutal one, directed, as Sayeed had promised, at all of India.

`India has to find its own solution'

the-nation

Interview with Justice Michael Kirby.

Justice Michael Kirby is one of the seven Judges of the High Court of Australia, the apex court of that country. He has, through his progressive judgments helped formulate many legal principles relating to human rights and Human Immunodeficiency Virus/ Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS). He served as the Special Representative to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on Human Rights in Cambodia between 1993 and 1996. In 1998, he was named Laureate of the UNESCO Prize for Human Rights Education. He was elected President of the International Commission of Jurists in 1995. He was also part of the team that prepared the Judicial Training Manual on Human Rights for the U.N. Centre for Human Rights in 1997. He has a keen interest in initiatives to tackle HIV/AIDS in India and addresses members of the judiciary, legal community, policy-makers and representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) across the country every year. During his recent visit to Delhi in December to attend a colloquium organised by the Parliamentary Committee on HIV/AIDS and the Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit, he spoke to Siddharth Narrain. Excerpts from the interview:

What has your programme in India involved so far?

This is one of the series of visits that I have made to India to have discussions with judges, lawyers, and NGOs regarding initiatives on legal issues surrounding HIV/AIDS. The object is to inform Indian friends of the course of legal responses to the epidemic in countries that have been in the vortex zone for a much longer period than India.

How responsive have Indian judges been to these efforts?

Being a judge myself, I am respectful of the independence of the Judges here and my aim is to help them have a better professional and personal insight into the issue. I have personally sat on the bedside of 12 persons who died of the epidemic. I have been involved in the issue by working with UNAIDS (the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) and WHO (World Health Organisation). India has to find its own solution but the experience of others can help.

How has the Australian legislature dealt with the threat of HIV/AIDS?

Australian law-makers found that, paradoxically, the best way to change people's behaviour was by protecting them. All Australian States agreed to adopt needle exchange systems by which one can go to any pharmacy across Australia, deposit a used syringe and get a new one. The Australian Parliament took this step, though it was in the middle of a war against drugs as it realised that even if dependence on drugs was bad, the fact that people were dying was even worse. The government also changed existing laws to make condoms available in every public toilet. Also laws that criminalise sodomy were done away with.

What do you think of the Indian government's response to the petition seeking the repeal of the law criminalising sodomy in India (Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code) where one of the main arguments of the petitioners is that the law will prevent HIV/AIDS outreach work.

I cannot comment on the Indian government's decision but we need to look at other countries where similar laws have been repealed by legislative means or have been held to be unconstitutional by courts. In some parts of the world this has happened with the aid of international bodies like the United Nations Human Rights Committee (as in the case of Tasmania) or by the European Court of Human Rights (as in the cases of Northern Ireland, Ireland and Cyprus).

What is your opinion on the latest United States Supreme Court judgment that has struck down anti-sodomy laws there?

In Lawrence vs Texas in 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court held by a majority that a discriminatory criminal law which punishes only sexual acts by homosexuals even if performed in private by consenting adults, as unconstitutional. There is a very interesting passage at the end of the judgment in which Justice Kennedy, writing for the court, says that the drafters of the Constitution perhaps did not perceive every aspect of liberty. Every generation has to look into the Constitution of the country to see if there are new reflections of liberty there. This has been our approach to constitutional interpretation.

How has the Australian judiciary responded to the issue of HIV/AIDS and the rights of sexual minorities?

The Australian judiciary, as the case of the judiciary in India, has a wide range of views. In all countries, the judiciary reflects growing enlightenment about human sexuality. Earlier the white Australian community hardly interacted with Asians. That has changed now. Similarly it is easy to hate gay people when you do not know them.

How important is the human rights discourse to societal change?

In Australia we do not have a bill of rights. We use the common law, which contains respect for human rights. India has a bill of rights, which gives lawyers and judges the tools to advance the rights of minorities. The judiciary in India has been the foremost in utilising these tools. I do not have any time for the term `judicial activism'. It is a term that is often a label put on people to express criticism. A bill of rights in effect mandates a measure of activism on the part of judges when it is relevant.

Does ideology play an important role in deciding cases?

Every judge brings with him/her a measure of attitudes that come from parental instruction, religion and education. It would be futile to deny that judges are not influenced by such factors. The law has an ideology of its own. By its nature it tends to be status quoist and conservative. Therefore it is an interesting question if because of its nature it attracts conservative thinking people.

Turning over a new leaf

General Pervez Musharraf's statement that it was time for Pakistan to look for a realistic solution to the Kashmir dispute points to a paradigm shift in the country's `bleed India' policy and creates an atmosphere of hope and optimism ahead of the SAARC summit in Islamabad.

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AS the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit approaches, developments on the India-Pakistan front are moving at a pace unimaginable just a year ago. But while there is an element of uncertainty about the summit itself, scheduled to take place from January 4, thanks to the recent attempts on the life of President Pervez Musharraf, the peace initiative of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has acquired a momentum of its own. There is hope and expectation in both the countries despite Pakistan's weak civilian government and the challenges faced by Musharraf and a `lame duck' Vajpayee government in India.

Perhaps this kind of optimism is witnessed on both sides of the divide for the first time since 1971. That the situation is fast changing is best reflected by Musharraf's statement on Kashmir in the course of an interview to Reuters. He surprised observers by saying that Pakistan had `left aside' the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir. The statement shattered a long-standing taboo in Pakistan; it was also considered highly risky given the challenge posed by fundamentalists opposed to the regime owing to its change of policy on Afghanistan.

Analysts in India might argue that the `symbolic' gesture of the Pakistan President is neither new nor substantial. The General had hinted on these lines at his famous breakfast meeting with Indian Editors at the Agra summit in July 2001, but never before had a Pakistani head of state made an explicit public admission that Pakistan could not realistically hope for a plebiscite to end the Kashmir dispute and, therefore, was willing to explore other ways.

At Agra, Musharraf propounded a four-step process to resolve the Kashmir issue, without referring to the U.N. resolution. The process, if mutually accepted, would mean the acceptance of the `centrality' of the Kashmir issue in the relations between India and Pakistan; the commencement of dialogue; elimination of solutions unacceptable to India and Pakistan; and working towards a solution that is acceptable to all parties, including Kashmiris. In his interview to Reuters, he reiterated the approach and, predictably, drew a strong reaction from the hardliners in Pakistan. Subsequent attempts by Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali and Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmud Kasuri to dilute Musharraf's remarks have been insufficient to control the expressions of outrage and accusations of treason emanating from the military, political, and jehadi establishments in Pakistan, who are convinced that Kashmir can be liberated by force.

A sample of the moderate view of the hardliners was articulated by the English daily The Nation. In an editorial titled, `Shocking Flexibility', it said: "For quite some time, the nation has been hearing from its leadership ominous words like the `need for flexibility' to arrive at a solution of the Kashmir dispute acceptable to all parties, without being able to decipher what they really connoted in details. However, the President's interview to Reuters and Ambassador Aziz Khan's interview to an Indian TV channel let the wild cat out of the bag. The President has, in effect, given up the option of holding a plebiscite and is ready to eschew the cardinal demand of implementing the sacrosanct U.N. resolutions for `the sake of peace'. Yes, peace is of great significance and must be the ultimate goal of all sane leaders, but trying to achieve it against the aspirations of the people to win freedom from the yoke of forcible foreign occupation betrays their inalienable right. Also, an unjust peace is no peace, and merely sets the stage for further trouble and misery."

The truth of the matter is that hardliners in Pakistan are fast losing ground. It has largely gone unnoticed, particularly in India, that no political party in Pakistan has raised its voice against any of the confidence-building measures announced by India since April 2002 for the normalisation of ties between the two countries. Yes, they have apprehensions about the motive behind India's initiatives, but even the Jammat-e-Islami, which took to the streets to oppose Vajpayee's visit to Lahore in February 1999, chose to endorse the peace moves.

In the post-September 11 era, there is a growing worry among political parties, the intelligentsia and civil society that after Iraq it could be Pakistan's turn, especially in view of its status as a nuclear weapons state. The common refrain is that it is wiser to make peace with India than provide an excuse to the U.S. and its allies to intervene in the internal affairs of the country.

Ever since the Pakistani government decided to change its policy on Afghanistan within days of the American President George Bush's statement that "either you are with us or them", there has been a furious debate in a section of Pakistani civil society on the need to re-think seriously the Kashmir policy. Its argument is that jehad is no longer fashionable in Western capitals and unless Pakistan reversed its policy on Kashmir, it faced a serious risk of isolation. It is against this backdrop that one would have to evaluate the shift in nuance on the Kashmir issue made by Musharraf in his interview to Reuters. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a nuclear physicist at the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad and a peace activist, is all praise for the pragmatism of Musharraf while talking about Pakistan's willingness to look beyond the U.N. resolutions on Kashmir in the quest for a solution. "It is true that plebiscite was indeed the solution mutually agreed upon in 1948 and that India has reneged on a solemn commitment. But the passage of five decades and drastically changed geo-political circumstances demand a reappraisal. Today, plebiscite is no longer the obvious way of determining the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. For example, it clearly excludes a major section of Kashmiris who would opt for independence today but which, in 1948, may not have wanted it.... More frightening is the likelihood of a plebiscite igniting communal passions, leading to horrific Gujarat-style bloodbaths across the subcontinent. Moreover, at a practical level there is no agency, including the U.N., which is able and willing to implement a task that all nations (except Pakistan) see as impossibly difficult. Therefore, to insist on a plebiscite is the surest way of guaranteeing that a bloody stand-off continues," he writes in Chowk, an Internet magazine dedicated to the promotion of peace between India and Pakistan.

Hoodbhoy argues that the change has been necessitated by a failure of the Kashmir policy. "Unfortunately, much of Pakistan's conspiracy obsessed intelligentsia appears eager to believe that the General is merely obeying the orders received from George W. Bush. But the simplistic worldview that everything comes from Washington disallows an appreciation of some critically important, but unpleasant, facts about Pakistan's failed Kashmir policy. One hopes that these considerations, rather than external pressure, have influenced the General," he writes.

There is little doubt that Musharraf's latest statement on Kashmir is part of a series of major gestures aimed at addressing India's concerns. New Delhi has repeatedly complained about continuing cross-border infiltration, a huge terrorist infrastructure geared to engage in anti-India activities, and Pakistan's unwillingness to participate in trade and cultural exchanges. In recent months, Islamabad has tried, albeit under pressure from several quarters, to meet Indian demands. It banned terror outfits such as the Jaish-e-Mohammad once again and in the process advertised its failure to curb them. The parent outfit of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, another militant outfit active in Kashmir, was placed on the `watch-list'.

For the first time in the history of the relations between the two countries, Pakistan initiated a `unilateral' ceasefire, and it has been in place since November 26. After initial hiccups, Islamabad accepted all the confidence-building measures proposed by New Delhi including the ones related to a bus service between Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), and Srinagar and the revival of the ferry service between Karachi and Mumbai and the train link between Sindh and Rajasthan.

On the economic front, Pakistan spearheaded the campaign for the adoption of the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) and is actively engaged in convincing a reluctant Bangladesh to endorse the framework - perhaps with an eye on the SAARC summit. Hardliners in Pakistan are unhappy over the government stance on SAFTA and see it as a major reversal of its earlier position of having no trade with India until the Kashmir issue was resolved.

Whatever be the motives, Pakistan is moving at a pace no one had dreamt of before. The voices within Pakistan urging the establishment to look for a way out of the Kashmir imbroglio is feeble but growing. As Hoodbhoy puts it, time is running out for Pakistan. "Rather than perform another Afghanistan-style U-turn, it should seek practicable ways of settling Kashmir before a solution is forced upon it. In effect, this could mean a preparatory stage in which inflamed nerves are soothed and the high-pitched, decades-old rhetoric is toned down. Subsequently, the Pakistani side of Kashmir and the Northern Areas should be formally absorbed into Pakistan. "Negotiations should be conducted with India on an LoC-plus solution that allows for some territorial adjustments and soft borders, and possibly a 10-mile deep demilitarised zone. While the division of Kashmir is unfortunate, it is better to accept this reality rather than live with endless suffering that has consumed nearly 90,000 lives since 1987," he argues.

However, there is a growing feeling in Pakistan that the country is being made to give in too much without anything in return from India. It is in this context that Musharraf's repeated emphasis on the immediate resumption of dialogue assumes significance. The ground could slip away fast if the feeling that India is extracting concessions from Pakistan without commensurate benefits for the latter gains currency.

Bail in Tamil Nadu

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN the-nation

The Supreme Court ruling that the mere expression of sympathy to terrorist organisations would not attract POTA enables detenus in Tamil Nadu to secure bail.

THE Jayalalithaa government in Tamil Nadu received a legal blow when the Supreme Court observed on December 16 that a mere expression of sympathy or verbal support to a terrorist organisation would not attract the provisions of Section 21 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). While upholding the validity of Section 21, Justices S. Rajendra Babu and G.P. Mathur, said that in order to attract its provisions there must be a positive inference that a person "has acted with intent of furthering or encouraging terrorist activity or facilitating its commission". In a significant ruling, they said that an accused under POTA could seek bail under its Section 49(7) even before the one-year detention period expired. After the expiry of the period the accused could be released on bail under ordinary law, without the rigour of Section 49(7).

In view of the apex court's observations, the Madras High Court on December 18 granted conditional bail to Tamil Nationalist Movement founder P. Nedumaran and his associates Suba. Veerapandian, Pudukottai Paavanan and Dr. Thayappan. The Tamil Nadu Police had arrested them under Section 21 for making speeches in support of the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The LTTE has been categorised as a terrorist organisation under POTA. It was banned in May 1992 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act after it assassinated former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.

Nedumaran was arrested on August 1, 2002, for his speech at a public meeting in Chennai on April 13. The others were arrested subsequently (Frontline, August 30, 2002).

Justices V.S. Sirpurkar and M. Thanikachalam of the High Court minced no words against the prosecution when they granted bail to Nedumaran and his associates. They said: "We have scanned the whole charges only to find that the complaint is only against the speeches." Not one of the four was found possessing explosives. The prosecution (police) had neither seized any explosive substances from them nor established any nexus between them and terrorist activities. They had not taken part in any activity that would disentitle them to bail, the Judges said. The charges contained nothing about the nexus of the accused with the banned organisation. "Unless such a nexus resulted in the intent of terrorist activities, it would be difficult to refuse bail to the accused," they said, adding that "in the absence of any terrorist activity attributable to the accused, it would be difficult to ask them to remain behind bars for more than 17 months." As the four accused had been in prison for more than a year, their pleas for bail, therefore, could be considered to their advantage, the Judges ruled.

Declining to go into the merits of the case, the Judges made it clear that "in the view of the authoritative pronouncement by the Supreme Court in respect of Sections 49(6), 49(7) and 21 of POTA, it will not be necessary for us to examine the nature of offences in the light of submissions made before us".

R.R. Gopal, Editor of the Tamil magazine Nakkheeran, received conditional bail from the High Court on December 19. The court allowed a habeas corpus petition from his brother R. Gurusamy. The Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID) first arrested Gopal on April 11, 2003, as an accused in the case relating to the murder of a police informant, Rajamani, by the forest brigand Veerappan in 1998. Later, it filed another case against Gopal under the Arms Act and under Section 124-A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). On April 16, it invoked Section 4(a) of POTA for allegedly possessing an unauthorised firearm in a notified area. Gopal, who came out of the Central Prison in Chennai on December 19 to a rousing reception from his colleagues and friends in the media, declared that "dharma and justice will triumph". He said the High Court had given him the first victory and that he was confident of getting justice in the other cases filed against him as well.

The spotlight has now turned on Vaiko and eight other leaders of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), who had been arrested under Section 21 in July 2002 for making speeches in support of the LTTE at a public meeting at Tirumanagalam near Madurai. While Vaiko has firmly refused to seek bail, the other MDMK leaders have approached the High Court for bail.

Vaiko said that the Supreme Court's observations on Section 21 were "a personal success" and "victory for the right to freedom of speech and expression". He pointed out that the court had accepted Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee's argument that a mere expression of sympathy or verbal support for a banned organisation would not fall within the ambit of Section 21.

Section 21 titled "Offence relating to support given to a terrorist organisation", says: (1) "A person commits an offence if - (a) he invites support for a terrorist organisation and (b) the support is not, or is not restricted to, the provision of money or other property within the meaning of Section 22.

(2) A person commits an offence if he arranges, manages or assists in arranging or managing a meeting which he knows is - (a) to support a terrorist organisation; or (b) to further the activities of a terrorist organisation; or (c) to be addressed by a person who belongs or professes to belong to a terrorist organisation.

(3) A person commits an offence if he addresses a meeting for the purpose of encouraging support for a terrorist organisation or to further its activities.

(4) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or with fine or with both."

ALTHOUGH the High Court granted bail to Nedumaran, he has not been released from the Central Prison in Cuddalore since he has not been granted bail in one of the two other cases filed against him. The police had filed a case against him about 10 years ago for making a speech in Kodaikanal in support of the LTTE. Another case was booked against him for writing the book entitled Kaviya Nayagan Kittu" (Epic hero, Kittu), in Tamil dealing with top LTTE leader Sathasivam Krishnakumar, alias Kittu, who died in January 1993 after the Indian Navy intercepted his vessel. In the earlier case, the Judicial Magistrate in Dindigul granted Nedumaran bail on December 22, 2003. In the case relating to the book, the Magistrate at Alandur, Chennai, was to pronounce his orders on the bail application on December 24. He proceeded for training the previous day. So a bail application was preferred before the Judicial Magistrate (II), Poonamalee, who dismissed the application. Nedumaran's advocates plan to press for bail before the Sessions Court in Chengalpattu.

In `Nakkheeran' Gopal's case, the High Court took into account the "initial illegality" in his arrest and granted him conditional bail. A Bench comprising Justices P. Shanmugam and A.K. Rajan said the police had failed to comply with the requirements listed under Article 22(1) of the Constitution and that this would make the arrest illegal. It would give rise to the consequential right of the detenu (Gopal) to get released by filing a habeas corpus petition. So the Judges allowed the habeas corpus petition in his case.

The Judges said: "Article 22(1), in clear and categorical terms, mandates that no person, who is arrested, shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds of arrest, nor shall he be denied the right to consult and to be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice." They said that it was clear that Gopal was taken into custody first at 8-40 p.m. on April 11, and that he was not informed of the grounds of his arrest. When he was arrested again at the CB-CID office relating to another case, he was not given the reasons for his detention. "The photocopies of arrest memos, three in number, have different serial numbers and therefore, prima facie, we have our own doubts as to the arrest memos," the Judges said. The court had a duty to restore the fundamental rights of persons deprived of them, they said. "In this case, since the provisions of Article 22(1) have been violated, Mr. Gopal is entitled to be released from detention," the Judges ruled.

The Tamil Nadu government appealed to the Supreme Court, which declined to stay the order. Justices R.C. Lahoti and Brijesh Kumar of the court said on December 20 that "a case for the ex-parte suspension of the impugned order and cancellation of the bail is not made out."

Judicial approval

The Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, but several questions about the law remain unanswered.

in New Delhi

THE controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), enacted at a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament on March 26, 2002, secured judicial approval on December 16, 2003, when a Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices S. Rajendra Babu and G.P. Mathur dismissed the writ petitions challenging its constitutional validity. In its judgment, the Bench expressed its agreement with all the contentions of the Union of India in defence of the law and found little substance in the petitioners' fears that it posed a grave threat to individual freedom and liberty. The judgment has evoked considerable interest as the political class was intensely divided over the provisions of the Bill.

The legality of a preventive or pre-trial detention law can be tested for whether it has reasonable checks and balances, in conformity with constitutional safeguards and as laid down by earlier judgments of the Supreme Court in related cases, so as to provide little scope for its abuse by the law-enforcing authorities.

The Bench, before examining the specific grounds against POTA, made it clear that it could not examine the "need" for POTA. "It is a matter of policy. Once a piece of legislation is passed, the government has an obligation to exercise all available options to prevent terrorism within the bounds of the Constitution," it said. The Bench found that Parliament concluded that the existing laws were not capable of tackling terrorism, and that terrorism is not a usual law and order problem. It referred to the statement of Home Minister L.K. Advani, made while piloting the Bill, and underlined his claim that cross-border state-sponsored terrorism was the reason for the enactment of POTA.

Advani's claim could perhaps indicate the government's intention in enacting the law. However, there could be serious disagreement over whether Parliament agreed collectively with this perception. Having failed to secure the passage of the law in the Rajya Sabha, the government used the provision enabling the holding of a joint session of Parliament to pass the Bill. A bitter debate over the substantial provisions of the law preceded its passage. Yet, law-makers had no clue about how the existing laws were not capable of tackling terrorism. It is curious that the Bench ignored this contextual backdrop to the enactment of POTA, although it dealt at length with the modern aspects of terrorism and its growing challenge to the civilised world, while justifying the legislative competence of Parliament to enact such a law.

The contextual backdrop is important to understand why there are such grave complaints that POTA is a serious threat to human rights. The Bench justified its intervention in these words: "The protection and promotion of human rights under the rule of law is essential in the prevention of terrorism... . If human rights are violated in the process of combating terrorism, it will be self-defeating.... Our Constitution laid down clear limitations on state actions within the context of the fight against terrorism. To maintain this delicate balance by protecting `core' human rights is the responsibility of court in a matter like this. Constitutional soundness of POTA needs to be judged by keeping these aspects in mind." It is, however, debatable whether the Bench could achieve this balance in the judgment.

The petitioner, the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), pointed out that Section 3(3) of POTA, which provides that whoever "abets" a terrorist act shall be punishable, fails to address the requisites of mens rea. This provision was incorporated in POTA in spite of an observation by the Constitution Bench in the Kartar Singh case in 1994 that the word `abet' as used in the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) was vague and so had to have the requisites of intention or knowledge. The PUCL's petition argued that the vagueness in the POTA provision would lead to its abuse and therefore urged the Bench to strike it down. The Bench did not agree with the view that mens rea is absent in Section 3(3) of POTA and held that in order to bring a person abetting the commission of an offence, it is necessary to prove that such a person has been connected with those steps of the transactions that are criminal.

The Bench refused to strike down Section 4 of POTA, providing for punishment for unauthorised possession of arms or other lethal weapons, on the grounds that it presupposes "conscious" possession, that is, the accused should have the knowledge of the terrorist act for which the possession is intended. The Bench based its observation on the Supreme Court's judgment in the Sanjay Dutt case in 1994. In that case, a presumption against the accused, Sanjay Dutt, under TADA arose on the basis of the fact of a mere possession of a firearm by him in a notified area. The Supreme Court in its judgment had said the police should prove "conscious possession" of the firearm by the accused.

The Bench also rejected the petitioners' challenge to Section 21 of POTA. Under this Section, a person commits an offence if he arranges or addresses a meeting, which he knows is meant to support a terrorist organisation or to further its activities. Vaiko, general secretary of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), who has been in detention under POTA under this Section, had in his petition urged the Bench to strike down this provision.

The Bench clarified that the offence under Section 20 (membership of a terrorist organisation) or 21 or 22 (fund-raising for a terrorist organisation) needs positive inference that a person has acted with the intent of furthering or encouraging terrorist activity or facilitating its commission. As Section 3(1) of POTA stipulates that offence will be constituted only if it is done with an intent, can it be said that a person who professes to belong to a terrorist organisation (Section 20) or invites support or addresses a meeting (Section 21) has committed the offence if he does not have an intention or design to further the activities of any terrorist organisation or the commission of terrorist acts, the Bench asked.

"These sections are limited only to those activities that have the intent of encouraging or furthering or promoting or facilitating the commission of terrorist activities. If these Sections are understood in this way, there cannot be any misuse," the Bench said. Even as the Bench left it to the Special Court in Chennai to determine the guilt or otherwise of Vaiko under POTA in the light of what it has said in its judgment, it suffers from lack of clarity. Vaiko has admitted that he had referred at a public meeting to his statement supporting the LTTE, made in the course of a debate in the Lok Sabha. The Bench said that support, either verbal or monetary, with a view to nurturing terrorism caused new challenges, and therefore the provision seeking to punish such support was not obnoxious.

As the Vaiko case shows, the trial court may find him innocent. But the burden of proving that he did not have the intention to further the activities of the LTTE even while supporting the banned organisation is upon him. The Bench has no answer to the grievance that POTA's process itself is a punishment, and there is no apparent remedy under the Act. Even if POTA has better safeguards than what TADA had with regard to seeking remedies against wrongful detention, - as the Bench appears to believe - why should anyone undergo pre-trial detention in the first place and abdicate his freedom for an offence he has not committed?

The fact of exoneration later is of no consequence to the accused, says columnist and senior advocate of the Supreme Court Rajeev Dhavan. He feels that the Bench did not deal with the issue from the point of civil liberties.

Advani, the author of POTA, could not miss the coincidence of the judgment while replying to the discussion in the Lok Sabha on the Bill to replace the Ordinance to confer more powers on the Review Committee constituted under the Act on December 16. The purpose of the Bill, Advani claimed, was to prevent the abuse of POTA, and described Vaiko's arrest as an instance of such an abuse.

The Prevention of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill was passed in both Houses of Parliament although during the debate many members pleaded for the total repeal of the Act. Replying to the debate, Advani claimed that if POTA was used merely against terrorists then whatever the Supreme Court said would be applicable. "Mens rea is necessary in any penal law. If mens rea is not there, then POTA, cannot be used. We have tried to make this provision. I hope that the Review Committee would take this fact into consideration," he said.

As the nation's experience with TADA, and now POTA shows, it is not just intentions that make or unmake a law; the enforcement of anti-terror laws has left deeper scars on the polity than what the government or judiciary has imagined.

Reaching out to the stars

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN the-nation

The Indian Space Research Organisation celebrates 40 years of excellence in space.

WHEN the orange trail lit up the twilight sky over the fishing village of Thumba near Thiruvananthapuram on November 21,1963, there was excitement in Kerala and the neighbouring districts in Tamil Nadu. The Kerala Legislative Assembly, was adjourned for a few minutes so that the members could watch the glorious spectacle left behind in the western sky by the Nike Apache rocket, which was imported from the United States. The two-stage rocket, weighing 715 kg and powered by solid propellants, climbed to an altitude of 208 km, releasing sodium vapour that lit up the sky. The seeds of India's modern rocketry programme had been sown.

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Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman G. Madhavan Nair, who was then a student of the Government Engineering College, Thiruvananthapuram, saw the sky turn orange and was hooked to rocketry for good. At a function organised at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) at Thumba on November 21, 2003 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the launching of the first rocket from India, Madhavan Nair recalled, "It was a proud moment. I was standing on the roof of the building of the Engineering College at Kolathoor. There was a trail of sodium vapour. It was a remarkable sight for youngsters like me."

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, President of India and a rocket technologist, was present at Thumba when the Nike Apache rocket sped into the sky. In an address to a select audience including the pioneers of the ISRO family at the VSSC auditorium on November 21, 2003 from Rashtrapathi Bhavan, Kalam described his profile in those days as "a payload fellow". ISRO pioneers including Prof. E.V. Chitnis, Prof. P.D. Bhavsar, Dr. Vasant Gowariker, Dr. P.P. Kale, Dr. A.E. Muthunayagam, Dr. S.C. Gupta and R. Aravamudan competed with one another in paying tributes to Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the pragmatic dreamer who laid the foundation for India's rocketry programme. Nostalgia overflowed.

Most of the pioneers of India's space programme left handsome jobs in the United States at the instance of Vikram Sarabhai to join ISRO, which was then at the drawing-board stage. Said Muthunayagam, who was employed in Washington before Sarabhai asked him to return to India: "Nobody could say `no' to Sarabhai. He had such a magnetic personality." Bhavsar, who was a teacher in the Department of Physics, University of Minnesota, could not resist Sarabhai's invitation. Prof. Chitnis was employed in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his wife in the Harvard Medical School. Chitnis said: "It was Sarabhai who told me that the word `Thumba' (in Malayalam, and Thumbai in Tamil) means a plant with a white flower, which has medicinal value. But Thumba meant only rockets for us."

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Chitnis described the launch on November 21, 1963, under the auspices of the United Nations, as an international effort. The Nike Apache rocket was U.S-made, the sodium vapour payload was French, the range clearance was given by an M1-4 helicopter from the Soviet Union, and the rocket and payload engineers were Indians.

Gowariker, a chemical engineer, who was working in Britain, too joined the rest at Sarabhai's urging. S.C. Gupta was in the U.S. when he signed up and soon Thumba became his "karmabhoomi" and "punyabhoomi." Aravamudan was a young electronics engineer at the Reactor Control Division (Trombay) of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) in 1962 when word got around that Sarabhai was looking for fresh electronics engineers to establish a rocket launch pad in south Kerala, the demand for which came from international geophysicists who wanted to conduct in situ vertical soundings at the geomagnetic equator passing through Thumba. Aravamudan could not resist Sarabhai's "charisma" and was riveted by "the gleam in his eyes" when the latter unfolded his plans to conduct scientific experiments using rockets. As Sarabhai described the launch pad, telemetry receiving station, radar and Doppler velocity system that he hoped to install, "It all sounded like science fiction to me... ," Aravamudan, now Adviser, ISRO, recalled.

The audience at the VSSC auditorium burst into applause when Abdul Kalam began his speech with a countdown: "Ten, nine, eight... " Forty years, he said, had not dimmed his memory of November 21, 1963. He recalled that he was in the Wallops Island facility of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), U.S., when he received a message from India on November 19 asking him to go to Prof. Jacques Blamont's laboratory (in the U.S.) and collect a sodium vapour payload with a mechanical timer and immediately reach Thumba. (Prof. Blamont, a French payload specialist, and former Chief Scientist and Technical Adviser to CNES, the French space agency, who became a great friend of Sarabhai, was present at Thumba on that memorable day and attended the celebrations 40 years later on November 21, 2003.

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The assembling of the payload with the rocket was done in St. Mary's Magdalene Church, Thumba, after it had been acquired by the Centre. Today, the beautiful church is a museum that showcases ISRO's history. The launch was "a big, beautiful experience" for Kalam because India could work with three other nations. He found the sodium vapour trail in the sky "a remarkable sight".

However, the launch was not without hiccoughs. Although November 21 was fixed as the launch day, there was tension because the payload was yet to arrive. There was chaos in transporting it. The French payload would not fit into the American rocket. So extra welding was required. But Bhavsar, who was the Project Scientist of the flight, recalled how the Range/Test Director H.G.S. Murthy had threatened to cancel the launch because the payload was a pyrotechnique one. Welding could be a dangerous task. So Sarabhai asked Bhavsar, "How can we fit the payload?"

He came up with an idea, which Kalam liked. Kalam and another engineer would scrape the payload with a small hand tool until it could be mated with the rocket.

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Bhavsar faced another big problem. He had to set up four camera stations to take pictures of the sodium vapour cloud. The selected sites were Kerala House in Kanyakumari and college buildings in Palayamcottah, Kottayam and Kodaikanal. Students of the colleges were keen to train the cameras on the cloud. However, there was a catch: The four camera teams had to take pictures simultaneously. The synchronisation was brought about by the willing cooperation of the Telephone Department. The Survey of India chipped in with the location of the Great Trignometrical Survey benchmarks.

A week before November 21, an anxious Bhavsar started scanning the sky for rain-bearing clouds. Murthy gave him a particular angle from which the launch could take place to ensure that the rocket, which would not be guided by telemetry or radar tracking, would not fall on people or buildings if it went astray. "Luckily, the sky remained clear and we launched the Nike Apache on schedule, and we got photographs (of the sodium cloud) from all four camera stations. It was a collaboration of so many people which made it successful," Bhavsar said.

Aravamudan, who was in Wallops Island then, recalled: "We were thrilled when an announcement came on the Wallops Island intercom that India had successfully launched its first rocket... NASA personnel who had gone to Thumba for the launch had nice stories to tell us about the beautiful Thumba beach with coconut trees all over. They also claimed that they launched the Nike Apache, with the help of bullock carts for transportation and their own pocket knives for tools."

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The American rocket engineers were congratulating their Indian counterparts over the public address system on November 22 when there was a dramatic interruption. They were informed of the assassination of President Kennedy at Dallas. "What struck us then, as most remarkable, was that the Wallops Range and NASA continued to work as usual and no holiday was declared," Aravamudan said.

Blamont said the technique employed in the payload was simple - it was just a box with sodium, which was ignited with a pyro. The rocket launch was the natural beginning of a full-fledged space programme and that was what India did, he said. The launch, he said, reminded him of another event, in 1783 in Paris, when the first balloon launch took place, watched by hundreds of people. Someone from the crowd asked sceptically: "What is the use of it?" Benjamin Franklin, scientist and U.S. envoy to France, who heard the remark, retorted, "What is the use of a newly born infant?"

Blamont said: "An infant was born at Thumba with the launch of this first rocket. It had a loving father - Vikram Sarabhai." He told the assembled ISRO engineers and scientists, "You have achieved the rank of a space power today and it was possible with the talent and dedication of a large number of Indian space scientists and physicists. I very much admire that achievement."

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India's truly indigenous space programme began on February 22, 1969, when it launched a "pencil" rocket, weighing 10 kg, from Thumba. It carried a few kg of propellants and rose a few kilometres into the air. From then onwards, there has been no stopping ISRO. Beginning with the Rohini sounding rockets, capable of reaching heights ranging from 100 km to 500 km, with payload capacities varying from 2kg to 200 kg, ISRO has launched about 1,840 sounding rockets from Thumba, Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh and Balasore in Orissa.

B.N. Suresh, Director, VSSC, said 40 years of hard work had led ISRO into an operational era in both launch vehicles and satellites. It had proved its capability by catering to national requirements, thereby benefiting the common man. ISRO satellites provide invaluable information on weather, earth's resources, agriculture and fisheries, and have brought about a communication revolution in the country. So far, ISRO has launched 32 satellites, and 18 of its launch vehicles, including SLV-3, ASLVs, PSLVs and GSLVs, have soared from its spaceport at Sriharikota. "These significant strides have been made possible because we had visionaries and leaders who were able to take us where we are today," Suresh said. One of them was Dr. Brahm Prakash, who laid a firm foundation for the VSSC.

Madhavan Nair said: "Forty years is nothing. A hundredfold challenges are awaiting us in the future. Today we recalled the past and we will rededicate ourselves for the future." One of the challenges will be to send a probe to the moon, and its launch may take place in 2007 or 2008 from Sriharikota.

The jehadi backlash

The two assassination attempts on President Musharraf in the space of a fortnight suggest a possible involvement of `insiders' and emphasises the need to cleanse the system of the jehadi mindset.

TWO assassination attempts on President Pervez Musharraf in quick succession, the first on December 14 and the second on Christmas day, have shaken the Pakistani establishment. The fact that the suicide bombers managed to strike, for a second time, close to one of the most guarded persons in the country at almost the same spot reflects the gravity of the situation. That the two attempts took place in the cantonment area of Rawalpindi, which has the headquarters of the Pakistan Army and the provincial special branch of the police, at a spot that is less than two kilometres from the official residence of Musharraf as the Army chief, a stone's throw away from the headquarters of the prestigious 10 Corps Command of the Army and from the local police station attest to the determination, the power and the reach of the forces threatening the life of the President.

The second attempt came less than a day after Musharraf sealed a pact with the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of six religious parties nicknamed as the Mullah Military Alliance, agreeing to relinquish the post of Army chief by the end of 2004 and give up several of the powers he had bestowed on himself to keep the elected government and Parliament in check. So the attempts on Musharraf's life do not seem to be related to the power struggle between the military establishment and the political class or his unwillingness to embrace the Right-wing religious elements.

The forces that are targeting Musharraf appear to be striving for something more fundamental - total control over the military and the polity of Pakistan, which would be a nightmare scenario for the rest of the world, particularly since Pakistan is a nuclear power. The forces, a nebulous mix of Islamists, are angry with Musharraf and the military under his command for the proactive policy of denying shelter to the remnants of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, who are fighting against the United States led-coalition, and a perceived shift in Pakistan's traditional `bleed India' policy on Kashmir.

The two attacks, the last being the fourth one aimed at Musharraf since 9/11, could have easily been dismissed as acts of religious mavericks but for the great degree of sophistication and planning involved. It has raised the disturbing question as to whether such operations targeting the most powerful personality would be possible without `inside' involvement.

Musharraf narrowly escaped the assassination attempt on December 14, when a bridge was almost levelled by multiple explosions that took place just seconds after his motorcade passed over it. Five separate bombs, containing hundreds of pounds of plastic explosives, were reportedly detonated using remote control. Musharraf was returning to his official residence from the military airport where he had arrived from Karachi. Pakistani officials concede that had his motorcade not been equipped with a device that blocks out all radio signals within a 200-metre radius, in all likelihood Musharraf would have been killed.

The second attempt took place about 200 metres from where the December 14 incident occurred. Two or three suicide bombers, it appears, were waiting in two separate cars that rammed into his motorcade as it passed the route. They came pretty close to their target - the suicide squads managed to hit three cars in the presidential convoy, including the car just behind Musharraf's vehicle. Although the windshield of his car was smashed, Musharraf escaped unhurt. Once again, the hit squads seemed to know the precise moment when Musharraf's car would approach the spot where the trap had been laid. And it was only the bravery of one policeperson, put on VVIP duty that perhaps saved Musharraf's life. The policeperson died while trying to stop the first car with the suicide bomber.

Musharraf blamed sectarian and fundamentalist groups for the assassination attempt. Addressing people on the state-run Pakistan Television (PTV) hours after the December 14 attack, Musharraf said, "I have been saying that the greatest danger to our nation is not external; it is internal and comes from religious and sectarian extremists, and this is a typical example of that." Putting on a brave face following the second attack, he declared, "I would not be deterred by such attacks. My resolve to take on the fundamentalist elements is only strengthened". He debunked the theory of `inside involvement' and `security lapses' and said that it was possible nowhere in the world to prevent suicide attacks.

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Musharraf's attempt to tackle the fundamentalist menace in Pakistan has raised doubts on whether the route he has taken is the right one. The extremist elements could attack only through a concerted approach involving the military, the paramilitary, the police and the intelligence agencies.

Pakistan's military-security establishment has had close ties with Islamic fundamentalists for long. During the Afghan civil war, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) served as the conduit for U.S. funds to the Islamic guerilla forces. Pakistan supported the efforts of Islamic fundamentalists to wrest the leadership of the insurgency in Kashmir from more secular nationalists, and in the late 1990s Islamabad was the principal foreign patron of Afghanistan's Taliban regime. So the roots of extremism in Pakistan run much deeper and extend to all segments of the establishment. Jehadi activists and sympathisers cannot be expected to have a change of heart overnight. It is not surprising, therefore, if some of these sections interpret the policy changes initiated after 9/11 as a betrayal of the cause of Islam and the religious brotherhood.

Under pressure from Washington, Musharraf recently ordered a crackdown against Al Qaeda elements said to be hiding in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. Pakistan has physically handed over 500-odd members of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban, who were caught in crackdowns across Pakistan. He has banned a number of sectarian and fundamentalist groups reputed to have links with terrorist groups and has agreed to a ceasefire with India. His announcement that Islamabad no longer insisted on a United Nations resolution on Kashmir heightened suspicions at home. These actions have not been welcomed as there is little progress on the issue of a dialogue with India. The situation has come to such a pass because of Musharraf's refusal to give former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif any political role. Between the two, they enjoy the support of over 60 per cent of the population.

The MMA is more than willing to help Musharraf gain constitutional legitimacy, although it has apparently resisted appeals to join the parliamentary government. As the ruling party of Pakistan's two smaller provinces, the MMA has benefited handsomely from the restrictions Musharraf has placed on the traditional political parties, Benazir's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League (N). But it owes its new-found prominence, above all, to its criticism of growing U.S. influence in Pakistan.

It would require some vision and determination on Musharraf's part to carry every one along and address the challenge of restructuring institutions and changing mindsets.

Iran's killer quake

JOHN CHERIAN the-nation

A powerful earthquake in the early hours of December 26 leaves in its trail death and destruction of unimaginable proportions in the Iranian heritage city of Bam.

IT has been the most devastating earthquake in the history of Iran. Two days after the killer quake struck the ancient city of Bam, in southeastern Iran, Iranian authorities estimated that more than 20,000 people had lost their lives. Another 30,000 people are said to be seriously injured. Iranian Health Minister Ahmad Pezeshkian has, however, made the dire prediction that the toll could go up to 40,000. He said that up to 70 per cent of Bam's population of around 100,000 have either been killed or injured.

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Though the earthquake, which measured 6.3 on the Richter scale and hit Bam in the pre-dawn hours of December 26, was only as intense as the one that hit parts of California, United States, before Christmas, the damage caused to life and infrastructure in Bam was almost beyond imagination. In California, only a handful of people were killed and a few buildings suffered damage. Unlike in the U.S. and many other parts of the developed world, the buildings in the old city of Bam were not built to withstand quakes of this magnitude. In fact, many of the structures in Bam were rudimentary ones built of mud and bricks. Most of the citizens of Bam were asleep on that bitterly cold night when the earthquake struck.

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Bam, described as "the emerald of the desert", is an important part of the historical and cultural heritage of Iran. It is situated on the ancient Silk Route passing through Central Asia and was an important commercial and trading centre linking East Asia and Europe. Bam's importance declined after it fell to Afghan invaders in the early 18th century. Its days of glory were in the 16th and 17th centuries, when it was under the control of the Safavid rulers of Persia. One of the buildings flattened by the quake was a 2000-year citadel - the Arg-e-Bam. This was the largest mud-brick structure in the world. The city centre consisted almost entirely of houses built of mud bricks, clay, straws and trunks of palm trees. Bam had prospered in the medieval times also because it was a centre of pilgrimage for Zoroastrians who visited the fire temple located there. The grand mosque in the city dates to the 10th century. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has recognised the city as a world heritage site. It has been among the top destinations for international tourists visiting Iran.

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Iranian President Mohammad Khatami called the quake a national calamity, and declared three days of national mourning. The President admitted that Iran could not cope with it on its own, given the magnitude of the disaster. "The disaster is far too huge for us to meet all our needs," Khatami told the Iranian people. He said that he would welcome help from all corners of the world, with the exception of Israel. The U.S. President George W. Bush, who had put Iran among the three countries constituting the "axis of evil", was quick to pledge aid and assistance to the quake victims.

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The Iranian Red Crescent Society, which has considerable expertise in dealing with the aftermath of earthquakes, is trying its best to cope with the task of finding thousands of people who are still trapped in the debris. Earthquakes are frequent occurrences in Iran. Since 1991, according to official figures, there have been more than 1,000 quakes, which have claimed more than 17,600 lives and injured 53,000 people. The last major earthquake in Iran was in June 2002, when tremors measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale hit northwestern Iran, killing 235 people. An earthquake measuring 5.7 on the Richter scale hit Bam in late August of 2003 but there were no casualties then. Iranian officials had told this correspondent during a visit to Teheran in the mid-1990s that one reason why Iran was forced to turn to nuclear power was that the building of dams to generate electricity was not feasible in the earthquake-prone region.

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Reaching medical aid and relief to Bam has not been easy. The town is more than 1,000 km away from Teheran, the capital, and is surrounded by a desert. All hospitals, dispensaries and government offices in the city have been flattened by the quake. Seventy per cent of the city has been reduced to rubble. The airport is busy with planes landing and taking off frequently. In the first day itself, the government sent 19 aircraft to ferry the injured to hospitals in Teheran. A makeshift hospital has come up at the airport.

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Although pledges of assistance have come immediately from the international community, humanitarian aid started trickling in only after 48 hours of the event. Entire families have been wiped out. The stench of rotting corpses has started pervading the town. Hundreds of bodies have been buried in mass graves, complicating matters is the sub-zero temperatures. Almost all the survivors in Bam are at the mercy of the elements and have been sleeping in the biting cold. The earthquake has snapped water, power and gas lines. Also out in the cold are more than 120,000 people living in the outlying villages, which have also been affected by the earthquake.

On December 28, two US C-130 Hercules aircraft landed at the Kerman airport near Bam, carrying relief materials. This has been a significant event as it is the first time since 1980 that an American aircraft has landed on Iranian soil. In 1980, the U.S. had launched a military mission to rescue Americans held hostage in Teheran. That mission ended in a fiasco, further souring U.S.-Iran relations. The Bush administration is also sending 200 American personnel to help in the relief work. An American State Department spokesman said that his country's help to the earthquake victims "will not alter the tone or intensity of our dialogue with the Iranians in other matters of grave concern".

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The United Nations has released an emergency grant of $90,000 to help Iran tackle the aftermath of the quake. The U.N. has also sent experts to assess the damage. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has sent medical kits and called for $350,000 in immediate donations. Aid from more than 21 countries has either reached or is on its way to the earthquake-hit area. Iranians are rushing to Bam to help their compatriots, creating huge traffic jams in the process and hampering relief work. Russia has dispatched rapid-response units of doctors, paramedics, and sniffer dogs and their handlers. The British and Italian governments have also sent sniffer dog units. Sniffer dogs have helped rescue some people trapped inside the rubble almost as soon as they were deployed in Bam and the surrounding areas. However, experts in disaster relief operations are pessimistic about the chances of finding many more survivors. Roland Schlacter, head of the Swiss rescue team, told the media in Iran that the way the buildings are constructed in the area leaves "very few air spaces when they collapse".

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Japan and China are pitching in with tents, blankets and other supplies. Pakistan has sent two planeloads of relief supplies. India has put its Army Medical Corps at the disposal of the Iranian quake victims. New Delhi has conveyed to Teheran that it is ready to rush in medicines and set up an emergency field hospital to cater to the needs of the victims. Political parties in India have also announced contributions for the victims of the earthquake.

"The fatal disaster has shaken the heart of the nation. World nations sympathised with Iran despite so many atrocities, cruelties and violent acts around the world," Khatami told the Iranian people in a televised address.

`I hope this opportunity is not missed'

the-nation

Interview with Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Mian Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, 63, comes from a well-known political family of Punjab. His grandfather Maulana Abdul Qadir Kasuri was a leader of the Indian National Congress. His father Mahmud Ali Kasuri was also in the Congress (until 1940) and was sentenced in 1930 to four months' imprisonment. Mahmud Kasuri was briefly a member of Z.A. Bhutto's Cabinet.

Khurshid Kasuri studied in the Government College in Lahore and in Oxford and Cambridge Universities. He did his Master's in Political Science and Public Administration, besides a few courses at the Universities of Paris and Nice. He is a barrister from Gray's Inn, London. For a long time, he was in Air Marshal Asghar Khan's party Tehrik-e-Istiqlal.

In 1977, Khurshid Kasuri was elected to the National Assembly. In 1990, he was appointed secretary-general of the People's Democratic Alliance, of which the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) was a constituent. In 1993, he left Tehrik-e-Istiqlal and joined the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N). He was elected to the National Assembly in 1997 from Kasur and was made the Chairman of the Committee on Information and Media Development. He was also a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. A moderate liberal, Kasuri has assiduously cultivated Pakistan's minorities.

Mohammad Shehzad conducted this exclusive interview with Kasuri in his office on December 23 in the backdrop of the forthcoming SAARC summit and the current state of India-Pakistan relations. Excerpts:

What does President Pervez Musharraf mean when he says Pakistan has set aside the U.N. resolutions on Kashmir?

The bottom line, which is also reflected by the resolutions, is the wishes of Kashmiris have to be respected. We cannot envisage a solution without that. I have spoken to many Foreign Ministers and they are convinced that durable peace in South Asia is not possible without addressing Kashmiris' aspirations. So, the international community has realised it. Moreover, all political disputes that affect Muslims should be resolved. That includes Palestine and Kashmir - the most important unresolved disputes on the international agenda. We want durable peace. We are prepared for bilateral talks. But they should be meaningful, sustained and composite... Both (Prime Minister A.B.) Vajpayee and (President Pervez) Musharraf showed great statesmanship and enormous flexibility at the Agra summit. We need such attitude in future as well to resolve the long-standing issues.

Jehadis and right-wing politicians view Musharraf's statement as a sell-out...

It is sheer nonsense. One just needs to read the views of the Kashmiri leaders whom Musharraf met yesterday [December 22]. They paid him glowing tributes during the meeting and afterwards. They admitted that he had outperformed any other leader in terms of services for the Kashmiri cause. They also admitted that he had again put Kashmir on the international agenda.

Why were the representatives of the Ansari-led All Parties Hurriyat Conference not invited to the meeting?

Frankly, I don't know the exact people who were invited in that way. Hurriyat and so many other groups were represented. Their credentials are `above question'. Our position is quite clear: we want unity within the Hurriyat. It is in their interest. They've struggled hard. Pakistan will do whatever it can to bring greater unity among them.

What steps have Pakistan taken to bring unity within the Hurriyat?

I cannot provide details.

Why was this flexibility on Kashmir not demonstrated earlier?

It was there earlier, at least since the Agra summit [July 2001]. Both Vajpayee and Musharraf had shown the wisdom, statesmanship, courage and flexibility in this effect.

Do you think Vajpayee is sincere about making peace with Pakistan?

One has to go by what one sees. When he was the Indian Foreign Minister during Morarji Desai's government, India-Pakistan relations were good. He did come to Lahore. After President Musharraf came to power, he made efforts at Agra. Since then - though there have been conflicting statements - he managed to communicate a more positive image compared to many other Indian leaders, who have probably conscientiously been trying to convey a negative impression.

To what extent do you think his Cabinet members share his vision of peace?

It is not for Pakistan's Foreign Minister to go into India's internal politics.

I feel, at present, the constellation of political forces is such that the chances of an enduring settlement are the greatest. In India you have what is regarded as a hardline Hindu party. In Pakistan you have a Muslim League government. At the same time you have a legal President who is also the Army chief. He is completely backing the government. From my experience, I feel, it is the right time now and I hope this opportunity is not missed.

Indian External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha has told The Friday Times [December 19] that India does not consider Kashmir as a dispute between the two countries.

There have been many statements. Mr. Vajpayee has himself said that we are prepared to discuss Kashmir. Of course, he keeps talking of conditions. I interact with the international community and I know the whole world feels this issue [Kashmir] should be resolved. After all, President Bill Clinton described Kashmir as the most dangerous place on earth. After the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, the Security Council asked both countries to resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir. Recently, the E.U. [European Union] said the same. The French Foreign Minister recently said the same in a very important speech in London. The G-8 in the meetings in Paris said the same. This is a global village. None of us can live in isolation. neither India nor Pakistan. Furthermore, it is primarily in our own interest. The whole world has an interest because both countries are nuclear powers. So, the international community has a genuine interest in seeing the peaceful resolution of all disputes, including that of Jammu and Kashmir.

Do you think India has adequately matched Pakistan's confidence-building measures (CBMs)?

Mr. Vajpayee did initiate CBMs after his speech in Srinagar. He said we would go to the High Commissioner's level from the Deputy High Commissioner's level and air links will be restarted. But those were unilateral steps. We did not ask for them. Nonetheless, we welcomed those gestures... Prime Minister [Zafarullah Khan] Jamali responded with nine CBMs. The ball is now in India's court.

Could you mention one single CBM that India should have taken by now?

CBMs are meant to lead to something. It is not that we did not have trains...airlines/buses before. We did have High Commissioners. And despite that we had three major wars and three minor wars. CBMs are in themselves not good enough. What is needed is a peace process - a composite dialogue, which will address all the issues of concern between the two countries, including Kashmir. Until that happens, there is always a fear that the forces - and there are such forces in both countries that do not like the current thaw - may get an opportunity to strike back. So, we should not allow too much time to such forces. So, it is in our interest to go for the `real' CBMs. And that is to initiate a composite dialogue. And we have said repeatedly that we are prepared for that. The ball is now in India's court.

An influential section of Kashmiris are talking in terms of the `third option' or an independent Kashmir. What are your views on it?

It will be foolish on my part as the Foreign Minister of Pakistan to start giving my opinion on possible solutions. I will only say, durable peace between India and Pakistan can only be ensured if the aspirations of the people of Kashmir are accommodated. It will be stupid at this moment to try and say which solution is good, which is bad. If you want to be positive, you should concentrate on dialogue - the initiation and the structure of the dialogue. It should be uninterrupted and uninterruptible. You know why? The Vietnamese and the Americans were talking when they were bombarding each other. The Koreans and the Americans were talking all the time. You need to talk even when the situation is not good. We have the tendency of talking when the situation is better and then we stop talking... No progress can be made without constantly talking to each other.

But, is Kashmir amenable to any solution?

That is the test for diplomacy and statesmanship. Petty politicians will only try to get more votes to perpetuate themselves in power. Real statesmen look beyond that.

India-Pakistan relations have been unpleasant right from the beginning. What are the reasons?

Frankly speaking, I don't know how to describe it. If you have an independent mind, then there are the U.N. resolutions. India took the matter to the U.N. We did not! Pakistan, in the eyes of many objective foreigners, was not in the wrong. Unfortunately, because of the Kashmir dispute, the two countries could not concentrate on their common problems. We need to resolve our disputes. I am not sitting here as an observer. There are some things that I can say with very carefully chosen words. If I were not the Foreign Minister, I would have been far more open.

If you could tell me honestly, do Foreign Ministers, elected representatives, and civil society have a say in the country's foreign policy?

Very simply, we acquire our authority by virtue of the fact that we are elected. The Pakistan Army is a very sophisticated one. By the time you become a general, you have to pass many exams. And they do read political science, geopolitics, economics. Is it even believable that the Pakistan Army feels that the political government has no worth? Had this been the case, they would have never held the elections! Let us admit that General Musharraf was the first man in Pakistan's history - a military leader - who obeyed the orders of the Supreme Court to hold elections within three years. What gives us the power is we are elected representatives. But does it mean we should go on a warpath with the Pakistan Army? We should get our heads examined if we think that way! ... But just as nobody in India or America has a monopoly on decision-making, nobody does here either. There is a process of consultation. And if you are well prepared, if your arguments are too advanced, if they have merit, then they are listened to. That is the process through which all democracies work.

But the Commonwealth has serious doubts about democracy in Pakistan.

The Commonwealth has paid immense tribute to Pakistan's progress on democracy and hailed the transparency in government, integrity of its leaders, progress on issues relating to women and the minorities, and the election process. I do not wish to spoil the atmosphere for the coming SAARC conference. Some countries were objecting to Pakistan's re-entry to the Commonwealth. I hope such objections will disappear. Pakistan fulfils the Harare and Millbrook Declarations that set down the criteria for Commonwealth membership. Pakistan's democratic credentials have not been questioned by the Commonwealth. They have been acknowledged by the Prime Minister of Britain as well as the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth.

Despite being a close ally of the U.S. in its war against terror, Pakistan's reputation is so low, particularly with reference to the alleged transfer of nuclear technology?

You would have seen the statement of the State Department in this respect. It is very clear. [The State Department supports Pakistan's viewpoint that it has not transferred nuclear know-how]. We are a responsible country. We will look into the allegation. Anybody found guilty will be dealt with according to the law.

Pakistan is bound to give India the status of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) norms. Has any progress been made on this?

A lot of progress was made last time in Kathmandu. There is a mechanism under the WTO of enforcing that. India has been using it more as a political ploy. If we make progress in our bilateral relations and in the context of SAARC, hopefully, India will not raise these issues.

Will India get it?

I have not said that. India will not raise those issues.

Has SAARC fulfilled its objectives?

Unfortunately, it has not fulfilled its objectives and the dreams of its founders. SAARC has unfortunately become hostage to the India-Pakistan relationship. The primary responsibility falls on India and Pakistan to try and correct this.

Would it be a good idea for Pakistan Television and Doordarshan to join forces and start a live debate programme among journalists, politicians and academicians in India and Pakistan?

I personally feel there should be a more open exchange of information between the two countries. But the ban on Pakistan TV was initiated by India. Pakistan responded to that.

How would you like to be remembered?

As somebody who played some role in improving India-Pakistan relations, because my primary focus is the poor people of Pakistan in particular and of South Asia in general.

Congress(I)'s follow-on innings

The Congress(I) can overcome its humiliating recent setbacks only if it adopts a clear left-of-centre programme, recomposes its eroding social base, revamps its apex leadership and builds policy-based alliances with secular parties.

THE Indian National Congress is in deep, serious, grave trouble. It faces the most trying crisis in its history, and has few resources to resolve it. It sustained the delusion that it is the "natural" party of governance long after it ceased to be one. But that myth has been rudely shattered by its rout in the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The Congress(I) is in ideological disarray and in the grip of organisational dissonance and factionalism in unit after state unit.

Only a few years ago, the Congress(I) seemed to be on the ascendant, especially when it won a slew of Assembly elections and came to rule in half of all Indian States impressive showing for a party in long-term or historic decline. The party has since shrunk and shrivelled and resumed the downward trend. But this time around, the decline could prove terminal unless the party pulls itself up by the bootstraps and makes a credible bid for victory in the next Lok Sabha elections. To borrow a cricket analogy, the Congress(I) is in a follow-on situation.

This is not an alarmist proposition. The Congress(I) has serious problems both at its apex and its base. Its present leadership has proved inadequate to steer the party towards success and to instil hope and confidence among its rank and file. Its stewardship of the party in the latest round of elections was incompetent. It failed in chalking out a strategy, in building coalitions, in choosing candidates, and in campaign tactics.

The crisis at the base is even grimmer. Quite simply, the party's social base has been eroding at an alarming rate. Originally, in the 1950s and 1960s, the base consisted of savarnas and combined with "core minorities" (Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis). Even as this weakened, the Congress(I) stopped representing emerging social groups like the Other Backward Classes and certain Dalit strata in specific states. But it still retained its hold among Adivasis, the urban poor and certain caste groups, including sections of the savarnas, in different regions. The latest elections suggest that some of these sections, especially the Adivasis, are moving away from the Congress(I).

This erosion is serious and impinges on the political character of the party. The Congress(I)'s appeal has always been rooted in its umbrella or broad-church nature and function. Traditionally, it attracted diverse social groups and balanced their interests. If these groups find little or meagre articulation of their interests in the party, and if the leadership fails to accommodate their (often competing) aspirations, they will desert the Congress(I). Leaders who represent their interests will also leave.

If this process accelerates, then beyond a point, the Congress(I) will not be able to generate the critical mass necessary for its survival as a major national-level party. It will split and disintegrate. Such a point will probably come with the next Lok Sabha elections.

CAN the Congress(I) turn things around? It should be self-evident that there are not many strings to its bow. In normal circumstances, it will not transit from the present state of defeat and hopelessness to one of confidence and dynamism. However, four things could galvanise the party: a programmatic shift towards an unambiguous, categorical, left-of-centre stance; strategic alliances with secular parties well in advance of the Lok Sabha elections; a revamp of leadership structures; and induction of youthful figures like Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as campaigners. A rejuvenated buoyant Congress(I) could then undertake the tactical manoeuvres necessary to project the right image, run an efficient electoral machine and ably micro-manage its campaign.

Congressmen, by their very nature, would be reluctant to make radical shifts. They prefer the line of least resistance such as inducting Priyanka. This would be perfectly in keeping with their faith in the Nehru-Gandhi family mystique, however, (in)effective that might now be. But that would essentially be a shortcut. It might halt the Congress(I)'s decline only temporarily although it might enthuse party cadres. It might even do it harm by making it appear to be totally on the defensive.

What the party needs is a major realignment with India's social reality after more than a decade of rightward drift. The central aspect of that reality is the state of underdevelopment, deprivation, poverty and ignorance in which the bulk of the population lives even as it aspires to a life with freedom and dignity. This locates India's "natural" political centre of gravity on the Left. Only a left-wing programme charged by egalitarianism and progressive social policies can address the needs of the mass of the population.

So far, the Congress(I) has tried to compete with the Bharatiya Janata Party on its own right-wing turf whether in pursuing soft-Hindutva, quibbling over the same package of neoliberal economic policies, or competing over nationalism, but largely within the niche of its militant, aggressive chauvinistic variant. As was only to be expected, it failed.

In India, despite recent shifts among social classes under globalisation and liberalisation, the space for conservative right-wing politics remains relatively small. The Congress(I) would be ill-advised to compete with the BJP within that space. It must demarcate itself clearly, visibly and unambiguously not just through catchy slogans (although these are important), but through programmes and policies on macro and micro issues too. A left-of-centre Congress(I) will have immense appeal.

Alliance-building is an equally high priority. It is not enough for the Congress(I) to profess a commitment to the Shimla resolution on coalitions and then carry on behaving as if alliances did not matter. This is exactly what it did in Madhya Pradesh (where the Bahujan Samaj Party was more than willing to ally with it), Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.

While considering alliance formation, the Congress(I) must note a salient fact. There are only two political forces in the national spectrum that can transfer their supporters' votes to an ally. They are the Left parties and the BSP. The BSP has a significant presence or following in an estimated 180 Lok Sabha constituencies spread over different States, where it may command seven to 15 per cent of the vote. The Left usually wins in about 60 constituencies, but has a committed 3 to 5 per cent vote in perhaps another 70 or 90 constituencies.

The Congress(I) must build national-level alliances with these two on the basis of an agreed people-oriented programme. This will involve some tight-rope walking because the Left and the Congress(I) cannot be allies at the State level they must oppose each other, especially where they have been traditional adversaries: West Bengal, Tripura, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, and so on. But without their support at the national level, the Congress(I) cannot get the ideological-political ballast, the credibility or the voting block it needs to win an election, even to emerge as a serious contender for power.

At the same time, the Congress(I) must build State-level alliances with a number of regional parties; for instance, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu, the Gondvana Gana Parishad in Madhya Pradesh, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and even the Lok Jan Shakti in Bihar, possibly the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, and the Janata Dal (Secular)/Janata factions wherever possible. The strategy must be such as to include as many parties as possible, in an explicit alliance or a seat-sharing arrangement, or other forms of cooperation. Trustworthy parties that agree to a common programme can be brought into the coalition. But seat arrangements with others should not be excluded, especially in Uttar Prades and Bihar, which hold 120 Lok Sabha seats between them.

The BJP is eying these very two States. Until December 24, it did not have a strategy to overcome its isolation in Uttar Pradesh. But the meeting on that day between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Kalyan Singh might represent just such a strategy. By the time this appears in print, Kalyan Singh, Hindutva's most important OBC leader who at one time personified a unique combination of Mandal and kamandal (the affirmative action platform and the temple movement) may well have returned to the BJP.

The BJP leadership reckons that Kalyan Singh's return would help rejuvenate the organisation, and attract OBC groups, besides bringing in Lodhi-Rajput votes. This is Kalyan Singh's caste. It accounts for 3 per cent of Uttar Pradesh's total votes. Kalyan Singh has lost a good deal of his shine over the past five years. Nor does the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh fully trust him because of his denunciation of Hindutva and the BJP's devious role in the temple movement before the M.S. Liberhan Commission. But the important thing is to deny the BJP a wide political space in the crucial States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. So the Congress(I) would do well even to get a dialogue with Ram Vilas Paswan going.

The Congress(I) must be at least as flexible as the BJP has been in building alliances with different parties and in demonstrating the broadest social pluralism, with different faces in its coalition representing women, Dalits, OBCs, Adivasis, and so on.

THE Congress(I) cannot even begin to do any of this unless it sends a good deal of the present coterie surrounding Sonia Gandhi packing. Many of them (for instance, Pranab Mukherjee, Kamal Nath and Ambika Soni) have no political base anywhere. They have played a questionable role in distributing the party ticket, or assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the party's campaign strategies. Some coterie members play down the danger from communalism and militant nationalism and are inclined to compromise with Hindutva. Yet others are committed neoliberals.

Sonia Gandhi needs to set up a collegial team of leaders from different States who can inform and advise her. Equally, she needs to hear non-party voices of people from different social constituencies and walks of life. Only a critical assessment of the party's policies, its functioning and its strategies can generate the inputs necessary to transform its politics and leadership.

The process must go beyond the five-member committee headed by Pranab Mukherjee, which is to look into the Congress(I)' recent electoral debacle. According to reports, the committee has heard and recorded a lot of critical comments from State and district leaders about the weak party organisation, failure to strike strategic alliances, poor poll management, and over-dependence on Chief Ministers. The feedback says the party organisation was non-existent in Chhattisgarh. In Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan it was "substantially weakened"; several district and block committees existed only on paper.

This self-criticism is fine at the organisational level. But it misses the larger issue of policies and programmes, and the reasons for the Congress(I)'s declining image among its traditional constituencies. It is not clear if Pranab Mukherjee's report will review the party's performance in the light of the earlier A.K. Antony report. But strategic political assessments cannot stop at the organisational or tactical level.

It is only if the Congress(I) goes through such painstakingly honest reappraisal and policy reorientation that vigorous campaigning by some of its potentially charismatic leaders can have an impact. Charisma is about the relationship between a leader and her/his followers. It has to do with substance and clarity as to what the leader stands for on a variety of issues. Today, the critical issues are unemployment, grotesque disparities, privatisation, reviving collapsing public services, affirmative action, reservations in the private sector, making government accountable, fighting global hegemonism while making peace in the neighbourhood... The Congress(I) has to show how it differs from the BJP on these. The choice before it is radical reorientation, or suicide.

Postscript: Sonia Gandhi's Mumbai rally on December 27 was a tremendous success and a huge morale-booster for the party. It showed the Congress can mobilise lakhs of people even after humiliating defeats. It more than filled Shivaji Park something even Bal Thackeray has not been able to do for years in his Dadar stronghold. Yet, Sonai Gandhi was weak on substance. It is good that she tried to counter the BJP's "feel-good" propaganda and raised issues like unemployment and disinvestment, which have long fallen off the Congress(I)'s campaign agenda. But she did not say what it intends to do about them and what its own vision is. The answers are yet to come.

A costly divide

Differences within the Tamil United Liberation Front, once the most authoritative voice of Tamils in Sri Lanka, threaten to destroy the party's independent identity and give the LTTE the upper hand.

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SIMMERING differences within the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) are threatening to trigger a major change in Sri Lanka's Tamil politics. In the 1970s and 1980s, the party set the tone for the island's minority political discourse, and its stalwarts could call the then budding Tamil militants "our boys". But today TULF is at quarrel with itself over whether the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) should be recognised as the "sole representative" of the island's Tamils.

In view of its moorings as a political formation intended to unify the Tamils, the developments in the past one year have been depressing. Although on the face of it the internal differences seem to be around the stand to be taken on the LTTE, far more serious is the internal race for leadership. A cocktail of these two factors has driven the party to the precipice.

Party president V. Anandasangaree is emphatic that the LTTE should not be accepted as the sole representative of the Tamils and that the TULF should maintain its identity. Vice-president and senior leader Joseph Pararajasingham and general secretary R. Sampanthan differ with him strongly and passionately.

Anandasangaree maintains that TULF has historical roots and accepting the rebels as the sole representatives of the Tamils would go against the party's "founding principles". He is certain that a separate identity for TULF would be in the larger interests of the Tamils. "The LTTE will very soon realise that I have taken the correct stand," the TULF president told Frontline. Recalling the positions taken by TULF representatives in parliamentary debates, Anandasangaree said that the party had always striven to safeguard Tamil interests. As for his own position on the matter, he emphasised that "even without any request from the LTTE," he had defended the stance take by Tamils and had welcomed the LTTE's proposal for an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA), submitted on October 31. Maintaining the distinction between the LTTE and TULF, he said, was "in the larger interest of Tamil politics".

Pararajasingham and Sampanthan argue that "current political dynamics" should direct the party's policy. Anandasangaree, they said, was "not swimming with the tide" and hence had "lost the confidence of the party's rank and file" - a view endorsed by a majority of the party's Central Committee.

TULF and three other Tamil parties - the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) and a faction of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) - formed the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and won 15 seats in the 2001 parliamentary polls on a campaign favouring talks between the government and the LTTE.

The LTTE, according to TULF members who consider it to be the sole representative of the Tamils, is the major Tamil political player as "even the government has started talking to them". Two attempts to move a no-confidence motion against Anandasangaree were caught in controversy. A shaken but optimistic Anandasangaree said that there was nothing to negotiate on the issue; he is confident that his view will prevail. "The rank and file will give me support," he said.

According to informed Tamil commentators, behind this argument is the story of a leadership battle for the post of party president. "They all know that power lies with the LTTE," said a former militant, adding that a race for leadership was on and that the rebels were being used by the contestants. According to observers, deep within, TULF continues to consider the LTTE (and the former militant groups that have taken the parliamentary route) as "boys who will ultimately be reined in". They believe that within TULF there is reluctance to accept the Tigers as the sole representatives of the Tamils. "The only difference between Anandasangaree and the others is that he makes it public," an informed observer said. This, according to the Tamil commentators, has strengthened the position of those aspiring for party leadership.

Yet another view is that the spat will weaken TULF and consequently strengthen the position of the LTTE. Pointing out that the LTTE had assassinated the TULF's leadership in the past but had not been able to bring the party to an end, a former militant said: "Without firing a single shot, the LTTE has now put TULF on the path to self-destruction." Analysts feel that a struggle within TULF could strengthen the ACTC, TULF's old rival.

Founded as the Tamil United Front (TUF) in 1972 when the Tamil Congress and the Federal Party came together, the party took the name TULF with the entry of the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) a few years later. A high-point in the political programme of TULF was the Vadukottai resolution of 1976, which spelt out the case for a separate Tamil state. Immediately after the resolution, the CWC, headed by the late S. Thondaman, left TULF and re-asserted the identity of the CWC because he saw the circumstances surrounding plantation Tamils, the party's support base, as different from those of Sri Lankan Tamils.

In its long history, Sri Lanka's Tamil politics has been dogged by internal differences - be it on the political front or in relation to the militant formations. However, the early days of TULF established it as a party that mattered. Spurned by the discriminatory political system and enchanted by platform speeches promising a better future, Tamil militancy sprouted.

"They encouraged us from public platforms," said a former Tamil militant, who has since left politics. "There is no doubt about it. We were fed by their political speeches. They were inspiring and made us want to do things," he said. However, in a reverse process, today TULF leaders are lectured to by the LTTE, one of the several groups that consist of what they once called, and continue to call "our boys".

Political commentators say that the current argument about the LTTE is "politically convenient" and hence "is being pushed with vigour", though the actual differences are over leadership issues.

THE jostling for political space started with the formation of the TNA. The alliance was launched on the eve of the 2001 Parliamentary elections, but its roots can be traced back to the 2000 elections, when Tamil votes, particularly in the eastern districts, were splintered, helping the People's Alliance (P.A.) and the National Unity Front.

Tamil civil society groups, mainly teachers and students from the Eastern and Jaffna universities, formed the Tamilar Marumalarchchi Kazhagam (Tamils' Renaissance Front). Subsequently, they started discussions with leaders of TULF, TELO and other political parties.

Even at this stage, TULF was reluctant to permit the entry of erstwhile militant parties such as TELO. Discussions with local LTTE leaders cleared the air and an alliance was formed, whose main purpose was to ensure that the Tamil vote was not split. "It was to get the Tamil polity back to the 1977 stage," recalls one of the activists behind the TNA's formation.

THE move proved politically advantageous as the TNA won 15 seats in the 225-member Parliament and emerged as a dominant single bloc. While there were suggestions that the TNA register itself afresh as a political party, the move was put on hold. It is not without significance that the group's parliamentary leader Sampanthan refers to it as the "Alliance of Tamil Parties" rather than the popularly known "Tamil National Alliance". Meanwhile, internal leadership problems were simmering. The divide deepened after Anandasangaree stayed away from a meeting with the LTTE leadership in Kilinochchi, in contrast to other leaders who were constantly in touch with the rebel leadership. "Fundamentally, and in every way, it is a leadership battle," a former militant said.

Not ruling out the personal factor, Anandasangaree said: "Now they are enjoying power in all aspects. They want the presidency also." But the TULF veteran, - with a political standing of over four decades and supporters in formations ranging from the Sri Lankan Left to the old Tamil Congress - is in no mood to give up. Instead of being angry with his opponents within the party, the former schoolteacher, who once represented the currently rebel-held constituency of Kilinochchi in Parliament, feels that they need sympathy. "It is foolish on the part of our people. They should have explained and convinced them (opponents) that taking an independent stand is beneficial to the Tamils".

Farewell to pacifism

Japan's decision to develop a ballistic missile defence system is a significant shift from its `pacifist' stance and is likely to have far-reaching implications for security in the Asia-Pacific region.

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JAPAN'S decision on December 19 to install a ballistic missile defence (BMD) system is qualitatively different from the "Basic Plan" announced by the Junichiro Koizumi government in Tokyo on December 9 to send troops to Iraq on a `non-combat' mission. But the strategic calculus behind both these definitive steps, which could have far-reaching implications for the Asia Pacific region, is the same - a new assertiveness about `pacifist' Japan's global status as a political player.

In seeking to raise Tokyo's international profile, Prime Minister Koizumi has risked antagonising domestic public opinion, which overwhelmingly favours a hands-off approach vis-a-vis Iraq. The murder of two Japanese diplomats on November 29 in what was apparently an attack against the United States by the Iraqi resistance forces has further hardened the mood of the Japanese people.

The BMD issue, in contrast, has more to do with Japan's immediate neighbourhood, particularly the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). While `pacifists' and `Gaullists' still abound in Japan, the BMD issue has not been put to a stringent public opinion test in the way Koizumi's pro-U.S. stance has been. For the international community though, Japan's BMD initiative is more important than the "Basic Plan" as the former seems to be a pointer to Official Japan's increasing proclivity to assume a big-power role.

On the surface, the troops-for-Iraq move seems designed to help the U.S., Japan's long-standing `ally', at a time when the anti-American sentiment in Iraq is spiralling out of control. The BMD move, on the other hand, is intrinsically linked to Japan's own sense of security. Thus, even as Koizumi extends a helping hand to U.S. President George W. Bush in a largely symbolic gesture of solidarity, Washington will provide substantive technological support to Tokyo's BMD project.

Under the "Basic Plan", units belonging to all three wings of Japan's Self-Defence Forces (SDF, or the country's military establishment) will be despatched to Iraq in small contingents over a period of one year. The countdown for this elaborate exercise began on December 15. In all, a few hundred Japanese ground troops and modest numbers of aerial and naval equipment and personnel are likely to be deployed in Iraq by December 2004.

The rationale for preferring a `non-combat role' was spelt out under the "Basic Plan" in terms that could be interpreted to be at variance with Koizumi's political logic. The justification for sending troops was given as follows: "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended... Reconstruction of Iraq is extremely important not only for the people of Iraq... but also to secure peace and stability of the entire international community including Japan. As such, Japan has decided to extend as much assistance for the reconstruction of Iraq as possible, on its (Tokyo's) own initiative". The claim about Japan's "own initiative" will, of course, be open to a different interpretation, given Bush's sojourn in Tokyo last October when he made no secret of the American desire to see Japan go beyond merely doling out financial assistance, often derisively referred to in the West as cheque-book diplomacy. Japan has announced a $5-billion aid package for Iraq, covering a period of several years.

Not unaware of the deep scepticism within Japan itself, Koizumi sought to allay the anti-war feelings of the people. At a press conference in Tokyo on December 9, he said that the proposed "despatch of SDF (units) is for humanitarian and reconstruction assistance in Iraq" under a relevant law adopted by the Diet (Parliament) on July 26. The passage of that legislation before the narrow but definitive electoral win of Koizumi's coalition last November was itself a stormy affair(Frontline, August 15).

Koizumi's latest refrain is that the SDF troops "will not engage in the use of force" in Iraq. Reaffirming the point for better emphasis, he said: "They will not participate in combative activities. They are not going to war. The United States of America, the United Kingdom and other countries are cooperating to create a stable, democratic, administration in Iraq. I believe that as a responsible member of the international community Japan must also fulfil its responsibility [for] the creation of an environment that will allow the people of Iraq to rebuild their own country with optimism."

Indicating his awareness that "the current conditions in Iraq are severe" and that the "situation cannot always be described as being safe", Koizumi said that "there are [however] areas [in Iraq] in which we must call upon the members of the SDF to be fully engaged". His political bottom line was that the government, the SDF and the Japanese people "must undertake activities that will be welcomed by the people of Iraq".

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To say that ordinary Iraqis will `welcome' the arrival of SDF units as part of the overall U.S.-led occupation forces, notwithstanding Japan's stated `non-combat' and `pro-reconstruction' aims, is tostretch things too far. Making the announcement a few days before the U.S.' capture of the former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein, Koizumi said he was steeled by the `sacrifice' that the two slain Japanese diplomats had made in the cause of "Iraqi reconstruction".

While Saddam Hussein's capture has reinforced the resolve of the Iraqi resistance forces to fight the U.S. occupation, Koizumi has not retraced his pro-Washington steps. In his December 9 remarks, he spelt out his strategic agenda on the following lines: "The basis of Japan's foreign policy must lie in the dual maintenance of both the Japan-U.S. alliance and international coordination [on Iraq]. ...Japan cannot [acting] alone secure its own peace and security. It was for such a reason that we [in the past] concluded the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, and [this is] why we must accord the Japan-U.S. alliance the importance it deserves. The United States is a unique ally for Japan... and I believe that Japan must also be a trustworthy ally for the United States."

From this explicit pro-U.S. stance, it was a short hop for the Koizumi administration to announce the BMD plan. The Japanese Foreign Ministry said on December 19 that "Japan has been conducting technological research of BMD with the United States and has [now] come to the conclusion that it is desirable to introduce the system for the purpose of enhancing peace and security of the nation and [for] strengthening the Japan-U.S. Security Alliance". The multi-layer defence system will consist of the Aegis BMD know-how and the Patriot PAC-3 equipment, both of U.S. origin. The details of the BMD installation would be decided by the end of 2004, the statement said.

Cognisant of the shock-waves that the move could send across the Asia-Pacific region, the Koizumi administration took care to emphasise that the move was entirely `defensive' and that it would have "no threatening implication for the neighbouring countries and areas and no ill-effect on the stability in the region". As and when necessary, Japan would explain its position so as to gain international understanding, it added.

As of now, two aspects of the decision on the BMD system stand out. First, the Japan-U.S. alliance accounts for not only the BMD's perceived viability but also Tokyo's decision to rush to Iraq at this stage. According to diplomats and analysts in the region, Tokyo's decision regarding Iraq has something to do with the need to stay on the right side of the U.S. and to be counted upon for "reconstruction contracts", especially in view of the Bush dictum of exclusiveness in such matters.

Referring to U.S.-Tokyo ties on the eve of the 21st century, Yoichi Funabashi and others in the Japanese strategic affairs community had spoken of an "alliance adrift". In mid-2003, Yutaka Kawashima, a former Japanese diplomat who had risen to the rank of Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, examined various scenarios before concluding that "all sorts of reservations and criticism [in Japan itself] regarding U.S. actions will be vociferously expressed". However, in his opinion, "Japan's best option seems to be to work closely with the United States".

The second aspect is that the new system could either be a forerunner of, or indeed become an integral part of, the theatre missile defence system (TMD) proposed by the U.S. in the Asia Pacific region.

Striking with a vengeance

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

Contrary to U.S. expectations, Saddam Hussein's capture has only reinvigorated Iraqi resistance.

THE early morning rocket barrage against American targets on Christmas day was a reminder to the occupation forces that the resistance was alive and kicking despite the capture of Saddam Hussein. The resistance forces targeted the area in and around the high-security "green zone", the site of the American military headquarters. After the capture of Saddam Hussein in the first week of December there was a brief lull in the attacks on American military personnel as the insurgent forces concentrated their attacks on Iraqi collaborators. American officials began making premature statements that the capture of Saddam Hussein had demoralised the resistance. However, American soldiers have started dying again.

A day before Christmas, three American soldiers were killed in the town of Samarra, a hotbed of the resistance. Earlier, Iraqi civilians peacefully demonstrating in support of Saddam Hussein were gunned down by American troops in the town of Ramadi. They quelled protests by Iraqis in other towns inside the "Sunni triangle".

Now the Americans have decreed that no pro-Saddam demonstrations will be allowed, even if they are peaceful. Immediately after Saddam's pictures were shown on television, there were bombings in the Husseiniya and Amariya districts of Baghdad, killing six people. A suicide bomber attacked a police station in Khaldiya, around 100 km north of Baghdad, killing 17 people, many of them policemen. Saddam's supporters were angry after a newspaper owned by Ahmad Chalabi published a picture of a dishevelled Saddam talking to a nattily dressed Chalabi in a prison cell.

Reports appearing in the Western media suggest that Saddam continues to be defiant. There are contradictory stories emerging about the circumstances under which he was arrested. A Kurdish faction aligned with the Americans has claimed credit for capturing Saddam much before the triumphant announcement by the American administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer. Jalal Talabani, the important Kurdish leader who is on the interim governing council, had leaked details of Saddam's capture much before the Americans announced it officially. The Iranian media announced Saddam's arrest before the American media did.

Saddam's eldest daughter Raghad Hussein has said that her father was betrayed and drugged into submission. A report in an American magazine said that Saddam spat on the face of the American soldier who first took him into custody. American Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld admitted that Saddam was non-cooperative. Time Magazine quoted Saddam as telling his American interrogators that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. "The U.S. dreamt them up itself to have a reason to go to war with us," he was quoted as saying.

Saddam is being held in a cell measuring 11ft by 14ft, with a bed, chairs and an inbuilt lavatory. The Arab media has reported that Saddam was betrayed by his bodyguard - identified as General Mohammed Ibrahim Omar al-Muslit - who is also a close relative. According to the reports, he led the American troops to Saddam's hideout after drugging him.

President George W. Bush has already predicted the fate that awaits Saddam. Speaking to the American media, he said that the Iraqi President deserved "the ultimate penalty". As Governor of Texas, Bush had routinely given assent to the death sentence of hundreds of prisoners.

Two other Presidents of sovereign states overthrown by the American military are in prison - Manuel Noriega of Panama has been in an American jail since 1989 and Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia is defending himself at The Hague. Both leaders preferred to be judged by their own countrymen but were taken against their will and incarcerated. On the other hand, Saddam, Americans insist, be tried in Iraq. Almost all the interim governing council members have demanded death for Saddam. The Americans hope that no inconvenient questions will be asked by the five-member Iraqi court, which will interrogate Saddam on the close links that previous Republican administrations and other Western governments had with the Iraqi government from the late 1970s.

Donald Rumsfeld was the man whom President Ronald Reagan sent to Baghdad in 1983 at the height of the Iran-Iraq war. Iraq's use of chemical weapons did not prevent the Americans from selling even more lethal weaponry to Iraq. The current President of the Iraqi governing council, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, has said that if Saddam is proven guilty, "he could be condemned to death". International legal luminaries have said that the Iraqi legal system is not yet ready to deal with a case of such large ramifications and that the trial of Saddam in Iraq would not be considered fair and effective.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has objected to Saddam being given the death penalty. He pointed out that even U.N. tribunals trying people for war crimes did not provide for the death penalty.

Meanwhile, President Bush is trying to put the issue of weapons of mass destruction on the back burner. Iraq was invaded on the pretext of finding and destroying weapons of mass destruction. Bush had said that the war was a pre-emptive one and the rationale was the imminent threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Now the American President says that Iraq may have been only pursuing a weapons programme. In an interview to an American television channel in mid-December, Bush said the existence of the Iraqi programme was reason enough to justify the invasion. "If he (Saddam) were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger," Bush said.

In another pre-Christmas incident, a suicide bomber drove a vehicle and exploded it in front of an office of the Iraqi Interior Ministry in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil, a stronghold of the Kurds, resulting in many Iraqi casualties. Since the first Gulf War, the town has been under the control of the Kurds and their American allies. The resistance forces have signalled that they have the capacity to hit targets outside the "Sunni triangle". As the violence escalated, American forces continued with their aggressive military assault against the resistance. House-to-house searches and targeted killings have become the norm, alienating even more Iraqi civilians and non-combatants from among the Americans. The American military tactics are very similar to those being used by the Israeli army against Palestinians in the occupied territories. The latest American military operation in Iraq, code-named "Operation Iron Grip", used helicopters, aircraft and batteries of field guns against Iraqis even in Baghdad.

On Christmas eve, massive explosions and gunfire could be heard in the capital throughout the night. Most of the American firepower was directed against the southern district of Baghdad, a stronghold of Saddam loyalists. The shower of rockets that were sent by the insurgents as a Christmas present for the occupation forces showed that Iron Grip and the earlier Operation Iron Hammer were not all that successful. Paul Bremer narrowly escaped a bid on his life when Rumsfeld was on a visit to Iraq, in the third week of December. A bomb exploded near Bremer's convoy, and that was followed by small arms fire. The resistance forces have kept up their attacks on oil installations and pipelines. The Americans have not been able to restore regular power supply. People have to wait for hours to get petrol. The crime wave shows no sign of subsiding. Even the puppet Iraqi interim governing council has said that the occupiers devote more resources to their own safety than to the task of restoring normalcy in Iraq.

Saddam's capture has no doubt been welcomed by large sections of Iraqis, especially the Shias and the Kurds. There were celebrations in many Shia neighbourhoods in Baghdad. There is growing confidence in the Shia elite that with the incarceration of Saddam, the last hurdle towards the goal of ultimate power in Iraq has been removed. In a bid to reassure the Americans, top-ranking Shia clergymen, such as the Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Said Al-Hakim, have pledged that they do not aspire to form an Iranian-style theocratic government. While going out of their way to be accommodative of American security interests, the Shia leadership based in Najaf has strongly indicated that it will not be satisfied with anything less than the Presidency of Iraq. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the pre-eminent Shia cleric in Iraq, has asserted through an edict that only Iraqis elected through a popular vote can write a new Constitution. The Bush administration had earlier planned to ghost-write a constitution as General Douglas MacArthur did in occupied Japan after the Second World War.

Observers of the West Asian scene are of the opinion that the Bush administration has very little room for manoeuvre in Iraq. If it opts for federalism, it would annoy the Shia community, which has been patiently waiting for power. If the Bush administration makes concessions to the Sunnis, there will be a regime that will be a Ba'athist one for all practical purposes but without Saddam at the helm. The Bush administration may ultimately prefer a Sunni-dominated authoritarian regime to a popularly elected Shia-dominated government. Once in power with a popular mandate, a Shia-dominated government will no longer be submissive to American diktats. Experts of the region feel that a Shia-dominated government would be unsympathetic to the interests of Washington.

Retired American General Anthony Zinni, who was a former command chief of all U.S. Forces in the Persian Gulf, said recently that Iraq was "in serious danger of coming apart because of lack of planning, underestimating the task and buying into a flawed strategy". He told The Washington Post that America's "policy, strategy, tactics, et cetera, are still screwed up". The guerrilla tactics being successfully adopted by the Iraqi insurgents, like the use of donkey cart missile launchers and truck bombs, have disoriented the American forces and put them on the defensive. American military advisers in Iraq now talk of adopting a new strategy that "will pit terrorism versus terrorism". This strategy seems eerily similar to the one that the Ariel Sharon-led Israeli government has adopted in the occupied territories.

Questions of strategy

SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN world-affairs

The World Social Forum to be held in Mumbai could pose key challenges of strategy and tactics before the movement since the globalisation project in its economic, political and military dimensions is plunging rapidly towards a point of inflection.

OPEN platforms can on occasion be invaded by unwanted guests. During the 2002 session of the World Social Forum (WSF) at Porto Alegre in Brazil, a group of senior World Bank officials arrived at the main venue "demanding" the right to address the diverse gatherings present. They were told that the forum, though open, did not see any utility from their particular brand of policy advocacy. Leaving in high dudgeon, the officials of the World Bank pronounced their "banning" a denial of free speech. The Economist of London, a consistent media voice arguing the case for globalisation, took up the theme, commenting that the WSF, though growing in size, was certainly not gaining in influence.

Between January 16 and 21, Mumbai will host the 2004 edition of the WSF, the fourth in an unbroken sequence since 2001 and the first outside the city of its origin. Preparations for the event are already enveloped in a vigorous debate over the role and relevance of the forum. There are dismissive suggestions that the WSF is a mere "talking shop" that produces a great deal of rhetoric but no substantive plans of action. Undiscriminating in its choice of participants and overly accommodative in its methods, the WSF has become a platform for a wild congeries of political tendencies. No concrete or useful political strategy is likely to emerge from its deliberations, since it chooses not to distil out a central message from all the views articulated.

Among the organisations that have sought a place under the MR 2004 banner are significant farm unions such as the Bharatiya Kisan Union and the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha. The Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha and other movements, propelled in the main by an assertion of tribal rights, have also signed up, as have unions from certain of India's free trade zones. The international participation includes a clutch of organisations from the Philippines. A number of the participants though have little by way of known public credentials and chose only to establish their identity through the well-trodden themes of "resistance", "revolution" and "anti-imperialism".

The principal vice of the WSF in the perception of the MR 2004 is its alleged captivity to the NGO bureaucracies. "NGOisation" as a pejorative has been tossed about a great deal in recent debates on the relevance of the WSF. In grappling with the phenomenon, many participants in the WSF choose to take a robustly pragmatic approach. Walden Bello, founder and director of Focus on the Global South, admits to receiving organisational funding from at least 20 donors, including Oxfam and the Ford Foundation. But he sees no conflict between the character of the donors and the mission of his organisation, which was one of the recipients of the alternate Nobel Prize in 2003. He enforces institutional autonomy through a number of principles - limiting every funding agency to less than 20 per cent of the total budget, ensuring that there are no strings attached, declining all contributions from the U.S. government or its agencies and considering every offer on its inherent merits.

The programme schedule for WSF 2004 includes conferences and panel discussions that are directly funded by the WSF secretariat and a number of other events financed by participant organisations. Between them, these cover a vast range of issues, including militarism, war and peace, the media, the control of natural resources, women's oppression, social exclusion based on race, ethnicity and class, finance and development and the environment. MR 2004 offers the same menu, though on a less elaborate scale and it seeks to emphasise its essential difference by appending the term "imperialism" to each of these themes.

This difference for MR 2004 is more than terminological. The WSF is, in the perception of the anti-imperialist campaign, a "safety valve" for globalisation and its discontents, not a real challenge to the system. The WSF charter includes an explicit disavowal of violence, which in the perception of more militant outfits, hobbles it in a confrontation with the violence - both implicit and explicit - of imperialism. More damaging still, in this reading, is the openness of the WSF to dialogue with the missionaries of globalisation in an effort to reform the system from within. Indeed, MR 2004, in explaining its mission, quotes extensively from a World Bank document which regrets that "many of the organisations involved in WSF are still opposed to any constructive dialogue with the IFIs (international financial institutions) or economic policy makers". Although there has been a minor shift in attitudes over the years, the World Bank is unsure whether WSF 2004 "will break with that pattern". Without betting anything on that happening, the World Bank nevertheless is hopeful that the WSF "will mature enough to become a movement that influences the scope and pace of economic globalisation", by engaging with "decision-makers in government and in multilateral institutions" and proposing "more concrete, and rigorous, alternative policies and approaches".

Although the World Bank has never been a donor to the WSF, other major non-governmental funders such as the Ford Foundation, the Heinrich Boell Foundation, Oxfam and ActionAid have. This has posed a thorny issue before the forum. If it were a purely NGO-driven affair, the WSF would undoubtedly have devised one variety of answer. But from its inception, the body has shown fairly sharply-honed political reflexes. The potential for schisms has been inherent in the nature of the WSF since its inception. But divisive issues and questions are, by deliberate intent, not confronted directly since the main purpose is to share experiences of struggles against globalisation. As the WSF matures though, these questions would acquire greater salience and demand specific answers both in theory and practice.

WSF 2004 has dealt with the problem, though not in its entirety. Without directly entering the fray - since that would violate the WSF proscription on explicitly political organisations - the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has through organisational affiliates and individuals sought to limit the dependence on major donors from the countries that are seen to be driving the globalisation project. This has meant that the Ford Foundation and other institutions with similar ideological predilections cannot hope to influence the deliberations at Mumbai, except through subtle proxy action. This strategy was articulated by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechuri in a recent intervention in the debate. The party, Yechuri asserted, has nonetheless chosen to be part of the WSF process since it has an interest in influencing the ideological debate and resisting the tendency to mystify the quest for alternatives and undermine the viability of the socialist programme.

THE WSF has its origins in an alliance between French and Brazilian opponents of globalisation, who brought different concerns into their mutual engagement. Provoked by the mid-1990s crisis of the French public sector and the Asian financial meltdown of 1997 - both of which were in some manner connected to the shrinking of sovereign national policy space and the growing influence of international financial institutions - the French monthly journal Le Monde diplomatique in December 1997 ran an editorial proposing a global movement to tame international financial flows. The device that was chosen as the centrepiece of this advocacy was the tax on speculative financial transactions proposed by the American economist and Nobel laureate James Tobin. Taking his cue from Robert Aldrich's 1956 war movie Attack, Ignacio Ramonet, the editor of Le Monde diplomatique, proposed the name ATTAC for his movement. An appropriate expansion for the acronym was then crafted, which when translated from the French, would read Association for the Tobin Tax in aid of the Citizens.

ATTAC carried out its initial campaigns at the annual gathering of the World Economic forum at Davos. But the odds were heavily against it. The necessity for an alternate venue and forum was discussed between ATTAC campaigners and activists of the Brazilian Workers' Party in 2000 and settled in a matter of minutes. Their quest had been greatly galvanised by the demonstrations that carried a powerful political message through to the missionaries of globalisation at the Seattle Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organisation in 1999 (Cover Story, Frontline, December 24, 1999). The choice of Porto Alegre, capital of the Brazilian province of Rio Grande do Sulas, as the venue followed soon afterwards, since the Workers' Party controlled both the municipal and the provincial administrations. In June 2000, at the conclusion of the U.N. Social Summit in Geneva, the deputy governor of the province launched an appeal for convening a social forum at Porto Alegre. Propelled by the spontaneous enthusiasm of campaign groups that were by then fatigued and disillusioned by the endless ritualism of U.N.-sponsored conclaves, the WSF came to life within a phenomenally brief time period of six months. The first gathering was funded in the main by the city and provincial governments at Porto Alegre and by a host of international donor agencies.

Successive gatherings of the WSF since have attracted ever larger participation. But by 2003, the limitations imposed by the unchanging venue and fixed norms of funding and participation were beginning to be apparent. The Asian Social Forum, held in January 2003 in Hyderabad, was in this sense, the dress rehearsal for shifting the venue of the WSF to India (Cover Story, Frontline, January 31, 2003). The final choice of Mumbai followed an intensive scrutiny of rival bids.

The Mumbai gathering will confront the WSF with new challenges. After the first WSF, Naomi Klein, author of the anti-globalisation tract No Logo, characterised its deliberative processes as "so opaque that it was nearly impossible to figure out how decisions were made". At the second session, participants were often approached by media people who were keen to find out where the "11th floor" was. This elevated venue was allegedly where all the key deliberations were being conducted and the final documents being prepared.

At the same time, the scholar Michael Hardt has characterised the WSF as "unknowable, chaotic, dispersive", embracing an "overabundance" that "created an exhilaration in everyone, at being lost in a sea of people from so many parts of the world who (were) working similarly against the present form of capitalist globalisation". These very characteristics of the forum, in particular its "overflowing quality", created the "euphoria of commonality" and meant in effect that "differences and conflicts" could not be confronted.

The debate preceding WSF 2004 clearly shows that the euphoria is now giving way to more mundane questions of strategy. How the WSF engages with this question will determine much of its future course. In its charter of principles, the WSF specifies that it "does not constitute a locus of power to be disputed by the participants". But differences in perception may not remain submerged for much longer in the euphoria of meeting and pooling experiences. Participants are now acutely aware that for all the inclusive and open character of the forum, there are smaller and more compact bodies that try to bring some coherence to the activities that encompass a breathtaking diversity of themes and involve participants in their thousands. To a great extent, the early turbulence over WSF 2004 could be ascribed to dissonances over the manner in which these smaller bodies are constituted and conduct their deliberations. Even if the funding agencies do not show their hand in the public events, their interests and perceptions are likely to feature strongly in the smaller caucuses where key decisions are made.

WSF 2004 could bring these issues more prominently into the foreground. It could also pose key challenges of strategy and tactics before the movement since the globalisation project in its economic, political and military dimensions is plunging rapidly towards a point of inflection. But neither the WSF nor its more "radical other" is likely to offer definitive answers in part because they are dealing with a false dichotomy. As the renowned historian and "world systems" theorist Immanuel Wallerstein has put it: "An anti-systemic movement cannot neglect short-term defensive action, including electoral action. The world's populations live in the present, and their immediate needs have to be addressed. Any movement that neglects them is bound to lose the widespread passive support that is essential for its long-term success. But the motive and justification for defensive action should not be that of remedying a failing system but rather of preventing its negative effects from getting worse in the short run. This is quite different psychologically and politically."

A divided Commonwealth

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The exit of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth, thanks to the intransigence of member-countries such as Australia and Britain, does not augur well for the organisation's future.

AS expected, the Commonwealth summit held in Abuja, Nigeria, in the first week of December was dominated by the issue of Zimbabwe's suspension from the organisation. President Robert Mugabe had warned that Zimbabwe would have no option but to quit the Commonwealth if his country's suspension was not revoked at the Abuja summit.

Following the re-election of Mugabe in 2002, a group of Commonwealth nations led by the United Kingdom and Australia, initiated moves that brought about the suspension of Zimbabwe during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). The British government and media had begun demonising Mugabe ever since the Zimbabwean government started carrying out land reforms. At least 70 per cent of the country's arable land is owned by white farmers.

As in the case of the war against Iraq, Britain's closest allies in the campaign to undermine the Zimbabwean government were the United States and Australia. The U.S. and the European Union imposed "smart sanctions" on Zimbabwe, in a bid to tighten the economic noose. Currently, inflation in Zimbabwe is at 500 per cent and unemployment stands at 80 per cent.

Australia was part of the troika appointed by the Commonwealth last year to find a solution to the impasse on the emotive issue. The other two members were Nigeria and South Africa. Apparently, the Australian government adopted an uncompromising posture from the very beginning on the issue of re-admitting Zimbabwe into the Commonwealth. In fact, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo criticised the hardline approach taken by Australia ahead of the summit in Abuja.

Senior Zimbabwean officials said that their government's decision was a reaction to "the racist and colonial" politics that had come to dominate the decision-making process within the Commonwealth. Zimbabwe's Minister of Home Affairs Kembo Mohadi reaffirmed his government's decision to dismantle the economic hegemony of the white settler minority.

Speaking at an official function, a few days after the Abuja summit, the senior Minister sarcastically characterised those who wanted to penalise Zimbabwe "as the angels of democracy". He said that their aim was to destroy the national institutions of Zimbabwe as "the government was gearing to dismantle the hegemony of the white settler colonial minority". He blamed the present economic plight of the country on the policies pursued by the government over the past two decades under the influence of Western financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. "If anything, we have been led down the garden path, leaving us in deeper economic, political and social morass, which the government has decided to tackle head on through its land reform and indigenisation policies," he said. Despite the fact that Zimbabwe is in dire economic straits, the IMF has virtually stopped all aid and credit because of the country's failure to repay a $273-million debt.

Didymus Mutasa, Foreign Affairs Secretary of the ruling Zimbabwean African National Union-Popular Front (ZANU-PF) said that the measures that the Commonwealth proposed to take against Zimbabwe were aimed at protecting "the interests of the white farmer".

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The Commonwealth's decision to keep Zimbabwe suspended was based on the guidelines provided by the historic 1991 Harare summit, at which the CHOGM leaders had sworn fealty to "the rule of law and commitment to democracy" in their respective countries. Since then, member-countries such as Pakistan, Fiji and Nigeria have had to face suspension from the organisation. Pakistan remains suspended after the military takeover by General Pervez Musharraf though there was considerable behind-the-scenes diplomatic manoeuvres by some of Islamabad's friends in the "war against terror" to get the suspension revoked.

Among the Heads of State present at Abuja, South African President Thabo Mbeki was the most vocal critic of the decision to keep Zimbabwe suspended from the organisation. He told the media that the decision was not "justified" as it was not arrived at by consensus, as was the Commonwealth tradition. In a letter written by Mbeki and published on the web site of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), Mbeki highlighted the "strong disagreement" of the member-countries of the South African Development Community (SADC) with the CHOGM decision. Mbeki said that Zimbabwe was never given an opportunity to respond to the report of the Commonwealth observers' team, which had cast doubts about the fairness of the 2002 elections in Zimbabwe. "We also must make the point that the Zimbabwe government has been never given the possibility to respond to the report of the Commonwealth observers, contrary both to the principles of natural justice and the rules of the Commonwealth," the letter stated.

The Commonwealth overlooked the "land issue" which, the letter said, was at the "core of the crisis" in Zimbabwe. "Indeed the land question has disappeared from the global discourse about Zimbabwe, except when it is mentioned to highlight the plight of the former landowners and to attribute the food shortage in Zimbabwe to the land redistribution programme," Mbeki said.

Echoing the views of most Africans, he pointed out that the roots of the present crisis in Zimbabwe could be traced to 1965 when the then British Prime Minster Harold Wilson refused to suppress the revolt led by the white supremacist Ian Smith "because the British government felt that it could not act against `its white kith and kin' in favour of the African majority". In the liberation war that followed, 30,000 people lost their lives.

Bala Usman, a Nigerian thinker and activist, who tried to submit a petition to the CHOGM asking for the suspension of Britain and Australia from the organisation for their role in the Iraq war, said that the land question had disappeared "from the global discourse about Zimbabwe". He said that the problem came up only in the context of the plight of former white landowners and in order to relate it to the problem of food shortages. Bala Usman accused the E.U. and the United Nations of backing away from the commitment to finance the redistribution of land in Zimbabwe. Reacting to Western criticism, Mugabe said recently: "How can these countries, who have stolen land from Red Indians, Aborigines and Eskimos, dare to tell us what we should do with our land?"

Mbeki observed that the British and other Western governments, in the interest of their "kith and kin", allowed the white supremacists to rule for more than a decade and a half until they were forced to come to the negotiating table by the relentless guerrilla war waged under the leadership of Mugabe. Even today he is affectionately called "Comrade Bob" by the older generation of Zimbabweans who fought in the liberation struggle. When he was dutifully implementing IMF-World Bank prescriptions, the whites in Zimbabwe used to call him "good old Bob". Mbeki said that the SADC countries, along with Uganda, were saddened by the "dismissive, intolerant and rigid attitude" adopted by some of the Commonwealth countries, though he did not mention any country by name.

Much of the blame has been apportioned to Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon. South Africa wanted a new Secretary-General and had in fact proposed the candidature of the former Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. Even New Delhi did not support the South African move, on the grounds that it was made on short notice. The Indian government was more interested in extending Pakistan's suspension from the Commonwealth than in lending a helping hand to the African nations supporting Zimbabwe. Around 12 Commonwealth nations supported Kadirgamar's candidature. Mbeki said that the recent developments did not augur well for the future of the Commonwealth. He said that the recent events would not help the cause of economic restructuring or political reconciliation in Zimbabwe, two things that the country needed urgently.

`It is a serious situation'

other

Interview with Medha Patkar.

With BJP governments in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the odds seem to be stacked against the people of the Narmada valley as well as the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and its work. NBA activist-leader Medha Patkar spoke to Lyla Bavadam about the implications of Madhya Pradesh, the State in which all the dams except the Sardar Sarovar are located, having a BJP government. In a television interview many years ago, Uma Bharati,the new Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, when asked who she considered a formidable foe, had replied "Medha Patkar". The activist merely smiled when asked about that. Excerpts from the interview:

You have already written a letter to Uma Bharati. What have you conveyed to her?

I have told her that she should not take a decision without talking to us. I have said that we are sure she would like to take a decision in the interest of the people as well as the State. And if that is to happen, then she must have a dialogue with us, especially since the officials have been feeding in false data. If the Chief Minister came and saw the ground realities, she would find that thousands of families are not yet rehabilitated but on paper they are shown as resettled and rehabilitated. She should also not presume that people's movements are just fighting for the sake of fighting. I would also tell her of the temples and mosques of the valley that are ages old. They are an integral part of the culture of the valley and need to be saved. Displacement and other issues need serious and urgent review.

When did you write to her? A few days after she took over. Any reply? I expect one.

Uma Bharati has said that she wants to make Madhya Pradesh another Gujarat. Was this statement a matter of concern for voters in the valley?

We did bring this statement up in the local forums but finally it is the people who have to make the decisions. The BJP was clever enough to say that they were referring to development and not to the communal angle. Now practically every area has cast a vote in favour of the BJP. Even the Adivasi vote, which has traditionally gone to the Congress, went to the BJP. The Jhabua Hindu Sammelan created an atmosphere that helped utilise the identity crisis that the adivasis are facing. The ground was prepared by bad economics, wrong development policies and displacement issues. The seed that was finally sown was not cultural, it was communal. The Congress could not counter it.

From your perspective, what went wrong in these elections?

(Gujarat Chief Minister) Narendra Modi and (Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister) Digvijay Singh were together on the Narmada issue. That was the main compromise that Digvijay Singh made. People in the Narmada valley believe that it is because of his betraying us that he had to go. We tried to tell him that we are a part of the secular force but when I wrote to Sonia Gandhi about the whole situation some months ago, Digvijay Singh responded by saying that there is no difference between communal and secular in the matter of Sardar Sarovar. I had written back saying it was not so. Many people who have betrayed the NBA have been wiped out politically - Sunderlal Patwa, S.C. Shukla, T.N. Seshan, Motilal Vohra... especially those who supported us initially and then changed their position. The Congress did not bother to gather all the secular forces in the State. Of course the Congress also had a lot to answer for. Our mass bases could have stood up and questioned many actions of the Congress. And though we did speak in the villages about communal forces, the local masses were completely against the incumbent... it was an anti-incumbency vote.

The BJP put aside Hindutva and concentrated on development as an issue. So it knew clearly where to hit Digvijay Singh.

Yes, that played a huge role. Power, water, employment, displacement, farmers' issues, organised sector issues, infrastructure - all these played a role. Development has become a two-edged sword. They are not defining development. When we speak of infrastructure, the farmer does not want highways. He is looking for small connecting roads. Development right now is defined through rhetoric. But both development and governance are just electoral issues. They will not be translated into reality. The issues are politicised. I don't know whether this is a good thing or not.

Did you experience any positive outcomes of Digvijay Singh's decentralisation policies?

His policies were very well drafted but he ended up following a globalisation model. People did not know whom to fight since the seat of power is neither in Bhopal nor in Delhi. It is in Washington. The only way the people can express themselves is by taking out their anger and frustration at whoever is in a position of power and is accessible to them. That is what happened and will happen in the coming days.

Has the Gujarat government used Digvijay Singh on the Narmada issue?

As far as energy and power are concerned, he was advised by many that since power was becoming an electoral issue he should blame the NBA's opposition to the dams. So he blamed us openly. First he came to a bargain with Modi. Then he puts the power scarcity problem on to us and linked the Sardar Sarovar/Maheshwar issues. He did not look into the reality and dug his own grave. Yes, he was used by the Modi government. The first thing that Digvijay did was to let Modi take water to Rajkot, with which Modi won his election. That water reached Rajkot only for 17 days - just those crucial pre-election days. Then it was diverted into the Sabarmati. The people of Rajkot protested and were given water from the Mahi river. Digvijay had given clearance for projects in Madhya Pradesh on condition that some other projects be started in the State. He hoped to get credit for them but he didn't even get that. The credit for Omkareshwar [dam] went to Uma Bharati and Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee.

This kind of bargaining didn't work well for him. He had no need to ally with Vajpayee and Modi especially when he knew their politics. When Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister L.K. Advani visited the Sardar Sarovar dam site, he listed the BJP's achievements. He had said 1998 was the year of the nuclear test, 1999 Kargil and 2000 Sardar Sarovar [the Supreme Court judgment in favour of raising the height of the dam]. Digvijay should have lobbied and allied with Rajasthan and Maharashtra on the dam issue, instead of getting entangled in the politics of the BJP.

It was not always like this. Digvijay Singh was quite an accessible Chief Minister initially. When did things start changing for the NBA in Madhya Pradesh?

It was after the Supreme Court's judgment in 2000. Digvijay said that the judgment compelled him to take a different stand. That was not the case at all. He chose to change his position and we realised that after many attempts to talk to him. Every attempt at meaningful dialogue would end in an illogical conclusion with him referring us to the bureaucrat in charge or the Deputy Chief Minister. We wondered what had happened and what had turned him into such a different person. Then we realised that it was related to Modi's election. Modi was to stand for election from Rajkot on January 23, 2002. On January 7, Digvijay, Modi and Vajpayee had a meeting from which even Vilasrao Deshmukh (Maharashtra Chief Minister) was excluded. They made a bargain and Digvijay Singh agreed that the NBA and other mass movements were no good for political interests. This is despite the fact that in the last election, the Congress won the entire valley from Bargi [dam] to the Nimad regions [lower reaches of the river where the Maheshwar and other dams are proposed to be built]. And yet Digvijay took this sort of a stance.

Clearly there is more to it.

The problem is that he turned in favour of globalisation while our clear stand against globalisation meant that we had to criticise him. That really used to hurt him. We always used to have dialogue with him. He knew what we were thinking and what we believed in. Once the matter of big corporations came up in our talk. He told me that I could question him if he invited Enron to the State and then he said, "Please don't question Reliance." I asked him how he could expect us to do that and then he said loudly: "Oh! I have to make a choice between Medha Patkar and globalisation." I said, "No, you have to make a choice between globalisation and people's power." That used to be a favourite term of his - people's power. So, the point is that he has had corporate linkages all through. This is the sad point about electoral politics. Every single party needs to have some link with corporate powers if they want to survive. And that is why even those politicians who support us ask us the question: "Do you want us to come to power or not? And if you do, then don't be so rigid about corporate participation.' That is the kind of message we are getting. Corruption in elections is a result of this kind of corporatisation. We question it because it has serious impact on land, water, forest rights. It is killing the democratic process and bypassing the sovereign indigenous agencies and monitoring agencies. That is what we are fighting. We aren't just fighting some capitalistic idea in the air. It has concrete implications for the whole development planning process, people's roles and rights and in their share of development, planning and choice of technology.

Digvijay Singh could have used people's power to fight the election. He could have used the alternative approach of gathering together all the angry, agitated masses and taken them with him to fight those centralised decisions. But his globalisation perspective took him on another path. His ideology was confused. He said he was against big dams and was in favour of small dams. At the World Water Forum, he made a statement that water first belongs to the community and that in Madhya Pradesh no water project is built without community involvement. And then he comes back and implements policies that are clearly guided by the principles of globalisation. He had only one goal and that was to retain power.

What is the next step?

It is a serious situation. Not just because of a change of government but because the Congress and the BJP both have the same perspective on large dams. At the Narmada Control Authority's (NCA) recent meeting, they presented completely fake Action Taken Reports (ATRs) and this has become a matter of routine. No official agency has visited the valley in so many years. Some junior officials of the NCA made a brief trip to check entitlements and it was clearly established that the official ATRs were wrong. Our people have surveyed the area and have the full data. Our team went twice. When individual cases of rehabilitation were looked at, it was found that people who had shifted 20 to 30 years ago had still not got their entitlements. So now we are providing data to the government. Even though there is a complex situation with the authorities, the law is on our side. We will continue to use the legal system to make our case.

Dalit anger in Haryana

Spontaneous expressions of Dalit assertion are reported from across Haryana following the State administration's silence over the issue of the missing Dalit sarpanch of a village in Rohtak district.

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SERIOUS questions have been raised in Rohtak and the rest of Haryana about the State government's indifference towards the increasing atrocities against Dalits. Although instances of attacks on this section of society are not new, only recently have Dalits begun to express their anger. The latest incident involves the mysterious disappearance since October 12 of Karan Singh, an elected Dalit sarpanch of Pehrawar village in Rohtak district. The administration has kept a studied silence in the matter despite an atmosphere of increasing unrest.

On December 21, a "Mahapanchayat" of concerned citizens was held in Rohtak, where several political parties, barring the Congress(I), the ruling Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the Bharatiya Janata Party, condemned the growing atrocities against Dalits and demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry into the case of the missing sarpanch.

While the absence of a reaction from the INLD is understandable, it is amazing that the main Opposition party in the State, the Congress(I), should maintain silence. Congress Legislative Party leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda belongs to Rohtak.

For over two and a half months now, Dalit organisations and some political parties have been agitated over the issue of the disappearance of the sarpanch. But it appears that there is more to the story.

Pehrawar is dominated by Brahmins. Around 800 Brahmin families and 100-odd Dalit families live in the village. Needless to say, it is the Brahmins who wield more social and political clout in their village.

According to Bharpai Devi, at 10 p.m. on October 12, her husband was taken away by some members of the Brahmin community for a meeting at a dairy. He never returned. Karan Singh, village residents said, was under pressure for a long time from a Brahmin organisation called the Gaur Brahmin Shikshan Sanstha, to "gift" away 20 acres (eight hectares) of prime shamlat land. Another influential group had been pressuring Karan Singh not to oblige. The sarpanch was caught in the dispute. Surinder Mallik, a State committee member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said the sarpanch was not obliged to give away any such land without a two-thirds majority of the panchayat. Mallik said that it was quite likely that the sarpanch had become a victim of State-level political tussles. While the president of the Sanstha owes allegiance to the Haryana Vikas Party (HVP), the other faction is allied with the INLD.

What was most shocking was the reluctance of the administration even to take cognisance of the fact that the sarpanch was missing. On October 16, after making several enquiries regarding the whereabouts of her husband, Bharpai Devi went to the police to file a First Information Report. The Station House Officer (SHO) allegedly refused to register it. She named the persons who had taken away her husband but the SHO appeared uninterested. He reportedly told her that the villagers had assured him that the sarpanch would return. Bharpai Devi, who is a Class IV employee in the State government approached political parties and Dalit groups. On October 17, she met the District Commissioner along with members of the Ravidas Samaj Mahasabha, where the officer gave "strict instructions" to the Superintendent of Police and the SHO to take immediate action. But no action followed. (Incidentally, SHO Vijender Sharma had reportedly suggested that she use "Tantrik Vidya" to locate her husband.)

An FIR was registered on November 25 after a massive protest demonstration was held and a memorandum was submitted to the Governor.

Fearing that the sarpanch may have been murdered, various organisations came together to form the Pehrawar Sangharsh Samiti, which included the CPI(M) and other political parties. "We took recourse to such action only after we suspected foul play," said Inderjit Singh, State secretary of the CPI(M).

Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala visited the village on November 4 under the "Sarkar Aapke Dwar" or "government at your doorstep" programme. The matter of the missing sarpanch was not allowed to be raised at the meeting. Neither was Bharpai Devi allowed to meet the Chief Minister. "It is surprising that the Chief Minister did not ask for the sarpanch. Evidently, he must have been informed about his disappearance, but he chose to remain silent about it," Inderjit Singh said. Bharpai Devi eventually managed to get an audience with the Chief Minister, but Chautala, without even glancing at her complaint, handed it to the Deputy Commissioner.

Bharpai Devi realised that nothing was going to happen, as she had already made several rounds of the offices of the D.C. and the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP). "I must have gone at least ten times to the offices of the D.C. and the SSP. Every time they said that the investigations were on. The persons I named in the FIR are roaming freely in the village and they taunt me that nothing will happen to them," said a tearful Bharpai Devi.

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With her husband "missing", she fears for the lives of her children. She said that since the last panchayat elections in 2000, when her husband was elected sarpanch, the dominant castes in the village had been pressuring him to sign some resolution or the other. "They would never wait for a panchayat quorum but instead force him to agree to their unreasonable demands."

It was at this juncture that an action front was constituted comprising Left organisations, the Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJSP) and the Ravidas Mahasabha. After the FIR was registered, representatives of the CPI(M) and the LJSP met the D.C. whose response was hardly encouraging. While the D.C. and the SSP were both unavailable for comment, the Deputy Superintendent of Police, M.I. Khan, said that these groups were making caste factor an issue. He said that investigations were on, and that the sarpanch had a record of "disappearing". "We have interrogated the people named in the FIR but in the absence of any concrete evidence, we are unable to do anything," he told Frontline. He also did not believe that atrocities against Dalits had gone up in the State.

This is not the first time a member of the lower caste has gone missing in Pehrawar. In 1998, a young Kumhar woman, Mohini, was kidnapped, gang-raped and murdered by upper-caste youth. For a long time, no FIR was lodged and the police maintained that she had "run away" with somebody or that her family, being poor, must have sold her off. An agitation was launched and it was later revealed that some village youth had allegedly murdered her and thrown her body into a canal. Finally residents of the village along with the CPI(M) cadre, searched for the body and found the remains. Forensic tests revealed the corpse to be that of Mohini. The family of the woman, isolated and humiliated, left the village, Surinder Mallik said.

Harassment of Dalits appears to be a regular phenomenon in the village. Recently, the carcass of a buffalo calf was found in the well used by Dalits. "Not only was our well polluted, but we were forced to take the blame for that," said Bharpai's son who is studying law. Dalits were forced to build a separate temple as Brahmins resented and resisted their entry into the village temple.

Pehrawar is not an exception. A few months ago, a woman Dalit sarpanch was dragged by the hair and beaten in public at Gandhra village in Rohtak district. The victim of a conflict between dominant caste groups in the village, she was being pressured to take decisions in favour of one particular family. Similarly, in Kharkhara village, en route to Meham, a Dalit woman was dragged through the village at pistol-point and raped. The family had to agree to compromise and no case was made out against the culprits. In Harsola, Kaithal district, some 200 families that were attacked fled their homes. They were later pressured into withdrawing the cases registered under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

Said Ram Mehar, convener of the Action Front: "It is not an issue just of Karan Singh. It concerns the issues of dignity and self-respect." LJSP State president Shamsher Singh said it was baffling that no statement had emerged from the Home Ministry on the incident. "This issue is discussed not only in Rohtak but all over Haryana," he said. Even in the Kharkhara rape case, he said only LJSP and CPI(M) leaders had visited the village and forced the administration to take some action. The Congress(I) did not even issue a statement.

Karan Singh may not be found at all. But the fundamental problem in the latest episode as well as other previous incidents involving Dalits is the partisan role played by the administration. There is also a growing feeling that major political parties are reluctant to view such incidents with the seriousness required.

On the other hand, spontaneous expressions of Dalit assertion are reported from the State. D.R. Chaudhary, a leading academic and social activist, said a growing sense of frustration among Dalits could be sensed despite the lack of organised resistance. Apart from the caste factor that militates against them, the use of relatively new technology in agricultural operations has affected the livelihood of this community. Used to working in fields owned by the dominant castes, Dalits have been deprived of work with the advent of machines like combine harvesters.

It was only last year that the State was shaken out of its stupor by the lynching of five Dalit youth in Duleena village in Jhajjar district. None of the police persons present at the time of the lynching was held accountable. The accused were released on bail after they tendered an apology, and they were given a heroes' welcome. The memories of Duleena are still fresh in the minds of Dalits and for them, the Pehrawar incident is yet another instance of indifference and discrimination by an elected government.

`No possibility of popular intervention'

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Interview with Chittaroopa Palit.

A graduate of the Institute for Rural Management at Anand, Chittaroopa Palit has been associated with the Narmada Bachao Andolan for a long time. She is well respected for her knowledge of local issues, understanding of local politics and ability to rally people. The NBA activist, based in Madhya Pradesh, responded to an e-mail questionnaire by Lyla Bavadam.

Digvijay Singh projected decentralisation, power, roads and other infrastructure plus good governance as the achievements of his government, but were they just well-drafted paper policies or were they actually implemented?

As for power, roads, other infrastructure and good governance in Madhya Pradesh, they were completely non-existent. He took huge loans from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for power ($350 million) and a separate loan for roads, but nobody knows how the money was used. Digvijay Singh's dalliance with anti-people reforms and multilateral institutions like the Department for International Development or DFID (the British government department responsible for promoting development and reducing poverty), the World Bank, and the ADB and his indifference to people's expectations are what brought his government down. However, panchayati raj was a very sound innovation, as was the extended role for women. And these did give a great deal of power to the people to take many decisions at the gram sabha level, to receive revenues from activities in the village, and generally feel empowered as village-level decision-making mattered. The experiment was limited in practice not by its democratic reach but by corruption. Because the sarpanches were identified with corruption, the Congress was unable to raise the panchayati raj issue effectively in their campaign. Uma Bharati has already cancelled the zilla sarkar which had, despite its corruption, provided a transparent decision-making body - the Zilla Yojna Samiti that was composed of elected representatives and officers. Now the decisions will be taken politically but with no transparency. Therefore there is no possibility of popular intervention. We also hear that the BJP is planning to cancel all the gram panchayats although how they will do that now in the light of the constitutional provisions is beyond me. Maybe they will identify the Congress panchayats and bring them down on charges of corruption. There is likely to be a great deal of harassment.

Uma Bharati put aside the issue of Hindutva and concentrated on good governance and infrastructure development in her campaign. Now there is talk that Togadia will visit Madhya Pradesh though during the election campaign, he had been kept away. It looks like development and governance were just electoral hype. What do the people feel about this?

Of course, that is what the BJP will do, that is their agenda. They will come in on development issues and then bring in Hindutva issues so that people will not question them on whether they have failed or succeeded. This opportunism and hate politics have to be challenged and that is what people's organisations must do in the coming months.

Uma Bharati has already said that her priorities are to improve the power situation and to scrap the district planning committees. What does this augur for the work of the NBA?

We do not have any problem if she prioritises the power sector. After all, we have also been raising the issue. However, the way to reliable power in the State is not through big hydel projects. The successive droughts in the State in the last few years and the poor power production from hydel projects then has revealed the Achilles' heel of this form of power generation, apart from other problems. That and hydel project-related rehabilitation issues are what the NBA must emphasise in the coming months.

Do you think that Uma Bharati will implement a fair resettlement and rehabilitation? Just how much tougher has your fight become?

It is difficult to say at the moment what the response of the new government will be. Certainly, if they are interested in more electricity and water, they will have to be serious about the rehabilitation issues at the very minimum. The new Narmada Minister Anup Mishra has announced that Madhya Pradesh is not happy with the 110 m height of the dam which will benefit Gujarat because waters will come in at that level. Madhya Pradesh wants a full 138 m because that is when power will flow. However, he has said that rehabilitation is a big issue, in which Digvijay Singh failed and in which they, I presume, expect to succeed.

The politics of dams

The Digvijay Singh government in Madhya Pradesh paid the price for ignoring the demands of those displaced by the Narmada Valley project. Now, under a BJP government will there be a change in the resettlement and rehabilitation policy?

UNLIKE the Congress(I), which has waffled on the issue of the Narmada Valley Project, the Bharatiya Janata Party has always maintained that the dams will be built. Hence the coming to power of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh will have its impact on the activities of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), which is spearheading the struggle against the project.

All of the 30 large dams (the small and medium dams take the total to more than 3,000) save one, proposed to be built on the Narmada are located in Madhya Pradesh. The largest and the most controversial dam, Sardar Sarovar, is in Gujarat. A Supreme Court judgment in 2000 allowed the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam to proceed to 110 metres of its proposed ultimate height of 138 m. The BJP government in Gujarat hailed the judgment as "progressive". Work on the other dams had stopped because of lack of funds or had not been initiated because of opposition from the NBA.

A clear indication of the new BJP government's pro-dam stand is the announcement of Narmada Minister Anup Mishra that if the Sardar Sarovar dam is allowed to rise to its full 138-m height, Madhya Pradesh will be a beneficiary of the hydel power that will be generated from the dam. Further support for the dams is evident in the fact that work on the Upper Beda dam is scheduled to start; construction machinery was brought in immediately after the elections.

Of the other dams in the State, Narmada Sagar is almost ready. Impoundment started in November 2003, causing tremendous submergence in the upstream areas. The waters are still rising. In the downstream areas, the livelihoods and agricultural activities of riverine communities such as the Kewats, Kahars and Dhimars have been severely affected. Work on the Maan dam is almost complete, while work on Omkareshwar will begin soon. The foundation stone for the latter was laid by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee three months ago.

With BJP governments in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan, the three States that stand to benefit from the dams, the NBA will have a tough job on hand. (Maharashtra is the fourth State involved in the Narmada project.) A much higher level of consensus between the three governments is expected, and the NBA and the oustees will no longer be able to bank on inter-State differences.

However, says Chittaroopa Palit of the NBA, it can work both ways. "The BJP will also be aware, or should be made aware, that the defeat of the Congress(I) in the Narmada valley areas was because of the hostile attitude of the previous government towards the affected people in the dam areas."

Over the years, the Digvijay Singh government had perpetrated a series of injustices on the people of the dam-affected areas. It distributed cash compensation instead of land to Sardar Sarovar Project oustees. The Adivasis of Alirajpur tehsil in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh had sat through a month-long dharna in the summer of 2003 demanding agricultural land but the government did not pay heed.

The Congress(I) government refused to negotiate with the NBA on the dam issue. Instead, it persisted with attempts to resume work on the Maheshwar dam. Protests by the local people and the NBA resulted in police action and imprisonment of the demonstrators. The protestors also highlighted the financial irregularities on the part of the government.

The government also handled the Maan dam issue in a manner that Palit describes as "cruel and callous". It ignored the oustees' demand that the rehabilitation policy be implemented. The authorities even refused to meet them. The government severed electricity connections, bulldozed school buildings and sealed hand pumps at the height of summer. The 29-day protest fast in 2002 by the affected people and NBA activists elicited an indifferent response from Digvijay Singh, who told the press: "How can I help it if these people die?" The fast was ultimately called off and the government established a Grievance Redressal Authority. But almost immediately afterwards, it evicted the people of Khedi-Balwadi village near the Maan dam.

The Congress(I) government extensively used the services of the special armed forces in evicting people in the mega dam Indira Sagar (formerly Narmada Sagar) area, bulldozing village after village, denying land-for-land compensation and indulging in large-scale corruption in the cash compensation and valuation processes.

Meanwhile in mid-August this year, with the rains in full force, Panthiaji, the first village to be affected by the new Omkareshwar dam, was evacuated. It is true that both Omkareshwar and Indira Sagar dams are Centrally controlled and hence the State government was not entirely to blame. But this did not diminish the State's role in the violence and the failure to rehabilitate people. The voters certainly recognised this fact.

But Palit points out: "I must also qualify that the Congress leaders directly involved in the Narmada projects did not lose. For example, Subhash Yadav, former Narmada Minister won, as did Jamuna Devi, Deputy Chief Minister, who consistently spoke up for Sardar Sarovar Project. So did Rajnarayan Singh of the Indira Sagar Project area."

To a great extent, the Congress government, by its failures, handed the State to the BJP on a platter. Digvijay Singh failed to develop any infrastructure, refused to buy available electricity from other States, and increased electricity costs by 800 per cent.

Palit says: "He was hostile and tyrannical to poor people's struggles, including those by the NBA, and he consistently supported industrialists and gave them huge tax subsidies amounting to hundreds of crores - Rs.150 crores to Coca-Cola and Bajaj alone - while he cut off all single light connections of lakhs of consumers who were consuming something like 1.5 per cent of total electricity. He chose to follow the reforms agenda. For example, in the power sector he followed the Asian Development Bank's agenda. The ADB conditionalities led to power tariffs being increased by 800 per cent, and 50 per cent of all electricity connections of farmers - that is, six lakhs out of 12 lakhs - in the State being cut off as a result of these high tariffs."

In the previous election, most of the valley had voted for the Congress(I). This time, even villages that were with the NBA voted for the BJP. It was not a manifestation of no-confidence in the NBA, Palit claims. "I don't think the NBA's influence has diminished, but what were we to do? Hold brief for a completely ineffective and tyrannical government? So we left it to the people and they voted against the Congress(I) government," she says. With smaller parties unable to provide an effective option to the voters, the BJP became their only alternative.

Palit believes that in the coming months the people of Madhya Pradesh will learn or relearn that the BJP is no better than the Congress(I). This government may even be different from the Sunderlal Patwa's BJP government of 1991 because the communalisation of Madhya Pradesh is far from complete, though the communalisation of Adivasis has taken place to a great extent.

In troubled waters

Greenpeace campaigners on board their ship Rainbow Warrior, on a Corporate Accountability tour, get into a conflict with the Indian authorities.

WHEN Rainbow Warrior began its tour of India in November, the international crew on board the ship expected the usual resistance and conflict that Greenpeace campaigners had come to expect from government and other authorities. But what greeted the team on their return to Mumbai from a visit to Gujarat appalled even the most experienced campaigner.

On the ship's return from the ship-breaking yards at Alang in Gujarat, it was at first denied entry into Mumbai port by the Customs authorities. For seven days the ship remained at outer anchorage, its 26 crew members, belonging to 14 different countries, stranded at sea with dwindling stocks of food and water. When the ship was finally allowed to dock, another shock awaited the crew. Foreign passport holders among them were denied permission to disembark on the grounds that they had violated the limitations of their tourist visas by indulging in activism that was against national interests. This, despite Greenpeace completing all formalities and paying penalties for alleged violations in Indian waters.

The reason for this unusual action lay in Greenpeace's Gujarat visit. Prior to visiting Alang, Greenpeace had obtained not only the necessary permissions but also the support of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). According to Greenpeace, the Minister had assured it full support and even promised action if it found any violations. However, the team was taken aback at the sequence of events when it reached Bhavnagar.

First, Cosmo Wassenaar, the ship's captain, noticed that his maritime charts did not denote the limits of Bhavnagar port. It is customary in such instances (rare though they are) for a ship to maintain a distance of at least five nautical miles from the port. Rainbow Warrior stayed at 5.6 nautical miles. Officials from the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) boarded the ship. Later at 11 p.m., Customs officers took away all documents, including the crucial port clearance papers that the ship had received while leaving Mumbai port. The activists were told that no agent was willing to represent them (a necessary procedure to get berthing and stevedoring facilities).

The next morning, the ship was asked to leave Indian waters. The reason given was that the GPCB had complained that the crew had lowered dinghies while nearing Bhavnagar and taken photographs. Greenpeace admitted this but said that they did not expect to be challenged since they were there with the full support of the MoEF. A fine was demanded and paid. It was initially $5,000, of which $2,000 was marked under the category `sundry'. After challenging the amount and the classification, Greenpeace finally paid Rs.1 lakh.

Rainbow Warrior stayed in international waters outside Bhavnagar for about a fortnight. Then the ship returned to Mumbai after it realised that the Gujarat government would not cooperate. Back in Mumbai, the ship was told that permission to berth would be given subject only to clearances from the Mumbai Port Trust, Customs, Coast Guard, the Ministry of Shipping and the MoEF - an extraordinary procedure, to say the least, but apparently prompted by the fact that the Bhavnagar port authorities were not only in illegal possession of the port clearance papers but had effectively cut off any possibility of Greenpeace retrieving the papers by relegating the ship to international waters. Seemingly it was an unsuccessful tour for Rainbow Warrior. But Shailendra Yashwant, its campaign director, pointed out: "While we were waiting in the international waters, not a single ship went into Alang." He also added: "Oddly enough, after we left, 17 ships were beached all of a sudden."

The team also notched up a `first`. While near Alang it spotted `Genova Bridge' being beached for scrapping. Genova Bridge, owned by V Ships Commercials, London, was more than 30 years old and was built at a time when there was no legislation on the use of toxic materials in the construction of ships. Greenpeace said that the ship was a mass of toxic materials and in all likelihood would have toxic materials like asbestos, waste oil, sludge, the carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyl, and Tri Butyl.

Greenpeace reported the beaching of Genova Bridge to the MoEF, which directed the GPCB to inspect the vessel. It was only at this stage that the GPCB acknowledged the presence of toxic materials on the ship. More importantly, it produced a 200-page document on the toxic substances on the ship. "Highly unusual," according to Martin Besieux, ship-breaking campaigner, who said that a "one pager was the norm in which the GPCB usually noted that there was no radioactivity and no toxic cargo on the ship. At least they now understand that toxic substances are inherent in the structure of the ship." Though permission was granted to break Genova Bridge, it came with the provision that the guidelines for worker safety be followed.

According to Greenpeace, the GPCB has directed the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) to remove asbestos and other hazardous waste on board Genova Bridge and store it at a landfill in the hinterlands. The act is unlawful and irresponsible because it does not address the illegality of the import of the hazardous waste. "For one step forward, the GPCB has taken three steps back. The GPCB has continuously violated the Polluter Pays principle and routinely assists the polluters by taking on the hazardous and pricey job of decontamination upon itself at state expense. Instead, the GPCB should immediately contact V shipping International to come to Alang and execute the clean-up, as they are liable for the safe removal and re-import of asbestos and other hazardous waste on board Genova Bridge according to the Basel Convention and the Indian Supreme Court's directives," said Ramapati Kumar, Greenpeace campaigner.

The GPCB has clearly ignored the Supreme Court order on Hazardous Waste Management Rules (Amendment, 2003), which clearly directs that the "SPCBs (State pollution control boards) should ensure that the ship should be properly decontaminated by the shipowner before breaking." The same order also reiterates the ban on the import of 29 items, including waste asbestos (dust and fibre) following the Government of India ban on import of asbestos waste (dust/fibre) in 1998.

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Rainbow Warrior was in India on a three-part Corporate Accountability tour, a programme aimed at highlighting the apathy of companies to environmental responsibilities. Phase One was in Alang, where toxic ships were identified. Phase Two was in Mumbai, where the emphasis was on programmes commemorating the Bhopal gas tragedy. The third phase was in Kochi, where Greenpeace planned to expose the poisoning of the Periyar river. According to the watchdog organisation, the river is being poisoned by Hindustan Insecticides Limited, apparently the sole DDT factory in the world. The third phase was carried out without the participation of Rainbow Warrior since the ship was forced to sail to Sri Lanka.

So what exactly is the reason for this attack on Greenpeace? Quite simply, it is the penalty that the watchdog has to pay for highlighting the marine pollution and health risks at Indian shipbreaking yards. A Greenpeace press release says: "We've issued a strong challenge to the shipping industry, reminding them of their liabilities in ship-breaking yards all over the world. They have responded by exerting pressure on related authorities, and have tried to stop us from continuing our work. When they start to fight us, we know we've made a difference!"

There are certain incongruities in this entire episode of Greenpeace's first phase. Greenpeace's actions are nothing more than an insistence that the existing rules be followed. Its actions are supported by the Supreme Court's directives on the handling of hazardous wastes and on ship-breaking. They are also in accordance with the voluntary Code of Practice on Ship Recycling of the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) and the Basel Convention.

Furthermore, the organisation has received open support from the MoEF. The Indian government not only backs the IMO's guidelines but, along with Turkey, has been pushing for them to be made mandatory instead of voluntary. The Mumbai Port Trust (MPT) has permitted studies of Mumbai's ship-breaking yards, and the Iron Steel Scrap and Shipbreakers Association of India has issued a letter dated November 12 in which its president P.S. Nagarsheth has said: "It has become absolutely necessary that the [IMO] resolution and guidelines make it mandatory for ship owners to comply with the said code. At least `gas free for hot work' must be made a must before delivery of a ship to the ship recycling yard. This should not pause [sic] any problem as the Code has been finalised by the owner's own associations... This will bring uniformity and level playing field amongst all ship recycling countries." The reference to the `gas free for hot work' exemplifies the crisis in the industry. The law requires that ship owners clear pipes of gas of end-of-life ships. The requirement is frequently ignored.

When workers at yards cut open pipes using hot-gas-fuelled blow torches, there can be an explosion resulting in death or severe injury. Prior to scrapping, the ship must have a clean certificate from the Department of Explosives. The certificate is entitled Gas Free Certificate for Hot Work. Below it is typed: `This certificate is not meant for ship breaking or dismantling activities'. Thus, the ship owner and the authorities concerned cover their culpability.

A new law passed by the European Union bans single-hull ships from docking in European ports. Given the international nature of shipping, it is likely that these ships will be scrapped rather than ship-owners willing to face the problems of looking for location-specific cargo as a means of avoiding European ports. It is even more likely that these ships with their toxic structures will end up on Indian beaches.

The link to politicians?

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ANTIM TOTLA, a rich but little-known businessman, may soon provide vital information necessary to nail some top politicians involved in the Rs.3,000-crore fake stamp paper scam. Totla, a Mumbai-based dealer of petroleum products, is believed to be the key link between Abdul Karim Telgi, the prime accused in the scam, and various politicians.

In fact, Chhagan Bhujbal, the high-profile Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader, appeared to have become the first political victim of Totla's revelations when he resigned on December 23 from the posts of Mahrashtra's Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister.

On December 17, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the racket questioned Totla. He denied any link with Telgi, but admitted that he knew several politicians, including Bhujbal and his nephew Sameer Bhujbal. There are allegations that Sameer Bhujbal and Totla worked in tandem with Telgi and accepted money to secure transfers and postings for several police personnel. Sameer Bhujbal is also expected to be summoned by the SIT for questioning.

According to reports, Totla, of his own volition, will be taken to a forensic laboratory for brain finger-printing, lie detector and narcoanalysis tests. The SIT believes that these tests will help find out the names of those involved in the politician-police-Telgi nexus.

Ever since the multi-crore scam broke and the SIT began investigations, several heads have rolled. In a systematic crackdown on the police force, the SIT arrested 12 police officials including two senior officers - former Mumbai Commissioner of Police R.S. Sharma and Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Sridhar Vagal (Frontline, January 2). Several others have been suspended and many are being interrogated. Clearly, the next targets are politicians. The sweep appears to have begun with the questioning of Totla.

The scam, allegedly masterminded by Telgi and initiated in 1995, involved the printing and selling of counterfeit stamp paper worth thousands of crores of rupees across the country. The centre of the operation was Maharashtra. Through a network of agents and with the connivance of police officials, Telgi allegedly built a thriving business that soon spread to Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

As Home Minister, Bhujbal was in the firing line since the scam came to light. Even before the SIT questioned Totla, the Opposition had been demanding Bhujbal's resignation for the corruption in the police force and, more important, his own alleged connections with Telgi. A day after Totla's interrogation, Bhujbal's assistant delivered a sealed envelope at the SIT office. On December 19, Telgi's lawyer accused Bhujbal of being involved in the racket.

Meanwhile, there was furore in the Assembly over a letter circulated by the Opposition. The letter, allegedly written by Dilip Kamath, an Assistant Police Inspector who had been arrested on charges of taking bribes from Telgi, is addressed to Maharashtra Governor Mohammed Fazal. It alleges that Bhujbal sent instructions to police personnel through his nephew Sameer to treat Telgi well. "We don't know whether the letter is credible or not," says a SIT source. On December 23, in an unprecedented act, NCP workers attacked the offices of a television channel that aired a satire showing a politician wrestling with other politicians to retain his post. Accepting "moral" responsibility for the vandalism, Bhujbal resigned the same day.

"Till date there is no hard evidence to prove Bhujbal's involvement, except Totla's link and a few baseless statements made by his adversaries. Yet, the events that led to his resignation have led to suspicions that he realised the noose was tightening very quickly and he had to get out," a former Police Commissioner told Frontline.

Apparently, Bhujbal's approval of R.S. Sharma's appointment as Mumbai's Police Commissioner played a role in paving the way for his resignation. In December 2002, Bhujbal approved Sharma's posting in spite of the fact that the latter was allegedly involved in the fake stamp paper racket, which was under investigation at that time.

He justified the appointment by saying that Sharma had been given the clean chit by the then Director-General of Police Subash Malhotra. Incidentally, Malhotra is now in the dock for giving Sharma the clean chit. His arrest is imminent, says an informed source.

However, during the second round of investigations into the racket, Sharma was not lucky. He was arrested under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) a day after he retired. Bhujbal, who initially refused to comment, made a terse statement that there was a problem with the police force. However, he did not respond to questions about his role in Sharma's appointment.

Several former police officers hold politicians responsible for the corruption and the rot in the police force. With the Telgi scam exposing the rot, several former police chiefs have appealed to the Chief Minister to revamp the procedures followed in appointments and transfers.

Meanwhile, Mumbai's newly appointed Police Commissioner, P.S. Pasricha, has transferred 125 officers and about 1,500 constables. The SIT continues with its investigations, unhindered by the threat of the Central Bureau of Investigation taking over the probe. It seems determined to get the culprits.

Exit Bhujbal

Both R.R. Patil Chhagan Bhujbal quits as Mahrashtra's Deputy Chief Minister, but will the move help salvage the scam-tainted image of the Congress(I)-NCP coalition government in the State?

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IN the drama that followed the resignation of Chhagan Bhujbal as the Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister of Maharashtra, two issues were sidelined - the resignation's real reasons and its possible impact on the government in the State run by the Nationalist Congress Party-Congress(I) coalition, the Democratic Front (D.F.). Informed sources had told Frontline that Bhujbal was due to announce his decision to resign at the NCP's executive meeting on December 24. This indicates that the resignation was planned before and not, as claimed by Bhujbal, in reaction to the attack on the office of a television channel by NCP workers. In any case, the arguments against the official explanation seem to be more plausible than the official stand.

Bhujbal's troubles were exacerbated by the Opposition Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance's call for the government's resignation. Terming it a "non-functioning, non-performing government", Maharashtra State BJP president Gopinath Munde demanded that Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde write to the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the multi-crore stamp paper scam within 15 days asking that the other Ministers accused in the scam be named.

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The BJP has also highlighted a 2002 incident when the Vilasrao Deshmukh government was on the verge of collapse after some Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) withdrew support. To prevent further defections, the MLAs were taken to a luxury resort in Bangalore. The Opposition has now linked the MLAs' trip to Bangalore to Abdul Karim Telgi, the prime accused in the scam, and his associates. The BJP demanded that the SIT should take note of this and investigate how the government was saved. Failing this, Munde said, the BJP would take to the streets in protest. Responding to the Sena-BJP's tirade, NCP spokesperson Praful Patel said that the stamp scam was in exsitence long before the D.F. government came to power.

Political observers point out that the forthcoming polls forced Bhujbal's hand. A Mantralaya (State Secretariat) official said: "The Opposition would have had a field day during the polls. Whether Bhujbal is actually involved in the stamp paper scam is not so much the issue at the moment. He is perceived as being involved and that is politically disastrous for the party. The NCP had no option but to remove him. He had become a liability at a time when the NCP could least afford one. For that matter he was also a liability for the Congress(I)." However, though Bhujbal has quit the Cabinet, he continues to be a vital member of the NCP and rumours indicate that he might be considered for the post of the NCP State president. At a recent media conference, NCP national president Sharad Pawar said: "Kaam karne wale ko target banate hai (The one who works well is targeted)." The NCP leader was responding to a question regarding Bhujbal's alleged involvement in the stamp paper scam. By stating that all those who work hard are invariably targeted, Pawar made his public position on Bhujbal clear. Pawar added: "I did not tell him to step down. He took responsibility for the attack and I gave him permission to step down."

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Meanwhile, Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil and R.R. Patil have taken charge as the Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister respectively. While R.R. Patil previously held the rural development, water supply and sanitation portfolios, Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil held the public works portfolio. Some minor reshuffling of other portfolios ensured that the other contenders, especially Madhukarrao Pichad and Ajit Pawar, did not feel disgruntled. Pichad, a tribal leader, continues to hold the tribal welfare portfolio. Ajit Pawar, Sharad Pawar's nephew, was given the rural development portfolio apart from the Krishna valley development project and horticulture portfolios, which he already held.

Apparently, caste played a significant role in the exercise. The NCP is a party with a strong support base in the Maratha community in western Maharashtra and its financial needs are largely met by Maratha sugar mill owners. Both R.R. Patil and Mohite-Patil belong to the community and their appointment in powerful positions has strengthened the NCP's hand in the government. Moreover, Pawar has also ensured that the key positions are not held by one man.

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R.R. Patil enjoys a reputation for action-oriented decisions and efficiency. Also known for his unwavering loyalty to Pawar, R.R. Patil is expected to clean up the beleaguered Home Department and inject new life into the police force. The choice of Mohite-Patil, who like Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde hails from Solapur, for the Deputy Chief Minister's post was both a surprise and a shrewd political move. With their own network of cooperatives in Solapur, the Mohite-Patils are an influential family in western Maharashtra, traditionally a Maratha stronghold. Yet the family has played a divisive role in local and State politics as was apparent during the Lok Sabha byelection in Solapur in October 2003. More important, the byelection results proved that the relationship between the Congress(I) and the NCP in Maharashtra is one of mutual dependence.

The main contenders for the Solapur seat, vacated by Sushilkumar Shinde on assuming the office of Chief Minister, were Anandrao Deokate of the Congress(I) and Pratapsinh Mohite-Patil (brother of the new Deputy Chief Minister) of the BJP. Since Deokate had held the Solapur Assembly seat consistently for five terms (he vacated the Assembly seat for Shinde) it was expected that he would have no problem in retaining the seat for the Congress(I). However, he lost to Mohite-Patil by a huge margin of 1.22 lakh votes. The results stunned the Congress(I) since the Solapur Lok Sabha seat was regarded as a safe seat as it had invariably returned Congress(I) candidates.

The Congress(I) suspected the hand of the NCP, and specifically Pawar, in Deokate's defeat. In fact, Deokate himself came under a cloud because of his proximity to Pawar. Earlier, local Congress(I) workers had been irked by a photo of Deokate touching Pawar's feet and of his public announcement that he owed his ministerial berth to the NCP president. Further intrigue was added to the Solapur byelection by the fact that the two Mohite-Patil brothers were in opposing political camps and that their feud with the Chief Minister was well-known. It is believed that the feud played a role in Deokate's defeat.

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The NCP, on the other hand, maintained that the common surname of the two brothers may have confused party workers, leading NCP workers to promote the BJP's candidate. It is common knowledge that Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil chose to go with the NCP only because Shinde was with the Congress(I). Yet Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil can hold his own in the party because, like Pawar, he too belongs to the Vasantdada Patil group of cooperative barons of western Maharashtra.

Only in the run-up to the next Assembly and Lok Sabha elections will it be clear whether the stamp paper scam will affect the relationship between the NCP and the Congress(I) or whether Pawar's political moves have paved the way for the removal of the suspicion and distrust between the allies.

Two steps backward

The Gujarat High Court's acquittal of the accused in the Best Bakery case demolishes the victims' hopes of justice.

SHE may have braved the odds in her quest for justice. Yet the odds seem to be against her still. Zahira Sheikh, the main witness to the Best Bakery murders in Vadodara, attracted national attention when she admitted to turning hostile in the Sessions Court under threat from Madhu Shrivastav, a Bharatiya Janata Party legislator in Gujarat. After the `fast track' Sessions Court acquitted 21 accused in the Best Bakery case, Zahira stirred up a storm by demanding a re-trial.

She filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court asking for justice outside Gujarat. Her family did not feel it would get a fair trial in Gujarat. Embarrassed, the Gujarat government acted quickly. It appealed against the Sessions Court judgment in the Gujarat High Court.

But on December 26, the High Court also let the accused off the hook. The hearings lasted just six days. A Division Bench comprising Justices B.J. Sethna and J.R. Vora dismissed the appeal and two applications that sought to produce more evidence. The court did not give any reasons for the acquittal. It said the reasons would be given after the court vacations.

While hearing the appeal, the High Court did not even accept as additional evidence affidavits filed by Zahira and three other witnesses in the Supreme Court explaining that they had turned hostile in Court because their lives were under threat. In other words, it chose to ignore the fact that the witnesses faced threat. After the Sessions Court acquitted the accused, Zahira and other witnesses publicly said that their testimonies in court were incorrect. Yet, the High Court relied on these testimonies while considering the case.

Zahira and her family have been living in hiding for five months. They had to flee Gujarat. It is still not safe for them to go back home.

On March 1, 2002, a mob attacked Best Bakery owned by Zahira's family. Fourteen people were burnt alive, including two family members of Zahira. Zahira witnessed the mob reduce their lives to ashes from the terrace of her home, situated above the bakery. Later, she described the attack in her police complaint. Zahira was vociferous in demanding justice. She petitioned the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) when it visited Gujarat soon after the communal violence. But as the trial approached, the pressure on her family increased. They allegedly received threats and offers for compromises from local politicians, Madhu Shrivastav and his cousin Chandrakant alias Bhattu Shrivastav, a Congress(I) councillor. "Our neighbour, Lal Mohammed, kept telling my family: `Don't let her testify. With one testimony your life can be saved or it can be finished'," Zahira told Frontline in an interview (Frontline, August 1, 2003)

Apparently, Lal Mohammed was acting as a conduit for the Shrivastavs. Finally, Zahira Sheikh's family caved in. They went back on their statements in court. However, after the Sessions court acquitted the accused, Zahira created a stir by saying that she lied in court under pressure from political thugs. She demanded a re-trial outside Gujarat. "The area we lived in is Madhu Shrivastav's area. He is the man who threatened us. He can do anything to us. I want the case to be re-opened. But I don't want to fight it in Gujarat. I am ready to fight it anywhere else in India," she said.

Overnight, Zahira became an icon of the Gujarat communal violence. Reacting to the media stir, the NHRC took up her case and four other cases. It filed an appeal in the Supreme Court asking that these cases be tried outside the State. The Gujarat government scuttled any move for the Best Bakery re-trial by appealing against the Sessions Court verdict. In the other four cases, the Supreme Court took serious note of the State's investigation and prosecution lapses.

The most publicised case of the Gujarat communal violence in 2002, the Best Bakery case immediately brought into the public eye the injustices against riot victims in Gujarat. Right from filing a police complaint to getting justice, it is a struggle to be heard, to be acknowledged by a negligent administration. Just recently, a riot victim managed to get his first information report registered with the police - 657 days after the incident. Yakubhai had witnessed 18 murders on February 28, 2002. But until December 17, 2003, the police refused to record his statement. At the Kalol police station in Panchmahals, central Gujarat, they asked him to remove the names of the accused and produce the remains of the dead before agreeing to register his testimony. Since the bodies were not found, they were considered `missing persons'. The police even asked the penniless Yakub to produce Rs.4.5 lakhs in collateral for each dead member - just in case they turn up alive in the future. (Frontline, August 29, 2003).

When the mob attacked Muslims in his village Delol, Yakub and his neighbours fled into the fields. At Futevad Talaav eight of them were caught, slashed with swords, doused with petrol and set ablaze. Yakub hid in the fields and could see his father, his mother, his brother, his sister, his niece, and his nephew all being killed.

The survivors walked for two hours till they reached the Goma river. Here the mob tracked them down. Ten were killed. Yasmin, a 13-year-old girl, was stripped and gang raped. Ejaz saw them slash his mother's neck. They piled ten bodies, set them ablaze, made Ejaz walk around the pyre and finally threw him in the fire as well. But for almost two years, there has been no record of this gory massacre. Finally, when officials in Kalol police station were transferred, Yakub was able to get his complaint registered. Whether he will ever get justice is another question.

For Zahira, Yakub and thousands of other riot victims, it is one step forward and then two steps back in their long journey to justice. They confront an establishment that does not acknowledge their rights. The odds are against them. They are barely struggling to survive. But they are still fighting.

Frontline 2003

other

GLOBAL politics in 2003 was sharply polarised over the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Beyond the tired charade of opinion polls, concerned citizens all around the world spoke unequivocally against the war on February 15 in demonstrations of unprecedented scale. The United States and the United Kingdom were not listening and plunged into a brutal war of occupation just over a month afterwards. The year-end brought the occupying forces the all-important trophy of the war: the capture of the former Iraqi dictator. But the Iraqi resistance continues. And the political fate of the two main architects of the war - U.S. President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair - could be settled in the year to come by the evident disillusionment in their domestic constituencies over the course the occupation has taken. Attempts by the global public to make sense of the war and the litany of falsehoods that paved the way for it, continued to draw upon the writings of the guru of informed dissent, Noam Chomsky.

In India's politics, the year ended with sweeping electoral victories for the Bharatiya Janata Party in Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. These verdicts were registered exactly a year since Narendra Modi's unequivocal triumph in Gujarat in 2002, and seemed to represent a new milestone in the onward march of Hindutva. But efforts by the Hindutva fraternity to resurrect its main campaign theme of Ayodhya have failed conspicuously to ignite public enthusiasm on any scale. And the process of establishing public accountability for the violence inflicted in the name of Hindutva gained momentum with significant interventions by the Supreme Court and the National Human Rights Commission. It seemed that the Congress(I) was gearing up for a serious challenge at the national level with the election victory in Himachal Pradesh. But by year-end, the BJP had established a clear lead in the home stretch to the next national elections, with the Congress(I) reduced to a state of strategic confusion. Unable yet to fashion a credible response to the compulsions of coalition politics, the Congress(I) suffered serious factional strife in Kerala. Although still a force in the States that recently passed out of its control, the Congress(I) would have to assume the role of the supplicant if it is to gain any kind of a foothold in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav have reaffirmed their dominance.

In India's neighbourhood, there was a rapid acceleration of the process of normalisation with China and a twisted route towards reconciliation with Pakistan. India sought to underline its unswerving resolve in fighting terrorism while still pursuing peace, but anti-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir were often overtaken by hyperbole. A semblance of peace came only with the formal adoption of a ceasefire by both sides late in the year.

The Sri Lankan peace process went through its own tortuous course and remains delicately placed at year-end. Within the dyarchic political dispensation that prevails in Colombo, perceptions of the Tamil insurgents are sharply polarised. The executive presidency in Sri Lanka has just not been able to accept the professions of good faith by the Tamil Tigers at face value.

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India played host to the Asian Social Forum in January, bringing together civil society groups from across the continent in their resolve to fight the authoritarian logic that there is no alternative to globalisation. The resistance at the global level crystallised at the Mexican seaside resort of Cancun, where developing countries managed to turn back the effort by developed countries to author a new rule-book for world trade entirely in accord with their interests.

The policy of privatisation encountered serious political turbulence when the crown jewels of the public sector, the nationalised oil companies, were placed on the auction block. And a judicial intervention later in the year requiring the government to seek parliamentary approval for their sale seemed to signal a decisive change in the environment. The recently privatised sector of telecom continued to confound efforts at regulation in the public interest and a major shakeout could be imminent with the shift towards unified licences late in the year.

Labour, both organised and unorganised, continued to suffer the inherent coercion of economic liberalisation, with unemployment mounting and the Supreme Court striking down the right to strike for government employees. The perils of a ruthless market orientation to address the malaise of youth unemployment were rudely brought home when ethnic riots erupted over recruitments to the Indian Railways. It was a chastening moment amidst inflated claims of the "shine" that India had acquired after over a decade of economic liberalisation.

The media faced the challenge of political intolerance when The Hindu, parent newspaper of this publication, was targeted by the Tamil Nadu legislature in an invocation of sky-high privileges. Protests swept the country and the magnitude of its miscalculation soon became apparent to the ruling party in Tamil Nadu. The Supreme Court stepped in with an injunction and as The Hindu petition acquired a broader scope, the matter was referred to a Constitution Bench for an authoritative opinion.

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The country mourned with the rest of the world when Karnal-born Kalpana Chawla went down in the fiery blaze that engulfed the space shuttle Columbia on re-entry into the earth's atmosphere. But there were few other occasions in 2003 when a similar spirit of global solidarity was evident.

SPLENDOUR IN STONE

The sculpture of India represents the 5,000 years of evolution of the noble art.

SINCE ancient times, the sculptor's chisel has caressed stones, making their hard surface give way to graceful representations of gentle expressions, thereby seemingly infusing life into them.

The sculptures of India go far beyond the depiction of the mere physical reality. The artist has deep belief in the intrinsic unity and harmony of the whole of creation and he sees the material reality around him to be a reflection of the glory of God.

The earliest known Indian treatise on art, "Chitrasutra" in the Vishnudharmottara Purana, gives a very noble purpose to art. It states that images, which are made with the understanding of the harmony of life, are immensely satisfying to the viewer.

Indian sculpture is naturalistic, yet vastly different from that art which attempts to portray only the transitory shapes of the objects of the world. Here naturalism is the expression of that sense which moves beneath the surface of objects, that inner being of trees, animals and people; the spirit which moves the whole of creation. This is the intensely intertwined relationship of all the objects of the world, which is conveyed in the essence of Indian art.

In the Indian philosophy of aesthetics, it is believed that the ecstasy on seeing the beauty of nature and the finest art is akin to brahmananda (the joy of salvation itself). In that moment, one is transported to a different plane, feeling within the kinship of the whole of creation. Thus, the purpose of creating and experiencing the beauty of art is understood as the most sublime state.

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India has a long history of exquisite sculpture. The subtle forms of the Indus Valley civilisation ( 4th and 3rd Millennium B.C.) - such as those evident in the expressive images of the bearded man and the bronze figure of a dancing girl that were excavated from the ruins of the civilisation - point to the climax of an art form, obviously based on a long previous artistic experience. The slender grace and wiry vigour of the bronze figurine is a remarkable work of art. Indus Valley sculpture represents a fine balance between stylised abstraction and subtle naturalism. The inner breath of life is seen captured within the chiselled stone.

In the 3rd century B.C., emperor Asoka laid the foundations upon which was built the classic style of Indian sculpture. Asoka devoted himself to spreading the Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha and he created many monuments that reflect the dignity and values of Buddhism.

Asokan pillars of polished stone capped with finely carved animal capitals, sculpted railings of the Bodh Gaya shrine and figures of yakshas and yakshis survive from the Mauryan period. The dignified and graceful figures of the pillar capitals are among the best-known and most recognisable images of Indian art, including the lion capital in the Sarnath pillar, which has been adopted as India's state emblem.

The sculpted reliefs on the railings of the 2nd century B.C. stupas of Bharhut and Sanchi present another dimension to Indian art. For the first time, scenes from the life of the Buddha and from his previous lives (Jataka tales) are illustrated in stone.

One marvellous aspect of the art of this period is the sense of the sublime, rare even in humans, presented in the sculpted animals of the Jataka stories. Indeed the Jataka tales are a natural expression of the beliefs and worldview of the artist. The stories of the Buddha, in his various avatars (incarnations) in the form of different animals, naturally depict the artist's belief of the whole of creation being linked intimately.

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The figures in the reliefs of Bharhut appear to be endowed with a generous sense of well-being. The lines flow gracefully with a sense of inner peace. There is no attempt to group the figures and each appears to abide, self-contained, in the place assigned to it. There is a sense of the lyrical, unending melody of life.

From the languid grace of the world of Bharhut we come to the expression of energetic movement and boundless vitality in the reliefs of Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh, also of the 2nd century B.C., made under the Satavahanas.

The railings of the stupa at Sanchi present the overflowing activity of life. Whereas the figures at Bharhut were single ones scattered over the composition with large spaces around them, the ones at Sanchi are in the midst of tumultuous life. There are large groups of figures in a variety of poses, sometimes frolicsome or displaying vital existence. There is a rich interplay of light and darkness, and three-dimensionality of objects. With diagonal movement, the energetic figures appear to be breaking out of the boundaries of the stone, which seems to hold them with difficulty within the confines of the reliefs.

The Sanchi stupa has an inscription on the Eastern Gateway, which mentions that the magnificent carvings on the gateways are the work of the ivory carvers of Vidisha. Indeed, the minute and exquisite details on the stupa reflect the skill of fine work on ivory.

There is a marvellous `continuous narration' seen in the reliefs of Sanchi. Events that take place in the story are placed in a harmonious relationship with each other without following any linear chronology of the tale. Important moments, symbols and events occur together in a vibrant portrayal of the essence of the message. It reminds us that in the Indian view, time is not seen as a strict and chronological movement of the past, the present and the future: all time is seen as eternally present. All moments are seen as a reflection of the eternal truth and exist in the mind of the artist simultaneously.

Moments of the Buddha's life and his previous births are brought before us time and time again on the stone of these railings. The Buddha is not yet represented in Indian art as a human figure. It is symbols of him that are ever present in the rich tapestry of these reliefs.

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At Sanchi we see one of the most beautiful subjects of Indian art: the Vrikshdevi. A young maiden who reaches above her to hold the bough of a tree, which bursts forth into fragrant blossoms at her touch.

The eastern seat of the Satavahanas, who made the sculpted railings and gateways of the stupa, was in Amravati in the Krishna Valley, in present-day Andhra Pradesh. Here, a great stupa of Mauryan times was reconstructed during the 2nd century A.D. and a magnificent sculpted railing was made around it.

As at Sanchi, the railings around the stupa in Amravati and the later stupa at Nagarjunakonda were sculpted profusely with the Jataka tales. In these reliefs there is a sense of roundedness and three-dimensionality. The figures turn and twist and move in every direction. The sense of the physical flesh, its movement, its softness and its vibrancy are captured intimately and yet with a sense, which is constantly that of the spirit within. These sculptures are an exquisite representation of a comprehensive view and understanding of life, where the pliable flesh is never forgotten, yet the focus is always on the world within.

This vision of people fully at ease with themselves and with the world around them is carried forward into the fine sculpture of the many caves that were excavated in the Western Ghats. These include those at Bhaja, Karle and Kondavane. It is a vision of life lived simply and fully: with innocence and without guilt or remorse. The ease with which the figures interact with each other is a great lesson in the uncomplicated understanding of life. The sculpture of the early period has many gifts, which it constantly bestows on mankind.

The beginning of the first millennium saw dramatic developments in the religious philosophy and art of India. Early Buddhism was an ethical system based upon the wisdom and compassionate message of the Buddha, who had preached in the 6th century B.C. Towards the end of the B.C. period, there had evolved another school of thought among Buddhists who had begun to worship the Buddha as a god. The new form of Buddhism came to be called Mahayana Buddhism.

In the 1st century A.D., the Kushana ruler Kanishka held the Fourth Buddhist Council in Kashmir and then onwards Mahayana Buddhism was given the fullest royal patronage.

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Early Buddhism was a moral code, which called for strict self-examination and personal discipline on the part of one who was on the path to salvation. The new form of Buddhism brought images to be worshipped, which would help man in his goal of enlightenment. Soon a large pantheon of glorious and compassionate deities was created.

The region of Gandhara and Kashmir in north-west India had been a meeting place of cultures. The ancient trade routes connecting China and Central Asia with Persia and Mediterranean Europe passed through here. Along with silks, spices and other goods of trade, influences and ideas of art and philosophy also came to this region.

It was in Gandhara and in Mathura in northern India that the first images of the Buddha in human form were created. Hellenistic influences are clearly visible in the sculpture of the Gandhara region: in the anatomy of the figures, the arrangement of drapery, the treatment of the hair and the poses and attitudes of the figures.

Simultaneous with Gandhara, we see the birth of the human Buddha image in Mathura. However, the form here was a development of the indigenous idiom of Indian sculpture. The sculpted Buddhas of Mathura are based on the figures of yakshas and yakshis coming from ancient times in Indian art. Whereas in Mauryan art the drapery of clothes was depicted as being separate from the human form, at Mathura the garment is made as transparent as possible. Only a few lines are incised on the modelled surface of the body to depict it.

IN about A.D. 320, the powerful empire of the Guptas emerged in Bihar. They came to dominate all of north-central India and gave their name to the `classic' period in Indian art. The Gupta period was one of cultured opulence, resulting in great heights of development in science, visual arts, music and literature.

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The image of the Buddha reached a fine perfection in the Gupta period. There is a deep and inward look, which takes us far from the clamour and concerns of the material world. These images present the transcendental qualities of the Buddha.

The Gupta artist conceived the Buddha as a conqueror of the inner world. From the early Gupta period, almost all the figures in Indian sculpture, whether of gods, men or women, assume a similar `inward look'. The glance, while physically riveted to the tip of the nose, masters the fields of the mind.

The images have a great depth and transcendental sense of completeness: a sense of the deepest absorption in the harmony of existence. The images move and are yet unmoving in their stillness and sense of divine peace.

The Mathura-Gupta style was refined and perfected at Sarnath. The sublime example of this is a 5th century figure of the Buddha preaching Dharma, carved out of chunar sandstone at Sarnath. It typifies the essence of Gupta art, where a sophisticated balance was achieved between refined simplicity and exquisite love of decoration. This figure is one of the masterpieces not only of the Gupta period but also of the art of the world.

Simultaneously, Vedic Brahmanism had also been evolving its various icons. Now, in the Gupta period, as Buddhism began to wane in the country of its birth, Hindu art emerged into prominence. The temple at Deogarh (near Jhansi in Madhya Pradesh) and the rock-cut caves at Udaygiri near Bhopal present us some of the most powerful depictions. The artist's mastery over the medium is complete. The stone appears to yield and curve at the touch of the sculptor, to bring a vision of moving and living beings.

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The first and most dramatic examples of Gupta Hindu art date from the beginning of the 5th century A.D. and are found in Udaygiri. Here is a monumental and expressive depiction of the Varaha (boar) avatar of Vishnu, as he rescues Goddess Earth from the deep and chaotic waters. There is a great sense of power and majesty in the figure of the boar.

Paramount among Hindu sculptures of this period are also reliefs on the exterior walls of the ruined Dashavatara temple at Deogarh. These include a marvellous 6th century image of Vishnu lying on the serpent Sheshnag, in wakeful slumber, as he dreams the world into existence.

The influence of Gupta art spread across the country from Assam in the east to Gujarat in the west. This was truly the Golden Age in Indian art.

While the Guptas ruled in north India, the Vakatakas held sway in the Deccan. The paintings of Ajanta, which are known to be the fountainhead of the classic tradition of Indian painting, were created under their patronage. The paintings of Ajanta have received so much attention that the exquisite sculpture of the site often does not receive its deserved merit. The sculptures of Ajanta are among the finest ever made and reflect the exquisite qualities found in the paintings.

The Parinirvana of the Buddha in Cave 17, with numerous celestial musicians above and the sorrowful figures of his followers below, is one of the grandest and yet most delicately expressive scenes ever made in stone. The grieving figure of Ananda near his feet is an exceptionally fine and thoughtful representation. Everywhere at Ajanta, the stone appears to have been transformed by the sculptors' hand into a pliable repository of sensitive and tender expression. Indeed, Ajanta is one of the most subtle and spiritual sculptural monuments of India.

A truly grand monument of this period is the rock-cut shrine dedicated to Siva on the island of Elephanta, off the coast of Mumbai. Here the sculptural style of western India coming from Karle and other caves is seen modified by the classic aesthetics and elegance of the Gupta-Vakataka period.

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In the Gupta-Vakataka period, definite canons of proportions and the appearance of figures came to be laid down systematically in the Chitrasutra. This period laid the norms of classicism for all time to come in Indian art.

From the 7th century onwards, with the Pallavas and later the Cholas, comes the most exuberant sculpture of south India. This period brought new developments and shaped the future art of the region. At the wondrous site of Mamallapuram (near Chennai), Pallava artists transformed rocks into a living world of sculpted forms.

One of the most remarkable groups of sculptures anywhere in India is `Arjuna's Penance' or the `Descent of Ganga', sculpted on the surface of two huge boulders at Mamallapuram with a narrow fissure between them. This magnificent relief, 20 feet high and 40 feet across, brings the rocks alive. The moon, the sun, pairs of singers, siddhas, nymphs are all shown moving towards the cleft in the rock, where a sage is seen engaged in penance. Gracefully carved nagas and naginis with their hands folded in adoration stand out against the cleft. The artists have used the cleft beautifully to represent Ganga as she flows down from the heavens.

Everywhere in Mamallapuram, the sculpture is sensitive and graceful. The subtle touches and gentleness belie the hard granite surface, which appears to have been lovingly shaped by the artists' hands.

The sculpture of Mamallapuram presents some of the simplest and most charming scenes: a cowherd milks a cow that fondly licks its calf, a milkmaid holds a pile of milk pots and balances a bundle of fodder on her head; a woodcutter rests his axe idly on his shoulder; and a cowherd plays the flute. These are some of the most natural pastoral scenes in the realm of sculpture.

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The images of Siva, Vishnu, Durga and other gods and goddesses sculpted here are unforgettable in their quality and liveliness. For the first time in Indian sculpture, we also come across portraits of kings and queens. This is an important turning point and the beginning of the depiction of imperial grandeur in the art of India.

The Cholas succeeded the Pallavas as the prominent dynasty of south India. The sense of imperial majesty reaches a climax of heroic proportions in the art of the Cholas.

The Brihadeesvara temple in Thanjavur, built by Rajaraja Chola, and the temple at Gangaikondacholapuram, built by his son Rajendra, are the pinnacles of the artistic achievements of the Cholas.

The temple in Thanjavur is an eloquent expression of the extent and power of the Chola empire under Rajaraja. The temple is called Brihadeesvara (the Great Lord), with reference to Siva's greatness. It was also called Rajarajesvara temple after the king.

The temple is a veritable treasure house of Chola art. The sculptures are of impressive proportions and adorn the huge pyramidal vimana with great stateliness. Here we find a great wealth of iconographic detail and an emphasis on the heroic aspects of Siva. Indeed, the entire temple appears to reflect the power and grandeur of both Siva and the king.

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The art of the Cholas comes to its fruition and finds expression in the famed bronzes. From the 10th to the 12th century, some of the finest sculptural pieces of Indian art were made under the Cholas.

Chola bronzes capture the stately dignity of the art of the period. While they are grand, they are also graceful and sensitive.

The finest sculptures of the Chola period are of the form of Siva as Nataraja, the Lord of Dance, of which many bronze figures were made. The image of Nataraja, which combines dynamic movement with graceful harmony, conveys a deep sense of the eternal rhythm of the cosmos.

During the Chola period, the art of south India also evolved from its earlier simplicity and naturalism to a style of greater formality and monumentality.

THE magnificent site of Ellora near Aurangabad marks one of the grandest moments ever in the art of India. Of the 33 caves sculpted out of the side of the mountain here, Cave 16 is the most spectacular achievement of rock-cut architecture and sculpture.

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The rock-cut caves of Ellora span a period of about 350 years, from the 6th to the 10th century. Caves 1-12 are Buddhist, caves 13-29 are Hindu and caves 30-33 belong to the Jain faith.

Ellora presents us the final and full development of rock-cut architecture and sculpture in India. It is a site created by a vision of grandeur and hewn out of vast rock surfaces. The sculpture here is awesome in its scale and spectacle and yet tender and sensitive. It is a wondrous world of gods and celestial beings created out of living rock.

While the sculpture of Ellora shows the continuation of the sensitive and supple past traditions, it also brings to us the beginnings of the medieval idiom of sculpture in India. We see here the coming of stylisation in elongated figures and angularities of forms. The beginnings of the new idiom are also reflected in the paintings of this great monument.

The Gangas were an ancient dynasty who ruled over Gangavadi (in Karnataka, with their capital at Talakad) from the 2nd to the 10th century. The greatest monument of the Gangas is the colossal image of Bahubali, popularly known as Gomatesvara, at Shravanabelagola in Karnataka. It is dated to the end of the 10th century and is said to be the largest freestanding monolithic sculpture in the world, at a height of about 18 metres.

In keeping with the Jain view that saints or tirthankaras are supposed to be beyond the material world and its sensuous attachments, the great statue has a certain stiffness, which represents the realm of pure objectivity. Bahubali was a Jain tirthankara who stood so long in meditation that vines grew around his body, as is represented in the statue. His posture is a specific meditational pose known as kayotsarga.

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The Sun temple of Konarak is one of the great masterpieces of Indian sculpture and architecture. Built during the reign of Narasimhadeva I in the mid-13th century, the temple was conceived as a gigantic stone representation of the sun god's chariot. On either side, 12 huge wheels are carved into the plinth, and the building is preceded by seven sculpted horses, which draw the chariot.

The 24 wheels represent the hours of the day, and the rows of horses represent the steeds of the sun, in his journey across the skies. Some of the wheels have been lost, but one is still overwhelmed by the intricate carving on the stone, especially on the rims and spokes of the wheels. Here, a profusion of designs - creepers, animals, birds and men, all intermingle freely.

The jagmohan (audience hall) and the natya mandir in the temple complex are covered with a profusion of exquisite sculptures. These include some of the finest depictions of mithuna couples, symbolising the ecstatic bliss experienced by the soul when it is reunited with the lord. On the pyramidal roof of the hall are beautiful free-standing sculptures of female musicians, who provide music for the passage of the god's chariot through the heavens.

The sculptures of the heavenly musicians and those of the smaller figures in a multitude of dance poses in other parts of the complex conjure up a festival of music and dance for the rising sun.

Large niches on three sides of the ruined shrine have striking figures of the sun god in various forms. The nine planets are represented as figures placed within architectural niches. An outstanding sculpture is the solar aspect of Siva as Bhairava, who is represented dancing in the boat in which he crosses the ocean of the sky.

The Oriyan figures have an extravagance of mood and appearance. Their generous grace remains untouched by heaviness or over-ornate style and profuse details.

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THE valley of Kashmir, in the north of India, was known in ancient times as Sharada Peeth, the seat of the goddess of learning. It was a great centre of Buddhism and also of the Saivite and Vaishnavite faiths. The art of Kashmir continued the mainstream traditions coming from the Gupta-Vakataka period. Kashmir was also at a crossroads of culture and here the classic traditions of Indian art met with and incorporated influences from Persia, central and north-west Asia and Mediterranean Europe.

Sculptural heads, which have been found at Akhnoor and Uskur of the late 5th century, show a strong relationship with the contemporaneous Gupta idiom, especially in the softly modelled facial features.

The remains of the Sun temple at Martand (rebuilt by Lalitaditya in the 8th century), testify to an original construction, which must have been one of the grandest temples in the subcontinent. Each of the 84 niches in the surrounding wall of the temple originally contained an image, probably of some form of Surya (sun), and more depictions of the sun god were placed around the plinth of the temple.

In the 8th century, Kashmir was a major centre of Buddhism, whose influence spread throughout northern and eastern Asia. In that period, Parihaspura in Kashmir was the site of many Buddhist stupas and Hindu monuments. The remains of these still give the visitor a sense of their original grandeur and scale. A number of beautiful stone sculptures have been found at this site. Several of them are representations of crowned Buddhas, which had become popular iconic forms in Buddhist art by the 8th century, where the ornaments are symbols of the highest spiritual achievements.

Stylistically, many of the figures show the influence of the Bactro-Gandhara region, especially in the toga-like garments with emphasised folds. However, their inward-looking eyes and the sensitivity and gentleness of expression show a continuation of Gupta traditions.

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The sculpture of Kashmir is one of the lesser-known chapters in the history of Indian art. It, however, represents a period of great beauty and shows the finest continuation of the art of the classic period.

After the Golden Age of the Guptas, which lasted until the 6th century, the next great phase of the blossoming of art in northern India took place from the 8th to the 12th century in the eastern plains in Bihar and Bengal, and this included Magadha, the land where the Buddha was born.

During this period of intellectual activity and art in the eastern plains, Buddhist monks and pilgrims from near and distant parts of Asia, including China, South-East Asia, Nepal and Tibet (China) came to Bihar and Bengal to study Buddhism and to carry back the religious, cultural and artistic influence of this region. Indeed the art of the eastern plains in this period had a significant impact on the art of the whole of Asia.

This region was ruled by the Pala dynasty, with some parts ruled by the Senas. These kings were great patrons of the Buddhist monasteries and viharas, as well as of the prolific creation of statues and paintings.

The Pala school of art first flourished in southern Bihar, the homeland of the Buddhist faith. Gradually, the centres of art further east in Bihar and Bengal began to grow in importance. During the rule of the Senas, who came to power in the late 11th century, Bengal became the major centre of art.

By the end of the 12th century, foreign invaders had destroyed important Buddhist and Hindu monuments of the eastern plains. Although the architectural heritage of this period is lost, large numbers of sculptures have survived and these reflect the glorious traditions of those times. Most of the sculptures are in the form of steles and would have been set into niches in the buildings.

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The stupa of the early Pala period at Paharpur, now in Bangladesh, has fine terracotta figures in plaques at the base of the monument. The recently excavated base of a large stupa in south Tripura, dated to around the 9th and10th centuries, also has excellent and lively sculptural figures. There are also a large number of metal images, which survive from the Pala and Sena periods, from both Bihar and Bengal.

The earliest art of the Pala period is reminiscent of late-Gupta carvings. The relaxed posture, treatment of the hair and graceful simplicity recall the earlier idiom. However, more detailed carving of the lotus pedestal and jewellery indicate a departure from the early style. In the fully developed Pala-Sena tradition, the figures are more stylised rather than naturalistic. They follow the guidelines of complex iconography, which had been formulated by this period.

A rich variety of iconography is presented in the Pala-Sena sculptures. During this time, the great universities of Nalanda, Vikramshila and Odantpura flourished in eastern India. Religious philosophies were deeply analysed and developed in detail, and this is reflected in the sculptural forms.

The Buddhist and Hindu sculptural art of Kashmir came to an abrupt end with the dominance of Islamic rulers from the middle of the 14th century. However, the traditions of Kashmiri art lived on in other regions beyond the borders of Kashmir.

Throughout the first millennium, the Tibetan plateau, including Ladakh, Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur, had turned to Kashmir for the knowledge and artistic traditions of Buddhism. The First Great Coming of Buddhism in the trans-Himalayas was when Guru Padmasambhava arrived there from Kashmir to establish the faith in the region in the 8th century. The Second Great Coming of Buddhism was with the construction of 108 monasteries in the 11th century in order to revive the faith. These monasteries were constructed and decorated with sculptures and paintings by artists who were invited from Kashmir. Some of these monasteries survive even today. They open a marvellous window, showing the art and sculptural styles of Kashmir and the Tibetan plateau at the beginning of the second millennium.

On the ancient route between Srinagar and Leh, there is an enormous figure of the Bodhisattva Maitreya carved on the face of a solitary rock at Mulbek. The style of this figure reveals 8th-9th century Kashmiri conventions. The attention to the abdominal and pectoral muscles, the high arching brows and the full-cheeked face of the figure, as well as the simplicity of the ornamentation and jewellery are typical of the style of Kashmir at that time.

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The surviving monasteries made by Kashmiri artists from the late 10th century onwards have fine examples of wood carvings. The entrance doorways of the Sumtsek and Dukhang at Alchi and Wanla in Ladakh, Tabo, Nako and Ribba in Lahaul-Spiti constitute a treasure house of the earliest extant Buddhist wood carvings.

The interiors of the monasteries at Alchi and Wanla are dominated by mud statues of Bodhisattvas. The monasteries at Tabo, Nako, Lhalung and Ribba have many graceful statues, which are affixed to the interior walls.

These statues have the most gentle and peaceful expressions. Their graceful gestures exhibit various attitudes of Buddhist iconography and they transport us to a magical and sublime world.

The history of northern India after the Guptas until the establishment of the Mughal empire by Akbar is the history of numerous Rajput clans which ruled over different parts of the region.

There are isolated temples, which survive at various sites of this period. Of these, the temples of the Solanki period are noteworthy.

At Modhera stands a fine Sun temple, which was made in the 11th century. Every inch of it appears covered with exquisite carving of figures and foliate motifs. The detailed and intricate sculpture is reminiscent of the wood carving tradition of Gujarat.

Jainism, like Buddhism, had spread across most of India and by the late medieval period attracted a strong following among the wealthy mercantile communities of western India. The flourishing trade in cloth and ivory from the ports of western India brought great wealth into this region and many lavish temples were built.

Throughout Saurashtra, Gujarat and western Rajasthan are many Jain monuments, the most beautiful among which are the shrines of Mount Abu in south-west Rajasthan. Here, between A.D. 1032 and A.D. 1233, Jains brought the late styles of western India to a last flowering. The two most outstanding examples are the Vimala Sha temple (1032) and the Tejahpala/Vastupala temple (1233).

Objective and detached from the physical and material world, the Jain tirthankaras are symbols of spiritual perfection. Jain sculpture developed a style of representing these figures in which the forms of the body are abstracted to almost pure geometric equivalents. However, the style of the subsidiary figures adorning the temples is generally very lively and animated.

During the 12th century, in Karnataka, the Hoysalas created the most profusely sculpted temples, at Belur and Halebid. These are ornamented visions, with detailed and delicate carving. The figures are deeply undercut so that these and other motifs stand out sharply against their shadows. Decorative elements, such as female figures and vine scrolls, are placed in horizontal rows along the temple wall, creating a highly organised and controlled design pattern.

In the 14th century, the kingdom of Vijayanagar was established in south India, with its capital at Hampi. This powerful kingdom created a sanctuary in the south, where temple art and sculpture continued. The sculpture of the Vijayanagar empire exhibits the vigour and pride of the period. The grand monolithic depictions of Narasimha and Ganesa are impressive in their scale and monumentality.

A unique feature of the art of Hampi is the vast numbers of figures carved in low relief on the walls of the Hazara Rama temple and on the base of the platform of the King's pavilion. These depict the joyous and cosmopolitan life of the kingdom of Vijayanagar: we see delightful dancers, musicians, acrobats and even Portuguese merchants displaying Arabian horses before the king and other buyers.

The Nayaks came to power after the decline of the Vijayanagar empire and made many temples in order to celebrate the greatness and glory of Siva and of their own rule. The art of the Nayak period was a continuation of the traditions fostered by the Vijayanagar kings. Architecture and sculpture became more ambitious, with an emphasis on decoration and large scale.

Vast corridors of sculpted pillars and richly ornamented shrines covered with elaborate carvings are the hallmarks of this period. There was a marked emphasis on scale and ornateness. The great artistic achievement of the Nayaks is the grand Meenakshi temple at Madurai. This is one of the most impressive temple complexes in the whole of India. The interior corridors, pillared halls and shrine areas of the complex are profusely carved with heavily ornamented monumental sculpted forms.

The sculpture of India presents 5,000 years of the continuous evolution of this noble art. In the ancient vision, the work of the sculptor was to reveal the image contained within the stone and, in different styles, which evolved through the ages, there is a fine consistency of his dedication to his divine task. Through the centuries, we also see important changes that take place in the manner and content of the art, as it reflects the changing times and beliefs of the Indian people.

The writer is an art historian, film-maker and photographer. He is the author of The Ajanta Caves, and has produced 26 films for Doordarshan on the paintings of India.

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Oct 9,2020